Monday, December 31, 2012


Annually The Forward performs a service to us by presenting a Survey of executive compensation in Jewish organizations. This year, the survey appeared under the headline: "Who Won and Lost in Latest Survey of Jewish Communal Pay." You can find the entire Survey (with Links) at:

Some reflections are in order (and, I would appreciate yours):
  • When JFNA CEO and President Jerry Silverman published his very evocative list of Chanukah Miracles on December 10, shouldn't he have started with his own compensation?
  • I look at the list of federation CEO compensation and conclude that in too may instances there are CEOs who are over-compensated when one examines comparable communal financial outcomes. Sure, all federations have become complex businesses but one CEO's compensation and benefits shouldn't be based, should it, on what another CEO earns? But, there it is, in black and white. 
  • The introductory analysis of the disparity in compensation between men and women in comparable roles should be a source of shame in all of our communal organizations. 
  • That same analysis indicates that some of our organizational leaders have been allowed to engage in the same forms of patronage that we decry in our political leaders and would never permit in a business context -- hiring of spouses and children. Any responsible Board would put an end to these practices.
  • When a CEO is earning compensation let us say in excess of $400,000/year might they not be told that they will have to pay out of their own pockets for spousal travel or First Class airfare anywhere? Or is that too much to ask?
  • And, then there is this: Compensation Committees in so many of the listed Jewish Communal organization have clearly become almost incestuous populated by those who have the closest relationships with those whose contracts they are negotiating and those whose compensation they are determining. That is the only conclusion that can be drawn from the incredible amounts being paid to some of these executives. The pages of The Forward have included stories on one organization that lost its charitable tax exemption, saw its fund raising diminish and still, over a period of years, awarded its CEO major compensation increases while apparently terminating that CEO's critics, lay and professional. At other organizations, key lay leaders are often hand-picked by the sitting CEO for their presumed loyalty to that CEO -- they can be "counted on." In one community, the legend is that with no governance process, the outgoing Board Chair unilaterally negotiated an employment contract extension with his "friend," the current CEO  who had presided over a multi-year series of campaign and personnel failures and then presented it to "his" Board as a fait accompli. Is it any wonder that our communal instruments have lost our donors' trust.  
  • There seems to me to be a chutzpah factor in so much of this picture of  executive compensation.  In too many places the comparisons with large law firms rings true: there is "disparity index" between the highest  paid professionals and not women alone -- everyone, or almost everyone, else
Thanks to The Forward for the public service.

And a wonderful 2013 to all.


Friday, December 28, 2012


~ Never apologize, never explain. Where professional bloviations, hyperbole and cliches have reached the credibility level of that Iraqi Information Minister's during the Gulf War, you have found JFNA. I have been reviewing the bizarre spread of emergency funding allocations from the "$5 million" Emergency  Fund announced by JFNA but funded with unwarranted trust by the federations,

~ But, first, pardon me for asking, but where, exactly, has the money gone before and now? For example, where and to whom has JFNA ever reported how it distributed Cast Lead emergency money? What happened to the funds raised in the midst of the Second Lebanon War? What organization received $100,000 just weeks ago for delivering laptops to a school it does not run -- how was that money used? And, the money for Haiti disaster relief -- how much was collected and how was it disbursed? Can we have some answers...please?

~ And... ZAKA does wonderful and sacred work. It also fund raises in all of our communities. Luckily, its holy service was almost unnecessary in this most recent Terrorists' War on Israel. So how does JFNA justify a $200,000 grant of federation funds? Am I missing something, or did some opportunist professional within JFNA Israel merely believe that a grant of this size would curry favor with the Orthodox community and a group of lay and professional leaders asked no questions, but just went along?

~ THE WORST. All of the above are but prologue to the sad case of the JFNA and the Sderot Regional Medical Health Center. Its work being located in the midst of the terrorists' bombs, it is underfunded and, consequently, understaffed.  It sought emergency funding, pleading with JFNA for funding over four weeks of the most critical needs -- according to published reports, over the most critical four week period, not a single JFNA  professional visited the Center.

While JFNA was patting itself on the back on its allocations, it denied any funding to the Sderot Regional Medical Health Center...none. You see, JFNA, according to those who inquired, "is only funding 'resilience centers' through the 'Israel Trauma Coalition.'" (And, whose "resilience centers" might those be -- those created by the Israel Trauma Coalition, perhaps?) Thus, federation funds allocated by them to support in the main the needs of residents of southern Israel, were diverted solely to institutions created by a federation beneficiary; none other "qualified."

So, here's what it sounds like to me -- JFNA handed over multi-millions of dollars in allocations decisions first to JFNA-Israel, whose competency is at best "questionable," then JFNA-Israel turned over those decisions to the Israel Trauma Coalition, which has been elevated to "partner status" at JFNA because...well, because a single North American Federation demanded it? Could that be why?

