Tuesday, December 31, 2013


31 December 2013

Dear Dede and Michael:

A happy and healthy New Year to you both and to your families. I thought that at this, the end of Calendar Year 2013, I would write to convey my concerns with the constant lack of direction at JFNA and with the state of mediocrity that it has become. You, as our elected leaders, can change things and I pray that you will.

I am saddened by the reality that neither of you reads this Blog; though I fully understand that no leader likes to read a litany of criticism of the organization which he/she leads. I truly wish that JFNA under your leadership were beyond criticism, and I also believe that you can make a difference from this day forward...but, only...only, if you seize the day and act boldly.

You have to know, 18 months after your election, that JFNA has continued its aimless wandering -- lurching in one direction (maybe the Global Planning Table) then another (maybe an illusory announcement of a $1 billion special campaign for free Jewish pre-School for all, with no substance, no planning, no consultation and, really, no thought) and then another (back to the twice-failed TribeFest wasting another $1 million-plus). And, all of these bear the imprint of the CEO, all words, cliches...amphigory. If this is the best that we can be, how sad would that be?

Where and what do you want JFNA to be at the end of your terms? And, what do you believe are the steps necessary to get there? Has the organization reached such depths that no one will take the CEO position were it to open up (as so many believe it should)? I just know that not to be true; and wouldn't that be the most warped excuse to just go on goin' on?

Here is what one Commentator wrote the two of you in response to an earlier Post:

"If I was Chairman of JFNA and the President (Silverman) put me up at a microphone to discuss a billion dollar initiative for pre-schools and summer camps, without vetting the concept and getting Federations in alignment first, I would return to his office and help him pack his things. 

It would be Silverman's last day on the job.

Even worse, is the fact that the Federations are not even upset. They already accept that JFNA has no relevance.

JFNA wants a billion dollar pre-school and camping initiative. JFNA wants a part of the Prime Minister's initiative. And JFNA does not want to shut up already about the Global Planning Table Fiasco.

Calling Silverman and Caspi failed managers does not begin to capture the depth of the issue.

If Chair of the Board Michael Siegal and Chair of the Executive Diane Feinberg support the renewal of Silverman's contract - it is they who have failed the American Jewish Community.

Be responsible: do a 360 degree evaluation. You will hear nothing but failure. The only place people talk about JFNA success is inside its own offices.

JFNA is a failure. If you do not believe it, hire an impartial firm to just compile what people are saying in the field. Listen to them. They pay the dues.

The latest excuse is now Jerry has a team in place. Give him a chance to use his team, It was Jerry who already proved his failure when he refused to put a team in place. Professionals and lay alike begged him to recruit and build a team. They told him he did not know Federations and he needed inside professionals. He refused.

You gave him his chance. He failed the challenge. Time for a new batter. "There is no one better out there" is the next battle cry. Yes there are. And it does not matter. You do not need to pay somebody a half a million dollars a year to make the chairs look foolish in front of the whole Jewish world. And you do not need failed managers to have no accomplishments.

Michael and Dede, you represent the owners of this team. It is up to you to set the standards of the players who will play on this team. You wanted the job - you won the responsibility.

Yes, Michael and Dede, you are both dedicated, caring and wonderful lay people. But you are looking foolish to everyone, as long as you are standing next to the Harlem Shake Jerry Silverman.

You cannot defend the indefensible.

Do the right thing."
My friends, my leaders, make 2014 a better year; a great year. Starting now. Seize the day.


Thursday, December 26, 2013


Since I began this Blog almost five years ago, we have been blessed with tremendous insights from our readers. Like this one, responding to our Post on Delusions:

"Jim Collins, who once (after doing his homework on our system) made a brilliant presentation on finding an organizational core focus. If we think back -- both UJA and CJF understood what it meant to have one precious purpose driving everything they did. For UJA it was building a Jewish state and protecting overseas Jewry; for CJF it was empowering, ennobling and networking the senior lay and professional leaders of our communities. And both organizations delivered because they stuck to their unique strategic purposes humbling adapting grass roots experimentation into national models. When Milwaukee developed a national model for young leadership programing on a local level CJF promoted that model; when a relatively new Federation in DC came up with Super Sunday UJA ran with the program. They listened, they learned and then they led, a process duplicated time and again. All because they thought through who they were and what they were about. Purpose, focus, humility and excellence in delivery."
Anyone who has observed the aimless wanderings of JFNA over the past six years, and specifically, the past four, has to ask: where is core purpose, where are the core values upon which we built a once great system?

Instead we find our national organization in convulsions before each Board meeting and every GA on its calendar. Concepts that may sound good to a bored/Board audience, upon examination are always...always...found wanting to the point of specious. In JFNA we have an entity that exhibits all of the elements of Institutional Attention Deficit Disorder, jumping from one shiny object to another without sufficient thought or substance. As someone wrote me: "JFNA and, therefore, Jerry, are babbling on about preschool while the world merrily marches on without them." While all would applaud the concept of free early childhood education for very Jewish child, to roll out a concept as a "plan ready for implementation" is mind numbing.  JFNA is so out of touch with the realities with which federations are dealing on a daily basis as to be irrelevant.

Only at an organization that has no core could the CEO dismiss all prior "plans" and roll out things like a "$1 billion special campaign" to ostensibly offer free Jewish school tuition without any prior planning, without any consultation with the federations that would have to raise the money, without any consultation with anyone with expertise in Jewish early childhood education...without, without, without. Maybe this CEO is as Sun Tzu -- "let your plans be dark and as impenetrable as night" -- more likely, he's "Dopey," one of the Seven Dwarfs.

One "wise" act of self-preservation of this CEO and his predecessor has been to totally destroy the institutional memory that UJA and CJF bequeathed to this successor entity, JFNA. Some of those our Anonymous commentator cited above. And with the Kanfer-Manning and Manning-Goldberg regimes, the erasure of memory was so easily accomplished while too many who could have done something about this deconstruction sat by and watched in silence (and, worse, tried to silence and then censured those who pushed back). At least Howard Rieger had a sense of that history himself (even if he believed that institutional memory needed to be eradicated if a new "JFNA culture" was to emerge); once JFNA fell to the leadership of Manning-Goldberg-Silverman, the die was cast; personal agendas trumped building the system time and again.

Now, with the current Co-Chairs, leaders within their communities and the national system, and knowing, as they surely do, that what was once so valued could be once again, they need to get on with their jobs and assure the present and future as their predecessors did not.

From the road to institutional irrelevancy,


Sunday, December 22, 2013


There is no doubt...none...that if you spread blame around to everybody involved in leadership of JFNA or any organization, then nobody is accountable. It's so very easy and way too facile to look around and point the finger of blame for the mediocrity that JFNA has become at, among others: transient lay Chairs, or the Large City Executives as a group (or, at the least, three of them, or maybe just one of them), the inner council of JFNA lay leaders (whoever they are), or the JFNA Executive Committee (a mere rubber stamp of others' decisions), or at the Board. But, at the end of the day, the persons most responsible for JFNA's descent into the mediocre or worse, are the professionals who have led JFNA in its jumping the shark...and those who have decided not to hold them responsible for the failures past and present that predict a miserable and meaningless future.

I am told that five or six years ago, JFNA's then Board Chair decided that it was time for the then CEO to go. He went to one of the leading LCE and essentially requested "permission" to end that chapter in the fiasco that JFNA had become. Incredibly, that LCE (who had told me on more than one occasion that JFNA needed new professional leadership then and there), refused the JFNA Chair (on the ostensible basis that to let the then CEO go at that time would be "cruel" or something like that) who went slinking back to endure another year or so before the contract expired along with that Chair's terms. Since then JFNA has fallen further into a void so deep that, apparently, a failed, meaningless Israel GA appeared to the current Chairs (and a columnist or two) to be a "success" notwithstanding that the number of paid lay registrants from North America was less than 1,000. 

