Thursday, June 30, 2011


One of my great friends, a professional leader in so many areas of Jewish communal life offered me consolation with the following memory. One of his favorite Broadway musicals was 1776. In that smash hit, John Adams sings a melancholy ballad that concludes: Is anyone there? Does anyone care? Great, great questions.

Today, with this final Post, I place UJThee and me... on hiatus. Hopefully, forever. Those in our system who have been my mentors and partners have convinced me that which I should have realized long ago -- they can effect change but I can't; this Blog can shine a light on the need for change but can't cause change to occur. I am clearly a slow learner.

When I was so privileged to receive the JDC Ma'Asim Tovim Award in December 1998, the base of the beautiful Shofar bore this message: For Leading Our National System Into a New Era. This Blog has been a personal expression of pain as to where the "new era" we had dreamed of and worked so hard to create and implement has taken us.... literally nowhere. This Post places this Blog on hiatus with the hope that federation leaders, JFNA's owners, will begin to take their responsibilities of ownership seriously. And if the past is prologue as it always has been, as any reader of this Blog knows, this leadership will face which path to choose and will once again choose the wrong one.

On two previous occasions -- in February 2008 and in September 2010 -- I placed the Blog on hiatus; in 2008 in response to an initiative from leaders of my federation which would have put a stop to both the Blog and to the personal fatwa the JFNA leaders had declared on me based upon their own constant misrepresentations of fact (the fatwa continues -- see below); and last year in the hopes that a new lay and professional leadership team at JFNA would bring a new focus on matters relevant to the federation agenda, rather than on the personal agendas of leadership.

Sadly, in 2008 JFNA's leaders could not restrain themselves, they continued in personal, petty attacks in darkened hallways and e-mails; they even threatened the very existence of organizations I had led. And, throughout, they pursued their personal agendas as if they were the organizations, and in fact, with federations' abject silence, they became convinced that they were right -- after all, to use their phrase: "We are JFNA."

Then, while claiming that they never read the Blog, the vendettas and vitriolic attacks continued since 2010 and the "new" leadership could not find its still cannot and, apparently, won't. The allegations by the Board Chair that this writer has "no integrity" and is "a liar," lacking any basis in fact are even more scurrilous given that Manning knows there is no basis in fact -- to acknowledge even the possibilty that may be wrong would destroy their narrative. Each allegation has been directly rebutted without response from JFNA's leaders. The suggestion that one who has chaired his federation, our CRC, the NCSJ, Operation Exodus, served as UJA National Campaign Chair in the days of a national campaign, led our system into the merger that created JFNA, and chaired UIA has "no integrity" evidences the lengths this leadership goes, unfettered in its attempts to discredit. They have sent a clear message: "Don't ever criticize us or this will happen to you." One can only be saddened for them.

The pettiness, vendettas and JFNA's slanders aside, from the beginning this Blog, at its heart, has been about integrity, truth-telling and transparency. It has also been about the failure of JFNA leaders to demonstrate any real commitments to true transparency (characterized time and again, by Minutes of meetings bearing no relationship to what actually took place), to the federations' core values and timeless principles or to the necessity of engagement through real and meaningful process, and it has been about trust. (For an incisive examination of our institutions' need to develop and build trust, see Dan Brown's Times Have Changed; the Value of Trust in ejewish philanthropy, June 16, 2011.)

As well, mine has been a very personal attempt to urge the federations and you, their leaders, to assert, to demand, as the owners of JFNA, just such commitments. There has been almost unanimity among the federation leaders with whom I have met or from whom I have heard, whether they supported this Blog or hated it, directly and unequivocally that JFNA is in disarray and out of touch in meaningful ways. And, yet, JFNA's leaders apparently hear only that all is well.

It has saddened me that, for years before this Blog, my private correspondence to JFNA's leaders were either ignored or treated as "destructive criticism" or, perhaps, "lies." And while, in meetings and phone calls, Jerry Silverman has encouraged me to offer, privately, what he termed "constructive criticism," I quickly learned (as I probably already knew) that "constructive criticism" was such a subjective term that any suggestions I made were viewed with a jaundiced eye as "not constructive." When I would end a letter by stating "[L]et me know how I may help," I was accused of disingenuity. (I already knew that these "leaders" had determined that I was "not JFNA" even if everyone who knows me well, knows full well that "I am very JFNA.") To the Board Chair, there could be no criticism at all that would ever be considered "constructive." And, so, the Blog continued.

To some, the 660 Posts I have written have been but examples of witless bloviation, a three times per week exercise in narcissism and la-shon ha'ra. Certainly there is some substance to those opinions, even though of 660 Posts, the veracity of only one has ever been questioned -- and then the question was raised by one who "...never ever reads the thing."

