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."



David Abitbol said...

Sigh. Thanks for the shout out Mr. Wexler. I don't know what to say, really. I don't think JFNA is purposely trying to tank the Jewlicious Festival. I can't imagine anyone being that mean spirited. I've met a number of very nice people who work for JFNA and to whatever extent the Jewlicious Festival has served to inspire TribeFest, well, we're both flummoxed and flattered. But mostly flattered. And a little flummoxed.

After the first TribeFest in Las Vegas there has been zero discussion about further partnering with JFNA and I kind of understand that. We are two very different organizations. The economies of scale dictate that we be nimble and fleet of foot whereas there is a whole bureaucracy and a process within JFNA that has to be addressed.

We'll keep doing whatever it is that we have to do. Our program has an impact, and a cost effective one at that, that is both measurable and incredibly satisfying. Our doors are always open to anyone who wishes to work with us and we will continue on our path of Ahavat Yisrael and Jewish Unity. The impact we make is too delicious to give up - it's the most addictive drug ever. The fact that in 20 years I'll be living under a bridge and scavenging garbage bins for cans that I can redeem for 10 agurot is irrelevant. Heh. Keep up the good work.

RWEX said...


Thanks. You are a person of far greater equanimity than I.

Perhaps you're right; and JFNA didn't "mean it" when it built its failed TribeFests on the success of Jewlicious. I am reminded of the fable of the scorpion on the frog -- simply, the scorpion and frog come to a wide river they both must cross. The scorpion implores the frog to carry the scorpion across the river on its back. The frog demurs: "but you'll sting me and kill me." The scorpion responds: "Never. Look if I do that, we'll both drown. I am not suicidal." The frog, convinced, places the scorpion on its back and, sure enough, half way across the rive, the scorpion plunges its stinger into the frog. As both are drowning, the frog implores the scorpion: "How could you do that?" The scorpion's response: "I don't know; it's just in my nature."

For JFNA, it's always "just in my nature."

David Abitbol said...

Look Mr. Wexler, I could be possessed of less equanimity and make a big fuss, but no one would care or listen to me or address the issues. So I choose equanimity. Folks will still not talk to me but at least I will go to sleep with peace of mind.

I really hardly ever talk to anyone from JFNA except for William Daroff and when we do talk we just kind of just shoot the shit over drinks. I don't know Jerry Silverman nor have I ever communicated with him - and the same goes for pretty much everyone at the JFNA. Still, I don't think TribeFest was built "on the success of Jewlicious." It may have been somewhat inspired by it but having attended both, the two are very different events - we don't have quite as many accountants as participants :) and obviously our budget is much lower. I think we ran like 10 programs on what Miri Ben Ari's room service bill was.

But again, I wish them all well. I hope they make the most of the opportunity they have to inform and inspire the young(ish) Jews attending. At Jewlicious, our doors are like our hearts, always open. Interested people know where to find us.

All that having been said, have your read Jewish Community Hero Ari Teman's swan song? He's the founder of a Jewish volunteer service organization and after 7.5 years he's folding citing Jewish communal shenanigans. Some of your friends figure prominently. Check it out at - make sure to read the comments too!