Monday, July 29, 2013


A wonderful editorial in the July 10 New York Jewish Week congratulated the New York UJA-Federation for a remarkable 2013-2014 Annual Campaign success -- the Federation's Annual Campaign closed on June 30 with an $8.6 million increase over the previous year's $137.6 million -- a phenomenal 6.2% increase. Yet, even with the two largest Federation campaigns increasing, JFNA reported (in almost a whisper) at its June Board meetings that the aggregate of Federation campaigns closed down by 2.5% -- "not our problem," JFNA seemed to suggest, as it always does. And, at one and the same time, JFNA has been whispering to the federations' historic partners -- JAFI and the Joint -- that core allocations will be even further reduced from the lowest points reached at calendar 2012 year-end. 

So, what will JFNA do about all of this?? We have heard rumors emanating from 25 Broadway that the departing Paul Kane has been pushing one of his pals for the  open position of Senior V-P - Development; one who has not worked in federation fund raising for far longer than a decade, and, upon leaving his last position, is rumored to have engaged in a set of activities that would have negative impacts at that federation for years. His work in that federation has been characterized by one major donor there as a "disaster." This would not be merely the "old boys network" in play, were it to happen it would be the "ultimate alta kocher network" example.  If history is any guide as to what JFNA will or won't do in light of continued negative aggregate campaigns, it will offer nothing; it has nothing to offer any more.

And, as to the continuing, even accelerating drop in core allocations, JFNA has already done enough, hasn't it? JFNA's past Chairs and current CEO have actually undermined the historic partnership that once existed between the federations, the Jewish Agency and the JDC. In its manipulation leading to a less than meaningless "Second Membership Criterion," JFNA has provided "cover" to federations which allocate nothing or almost nothing to what once were cherished "partners." 

It remains a proven truth that those federations which both continue to emphasize that we and Israel are "one" in our campaigns and then responsibly allocate in support of that truth, have seen their annual campaigns succeed. Those that  ride Israel's back in campaigning but then cynically offer diminished if any allocations support, fail. Just look around.

This has been explained to JFNA so often with no results that that reality feeds the sense that until there is real change, professional to be sure, JFNA will continue to waste over $30 million dollars a year.


Friday, July 26, 2013


Recently, the pros at JFNA convened Federation CEOs to realign Federation Governance participation -- weighted voting, etc. But it appeared to a number of the friends among the CEOs who called me that the whole purpose of the exercise was to "demote" St. Louis and Pittsburgh from the ranks of the Large Cities. Therein lies a bit of history with which I have some familiarity:

Back in the day, as they say, there were two federation CEOs beloved by their colleagues -- the wonderful Bill Kahn, of St. Louis, z'l, one of the giants (in stature in every way, in fact) of the field, and Howard Rieger, who had grown up as had so many federation CEOs,  among a brotherhood in the Cleveland federation, many  of whom were then serving as CEOs  in certifiable Large Cities. Now, neither Pittsburgh nor St. Louis qualified by Jewish population or Annual Campaign size as Large Cities, but, what the hell, the Large City federation CEOs were a literal "band of brothers," and like a fraternity, THEY would decide who joined and who didn't, and they voted in the two federation CEOs to join them in their Retreats, etc., just like good frat brothers.

Well, that was maybe thirty  years ago. Times changed, and neither Bill nor Howard remained CEOs of those fine communities. At the time of the merger, an attempt was made to "disinvite" the two federations from the Large Cities but those of us who considered the options felt there was enough on the plate in the merger and persuaded the Large City Executives to keep the two communities in the frat house. Now, in 2013, however, apparently the time had come -- the only argument after significant debate for not doing so appeared to be that proffered by CEO Jerry that "...their feelings would be hurt."

So, after 40 minutes of deliberation over Governance, weighted voting and City-size grouping, changes that should have been implemented 12 years ago -- basing City-size groupings and federation weighted voting strictly based on annual campaign and/or Jewish population were stymied by a "plea of rachmanis."

Justice averted.  The JFNA way.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013


You, our readers, have always demonstrated that you are way ahead of me.

In response to the Post on the General Assembly in Jerusalem, one of you wrote:
"Restore our Relevance said...
A simple suggestion to save not only the GA but Israel -Diaspora relations: Announce that during the GA there will be a gender mixed minyan at the Western Wall fully supported by JFNA, individual federations and any other groups Israeli or Diaspora that will sign on. Validate the leadership of Women of the Wall and show that we walk the walk of inclusivity and gender equality."
We, of course, know that JFNA seeks to establish its relevance in Israel  and has long talked the talk of gender equality while being wholly unable (or unwilling) to walk the walk. Here was a suggestion that, were it implemented, would mean action rather than "letters to the Prime Minister." Let's see if anything happens.

