Saturday, June 29, 2013


Mark Zuckerberg's mantra at Facebook is "move fast and break things." JFNA's CEO (not in any way comparing him to Zuckerberg) is "just break things." Let us count the ways: FRD -- broken; Federation Consulting -- broken; Federation Allocations -- broken; relations with the Jewish Agency and Joint -- broken. Almost four years into his Presidency, JFNA is floundering as never before -- with Harlem Shakes, the Global Planning Table, Festivus 3, and on it goes.

These are serious times for JFNA -- the most serious JFNA has ever faced -- and we need serious people to face them. I believe in the sitting Chairs; I admire their patience in coming to understand the fix in which JFNA now finds itself. Yet, it has now been eight months since their installation...they have to understand the is time for them to act.

One Anonymous Commentator, responding to an earlier Post wrote:

"I have been following this blog for what must be years now and agree that the system is very broken. 
What I don't see being addressed is "What can we do to fix it?"
Instead of continuing to try to convince the convinced (I imagine that the unconvinced are simply not reading or not paying attention), how about trying to get something going to attempt to change things before total collapse?" 

While I believe that I have offered a series of changes that would "fix it," let's be certain of one thing: JFNA can only be "fixed" by federation lay and professional leaders first understanding that JFNA is badly broken and then taking charge. Today, at 25 Broadway, there is not a single lead professional member of the Senior Management Team who has any federation experience...none. 

Our Chairs have to know that during times of crisis such as these, no leader of any organization, certainly not one owned by the federations should be, among other things: appearing on YouTube feigning the Harlem Shake; involved in the planning of a Third TribeFest; traveling on minor Missions merely to demonstrate how well they relate to the "newgen;" or trying to pass off as "new" a set of nothing more than programs of the past, many of them already well beyond their "use by" dates, as "new Strategic Initiatives." Further, our Chairs need to use their power to question the institutional judgment that permits search processes to begin for a COO and a Senior V-P "Philanthropic Resources" in the last year of the CEO's own employment contract. Yet, these are many of the very "things" with which this CEO/President has been "busy" with these past months.

With the merger that created what is now JFNA, successive lay and professional leaders were handed a precious legacy -- what one of my dear friends and partners characterized as one that was "extraordinary." These leaders had the chance to act and think boldly in shaping that legacy for the present and into the future. Instead, as we have noted, our leaders have constantly been distracted from purpose, vision and resolve by shiny objects...actually by anything and everything.

So, how do the lay leaders of JFNA reshape the legacy in the present and for the future? My suggestion: go "back to the future." Take what was great, what made the predecessor organizations great -- those timeless principles and core values -- and bring them into the present and the future. 

What we have permitted JFNA to become and what JFNA is today, is nowhere near where or what the federations are, let alone what they want. The Chairs must announce to the federations with all their strength and passion: "From this day forward, JFNA will be about you." And, then, make it so.

As the brilliant writer, Mike Lupica, has observed in another context equally applicable to JFNA today: "These guys are so beyond the 'Clown Line,' they couldn't find it without a GPS."


Friday, June 28, 2013


Paul Kane, the Senior Adviser to the CEO/President of JFNA, retires today. Having known Paul since Breishit here in Chicago (where he learned and practiced the skills that he was unable to use these past years at JFNA) when we were both young leaders -- Paul as a pro working with the beloved and revered Joel Shinsky, z'l,  and I a juvenile lay person -- this is a day worthy of marking. 

And, while Paul retires today, I have no doubt that he will be consulting with whomever is hired to head "Philanthropic Resources" for our national organization in the future, and that he will be working on his "baby," JFNA's Fundraising University and the Million Dollar Roundtable for some time to come. My criticism of Paul on these pages arises out of my knowledge, my absolute certainty that, had he been given the chance, there was so much more that Paul could have done.

Paul has always been the epitome of the "team player;" and, in playing that role, he has supported two of our greatest communities' annual campaigns, helping, leading them to incredible achievement. As he demonstrated so vividly in his "retirement speech" at the June JFNA Board meeting, Paul knows what JFNA must do to actually achieve success -- had he been listened to these last few years, JFNA would be in a different place, a pace of success and leadership. 

So, Paul, enjoy your retirement, even though it will be far more than just a slow fade from view. Take a breath and think of the lives your leadership has made better, the lives your leadership has literally saved and kvell for a little while...before you get back to work.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013


1. Post-script to the Kohane affair. One of the best and brightest federation CEOs wrote me off-line and observed:

"Just one private comment on the Kohane affair…nowhere have we focused on the handful of communities that really are doing good work on both fronts—young adults and those 40+. In addition to failing on collective responsibility and advocacy, JFNA has no sense of how to effectively share best practices, amazing considering all the communication outlets that exist these days. 