I have been told by those who know that a cardinal rule of marketing is to "under-promise and over-deliver," but CEO Jerry, who supposedly knows marketing if nothing else, offers the opposite -- for example, allegedly responding to the Pew Study, with the Board Chair in tow, promising, among other things, a $1 billion fund raising effort to offer free Jewish pre-school to all and tripling Jewish camp enrollment. With no planning and little thought, and box car numbers not even achieved in the seminal Operation Exodus Campaign, an organization totally reliant on the federations to raise any money whatsoever, announces its so-called "plans" with no prior discussion with the federations or with those early childhood professionals who find the proposal inconsistent with their own vision (http://www.jta.org/2013/11/27/default/jewish-preschool-leaders-want-support-but-not-free-tuition) (and having read the excellent JTA piece, were JFNA really to be a serious player in early childhood Jewish education rather than merely throwing out a number that would be, at best, 4 times less than would be needed, wouldn't JFNA have had its representatives all over the Washington DC Conference of the Alliance for Jewish Early Childhood Education? But...no, nothing, no one) and with the claque as always offering a standing ovation. CEO Jerry -- all marketing, all tactics and neither strategies nor sense. (In all of my roles in Jewish communal life, never did a senior professional embarrass me as Michael Siegal has been embarrassed by the JFNA CEO in this instance.)

The Global Planning Table continues to be a twenty ton weight on JFNA's neck and continues to frustrate all who have attempted to understand its lack of direction, support and the expenditure of untold millions at the direction of the CEO ("if we close the GPT down, JFNA will go out of existence"), and Ms. Manning and her acolytes. 

Now, Silverman is frantically hiring --a new COO and Marketing and Communications senior pro, both hired, it appears to this observer, at the demand of the Board Chair; a new FRD senior professional, who may have sought a number of other positions before this one fell to him, and who will need counseling and mentoring to enable him to relate to the "other" 154 federations beyond the Hudson River. And, more to follow. I am certain that the Chairs have heard the pleas from the CEO -- "I need  a new contract so I will have the time to integrate the new staff and really...really... demonstrate what JFNA can do under my leadership." If this post hoc ergo propter hoc argument flies with the Co-Chairs for whom I have only respect, more's the pity.

Yet, CEO Jerry has proved that he both approached and has run JFNA for the last four years the way once-"candidate" for President Herman Cain was described as selling pepperoni pizza: "with a greater concern for marketing  than for nutrition." Sadly, the system has endured four years of failure. Year-by-year, for the last six years, I have watched as the future of JFNA and the promise of JFNA have receded to the point where there is neither future nor promise under the current professional leadership, only the failure of the present, only the mediocrity that JFNA is today.

Given the continuing embarrassment after a federation investment of over $600,000,000, and the reality that there is no there there, isn't it time for real change? Past time for real change? And, don't we all know who has to be responsible for that?


Thursday, December 19, 2013


On erev Thanksgiving JFNA announced the hiring of a new Senior V-P Philanthropic Resources (ersatz FRD). After a fruitless search (and a number of turn downs from excellent professionals) for close to a year, JFNA has added a long-time FRD professional from the New York UJA-Federation -- no doubt on the recommendation of recently retired, now JFNA consultant, Paul Kane, who, you will recall, came to JFNA from NY UJA-Fed as well.

The new Senior V-P has a terrific background in one federation but...experiences at New York, if the Paul Kane hire is an example, have little relevance in the FRD area to the rest of the federation system. If the new hire is good, and a quick study, this short-coming will be easily overcome.

But, in its announcement of the new hire, JFNA could not resist the hyperbole so characteristic of an organization that knows not itself:

"(he) brings to JFNA the kind of proven track record and extensive communal experience that will help us drive our system’s fundraising forward,” 
This quote was attributed to CEO Jerry -- who, of course, came to JFNA with neither and, apparently, doesn't believe that either is necessary to his position, back for years ago or now.

In fact, close to two years ago, JFNA had the chance to hire one of the best and brightest campaigners in our system. But Paul Kane was still on board even though, beyond the Millionaire's Roundtable, there appeared to this observer that he never tiptoed into the direct FRD arena (even though, arguably, that was the purpose for which he was hired).  Claiming "budgetary issues" two years no hire was made and two years have since passed until this November engagement.

So, is JFNA going to pay Paul Kane to mentor the new hire even though Paul, too, was from the same UJA-Federation environment? Do JFNA's "ideas,"  were there any, in all areas look like the unforgettable New Yorker cover where the world essentially ends at the Hudson River? 

In 2012 JFNA published a Campaign Plan for that year and this with 7 "goals"...here they were/are:
  1. "Inspire leading investors in the Federation Movement.
  2. Provide support to Federations in their financial resource development and community building efforts.
  3. Continue to strengthen affinities including Women’s Philanthropy, Young Leadership Cabinet, Cabinet Alumni, and Next Generation.
  4. Increase endowment opportunities for the Federation field, for donors, and for JFNA endowments.
  5. Provide training opportunities and tools for Federation professionals and volunteers to enhance their development and community building efforts.
  6. Grow financial resource development in the Network of Independent Communities.
  7. Re-imagine and revitalize the Missions program to support and expand Federation efforts." 
Now, two years later, tell me where there has been any...any...success in any of these seven areas of "focus;" in other words, "what focus?"

I wish the new hire every success. P.S. What ever happened to Matt Freedman, an exemplary fund raiser from a relevant federation?


Monday, December 16, 2013


Friends, it is more evident, day-by-day, that the Global Planning Table is totally out of control, dragging JFNA along with it in the destruction of the system, with the Large City Executives performing the last rites. The JFNA Co-Chairs and the leaders of JAFI and the Joint surely know that the GPT is out of control; yet, ignoring all of the evidence..all of it. 

Either the GPT or its Partnership Committee or who knows what entity of the GPT, is meeting this week. Let's take a look at some of the worst examples of a system in chaos:

  • The LCE have asserted (and believe that the GPT leaders have agreed) that the funding of the GPT "Signature Initiative" will only be derived from "new money," not from current core allocations. Perhaps, this belief makes them feel good; and, certainly, were it true, that would be a step in the right direction. The reality is something different. Perhaps a few of the largest federations will allocate a small amount of new dollars to the Initiative; but the reality is that most communities will only find the funds from their current core allocations. Then what? Will those pushing for funding only out of new money stand their ground? Or will they as in every prior instance...cave? The past, my friends, is prologue. And JFNA's leaders sit by in silence as their/our organization is further diminished (with CEO Silverman's total support).
  • Then there is this conflict: the GPT has assumed the role of lead advocate for an increased core allocation (as pointed out in prior Posts, this is more than a little strange, given that every act taken by the GPT to date has been in derogation of the communal core allocation). It is also the advocate  for federation funding of Signature Initiatives. The inherent, patent conflict of interest in these two roles, totally opposed is each to the other, are ignored as if the conflict of interest does not exist. And JFNA's leaders sit by in silence as their/our organization is further diminished (with CEO Silverman's total support).
  • It is now absolutely clear -- crystal -- that the Global Planning Table's leaders (that's Ms. Manning and her acolytes, including some major philanthropists who just don't get it) plan to substitute themselves in the guise of the GPT as the interface between the federations and overseas needs -- the worst of all possible outcomes. And JFNA's leaders sit by in silence as their/our organization is further diminished (with CEO Silverman's total support).
And there is nothing but silence all around.

Sad...really sad.


Friday, December 13, 2013


As is usually the case, those of you who Comment on these Posts offer superb insights. Here is what one of you wrote immediately after the General Assembly:
"JFNA and Jerry are pinballing from idea to idea so fast that they do not pause to consider how idiotic they look. Lucky for us, in our own communities, most donors do not know who or what JFNA is. If they did, JFNA would be bringing down the value of our local Jewish Federation brand.

