Wednesday, February 29, 2012


A member of the Jewish Agency Board, writing anonymously in ejewishphinthropy, that treasured resource, has perfectly analyzed, side-by-side and fact-by-fact, the actions and substance of one organization, world-wide in scope, and the other, JFNA, engaged in "management guff that masquerades as real work...wasting everybody's time..."let alone our money."

Read it and weep.

"The Fictional Global Planning Table

As it stands now, the Jewish Federations of North America’s Global Planning Table is a work of fiction. Maybe it’s just that my relatively new Israeliness has made me more aware of the management guff that masquerades as real work in Jewish organized life, but it seems like the GPT so far, over half a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars after its long-heralded launch, hasn’t done much beyond sending around paper after paper about the process of how Jewish leaders are all going to talk about the issues.

Why not cut to the chase? For example, with a phone call led by someone who is respected, brave enough to dive into the questions of the day without a year-long discussion of the process, and influential enough not to be wasting everybody’s time?

This thought occurred to me this week as I listened to one of the most hard-hitting and informative discussions of one of the most intractable and painful Jewish issues of our day – haredim and the Orthodox monopoly in Israel. Quietly but effectively, one major Jewish organization has held real conversations between vastly different kinds of Jews on real issues that scare and worry us – and without pandering to the lowest common denominator or obsessing about process.

Last June, the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors met in Jerusalem for a daylong discussion about the legitimate boundaries of discussion on Israel, the old “Who’s inside the tent?” question. Right-wing Jews sparred openly with left-wing, major federation presidents complained about being caught between conservative donors and progressive young program participants, and all sorts of Jews from all over the world took some wisdom back home with them.

The program was so successful that JFNA itself asked the Jewish Agency to hold the identical discussion at the GA in Denver in November.

A week after that GA, the agency took its 120-member board to Argentina – at the participants’ expense, it should be noted – into the field to see and participate in the real lives of Jews these leaders had never met. If you’re on the Jewish Agency board, Argentinian Jewry isn’t just an agenda item in a drab hotel conference room meeting. You’ve been to their schools, spoken to their mayor, heard about their fears of antisemitism and their gratitude to the Jewish world that rescued their schools and synagogues after the country’s financial collapse ten years ago.

And you thought about the actual real-life experience of meeting them when you promised a million dollars to keep the Greek community afloat this week.

Finally, this week back in Jerusalem, the Jewish Agency did something that to my knowledge is unprecedented for a major umbrella organization. It held an academic lecture, roundtable discussions and many hours of thoughtful contemplation of the problem of haredi integration into Israeli and world Jewish society. Among the presenters (some of whom spoke by video) were the haredi mayor of a haredi city (Beitar Illit), the Labor Party-appointed head of education and welfare for the Bet Shemesh municipality, an Israeli-born Reform rabbi, a haredi woman educator and college president, a former Shas MK (not Rabbi Amsalem for once) and at least two researchers who gave long talks about haredi society and demographics.

So much was learned at this daylong seminar that for once, the agency’s Committee for the Unity of the Jewish People didn’t just publish a call for pluralism. “I want to know what I can actually do with everything I learned,” more than one board member told me, including a major federation executive.
The committee decided it would research potential “candidates for actions” by the next board meeting in June, where instead of yet another banal call for pluralism and unity, the committee would choose and approve a course of action and a budget for diaspora Jews to step in and affect the situation.

I could go on about stopping the Rotem Bill, the clarity and stubbornness with which the agency has faced its many critics of late, and more. Bottom line: this is an organization led by courageous and straight-talking leaders who are really getting to the business of solving the Jewish people’s problems.

Over the past year, the place for content and brave discussions of the hottest topics on the Jewish agenda – I’m as surprised as you – has been the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Meanwhile, the GPT is searching desperately for an identity. It’s tried everything except actually having a straightforward discussion about the Jewish people’s challenges. Why is JFNA spending millions in reinventing the idea that Jews should be talking about the really important issues, when the Jewish Agency, simply by getting to the actual conversation, has tackled the most uncomfortable issues as if they were simply part of the Jewish people’s daily business?

Which, of course, they are."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Here they go again. 

I want no credit for prescience, but I want to remind you that from the February 2009 JFNA Retreat forward, I had predicted the emergence of what would be called the Global Planning Table and the intent of JFNA to arrogate to itself the Israel and Overseas allocation function of the federations. Call that faulty process Step 1. Now it's on to Step 2.