I am reminded by this of the worst  of the Chicago political machine back in the day immortalized by the brilliant Abner Mikva's recollection of his first job interview with the Daley Organization, memorialized in the title of his first book: "You ain't nobody 'til somebody  sends you." At JFNA-Israel it seems to work like this -- though JFNA-Israel has an enormous staff (all the more enormous given the lack of visible achievements over the last 6+ years), it delegated allocations  decisions to a beneficiary which determined that funds for respite care should go organizations created by it and it alone, and then foisted those on an unwitting Committee some 7,000 miles away.

And 3,000 wait for treatment in Sderot...and wait...and wait. And we continue to trust those who failed to earn it but demand more of it day by day.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012


There have been many Comments, mostly off-line,to the suggestion that the new Chairs evaluate the progress, or lack thereof, under the current CEO's "leadership." Here are three Anonymous Comments that deserve discussion and thought:
  • "Although you, Richard, and most of your readers can predict the responses, a quick rather short survey can easily gauge federation wants in the areas of FRD, planning, networking, short term consulting, Personnel, Govt relations and conferences. From there a work plan that separates the essential from the frivolous can be created with lay involvement in weeks not months. With a JFNA commitment to remaining focused, even a budget neutral JFNA would gain acceptance sans cuts sans additional expenditures."
  • "The most creative thing the last two CEO's of the organization did was their hardball negotiation of their employment packages. If we are to go out on another search my suggestions are A: That the compensation package be set in advance as a amount based on the average of the top 50% compensations of large city executives. B: That executive experience in Federation be an absolute prerequisite for the position and C: That the new CEO agree to a professional advisory committee to be informed and consulted on a regular basis."
  • "Your solution of allowing the current chairs time to evaluate for themselves seems flawed to me. It is almost the same problem as with Congress. The representatives get elected to a two year term and by the time they conduct the studies in order to make a decision it is the end of their term and they have lost interest leaving it to the next administration (unless they are running for re-election.) Add to this problem that the board of JFNA meets infrequently. In other words, at the first meeting - when is that, late January, they might call for an evaluation/assessment of Jerry to be completed by the next meeting - when is that late April/early May. Even if by that time they decide to end the relationship it will take some time to move forward with a change plus finding the next person - with no obvious successor in place. So by then we will have wasted another 8-10 months and another $20-30 mil."
These Comments are cogent and impressive -- the writers clearly know our system and know JFNA more for its many faults than for any claimed successes (if one can identify any) under the current professional administration. 

The time is now. We are told that by this coming June the CEO's "chief advisor on campaign matters" (although we have not seen any evidence of that "advice") will retire; someone needs to examine the void that exists at JFNA-Israel (something the current CEO has not only refused to do; he has added to that office's responsibilities the entirety of the Global Planning Table [other than, of course, what has been handed over top a consultant]) known more for empire-building than building success; and someone needs to carefully examine the failed GAs, one after another, and the wholesale hiring of consultants as opposed to building a stronger professional cadre.

Let's move forward now.


Saturday, December 22, 2012


A JFNA GPT insider sent the following as a Comment to this morning's Post on the futility of the GPT. It is important that every reader understand this futility:

"Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "AND ON AND ON IT GOES":

There is no consensus of the GPT at the GPT. None. Nobody gets it.

The well meaning and proud chair, David Butler, optimistically just wants there to be something he can be proud of. He rolls with the punches.

There is gentle pushback by a lay leadership scared of personal consequences and there is strong support of "something" by the professionals. No one, and I mean no one, on the GPT knows where this run away train is headed. The rules change every other month. Reports that have lay leader input are simply re-written to change direction between the meetings. The "something" the professionals are supporting is some form of professional courtesy, that if this lunacy just ends, it will herald the end of the term of Jerry Silverman.

If this train goes much further down the track, it will destroy JFNA's credibility once and for all. It will also help to deconstruct the Federations. Collective responsibility does not mean funding pet projects of leadership, diverting overseas funding to local needs, nor does it mean creating fictions to somehow prove JFNA's relevance.

It is time to declare that the federations are best served by local decision making with input and advocacy by the national movement. Natural coalitions like the Negev Task Force are healthy, because they are organic by nature.

As to Jerry, well, that dog just won't hunt. Time for a new one." (emphasis added throughout)




Dear Dede and Michael,

I am writing this to you to make you aware, although you already may be aware, that there is a separate governance system that has been hidden away within the maze that is the Global Planning Table with which you and your leadership should be very concerned....very concerned. Let me explain....