Many have argued, not with the substance of this Blog but, instead, with the fact that the Blog exists at all -- hanging our system's dirty laundry outside where everyone can see it and offering to pull back the ever-closed curtain are considered by some an act of betrayal of the system that they know that I love. And there are those, as well, who believe that our when our system elects leaders, their every action by that very election becomes cloaked in an absolute immunity to criticism -- public or private. (Something that certainly these JFNA leaders believe absolutely.) Yet, over my history of communal involvement I know of no leader other than these who has not heard criticism, absorbed it and learned from it.

But the real focus and frustration of the Blog has been with those in Federation leadership who have allowed JFNA to wander aimlessly while wasting so much of the $600,000,000 (+/-) in Dues paid. For the lay and professional leaders of JFNA didn't create this environment of federation passivity, they have merely exploited it. That has to stop!!

And,as but one example of so many, can anyone explain this? After a $185,000,000 reduction in core allocations to the Jewish Agency and the Joint -- while JFNA leaders watched it happen in almost total silence -- how can this group of "leaders" possibly believe that they (and this is about them) should control the application of our federations' and donors' core allocations? When they learned that the Agency and Joint have had to reduce their allocations to a favored program (solely because of these core allocation reductions), how can they rationally suggest that "...this will stop when we control the Global Planning Table?" But, this is exactly how they think, how they behave and what they say. They engage in denial that they have any responsibility whatsoever for the outcomes forced upon JDC and the Jewish Agency.

Now, not for the first time but hopefully the last, I place the responsibility for assuring that JFNA becomes the leader of our national system for the federations and not for itself in your hands, in the hands of you, the leaders, lay and professional, of the federations. It is no longer enough to tell me in private meetings (where I have listened to you in confidence) how terribly dysfunctional our national system is, decrying the waste and disarray that are on-going but doing nothing about it. Chevre, it's time for you to grab the wheel and turn this ship around.

We will see how it goes. My hope and expectation are that this space will be devoted in the months ahead to other matters of concern to all of us in Jewish life rather than JFNA. But if the leaders of JFNA continue to pursue the irrelevant and insubstantial and pursue their personal vendettas without any evident understanding of the core values and timeless principles that were and are at the heart of our communal hopes and dreams, then...!!?? Let's together aspire to the most that we can be; we have seen the waste of aspiring to the least.

To the 800 and more of you who have read these Posts three times a week for three and one-half years and who have understood my motivation and my inspiration, in the words of one of my favorite films: "I love you guys!!" Let's close this chapter with those words of inspiration: Eem ain ani li, mi li? V'im lo achshav aymotei?




Anonymous said...

I'm not a JFNA supporter, but good riddance!

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous who says "good riddance" I assume you are referring to the blog. If so, who told you that you had to read it?

To Richard: You have done a real service to the federation system. If, in your judgement suspending the blog because you feel it might be a distraction from action, I am confident that you are doing the right thing. Your history and contributions to the system make you well qualified to make this decision.

On the other hand, I will miss reading about the shenanigans since as a former insider (federation exec for many years and now more of an outsider) this is one of the few sources from which I have been able to get accurate information. Going forward I will look with equal anticipation to your periodic analysis of other issues confronting the Jewish people. Kol Ha-kovod.

Anonymous said...


Please ignore those who feel that the world is better off without your Blog. You have shed a light where others have feared to tread and, thereby, have provided a service to those of us shut our from any engagement by the very leaders who should have invited us in.


paul jeser said...

As an avid reader of your blog I have mixed feelings...

-- Good for you - there are much better things in life for you to be doing than worrying about a dying institution.
-- Bad for the Jewish community - Your voice was needed.
-- you'll be baaaack.... Your voice is still needed.....

We wish you the best...

Anonymous said...


Only JFNA celebrates your departure. Though since they never read you, I'm not sure how they would even know.

As it currently exists, JFNA will not survive. The sooner the federation owners act on this simple fact and move forward, the better we will all be.

Jerry is a capable, generally well-liked guy. He needs someone savy whispering in his ear. Any takers?

Anonymous said...

first, yasher koach Richard - a job well done with integrity and courage.

second, Jerry like at least a couple of his of his predecessors surrounds himself with equally empty suites and yes men. They confuse big salaries with omnipotence and smarts. Change does not occur in an echo chamber.

As a big city pro I can tell you that push back will not come from that quarter - its beneath them and they operate under a herd mentality. Time for the rest to step up and make their collective voices heard.

Anonymous said...


Sorry to learn that the Blog will be shelved. It offered a ray of hope in an otherwise dark sky.