Step 2 requires no great leap of faith. At the January 2012 JFNA Board Retreat, an extraordinary amount of time was spent focusing on "Israel's Civil Society." It's an important topic, no doubt, but never doubt for a moment that JFNA lay and professional leaders believe that they can impact on the incivility in Israel and, I guess, on Haredi attitudes and reprehensible activities in some as yet inarticulate manner. So far that "engagement" has reflected itself in "strong statements" in the usual JFNA style -- full of sound and fury signifying nothing; a letter "hand delivered" to the Prime Minister expressing our "concern" and demanding "action," and CEO Jerry visiting the Knesset with his liege, Ms. Caspi, grabbing whoever they can ("excuse me, are you a Knesset member? Can we have a moment"), traveling to Beit Shemesh, etc,and getting a mention or even an interview in the Israeli media. (If federation leaders happen to be in Israel on a Mission, they might be invited to watch participate.) 

Somehow, JFNA leaders have the belief that they can influence Haredi actions in Israel when they have no contact...none...with the Haredi community in North America. Let them start here, at home, not too far from JFNA HQ. Kathy and Jerry ought to take a trip across the East River and meet with the Haredi leadership; tell them of our concerns face-to-face; ask them to cease the violence,; to cease the uncivil activities right here at home; and to cease funding them in Israel. Then, through that success, influence actions directly in Israel. For the last, there's a toolkit somewhere at 25 Broadway...find it, use it...but, beware, it involves mobilizing the federations and, oy vey, lay persons.

But, our leaders won't do that...too hard; wouldn't involve JAFI (whose leaders might have advised Kathy/Jerry of the origins of today's incivility); and wouldn't attract funding from the GPT. But, none of this will stand in the way of JFNA's leaders -- those who have proved time and again that once they start down a path, they don't turn back -- TribeFest, a failure, let's do it again and, this time, we'll budget $818,000 plus overhead and staff travel; Community Heroes, no apparent purpose, but, look, Philadelphia copied us so let's do it again; the Global Planning Table, even though federations will continue to determine where they and their donors want their allocations to go, others have already committed to continue their core allocations to JAFI/JDC, hey, we'll just take dollars from the Israel and Overseas Endowment, its purposes be damned, and some federations will give us something to play with, won't they? And, we'll call it "collective responsibility" and...victory!!

Arrogance and hubris override reason. Onward, the critics be damned. It's the "JFNA way."


Saturday, February 25, 2012


Dear Susie,

When you were named National Campaign Chair, I was, with all of your friends and colleagues, past and present, so pleased. For the first time in a long time, I had a sense of some optimism about FRD at JFNA. Now, months after your appointment, and after your cheerful and totally misguided presentation on "Philanthropic Resources" at the GA, I find that optimism shattered as with all else at JFNA.

I would have thought, Susie, given your brilliant performance as UJA's Women's Philanthropy Chair, that that experience would have been informed your leadership in this storied position that represents a continuum from, in my own experience, Mort Kornreich to you. Even in the history of JFNA great Chairs like Carole Solomon, Bob Schrayer, z'l, Marc Wilf, Steve Selig, Joel Alperson and David Fisher, carried on the battle to maintain the status of both FRD and the role of the National Campaign Chair -- sometimes against heavy internal JFNA lay and professional opposition. They did so because they were aware of the sacred responsibilities of the role of Chair and the critical connection between national FRD and the communities -- sacred responsibilities in which the leadership of JFNA the past six years has been, at best, disinterested. Thus, my hope was that you would reignite the fire; instead you hold hands with those who are pouring water that will assure that the small spark that was once a roaring fire goes out.

The federations had made it known during the first five years of JFNA that they wanted far more in the way of FRD services than they were getting even at that time. There were a series of annual surveys of the federations conducted by the Rochester Research Group that, year-in and year-out, placed FRD at the top of their lists of "wants" from JFNA. Rather than provide those services to federations, JFNA just stopped the surveys. (It's as if the intermarriage crisis of the 90's wouldn't have happened if we just hadn't commissioned a National Population Study...and, now, we don't.) You could probably have someone on the Philanthropic Resources staff get those Survey findings from the dead files if you asked. So instead of more, the federations got less and, now, they get almost none.