And, often, it is the press -- be it or The Forward or Tablet or others -- which have highlighted issues ignored by our national ostrich  organization. 

So it was with an article in The Forward by Willam Rapfogel on July 12 -- The Ignored Jewish Poor. While citing statistics in New York City evidencing that "half a million American Jews (are) living in poverty," ignoring the reality that in all of our communities there is a "new Jewish poverty" impacting on our People, creating a new underclass, whom, in too many cases, our historic safety net has missed or underserved. Yet, Rapfogel ignored the extent to which the New York UJA-Federation has responded and how quickly -- and, of course, few know the impact Jewish communities have had on this new Jewish poor -- for example, the J-Help actions and fund raising by the Chicago Jewish United Fund of the Federation. 

Those of People who are living in poverty abroad and in Israel have been particularly "ignored." Whether in Kiev or Jerusalem the wealth gap is dramatic and more and more Jews are living below the poverty line -- they are the ones who have been truly ignored by us. They are invisible to us -- the new immigrant Ethiopians, the dying remnant of Holocaust survivors, immigrants from the FSU, and on and on. Our national ostrich  organization sits idly by while things just get worse for more and more of our People, ignoring dropping core allocations to the Joint and JAFI which means that fewer of our People get help, even fewer are served. The attitude seems to be "this is none of our business."

What is "our business" any more? For the federations, at home, direct assistance to the "new Jewish poor" is a paramount purpose. For JFNA, one has to question whether there is even an awareness, except at JFNA-Washington, of the potential creation of a Jewish underclass in America; and at JFNA-Israel, they seem to be constantly busy with self-promotion that truly denigrates our system's potential and its work. 

Wouldn't this "new Jewish poverty" and how we could deal with it be worthy of a day-long conference; be the focal point (not "just another session") at the November GA? Would not the "new Jewish poverty" in our communities and in Israel and abroad be worthy of Special Campaign consideration?

Just asking of course.

And, then, there is JFNA itself. Apparently the Sr. Vice-President for Proofreading was absent the day this beauty of a GA Briefing went out. Intended to encourage more Registrants for the Jerusalem GA, after answering its own question with an emphatic "You can't afford NOT to go," JFNA went on as follows:
"Airfare varies widely, depending on where the flight originates and whether you fly direct. To keep travel costs down, considering flying out of a nearby city and/or changing planes in Europe."
Duh... Now, I don't know who writes this stuff, but I do know that the full Registration fee for this year's GA is $1 less than $700. (And, "that includes several breakfasts and lunches...") Yep, look at the Program on-line and determine for yourself whether "you can't afford NOT to go."


Saturday, July 20, 2013


It was a long, long time ago, if you consider 15 years a long time, when a group of lay leaders of the United Jewish Appeal met late into the night in Max Fisher's, z'l, suite at The King David Hotel to discuss/debate pursuing a merger of UJA with the Council of Jewish Federations. I remember that night so well. There was an air of both resignation and cynicism among us; UJA was under strong pressure from the Large City Federations to merge, even though a merger effort but three years earlier had collapsed of its own weight.

The discussion went on and on, and, as was so often the case, grew circular with a small degree of anger over the reality that year-by-year, allocations to the Jewish Agency and Joint Distribution Committee had reduced. There was a real sense among some that the overseas core allocation was being held hostage by some federations to a merger, increasing tensions. An attempt to create a "floor" for overseas allocations had been rejected by the federations only a few months before. 

Some of us also sensed that a number of UJA's most treasured leaders had already been coopted by their Federation CEOs with promises that once the federations owned the entire system, revenues and the number of donors and the core allocations would all increase. Finally, it was Corky Goodman who cinched the deal: "We have to trust the federations," he said...and all of us concurred to one degree or another.

And, so it came to pass: the UJA Board and UJA's owners, the Joint and UIA, agreed to the merger. It soon became clear that in many instances around the country, the federations wanted ownership for its own sake -- those promises of increased resources, donors and allocations immediately forgotten; just words on the pages of a Merger Agreement. What many federation leaders wanted was simple: control of the United Jewish Appeal Budget. Ironic, is it not, that having gained "control," these leaders (many of whom are the same as way back then, have abdicated any and all budgetary responsibility?

