Sunday, September 22, 2013


When I read the book, now on that rack of tomes that are in "final close-out," political analyst Roger Simon's Road Show: In America Anyone Can Become President, It's One of the Risks We Take, I was struck by how the title could easily apply to JFNA. For in Jerry Silverman, by all reports in public a really nice guy, our leaders at the time of his engagement proved the Simon book's title could just as easily apply to our Continental organization.

I mean, really, is there another organization out there that would have based its Search Committee's choice on what was reported to me 4 years ago by many as a "fantastic interview," the endorsement by a Chair whose thimble-like knowledge of federations' work was barely greater than the candidate's (but who rejected the thought of "just another CEO" and who wanted a "fresh face" whose every act she could and would influence); and a "go along to get along Committee" that included so very many who should have and could have known better. 

None of the members of the Search Committee questioned the incoming Chair's choice -- many thereby endorsed a process followed elsewhere -- ask no questions, rely on the Chair's "judgment" and the "integrity" of a non-existent "process" (as at the JFNA Budget and Finance Committee as well as others). So what did we get: an apparently amiable and, at the outset, humble (no longer) guy whose exposure to our federation system and its unique language language was never questioned. And, the results are in -- in fact they were in quite a while ago.

I wish it were otherwise, but for Jerry Silverman to have succeeded he would have had to stand up to a kleptocrat Chair who was determined to have her way in all things -- from the continued deconstruction of the historic relationships with JAFI and the Joint, to the dogged pursuit of the incoherent Global Planning Table. Instead he encouraged her because, at least in my view, he knew of her support for him (so long as he left her alone) and nothing else mattered. Instead of asking those who might have mentored him how to handle an out of control Chair, he chose silence, exactly what the Board Chair demanded. There was no lay-professional partnership of the Board Chair and the CEO -- there was a dictatorship pure and simple and the interests of the federations were lost and remain lost in the resulting quagmire even as new Co_Chairs try to dig out..

When federation CEOs, out of a sense of professional courtesy, have advised Jerry of, e.g., a hardship that precludes paying full Dues or an inability to participate in funding some poorly articulated Continental "Significant something-or-other" or to attend the GA because of cost, or that the GPT has  no traction in their community, among so many, many other things, instead of trying to understand the "why," the response has more typically been "you'll be sorry." Why? I would assume that it's because the CEO of our national organization, paid in excess of $650,000 (!) per year, really doesn't understand, never understood, or G-d forbid, can't understand the issues federations confront today.

The reality is that Kathy Manning is not to blame for her choice and Jerry Silverman is not to blame for believing he could execute the most difficult job in Jewish communal life -- keeping 155 federation CEOs "happy" and informed -- the fault is in the members of the Search Committee who appear to have believed that their roles were strictly ceremonial -- merely to ratify the Board Chair's choice in all things. Theirs was not to question qualifications, but merely to nod, be awakened from their slumber to vote "aye" and to congratulate the Board Chair (and themselves) for "a job well done" and "a great choice." And, as always, these were men and women who were considered, and actually were, the best and brightest of their generation. Shame on them; shame on us.

Friends, we can do better; we can be better.



Anonymous said...

Better needs to start today.

As the current CEO has not performed, regardless of the obstacles in his path, the time has come for a clean sweep in the office of the CEO (including all those overpaid and unoriginal consultants). He thought he was the messiah who would save the system and his actions have proven he's not.

Better includes federations stepping up to the plate and DEMANDING an organization that serves ALL 155 of them - not just the "big 3."

The Jewish federation system will not survive four more years like the last four. A new CEO, and 155 strong federations, caring federations, gives the system a fighting chance.

Anonymous said...

Do Siegal and Feinberg, in whom you vested such hope, have a clue how bad things are? I serve on my Federation Board and on JFNA's. Unlike your community, Richard, my fellow leaders here know exactly what the Dues are that we are paying/wasting on JFNA. Like you, they want JFNA to be the ideal, yet we are getting almost nothing for our Dues. This shouldn't go on...and, yet, it does.

Anonymous said...

Do the Chairs understand that any continued support from them for Silverman as CEO ultimately makes him their problem? Not Manning's or her predecessor's but THEIRS?

Anonymous said...

It's not just the book you cite that's in "final close-out," Richard, it's JFNA. The shelf life for failure has already gone way beyond what it should have been.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you write about the incredibly over-compensated Large City Federation CEOs -- like your own or, as a further example, John Ruskay, whose leaders just "rewarded" him with $2.6 million in "bonus" retirement compensation and leave JFNA alone for a while?

RWEX said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for the suggestion. Though it is my Blog, suggested topics are always welcome. When one thinks of the accomplishments of a Ruskay or Nasatir, and their (and others) abilities to run what have become, for lack of a better word "mega-businesses," while constantly soliciting the most major gifts, there is little to write about compared to the egregious compensation being paid at, e.g., JFNA to its CEO and his predecessor from Day 1.

Don't you agree?