Please understand, I know that there are some excellent things happening in national FRD. Among them:

     ~ The "Million Dollar Roundtable" (or however it's branded) bringing together million dollar donors and federation CEOs from time-to-time replicating the "Mega Group" (with a more limited membership) begun with such hope in the UJA era. While not a group originated within the "campaign," it's still a terrific initiative;

     ~ The "Tarrytown Group" (or whatever it's called) bringing together professional leaders of major foundations with federation CEOs from time-to-time, offering hopes for joint ventures and the cross-pollination of big ideas. While not a group within "campaign," it's still a terrific initiative; 

     ~ The revival of at least a portion of what once was a highlight of the Winter season, then the "National Palm Beach Event," in the form of the Clinton Speech at a "King David Society" event. Of course, the constituency that was the core of 200 major donors who participated in the Palm Beach Event has been abandoned and destroyed by JFNA itself. But we had some great times there; 

     ~ The rebranding of "federation benchmarking" as the "online data dashboard" brings an old and good CJF best practice into the 21st century and offers a terrific data base for measuring federations' successes (or failures);

     ~ Reintroducing an idea that originated at UJA in the 90's -- direct mail solicitation of low end prospects -- as if it were some kind of new idea; and

     ~ Flight -- a substantive, important program for a small group of high potential future leaders and philanthropists. While really conceived and led by Jane Sherman and almost completely funded by the Fisher Family Foundation, JFNA deserves some degree of credit. Now, of course, the critical question: who is left at Philanthropic Resources to staff it?

But, Susie,  there are also those national Missions you spoke about with such passion (and, of course, you would because you experienced so many of them back in the day) as if they will be enhanced and increased this year. Yet, you and I know that JFNA is reducing the subsidy on its most important Mission, the Campaign Chairs and Directors, by at least 10% when it should be increasing it, selling it and understanding that the ROI from that Mission alone can't be fully measured in connection and inspiration. You will recall that when we as a system understood "value investing," the UJA reinvested in the CC/CD Mission 50/50 with the communities; now, JFNA's "investment" approximates 10% of the Mission cost.

Last year showed the lowest attendance since that great Mission was initiated back in the days of Mel Bloom. I would have expected you, of all leaders, to have used your influence with the Board Chair to demand that the investment (what JFNA calls "subsidy") be increased. But, no, JFNA makes a greater "investment" (as in "good money after bad") of absolute dollars and staff time and travel in TribeFest than in the best sales tool it has, the CC/CD Mission. BTW, you may remember that in the days when the national organization understood "return on investment" that 50/50 subsidy and an inspired lay and professional leadership with the federations produced annual results for the federations that were overwhelming -- so many of the men and women who read this Blog will remember how federation campaigns were jump-started; I remember how I was inspired, time and again. 

When JFNA began twelve years ago, we had a clear picture of the role of the National Campaign Chair -- if not the "first among equals," then one of a troika of co-equals -- the Board Chair, the Chair of the Executive and the National Campaign Chair -- each with a critical leadership role. Today, the Chair of the Executive position is gone and the National Campaign Chair's role has been reduced to cheerleader, to a good reader of scripts. (When the last effective National Campaign Chair questioned "authority," he refused top accept a diminished role and resigned -- principle triumphed and JFNA...lost.) Susie, you have the strength that comes from the support of our largest federation and your gifts of passion and commitment. Use that support and those gifts to elevate FRD to its proper position within JFNA -- the choice is yours.

Warmest regards,



Wednesday, February 22, 2012


You remember, don't you, all the fuss started about six years ago about "silos" at JFNA. "Got to tear 'em down." "Destroy them." "Build one organization." Yada Yada yada. Of course this was all just a smoke screen to mask massive layoffs, often of the strongest of JFNA professionals. In the end, the actions just weakened the organization, weak as it was already.

As is always...always...the case at JFNA, we, amcha, were never told whether the "silos" were destroyed, what the "benefits" were, if any. But, never mind...they're back -- they may be different, after all, even camouflaged as "Philanthropic Resources," with a "National Campaign Chair," there is no perceivable "national campaign," except in the minds of those at 25 Broadway; yes, different but...back.

The "silos" of today:

     ~ Marketing and Communications...rather than a function supporting campaign and FRD, it stands alone in the JFNA corn field, much like a scarecrow to frighten away the critics. A separate fiefdom, there to serve the CEO, the Board Chair. Oh, it may produce a campaign film...but it does so independent of "Philanthropic Resources."

     ~ you know what the minions in Jerusalem do? I know that the Office, under two administrations, immediate past and present, no longer supports the work of the Agency (other than the superb work of UIA-Israel) or Joint. And just look at the recent Briefing on an UJA-Federation of New York Mission to Ethiopia where, in a YNet puff piece one would hardly know that the New York Federation was involved at all -- claiming credit is what one does when one has nothing else to do. Now, thank G-d, this Office may provide a support function for the embryonic Global Planning Table, but other than Mission support and, of course, choreographing Jerry Silverman's periodic forays on the ground in Israel...what else for all of this money?

At the onset of what has become JFNA, some 12 years ago, Bob Aronson, then Detroit's President, led a Task Force that recommended real change to the Israel Office and functions. None of those recommendations were followed, but they need to be revisited...and fast.

