Monday, November 28, 2011


While the Blog was on hiatus, someone at JFNA thought it would be a great idea for the Board Chair to testify before a group of Democrats in Washington. (And, don't get me wrong, what we are examining here would be equally disappointing had the testimony been before a group of Republicans.) JFNA then published the testimony -- very well-prepared and thought through (and, I am certain, well-presented.) But. was this really a good idea?

No mention was made in any of JFNA's self-congratulatory bloviation on the Chair's presentation that a quid pro quo was asked of all of the invitees. Senators Carl Levin and Ben Cardin  essentially stated, as reported in JTA but never making a special JFNA Leadership Briefing: we want public support from you for our positions and those of President Obama. Sometimes you have to sit back in wonder -- is it all about the public appearance with no anticipation of potential outcomes?

And, so it should have come as no surprise when, at the GA, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the highest ranking politico to make the trek to Denver, echoed the "ask" of Senators Levin and Cardin in her Plenary address. 

I am reminded of the words of Maria Callas, as spoken by Tyne Daley in her brilliant performance in the restaging of Master Class, when criticizing one of her students: "I'm sorry to do this to you, but what's the point of going on with it if it's all wrong, eh?"


Saturday, November 26, 2011


When I was thinking about returning to the Blog, I thought of retitling this with a quote from a leader in one of the forty or so JFNA "partners" in Tribefest, who upon learning of his organization's new "partnership" asked the question as relevant today as it was a year ago: J f___'in A; what the hell is that? Here we are, 12 years into the merger and the question remains: what the hell are we? What is JFNA's purpose? What are its priorities? What is its mission?

If you sat with its leaders and asked them these questions, you would, no doubt, get back an amazing run-on sentence (and, as any reader knows, I am an expert in those) "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."  In the run-up to the GPT vote at the GA, the Board Chair, in her opening salvo at the Board Meeting, "proved" that she knows our values by reciting so many of them "caring for our elderly, educating our children, et., etc." Of course, reciting them doesn't connect JFNA's activities to them, does it? We continuously receive rhetoric in lieu of purpose...and it shows.

No matter the hype and self-congratulatory hyperbole, the Denver GA was the least attended in decades.  (As the 2010 GA lost over $250,000 and this one hardly drew flies, no doubt the same Co-Chairs who, for reasons unclear, were asked to chair both, will lead us to Baltimore as well.) The last GA held in Denver was so large, its Plenaries had to be held at the Convention  Center; this year, in a Hotel Ballroom. The GPT, so "vital" to the communal future, attracted only 80 federation representatives to the Board/Assembly meeting that "unanimously, or nearly so" approved it. The 2012 Prime Minister's Mission, recruited 32 participants, mainly from Chicago, to Greece and even fewer onward to Israel. The Young Leadership Cabinets, but shadows of their former selves, raised $6,000 per Retreat participant, while its leaders are diverted to Tribefest 2 activities. And, on and on.

It's time to rekindle the passion that brought so many of prior generations into communal, national and international leadership. Convene the past national Chairs of JFNA, UJA and CJF in a serious effort to get input and, just maybe, some inspiration. (The last time this was done, face-to-face, was by Jim Tisch and Steve Hoffman eight years ago; it was a good, if feisty meeting.) Today's leaders must stop believing that they are omniscient, that the only good ideas come from them...and from them alone. Stop talking in jargon -- e.g., "we will have robust debate in a dynamic process" and actually have "robust debate" and "dynamic processes."


Thursday, November 24, 2011


A recent note in Sports Illustrated, under the title Sign of the Apocalypse, read: In the hopes of bringing respectability back to his organization, embattled FIFA president Sepp Blatter has named 88-year-old former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger and 70-year-old Spanish tenor Placido Domingo to serve on a "council of wisdom." 

Then, recently, a very respected national leader told me that I was too old for (apparently) any role in Jewish communal life.

And, then I thought about the recent kerfuffle arising out of JFNA's idiotic publication of a list of 43...43!!!...GA speakers, none of whom was a woman (even though the actual list of GA speakers includes almost a 50/50 split of women and men and JFNA has a commendable record of affirmative hiring of superb women professionals). Of course we know that JFNA can hardly express itself on any occasion -- except when it is making up numbers. 

 BUT, where were the aged speakers at the GA?
Where is the affirmative hiring of the elderly? Who speaks for the aging...




JFNA is thrilled to announce that Methuselah has joined its Senior Management Team as Special Senior Advisor to the CEO on Everything.

Methuselah is 965 years old. "I am thrilled that I will have the benefit of Methuselah's incredible breadth of knowledge at this critical time," said Jerry Silverman, President and Chief Executive Officer, the Jewish Federations of North America. "Methuselah has known every mega-donor in the World and should be able to introduce them (at least those that are still with us) to JFNA and make them part of our national community," Silverman continued with enthusiasm.

Methuselah said, "This new opportunity will energize me in ways I hadn't thought possible. I already feel half my age, young again. My plans are to visit every federation to which my mule can carry me. (So maybe only the 75 New Jersey federations.) My contract is for five years and during that time I will offer my best advice, garnered from hundreds of years of experiences, to Jerry and the federations in my own tried and true, and sometimes crude, ways."

Methuselah continued: "This ish the best opportunity for JFNA whish, as you know, ishn't too engaged with the next generation." When asked whether this meant that Methuselah supports the #ish effort, he replied:"No, its jusht that I have lost all my teeth over 965 yearsh. I hope to have them fixed with all I am being paid plush health and dental insurance."

