Tuesday, April 30, 2013


I was recently reminded of a lengthy interview that the immediate Past Board Chair and her hand-picked CEO gave to ejewishphilanthropy on the cusp of the Washington D.C. GA in November 2009. I offer it to you as an example of the high hopes that all of us had for their success and their absolute and total failure to deliver on a single promise made. 

Read it and weep.

"[part 1 of a conversation with Jerry Silverman and Kathy Manning]

This afternoon, in Washington, D.C., The Jewish Federations of North America (formerly UJC) will open their annual General Assembly (GA). The world has seen significant change since the organization adjourned in Jerusalem one year ago: both Israel and the U.S. have elected new leaders; while the financial meltdown was underway we did not yet know of the damage inflicted on the Jewish world by Madoff’s sins; and in Israel, daily barrages from the Gaza Strip had not yet caused the latest war to erupt.

Much has also changed at The Jewish Federations since last November: as a result of further budget cuts, the organization again cut the professional staff and to reduce expenses relocated their offices to lower Manhattan. Partly due to limited resources, the organization initiated “user-generated” program ideas for this GA; a branding initiative led to a name change; and most significantly new leadership – both lay and professional – sits at the top.

On the eve of this event, eJewish Philanthropy sat with both Jerry Silverman, the Federation’s newly appointed CEO, and Kathy Manning, who will be installed as the new board chair during the GA, for an extensive and free-wheeling discussion on their vision for The Jewish Federations.

The conversation was refreshing and enlightening – and for the first time in a long time, we began to hear leadership speaking not only of the future, but how to take The Jewish Federations forward.

In explaining the need to deliver both content and results, Silverman, who spent much of his professional career in the apparel industry, focused on how to “get aisle” – in other words, those prime locations in a retail store with the highest visibility, craved by every vendor. He continued, for both “content and product drive sustainability.” We have a “remarkable content story on how federations have led through these common times” that is not out there. He went on to further discuss the past year, citing examples where the leadership of the various federations was primarily focused on doing – supporting their own communities. Through numerous initiatives, local communities have met many challenges; across the board, volunteers have stepped up in making – and enacting- decisions. But, that JFNA as an organization “can do a much better job sharing the stories taking place on the ground”.

Zeroing in on what is likely to be a core theme as The Jewish Federations look ahead, we discussed the concept of community. Most important, that it is not geographic and how critical it is “to drive the issues of the Jewish future”. As we look to Israel, Silverman spoke of the “strength of an umbilical cord [that] has not diminished – but challenges have come up.” I heard from both leaders on the work of partnership communities and the need for them to continue to grow; on building missions, a prime vehicle for connecting to communities on the ground. And what I am sure is music to the ears of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), a ringing endorsement by Kathy Manning, “an extraordinary organization that has done extraordinary things for the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

Coming back to the concept of collective, Silverman indicates the question is
“how to enhance… how to drive momentum as a collective… how it gets unpacked is the challenging work we have to do together.”

And with this GA, the work formally begins.

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Change is in the air at 25 Broadway and across the landscape of The Jewish Federations of North America. In every conversation with senior leadership, you can sense an organization in motion. It’s as if someone yelled “fire” in a crowded theater. The recognition that you not only need to move, but time is not on your side.

As this GA opens, many challenges exist. While it appears the U.S. is emerging from the recent recession, the road upwards will have many pitfalls and the journey will not happen overnight. But just like with the economy, JFNA appears to be positioning itself to not only move forward, but to occupy the mantle of the pre-eminent Jewish organization on the North American landscape.

One of those challenges is creating a team of lay leaders that can face the future, threats and all, that can assist JFNA’s professional staff in moving forward. In our conversation, Kathy Manning – current chair of the executive and about to be installed board chair – lays out a three point plan for enhancing lay leadership:
  • great people are already involved on the local level – we need to develop ways to involve them nationally in a productive way;
  • there are a wealth of seasoned leaders around our communal world waiting to be asked to return and share their knowledge; and
  • most important there are younger people waiting to be involved.
Individuals from all of the above are involved in their local federations. They have a unique understanding of their own communities and the different dynamics that exist. They need to have a valued say in agenda.