Although I believe that the SF Fed had the perfect right to discharge Ms. Kohane, a valuable teaching moment was lost. The alternative would have been for Ms. Gorovitz (the San Francisco Federation CEO who terminated Ms. Kohane) to publicly state the policy, allow Ms.Kohane to acknowledge and apologize for her error, and then move on to focus on the real challenges of Jewish engagement and prove to a large segment of skeptics of Jewish organizational life that dissent tempered with compassion really has a place in our work."
 I agree with my friend and with the Brooklyn Rabbi who said: "Michal was fired for saying what most Jewish professionals I know believe to be true. And even if one were to disagree with Michal (which I do not) dissent is a Torah value."

Could this moment be a turning point for our crumbling system; imploding as never before? While I doubt it, let's see.

2. The Chicago Blackhawks and JFNA. Huh? You may ask; how will you, Wexler, conjure up any analogy between the newly crowned Stanley Cup champions of the National Hockey League and the pathetic JFNA? Let's see if you agree that there is one. Eight years ago, the Chicago Blackhawks, in a national poll, were voted the worst franchise in sports -- not just in hockey, but the worst in all sports. And, then, management and operations changed completely, a new forward-thinking culture emerged, and personnel were dramatically altered, and within four years, the team won its first Stanley Cup since 1961 and three seasons later it is on the cusp of a dynasty. 

And so it is that JFNA today is at the bottom of the barrel. JFNA is in need of massive changes, starting at the the top. As with the Blackhawks of less than a decade ago, it's long past time for major change, for a new culture of inclusion, for a vision that incorporates the best of practices. and for a set of strategies that are about federations not about JFNA. Let's face it, there has been not a single piece of evidence that the current CEO can deliver a "new JFNA." 



Some of you, no doubt very few, may remember the contretemps in 2012 over something called the "Second Membership Criterion." A number of federations, including mine, said that their support for or even participation in the Global Planning Table fiasco would be contingent upon JFNA adopting and implementing a second condition of JFNA membership -- a financial commitment evidenced by an allocation to needs in Israel and overseas. (For those of you who don't remember, originally that was to be a  significant allocation to the Jewish Agency and Joint core [a "red line that shall not be crossed" to some communities, a red line that would be crossed without consequences almost before it was drawn]).

After some "negotiation" -- probably like the negotiation that resulted in the JFNA CEOs ridiculous employment contract -- the end product was so watered down as to be illusory -- a minor percentage to any Israeli cause ultimately to be substituted with a minor percentage to programs emerging from the DOA GPT.

And, then what? NOTHING. NADA. GORNiSHT. A watered down, meaningless Second Membership Criterion. We were told "this is the best we could do."  And those who advocated for a meaningful criterion -- uh, in the words of Emily Littela: "never mind." Let's move on.

Except, in the JFNA 2011 Tri-Party Agreement with JDC and JAFI, the Second Membership Criterion, to be agreed to by them, with them, was integral to the totality of the Agreement -- no Second Membership Criterion agreed to by JA/JDC, no Global Planning Table (as the then JFNA Board Chair, playing contract lawyer, demanded such a cross-collateralized Agreement). Oh, forgot, as Emily Littela said....

So much for principle -- expediency triumphs. So much for "red lines." So much for nothing. 

We have a system today so without integrity that contracts can be breached, "red lines" and the systemic principles underlying them, ignored, and core values destroyed with impunity.

So sad.


Sunday, June 23, 2013


So here we are again, facing the evidence of a system self-destructing yet one that senses that it is beyond criticism. ejewishphilanthropy published the cry of a  communal professional who had, quite apparently and eloquently, seen the futility in the exercise of her responsibilities as she wrote brilliantly and poignantly:

This is an article that must be read in full. I commend it because of not only its candor, but also because of the repercussions. The author, Michal Kohane, was immediately terminated from her position by a community in stasis; by an organization totally unable to stand outside itself and look hard at itself in a critical manner; one that needs every Michal Kohane it can get its hands on. But, that will never happen -- certainly not in a failing community, not in a floundering one. (Of course, the community in question has never been hesitant in its criticism of anything with which it has or does disagree.)

Dan Brown, the brilliant and incisive founder and publisher of ejewishphilanthropy, framed the question best when he learned of Michal's firing: "We must ask, why is it that our organizations act vindictively towards anyone -- employees, lay leaders, the media -- that say anything critical of any initiative or policy? Are their CEO egos so fragile? Are their missions so questionable that some behave like the worst dictatorship in history?"

Well, of course. But, where there is a balance in the lay-professional partnership -- a balance that ceased to exist at many of the organizations about which I have been writing over the past years, there is either a lay or professional leader with too much power (and in the case of the chief volunteer officer in too many places, too little experience) and way too little judgment --that sense of l'etat c'est moi. Where there is a balance, often the lay and professional leaders respond to the private criticism in a constructive way. But, more and more, any criticism, all criticism is viewed as negative and the critic, whether private or public, shelved.