JFNA's Chair of the Board, stated: "While I don't know Methuselah personally, from everything I have heard, he is really quite old. I welcome him and his expertise to JFNA where Methuselah's hiring is further demonstration that JFNA may be many things, one thing we are not is ageist." The Chair of the Executive had nothing to say. ___________________________________________________________________

OK, Methusaleh has not been hired at JFNA. If he were available, however, would he be...


Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Periodically we will devote some time to take a look at the totality of our system. you know, to check the temperature of the federations and JFNA (and others) and see how things are going...or not. I think the title of these Posts is appropriate to what is reported below:
    ~One CEO in a Large City allegedly parcels out his/her time in five minute increments -- in each of every minute of every hour of every day. Got a complex problem -- try to reserve two back-to-back segments. What's the saying: "If everything is a priority, then you have no priorities." And this federation is in the process of recreating itself -- but not as a federation as it once was, in fact, hardly bearing any resemblance to a federation at all.
    ~Another of our Large Cities refused to pay its full Dues (Actually more than one but I am writing of only the "one" JFNA leaders' "deal-makers" claim as a "victory") -- no hardship claim, just a sense that the Dues were too much, and they weren't going to pay. Just plain refused. So JFNA's Chair just cut a deal -- no rational basis -- with the federation in question, then bragged publicly -- "I saved the system" -- followed by the sound of the verbal back-slapping of the sycophants. "I saved the system" - is that what you call it? So if my federation, or yours, just doesn't want to pay full Dues, just give 25 Broadway a call -- the JFNA version of "too big to fail" could work for you, too.

    ~ Apparently there is no one editing the links appearing in the JFNA Daily Media Report. See, for example, under Local Federation News late last month (10/27) an article on the candidate for a local Ohio School Board. I foolishly thought the article might reference a Cleveland Jewish leader. Looking for the Federation "connection?" Well. that candidate is a security guard at the Cleveland Jewish FederationChair. Wish him well...
    ~ A federation CEO clearly didn't like one (or more) of my posts and wrote to, among other things, criticize my poor writing (distinguish that from those who criticize me for writing). Told me he was an English major in College; copied my Federation CEO and...Jerry. Quite the grown-up. Oh, his letter was very well-written.
    ~ Sam Astrof has served our system as JFNA's CFO and then as COO/CFO so well for so many years. he is a good man, a superb professional and he grew to understand collective responsibility as well as anyone. He announced his retirement a short time ago. Sam and I had many disagreements but we both understood that they were l'shem ha'shamayim. In what I can only describe as an oversight of gross proportions, not one word of tribute to Sam's multiple contributions during his, I think it's been eight years, was offered by the Chairs or CEO at the GA. Sometimes there is negligence and sometimes there is...willful and wanton... And, friends, a nice good-by at a Budget Meeting wouldn't be enough.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Whether at a public charity, a federation or JFNA, there must be in place the structures and processes that assure that the responsibilities and obligations of lay and professional leadership are monitored and assured. At JFNA this "apparatus of accountability" has been placed in fewer and fewer hands and normal checks and balances have disappeared. Consider...

In place are the Board Chair, the Chair of the Executive (the position itself has proved to be about as valuable and necessary as an appendix), the Treasurer and the CEO. The Board Chair also serves as Chair of the Compensation Committee (on which I believe sit only the Chair of the Executive and Treasurer, reporting to no one -- the only way one can learn what the CEO has earned is by examining the JFNA 990, always 1-1/2 years after the fact) and as Chair of something called the Transactions Committee (to which can be delegated, well, anything). The Treasurer serves as Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee. The CEO, though hired by the corporation, and responsible to the Board, in practice reports to and is accountable to the Board Chair. (Thus, it is the Board Chair who led the Search Committee that chose Jerry and it is the Board Chair who selected the 24 JFNA leaders she sought out for an evaluation of Jerry after two years of his leadership. And it is the Board Chair, ahead of the input of the 24 she asked to provide it, who had concluded that "Jerry is great." Who's to argue that?)

I was involved in responding to a JFNA Draft of the now breached and disregarded JFNA/JAFI/Joint November 2010 Agreement on behalf of the Agency and Joint. With input from federation CEOs, the original Draft was the work product of only the Board Chair. It was she who negotiated the Draft for JFNA. I would assume it has been she who has dictated how the Agreement would be breached.

The GPT was driven to its unanimous approval by the Board Chair and CEO. A Drafting Committee, undisclosed to any other than the participants and consultant, was appointed by the Board Chair (perhaps with input from the CEO), its membership carefully culled to exclude representation from any federation which might input historic, collective values. When JFNA convened regional meetings to roll out the GPT "straw man" (I do not know what that means) plan, the consultant appeared with the CEO who may or may not have conveyed strong opposition to the Plan -- objections and constructive criticisms  that were not included in the approved GPT Plan.

When there is no apparatus of accountability as is the case at JFNA, a greater burden falls on the JFNA Executive Committee and the Board of Directors -- there are no other checks and balances...none. Yet, neither JFNA governance body has demonstrated any real interest in acting as anything other than an echo chamber for the Board Chair and the CEO. In a public charity, in a federation, and at JFNA for sure, this is a dangerous practice.

An attitude has developed that can best be expressed as: "We elected these leaders and agreed to the engagement of the CEO, let's let them lead and leave them alone to do it. Unless they're stealing or engaged in unlawful practices, we owe it to them to support them without question." That not only distances the Board members from their responsibilities, it distances the organization from its members.

And no one cares.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011


JFNA's wholly unnecessary often silly now annual Community Heroes program has, or if JFNA had any institutional sense, proved to be an annual embarrassment. And, not just because the "winners" have so not represented the federated communities and not just because there has been ballot box stuffing. It's because Heroes has been (from the beginning) a "game" without rules.