With TribeFest, Heroes and #ish apparently (with this professional leadership, one never knows) behind it, JFNA could be poised to actually begin, after six years of purposeless distraction, to take its proper place as the federations' umbrella organization. But, that will only happen if, for once and for all, you, as JFNA's new lay Chairs, make it clear that the organization can no longer tolerate being driven off a cliff by blind adherence to this Global Planning Table that has become its professionals and ex-Chair's obsession.

During the last week of November, the Global Planning Table leadership (that's neither you, Michael, nor you, Dede) convened two Webinars, ostensibly to update the federation and JFNA leadership on the "progress" of the GPT "process." These conference calls, in which federations barely participated, were dominated by three people, David Butler, who serves as GPT Chair/MC, Karen Barth, the Consultant, and Kathy Manning, the so-called "Interim Chair" of the GPT Steering Committee, the Table's sole decision-making body.

After the usual "progress report," Butler presented a series of lengthy, complicated "Signature Initiatives." Some of these, as presented, are without any "global relevance" whatsoever; others would be tied to that global relevance, apparently, only by placing the word "global" in front of them; and still others would represent our traditional allocations foci reduced now to one or two of many other allocations choices.

You might want some examples: Family and Children's Services, or Elder Services and "other social services" would fall under the rubric of "Caring for Vulnerable Populations;" there would be a "Leadership Development Initiative" that would include something called "Building Community Capacity," and Leadership Development, Promoting Innovation and "Security and Safety." None of these relate to our Global needs nor to what was represented until now --  three years after the GPT was first conjured -- these are not "Global" in any way. 

And, there might be a "Global Jewish Platform" -- "a virtual space to cultivate and inspire Jewish innovation and encourage global communication." (No, I am not making any of this up.)

Oh,yes, as a sop to those who still care, there, right where our core allocations once were, will be a "Strengthening Israel" Initiative that would include, by the way, Aliyah and Absorption, Civil Society/Civil Rights and Social/economic gaps. And, there would be an initiative on Building Jewish Identity and Connections that would directly engage with Jewish Education, Camping and Retreats, "Immersive Travel Experiences" and "Global Connections."

Yesterday, as luck would have it, Chair Butler discussed the December GPT Committee meeting that followed these Webinars. You would want to know that in January "...[T]his initial (emphasis his for some reason), high level, prioritization process will continue at the January be completed in February." And, then, "Commissions" (as distinguished apparently from Work Groups and Subcommittees) will be set up...And, at that same meeting on December 17, we are told

"The GPT meeting also included an in-depth discussion of proposed Signature Initiatives.  Signature Initiatives will provide opportunities for Federations to give what are hoped to be additional targeted dollars to bold, high impact programs that address some of our most critical issues. With many great ideas under discussion, the GPT worked to narrow its focus to 3 or 4 “finalists,” so that planning work can be done to develop approaches to the programs and budgets of the finalists, before choosing one or two initiatives for implementation efforts in the coming year."

Yep, the GPT'ers have convinced themselves that have put forward (see above) "bold, high impact programs that address some of our most critical issues." And, now, as we hold our collective breath "...over the next eight weeks, the GPT will be focused on a nation-wide roll out of its community input process." (I don't know who is writing this stuff...but, G-d bless 'em.) And, by this time next month you and yours will have a "Community Toolkit" containing all sorts of stuff apparently and totally designed to influence if not dictate your federation's decisions the end result of will be, with 157 federations inputting, a few of which will be funding these things, there will be an Integrated Plan by March 2013. Rube Goldberg is alive and well and residing at 25 Broadway, New York, NY.

How would these be funded? Easy, participating Large Cities would fund $1.5 million ($500,000 per year for three years) for each initiative --everybody else, whatever or, perhaps, nothing. And, where would federations, in the main, find that funding -- if the past is prologue, straight out of the current core allocations to the Joint and Jewish Agency and World ORT. If the professional leaders of those organizations were on those Webinars, I would guess that they were bringing in their fund raisers before the Webinars were even over.

These "Initiatives" will be finalized only if "we are sure" -- "we" apparently meaning, Manning, Barth and, maybe, Butler -- that they are "bold," "high impact" and "designed to increase excitement and giving." Uh, huh, if you say so.

After these things were rolled out, having never been heard of before, the Chairman (uh, Butler, not Manning) with a sense of great excitement asked: "Which of these Initiatives would be most important to your communities?" Dead silence. "You must have some comments." Dead silence. Finally an intelligent federation pro suggested that the participants (who on that first call numbered almost no federation lay leaders and few federations at all) needed some time to consider. So, Ms. Manning offered her comments -- all positive, of course -- and the priorities as she has pre-determined them to be.