In every organization that I chaired my door was open to my fellow lay leaders and to the chief professionals and their colleagues -- all of them were my partners. I heard their complaints -- about the organizations and, often, about my leadership. I attempted to learn from every encounter, and to both change myself and to effect change to make the organizations and their leaders better.

I read Michal Kohane's column as a scream of pain, one that came from both her heart and soul after failing to get the ear or, more likely, the understanding of her Federation's CEO. 


Thursday, June 20, 2013


Have you heard about the latest discovery of a "Lost Tribe of Israel?" This time in Nigeria? I saw nothing about the "Jews of Ibo" in the JFNA Budget but I have no doubt that the following events will now occur:
  1. An organization will soon form with JFNA's encouragement -- the North American Conference on Nigerian Jewry" or "CON" or "NACONJ." It will become the continental advocate for aliya for this Lost Tribe with the Government of Israel. The CON-jobbers will raise no money, of course, and neither will JFNA, of course, but they will raise quite a fuss.
  2. A compound will be established in Nigeria -- in Ajuba, the capital, no doubt -- for the estimated (as of right now) 3,000 Ibo Jews. The compound will be run jointly (I know, I know) by the JDC and the Jewish Agency, of course. And, Ajuba will become a JFNA Mission destination for multiple trips a fund raising, of course.
  3. JFNA will promise to raise the entire cost of maintaining the compound and for the cost of aliya of the 3,000 members of the Lost Tribe and JFNA's leaders will promise that "it's just 3,000 and no more."
  4. JFNA will raise $100,000 of the estimated $3 million dollar cost, even after sending numerous letters to the federations of North America pleading that we "Complete the Journey." (That toolkit is filed under "Failure")
  5. JFNA will tell the Jewish Agency and JDC that (a), we are sorry but that's all we could raise but (b) keep the Ajuba Compound open as now another 10,000 Nigerians claim to be MOTs -- "and they will be the last."
Yes, of course, this could be a nothing more than a bad joke...except:

"Are the Ibo people of Nigeria a lost tribe of Israel? A longstanding tradition among the Ibo says they are, and points to similarities in Ibo and Jewish cultures: a prescribed day of rest, circumcision (male, that is), the prohibition of pork. And now some Ibo have embraced Judaism, considering it the religion of their ancestors.

According to Jeff L. Lieberman’s uneven documentary “Re-emerging: The Jews of Nigeria,” the number of Jews there is small: fewer than 3,000. That’s hardly a tsunami in Africa’s most populous country, with more than 162 million people, or even among the Ibo, whose numbers have been estimated at anywhere from 20 million to 50 million, depending on the source. (Mr. Lieberman says 25 million.) The Ibo in the film are shown living Jewish lives, learning Hebrew, praying and reading Torah, and they are obviously sincere and committed. Their evident joy in Judaism is moving and unexpected.
Mr. Lieberman has a photogenic hero in the thoughtful Shmuel Tikvah Ben Yaacov (formerly Samuel Chukwuma), who grew up Roman Catholic but whose questioning led him to Judaism. His goal: to study at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan. His problem: a lack of money. (American and especially Israeli Jewish groups have not been quick to embrace the Ibo.)

“Re-emerging” can be pedestrian as filmmaking, though it remains interesting as long as it remains in Nigeria. But segments about African-Americans of Ibo descent belong in a different film, one about the Ibo diaspora. And Mr. Lieberman comically overreaches in suggesting that Nigeria’s tiny Jewish movement could have a large impact on black American life. Is ancestry necessarily destiny?" (NYT, May 16, 2013, "Keeping Kosher in Nigeria, a Tiny But Fervent Minority.")

Soon to be at a theater near you.


Monday, June 17, 2013


Some decision-making body within the Global Planning Table (I have forgotten which given its Rube Goldberg-like structures, I only recall that it's one chaired by the one and only Ms. Manning and it does not involve the governance of JFNA the fact that significant dollars are suggested will be involved) has determined that the first (and only) Signature Initiative ( a euphimism, I presume for nothing as it turns out) will be...trumpets here, please...for "immersive experiences???" Nothing else? Well, no -- Israel's Civil Society, they'll examine this further; poverty in Israel, not, ironically, until the GPT finds some funders.

So, what have JAFI, JDC and ORT been advised by letter from David Butler and Becki Caspi: Well, even though they weren't around the table for the decision, thanks for all the input and great ideas, now the real work will be done in a Working Group with four federation CEOs, two from communities that abandoned collective responsibility, one a long time ago, another more recently, and two from great federations in New York City and Western Mass. There will be staff, of course and there will be no lay persons on this Working Group whatsoever. And the Working Group report, what about that? Oh, that's due September 11 ( hmmmm!)