This year, an activist who can best be described as emerging out of an organization whose stridency can be charitably described as anti-Israel pro-divestment, pro-sanction, pro-boycott was nominated as a "Community Hero.". Having no criteria for who might be a nominee, JFNA applied its unilateral judgement and removed the nominee from consideration. (Should there not have been some disqualifying criteria, set in advance? Duh.) Friends reminded me that in the first year of Heroes they had nominated me, that I was doing quite well in the voting as a matter of fact, when, presto-changeo, I was no longer on the ballot. So, at least two criteria seem to apply: if you are out of favor with JFNA, you are out; and if your organizational support comes from those who are out of step with the JFNA/system's message on Israel, you're out as well.

Let's carry this a little further. Peter Beinart was a/the featured speaker at last week's desultory General Assembly. Beinart, the estimable CUNY Associate Professor, who has begun a significant second career bashing American Jewish organizational leadership and the Israeli Government, has published, among other trash, The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment. Contrary to actual research findings, Beinart has concluded that Jewish young People have distanced themselves from "right wing, anti-liberal" Israel, yada yada yada. He embraces the message of Shulamit Aloni, Avrum Burg and others of that ilk. I would assume, given the actions taken to remove a woman organizational leader from Heroes consideration because of an alleged anti-Israel message; Beinart, were he nominated, would be removed as well. Or maybe not. Hypocrisy runs amok.

But...this hypocrisy didn't end with Beinart. Columnist Caroline Glick, a Jerusalem Post editor, with whom readers of these Posts know I often violently disagree, blogged after the GA Jewish American Community in Danger (November 11). She not only cited Beinart's GA appearance but that as well of "...the Boston Globe's resident anti-Israel  columnist James Carroll" and she condemned the organization "...which presented several panels discussing whether anti-Zionists should be embraced by the community..." But, then she got it wrong when she wrote: "But who among the well-funded American Jewish leadership has the courage to tell these young people (who chose these speakers) that they are deranged?" It was not "young people" who chose these speakers -- it was the professional leaders of JFNA. Those who should know better...don't. And the lay leadership of JFNA and this GA -- busy thanking everyone for "the great GA."

I suggested in the midst of the first Heroes exercise that JFNA promulgate standards for the nominees. A silly suggestion when having no standards allows JFNA the power (dearly loved by those now in power) to remove candidates at will. Why give that up? I have a better suggestion, give up on this entire futile Heroes thing. And, given the speakers at this year's GA, shame on all of us for doing nothing.

Last week Peter Beinart headlined the JFNA General Assembly. His appearance was deemed so important it merited an interview on the GA Daily Report. And the annual Heroes fiasco continues. Please discuss and report on what our system has gained from this annual waste.

This is Emperor's New Clothes stuff. So terribly sad.


Sunday, November 13, 2011


The press has provided all of us with some excellent analysis, unburdened by biases one way or the other, of the implications of the Global Planning Table. Articles in The Forward and JTA provided perspectives from the GA itself, The Jewish Week interviewed an ever-optimistic Jewish Agency Chair of the Executive, Natan Sharansky. And, in a brilliant commentary, Dan Brown, the founder of eJewishPhilanthropy, hit it out of the park. These articles and opinion pieces were factual and insightful -- we'll compare them to the hyperbole and outlandish self-serving comments of JFNA's leaders, astounding in themselves.

Certainly the JDC sees a short-term benefit -- the 75/25% "split" will go away.  (To be followed almost immediately with the Joint becoming [along with the Agency] just another supplicant.)  JAFI, in its comments, welcomed the "competition in the marketplace, joining the JDC in doing so. The reality is that short-term benefits will be offset by the confusion, competition and diffusion the GPT will inevitably, even immediately, sow. A division that will not just pit the Agency and Joint against each other but against other organizations and agencies -- all within your federation and mine. The discipline of a system committed to collective responsibility will not just be eroded, it will be destroyed.

In Nathan Guttman's excellent article in  JTA -- Federations Drop Overseas Giving Formula -- one gets the impression that JFNA's leaders live in some alternate universe, clearly detached from reality. Thus, the Board Chair was quoted: One of the things we lost over the years is the understanding of what our partners do, how they use our dollars to make a real impact on the needs they deal with. Unbelievable. Here are the facts -- JFNA, unlike the predecessor organizations, failed and refused...that's right, advocate on behalf of either JAFI or the Joint at any time. Assuming that the Board Chair and CEO understand what the Jewish Agency and JDC do (and they should, for they dutifully attend almost if not every Board meeting of both organizations and, in the case of JAFI, sit on its Executive Committee), on the ground, in service of needs identified by the federations, it has been incumbent upon them to explain those needs to the JFNA constituency. They haven't. At times (for example, during the Wars in the North and South of Israel) JFNA's leaders demanded that neither the Jewish Agency nor Joint communicate their efforts even to their own leadership. And now, they wish to control them completely without even the courtesy of allowing them a seat at the table where decisions will be made.

Guttman pointed out that "...the JFNA plan...reflects a continuous drop in allocations by federations for casuses outside their immediate communities." And, it is so much worse than that. JFNA sat moot as federations reduced their core allocations to Israel and overseas needs by over $200 million -- on their watch. The JFNA CEO believes that this is a marketing issue ("you're just not getting your message across") -- isn't everything? But JFNA, charged with the responsibility of increasing resources to the Joint and JAFI by the Merger itself, stood silent, and failed to respond to the pleas of the partners and now, somehow, through the magic of the GPT suggest that all will be well. Again, I am reminded of the child who kills her parents and pleads for the mercy of the court because now she is an orphan.