I chair my community. Other than disaster relief, SCN, constituencies and D.C., I see only the waste of the six figures we pay annually. Our CEO and I have increasingly stressful discussions -- he worries about what he will lose in prestige and association if we stop throwing good money after bad.

What we need is nothing more than a trade association -- let the Agency and Joint provide the campaign assistance we need -- campaign is at their expense anyway as JFNA sucks more and more from our overseas allocations into their black hole.

We need the Blog, Richard. We need the courage you have provided us. I thank you for that and more.

Anonymous said...

Watch your back, Richard. Unknown, apparently, to Kathy Manning, we are your friends -- we are among those at the Jewish Agency who know which way JFNA wishes to take us; behind the smiles and the phony sweetness, right down the same mineshaft that they have taken JFNA.

Getting you appears to be their highest prority other than the Global Planning Table. These leaders went around JAFI saying to those who they presumed were in their pocket that you were stopping your Blogging only to gain some position at the Agency or JFNA or somewhere and then you would start again. They have no proof, of course.

Guess that is what they mean by "no integrity" -- they'll show you who has none. Strange, they don't read your Blog (ha!!), yet condemn you for it and then lie about you apparently in an oh so transparent attempt to enflame you so that you will start the Blog up again and they can then say: "see, what'd we tell you?"

As we wrote, "watch your back."

Anonymous said...

Dear Richard

I regret that you will not be continuing your blog and hope this is only a hiatus for you. I am of course not at all surprised that you are under attack for having the chutzpah to speak out as I well know, from my own experiences, trying to make a positive difference, that only words of praise are considered worthy of being listened to.

As you have consistently pointed out the course is set and nothing can stop this train wreck. Therefore don't mourn the loss of what JFNA could and should have been. When something no longer provides value, people naturally move on and are already doing so and the trend is irreversible. You have done your best to alert everyone to avoid the crash. Take comfort in that. You did your best!

Thank you for providing me an education and letting me know that there were still those out there who genuinely cared enough to try to save an institution that had so much potential for good but will never realize it.

Wishing you a happy hiatus and speedy return to your blog! Your efforts were appreciated and were widely read by many within JFNA who told me they relied on it to find out what was going on in their own organization.

Wishing you chazak v'ametz!

Anonymous said...


It really was interesting who was saying what about you at the recent doings in Jerusalem. Even one, who I thought was your friend, was peddling the line about your stopping because you wanted a certain position and JFNA insisted on a quid pro quo.

Would be fun to watch you and Manning on opposite sides of a court case.

Anonymous said...

As an avid reader I think I know exactly which 'JFNA position" Richard is aiming for -- Chair of the Global Planning Table.

Anonymous said...

No. This is complete nonsense. I insist you come back immediately. Where else are we going to get the transparency that the organized Jewish community totally fails to provide? I hope you had a nice, relaxing two week vacation, now get back.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Richard....please return. The blogosphere void is self-evident. Meanwhile I can personally attest that JFNA's leaders have not let up one bit in their very personal attacks on you -- at any and every opportunity.

RWEX said...


It has now been three weeks since I put the Blog on the shelf. I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you -- those who have commented anonymously and the over 150 of you who have written me (with your names in plain sight) --for your expressions of support and for your understanding of the purposes of UJThee from Day One. I really have been overwhelmed.

Now, I ask you for one more thing -- take your support of the Blog's purposes and convert that power that you have into demanding change where change is needed.

We will surely talk soon.


Anonymous said...

Richard - I miss you! Come back already!

I wish I could hear your thoughts on the 4 large city openings that no one will fill. I would love your take on how Jerry/Kathy are handling the bombings in Israel and I really would love to know what you think about Tribefest 2????

RWEX said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks. Very tempting. Such a rich and fertile landscape -- all the matters you cited plus so many more.

Yes...very, very tempting.

Anonymous said...

Ok, not funny...vacation over. ITS TIME!

RWEX said...

Some of you may remember the famous Jack Benny story -- the great miserly comedian is confronted by an armed robber. "Your money or your life>" Silence. "I said, your money or your life." Benny: "I'm thinking....I'm thinking."

Me, too.

Anonymous said...

Shana Tova Richard! Now seriously, enough of this. Come back. I'm not exactly in your target demographic but this blog was the only place anyone could go to to get an unvarnished look at the way the Jewish community runs. I didn't always agree with you but I appreciated the forum and the back and forth and all that. So please reconsider your decision and share with us!

RWEX said...


Thanks. Over the past three months I have been watching JFNA continue to "lead," in the pejorative sense, federations away from the values and principles I and so many others cherish.

As they say, "watch this space..."