When Jerry and Michael's so-called thought leadership piece appeared in the Forward, they espoused focusing on four areas: free Jewish preschools, Jewish camping, birthright alumni and Jewish development zones. Then, when he spoke at the GA, all of a sudden, he put a big focus on lowering the cost of 'being Jewish in America'. Did he, perhaps, read Gil Troy's op-ed piece that appeared the day before his speech in the Jerusalem Post that was delivered to his hotel room during the GA? Sure seems like it.

For CEO Jerry the Pew Report has become nothing more than another shiny object to distract the organization from its goals and purpose -- if it has either any more. You may recall that last year, JFNA prepared another so-called Strategic Plan for itself -- making it one for each of its many CEOs -- this one called "Strategic Initiatives." While nothing more than a collection of stuff so old that in many instances dated back to UJA and CJF, nonetheless JFNA committed to implement the Initiatives and to measure their successful implementation. Then, as of the GA (and a few interviews and press releases preceding the GA), off JFNA went on a frolic far removed from the very Initiatives to which it had committed itself. It's all so stupid, so wasteful, so unfocused. Or, as I might add, "so JFNA."

In its weekly Sign of the ApocalypseSports Illustrated wrote:
"A group of Bosnian fans intending to see their country's World Cup qualifier  against Lithuania went to Latvia by mistake. Said one fan: 'I will surely remember this stupidity (for) the rest of my life."
At JFNA it's the equivalent of the same thing only their "stupidity" is quickly forgotten (and, more than likely, repeated). Time and again under current leadership, JFNA plans to go to Lithuania and ends up in Latvia -- the aimless wanderings of a lost organization. Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013


The recently concluded Jerusalem General Assembly was "marketed" as "A Marketplace of Dialogue and Debate." Not having been there I have had to rely on the insights of the many who were there and who offered theirs to me. The general consensus -- actually, the unanimous opinion of those who wrote or called -- was that at no Session was there a truly involving and engaging "dialogue" or, even more certainly, "debate" in which the audience was invited to participate.

After everything I heard, I am pretty sure that JFNA leaders neither understood or care about the definitions:

  • "Debate" -- "a discussion involving opposing viewpoints"
  • "Dialogue" -- "an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue"
Sure, within the "shuk" and in the hallways, as always, Registrants (the few) and attendees (the "more") engaged in  both debate and dialogue; but at the public sessions, points of view were expressed and brief Q and A allowed, but what you and I know to be "debate and dialogue" -- uh uh.

If there was unanimity on anything about this GA, it was that JFNA, desperately trying to reach its attendance projections, did the same thing the Chicago Democratic machine did at the disastrous 1968 Democratic Convention -- it filled the room with whomever it could -- mainly Israelis -- folks who paid nothing or almost nothing. So, while JFNA trumpeted boxcar and fictional numbers, if anyone cares to examine actual North American lay registrants, the numbers will turn out to be around 1,000. 

And, that's bad, really, really bad. These results demand that the GA be fairly studied in depth by a group of federation lay and professional leaders, led by Executive Chair Dede Feinberg -- not a one person "Committee" as was the case when Ms. Manning led and determined the outcome of the last Study. (And, when practical recommendations for reform drafted by a professional experienced in and with our communities were simply suppressed by leadership dictate.) 

We all recall that one recommendation from under Ms. Manning's dictate was to move "all future GAs" to places offering tourist attractions -- somehow this resulted in a Houston GA being canceled and moved to D.C. (where 942 lay leaders paid and registered). The 2014 GA will convene in D.C. (this marks the third time the GA will convene in Washington since that last, failed GA "plan." Why will the 2014 GA even be held? "We've made big deposits."

It's past time to examine the costs/revenues for the last five GAs and an honest, transparent accounting be provided the JFNA Board. This Study should take place immediately, be concluded by the January Board Retreat, and then, discussed at the federation level, and at the June Board Meeting, a real debate and dialogue can take place as to the future of the General Assembly.

That's a real debate and dialogue, my friends, not a meaningless marketing tag line.


Saturday, December 7, 2013


Yes, that loop attached to the earlier Post did capture the essence of JFNA. and even I have to marvel at the accuracy of the metaphor. For recent examples:

  • Start with the kal ha'kavod we delivered to JFNA's Chairs for their letter urging federations to increase their overseas core allocations. Then we learn during questions at the JFNA October Board meeting, that that letter had never been sent to (or, at least, received by) the JFNA Board members -- at least, not all of them. Where does the buck stop at 25 Broadway?
  • What organization that you know of would permit a major part of its agenda to be high-jacked by one of its Committees, operating independently of the organization's governance? The answer should be none -- but that is exactly what has happened at our beloved JFNA. The Co-Chairs have apparently acquiesced in the "Partnership Committee" -- a wholly self-created and self-serving "Committee" of another, the Global Planning Table -- having made itself responsible for dictating allocations outcomes, and, supposedly, advocating for the system's historic overseas partners (without any apparent competency to do so). This makes even less sense given that JFNA has an eager Israel and Overseas Committee which appears to be perfectly positioned to undertake this responsibility with the expertise of, among others, UIA. (We, of course, well understand and sympathize with the Partnership Committee Chair's acquisitive desire to be at the forefront of any effort that might keep her "in play" for her next run at the Chair of the Conference of Presidents.) 
  • How many times can one request a list of JFNA's consulting agreements and the amounts thereof...and never get a response? Many, many times, apparently. Maybe the Chairs now know the answer.
  • Here's a strange one given the whining heard from 25 Broadway about a lack of sufficient money from the JFNA Budget to accomplish great things (or anything, really). Although I found it hard to believe, I read it in a JFNA Briefing on staff positions -- strangely not from CEO Jerry but from Chairman Siegal -- that one of CEO Jerry's acolytes has been appointed to the newly created position of "Vice President, Institutional Advancement/Thought Leadership." (I am not making this up.) I believe this person was one of those who "thought up" TribeFest (she certainly defended it vehemently). After all, how can you claim your organization is engaged in "thought leadership" if you don't have a "thought leader" on your staff? But "thought leadership" in this case seems to be related to this "how does JFNA raise money for itself from your donors?" This may help to explain why some of the best and brightest of the JFNA professionals have their resumes on the street.
  • On the subject of "thought leadership..." Is this CEO Jerry's new role...and were the "roll-out" the preposterous interviews pre-GA and the misplaced, insincere "big ideas" of a $1 billion dollar "campaign" for a "free" Jewish education with no substance along with tripling the number of Jewish campers over a few years and "give us 350,000 names, Birthright" the best/worst evidence? Actually...there was no real thought given, was there? Along with no planning, no consultation...nothing.
  • Now that you have read the previews, see JFNA the Movie,The Sequel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrAIGLkSMls

Friday, December 6, 2013


On this date we interrupt our "program" to remember that on this date, in 1987, twenty-six years ago, which feels like only yesterday, our system, with very Jewish organization gathered on the National Mall by the hundreds of thousands, to demand freedom for Soviet Jewry. All of who were there committed ourselves to never again be silent along with those inside and outside our federated system who were at the forefront of what became to be known as the Soviet Jewry Movement.

I was there with my community, one of several hundred Chicagoans who traveled to D.C. that day to joined the mass rally -- the banners, the cries,  speeches and songs and applause. It was a great day -- one that culminated in the seminal Operation Exodus -- in which we began to write a chapter in modern Jewish History -- a small part of the chapter written in capital letters and blood, sweat and tears by those heroes in Refusal and the over 1,000,000 who left the former Soviet Union for freedom, those who have so strengthened Israel and our own communities.

And, looking back from the perspective of today, I will also remember that day and the Exodus and the Exodus Campaign which followed that day as the pinnacle of our system. I believe we can rise to the occasion and ascend the summit again and again and again -- and I know you do as well.



Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Friends in Israel for pre-GA events had been reporting that CEO Jerry was bouncing off the walls with joy telling all within earshot "we've hit 3,000; we've hit 3,000." Of course that wasn't the case but if it helped Jerry to believe the unbelievable, go for it. Even if 3,000 is the number JFNA had used in D.C. when there were less than 950 lay registrants, it's such a great number -- like 2 or 4 or 6 or 8 but it's 3,000, and JFNA Jerry loves 3,000.

Then there was this Comment:

Anonymous said...

When the Silverman/Siegel proposal was published yesterday (11/7) in EJP the tweet/like/share response was about as low as you can get. It seems even their own accolytes including a power tweeter on senior management are distancing themselves and the internal shunning (a long held tradition at JFNA/UJC) is now actively at work. I'd look for an announcement shortly after the GA if not during.
So, perhaps, this speculation is driving delusion; perhaps this speculation feeds the CEO's need to serve a most public role in multiple GA venues -- a role that would/could better be played by others (even G-d forbid, lay people); perhaps this speculation is the catalyst for the multiple press releases and interviews that preceded the GA all self-serving, all ridiculous and all announcing that "I am the indispensable person, I am the 'thought leader.'" Uh huh.

And, perhaps, in the scenario that has been the last four years there have been lessons that might serve Jerry's successor well. Among them (and I am sure there are many more):

  • Understand the core values that drive success. The current and immediate past JFNA CEOs not only rejected the history of the federations (the former knew them but rejected them; the current CEO continues to have no apparent clue). Those values can drive success and create historical continuity, instead, there is no connection between our system's core values and the national institution... a prescription for the very failure we see all around us.
  • Tell the truth --  For example, what would have been wrong with first telling the JFNA Co-Chairs "this is going to be a very hard GA to populate given costs and logistics and the failures of the past GAs. But we are going to break our backs to make the program so compelling and so exciting and we have a major recruitment plan and we will keep you posted every step of the way." But, no, as I understand it, the CEO continued to misrepresent the terrible numbers into the Summer and, then, it was too late -- not too late to continue to misstate registration right into the GA itself -- "we got 3,000!!" -- the history of fake numbers empowered the CEO to make those misrepresentations weekly to the JFNA Chairs. There have been other instances of untruths -- the one sticking in my craw was evidenced by Silverman's willing, even eager, endorsement of the fabrication that Manning did not utter the words "no Zionism -- too controversial" at a GPT meeting, something that he knew had happened. Yet, he felt unrestrained by the truth in misrepresenting what Manning had said to federation CEOs across the country.
  • Stop the favoritism. There is ample evidence that at JFNA the federations with the gold rule...and rule...and rule. A CEO who understands the system would make it clear that he or she is listening to all federations -- to their CEOs and their leaders. When a Large Intermediate or Intermediate Federation lay and professional leaders see a Large City cut an undisclosed Dues deal and its new CEO put on panel after panel at GAs on subjects with which his community has had no demonstrable success while they get no speaking privileges (other than to kiss the JFNA CEO's ring), small issues grow to big ones. An excellent manager, be it in business, in law firms, in federations knows how it's done -- but not at JFNA. This has to change.
  • Focus on the big issues and get some quick victories -- this CEO focused on what in his first years? Community heroes, #ish, TribeFest  (all failed)and the tried and true hand-me-downs from UJA and CJF, the "rebranding" to JFNA (the name chosen by UJA-CJF pre-merger)? That's it? And other shiny objects -- the Global Planning Table among them -- began to capture JFNA's attention. There were neither big issues nor victories of any kind and haven't been.
  • Get over yourself. Know that JFNA is neither about you nor about JFNA -- it is to be about federations. Understand that there is no reason for arrogance, only humility. Succeed by doing not by talking; and cliche and jargon merely communicate failure. Listen to advice and don't reject criticism out of hand even from those you won't countenance out of spite or pique.
  • Hire the best and brightest. Instead of reaching out to hire the best and brightest as a focus, the last two CEOs have engineered a brain drain from the highest ranks within JFNA of the best and brightest. I won't embarrass them by naming them, but they have gone on to great success with among others Tel Aviv University, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, JA and the JDC, World ORT,  among so many.  Many former JFNA professionals have been engaged by a broad array of federations around the Continent to supply what JFNA now can't. Friends, if you can't keep the best, how do you recruit the best? When this exodus began -- at the very beginning of an avalanche of departures -- I asked the  then Chair of the Executive to do some exit interviewing, to understand how bad things were -- she never did so.
  • Transparency. A concept apparently unknown to the CEO and embodied in the questions unasked by a succession of Chairs. "Never ask, never tell." Shouldn't the laity know what is the total of all consultant contracts; who are the individual consultants and how much is each paid (including the ubiquitous Ms. Smith); what has been the return on investment from each consultant contract -- for starters. There are millions being paid out to consultants. And how are GA deficits handled -- how are the deficits there and at TribeFests, for example, "processed" within JFNA -- certainly there has been no formal Executive Committee action, no Board review. There is no transparency at JFNA, not in its Budget and not in its practice. It appears that staff has, at its whim, shifted dollars from one Budget line to another while everyone involved, right up to the Treasurer, sits with the hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil attitude...as cheerleaders, not as the fiduciaries they are supposed to be.
When will things change? When the Co-Chairs realize they are in fact the Co-Chairs.


Sunday, December 1, 2013


Wow, can that Jerry Silverman talk...and talk...and talk. The master of hyperbole, cliche and jargon can't distinguish fact from fancy. And, so it was, shortly before the recent GA, in an "interview" with JTA, CEO Jerry, at his most bombastic, said it won't be "..just talk when federations meet in Israel for GA." And, then, it was..."just talk."

The GA? "It's about really creating the great debate and dialogue on the challenges of our times." 250 (yes, that's 250) "young adults" would be brought together "to debate and contribute ideas to 'tackle key challenges facing Jewish communities and Israel." Uh huh. And, per the CEO: "The idea is to listen." If you ask Federation leaders you would quickly learn that a major fault with JFNA and its CEO is an inability to do just that... and Jerry has proved to be the non-listener in chief. 

There is also, as you know from recent JFNA pronouncements, an intense focus on the Pew Report -- even if the responses from JFNA have been a set of half-baked, par-baked, non-baked "ideas" thrown out there without planning or forethought. 

But all that "promised debate" -- "debate" that Silverman promised "[T]here are going to be real actions that will be taken post-GA from this." Uh huh. Even a mass walk of participants (really a "small mass" -- not 3,000 but, maybe, 1,000 or 1,200) from Safra Square to the Kotel in what CEO Jerry said "...is a show of Jewish unity to underscore the centrality of Jerusalem and that there is a place for all Jews at the Kotel." And, yet there weren't enough North American Jews to make any real impact.

It's so difficult to actually envision a GA at which debate takes place after years of enforced silence. When in the 70s the so-called "Young Turks" rebelled seeking (and obtaining) seats at the table, or when the GA was the place where the decision was made to stage the great Rally for Soviet Jewry, we had GAs of substance and debate, dialogue and decision. But that was then and this is now...and has been "now" for too long.

To Jerry Silverman it appears that saying "the right thing" is enough. In his mind, saying it is doing it. And that's the sad truth. As one commentator once observed, this is like "A loud noise at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other." He was, of course, writing about babies.

Seriously, while your organization hits the rocks and is sinking, what does it say about your CEO who dabbles in the folly that is Festivus for a third time; who at a critical time for JFNA promises young leaders that if they get 25 people to go on a Mission, he'll join them...and, then, does (you remember the Harlem Shake?); who drafts numerous white papers describing the GA as a place of debate and thought leadership while giving numerous interviews "full of sound and fury signifying nothing;" and moves his staff around like the deck chairs on the Titanic...and he is still there!!