Michael and Dede, the Global Planning Table is a process, if one can even call it that, that was out of control and is now off the tracks. No organization can tolerate two governance processes. There appears to be no institutional control of this multi-million dollar extravaganza and no professional able or willing to maintain the institutional discipline required to rein in those who continue to drive this train toward the cliff to which it is headed. Millions have already been invested/wasted and more will follow unless you step in and take control. The first step must be for Michael to become the "Interim Chair" of the GPT; from there all else follows.

Please act quickly.  If you are looking for JFNA's credibility, search no further than down the black hole that the Global Planning Table has dug. The seeds of federation deconstruction from the GPT are already planted.

Warmest regards,



Wednesday, December 19, 2012


I hope that the new lay Chairs at JFNA will read this...or that someone will bring this Post to their attention. I can think of few things that reflect the sorry state of the professional maladministration at JFNA, always distracted by bright shiny objects, than the Anonymous Comment received earlier this month.

"It is interesting to have received my first "personal" letter (albeit, an email) from JFNA in the last year....the classic "Year End Cash Call" letter.

--No calls to see if there could be a service rendered.
--No calls to encourage the community to raise money for Israel under seige.
--No calls to provide a speaker, leadership training, professional assistance, motivation, support

Oh yeah---that all disappeared years ago.

At least they used my name in the email and remembered to "nem the gelt" before the end of the year.

BTW We consistently send more than our "fair share" overseas and remit the funds far in advance of collection.

At least I won't have to hear from anyone for another year...."

What has happened at JFNA to reduce it to the organization (if that's what it is) it has become? The total focus on the ever more ridiculous Global Planning Table (more on that coming up); the waste of the Fest (now, apparently over); the total ignorance of financial resource development, the Annual Campaign or any other; and on and on...

It's beyond time for our lay leaders to take a careful look at how the CEO/President is (or isn't) running this $30.3 million annual enterprise. That is lay leadership's responsibility, after all. It strikes me, as it must so many that the evidence is in -- that Silverman's refusal to hire a competent second in command for what is now over three years, is the insecurity that comes from knowing, as he must, how woebegone he has allowed this treasured asset to become under his leadership, and his fear that a strong COO/EVP might overshadow him going forward. 

Silverman allowed the celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the seminal Federation-led Freedom Sunday to be coopted by other organizations (he was disinterested); he allowed JFNA to walk away from the message of collaborative fund raising just as this big idea was taking hold in our system; he has, with several albeit few, notable exceptions, not hired strong professionals  (and let one with such promise, Joanne Moore, go); he has allowed JFNA-Israel to become a mini-empire without notable achievements for our communities; and he has endorsed the worst of the Global Planning Table, among other flawed paths.

But that's just an outsider's observations. Let the new Chairs make an independent objective evaluation -- something that has not been done over these 3+ years by those who were charged with doing so. (Calls to JFNA Board members asking "Don't you think Jerry is great" doesn't qualify as an objective evaluation -- or any other kind.)  And, to our Chairs, please hurry,


Sunday, December 16, 2012


Word has reached us from inside the dark corridors of 25 Broadway that JFNA professionals and, no doubt, some consultant(s) (but with no lay leader involvement) will spew out yet another "strategic plan." This will mark, by my count, the sixth so-called "plan" in the 12 years since the merger -- not one of the prior five "plans" has had a single positive impact on JFNA or a single benefit to the federations -- there is no reason to believe that this one will produce any more than the prior five.

Whether for better or worse, this will mark the first time in my experience that any Jewish communal organization will have published a plan produced without lay involvement -- even the worst of the prior plans was a work product that bore the stamp of professional and lay leader alike. This one will spring forth to the JFNA Executive wholly without the input of any lay leader -- the JFNA Executive Committee will be asked to approve something in which none of them had any input.

So, what's to be done with this...thing? I would respectfully suggest that JFNA's lay Chairs immediately appoint a Planning Committee of federation lay and professional leaders sending the so-called "strategic plan" to that Committee for intensive review and, as necessary, modification, rejection or approval. For JFNA's professionals to believe that something they drafted should be approved without study by or real input from the organization's Board members and community professionals would be the ultimate surrender of fiduciary responsibility.

Now, there is every possibility that now that word is out that there was never any intent on the part of this professional group to do anything but seek approval of a document without prior Board review or input, some flack will emerge to announce that of course, it was always staff's intent that this "plan" be subjected to a Committee process. Or, perhaps, they'll deny that there is any "plan," deferring the spew to a later date.  If you believe any of that, I've got a bridge I'd like to sell you.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012


JFNA's new lay leadership team is going to get the credit for this one.

Hidden in a National News report in the December 4 Jewish Week was the announcement JFNA's TribeFest Event to Skip 2013. This actually belonged on the Obituary pages. As the professional leader of JFNA follows the mantra that one never apologizes for any mistake, the article was filled with hyperbole:

     ~ Just taking "a year off after successful events this year and last."