At pre-merger meeting after meeting, I and others emphasized to the prospective owners of the totality our national system the basic expression of our trust: "with ownership comes responsibility. "Oh yes," we were assured, "we understand."  And down our system went...down, down, down. Campaigns...down; resources...down; donors...down; allocations...down; engagement...down. And, our national, our continental, leadership, well, they appear to subscribe to Lewis Carroll:
"If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense
Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't.
        And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. 

       You see?"

At the end of the day, sadly...with ownership came no responsibility. So it is that everything is just fine: core values and timeless principles forgotten, left in the dust and every failure is painted as success. "You see?" 


Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Like all of you, or at least most of you, I have received a steady stream of e-vites and follow-ups to the Young Leadership Cabinet celebration of its 50t5h Anniversary scheduled for month's end in Park City. I am very impressed by the names of the Registrants (not so much by the program, but that's not the point is it?. This event is about nostalgia, about reignition, about memory.

My own memories of my days on the Cabinet are as sharp today as if they happened yesterday rather than almost 40 years ago -- the nights with Yitz Greenberg, dancing through the halls of the long defunct Harrison House in Lake Bluff, Illinois, chanting/screaming David Melech Yisrael and Am Yisrael Chai to the shock of the all-Gentile hotel staff, the full disclosure mini-caucuses, the moments with UJA's leaders, the inspiration and perspiration and the joy of being with those who shared a passion for Jewish life, for community for Peoplehood.  

And I remember my visits to the Cabinet Retreats of the 90's as UJA Chair where I saw the future of our communities and national and international organizations -- a seriousness of purpose and a continuing passion that inspired me each and every time.

In large measure the Cabinet experience of the past was also an exercise in elitism -- when being part of an elite was not a bad thing, it was a special thing. And it was good. When the Cabinets became all-inclusive with a minimum gift -- as opposed to the capacity giving of the past -- something was lost, and won't be regained. When I wrote earlier about my misgivings that a Cabinet Reunion invitation would be accompanied -- in bold type no less -- by a line "There will be no solicitation of funds," I was admonished by leaders whom I respect with the observation "that was then, this is now." And, that's the point, isn't it?

Today's Cabinet is no longer about capacity giving or Washington Conferences, it has become, like JFNA itself, about nothing much. Its lay leaders embrace TribeFest because they have nothing else to embrace; the per capita gift of Cabinet members does not bespeak leadership (although there are some gifts that do). and there is no sense of immediate leadership roles for Cabinet graduates in the mainstream of larger communities. The YLC has become but a shadow of what it once was, now it's a nice social experience. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

It would be terrific if there were a discussion at this Reunion not only about memories of what The Cabinet once was but about what the Cabinet could be once again. But that would require a degree of self-examination of which JFNA appears incapable.


Sunday, July 14, 2013


"Richard you wrote recently about that JFNA should welcome dissent. You and your responders have personally attacked Silverman, Manning et al.
The question is will you welcome attacks on you?!
I have read many o your blog posts. You continue to provide provocative misinormation. You have revised alot o Federation history and you continue to act as i your Federation is disconnected rom JFNA's many problems and challenges."
Every few weeks, and always anonymously, I get an e-mail "Comment" like this one (usually the correspondent understands basic spelling or at least knows how to deploy SpellCheck, not this one). I usually Post them without response but this one is so ridiculous and without merit, it at least deserves analysis.

1. Those of you who are regular readers know that from the beginning of the this Blog I have (a) signed my name to every Post and (b) acknowledged that I will be incorrect on many occasions. I have welcomed corrections when I have been wrong and I have printed those corrections along with numerous "attacks." So if you, Anonymous, have some examples of "provocative misinformation" or "revisionist history," send them to me here at the Blog or at

2. I know that there are readers out there who believe that when I print facts about JFNA, the Global Planning Table or, even, Manning's attempts to keep "Zionism" out of a draft JFNA publication or the waste that is TribeFest, that those are "personal attacks," even when they are both institutional issues and...true.  Of course, none of them are but characterizing the reporting of facts as "personal attacks" in the mind of some, allows the facts to be dismissed. Let me give you an example: A couple of years back I Posted a commentary titled "IT AIN'T OVER UNTIL THE FAT LADY SINGS." (You can still read it here on the Blog if you wish.) Of course, Chair Manning, who attested publicly that she never read this thing while telling others the Blog was the first thing she read in the morning, thought this was a reference to her.  (I didn't know this until CEO Jerry told me directly; and, even though the title had nothing to do with Kathy, I apologized.) Where and when I have personally attacked someone, I have always apologized; and, as to "attacks" on me, I have had quite a few...but remember I am from Chicago, "come after me with a knife, I'll be coming back at you with a gun; come at me with a gun and I will be coming back at you with a cannon." But, I think I have established that if you come at me with a lie, I will respond with the simplest of things...the truth.