And, a conversation on the future of The Jewish Federations is not possible without a serious discussion on the needs of young Jews and the relevance of the Jewish federation world to them. This is, perhaps, the biggest single challenge to be faced over the next several years. Not only by the federation system, but by most other organizations on our global communal landscape.
Silverman points out there are “robust and vital programs going on in communities across the country” singling out both Gesher City (Boston) and the Council of Young Jewish Presidents (New York) as examples. He considers these, and others, compelling programs, creating positive movement. But he also believes “there is significantly more opportunity. We need to begin a joint dialogue of learning; we need to invite into the tent and co-learn with each other.”

I’ve heard this before; it was a constant theme at the Nashville GA in 2007 that pretty much has rung hollow the past two years. But today, it sounds different. The words are spoken with a passion that comes only from understanding. Not solely from obligation. Perhaps, in Silverman’s case, it is his recent experience as head of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, where he was continually exposed to our future leaders and has a clear understanding of what The Jewish Federations must accomplish to keep this younger demographic in their tent.

In closing, I asked Silverman to imagine the time is a year later – the eve of the 2010 GA in Orlando. He is preparing his plenary presentation and needs to sum up the past twelve months. This is what he said:

“The Jewish Federations of North America have made significant strides in earning the respect and trust of the various federations and our key partners through our actions and the results we delivered.”

Manning and Silverman have together, as a team, set themselves a pretty high bar for the next twelve months. After my two hours of conversation, I wouldn’t hesitate to place a bet on their success."

Yes, if we return to those plans and dreams and evaluate JFNA's lay and professional leaders based on actual accomplishment (after deleting the jargon and cliches), what have you got? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. ZERO. ZIP. GORNISHT. NA DA. We also learned that CEO Jerry and past Chair Kathy were pathetic when it came to predicting the future -- a strange circumstance for those who totally reject the past. 

Well, this Board Chair is past only in the sense that she no longer holds the gavel (or the microphone) but, so long as she hangs on to the leadership of the decision-making body of the Global Planning Table, she continues to threaten the future of the organization. And there is a parallel concern -- if you go to the current Chairs with an issue, a concern, way too often they immediately turn to the CEO for an answer which they in turn repeat to you as if the answer were true. This is dangerous stuff because the answer is too often just made up out of whole cloth.

This is playing with fire.


Friday, April 26, 2013


1. John Ruskay announced his retirement. On April 23 one of the best and brightest ever produced by the federation system,  John Ruskay, the President and CEO of the New York UJA-Federation, advised his Board that he would retire effective June 30, 2014. Gary Rosenblatt, the editor-publisher of The Jewish Week, has captured John's excellence and leadership as no one else really could in http://thejewishweek.com/news/new-york-news/uja-feds-exec-leave-15-months --but, no one can really sum up the extent of John's contributions to community and People in a single article no matter its length.

I am and have always been a huge fan of my fellow Ramah "graduate." Our system -- from UJA-Federation to JFNA to JAFI -- will miss John, his wisdom and compassion. But, all the more, I will miss his understanding that criticism can lead to constructive discourse, and that our discussions, the most recent of which took place in Yerushalayim in February, were always l'shem shamayim, no matter the subject matters or the outcomes.

2. The Conference of Presidents has chosen its next Chair. We congratulate the Chair-Nominee, Bob Sugarman, the immediate Past Chair of the ADL. We also congratulate the Conference Search Committee for rejecting the transparent "charm offensive" of the other candidate, the immediate Past Chair of JFNA. Sugarman will succeed our friend Richard Stone, one of the great leaders of the Jewish People.