In all of its written and oral presentations of the GPT, JFNA's leaders emphasized, without a single detail to support their conclusions, that the GPT will revive allocations and bring the federations' collective power to bear on the needs in Israel and overseas. They permitted no questioning of these conclusions. And there were no answers -- the federations, more or less unanimously, approved "a work in process" without detail other than a structure that makes the proposed Egyptian voting process seem simple and direct.

It was Dan Brown, in his The Jewish Federations' Big Gamble, who concluded that the GPT is, for the federations and JFNA, "...a big step backward." The federations, Dan wrote, are " saddled with a new level of bureaucracy." The author framed two key questions that neither JFNA nor, apparently, the federations paused to consider: Does JFNA really think the GPT will help grow donations (even slow a decline); and Does JFNA believe the next generation of donors will embrace this type of organizational structure? In fact, back in the Spring, as Jerry and JFNA's consultant trotted the GPT Draft across the country to Regional Meetings, these were among the questions asked and the criticisms leveled -- many by the very federations who a few months later, never having received an answer...none...just voted in favor of a Plan and structure which if changed at all from that which Jerry took notes on at those Regional meetings, changed, believe it or not, for the worse.

And a third question: How can JFNA, unable to date to execute the simplest of programs, be expected to manage and control a process so complicated as to be inexplicable? That's rhetorical, of course.

Brown concluded that "...the Global Planning Table is not the solution, but rather a ticking time bomb that will negatively effect Jewish giving going forward." And, friends, it's so much worse than even that.


Thursday, November 10, 2011


As I listened to the GPT presentation to the JFNA Board and Delegate Assembly to the 80 federations present (of 157), my mind wandered back to one of those old black and white films -- one of those Westerns where Gabby Hayes was peddling sarsaparilla to the unsuspecting settlers as a cure-all for everything that ailed them. 

When JFNA last confronted the ONAD mess, a group of CEOs had to jump into the fray to literally "save ONAD from itself." ONAD,  now dead and buried but soon to be resurrected as "the GPT," was the Overseas Needs and Distribution Committee, which, in its five years of existence contributed nothing to the Overseas Allocations and Distribution process other than divisive debate and the undermining of the system's trust in its overseas and historic partners -- through no fault of theirs.

As disinterested as so many are in the ONAD history, without understanding that history and the outcomes -- all bad -- one can't understand the potential that the GPT has for the deconstruction of our system. ONAD lasted for a little over five years. It began well-planned with much thought and hope as a planning and evaluative tool with the Jewish Agency and the Joint leaders "at the table." During the five years of its operation, the JDC and JAFI, by conservative estimates, invested well over $7 million responding to constant questions, asked and reasked, by consultants hired by JFNA (UJC at the time) and JFNA's professional staff -- to no apparent affect. Over those years, the core allocations to JAFI and the Joint nose-dived. There was a side benefit to ONAD -- many federations that previously lacked them, created Israel and Overseas unintended positive consequence. And nothing more.

At the end of the first year of ONAD, its incomparable Chair, New York's Alan Jaffe, speaking for the Committee, concluded that at a time of declining core allocations ONAD would not recommend changes in how funds would be allocated between JAFI and JDC. That was the constant recommendation from a succession of Chairs -- Bobby Goldberg and Sonny Plant, z'l, each a master of the art of compromise, of bringing people of polar views together. In its last year, a far more ambitious Chair attempted unilaterally to override the compromise reached at the ONAD table and approved there by the participating federations. Disaster was averted only by the intervention of the "three wise men."

The first speech of Jerry Silverman's predecessor began with a statement that ONAD was over and that "'s time to trust the Jewish Agency and Joint once again." Unfortunately, these were just words...only words. Think of it, over 50 federations were directly represented on the ONAD Committee during its terms. Generally speaking, the representatives from the federations themselves -- mandated to be sitting or incoming Chairs -- and those representing their City-size groupings, were men and women of good will. Yet, only one of these fifty federations has increased its core allocations -- the rest have cut those allocations, some by 30% of what they were and more.

And, now, JFNAs leaders will replicate the sorry process that was. If you ask them, as I have asked some of them, their uniform answer is: "Oh, this won't be ONAD." Ask them how it will be different and get back a glazed look in the eyes, anger that you asked the question, and no answer. They aren't interested in the mistakes of the past -- only in repeating them at far greater cost.

And what about those wise men -- those federation executives who rescued ONAD from itself in 2005? Hmmmm.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011


The JFNA Board and Delegate Assembly closed the GA with an almost unanimous, if not unanimous, approval of the Global Planning Table "structure" yesterday evening. Even though only 80 federations were present when that meeting began, it's safe to say that had all 157 been there, the results would surely have been the same.

The discussion began with a passionate presentation by the Board Chair on the value the GPT would have, hearkening back to conclusions that included "...the old ways aren't working" and in what proved to be an entirely unnecessary confabulation leading to "...the GPT will move our system forward" and a recitation of the "historic values" to which JFNA remains committed.

Our leaders were careful: they separated any discussion of or vote on the Second Membership Criterion, leaving that dog on the table for consideration at the January 2012 Owners Retreat.

The newly engaged Senior Vice-President for the GPT and other things was left to describe the structure, and in her articulate remarks she observed that "times have changed" as JFNA "writes a new chapter in Jewish history" with language straight out of the GPT Plan. I began to envision, for those who remember, Gabby Hayes in an old black and white Western selling "sarsaparilla" to cure all that ails you.

Yes, "times they are a'changin"...indeed. Kal ha'kavod.  Onward.



As has been reported elsewhere as well as on these pages, in November 2010 JFNA, the Jewish Agency and the Joint entered into a tri-partite agreement that offered the promise of JAFI/JDC engagement with the federations at a Global Planning Table at which they would be full participants, even with no vote, a meaningful Second Membership criterion that would commit all all federations to a meaningful core allocation to the Jewish Agency and Joint, and the establishment of a Committee of the parties " consider, discuss and establish" if all agreed "guidelines for" the partners FRD, co-branding and marketing. (The "Agreement.")