Steve Donshik, one of the most experienced and respected pros with our system, has written a brilliant analysis of the implications of the Global Planning Table. You can find it at
Once again, ejewishphilanthropy has done us a great favor. Steve's piece must be read in full -- his conclusions with regard to both collective responsibility and waste are must reading. I doubt that any at JFNA and only a few within the federations will read and then think about that in which they are engaged.

Here's where things seem to be: this is about 5 or 6 federations with resources embracing a nice idea; this is not about all, or nearly all, federations embracing a great cause. This is designated giving taken to a continental level; it is about the one organization that should be driving the federations toward their collective responsibilities, instead preaching a message of division, a message so contrary to collective responsibility as to be shameful. And, at the end of the day, why? Because "otherwise JFNA will fail." No, my friends, it already has.

So, MASA and Birthright will receive some additional funding along with some ORT educational projects and some "new" vendors will show up. The money, in the main, will come out of the ATMs that are/were the core allocations, the collective responsibilities that once were, of JA and JDC (which, for some in leadership) a core purpose of this sideshow.

And the circus continues, the clown cars ride.



1. I just received an invite from a major federation to a luncheon being sponsored by its very successful Women's Division at which Susan Stern will be the featured speaker. You remember Susan, the longest-serving National Campaign Chair? Susan, whose unquestioned intelligence and experience had to have informed her that she was being asked to do that which was against all she knew she should and could be doing. And, yet, like a good soldier. Susan was the one who presided over the demise of any semblance of a national campaign and any role of JFNA in one? Well she is speaking and she will do a great job, no doubt. 

And on the invitation: There will be no solicitation of funds. A perfect coda to a sorry score.

And, then, in the stream of invitations and follow-up invitations to a Young Leadership Cabinet reunion in Park City this Summer, there it was again: There will be no solicitation of funds

What an embarrassment.

2. Our recent Post questioning why the top paid JFNA Consultant on Something was smiling inspired two critical and insightful Comments:
"All our federations obviously do ignore such abuses as does the executive committee of JFNA, chaired during the last administration by an accountant whose firm specializes in non profits. The aggregate consultancy line is no small item in the budget and easily available were it requested." 
and, even worse:
"As a CPA, I can share that I sincerely doubt if this is even a legal arrangement. A casual observer might suggest that this is an illegal tax avoidance scheme. This person is directed as an employee and could likely not qualify under IRS guidelines as an independent contractor "consultant".

My Federation would never countenance such behavior." 
So, reflecting on the JFNA Budget, its "Professional Consultants" Budget line will increase in 2013-2014 to $2,077,000 -- 5.4% of its Budget. And Consulting for what?  On what? Hmmm.

This arrangement: both sad and stupid...and what services does the highly paid mystery consultant provide; and on an apparent non-exclusive basis, no less? And, who are the other consultants? What do they do? Please write and tell us.

3. You had to be listening very carefully during the JFNA Board meeting to learn that in 2013 the aggregate of federation annual campaigns fell by another 2-1/2 percent. Hearing this made me and others wonder why JFNA continues to ignore its responsibilities to the federations who need campaign assistance preferring "events" of neither impact or meaning. OK, probably just us.


Friday, June 14, 2013


Charity Navigator, a non-profit organization, evaluates charitable organizations based upon the same set of criteria applicable to all on the basis of a star system -- four to the best, on down to the worst among us. Last month, astounded as I was with the compensation being paid to those at the highest levels at JFNA, I published those of Jerry Silverman, Paul Kane and, the consultant, non-employee member of the JFNA Senior Management Team, Deborah K. Smith. This led a Friend of the Blog to suggest that I look at JFNA's Charitable Navigator Rating, which I did.

I also looked at some federations -- Houston and Miami at 4 stars, New York UJA and my own at 3. Then there was JFNA -- 2 stars...yes, TWO. I also looked at the Jewish National Fund at 4 stars. Then I looked at JFNA's score (out of a possible 70) on Financials, something of which I and others have been historically proud -- a "robust" 48.14 (out of that 70); the same as JFNA's Overall Score; the same as some charitable organizations that appear in Navigator's list of the bottom 10. In a time that demands that we have a national organization that reflects excellence, we have one deemed worthy of two stars out of four -- a mediocrity to which we throw $30 million (+) a year and which the organization claims isn't nearly enough.