For now, it would be fair to ask: what convinced the immediate Past Chair of JFNA (who had never attended a Conference meeting or participated on a Conference Mission until this past February [after her desire for this office was known]) to seek an office the recent occupants of which have been incredible leaders who embraced and embrace Zionism and Israel -- in no particular order, Shoshana Cardin, Mort Zuckerman, Ron Lauder, Alan Solow and Richard Stone, among others? I think the answer was: nothing more than a sense of entitlement and hubris. After all, the charm offensive worked over and over at JFNA, didn't it? (And, knowing how Nominating Committees in Jewish life work, Ms. Manning, as the disappointed office seeker who no doubt impressed the Committee at her "interview," surely was invited to "reapply." Oy.)

And, what if anything does this action by the Conference prove? You can't fool all of the people all of the time -- except at JFNA.

3. That "Leadership Conference Dallas." JFNA convened a three day Conference in March "entitled" (JFNA's word) "Be The Change" that was "...aimed at inspiring younger Jews who seek to be change agents in their communities..." Apparently the 200 "young professionals and volunteers" (does anyone at JFNA proofread this stuff before it goes out?) who "convened" were engaged with the Board Chair, CEO Jerry and JFNA National Young Leadership Cabinet Members and "other JFNA professionals..." Other than Chair Michael Siegal: (a) none of the named speakers came out of a federation background; and (b) the Event Co-Chairs come from communities that hardly qualify as federations under even the weakest of criteria (e.g., the so-called "Draft Second Membership Criterion").

So, I am confused -- how does JFNA convene a Conference that was to "...focus on providing a better understanding of the Federation system...., articulating the thinking of Jewish Federation leadership, and sharing ideas that can be used locally..." when the only speaker who has any understanding of the federation qua federation is the Board Chair? What a sad wasted opportunity.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Those who have been reading these pages for the last couple of years know that my focus has been on the meaning and execution of leadership, lay and professional, across our system. Sure, I have found refreshing new visions of our system in so many places just as, unfortunately, in too many places, and, certainly at JFNA, I have seen a system in disarray, without purpose or direction.

I have been told that my "message" is going unheard in many important places and by many "important" people, because I am "so angry;" yet, those who have taken the time to look at the issues that I and you, the readers, have raised, those of you who have chosen to discuss these issues with me, by phone, face-to-face, or in written dialogue -- all of you know that I am not "angry," just terribly disappointed and frustrated. Yes, disappointed and frustrated that the actions of a small group of lay leaders, including friends and former friends, and an even smaller cadre of professionals have had a stultifying impact on both the potential and the reality of our national entity rendering it nothing more than a continental and international joke. Sorry...but what we have aided and abetted has resulted in an organization that is nothing more (other than in a few isolated corners of continuing brilliance)...nothing more...than a dispiriting slog of ineptitude.

Examples, there are many, but let me just offer a few... One of the best local leaders I have served with told me shortly after I objected in principle to the deconstruction of FRD at the national organization and to the isolation and termination of a group of highly respected women professionals there that "...if you don't agree with the organization's leadership, just resign." That now national leader, brilliant and considerate in his chosen field and passionate about community and People, has risen to near the top of JFNA by ignoring the facts, not wishing to even consider facts at variance with what he is told by others, merely sitting in silence while the organization self-destructs. (This leader also accused me of what he termed my "latest scam" when I stated the fact of the then Board Chair's unacceptable and public mischaracterization of "Zionism" as "too controversial" to be included in a Global Planning Table document.) 

Then there are the personal agendas. The best/worst example is the Global Planning Table, so preposterous that it cannot attract more than 15% of the federations to a meeting to discuss it, yet it moves inexorably forward under the threat that "if this (whatever "this" is) doesn't pass, JFNA will crumble and die and that will be your fault." (And who would want that on his/her shoulders?) This is a "perfect" post hoc ergo propter hoc argument -- a fallacious logic that because of A happening, B will happen with no regard for true causality. Yet, I have heard so many, including those with doctorate degrees, make this argument as if they truly believe it.