     ~ JFNA-Washington...the only "silo" functioning well, integrated wholly with the federations and demonstrably successful. Jerry Silverman's seminal professional achievement to date was taking whatever steps were necessary to retain William Daroff for JFNA.

     ~ Philanthropic Resources...the catalyst for the "silo" deconstruction has been successfully (if this is a measure of "success" at JFNA) diminished -- it is but a shadow, if that, of what "Financial Resource Development" (let alone UJA) once was. I keep expecting the great people who have served and serve as National Campaign Chairs to step up and assert themselves...but the last one who did so resigned in frustration, and his successors have proved to be silent partners in the defenestration.

What can we conclude? Well, at this iteration of JFNA little of value has any real permanence. In fact, today's leaders don't possess the toolkit (or, if they have it, don't know how to use it) to decide between what is of value and what isn't. And, where there are choices, they seem to always...always...choose badly. And, there's the rub.


Sunday, February 19, 2012


Leave it to those wise scribes at JFNA to provide the postscript, a cadenza if you will, to our most recent Post.  In a JFNA Leadership Briefing, of all places, the organization itself evidenced the annual waste more vividly than this Blog ever could. 

Two weeks after the Orlando Retreat ended, JFNA published the results: Board of Trustees Examines Critical Issues at Winter Meeting. Ignoring for the moment Briefing's characterization of the November (sic) 2010 JFNA Agreement with JAFI and the JDC as both "multi-faceted" and "integrated" (whatever that means), let's turn, instead, to the recap of CEO and President Silverman's closing address to the sad remnant remaining in Orlando by the time of the presentation. Here's the way the Briefing put it: "The coming year will only bring even greater leadership and results, with a 'record' GA in Baltimore, a second TribeFest, the International Lion of Judah Conference in New York City, a series of inspiring and recharged missions, and much more, Silverman said."

In other words, $30.3 million more of going nowhere with your money.


Thursday, February 16, 2012


With the JFNA Board's approval a while back of another (ho-hum) $30.3 million Budget, one that once again rarely associates any of its "planned" programs with any dollar amount, it occurred to me that perhaps we ought to consider just what our federations, our agencies and/or our partners might have spent the $600,000,000....that's $600 million, friends...for matters meaningful, even critical, rather than wasting so much of it on pet projects and personal agendas and vendettas.

Think about it: $600,000,000!! Not a small number; about what what we transmitted to the Jewish Agency from the great Operation Exodus Campaign, sufficient to leverage the aliyah for 1,000,000 Jews from what was the Soviet Union. What might we, as a continental community done with that truly outrageous amount? We could have provided Jewish pre-school and day school scholarships to tens of 1,000's of families. We could have responded to the Joint's continued unmet needs in the FSU? Or given federations the ability to meet the needs of a massive outbreak of new Jewish poor in our midst? We could have met the needs of Birthright or fully funded JAFI's MASA program. Instead, we have thrown and throw an equivalent amount at JFNA and in little, so very little. Is it fair to criticize the lack of purpose and the waste? Or is it merely a waste of time to do so?

And, coupled to the wandering, we find JFNA in total disregard of the financial crises facing not just our historic partners but, apparently, those facing our own communities. Now there is the suspicion, engendered by the time devoted to the subject at the Orlando Retreat and a subsequent Leadership Briefing (that demonstrated, once again, that the core value of "collective responsibility" is unknown to JFNA), that JFNA believes it can find purpose in wrapping itself in the cause of Israel's civil society. Why? Because it is the sense of the current JFNA leadership that that involvement, like its attempts to arrogate to itself the determination of federations' Israel and Overseas agenda and allocations, will make JFNA (and thereby its leaders) important. Forget the reality that JFNA has no proven capacity to accomplish anything beyond the reductio ad absurdum destruction of the FRD function that once elevated our national organization to such glory and the elevation ad absurdum of a TribeFest at such great expense -- a financial failure in Year 1, now a failure of design and purpose to come.

And, I guess that my friends in leadership of the federations, seeing no alternative to JFNA, and, basically, disinterested in trying to right this institutional version of the Costa Concordia, throw our money at it, with the hope that it will then float,  and vote for programs without inquiry or concern. How easily we have become coopted.