Surely, I and others have written "volumes" on the GPT, so filled with jargon, complexity and cliche, that promises nothing less or more than the end of our historic system. While the Joint will see short-term benefits from the termination of its historic "split" agreements with the Jewish Agency, sh ort - and long-term, both organizations' core allocations, so vital to their work, will be the bank from which JFNA will draw down funds at its whim to fund programs more momentarily attractive and "impactful," as JFNA shall determine. This will inevitably and inexorably force the Jewish Agency and Joint into direct fund-raising, competing with the annual campaigns of all federations but JAFI's and the Joint's most significant funders. Our system will end with JFNA performing the last rites.

As to the Second Membership Criterion -- it is a meaningless exercise. Originally called for, under the JFNA/JA/Joint Agreement of less than one year ago, to increase core allocations to both organizations. It is now nothing more than an "enabler" -- enabling federations that allocate nothing to the core of either historic partner to participate side-by-side with those who allocate significant funds to the core budgets of both historic partners. A ridiculous by-product of JFNA standing for absolutely nothing.

But, none of the breaches of the Agreement has dissuaded JFNA from attempting to impose a draconian set of "fund-raising guidelines" on JAFI and JDC that, if accepted, would have made their fund-raising impossible -- just these two "beloved, historic partners," not Birthright, not the ENP, not multiple Israeli beneficiaries. At a meeting convened by JFNA with lay leaders from the historic partners present along with, as I recall, at least two Large City CEOs, JFNA professionals tried to unilaterally impose these "Guidelines." They failed. So, as is their wont (remember, the GPT arose out of a phony "consensus" at a 2009 Federation Retreat), having failed at the meeting, JFNA tried to impose its will by drafting Minutes totally inconsistent with the meeting's lack of outcomes. Both Joint and Agency representatives who attended the meeting, rejected these so-called "Minutes." Since that time there has been at least one inconclusive teleconference. As to the obligation accepted by JFNA, after its self-imposed silence, to engage in advocacy for and with JAFI/JDC, the silence is deafening.

And, now, the Agreement that offered the possibility of Guidelines having been breached by JFNA as to each and every specific, and the GPT now passed assuring that at the and of 2012, core allocations to the historic partners will no longer be a priority of our system, there is no Agreement on which any of the parties might rely. Thus, the law of unintended consequences will assure that the Jewish Agency and Joint have no choice but to compete not only with each other for federation Israel and overseas funds, but to compete with the national organization their votes enabled. Those federations who supported this and JFNA which initiated this will be the ones who will sadly pay the price.

This is the saddest of a succession of sad days.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011


As any reader of these Posts is aware, I found the concept, the planning and the execution of Tribefest  to have been without merit, or worse. So it is only appropriate that JFNA would be embarked already on Tribefest 2; this time in advance of the GA so that it can be sufficiently and endlessly publicized, I would guess, in the halls and meeting rooms in Denver.

I assume that those planning Festivus 2 believe that the inaugural Festivus was a huge success. One has to ask "why?" The thing lost over 1/4 million dollars -- $253,000 -- not including staff overhead and travel. In a post Festivus 1 participants survey, I am told (this was never revealed in all of the self-congratulatory culling of that survey) that 75% of the registrants asserted that they would not have attended without a subsidy. (If this is incorrect, all one of the JFNA Festivus enthusiast need do is send us the full survey and responses.) If all those who participated in Tribefest 1 attend Festivus 2, how will our system have benefitted? How did the federation system benefit from Tribefest 1? We know almost how much we lost.

Has anyone asked the professionals driving this effort (beyond the simple "Why???") how this iteration of Festivus 2 will be any different than its predecessor? We know, for example, that lacking an answer to question of how the $253,000 in losses from Tribefest 2011 will be repaid, JFNA's leaders sought a $100,000 grant for Festivus 2 from the JFNA Endowment. The Endowment Committee members, inclined to support the request, had the chutzpah to require, as a condition precedent to formal approval, some...any...description of how that $100,000 might be used. The nerve of that Committee.

Will someone in charge of this thing (assuming someone is in charge) explain the anticipated outcomes, the measures of success of Tribefest 1 and what more might be anticipated from Tribefest 2? I know it is a lot to ask but one can see, plain as day, another $250,000 in losses, fewer participant subsidies...and a helluva great time had by all.

JFNA has just announced Registration NOW OPEN! Next March -- to be preceded by something called the Leadership Development Institute. Think of the synergies!! Festivus Registration Fee -- $450 (reduced to $49 if you register NOW); suites available for $109. WOW!! Outcomes -- no doubt "priceless." And no doubt a loss leader. And no doubt staff will be directed to spend 100's maybe 1000's of hours on this thing, once again. Never look back. We just repeat the mistakes of the past, don't we??

Two words come to mind to describe JFNA and Tribefest 2 -- "hope" and "prayer" as in JFNA has nothing but a hope and a prayer for Festivus 2's success.


Monday, November 7, 2011


It's very clear today that there are the "voices in the wilderness" who have followed this Blog and the daily deluge of Briefings, op-eds and e-mails on the subject of the Global Planning Table, who know that a variety of commentators who have examined the GPT have found it far from wanting...have found it to be antithetical to its own purposes.

An anonymous young professional writing under the pseudonym ploni almoni has directly urged the federation leadership gathered in Denver to Vote No on the GPT which this John Doe concludes " the beginning of the end of Jewish Communal Collective Action," citing numerous reasons why in three cries of pain to the system. (This Anonymous professionals opinions so closely reflect my own that anonymous Commentators to this Blog have asked me if I and that writer are one.)