3. The canard that I  "have revised a lot of Federation history" is one I have heard a lot -- never...never...with a citation to a single instance when I have done so. I have constantly written that if I am mistaken, write me and correct the record and I will publish both an apology and a correction. That I have done and that offer stands.

4. And, finally, I do not excuse leaders of my federation, lay and professional, from their complicity in what has befallen JFNA and our system. They are my friends of long-standing and, unlike others, most, but, surely, not all of them are willing to discuss and debate, even publicly and certainly privately, any and every issue -- something those in JFNA leadership are often unable and almost always unwilling to do.

So, whoever you are, thanks for writing, and always remember "alot" is two words, "allot" just one.


Thursday, July 11, 2013


You may recall that over two years ago the then Chair of the Board, Kathy Manning, and CEO Jerry engaged in their form of fund-raising, a letter to the federations, requesting that they support the effort to bring the last of the Ethiopians to Israel. A noble cause -- to successfully "Complete the Journey" begun seemingly so long ago would be a real feather in both the federations and JFNA's caps. But, while the Jewish Agency and the Government of Israel moved forward, the JFNA efforts lagged, in a most embarrassing way.
The federations' portion of this effort was $5,000,000; that hasn't changed. But, over two years later, the amount transmitted or committed (the word "committed" may mean something less than that to JFNA)  to the Jewish Agency from the federations has been $2,731,000 -- less than the amount sent to the Agency by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein's International Fellowship of Christians and Jews for this sacred purpose. And, that leaves JFNA with almost another $2.5 million to raise. And, there's the problem -- JFNA has told the Jewish Agency that it has "almost" raised this additional $2.5 million -- but, it hasn't. Not close. Nowhere near. Yet, the Jewish Agency has relied upon JFNA's "promise" to deploy funds it does not have, and for which it has no commitments from the federations themselves -- federations which never authorized JFNA to make these commitments on their behalf.

While JFNA has told JAFI that it has "commitments" for its share of the obligation, it appears to me most likely that JFNA will renege on another promise to its partners -- this time leaving the Jewish Agency holding the bag for over $2,000,000. 

Bear in mind that at no time did JFNA leaders have the courage to bring this matter to a vote of the JFNA members. Never any governance action; just a letter or two and a plea from time-to-time. This is a worthy cause, a sacred one and, certainly, part and parcel of our collective responsibility, but no federation is obligated to a fair share of the $5 million which JFNA has assured the Jewish Agency it would raise. We all recall multiple Missions to Ethiopia as part of this effort, but, one must ask, on how many of those Missions, frequently accompanied by the National Campaign Chair and Senior JFNA and federation Professionals, was there fund raising? And, the hard part, raising $5 million -- oh, that's someone else's problem.

This is just the JFNA shell game in practice. Our shame.


Monday, July 8, 2013


The GA is in trouble, pure and simple. 

Let's face it -- for the last five years, notwithstanding the phony numbers annually thrown out by the national organization, full paid registration has dwindled to around 1,000. GA chairs have served two and even three times even as others who have never served as Chairs are left on the sidelines. The programming has become redundant. There has been no excitement, no buzz. No great names to highlight plenaries, and, recently, neither the President nor the Veep. In announcing the Prime Minister's attendance at this year's GA, a few blocks from his office, JFNA thought the following was apparently "great news:"
"GAs have featured such global leaders as Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel; Natan Sharansky; Vice President Joe Biden; Israeli President Shimon Peres; Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak; Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren; the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro; Former Israeli Opposition Leader and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni; and senior members of Congress including Sen. Barbara Mikulski; Rep. Eric Cantor; Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz; and VIPs in business, culture and philanthropy."
Yes, this was the best that the GA could present over recent years...the very best. A JFNA professional with great promise was engaged, among other things, to bring her creativity to the GA, to revive it; and she left before she could do so. 

And...and...the cost, Oh My God. And, the cost for an Israel GA, OMG squared. It is as if a succession of JFNA professional leaders disregard the escalating costs as if they themselves don't have to pay them -- oh, wait a minute, they don't pay them -- we do, however, and we do so twice -- we pay for ourselves and our Dues pay for a flock of JFNA pros to be there -- their flights, their hotels, their cars, their drivers, all of it. 