That was $600,000,000(+) and counting.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012


 Someone from 25 Broadway, writing anonymously of course, attacked an Anonymous critic of the Fest whose Comment was one of many in response to HELL IN A HAND BASKET -- TRIBEFEST EDITION. The Anonymous to whom JFNA was "responding" had pointed out that the same JFNA writer had cited three Fest 1 programs wherein community philanthropy was presented and that represented less than 10% of the programs at a federation event. I have decided to print the entirety of this quasi-official response (for how could it be "official" if this courageous professional hides behind anonymity) with some commentary:

Dear friend, those were just a few examples of the whole. No, that was it -- three programs.  It is clear that the facts are not important here in this discussion, so I will leave it at that. Sure, when the facts are on your side, argue the facts, when the law is on your side, argue the law and when neither is on your side just "leave it at that." I am sorry you are so angry about something that is trying to do some good and has the support of the majority of the federations and people out there - at least that has been the surveyed feedback. We'd be glad to publish this "survey" right here. What we do know are the following facts: TribeFest was "planned" for unaffiliated young adults; yet, 75% of those in attendance were affiliated; a federation offering a subsidy is going to give priority to those affiliated with it; and JFNA so blindly lost over $250,000 on the 2011 "Event" that it begged the Endowment Committee for $100,000 that are going for even more subsidies; and JFNA has now added a new appendage to increase numbers -- a so-called "Leadership Development Institute" of 5 hours duration, including lunch, that is designed, best I can tell, strictly to increase the numbers at Festivus. N'est-ce pas? My suspicion is that ANYTHING that JFNA tries to do will not be good in your eyes, so why even bother to have this discussion. On these pages we would welcome ANYTHING that JFNA does well.

Just remember that there are a lot of good, honest and dedicated young professionals (there are some great young professionals at JFNA and I would wager that all of them are "good/honest" but I would wager that the Anonymous writer would not meet the age cohort of the invitees to the Fest). at JFNA who are working very hard on this, doing it with little or no budget (please -- we have seen the budget for the Fest - it's $818,000 not including staff time and staff travel -- so, do not insult your own intelligence), and are doing it in partnership (yes, that is a real word -- yes, and to JFNA, by its actions, it is only a word)) with our federations, our agencies, and organizations.
We don't think these attacks are funny.

Always good to hear from our friends at 25 Broadway.


Monday, February 13, 2012


As all of you know, whether you are regular readers of this Blog or merely "experience" JFNA with any regularity, or have been told by JFNA how great it is to have your organization as a "partner," JFNA throws around terms that they either (a) don't understand or (b) don't mean, or both. And, as trust is the most critical characteristic of success, JFNA by its misuse and abuse of the concept and definition of "partnership" has destroyed the trust of those who could...and its greatest supporters and best "partners."

First, let's be sure that we are all on the same page. "Partners" have been defined generally as bound to work with each other " the greatest common advantage, to be just and faithful to each other" in every way. It is a relationship requiring trust and good faith.  Got it? OK. Now all of you who believe that JFNA behaves like a partner with those it calls its "partners," please raise your hands. Hmmmm. Seeing none, let's continue, bearing the definition in mind.

So, let's look at JFNA and how it treats those it calls its "partners:"
  • The "historic" partners. When JFNA's "leaders" refer to the Jewish Agency and Joint as "our historic partners," I have the sense that "our" doesn't include JFNA, but references the there is no evidence...none...that JFNA has treated the Jewish Agency and the Joint as its defined partners over the last six(+) years. Core allocations are at an all time low to both organizations and JFNA has not raised a hand or its voice in support of these true "partners." The Global Planning Table is structured, even mandated, to further erode these core allocations in every way. So much for "partnership," agreed?
  • The "other" (overseas) partners. Specifically, World ORT and the Ethiopian National Project (the "ENP") have been defined as the "other partners" in JFNA's meaningless way. True, JFNA's leaders made a special appeal for funding the ENP and, in JFNA's meaningless way, that letter appeal was it. Funding for both of the "other partners" has fallen and both have been left to the whims of the GPT. Yet, "partners" they may be called, they have no seats "at the Table" and, in fact, were told that they could not attend the GPT meetings in Orlando. So much for "partnership," agreed?
  • Our National Agency partners. The system's national agencies -- those we have historically supported as part and parcel of our collective responsibility as they were the agencies our system actually created. You remember them; JFNA would like to forget them...and, more or less, has. JFNA recreated the national agencies support system as The Alliance -- a voluntary National Funding Council the purpose of which, as it has worked out, is to hide the desire of some federations to deeply cut national agencies support behind a planning facade. In fact, there has been no real national agency planning since The Alliance was formed; but there has been serious reductions in national agencies funding. The Alliance, at least to some of us, is to the National Agencies as the Global Planning Table will be to the Jewish Agency and JDC. So much for "partnership," agreed?
  • The partners in TribeFest. You may remember last year that JFNA proudly announced, before the financial and purposeless Festivus 1, that it had "over 40 partners in TribeFest," most with the experience and participant base with which JFNA was so desperately seeking to associate itself. Turns out, in its quest "for increased numbers," with its massive subsidies JFNA is sucking the very life out of these "partners." One of them, operating a significant and successful Festival for youngsters for what is now its 8th iteration, at a cost of about 1/10th of the TribeFest, and with the same intended audience, and the same "performers," (and, of course, more) has seen numbers reduce because of this "leech effect" of Festivus. I had suggested in 2009, when JFNA Fest first reared its head ("we're going to Vegas," screamed Jerry at the New Orleans GA), that JFNA just support these successful efforts...but no -- we'd rather throw a million dollars at our own. Of course we would.  So much for "partnership," agreed?
There was a time in the now not so recent past when our national organizations were truly partners -- they understood partnership; they worked hand-in-hand with our partners who performed our work for us, in Israel and overseas, at the national agencies. But, that was then and this is now. Bottom line, it's clearly best not to be JFNA's "partner" -- in fact, if you hear JFNA "leaders" call you a "partner" run away as fast as you possibly can.