So, an independent evaluation organization has done what neither the JFNA Officers nor the JFNA Board nor the federations themselves have done -- scored JFNA at a "2" out of "4", a failing grade. Yet, that organization's highest compensated pros continue to be compensated as if JFNA were a success, when, for the past close to 7 years, JFNA has been on an epic downhill slide. In fact, a recent Charity Navigator summary of the highest compensated execs of the least successful non-profits evidenced that Silverman's compensation exceeds all of them -- by close to 50%!!

So I am asking JFNA Board Chair Michael Siegal, how long will this be allowed to continue? JFNA is a business, albeit a non-profit. That reality doesn't excuse JFNA's most senior professionals from being measured by the same criteria that might apply to senior managers at, let's say, Olympic Steel, Michael Siegal's company, does it?

See the wheel below developed by Olympic Steel:

Hmmm. Substitute "JFNA" for "OLYMPIC STEEL" on the wheel to the left and then evaluate the organization's deterioration over the last seven years. 

Let me know what you come up with.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013


The Jewish Federations of North America National Agencies Alliance has been a study in constant failure. It was created as a successor to the National Funding Council -- another of those JFNA re-brandings with no apparent purpose -- ostensibly to promote the role of the national agencies, to evaluate them, to collectively increase their financial resources, to recruit additional federations into membership and to be an advocate for the work of the national agencies. It has failed in almost every aspect of its purposes -- the funding pool has been reduced, the number of participating federations has been decimated, there has been no advocacy, the criteria for agency evaluations would disqualify organizations whose purposes are international in scope, and so on. This Alliance was formed, as are most, to advance the "common cause" of the federations and the member agencies; the reality? It has done no such thing.

In the face of this record of constant failure, the Alliance determined to defund two national agencies which were making substantial contributions to the work of federations and other organizations -- the NCSJ and NFJC -- while inviting two agencies with only the most distant relationship to the federation system to participate in funding from the drastically reduced national agency funding pool. 

And, just days ago, one of the national agencies which was vetted by the Alliance and determined to be eligible for full funding, JESNA, determined that it would cease operations at the end of July. Yes, the Jewish Education Service of North America, "...the Jewish federation system's educational, coordinating, planning and development agency" out of business. And, where was the Alliance as this was happening to one of the agencies it determined worthy of continued 100% funding? Silent; comatose; in its "let's see who we can cut next" mode; where was JFNA? Don't be silly -- busy planning to be American Jewry's "sole source" in our dealings with Israel, and to convene another Fest. 

I believe that JESNA had an absolute right to rely upon the federation system for the most major funding its work. And JESNA was certainly a favored national agency within the Alliance for whatever that was worth. Its founding CEO, Jon Woocher, who morphed into the "Chief Ideas Officer" in recent years, has been one of my heroes ever since he was my daughter's favorite professor at Brandeis, and his major work Sacred Survival, describing the passion with which my generation embraced Jewish communal life, remains the seminal work on the subject. (Jon also has been a private and personal critic of this Blog from the beginning.). But, being a favorite of the Alliance has proved to be of the same value to JESNA as has being deemed a JFNA "partner" to JAFI, to JDC, to so many others. One knowledgeable Anonymous Commentator has written:
"There is a JFNA angle and culpability in the JESNA demise. However other factors are also in play including the downside of having a supposedly charismatic and iconic CEO and his decision to hitch the agencies future to the ever fickle foundation sector and pursue a national agenda at the expense of serving agencies at the grass roots." 
And yet, my friends, there is a most relevant point, JFNA's Alliance was created in part to vet the member national agencies for the federations as to the agencies' financial accountability. Year in and year out, right up to JESNA's closure, JFNA's Alliance assured the federations that JESNA was financially accountable and approved the maximun allocation. Sad but true.

In my view the Alliance was to be a stalking horse for the Global Planning Table -- it would engage in national planning for its member agencies, directing more funds to those favored by its evaluations (no matter how skewed those evaluations were). Instead, federations lost interest in collective funding, more and more reduced their allocations to the national funding pool and even more dropped out altogether. The Alliance's lay and professional leaders themselves failed to communicate with the national agencies, failed to advocate for the national agencies who were its members and failed to actively recruit greater federation participation in the Alliance.

And now our system has lost JESNA.


Saturday, June 8, 2013


Recently, responding to a question in one of my Posts, an insightful Commentator responded:
"You ask where are the CEO's of our best federations? The answer is right there letting it happen. Because a weak JFNA serves them well. There is no ROI for any of them for JFNA to develop strong, solid leadership."
I don't agree and I want to explain why.

It's in the interests of the Federation CEOs to have a strong and purposeful, federation-centric national organization. What we have now, anything but, means that the best of the CEOs have to take time from their own communal focus on FRD and community-building to time and again rescue JFNA from itself -- unfortunately, at the most critical times, when the federations (not JFNA) needed help with JFNA, JFNA was MIA. 