Thursday, November 28, 2013


Now that the failed GA is behind JFNA, it can turn its full and undivided attention to the next disaster on its events calendar -- the third attempt at making TribeFest a success. The cost to date has exceeded $2,000,000 -- that's more than $1 million/failure -- but CEO Jerry is determined to keep throwing money at an event that has produced nothing for the federations -- why? We'll never know.

So, the 2014 Festivus will be held in New Orleans. A recent JFNA promo for the March event coincided with the end of Daylight Savings Time (and the notice came out, appropriately, on the cusp of Halloween) -- so cleverly tagged Fall back...in love with Tribefest! If you hit the links for this fiasco, here's what you will learn:

  • There is no express purpose for TribeFest -- no defined audience other than an age cohort that covers a broad swath of young Jews 
  • If you examine the staffing, JFNA has committed its entire Young Leadership Cabinet senior staff (and a few others) to this thing
  • There will be "Purim Ball on Saturday night with dancing, music and a megillah reading" -- whoopee
  • There is a link to last year's "phenomenal main stage speakers" -- you can take a look and form your own conclusions
And, then, immediately pre-Thanksgiving, JFNA offered 8...that's eight... Grand Prize Winners a chance at a $300 discount off the $450 pre-Registration if they submit the winning social media entries. WOW, a "game" to win a total of $2400 to  8...that's 8...winners in the aggregate. Just writing the "rules" had to cost JFNA $2400 in staff expense. Not quite as much as Festivals will cost the system -- that will be in excess of $1 million -- just a drop in the bucket.

Someone ought to take a look and examine the entirety of the Young Leadership Cabinet investment, purpose and vision. Trotting out another Fest, another Retreat (with fund raising at its lowest levels per capita ever) and a Mission or 2, just isn't enough, is it? What happened to Washington Conferences (oh, yes, that's Aipac turf now), or the follow-on to Tel Aviv 1 or nothing else of meaning other than these "Fests" of fun, drinking and whatever. For "whatever" -- go to the Registration link and read:
"JFNA reserves the right to remove individuals from the conference, revoking conference credentials without refund, for what it considers to be inappropriate or harmful behavior."
Oh, yeah...got to be there. 


Monday, November 25, 2013


Every once in a while I long for the good old days of JFNA -- and, then, I think of an episode like this one:

Steve Hoffman, then the JFNA CEO, pulled me aside at a meeting and asked if I would form and Chair a Task Force which might recommend the means by which JFNA could assist federations in the management of the FRD approaches to communities by the growing number of agencies, entities and NGOs which receive federation allocations. I felt this was something important, something that would help the federations and could, if properly structured help our beneficiaries -- from the largest, the Jewish Agency and the Joint, to the smallest. When I learned that our friend, Yitzchak Shavit, z'l, would be my professional partner, I quickly agreed.

We formed an excellent Task Force, with lay leaders and CEOs from many City-sizes -- some of the best and brightest in our system. I thought the ideal framework for our work would be a modification of Chicago's Resource Development Guidelines -- one that created a management and reporting structure for our local agencies' FRD efforts -- modified to fit the JFNA structure and the focus of our assignment. The Task Force agreed. With draft Guidelines in hand and  Shavit's assistance and the professional direction of the past leaders of the national organization's Israel Office, we arranged a three day series of meetings in Jerusalem where we had great professional support from the then fully functioning JFNA Israel Office. I attended at my own expense.

We had wall-to-wall meetings with academic and legislative experts on Israel's NGOs, with federation Israel Office leaders, with the Israeli representatives of many major North American foundations and representatives of the Government. We found almost unanimous support. Then we met with Jewish Agency and Joint professional leaders, who after open and robust discussion, offered their support, as well. We  felt we had achieved a real breakthrough and we were very encouraged. 

Based on this success, we came with the Draft Guidelines to the JFNA Board for approval at a meeting at one of those February Retreats in Ft. Lauderdale. The draft Guidelines were sent out to the Board in advance. Itzik and I discussed them with the Chair, Bobby Goldberg, and with the new CEO, Rieger. They assured us of their support. At the Board Meeting, there was a rush to the microphone -- not in support. One great leader, a past Chair of many national organizations, expressed concern with the possibility of the creation of "a horrible bureaucracy." We explained the simplicity of the management mechanism, self-enforcing -- but, we were met with cynicism. Then, the future Chair of the Executive (who did not disclose that he was also Chair at the time of The Israel Project, a federation beneficiary) rose to object to the Guidelines on the basis that it could "hamstring" and "burden" small funded agencies. (This was curious inasmuch as this leader would condemn me for a "conflict of interest" when I would later chair UIA and the Jewish Agency North America simultaneously. But, never mind.) Neither the Board Chair nor CEO said a word in support; I took the Motion to approve off the table.

After the meeting, I sought out the CEO and questioned the lack of the promised leadership support. He told me he was "uncomfortable," but promised to garner support and he did so. At the next Board meeting, the Guidelines were approved unanimously on the Consent Agenda. The next day I called Shavit. "When can we start implementation?" I asked. "Well," Shavit said, "the Task Force has been dissolved. They are going to implement it through JFNA Consulting." "Who is going to be the Lay Chair?" I asked. "Nobody."

A few weeks later I called the then professional leader of JFNA Consulting to see how implementation was going. It wasn't. "Oh, we're going to discuss it at the Senior Management Committee level." "When," I asked? "Soon." The same conversation was repeated periodically but I knew that the Task Force,  I and Shavit had wasted months of effort and expense -- the Guidelines died a quiet death, the potential management of competing philanthropies in our communities was dead. Why? Because of the parochial interests of a very few in national "leadership."

And this is the organization that now wants to manage everything -- from Overseas advocacy to a $1 billion special campaign for "free Jewish pre-school," to 350,000 Birthright alums, to everything else.

And, so it goes (or so it went) in the Lake Woebegone of national organizations.


Friday, November 22, 2013


Somewhere in the bowels of JFNA HQ a lonely professional (or two or...ten) was charged by the CEO or the Co-Chairs (or all of the above) to come up with a list of "programs" that demonstrate how JFNA "serves the Federation movement." I doubt that the document will ever see the light of day -- it shouldn't, because most, if not all, of the federation CEOs who might read it or hear it, will find it laughable. Here is the preamble:
"The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) convenes Federations to maximize our impact as a united continental community. JFNA is focused on delivering ever-greater value to Federations by offering critical skills to help them raise money, engage existing donors and attract new donors; operate more effectively; advocate for our communities at home and overseas; respond to crises; recruit and develop talent; and maintain and build relationships with partner organizations."
Really? Does the author of this 9 page recitation even believe what he/she has written? I doubt it. But, if only it were true. 

On JFNA's watch: (1) resources for our system's partners and beneficiaries -- e.g., JDC, JAFI, the National Agencies -- have fallen like a rock; (2) the number of donors to our system have reduced like the City of Detroit's population; (3) the best and brightest of young federation professionals have seen their aspirations for joining the ranks of federation CEOs frustrated by JFNA encouragement of an "outside the system" model (you know -- "like Jerry"); and (4) there has been no advocacy for the work of our "historic partners." Other than those, that Preamble is spot-on. 

But, then, there is also the waste embodied in programs like TribeFest, that Festivus for the Least of Us, that has already drained about $2 million from JFNA's budget and, now, will be repeated in March 2014. This is a program that is the best/worst evidence of the aimless wandering of JFNA -- without purpose, without Vision and, some would say, without hope. Ask JFNA what benefits the federations have reaped, what the federation ROI has been, from two Fests; no, better, ask the federations -- they paid for these exercises in institutional futility and now will pay again. (And, remember, the JFNA Treasurer/Budget and Finance Chair approved this JFNA as Groundhog Day event.) BTW, the same folks who projected, actually asserted, that 2500 registrants for the GA are now projecting "1500 participants" in March 2014 for this thing.