While I congratulate the Past Board Chair for creating a claque of leaders who evidence the worst of "reverential sycophantism," sadly only she and her hand-picked CEO, and not JFNA, were the beneficiaries of their own plans. How can this happen: through sheer laziness -- too few take the time to read and understand what is being proposed, budgets are approved without substantive questions and the organization's leaders have for the last 6+ years, demanded a trust they have neither earned nor deserved but which they have received from those who, in the main, know better. We desperately want JFNA to be worthy of our trust; and, yet, time and again JFNAs leaders abuse the very trust that they both demand and presume upon

Friends, JFNA (and too many federations) is in the midst of an institutional torpor where the go along to get along crowd have assured that no change is the currency of mediocrity or worse. Those who read this who are federation leaders know that we as leaders are just ordinary people called upon to accomplish extraordinary things. We can't leave our sacred task to others; yet, that is exactly what we have done. And the consequences are all around us.


Saturday, April 20, 2013


Ask, if you will, someone at JFNA you can trust how many federations participated in the latest round of Global Planning Table meetings -- in person or by phone. It won't surprise you if you read these pages that fewer than 15% of the federations were represented -- and this for the biggest "idea" in Jewish life since challah. Yes, this ridiculous Rube Goldbergundian scheme has been figured out by the Federations the vast, vast majority of which want nothing to do with it. They've figured out the scam, the Three Card Monte and they have voted with their feet.

Now, you have heard and read that federations which instinctively reject the idea of the Global Planning Table because the federations today are making thought through decisions on how to allocate their donors' dollars and reject the basic premise of the GPT -- that a bunch of people from other communities can better decide how to allocate your federation, my federation overseas dollars than the leaders in your community, my community can -- but JFNA's Past (and I mean Past with a capital P), and the GPT Chair and the CEO all assert that if your federation or mine actually votes down the GPT recommendations (assuming your federation even has a vote [which in most instances it...does...not]) you will be directly responsible for the demise of JFNA if not the federation system in totality.  I have been thinking about this a lot, and my conclusion is somewhat different -- if your federation or mine votes for a GPT recommendation that would take the overseas allocation function out of our hands, that would destroy our system. And, can anyone argue that my position is any less logical than that which Ms. Manning and the Sycophants (yes, her new singing group) assert? Of course not (although I think my conclusion at least has some logic to it).

Many/most federation leaders recognize, even if they will not say it aloud, that their communities must continue to control the destination and application of their largest communal allocations -- those to serve growing needs in Israel and overseas. They may give lip service to delegating through JFNA through its bizarre and convoluted GPT scheme but that is all. (Some would rather toe the JFNA party line than "hurt the feelings" of those at JFNA who in return will say and do anything to get their personal agenda through.) The false premises thrown out there in almost patent desperation to get this...thing...approved would be comical had those in position to do so challenged any of them -- "this will increase our financial resources" being the most preposterous to "if the under-allocating federations just sit in the room with those of us who do good, they'll change" to "we must have the GPT otherwise JFNA will self-destruct." None of these outrageous posits can be proved to be true and all evidence from the ONAD process (where the same argument were made), the only place from which there is any evidence to be drawn, is to the contrary.

Those who are pushing the hardest for a reallocation of donors' intended direction for their resources are counting on several things:

  • The continued belief, albeit false, of critical federation leaders in the presumptive good faith of those peddling the Global Planning Table;
  • That federation leaders who should know better will ask no questions and attempt to silence any who do; and
  • That the best and brightest among us will continue to blindly toe the party line 
And, they are probably right.

More's the pity.


Friday, April 19, 2013


Barry Shrage, Boston's CJP CEO, has responded for not only his community but for all of us to the terrorists' murderous assault on America in such a magnificent and meaningful way that I wanted to republish it here.

"Dear Friends,

The last 48 hours have been a time of wildly fluctuating feelings and emotions. On Tuesday night, Boston was planning to celebrate Israel. Instead, it was mourning its dead and praying for the injured.

In addition to our statewide celebration of Patriots' Day, Monday was also Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. It’s a time when Israel and all who love Israel mourn those who died in war and the tens of thousands who died or were injured in terrorist attacks. A time of contemplation and tears. By mid-day we were already beginning to think about Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, a time of great joy and rejoicing.