I know what the federation CEOs wanted from the merger -- we worked together to create a structure that would respond to federations' needs. Many, many times I would turn to a Rieger (yes, back then Howard was an incredible team player and leader) or a Hoffman, a Ruskay or a Fine or Fishel for advice and counsel and assistance -- and constantly to my professional partner in Chicago, Steve Nasatir. Sadly, post-merger they have failed to recognize that neither the emergent JFNA lay leadership (some of whom have come from their own communities) nor, worse, the handing of the baton of professional leadership to those who would prove incapable of leading this complex organization would create a  national organization not as they envisioned -- and they have taken a hands-off approach that doesn't "serve them (or us) well" -- just the opposite in fact.

One example of many: when Manning was the incoming Chair, she ordained herself as the Search Committee Chair in the pursuit of a new CEO. On it were many seasoned lay leaders from across the spectrum of City sizes -- and most, if not all, were also totally submissive to Kathy's demands and wants. And, what she wanted most at that time was a new professional leader, a "partner," who would know less than she about federation qua federation, and, therefore, was from "outside the box." This was just the choice that at the time of the merger itself Steve Hoffman had rejected outright, when he told one of my dear friends (a federation leader who was supporting someone from outside the professional cadre): "That will never happen." This time, Manning did a superb job of co-opting the federation lay leaders on the Committee (her greatest strength) with a candidate from outside the system who "gave great interview." And so these federation lay persons went back to their federation CEOs and announced, "we have our man" in advance leaving them in the dust -- the same place they have been for most of the past almost four years.

So what has happened? New JFNA lay Chairs arrive and for every question they have themselves or receive from others they turn to the JFNA CEO, who barely understands the question yet just blatantly makes up an answer. Were they to turn, instead, to their own federation chief professional, the answers they would get would at the least be based on accumulated experience. When these Chairs return to those who have raised questions with the "answers" they have received from CEO Jerry or his minions, that's the end of it, no matter that our leaders are then told they are wrong and given the facts to prove it.

More's the pity. If the current Chairs, no longer new to the enterprise, both knowing that so much is wrong at the organization, do not act and act now, there is no real hope that JFNA can be lifted up, back on the tracks, moving forward as it could, as it should, as it must.


Friday, June 7, 2013


I have let a few days pass between the end of the JFNA Board meeting and the  meeting of the GPT, these twin efforts in mental onanism that pass for serious deliberation and planning, to see if my nausea would pass. It hasn't. During the JFNA Board meeting, things started on a high with the D'var Torah and went to hell in a hand basket immediately thereafter -- and stayed there. Every speech was fantastic --as in "fantastic...remote from reality" -- and the greater the fantasy, the greater the applause. 

And nothing was more "fantastic" than the apparent belief by those assembled that they had passed a "Budget" -- unanimously no less. That document that totals up to over $31,000,000 does not associate a single dollar amount with a single program. Ask "what will this program cost?" and you will be sent to a corner...but you won't to get an answer. All I can think is that federation CEOs encouraged their lay leadership to vote for this "thing" because they would like to have the same document passed in their own communities. 

I was in Israel working on a special project a number of years ago when Sonny Plant,z"l, a great leader of real integrity, sat down next to me in the King David Hotel Bar, and told me: "I just resigned as UJC (JFNA today) Budget Chair." I asked why and Sonny said, "I won't be associated with anything that I am just told to rubber stamp." That was then, before the system was turned over in its entirety to the cheerleaders; to those who are willing to sublimate their own independent thought for "being on the team." Those who would never let this happen in their own communities (and I know it doesn't happen in Jacksonville) applaud this thing as if it were a Budget. I guess this what is meant by a "herd mentality:" "herd mentality" or "mob mentality" describes how people are influenced by their peers to do...anything."

What I heard was fantasy -- in good spirits and with all good will -- fantasy. Three speakers in a row -- over many, many minutes -- described an FRD (uhhh, sorry, "Philanthropic Resources") effort that doesn't exist, extolled a rebranded UJA Annual Event as "Fund Raising University" that has not yet even happened. Oh, and forget the reality that the budget for the Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission is being cut by $100,000 -- it's the JFNA Three Card Monte. I know Susie Stern, as I have written before, she is too smart and too experienced to believe much of what she said other than as the "good soldier" she has been. And I love a good campaign speech as much as the next campaigner, but I hope the new National Campaign Chair has more in her quiver than she disclosed.

It's bad bad as it could ever get.

And, then there is the Global Planning Table. (Audible sigh.) I was not present but multiple sources have told me so much in disgust and, for some, disappointment.  The "bright spot," if any, was found in a quiet effort by some federation CEOs to pare down the unrealistic (that is, "fantastic") expectations of the Global Planning Table leaders -- Manning, Butler, Caspi, Silverman  -- of multi-million dollar transfers of funds from federation core allocations to the fictional "signature projects" conjured by GPT's leaders and an attempt, albeit one I believe  to be futile given the hard sell being by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse leading this charge, to fit the bulk of these Projects (which I have reviewed before in detail) into the on-going work of our partners.