The saddest part of the recitation of program after program evidences just how much JFNA could accomplish, could have accomplished, had its leadership not been so pathetic, so distracted by the next small idea, by the next shiny object. What has been so sorely missing from leadership have been those lay and professional leaders who understand how federations work and, thereby, how best to assist them. The belief by too many Large City Executives that what works in our largest communities is always transferable to federations of smaller size has had the most unfortunate results -- the worst of which has been the almost total elimination of annual campaign assistance and leadership ("we" don't need it, so why would "you?")

When JFNA was created through the merger process, leaders of Large Intermediate, Intermediate and Small Cities feared that JFNA's programs would be dictated by the largest among us. The leaders of the merger process tried to assuage these fears but, in practice, the size of the communities from which a number of failed JFNA leaders emerged suggested that, in the main, the smaller the community, the greater likelihood that it would be ignored, patted on the head and told "we'll get back to you." The patronizing was/is palpable. 

But, after the General Assembly, one supporter of JFNA, writing anonymously in commentary on one of my Posts, expressed hope:
"Both Michael and Jerry outlined ideas for plans in their speeches at the GA and asked for others to join the planning for implementation. They are trying to get things going. Past experience may have been disappointing, but they are now really trying. Michael's call to action was very well received, as was Jerry's. Maybe we should try to work together instead of giving in to cynicism. You may be right about a lot of things, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try."
It would be nice, so nice, if this apparent insider's hopes could be realized. But what are "ideas for plans" and don't you do the "planning" and the "planning for implementation" before announcing the "plans?" Don't JFNA's leaders have it backward?

With this miserable record, the lack of North American lay attendance at GA after GA, the failure to fund "Completing the Journey," the lack of any sense of vision or mission, and on and on, it is almost shocking that at the highest levels of JFNA lay leadership there is the actual contemplation of extending CEO Jerry's term -- something an earlier Chair and leadership wouldn't contemplate for CEO Jerry's predecessor whose record of success was modestly better.

And, even as there are some excellent programs in this recitation and in the grandiose "big ideas" at the GA -- how many will probably ever see the light of day. But, OMG, in the meantime, the waste, the travesty and...the waste.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013


On November 20, ejewishphilanthropy published one of the periodic thought pieces written by Steve Donshik. Steve offers the perspective of one who has worked in our system -- I knew him at the New York UJA, and at the Council of Jewish Federations as a professional with real vision. While I disagree with a number of Steve's conclusions below, his perspective is important -- those in the  JFNA supportive claque and those critics alike should understand Stephen's informed opinions and concerns:

"Looking at JFNA Today

I am concerned that the Federation system has been and is being weakened by an approach that seeks to protect vested interests instead of initiating and developing ways for Federations, individual and collectively, to meet the challenges of the local and international Jewish community in the 21st century.

by Stephen G. Donshik

Over the last few years I have written a number of postings about the status and needs of the North American Jewish Federation system and the umbrella organization of the local Federations, now called the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). Although at times I have been critical both of the Federation system and the JFNA, I am a staunch supporter of them and their central role in strengthening the Jewish community as a whole and in meeting the needs of individual local Jewish communities.

Having said this, I do think the system has lost direction and is not working in the most efficient and effective way. I believe that the reorganization of the Council of Jewish Federations of North America (CJF), the national United Jewish Appeal (UJA) and the United Israel Appeal (UIA) into the Jewish Federations of North America has led to more confusion and greater ineffectiveness, not less. The reorganization process in the early 1990s followed years of discussions and deliberations. At first the merged entity was called Newco, until a name could be selected. It was then named the United Jewish Communities (UJC). To restore the main branding word “Federation,” UJC was later renamed the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) to clearly identify that the national organization was related to local Federations and the activities and programs of the Federation system.

Many perceived the reorganization to be much needed, and in fact some considered it long overdue. The mantra that was heard over and over again during the process of reorganization was “efficiency, efficiency, efficiency – the new structure will enable our system to work more efficiently and do away with duplication.” Yet never answered were these questions: What were the purposes and functions of the system prior to the reorganization, and what would be the purposes and functions of the new structure that was created by the change?

If I can wax nostalgic for a moment, there were clear differences in the purposes and functions of the Council of Jewish Federations and the UJA. The CJF was a “professional trade association” of the Federation movement devoted to the strengthening of local Federations and the national system. Its mission was to provide services to local Federations in a whole host of areas, including campaign, planning, leadership and board development, personnel services, and convening the system for regular meetings, as well as planning and implementing the annual meeting of the movement, the General Assembly (GA). By providing the Federations with these services, CJF enabled them to fulfill their role in the local community more effectively and more efficiently. At the same time, it represented the system on the national level by having a presence in Washington, D.C., and maintaining relationships with the U.S. government and elected officials.

However, the CJF was not an advocate for either local needs or overseas needs. The organization focused on strengthening local Federations’ ability to serve their local communities and to raise and allocate funds for the UJA for overseas needs. The United Jewish Appeal – which was created in 1939 in response to Kristallnacht by the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) – was responsible for advocating for overseas needs and maintaining contacts with the local Federations. To enhance local Federations’ ability to raise funds for overseas needs, UJA services to those Federations included producing written materials, designing and implementing overseas missions, and representing the emerging needs of Israel and Jewish communities around the world. Its two major recipients were JAFI and JDC, which benefited from the local Federations’ allocations to UJA.

The merging of these two purposes and functions – providing services to local Federations and advocating for overseas needs – placed the national organization in the middle of a conflict of interest. How could the organization hope to enhance the operations of local Federations to become more effective and efficient and at the same time advocate for overseas needs as the representative of the two major recipient agencies? Before the merger there was a system of checks and balances; the local Federations were represented on the boards of the overseas agencies and they were able to advocate for their own interests. Today this is not the case, and JFNA is trying to be an honest broker for the Federations and advocate for overseas needs at the same time. It does not work!

How do we know it does not work? First, even though JFNA is a solely owned entity of the Federation system, it appears to be more interested in promoting itself and demonstrating its worth to the Federations than to helping them. It seems to forget that its first priority should be meeting the needs of the local Federations by providing services to them. There is no way the JFNA can provide services to strengthen an independent planning and allocations process of a local Federation and fly the overseas flag at the same time. Once JFNA has an interest in increasing the amount of funds spent overseas, it enters the Federation system with its own agenda. This was fine for a separate independent organization like UJA, but it does not work for an organization that says it represents the needs and interests of the Federations.

In addition to the allocations issue, there is also a conflict between the JFNA’s ability to represent the Federation system and its advocacy of changes in either JAFI or JDC. It hands are tied because it has agreed to advocate for JAFI and JDC in the allocations process; how can it then take a critical look at either overseas organization? Again, where is the commitment to the interests of the Federations themselves?

The GA is a perfect venue for Federations to participate in an open discussion of the purposes, programs, and accomplishments of its overseas partners. It could provide an opportunity for professional and lay leadership to air their concerns and to enter into an open dialogue. For example, some individual Federations have decided to participate in the directly funding voluntary agencies in Israel and to decrease their allocations to JAFI and/or JDC. There could be discussions at the GA on changing the way Federation funds are allocated in Israel and in other Jewish communities around the world.

JFNA has an interest in protecting the overseas partners that it has been ”mandated” to represent to the Federation system.

This interest may not be spelled out formally, but it is certainly evident in its programs and policies. Some of us see the JFNA’s Global Planning Table as providing an institutional way of maintaining the Federations’ commitment to JAFI and JDC, instead of opening up the system and providing resources to new, innovative, creative organizations that are responding to Jewish needs around the world.