Then there was the Board Chair's response, without recognizing the critics of course, to we nay-sayers in a November 5 op-ed in The Jerusalem Post -- "Growing the Value of Jewish Federations' global giving." Therein, Kathy Manning essentially writes off the great collective successes of our federations in partnership with JAFI and JDC as the past, and points to GPT as "the forward-thinking process...a structure and process to confront new challenges, creatively allocate our collective resources, and more strageically support one another to build community at home and around the world." There was more, more of the same -- broad pronouncements that, upon any fair analysis, are unmatched by JFNA's lay or professional capacity.

This op-ed drove one commentator, Jay Michaelson (whose most recent book was God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality), to write in The Jerusalem Post concluding that the Global Planning Table " so out of step with contemporary sensibilities among non-professional Jews that it seems not just like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, but steering the ship more closely toward the iceberg." Yet Michaelson's op-ed uses the GPT to exemplify the failures of the federation world -- sadly the GPT gives critics like Michaelson that chance.

In a rational organization, the critics, who include so many federation CEOs who, on this subject, are like Bontche the Silent, writing me in total confidence, telling me that I and others who have spoken out our opposition to the GPT, are right but "what can I, one person, do?" And, my response to them: "Speak out, vote to table this ill-thought out scheme and let's see if we can't do better."  Won't happen is my guess.


Saturday, November 5, 2011


As part of its inducement to the Jewish Agency and the JDC to enter into an Agreement with JFNA in November 2010, the latter promised to require that federations, to be eligible for participation at the "Global Planning Table," "...increase allocations to support the important work of JAFI and JDC" by establishing "...a communal norm for the percentage of annual campaign dollars that are to be allocated for overseas needs." Thus did JFNA promise to establish a meaningful floor for core allocations to JAFI/JDC. Instead, what has emerged as a "Second Membership Criterion" offers nothing to JAFI/JDC and, as in the instance of the GPT itself, JFNA stands in breach of its inducement to the Joint and Agency to enter into the November 2010 Agreement. I think lawyers call this fraudulent inducement.

Here is the 2nd Criterion as proposed -- "In the initial phase of implementation of the second criterion for membership in JFNA (2012 campaign allocations) all allocations for Israel and overseas programming will be counted toward the 10%  minimum membership requirement. This includes both undesignated funds to JAFI and JDC and directed funding and is inclusive of all allocations outside of JAFI and JDC for Israel and overseas." (emphasis added)

In other words, if my community allocates nothing to the Agency or Joint, but 10% to, e.g., Hadassah Hospital, I am welcomed to the Global Planning Table with the same voice and vote as a community that allocates 30% of its annual campaign to JAFI/JDC.

Beginning with 2014 allocations, JAFI/JDC are not mentioned -- you just have to allocate 20% of your annual campaign as the GPT may determine. If JFNA aimed any lower in this "process," its institutional head would hit the floor.

Now, some have told me that it in today's environment it is futile to even argue the principle of collective responsibility and our historic partnership any more -- that's for the "dinosaurs" and "that train has left the station." Certainly these leaders know better than I -- but they also know that the GPT Plan and the Second Membership Criterion make a mockery of collective responsibility, a mockery of the concept and construct of partnership and these documents  anticipate that the federations and JFNA have become nothing more than a confederation of hypocrites. For these documents speak to "collective responsibility" and support for JAFI and the Joint time and time again, but only in the Orwellian sense because what they mean is what the JFNA leaders have demonstrated for at east the past six years -- no support, not for JAFI, not for the JDC and not for the collective. 

What JFNA proposes would upon its adoption turn the entire concept of collective responsibility on its head. It offers nothing to either the Jewish Agency or Joint, and, when coupled with the GPT, less than nothing. It appeals to the least of us rather than creating an aspiration to join the best of us. It opens up "participation" in JFNA and at the GPT essentially to any federation that allocates anything to anything in Israel or overseas. Your federation designates 10% of its annual campaign to, let's say, Haifa University -- you're in; to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs -- you're in; to the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress -- come on aboard. And, I am told "..this is the best they/we could do."

Then, without notice, JFNA's leaders take the SecondMembership Criterion off the agenda of the Board/Delegare Assembly meeting at the GA pushing that vote to the Owners Retreat in January. Why? No quorum for an Assembly vote? Pushback from federations that resist even a "10% of anything/nothing" Criterion? I'd love to suggest that there was pushback from the federations that actually care about and understand collective responsibility....but I dare not.

These "plans," read together or separately, are the dying declarations of a system that has lost its way. Sadly, ours is a system today that responds positively to the least among us. 


Thursday, November 3, 2011


The proposed Global Planning Table, now coupled with a meaningless even destructive "Second Membership Criterion," is Fools' Gold, a cryogenic chamber in which the hopes of the federations for something/anything from JFNA will be frozen in time until the federations come to their senses. By then, if then, so much will be lost...

The "GPT Plan" as drafted and revised presents such a convoluted piece of gibberish, it's not fit to wrap fish in. Let's, for a moment, revisit some recent history. The merger that created what is now JFNA was induced in part by express representations to the UIA (for the Jewish Agency) and the JDC, both of which would have to give up their ownership of the United Jewish Appeal, that one express purpose of the merger was to create greater financial resources for the overseas partners -- JAFI and the Joint. Over the next 12 years, JFNA not only failed to advocate for increased resources for the partners with the federations, it and its leaders sat passively over the last 6 years as allocations to the core budgets of the two partners dropped by over $200 million. 