But later in the afternoon the unthinkable happened. Two bomb blasts killed three and wounded more than 150 who lined the streets of the Boston Marathon. Those bombs destroyed many lives and desecrated a day that has always provided light and joy, ora v’simcha, to the people of Boston.

This, it sometimes seems, is our fate, forever caught between celebration and mourning.

And so Israel’s Independence Day was not a time of celebration in Boston this year. Instead, it was a time to remember how deeply our communities and our people are tied together, Americans and Israelis, Boston’s Jewish community and our brothers and sisters in Haifa and in Israel. We are bound together in celebration but also in tragedy, in joy but also in mourning, in trauma but also in resilience.

Two weeks ago 10 Israeli officers from Haifa, Boston’s sister city, visited Boston as part of the annual Hatikvah Mission to bring Israel’s message to the people of Boston. Among them was a young pilot named Omri. Omri had visited Boston before as a young teen, as part of the Boston-Haifa Connection. At about that time, he lost his grandparents and his brother in a terrorist attack not that different from the one we experienced Monday. His mother was also very badly injured.

Tragedy marks our lives but resilience redeems us. Omri’s mother miraculously recovered from most of her wounds and Omri has achieved one of the most important positions in the IDF. When he heard about the Marathon bombing he sent a note to be sure all his friends in Boston were safe. He then sent the following message:

I was here just a few days ago representing the State of Israel ...Two days ago, we commemorated the memorial day for soldiers and terror attack victims. At the end of the day we should have celebrated our independence day, but it was interrupted by the horrific attack on the lives and freedom of our friends and family in Boston.

The attack was a most horrible surprise for me and a great shock.

In times like these, we measure ourselves by the way we get back on our feet as individuals and as a group united. No words can bring comfort or peace to those who had family and friends hurt but it is important for you to know that you're not alone.

We, your family in Israel, stand with you, as you stand with us, and strengthen you as you have strengthened us.

We are as one.

Resilience and faith in the future is Omri’s and Israel’s saving grace and it will save us here in Boston as well.

In his most recent book, a commentary on the biblical Book of Job, Rabbi Harold Kushner comments on faith in the presence of overwhelming and inexplicable tragedy. His words touched me deeply when I read the book and seem especially important and meaningful at this moment:

The events of my personal and professional life have moved me over the years to find God not in the perfection of the world, the intricacies of rain and sun, growth and healing, the change of seasons and the beauty of the leaves in autumn.

I find God in the miracle of human resilience in the face of the world's imperfections, even the world's cruelty. How are people able to survive tragedy (and that is what you do with tragedy: you don't understand or explain it, you survive it)? What gave survivors of the Holocaust the courage to remarry and create new families after what the Nazis and their collaborators did to their first families? What enabled our fourteen-year-old son, so stricken with congestive heart failure that he had to sleep standing up, to look forward to every day he had to share with his friends, his family, and his dog? What motivates doctors to search for cures, and neighbors to hug us and dry our tears when we are stricken, if it is not God at work within them and within us?

Or we might ask, what motivated Omri and his family to rise from their mourning and Omri to give the highest level of service to his country? What motivated the brave first responders and bystanders in Boston to risk their lives in the face of potential danger?

I’m so proud to be part of this great Jewish community and in spite of it all to stand together with confidence and hope and love. We are working to determine the best ways to support the victims and those touched by this tragedy.

With deep condolences and love for the bereaved and prayers for a refuah shelemah for those who were so badly injured, with support from people of all faiths throughout Greater Boston, from our friends in Israel, and support from Jewish communities around the United States, we will stand together in mutual respect and love to face the future with optimism.