Please do not read this as an indictment of the Federation system. I am concerned that the Federation system has been and is being weakened by an approach that seeks to protect vested interests instead of initiating and developing ways for Federations, individual and collectively, to meet the challenges of the local and international Jewish community in the 21st century. JFNA and local Federations need to take a serious look at themselves and their system and confront the fact that the merger created more than 20 years ago may not have been for the best.

We have all read the recent studies that question both the workings of Jewish organizations and the demographic changes in the Jewish community. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves whether the changes made in the Federation structure are really serving its purposes or were made just for the sake of change. The Federation system works best when the independent local Federations are united under an umbrella organization that is dedicated to meeting their needs and assisting them in achieving their purposes more effectively and efficiently, and does not have a built-in conflict of interest."

JFNA's failure is our failure. The ways to change it to a fully functioning umbrella of and for the federations seems to this observer to be a relatively simple process. But, we are on the verge of the total collapse of our national organization which, rather than being righted, continues to seek a purpose in amorphous "big ideas" rather than the purpose for which it was formed. It's truly lost.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013


So, what are we hearing?
  • Resumes from the few remaining best and brightest at JFNA are literally flooding the in-boxes of other national and Israeli-based organizations, Jewish and not. Is anyone asking "why?" 
  • Here is a classic: in the midst of whining about "not enough money" while, by my reckoning, wasting at least 1/2 of its $29.6 million budget,  Silverman created the position of "Vice-President, Institutional Advancement/Thought Leadership" and then filled it with one from inside JFNA.  BTW, as described by JFNA, it is evident that this is another position all about JFNA having nothing at all to do with the federations.
  • JFNA and federation lay leaders who might otherwise be lobbying for a new CEO, are now asking the question: "...who's out there who would (a) take the job and (b) be better than CEO Jerry?" Then there's this one: "Who would want this job?" These are a parallel arguments to Jerry's: "If you terminate the GPT, JFNA will collapse and die." There's no proof that either premise is correct - on these pages we have suggested at least 10 people who might be considered for CEO. They are out there; they just need to be recruited with a commitment that they will have the total support from the federation movement not just before they take the job but after as we. 
  • And, post-GA we are hearing that CEO Jerry will have his contract renewed. Why? Well, the current rationale is that if he isn't renewed "we'll have to start over." This raises the obvious question: "What would be so bad about starting over?" 
  • Is one major federation about to replace its long-time CEO under whose brilliant leadership the community has pulled itself out of the doldrums and into the light? What's wrong here?
  • Has a prominent lay leader from southern Florida been registering his dissatisfaction with having served as Chair of Israel and Overseas for 2+ years and watched as every matter related to his Committee's purpose has been co-opted by the Global Planning Table? Who is in charge here? (I am reminded of a fantastic philanthropist who was asked to Chair UJA's first lay Marketing Committee. After a few months he resigned in frustration; I asked him why. "If the National Chair is going to do the job I was asked to do, he can have the job himself."
  • Then there is this: a group of courageous federation lay and professional leaders from a number of communities within one of the important City-size Federation groupings -- one that pays 13% of JFNA's budget -- has written and distributed a well-reasoned plea to JFNA's leaders pleading for the attention and participation they deserve. To my knowledge, the only response these leaders have received is to be characterized as "rebels," that is, as in renegades. 
It's all coming apart, all around. Who's listening?


Saturday, November 16, 2013


There was a time when I thought "well, at least I understand what's going on at JFNA." And...then I didn't...not at all.

Case in point -- training and mentoring new Federation CEOs and the best and brightest inside our system and those with aspirations from outside. First, there was FEREP, created under CJF, offering scholarships to the best of our young aspirants. Then there was the failed program to better train the best of Federation young professionals for their ultimate goal -- to become a federation CEO. Wonderful goals -- but the participants soon learned that many of those put in the program by their CEOs had no interest in the ultimate position; others were in because their federations demanded "positions" in the program. The best and brightest were often frustrated, the professionals within JFNA leading the professional development program soon left and this program disappeared without a trace -- but for a periodic "reunion".

In an internal JFNA document that is designed to list the ways in which JFNA IS "Serving the Federation Movement," here is how JFNA itself defines its Talent Acquisition Services" -- note the "ranking:"
"For Federations with CEO and senior professional openings the Mandel Center identifies highly qualified non-traditional, 'out of the box' candidates from the profit and nonprofit sectors, as well as outstanding performers from within the Federation movement."
The results, as they say, speak for themselves.

Then, there's JFNA's  mentoring of new and sitting CEOs. Three cases of many: one received a "training book," and not even a phone call; another was "assigned" a mentor, who wasn't aware of the assignment; a brilliant student of our system was told by JFNA staff that he/she would be hearing from a new Large City CEO who needed some FRD mentoring -- never heard a word, phone calls to the CEO not returned. I read somewhere that JFNA had "delegated" its responsibilities for professional training and mentoring to the Mandel Center for Excellence; I don't know what the Center is doing; I just know what JFNA isn't.

I do know this, led by the Charles and Andrea Bronfman Philanthropies, new and prospective Federation CEOs will be trained and mentored through the efforts of leading foundations. Yes, the mega-foundations have determined they need to step into the void created by JFNA's inattention and they will. G-d bless these philanthropists for recognizing a priority -- one of the highest. But, this assumption of a systemic priority by those outside of our system creates a real question -- what the hell is JFNA doing with its budget, with our funds? 


Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Speaking of Delusions...Since the publication of the Pew Report, which JFNA's leaders appear to view as both an opportunity and some form of existential threat, Jerry Silverman has been just popping with what passes at JFNA for "big ideas." And, now, he has been joined by his Chair.

One, which Silverman trotted out the same week as meetings with Birthright leadership took place with federation CEOs and JFNA. The subject is JFNA's want: access to the Birthright participant lists -- some 350,000 names. He then repeated the "dream" time and again, and never, ever, with any meat on the bones of this "big idea."

Here is what Jerry has been told more than once by Birthright leaders: every federation currently gets the list of the participants from its community. Then follow-up resides with the federations. Maybe CEO Jerry needs someone to explain this to him until he nods affirmatively that he understands. Maybe Jerry could ask the federations for the lists with which they have been provided -- although the likelihood is that the federations themselves don't trust JFNA with the selfsame lists. If JFNA wants to add value, it seems reasonable to suggest that JFNA proactively plan and offer its own list of optimal post-Birthright activities for distribution to the federations. In doing so it might gather the best practices of those communities already engaged with the alumni. But, no, JFNA just wants the lists.

And, what if JFNA had these names? What would JFNA do with them? Based on CEO Jerry's passionate oration at the GA -- they haven't a clue. NOT A CLUE. There has been no planning at JFNA; there are no plans at JFNA -- these are just words. And, friends, trust me; were I at JFNA right now, I would want to ride Birthright's coat tails and make its accomplishments JFNA's. The problem for CEO Jerry is that the Birthright leaders are a lot smarter than he -- yet, it's also quite possible that if he came to them with a viable plan, a real plan, one that spelled out how JFNA's work with the Birthright alumni would further their Jewish identity and offer them a real (as opposed to an illusory [or nonexistent])  path to communal engagement, these accomplished leaders would join in a real effort. But, of course, there is no there there, is there?

And, then, the Board Chair announced a potential $1 billion...yep, $1,000,000,000...special campaign to offer a free Jewish pre-school education for every Jewish child and CEO Jerry added a demand to triple  the number of kids at Jewish camps within five years. Now, I am in favor of big and bold plans...which these clearly would be if there were real substance to them...but wouldn't some pre-planning be appropriate before boldly going where no one, certainly not JFNA, has gone before -- like some discussion with the federations themselves as to priorities and capacity? 

This is simply ridiculous. JFNA, an organization that couldn't even raise its financial commitment, already unilaterally reduced, to "Complete the Journey" for Ethiopian Jewry; that can't even raise the $1,250,000 (or is it $1.5 million?) it committed to in its current budget; that dismantled its FRD staff and can't even hire a Senior Vice President Campaign; will undertake campaigns without plans. Sure. 