Friday, February 10, 2012


One thing is certain, there is always something...

     ~ Roland Martin, is/was a CNN commentator was indefinitely suspended by that network for some "regrettable and offensive" tweets during the Super Bowl. One of those read as follows: "If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham's H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him! #superbowl." Bet I know who will be headlining TribeFest 3.

     ~ Dan Brown, the thoughtful and insightful founder and publisher of eJewishPhilanthropy, wrote a thoughtful and insightful commentary on 9 February questioning the aims and "achievements"  of JFNA's multi-million investment in its Marketing and Communications. It's worth reading; although JFNA didn't think so. Later that same day JFNA's Joe Berkofsky, whom I usually hold in high regard, having been delegated the obligation to respond (apparently by those who wouldn't deign to do so), ripped off a "non-response" that fits the title of this Post. Let's look at what Berkofsky/JFNA wrote and note how that "non-response" proved Dan Brown's very points:

     ` "We always welcome constructive dialogue about JFNA." I have heard this so often and it is so laughable. 

     ` Brown's commentary is then characterized as "erroneous speculation based on supposition and lack of facts." In fact, Brown's piece was premised on the reality that JFNA's marketing and communications "efforts" wholly failed to provide facts on which the North American Jewish polity could rely.

     ` Berkofsky pointed to the "...thousands of news stories (arising out of) an actionable strategic communications plan." Hey, Joe, the word "actionable" has as its primary definition "providing grounds for legal action..." But...we get your point, whatever it may have been.

     ` Because, you see, after citing a broad array of media in which "JFNA stories" have appeared, Berkofsky goes on to cite the "impact" as "...being quantifiably measured in hundreds of millions of viewers." Not hundreds of thousands or even tens of millions...but hundreds of millions. And the source for that "quantifiable measure?" Unexplained. Unknown. Non-existent? Whoever sourced the "hundreds of millions" count must be the same person who offers attendance figures at GAs and TribeFest and in "touches" of Community Heroes. Great work!!

As I read the rest of the broadside, I mused: where are the citations to Dan Brown's "erroneous speculation based on supposition and a lack of facts." Finding none I thought was the best/worst commentary of all on JFNA's Marketing and Communications effort.

     ` I have read with continuing interest, the spate of TribeFest invites, reminders, etc. I like the idea of putting young leaders to speak on panels on subjects they may know something about. I have always had a problem with attempts at "cute" in titling sessions such as Generation Change: How to Occupy Your (Jewish) Community Now, or Zionism and Liberalism: Lifelong Partners or A One Night Stand?  And, with few JFNA staff on the Program (at least for now) and having to get to Las Vegas before the preposterous add-on Leadership Development Institute begins Sunday a.m., and presuming that JFNA has continued an UJA policy of no travel on Shabbat, just how many staffers will have an expense paid weekend in Las Vegas starting pre-Shabbat? I know they'll all come back energized on Wednesday.

Shabbat shalom.


Thursday, February 9, 2012


First, congrats to JFNA, the Denver GA produced a $300,000(+) surplus. That's great. The surplus suggests that the fewer the full pay Registrants, the absence of the Prime Minister, the diminished number of paid speakers,  even JFNA can run a profitable GA. But, is a GA with 848 full paid Registrants really a GA? Is this what anyone intended the GA to be? (To be sure JFNA has calculated that attendance swelled thanks to 254 students and 80 paying a day rate, and a claimed 1,318 unpaid attendees,  etc.. etc. I will merely note in passing that next month AIPAC expects over 10,000 at its Policy Conference. That's right: GA 848 full paid registrants; AIPAC 10,000 attendees.)