     ~ "Small leadership events in 2013" will integrate a couple of hundred Fest participants with "seasoned leaders" from the Young Leadership Cabinet.

     ~ And, the really big Festivus will be back in 2014 for those of you anxious for its return.

But between the lines of the Jewish Week story, JFNA's Joe Berkofsky, the in house flack always trotted out for glossing over events like this, revealed the failure that was Festivus. "He said 60% of participants at the first event and 30% at the second had never before attended a national federation event." And, therein is a striking failure -- for Fest was always designed for first timers, yet but 60% of the participants would be at that "first event;" and, in year two, the Fest was populated by Cabinet members and of the 1500 in attendance (JFNA's exaggerated count) only a meager 450 met the criterion. 

Festivus was a disaster from conception through execution -- a costly failure that ultimately took top JFNA professionals from their more critical tasks to Las Vegas for the "Big Show." And it wasted financial resources on top of that -- close to $!,750,000 on...nothing.

Good for JFNA -- the Fest will not be missed.


Sunday, December 9, 2012


As has always been the case, Israel is either under attack from terrorists or from its critics. Rockets poured from Gaza on Israel, while the Op-Ed pages and the so-called diplomats drop their bombs from the pages of otherwise respected newspapers and journals. Either way, Israel is under attack and, we, of all people, understand why even as we question "why?"

We all read what passes for "fair criticism" of Israel in the daily press -- both in alleged "new" stories and in a constant stream of op-eds and statements ranging from Secretary Clinton, to the UN Secretary General (who appears to be nothing more than a grinning empty suit) to the European Union --and one has to ask what is the definition of "fair" when it comes to Israel? And, Israel's faux "friends" -- the Beinarts, Tom Friedmans (whose latest attack on Prime Minister Netanyahu [asserting that the Likud is now the captive of evermore right wing politicians] is the height of the very arrogance of which he accuses the PM), the J-Streeters and their claques -- who only find fault with Israeli policies...unless...

Unless...the answer is no different today than over the decades of Israel's existence -- when Israel is giving up territory that is lawfully Israel's, Israel is applauded: but the applause is always short-lived and always accompanied by demands for more... more and more. But, has there ever...ever...been a demand made of the Palestinians? For example: even the most minimum -- recognize Israel as a Jewish State? Or: make one...any...reasonable peace proposal? But, no, the claque never makes a demand of the Palestinians -- for through some perverted logic that defies reason, they are the "peacemakers."

Even before President Obama demanded that "peace" be based on Israel's return to the "1967 borders plus adjustments," Israeli leaders, including Prime  Minister Netanyahu, had agreed to negotiate based upon that formulation. But, you would never know it from the cacophony (emphasis on "phony") from the claque. When Israel, finally out of patience with the daily rocket bombardments from the Terrorists weapons on Israel's South, with precise, target attacks on Gaza's Terrorists, you would never have known that fact from the claque. 

And, then there are the ridiculous scoldings writ large on the editorial pages. Take the New York Times (please!!). On December 4, the Times identified Mahmoud Abbas as "the only credible peace negotiator." Such is Israel's lot. When the Israeli Government agreed to a lengthy development freeze, we recall that "peace negotiator Abbas" couldn't bring himself even to the negotiating table even though that freeze was the "precondition" that he had demanded. 

I, like so many of you, have visited Israel over 70 times. I have heard one thing on every one of my visits -- Israelis and their leaders want to live in peace with their neighbors and within the family of nations. I have heard teenagers singing of and praying side-by-side with their parents for peace as we we cried at their pain. We have visited the homes of so many grieving over lost sons and daughters while the world outside condemns Israel for defending her People.

It's all so sad.


Thursday, December 6, 2012


On these pages we have celebrated the Freedom Rally 25 years ago more than once; and we have lamented the reality that JFNA could not summon the strength to celebrate what was truly the height of Jewish communal unity and strength beyond bringing Natan Sharansky and Elie Wiesel together only to hear them lament the inability of today's leadership to bring us together once again. 

What follows is a fellow traveler's through those times reminiscence of that Day:

"Reminiscences on the Soviet Jewry Movement in Washington DC by Norman Goldstein

Do you remember getting up on a bright, crisp Sunday morning December 6, 1987, and wondering if there would be a respectable crowd on the National Mall for the Soviet Jewry Rally?   Do you remember calling friends from your synagogue, from your youth group, or from your neighborhood urging them to attend, always wondering if they would actually join you at the Rally?   Do you remember piling your friends and kids in a car and going to your synagogue, Metro stop or other gathering place to get your banners, flags, T-shirts with the names of Scharansky, Nudel, Begun all saying in some way “Let My People Go” or “Free Soviet Jewry”?   Can you recall your entire group boarding the Metro or forming a convoy of cars or boarding a chartered bus with rally signs and the excitement about being part of a community that wanted to demonstrate its solidarity with our fellow Jews from the Soviet Union?  Can you still see the thousands of our fellow Washingtonians exiting the Metro stops near the Mall, or arriving in hundreds of buses and car pools wearing their pins, signs, carrying their banners and singing “Am Yisrael Chai” or shouting “Let our People Go”?  Do you remember the excitement as we heard that I-95 was backed up for miles with thousands of busloads of fellow Jews and other supporters from Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and countless other communities from across the East Coast who were coming to participate in the Rally?  Can you still see people from around the country pouring in from the airports, from the train station, on foot, by bike --- old and young, male and female, Orthodox, Conservative,  Reform, Reconstructionist, Secular, Christian, African American, Hispanic all in support of the sacred cause of getting freedom for our people in the Soviet Union?  Do you remember arriving at the Mall and staring in disbelief at the incredible mass of people like you who were there for the same reason?  Can you recall the warmth of being one of more than 250,000 people of conscience including tens of thousands from the Washington area?  Do you recall the exhilaration when we saw the broad range of national leaders and Jewish leaders on the dais and were addressed by our hero Natan Scharansky? 
And, a few days after the Rally, do you remember learning that when President Reagan met with Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, he told him  that there would be no expansion of trade, and no arms reduction, until the Soviet Union allowed Jews and others to emigrate and  provided other freedoms including freedom of religion to its citizens.  The President told Gorbachev that he had seen the hundreds of thousands of Americans in his backyard protesting policies of the Soviet Union and he was not going to cooperate with Gorbachev until he “Let our People Go.”  I am sure you remember that shortly thereafter Gorbachev capitulated and the gates of freedom were opened and the mass exodus of more than one million of our fellow Jews to Israel and the US and other free countries began…
The Soviet Jewry movement was not an overnight success.  It reflected many years of advocacy on the part of millions of people around the world and especially Jews in America. Our Washington Jewish community was the centerpiece.   Remember the chair on the bimah in your synagogue dedicated to a Prisoner of Conscience?  Do you remember the bracelets inscribed with the names of Slepak, Lerner, etc. which were worn proudly by all of us. Remember the signs in front of all of our synagogues urging “Freedom for Soviet Jewry”?  Do you recall the twinnings as our Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrants linked up with their teen-age counterparts in the Soviet Union as they pledged their support of Soviet Jews until everyone who sought freedom of choice was granted the right to live as a Jew.  How can we ever forget the countless letters and petitions we prepared, circulated, signed and delivered on behalf of our fellow Jews?
Most of all I remember our Soviet Jewry Vigil from 12:30 - 12-45, seven days a week, 365 days a year, rain or shine, work day, holiday or weekend, opposite the Soviet Embassy on 16thStreet.  The Vigil was a unique project of our community and was one in which all persons of good will joined so that even on Shabbat and Jewish holidays the Vigil was attended.  Friends from all faiths and of many colors, creeds, and backgrounds shared in our efforts and ensured that the Vigil was maintained every day for more than twenty years.  The Vigil was a place of great joy as Prisoners of Conscience and Refuseniks who were given freedom to emigrate came to the Vigil to protest with us on behalf of those where were still in the Soviet Union.  It was also a place of distress as we learned of further harassment of those who remained behind.   But it always was a place of solidarity, where visitors to the DC area from all over the world came to demonstrate their support.  Every synagogue, youth group, Jewish organization and countless other individuals and families who came to the DC area made certain that participation in the Vigil was a part of their schedule.
When we think of the Soviet Jewry movement many of us recall our clandestine trips to our fellow Jews and other persecuted people in the Soviet Union.  We recall our briefings on how to get around in Moscow, Kiev, Odessa or wherever there were Refuseniks to support and how to set up meetings with them while appearing to be tourists during the day...  We remember bringing tallitot, siddurim, baby foods, medicines, other Jewish artifacts, and copies of Leon Uris “Exodus” in our suitcases.  We recall the anxiety when our suitcases were opened at the airports upon arrival and we were asked to explain why we were bringing the various objects, some of which were confiscated.  I remember arriving in Moscow and having the authorities take my copy of Exodus and then 10 days later when I was leaving from Leningrad having them return the book to me.  We recall being given copies of the samizdat or underground newspaper prepared by different groups in the Soviet Union and circulating them among the Refuseniks.   Who can forget the excitement of actually being in the homes of the heroes of the movement and assuring them that we in Washington will not be silent until they were freed?  And indeed, at the rally on the Mall, there were many reunions of travelers to the Soviet Union with their Prisoners of Conscience or Refuseniks who had been released.   There were similar reunions in Israel.
We can think back also with pride about how our community welcomed our former Soviet brethren who chose to live among us.  We provided housing, furniture, scholarships, food and, most important, friendship to our fellow Jews who had been denied the right to live as Jews, and brought them into our homes, hearts and institutions.   Volunteers mentored, provided transportation and collected, stored and delivered everything that was necessary for the families from the former Soviet Union who joined our community.  Our synagogues and communal institutions willingly accepted incredible additional responsibility to make certain that our new residents were fully integrated. 
In the days of the Soviet Jewry Movement, we were one community, united in our purpose, with a defined mission.  We were One People working together with people of other faiths for a common goal. The Soviet Jewry movement brought generations within families together. Through it we taught our children the importance of Klal Yisrael and  kehillah.    Our Washington community was truly a light unto the world in the Soviet Jewry Movement. Reminiscing about those years and thinking of the people met, the projects undertaken, the goals achieved, provides great inspiration for what we in Washington can achieve and continue to do on behalf our community and our people the world over."
Norman Goldstein was Chairman of the Soviet Jewry Committee of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and local Chairman of the Rally on the Mall. Currently, he is Chairman of a committee of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington which is overseeing preparation of an exhibit highlighting the Washington Jewish Community’s unique role in the Soviet Jewry Movement. 