No, the full court press is on -- in large measure being driven by the wholly false premise that "if the GPT is not funded, then JFNA will self-destruct." Just think about this for one moment -- an organization so devoid of original strategic thinking that it embraces the convoluted structure of a Global Planning Table that operates by its own governance, not JFNA's, believes that if that structure isn't fully operational JFNA itself will collapse. 

The historic partners of the federation system -- the Jewish Agency and the Joint (and you can add World ORT to the list) are already being told to expect further reductions in core funding in the millions of dollars, from already historic lows. And, not a peep of protest is heard.



Wednesday, June 5, 2013


1. Santayana wrote: "Those who can't remember the past are doomed to repeat it."  When the chachams at JFNA determined to bring back the failed TribeFestivus for a third time, they ratified Santayana's maxim as they are wont to do. And when I wrote about this ridiculous redo, a FOB with knowledge of the circumstances wrote:

"Two. Million. Dollars. Remarkable. I wonder how much TribeFest New Orleans will cost? I notice that once again it will take place the weekend after the 10th annual Jewlicious Festival, which in its 10 year history hasn't spent $2 million. Talk about scorched earth - kudos Federation! Please do keep us updated on Festivus developments." 

Of course we know by now what happens to those organizations JFNA defines as its "partners" -- be it Jewlicious, the Jewish Agency, the Joint, World ORT, etc., etc., etc. They will be ignored, at best, or emerge from the relationship damaged and diminished. If your organization hears from JFNA that it wants to "partner", fast, the other way. In this case, rather than actually "partner" with Jewlicious, JFNA just stole their concept and attempted to replicate it, scheduling the JFNA "event" so close in time to the Jewlicious event as to compete with it. rather than truly partner for one truly major event, JFNA instead has produced two disasters with no measurable impact beyond the days of the event themselves and now aims for a third.

And, for Festivus 2014 it is said that you can "help design the Program" -- choose from one of 10 (and only 10) program areas, one of which is "Hot Topics." This effort is called a " for programming." Uh, huh -- how could I be making this stuff up? Despite the prior failures -- and $2 million down the drain with no one held accountable at 25 Broadway -- JFNA's Senior V-P for Hyperbole, as you have pointed out in your Comments, has mischaracterized Festivus  " the most anticipated and successful event of its kind in North America." Yes, friends, JFNA's definition of "success" is now failure. 

Restarting Festivus for a third time is like shooting yourself in the arm after you had already shot yourself in each foot the first two times. One thing about Mr. Silverman, basically just a "nice guy,"  he cannot seem to acknowledge any mistakes, it is impossible for him to learn from them, and, therefore, he just keeps demanding that they be repeated. And, then,  CEO Jerry whines that JFNA can't operate without more money.

2. It used to be a Mission. Now, the creative geniuses at JFNA have decided that the concept, the word, "Mission" is not user friendly for the so-called "new generation" of North American Jews. Uh, uh, doesn't sell. So, the National Young Leadership has invited young adults of their generation to participate on a "Summer Trip." That's right, a little vacation, like you used to take with your folks. Forgive me, I just vomited in my mouth. "Mission" -- bad word; "fund raising" -- doesn't sell; nope, not what we do.

Here is what you will experience: "YouTube Israeli a capella sensation...2012 Israeli Paralympic gold medalist...Rockin' party with Israeli soldiers...kayak the headwaters of the Jordan...Plus (that's what follows is...a "plus"), get an insider's look at how Jewish Federation...unites and cares for Jews." You want substance? Read the Itinerary; substance can be found right after "pony rides."

So, let's assume you are a young, single Chicago Jew who would love to go to Israel again, having been there on Birthright. You hear about this "Summer Trip." You look at the costs: $3849 for "ground," and $1661 for air -- $5510 for a "Summer Trip." That's real genius, right? Inasmuch as the "newgen" are presumably just starting out in their businesses or professions, spending $5510 on a "Summer Trip" sounds like just the ticket.

Thank G-d that our federations still run Missions, still call them that, still raise money on them, still understand their value and purpose in community-building, in connection-building. Does JFNA even know about these community Missions, is its Israel Office aware of anything other than self-promotion (and keeping CEO Jerry supplied with Coca Cola on his visits) -- Missions so often now arranged by the federations directly with vendors outside of JFNA?  Evaluate that. 

Oh, and the JFNA "evite" to this Mission asserts that "[T]he trip will include hundreds of people from across North America..." Wanna bet?