Barry Shrage

President, CJP"

Thank you Barry, thank you Omri.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013


I have been observing JFNA's new Chairs and, for the first time in over six years, I have to say I have some hope that, with Spring, hope is also in the air. All of you who have been reading my lamentations these past 900 (+/-) Posts know that, like one of the interviewees in the wonderful Oscar-nominated docu-drama "NO," I possess "...a learned hopelessness" when it comes to JFNA. So why my muted optimism now?
  1. The new Chairs came into their offices driven by a single desire -- to reframe JFNA as an organization capable of providing direct benefits to the federations. Unlike the last six-plus years, these leaders sense that they were elected to drive that agenda, not their personal agendas;
  2. They understand that  JFNA can no longer be about itself -- marketing itself, communicating about itself -- but about the federations, the owners;
  3. Unlike the last two Board Chairs, Michael Siegal comes from one of the strongest federation environments, one where process and building consensus in the best interests of community and donors trumps the cult of the personality where the Chair dictates to staff and followship or vice-versa;
  4. From what I have heard and observed, these leaders are asking thright questions of their fellow lay leaders and professionals from around the country before framing their conclusions;
Something has gone terribly wrong at JFNA. While the CEO has made the rounds of federation after federation after federation, the organization he ostensibly runs grows more and more disappointedly disconnected from the federations which own JFNA. Were JFNA an actor in an old Western, they would be led into a box canyon time and time again in one continuous act of futility after another -- with not an apparent peep from anyone. When was the last time (or, for the first time) that Federation leaders, publicly or, if they prefer, in private, sat with Silverman and asked the simple questions:
  1. What is your vision for JFNA?
  2. What are the means to achieving that vision?
  3. How do the programs you  have the organization pursuing achieve our purposes? How do they help grow our federations?
And, then, as in the best  organizations, challenge the answers that, if a legacy of this CEO's public and private statements are any guide, will be nothing more than a collection of jargon and cliches. And, then, do what they deem best for JFNA's present and future.

It would amaze me (and shatter any hope that I have for the future of this iteration of JFNA) if these Chairs do not refocus our organization on its purposes, on the goals we had for it 12+ years ago.

Then, again....


Sunday, April 14, 2013


Jimmy Carter invited to receive a "human rights award" at Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law. Unreal what we constantly do to ourselves. Jimmy Carter, America's worst President who has become America's worst ex-President invited to one of American Jewry's once-treasured institutions. Reminds me of the early days of what is now JFNA...

Way back when...shortly after the installation of the first Chairs and CEO of the newly formed by merger national organization, someone (I think I know just whom it was but why embarrass that professional once again) in power decided that the organization should "put itself on the map" by giving the prestigious Isaiah Award -- only given to the beloved Yitzchak Rabin, z'l and Max Fisher, z'l, to that point in time, if memory serves -- to, yes, Yasser Arafat. There was a Mission going to Israel as I recall, and the first Chair of the Executive was leading it, and he really wanted to present this Award to the leading terrorist in the world. So you will know that things don't change much, there had been no processing of this insanity with any governance body. The physical award was readied and a presentation speech prepared.

And, then...someone leaked the story to a Boston Jewish newspaper and the proverbial s__t hit the fan...and elsewhere. Denials everywhere, except from the PLO. The award was hidden away, the presentation speech "never existed." I happened to be in the office of the UJC CEO the day this all exploded and he engaged in a frenzied phone call with the Board Chair, after which he told me: "We are hiring Kroll and Associates to investigate this, heads will roll." Much like my eyes.

At the end of the day, it appeared that it was the PLO which had leaked the story but one UJC staffer was fired anyway -- someone had to be the scapegoat. So, I just wonder who will be scapegoated for inviting Arafat's friend Jimmy Carter to receive a "human rights award" at the Cardozo School of Law? One thing is for certain, Justice Cardozo is certainly rolling over in his grave.


Thursday, April 11, 2013


Some things never cease to amaze:

The lead professionals at JFNA are often heard to complain that the organization lacks sufficient funding to accomplish the goals (which they then can't identify) they have set for themselves -- and if you read, or just skim, the JFNA self-described "Strategic Priorities," there is little doubt that they could be accomplished for a budget 1/2 the size of the current $30.3 million.