I do remember a few years ago JFNA appointed a Committee to study how to improve and create a "new GA." Then it rolled out the Study as if it actually represented something "new." It won't surprise any of you that the Chair (sole member[?!]) of that special Committee was...Kathy Manning. And what a success that Committee has made: (1) attendance of full Registrants is at an all-time low; (2) even though the Committee's seminal recommendation was that the event be held in those cities "most attractive" to potential Registrants (resulting in the removal of GAs from, e.g., Houston and Orlando)...see (1) above; and (3) attendance at GAs requires recruitment by the GA Chairs (and an actual GA Committee working on Program and recruitment -- but that would involve more lay involvement and we're against that, right?) in the federations themselves, a concept apparently unknown at JFNA even with the same Chairs the last two years.

Even with the admirable surplus, revenues fell almost 10% below estimates. Yet, the attendance estimates for the Denver GA (1845) were off by only 8%. (Apparently, the fewer the full paid Registrants, the greater the "profitability.") The message I guess is a simple one -- stand Burnham's admonition "make no little plans" on its head. For the GA, make the smallest plans and success shall be yours.  Congratulate the GA Co-Chairs for their great work at the microphones and move on to next year. This may make for smaller and smaller GAs but profitable ones. Is this what we want from our premier annual event? Is it any longer a "premier annual event?" Or do we no longer care? Maybe we should just fold it into TribeFest.


Monday, February 6, 2012


I understand the sense of desperation at JFNA over the probability that TribeFestivus II will be as big a financial failure as the first Festivus. So, here's what's happening (or not happening):

     ~ JFNA Senior professionals have made it abundantly clear in writing that the overriding purpose of TribeFest " the collective goal of bring more people to TribeFest." It's all about the numbers; the numbers are the "goal." Thus, after offering the Endowment Committee "seven ways" staff -- for this is a staff driven thing with YLC lay leaders around for support and script reading -- to apply a $100,000 proposed grant, ultimately staff decided to offer 500 additional potential registrants a $200 subsidy. Seeing as 73% of all participants in Fest 1 were subsidy recipients, sounds like a good way to hype the numbers for a Conference that, like the old Seinfeld show, like JFNA itself, appears to be about nothing. But it is about something -- TribeFest II is all about spending what JFNA estimates (and JFNA is really bad at this) $818,259 before staff travel and overhead...this is therefor a $1,000,000 event. Where was the debate over this investment? Rhetorical question. Numbers for numbers sake.

Forgive me but I can think of ten things or more that JFNA might be doing with $1 million that responds to the needs of federations, that would produce more young leaders. But, at JFNA...this.

     ~ National Young Leadership will convene a pre-Festivus "Leadership Development Institute" in a transparent effort to pump up attendance. So, here you have it: Festivus "designed" for the non-affiliated will be integrated with NYL -- supposedly the "elite" of the affiliated young adults. JFNA is so confused and desperate, they don't even see the conflict...can't have a deficit;

     ~ The confusion that is promised by the Global Planning Table "process" will now be exacerbated as the Festivus attendees will be surveyed as to how our donors Israel and Overseas dollars should be prioritized and distributed. Yes, JoAnne Moore will devote a session -- say that's an hour -- to "explaining" our system's historical commitment to Israel and overseas needs and the GPT itself and, then, these young men and women will be asked for their "input." I can think of nothing more pandering or ridiculous, other than the waste of Festivus itself.

Best I can tell the "LDI" (yes, in the great tradition of JFNA, this thing has already acquired its own acronym) will last for 5 hours (and that includes at least lunch and, probably, breakfast), cost $99 (in addition to the $499 cost [less subsidy] of the Fest) and the speakers will all be professionals, mainly from JFNA or affiliates, each with little in the way of federation experience (not that that matters anymore). No lay persons, though there are Co-Chairs who will, no doubt, bring greetings and say farewell. Sad, but this is what the Young Leadership Cabinets have been reduced to -- no longer the fertile field of future federation leadership, just bringers of best wishes and cheerleaders for ideas no matter how weak. Oh, and "...professionals are invited to register to learn alongside lay leaders."

     ~ As of mid-December, 104 young men and women had registered; now the claim is that over 800 have -- amazingly, though the recession is still upon us, and there have been no apparent communal benefits from Festivus 1, allegedly 64 communities are already committed to subsidize Festivus 2 and JFNA copped a $100,000 "grant" for 500 more subsidies (see "above"). I am told that the YLC conducted "post conference programming...including the handbook, e-mails to assist communities to conduct innovative and creative activities following the Tribefest experience." Have you seen any of that?