3. JFNA in its Virtual Reality. In the midst of the JFNA Board meeting on Monday, while one fantastic fiction after another was presented from the podium, a federation leader I know quite well  wrote me: "It's raining cats and dogs outside here in NYC but it's bright and sunny on the planet of 
JFNA." Keep smiling. Let's hope the Chairs can see the real as opposed to the fictional,

3. JFNA Board Chair receives a major honor. As CEO Jerry advised us, Board Chair Michael Siegal was named as one of the "Jerusalem Post's 'Fifty Most Influential Jews.'" Well, kal ha'kavod, Michael.

Here is part of what the Post wrote: "A Cleveland-based businessman and philanthropist, Michael D. Siegal, 59, has since last year chaired the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America, which represents 156 Jewish federations and 300 network communities and raises some $3 billion annually for social welfare, social services and education. In November, he is set to host some 2,500 American Jewish leaders at the JFNA’s General Assembly in Jerusalem."  While this resonates, if "2,500 American Jewish leaders" show up in Jerusalem for the GA, Michael will surely deserve to move up from No. 42 to the top 10!! And, if JFNA (not the federations, of course, JFNA) "...raises $3 billion annually" -- if JFNA raised even $3 million -- then, gam ken.

In a great movie scene, the protagonist is urged to "earn it" -- to "earn" the "honor" he has been given. I would urge Michael to "earn it" starting now. 


Friends, JFNA has succeeded over the past 6+ years in making itself irrelevant to its Owners/Members who are tied to the national organization by only the threat to take away their Lions, their Cabinet dint of these threats, JFNA continues in stasis.

In the words of George S. Kaufman: "Ahhh...forgotten but not gone."


Monday, June 3, 2013


This is merely an Addendum to the prior Posts on the JFNA Budget. It passed...unanimously. It passed in less time, far less time, half the time,  with far less discussion, than did a Resolution on the Kotel issues. $30 million...gone, with congratulations, no less.

So, you ask, what did I expect? And you know my answer: exactly what happened, exactly how it happened. You be the judge as to how our responsibilities -- to our donors, our communities, our People -- are being met.

I thought it would interest you, my readers, in a Comment received to the Posts on the Budget from our friend, Dan Brown, who conceived and publishes ejewishphilanthropy:

"Last June, Silverman emailed me asking what areas I thought JFNA was not transparent in.

I responded, "Budget to start." I've asked previously for, and have never received, JFNA's budget.

I'd like to see JFNA provide exactly what JAFI does - a public, category by category budget, released as soon as it is approved, along with regular budget updates provided during the year highlighting all changes."

Silverman responded (6/29/12) that he did not know why it was their practice not to publish the budget as it is made available to all federations and others. He also said he would look into it.

It's almost 12 months later and I haven't heard boo.
Have you? Surprised? Not with this leadership."
So to JFNA, congrats again on that Budget that hides rather than discloses, standing the concept of "Budget" on its head.


Sunday, June 2, 2013


Every year at this time we all confront the JFNA Budget, as we have noted these past few days, one of the funniest and saddest efforts to be sprung on the federations. It's already been approved, no doubt unanimously, by the JFNA Budget/Finance and Executive Committees, and with the usual dose of "best Budget I have ever read" or similar, no doubt regurgitated by those who in all likelihood never read it.

We'll get to the humor in a moment, but let's start with some reflection. Back in the days of the United Jewish Appeal, I chaired its Budget Committee. UJA's CFO, Lee Twersky, with whom JFNA's current CFO, Pam Zaltsman, worked for years, and I as their lay partner, were frustrated with criticism from a number of Federation CEOs who claimed that the Budget  lacked transparency and that federations were excluded from the UJA Budget process. So, advising the totality of the federation CEOs that UJA's Budget Committee was comprised in the main with lay Presidents and Campaign Chairs from their communities, we took it one step further: with the aid of CJF leaders, we invited the totality of federation lay Chairs and CEOs to a public session at the New York GA where we would present the Budget and respond to any questions. And, this was at a time and in a City that attracted almost 3,000 registrants to the GA.

The hall was filled as Lee and I presented the Budget -- one that had grown out of a two day Budget meeting following vetting among the UJA Departments: a Budget meeting where serious debates among the lay leadership and hard questioning had taken place -- as opposed to the current circumstance where a 4 hour meeting (excluding lunch) yields a $30 million dollar thing.  When we were finished, I asked for questions about any part of our process, any Program, any number...anything. There were none.  

Today? There is, in lieu of Budget transparency, there is translucency (please look up the definition, I promise you it is perfect), read it and read it again and you still will not know with any specificity at all what JFNA plans to spend $31 million of your donors' money on. I've never read anything like this -- oh, wait, there was last year's.

Any questions? Hearing none, move to approve.