For the lay oversight that any charitable organization requires seems to have been totally lacking in so many ways. Let me count some of them for you:
  • Would a needy philanthropic organization need to hire, for cost unknown, a "send service" to distribute the self-aggrandizing "news summaries" of its Israel-Overseas Office? Maybe all that is needed is a Facebook page??
  • Would a charitable organization allegedly short on funds for programming permit its Israel-Overseas Office to grow to 27 persons (not counting UIA personnel)? Oh, yes, that number will drop when OTZMA, the only functioning program in that Office, is terminated as a JFNA/Federation function.
  • Would an organization apparently desperate for increased budget allow the Executive Office of its Israel Office to include an Assistant Director, a Special Assistant to the "Director General" (that is she of many titles), an Executive Assistant and a "Program Coordinator?" 
  • Do you know of a federation let alone this JFNA of ours that would permit, e.g., its Marketing Committee (or any Committee) to spend millions over and above the budget allocated to it without any vote of any governing body of the organization?
I could go on, but you get the idea.

I am waiting, with you, for a Budget and Finance Chair, that is the lay leader charged with Budget and income and expenditure oversight to cry "foul." But, candidly, that hasn't happened since the merger itself some 12+ years ago. No, a succession of JFNA Budget and Finance Chairs have, at best, bit their lips, shrugged their shoulders and just passed on Budget after Budget with the knowledge that the professional leadership of JFNA viewed all Dues income as fungible dollars to be spent at their whim. And, today, the Budget and Finance Chair, a tough businessman  who could step up, is one who has been nothing more than a cheerleader for Budget after Budget, no matter how vague, how little accountability he has demanded in the past.

At the predecessor organizations, UJA and CJF, and at JFNA itself, Chief Financial Officers like Lee Twersky and Harold Adler and Sam Astrof have set a high standard of personal integrity. The CFO today, Pam Zaltsman, has seen it all -- just as her predecessors protected the organization, sometimes from itself, it will fall upon Zaltsman to do the same. The question for today is, when does and when will she say "stop this" to a CEO who seems to believe that the JFNA Budget is nothing more than an ATM Machine and what will she do when he pays her no mind -- she might wish to consult with Lee or Harold or Sam or all of them, and/or she might wish to speak off the record with the new (or is he not so "new" at this point) Board Chair.

In the April 1 edition of The New Yorker, there appeared a great cartoon, reminiscent of this mess. A group of monkeys surround a vending machine, one says: "If only we had a system of currency other than throwing feces." That's what our Dues and JFNA's Budget process have become my friends.


Monday, April 8, 2013


Here's a huge problem that Uncle Blabby didn't confront but one of our great national organizations is....right now. On March 22 The Wall Street Journal and other newspapers reported on the disbarment of one of the most prominent plaintiffs' lawyers (the "master of disaster") in this country. The disbarment arose out of the alleged misapplication of millions of dollars in settlement fees. The lawyer in question was a leader of the United Jewish Appeal and the JDC; he is now the National President of the Jewish National Fund.

This disbarment raises serious questions for all of our organizations: what do you under circumstances like this one? What is a Board's responsibility? Your organization has a wonderful philanthropist as its President or Chair and you find out he has been disbarred...or that you are about to elect as your Chair someone about to be exposed as an alleged slumlord or some other negative activity. What do you do? What are your fiduciary responsibilities as a Board Member under these circumstances?

Well, let's start with the basic tenet of all philanthropic organizations: we operate on the basis of trust. The donors must trust the organizations with the donors' funds. Can you continue to trust an organization the lay chair of which has been accused/alleged/proved to have misused "client funds?" Or similar? Clearly, this is a risk that no organization can take...not for a moment. You wouldn't elect a known slumlord or one who has been disbarred for the misapplication of client funds to your organization's top volunteer position, would you? So how can you allow the same person to remain in that office? You can't. The leader in question, who clearly cares deeply about the organization, must demonstrate that caring by resigning...and he  must be counselled into doing so by those closest to him in the organization. Failing that, By-Law provisions on Removal need to be invoked.

This is serious business.


Thursday, April 4, 2013


Dear Uncle Blabby:

1. We are Board Members of a community in which it is rumored that our CEO (married) is having an affair with our Lay Chair (married)? What should we do if the rumors are true?