Our thanks to Norm Goldstein for his memories. Each of us who was there on the Mall that day, and who participated in Operation Exodus over the years that followed, has our own recollections of our role in writing a chapter in modern Jewish History. Let us now join together with those who were not there in find common communal cause and reasserting federation's proper, central leadership role in 2013 ad beyond.

Kal Ha'kavod and chag Sameach.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012



"November 26, 2012

Dear Friends,

As daily life slowly returns to its normal course (such as it is) here in Israel, I can't help but reflect about the dramatic events of the past week.

1.    First It makes the feeling of collective responsibility real when within hours an impressive group of JFNA leaders led by  its brand new chairman, Michael Siegal, landed in Israel, and when the ever energetic Keren Hayesod Chairwoman, Johanna Arbib, flew to the embattled South directly from Zurich and addressed a rally in Toronto from Sderot together with Julie Koschitzky.  

I would like to dedicate a few words of thanks to our partners all over the world, who were at the very forefront of our collective response to the events in Israel’s South.  The Jewish Federations of North America, joined by Keren Hayesod-UIA targeted three areas of activity during the crisis – providing for victims of the attacks through our Fund for Victims of Terror, guaranteeing the welfare of our olim and program participants in southern Israel, and taking children from the embattled regions on day trips out of harm’s way.  Keren Hayesod made a special contribution to the home front through its support of shelters. The World Zionist Organization also played a significant role in providing the children of the region with rest and respite out of rocket range, while the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews helped ensure that the residents of the region had adequate shelter and that local governments had the emergency equipment they needed.  I am tremendously proud of all our joint efforts, a real time manifestation of our implacable and shared  commitment to K’lal Yisra’el.

2.    The outbreak of violence caught me in upstate New York at the Jewish Agency’s kenes shlichim, a gathering of some 250 shlichim based all throughout North America.  As the attacks escalated in southern Israel and as the anti-Israel groups quickly mobilized their virulent anti Israel campaigns, there was hardly a single expression of hostility that went unanswered by our shlichim dispersed on 57 campuses around the country.  In the past, after the Second Intifada, on a tour visiting North American college campuses, I was taken aback by the waves of hostility and described the campuses as “occupied territories”.  I want to remind all of us that it was in response to that experience that the Israel Fellows program was born, and today, there are 57 young Israelis posted on dozens of campuses, leading the efforts together with thousands of Birthright and MASA alumnis which make the picture this time very different. 

The online effort during the crisis was unprecedented—the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit and other government agencies used social media in a concerted and relentless manner, broadcasting materials that influenced mainstream media as well.  Our Masa Israel Journey participants also joined the effort, creating the "WeAreHereIsrael" campaign (link) and sharing their experiences in Israel in real time with the world.  We can all be very proud indeed.

3.    In a stroke of fortuitous timing, this past weekend saw more than 200 Russian-speaking Jewish young people from across Europe converge on the Dutch city of Maastricht for a conference on the use of social media to combat the delegitimization of Israel.  The conference, which the Jewish Agency organized in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, provided participants with the tools necessary to engage in the online battle for Israel, while also creating a cadre of young Jewish leaders from across Europe.  

At a time when hundreds of thousands of European Jews live outside of Jewish communal frameworks, we were heartened to bring so many of 20-to-30-year-olds together for such an important cause, and we look forward to further strengthening this core leadership group .