Twice over the past three years, the Jewish Agency and JDC reached agreement as to how to divide federation core allocations -- the first agreement rejected by the actions of a single federation which determined that the term of the JAFI/JDC agreement was "too long" (five years!!); the second rejected unilaterally and with out discussion by JFNA. These "rejections" should have been signal enough to the partners that they weren't.

Nonetheless, hopeful that they would be treated as true partners in the future if not today, the Jewish Agency and JDC entered into an Agreement with JFNA in November 2010, that assured them full participation in a Global Planning Table, a meaningful Second Membership Criterion for federation eligibility, and a plan mutually acceptable for joint marketing and FRD.

In the midst of this sordid history, at the very end of a desultory JFNA Owners' Retreat in February 2009, there was a discussion of what a Global Planning Table (or some such) might mean for JFNA. Few federations were present throughout the Retreat but almost none remained for the "discussion" of a global planning function, but JFNA's leaders, then and now, profess that a consensus emerged to develop and implement just such a device -- the purposes of which were not clear. Over the next months, JFNA's leaders expanded on that "consensus" redefining it as a mandate. Over the months, JFNA hired a consultant, created another one of its "secret Committees" (those federations who had no representative on the "Framing Committee" were unaware of its existence) and emerged this past Spring with a consultant's version of "GPT Straw Man" presentation that was rolled out in a series of Regional meetings to almost unanimous derision -- even JFNA's rubber stamp Executive Committee expressed strong opposition.

Undeterred, JFNA not only budgeted an additional $1.2 million for the GPT prior to its approval, it hired a senior professional in JFNA Washington to lead an effort that had not been approved. Then, over the past weeks, a revised Draft of the "GPT Plan" emerged -- Transforming the Future of Collective Action: The Global Planning Table. I would urge you to read this convoluted "Plan" for yourselves. After reading and rereading it myself, I can only conclude, as John McEnroe did after a horrible line call at Wimbledon years ago: "You cannot be serious." It was H. L. Mencken who must have anticipated this "Plan" when he wrote of another: "[I]t has the great virtue of being totally unintelligible."

A few things emerge in the GPT Plan that are clear:

     ~ No one at JFNA really has a clue what the concepts of collective responsibility or "partner" really means;

     ~ The Agency and Joint are partners in name only with lip service given to the entire concept of partnership;

     ~ To gain acceptance of the "GPT Plan," JFNA is perfectly willing to unilaterally breach its Agreement with JAFI/JDC. While that Agreement provided that "JAFI and JDC will be full, non-voting members of the GPT...," the Plan offers far less.

     ~ "Core funding" is an alien concept to the authors of the "Plan."

     ~ The "Plan"  incorporates New York UJA-Federation's "Commission" approach to planning and allocations with no apparent analysis of either the costs of "importing" such a system into JFNA or of JFNA's ability to implement it. JFNA clearly lacks the professional competency of New York and already suffers the bureaucratic bloat that this "GPT Plan" promises to build upon.

     ~ No one involved in the JFNA construction of the "GPT Plan" experienced the disaster that ONAD proved to be over its five years of failures. While JFNA's leaders may hope and pray that the Global Planning Table will prove successful as ONAD was not, to one who was deeply involved in the ONAD fiasco it is clear that the GPT as "planned" will prove even worse. No attempt has been made by JFNA's leaders to even study the errors of ONAD, the GPT Plan only "promises" to compound them from day one.

     ~ With all the lip service to the "historic partners" the Jewish Agency and the Joint, at the end of Calendar Year 2012, it is JFNA's express intent to: control all federation Israel and overseas core allocations (such as they may be by 12/12) and determine their application notwithstanding the intent or direction of any single federation from largest to smallest; notwithstanding the intent or plans of the JDC Board for those funds, substitute its determination for the Joint's, ignoring the the reality that JDC is an independent American entity ; and notwithstanding the reality that neither JFNA nor the federations "own" the Jewish Agency -- we, the federations, are but minority co-owners with the Keren Ha'Yesod countries, the World Zionist Organization (more about that in future weeks) and, yes, the Government of Israel, JAFI's largest partner, and, maybe, the Holy Land Fellowship of Christians and Jews, whose core allocations to the Jewish Agency already exceed those of Keren Ha'Yesod and will, if trends continue, soon exceed those of the federations, direct the application of core funds to the Agency; and relegate its overseas "partners" to beneficiary status. 

     ~ Assume, for purposes of a discussion among us, that those major federations which have committed to the Jewish Agency and/or the Joint that their core allocations will be "protected" in their communal decisions, follow through on these commitments; and assume further that those federations which currently designate all or most of their Israel and overseas allocations wish to continue to do so, the funds available to the GPT for its purposes will be far more restricted and ineffectual in dictating a "new collective" than its draftspersons expect. But...they just didn't think about that, did they?

     ~ JFNA, sensing that the definitions in the half-baked Plan are inadequate to their intent, contemplate that the "Partnership Committee"(on which neither JAFI nor the Joint will sit) will redefine the system's responsibilities to the system's "Historic Partners" (the Agency and Joint) by creating a set of "selection criteria" that might...or might the worst exclude them and, at "best," convert cherished partners into grantees. What we have, my friends, is a bad Plan, poorly drafted, that will wreak havoc...and which will be approved next week at the General Assembly.

     ~ To illustrate the willingness of JFNA to distort reality in pursuit of the approval of the GPT Plan, consider this: at a meeting a few weeks ago, JFNA leaders almost broke their arms patting themselves on their own backs (that contortion is known in federation circles as "doing the JFNA") on the success of the Select Core Priorities program as a forerunner of the GPT. Here's what JFNA calls a "success:" 10 of 157 federations chose to participate (In a declining allocations environment 147 federations said: "No.")   -- that's 6%. These 10 put a total of $2 million into the Core Priorities. That's about 2% of total allocations to JAFI/JDC. And, yet, those at JFNA, who were last heard desperately calling federation staffs around the country, begging them to participate, now termed this not just "victory" but an indicator of the future success of the GPT. And, at this same meeting, the usual lay suspects offered their congratulations. Orwell would have been so proud.