Uncle Blabby says: This just can't be. I've heard of some Rabbis and members, but....this? Well, if the rumors are true, both need to be gone...immediately. Forget the distractions; this is basic morality about which Uncle Flabby knows very little, but your Uncle knows this: our communities are based on the trust our donors have in our leaders and this behavior destroys trust not only in the morals of our leaders but in their judgment.

Dear Uncle Blabby:

2. We just learned that our planned giving consultant was alleged to have been engaged in both a conflict of interest and, maybe, theft from a partner in their consulting business. Could this be possible? What should we do about it?

Uncle Blabby says: I'm scratching my head. Have professionals forgotten the meaning of "fiduciary obligation?" If a consultant has no regard for fiduciary duty to that person's partner, what sense of fiduciary obligation would your consultant have toward your community? Time for your own independent investigation, asking for full disclosure -- if you get no cooperation or if you confirm the worst, the consultant must be fired...immediately.

Dear Uncle Blabby:

3. Our volunteer Chair has an office at the Federation where he/she spends 4 to 8 hours a day. Our Chief Professional seems not to know what to do? What can we do?

Uncle Blabby says: The success of the lay-professional partnership is based in part upon the lay leaders' recognition that they are but part-time volunteers and the chief professional officer and his/her staff are full-time professionals. What you have described happens too often and leads to volunteer interference in operations, in personnel decisions and a confusion that can destroy staff's respect for the chief professional. Were JFNA doing one of its jobs -- lay leader training -- as it should be, we would have less of this.

Dear Uncle Blabby,

4. Our Federation endowment fund distributes 70% of its income and advised gifts outside the federation system? What should we do?

Uncle Blabby says: Have you tried to influence these allocations in any way? What might happen if you did try to influence these decisions? Don't you think that you should even if the foundation is separately incorporated? 


Monday, April 1, 2013


Picture, if you will,  an oval race track on which three cars are whipping around -- one called JFNA, another, the Global Planning Table and a third, the federations. No one was present when the race started and no one can possibly determine which car is in front, which is second and which one trails the other two. And, all the cars do is race around this oval, never stopping and never getting anywhere.

In the meantime the world outside of the racing oval has changed. First, federations and their donors are responding to a variety of markets -- and, quite clearly, federation allocations are now market-driven. As one of the best and brightest federation CEOs recently wrote to me: "...why do we believe we can force outcomes when people (our donors and leaders) have no interest in the outcomes some seem to want?" But the whirling dervish that is JFNA and the unending exercise in futility that is JFNA catapult around the track, oblivious to the "wants and desires" of federation owners and their donors.

Then, while JFNA is merely driving aimlessly, lost in the revelry of its own voice as dictated by a Past Board Chair, endorsed by the sycophants and those in fear ("do you want to be the one to bring down JFNA?"), chasing its tail (or are the GPT and the federations chasing...) into the void in financial resource development that JFNA has created and its predecessor organization once filled, are organizations dedicated to what they characterize as "entrepreneurial philanthropy" such as the incredibly successful and growing Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy or, if you will, the Jewish National Fund -- both have dramatically, brilliantly and creatively stepped into the void created, in largest measure, by the intentional ignorance at 25 Broadway of its own responsibilities.

It still need not be this way. But that will take an enlightened lay leadership that is willing to take charge. It requires an understanding that they weren't elected to merely serve as an echo chamber for others but, rather, to act on our collective behalf to halt the on-going insanity. Because, from up here in the cheap seats, it sure looks like those three cars are careening toward a catastrophic crash.

Friends, catastrophe is what happens when institutional memory has been wiped away -- all those lay and professional leaders who had it have been slow- or fast-walked away, though some stand on the periphery, outside of any process. Yes, this is what happens when for  the last 6+ years our national organization has been driven further and further still from its core values and timeless principles in the name of a "game change" that has never happened and never could.

And this is no "April Fools Day" just a bunch of leaders being played for fools.