4.    As the violence raged last week, I joined a delegation of leaders from the Jewish Federations of North America in visiting our renewed Ibim immigrant absorption center, located just north of rocket-battered Sderot.  During our last Board of Governors meeting, we had the unique privilege of welcoming home the first planeload of olim from Operation Dove’s Wings—the final wave of Ethiopian Aliyah.  The olim we greeted have since been joined by hundreds of others, all residing in Ibim.  I remember being asked why we were putting such a vulnerable population in such a volatile area.  

During our visit last week, we saw how, in fact, Ibim is one of the safest places in Israel—the site is covered with bomb shelters and every residential unit has been provided with a safe room, so that no resident is ever more than a couple of steps away from shelter at any given time.  I was struck by the new olim’s resilience—the atmosphere was almost serene, with adults playing board games under the trees and children playing good-naturedly on the lawns.  When an incoming rocket alert sounded, they all walked calmly to the bomb shelters, emerging shortly thereafter with the same equanimity.  It is certainly a credit to our devoted staff at Ibim that the olim have been able to find an oasis of calm within the chaos, as have thousands of olim at all eight of our absorption centers in southern Israel.

On Friday, we shared with you a summary of our activities during the crisis.  What is somewhat more difficult to convey, however, is the sheer magnitude of those activities, and the extent to which they were carried out without a hitch.  Our effort to bring nearly 30,000 children and teenagers from southern Israel on day trips out of harm’s way was a massive and complex logistical operation, involving many hundreds of buses in areas in which residents are expected to be within 15 seconds of a bomb shelter at any given time. 
Plans changed from day to day and from minute to minute, in line with constantly amended IDF situation assessments.  At various points, we even ran out of buses, as the IDF itself requisitioned the buses to shuttle troops to the front.  Still, there was not a single complaint from any of the children or from any of the nearly 30,000 sets of parents—only gratitude, as our professionals worked with clockwork precision to provide the region’s youth with some rest and respite out of rocket range.  This seamless operation could not have happened without the daily coordination by our Deputy Chairman, Rani Trainin who tirelessly managed all our on the ground communication with local municipalities. 

During operation Pillar of Defense in the South, the Fund for Emergency Assistance to Jewish Communities continued to allocate special funds to communities for their security needs. Allocations of one million dollars were made to communities in Europe and South America.

Finally, I would like to note the outpouring of support we have witnessed through our Partnership2Gether peoplehood platform.  From Sydney to Cleveland and from Mexico City to New Orleans, partnership communities have held rallies, engaged in communal prayer, sent countless messages of support, and expressed their solidarity with the people of southern Israel in a variety of other ways.  Please see a partial list of accounts from P2G communities’ activities during the crisis here.

All our partners’ financial support and our staff’s dedication made all this possible. 

A heartfelt thank you again to each and every one of you.


So wrote Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency last week. And who would know better the impacts a united Jewish world community can have than this hero? He...he...understands the core concept of "collective responsibility." He has called us out in the name of Jewish unity time and time again. We have constantly demonstrated that at times of crisis for our People we pull together as a global Jewish community with all of the strength embodied in the concept of collective responsibility. An it is a beautiful thing to watch, an even more beautiful thing to be a part of.

Now is the time for us to determine whether we can also pull together in the more quiet times -- the times in which our federations are challenged as never before. Let us do so reflecting on the past days in which we once again came together as a People as we go forward.


Saturday, December 1, 2012


Coinciding with each General Assembly in my memory has been the publication of the Forward 50 -- The Forward selection of the 50 Jews who impacted upon our Peoplehood, our communities and our culture in the prior 12 months. Perhaps it's time for The Forward to consider publishing its list at some other time of year.

In the past I don't recall a year in which major federation figures, lay or professional, were not among the "50." True, last year our system was represented by but a single professional, named not for his communal accomplishments (for he had yet to evidence any) but, rather, for the trend in CEO selection that he represented. This year...none...not one federation or JFNA leader.

This tells us much about the perception of our system (admittedly by those who pay us little attention during the year) but, also, about the reality. Yes, as always, when Israel is threatened, we stand up, but the rest of the year, generally,  we either slink back within the borders of our constituent units and/or we "develop" programs like Festivus and trumpet failure as success, thinking (hoping??) no one will notice.

What can be done? Blessedly, we have new Chairs of the JFNA Board and Executive. They can provide the inspiration, the energy and the sense of purpose so lacking the past six years -- inspiration, energy and purpose not just for JFNA but for the federation owners as well. They can do so (along with a strong new National Campaign Chair) by examining JFNA's basic purposes and committing themselves to them -- rather than, as has been the case for at least the last three years, continuing down a road of misbegotten, ill-conceived personal agendas.

I want to see the lay leaders of JFNA and federation lay and professional leaders in the 2013 Forward 50. Those identified for reinvigorating our national system and revitalizing our communities. It can be done.