     ~ I read somewhere about the Jewish Rapper Shyne, who, for some reason known only to Shyne himself, announced he was "rapping my tzitzis." Shyne will no doubt be front and center on the Main Stage at the Festivus. Enjoy. 

     ~ And back on January 17, an attendee at the first Festivus wrote:  "Now with TribeFest rapidly approaching, I think we need more dish on how that NEW IDEA is progressing in light of last year's 'results.' I was in Las Vegas and despite the fact that the vast majority of attendees were self-selected Young Leadership types, when discussing plans for this year almost no one knows about the massive cost overruns, the failure of achieving stated goals, etc. I mean I had a very fun time last year on my heavily subsidized trip - but I don't know how I can justify going again while remaining at peace with my conscience. So please - let me know how it's going. Please tell me that JFNA is taking active measures to organize a better event, to attract any new blood, etc. Please tell me this is not going to be just another booze soaked Vegas weekend."


Like you, I want to see more and more young men and women engage with our system. We have found the means to do so in Chicago and those from federation with credibility at JFNA have suggested both tried and proven ways to do so to JFNA time and again -- only to be ignored time and again. What we have instead is this pile of waste now to be repeated for a second year. So, JFNA will have lost two years wandering in the desert that is the Festivus/Festivii. Last year over $253,000 was lost on this thing and to avoid further losses this year, $100,000 was sought and granted from the JFNA's endowment and the attendance pleas and pressures began much earlier in 2012. And, remember this name...Rachel Dratch, star of 30 Rock (or was that Tina Fey?), and one big name draw at the Fest to come, along with multiple personalities from 25 Broadway.

So, here you have it: JFNA has made TribeFest its premier program. It's throwing $1,000,000 of its budget at it and asking you for more, assigning its top domestic professionals to it (most of whom by age alone should be as disqualified from attendance as I am) -- and it can articulate no purpose for it other than...numbers. This is junk programming; it is narishkeit; it is a terrible waste at a time that we cannot afford any.
At the end of the day, with all of the waste -- money, professionals' time that could be spent productively, the precious time of young Cabinet members and leaders (who have actually been convinced and convinced themselves that this is something other than "another booze soaked Vegas weekend." Remember last year, the YLC Co-Chair actually compared Fest to Birthright.)  --  most tragic is how our system is being presented to those not affiliated with us and to those who are at an event like this.


Friday, February 3, 2012


In the Orwellian lexicon of hyperbole at JFNA where less is more and failure is success, it will come as no surprise that having failed in its cash collections for at least the sixth straight year, the Board Chair closed her cash rtesults transmittal to the JFNA Board with the following message: "May we go from strength to strength." With this kind of "strength" and this kind of leadership, shouldn't be long now and, absent their own FRD and cash efforts, our "partners" will be out of business with JFNA's leaders performing the last rites. Fra il dire il fare c'e di mezzo il mare ("an ocean lies between what is said and what is done) -- JFNA words to live by.

I knew that cash collections were again in trouble when, at the GA, the Board Chair didn't even bother with her annual public pro forma cash plea, but, instead, delegated that assignment to the Treasurer, who read the script as well as could have been done. And, that was it. The professional staff did its best as it always does -- professionals like recently retired Sam Astrof, Pam Zaltsman and Cheryl Lefland have demonstrated the kind of professional commitment coupled with their passion year and year again. But, unlike in the past, today there is no complementary and supportive lay collections effort -- the Financial Relations Committee used to have a broad cash focus that included allocations; today, it is dedicated to Dues to the exclusion of all else (and the Board Chair and CEO/President have emasculated that Committee's work, as well) -- and the lay leadership has little if anything to do even with that.  While one would have hoped against hope that that meager effort would have gone well, the results, well, they speak sadly for themselves -- never in the history of JFNA  have our partners, JDC and the Jewish Agency, received less cash support for their core budgets. That happened against the backdrop of JFNA's leaders plotting the total deconstruction of support for the Agency and Joint through their machinations in support of the Global Planning Table.

And, the other "partners," what happened to them? Well, the Ethiopian National Project, for which JFNA leaders made a special plea in 2011, down. ORT, suddenly elevated to "partnership" status, for which there was no special plea, down. JDC and JAFI, subjected to the failed experiment of "Special Core Priorities," further distracting the few federations that participated (actually, 10 -- 6% of the total number of federations), hit record allocation lows. And, with JFNA totally consumed by the Global Planning Table, there continued to be no advocacy for the core allocations of the Agency or Joint -- just the opposite, in fact.

Our system is cratering everywhere we look. The Board Chair, in total denial, wishes that we "...go from strength to strength." OMG.