UJA used to be accused, with some real evidence, of being an organization that exemplified "ready, fire, aim;" JFNA now can best be described as "ready, fire, aimless."


Sunday, November 10, 2013


And, welcome to the GA.

This piece is about false equivalency and stupidity.

Those reading this Blog would be almost unanimous in our belief that there is no equivalency between, for example, Aipac and JStreet --- infact, merely placing them side-by-side in a sentence is an insult to Aipac. Now, in an attempt at what JFNA must perceive as "fairness," it, too, has created an equivalency where none has existed or should. http://www.jewishjournal.com/thenon-prophet/item/women_on_both_sides_of_kotel_debate_to_share_stage_at_jfna_ga  

Some of you may remember that months ago we recommended on these pages that JFNA join Women of the Wall in a Rally of support for their efforts and for all efforts at Jewish Peoplehood by bringing together the leaders of WOW and the GA as one. I actually thought that JFNA leadership had revamped the GA Program to do so. Maybe they still will...but...but, of course, we must seem to be "fair" to all points of view, mustn't we; even if one of those points of view is antithetic to the very construct of a civil society -- the "civil society" about which JFNA professionals talk and write but on which they apparently just can't bring themselves to act.

In his piece above, the Blogger Jonah Lowenfeld discloses that "women on both sides of the Kotel debate to share stage at JFNA GA. Here are the parties: Women of the Wall ("WOW") -- struggling for years on behalf of women and, in reality, on behalf of all of us who believe that the Kotel belongs to the entire Jewish People: women, men, children, the gay community, all of us -- and a group established six months ago, Women For the Wall ("W4W") -- a group established to oppose any and all change in "the current restrictions that prohibit women from collectively praying together at the kotel." One group -- WOW - as "aligned" with the efforts of Sharansky and the federations, the other -- with the discriminatory, often violent, "tradition" of keeping those with whom they don't agree away from this holy Place

Up to this point in time, efforts to bring the two groups together on a panel have been rejected by WOW as "media stunts." But, a panel at the GA, to be moderated by CEO Jerry and postured as bringing these two groups "together for the first time" without regard for the fact that one has supported our system and has been supported by it, the other opposes all that is embodied in the words "civil society" -- JFNA, in what one supposes is rationalized as "fairness" (let's hear all sides" as if there are two "sides") creates a terrible false equivalency. The message of W4W is one of exclusion cloaked in the false thesis of "tradition;" the message of WOW is one of inclusion.

And, by structuring a Panel in this way -- as a true media event -- JFNA appears less interested in taking the right position, in taking any position, than it is in self-promotion. But, what else is new?

And, let's close out the JFNA GA numbers game -- because that's what it is -- with this: JFNA is papering the house. While claiming a Registration price for Israelis (as is true for "locals" at GAs in the Continental U.S., if your NGO has paid for an exhibition booth, your participants appear to be granted credentials and are, thereby, counted as a Registrant. Yep, that's how CEO Jerry claims "3,000" -- you add 100's maybe close to 1,000 "locals" who pay no registration and you invite in MASA and Birthright young men and women, maybe you give a free pass to 100 North American supporters of Women of the Wall and count all of them as "Registrants" and throw in many other "locals" who are "friends" of JFNA-Israel or Sheatufim, you remember "our partner," you will get to "3,000" (not really). It's almost as if JFNA representatives spot an unsuspecting Israeli and it's "p'sssst, how about coming to the GA? On us." As one of the FOB said: "Figures lie...and liars figure." That is until the JFNA Chairs ask for the data. Then, it's over.

P.S. The Jerusalem Post has it right in its GA headline: "100s Gather in Jerusalem..." That's right, "100s."


P.S. I have been told by one who was present at the Session that it was both excellent and informative.


Thursday, November 7, 2013


One can almost always count on CEO Jerry.

In an interview Jerry gave The Forward in his quest to "sell" the GA,  he spelled the organization's message out with such confusion, the the reporter himself seemed incredulous:

"During a recent visit to the Forward’s newsroom, Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, was brimming with enthusiasm for the upcoming annual gathering of local Jewish charity federations nationwide, known as the General Assembly, which will take place this year not in the United States, but in Jerusalem.
The GA’s 2013 program, he stressed, will emphasize the group’s openness to “dialogue” and “questions,” particularly from young Jews, with no holds barred.
 “We need new thinking, new minds around the table,” emphasized Silverman, a former senior executive with the Stride Rite Corp. and Levi Strauss & Co.
But asked if the confab — one of the most important on the Jewish calendar — would include any discussion of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Silverman vigorously shook his head. His body language told a story of its own as he held his hands out in front of him as if pushing something away.
 “I don’t use the word ‘occupation,’” he said. “We as an organization don’t get into the political arena.”
Yet on its website devoted exclusively to the GA, JFNA boasts that the gathering “tackles the most critical issues of the day” and brings together Jews “from North America and Israelis from across the political spectrum to discuss issues facing Israel.”
One such session advertised on the GA website promises to address one of Israel’s most sensitive political issues: the question, as JFNA puts it, of the Israeli rabbinate’s “absolute control over marriage and divorce in Israel.”
 The JFNA summary of the session asks: “Should the Orthodox establishment continue to have exclusive authority over marriage and divorce in the Jewish State?” and details a panel consisting of feminists, civil libertarians, business people and a representative of the Reform Judaism movement — but no representative of Israel’s Orthodox establishment.
Asked if this was not political, Silverman replied, “The question of recognizing marriage in Israel has a direct effect on Diaspora Jews.” But when it comes to addressing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, he said, “we won’t be in the room making the call….It’s not something we create real dialog about in the GA.”
The last point may be accurate. But Silverman’s claim that the GA eschews addressing the conflict at all does not seem entirely correct. The GA’s schedule includes, among other things:
• An “invitation only” session focusing on the Israel Action Network, the group set up to fight anti-Israel activism on U.S. college campuses, where critics of Israel target the occupation relentlessly. According to the website, this session “builds upon efforts throughout the Jewish community to counter assaults on Israel’s legitimacy.” The session, according to the website, will discuss the network’s campaign to “define discourse on Israel [and] effectively reach out to progressives.”
• A session devoted to “making the case for Israel,” which promises: “In this session, we will learn about incredible initiatives that are inspiring a new generation to engage with Israel — from talking peace through martial arts to understanding Israel via its history.”
• A session entitled “How to Effectively Speak Out for Israel in a Changing World” in which “diplomatic and communications experts, sharing the latest polling, messaging and public opinion research” will educate attendees on “new tools and approaches to help us support Israel, both in our own communities and across the country.”
• A session on “delegitimization” of Israel addressing “assaults on Israel’s legitimacy [that] lurk on campus, on the op-ed page, in city hall and in the corporate boardroom” that promises to help participants “craft effective messaging and outreach to vulnerable constituencies.”
• A session that will examine “the deep long-standing ties” between the United States and Israel and how “the political and security challenges of the Middle East have sometimes put strains on the relations between these two close allies.”
This was followed by another interview, as only Jerry Silverman can offer, thios time with JTA's Managing Editor, Uriel Hellman -- "Free Jewish Pre-School - Sounds Nice, But Is It Viable?" Again, CEO Jerry offered no specifics -- kind of a "run it up the flagpole, see if anyone salutes." Yep: “These are four concepts and ideas. You know? Our goal is to unpack these, take a look at these, take a look at the models that are already out there, and see what this idea could really turn into. And once we unpack it we will be able to really see what is reasonable and what is executable. But we think it’s in the right direction."
Or, as we have come to say: "Huh??"

On another note, JFNA has apparently told the GA Chairs that registration is now 2549!!! And registrations are coming in at a rate of "100 per day." (Why not "100 per hour?")

Yeah, should be a great GA.