I understand that at every City-size federation, the squeeze is on -- JFNA squeezing to find attendance to justify the GA in Jerusalem, and federations being squeezed, unable to justify the escalating costs of Israel travel for their professionals for a three day GA in Jerusalem. All the while JFNA is tweeting its insipid 65 Reasons ("best Hummus," "cool soldiers") to attend while many in the federations are finding about $4000 and more in reasons that they can't.

Some of you may remember the 2004 GA in Jerusalem when Steve Hoffman was at the helm of what is now JFNA. Surprise, the same couple who will Chair the GA this year, chaired it then -- apparently"double the flavor, double the fun." Hoffman somehow sequestered in excess of $250,000 and subsidies flowed to all mission participants who later attended the General Assembly. This year -- just come, pay full price (have you seen the hotel rates??!!), go home.

Isn't it about time that those who demand an annual GA justify it beyond "if we, the federations don't do it, some other organization will?" Shouldn't someone be asked to redesign the GA to make it: user friendly, substantive, exciting and cost effective with a real return on investment. The GA was last "studied" by a one person Committee of Kathy Manning -- after consulting none of the past professionals who ran the GA successfully over time and none of the Past GA Chairs (for what would they possibly know), she did a really great job of recommending moving the deck chairs on the Titanic around -- ever since the "new GA" (yep, that's what the marketer-in-chief insist it be called) hit the calendars, it has been one desultory, under-attended GA after another.

When federation after federation has advised JFNA that they either won't be attending Jerusalem 2013 or will attend, but in smaller numbers (in the main because the costs are too high to justify when accompanied by a lack of corresponding benefits), one would think that CEO Jerry's message to the Chairs would be one of urgency, even panic. Instead, it seems to be -- to these federation leaders "you'll be sorry" and to the JFNA Chairs. he'll just make something up like "all is well, don't worry."

When you hear "don't worry"...start worrying.


Friday, July 5, 2013


Hey, everybody, the circus is in town and you're all the clown car in particular. Among the events:

  • Name that State: It is the State in which St. Louis is located. Is it....MI (as in JFNA's announcement of the Ruderman Awards?)? Or is it...somewhere else?
  • Pass that Resolution: JFNA needs urgent action on its retirement plans. Yes. it does. This was on the internets the day of the vote:
    "Please find attached a revised Resolution for action on the Board of Trustees conference call today.  The revisions address an unanticipated delay in operationalizing the new JFNA retirement plan.  All along, we acknowledged that this transition was being made on a very tight timeline and our new vendor has informed us that they will be unable to process the necessary paperwork in time for a July 1, 2013 plan start date.

    Included in the revision is language that authorizes JFNA to provide the same level of benefits for the second half of 2013 as described in the original resolution but over a shorter period of time."
    Got that?  Vote yes, no questions, please -- make that PLEASE!!

    This message was brought to you by the gang that couldn't shoot straight.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013


A Leadership Briefing


JFNA-Israel announced today that it had played a critical role in securing funding for non-Orthodox Rabbis in Israel. "Even though we were not aware of the decision to fund the non-Orthodox until it was announced by Minister Naftali Bennett, we had been thinking about this for many months, and, therefore, clearly our thoughts influenced this Government decision," stated Rebecca Caspi, Director General of JFNA Israel's Office. "As the 155 Jewish Federations of North America know full well," CEO Jerry Silverman observed, "The Government of Israel does nothing without our consent."

JFNA has delivered a post-dated letter to the Prime Minister seeking this funding.

A(nother) Leadership Briefing


In an exclusive, JFNA leaders announced today that Arvind V. Mahankali will deliver the keynote address to the 3,000 registrants at the 2013 GA in Jerusalem. "We are so pleased that Arvind, who stunned the world by spelling (or misspelling as the case may be) the Yiddish phrase for matzo ball to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, knaidel, will keynote our GA" reported JFNA CEO and President Jerry Silverman. Mahankali " expected to deliver a hard-hitting address critical of 'all sides' to the peace process. we are writing it now," announced GA Co-Chair, Susan "Susie" Gelman. He will also spell words for the expected vast audience such as "gornisht" and "verklempt," descriptive terms applicable to the GA. GA Co-Chair Michael Gelman announced that Arvind will also " his first kneydl from the stage."

In a companion announcement, Silverman reported that Scripps will be a "significant sponsor" of the Jerusalem GA, " keeping with their mantra '...give light and people will find their own way.'"