Last Friday JFNA issued one of those Leadership Briefings that revealed more by what it did not say than what it did about the Global Planning Table -- no reference to the creation of additional resources; no explanation of the costs that will be incurred in its creation; and most revealing the only mention of JAFI/JDC is their inclusion as one of apparently many "global partners" who will need to have JFNA "coordinate" their "fundraising, marketing and communications." 

No one would disagree that the federations' collective commitment to Israel and overseas needs has been neutered. An argument can certainly be made that the merger mandated that the national system ab initio was obligated to be at the forefront of advocacy for those needs and that JFNA, from Day One of its existence, has remained silent (but for sporadic outbursts). Now, JFNA states that through a GPT that it will control, all will be well. If you believe that, I have a Bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. This so-called "Plan" cries out "trust me" and "run for your lives" at one and the same time.

It is clear to this observer that the market reflected in federation allocations  decisions was and is perfectly capable of determining how and where collective allocations should be directed. The Jewish Agency and Joint are fully capable of competing in and for that market without JFNA's attempt to control and dictate that for which it has no core competency. It does not take any particular prescience to predict that the GPT will be the table at which the federation system died. To date, I can think of no new initiative of JFNA that has been executed to the standard of excellence called for by the arrogation to the GPT of the allocations function heretofore executed by the federations, JDC and JAFI (and UIA).

But, JFNA drives this bus, with the acquiescence of federations who know better, toward the precipice. The JFNA Executive Committee, which had implicitly rejected an earlier iteration of the "GPT Plan," without objection, approved it two weeks ago. Everyone involved in this coming debacle, one that will cost everyone involved dearly, should know better -- and many of them do. And those that do will again have to clean up the mess that this Fools' Gold will surely leave behind.



Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Yes, the Blog has been down for four months. Life has been peaceful (for some). So, the logical question, one I have asked myself quite often, is why bring it back? There are multiple answers, all of which flow from my June 30 Post, the one in which I declared "-30-" Therein I indicated that if our federations failed to take ownership of JFNA and if JFNA continued down the path it was clearly and aimlessly heading and if in personam attacks on your Blogger continued, I reserved the right to return. And, because bad times have never seemed so bad, I am back.

I am committed to making the Blog a kinder and gentler place, accused as I have been in the past as engaging in the kind of personal attacks that those I have been writing about do toward me...and they have continued. I have explained that when leaders -- lay and pro -- confuse the organization's purposes with their own, as they continue to, their conclusions will continue to be that any criticism of organizational policies or programs or lack of direction or wrong direction are personal attacks. There are those who believe that the Blog was nothing more than a series of personal attacks on JFNA's leaders. I would ask them, knowing that they won't, to reread the 660 Posts that preceded this one. Just know that I have too much respect for those who assume leadership roles in our communities to do so. At Kathy Manning's specific request (even as she assured me that she never reads the them unless they are sent to her), I have reread those Posts and admit that I have too often failed my own standard. I will try not to do so in the future -- but (and it's a very big BUT) when leaders confuse criticism of programs and lack of a concept of institutional purpose with personal criticism, the problem isn't mine.  I'll just have to live with that reality.

As so many of you have noted, I have been gone from these pages for four months...four months during which, unfortunately, JFNA has continued to engage in the humorous and the destructive while, all around it, federations are in retreat from the values and principles that once bound them together, with JFNA ...oblivious. The silence from the federation owners has been, is and, apparently, will remain...deafening. In the Posts ahead I will be looking back...and peeking into the future with you as what was such a beautiful system continues down the path of self-destruction.

Sure, I continue to be baffled by JFNA's lack of purpose, the annual on-going waste of a large percentage of $30.3 million of our precious resources, but, all the more, I am brought back to this Blog by the federations themselves apparent lack of will and growing lack of purpose. I return after these four months of silence as confused and frustrated as never before.

In the coming days and weeks I will be writing about the folly of the JFNA Global Planning Table -- which is nothing if not a written expression of the Orwellian fantasy world in which JFNA operates -- you know, black is white, dark is light; a meaningless and worse Second Membership Criterion; "deals" on Dues; the manner in which JFNA operates what has become the annual Community Heroes thing; and, of course, Tribefest 2. I will be looking at what some of our federations around the country have been doing, promoting or not doing. And I will be musing about the constant self-promotion, the self-congratulations that JFNA offers itself in such a variety of ways and about all manner of things -- its "brand," its missions but not its Mission, its lay and professional leaders and on and on.

Observing the lack of institutional purpose after 11 years just so saddens me. (You think that anyone at JFNA can articulate its purpose in a single sentence in plain English?) But, worse, over the last four months of my silence, I have watched as even those federations whose leaders truly care about our system, have handed JFNA's leaders a whole bunch of matches and a huge can of lighter fluid. And more and more, they are willing to just stand back and just admire the fire.

Then, last week came what has become and remains the kind of pettiness I had come to experience first-hand but which I had hoped was past. I had been asked to serve on a Search Committee for a successor to Yitzchak Shavit, z'l.  I don't know who picked me but there was some rationale for it -- I had worked with Itzik in his roles for UIA, IEF, UJA and JFNA for over 25 years. When I inquired last week about when the Committee would be meeting, I was told that I had been summarily deleted from the Committee by "someone," unnamed, at JFNA. They know who they are...and so do I. And, so it goes.

Yes, I know. I am engaged in an act of both principle and futility.

So be it.