Monday, October 28, 2013


Whenever those involved in the Global Planning Table do anything, you know that chaos will follow almost immediately. And, so it goes. 

The JFNA Board has now approved a Resolution, after truly robust debate (for which Michael Siegal should be congratulated), drafted and submitted to it by the Global Planning Table -- submitted without the ability on the part of the Board to offer any amendments, a bizarre and unfortunate dictate. The substance of that Resolution is described below. But, first, a little background: 

The Resolution emerged from a "process" allegedly arising out of a November 4, 2010, Tri-Party Agreement of JFNA, JA and JDC pursuant to which, among other things "JFNA, JAFI and JDC commit to reaching out to federations directly to advocate for increased overseas funding." (Please note that, over the virulent objections of Kathy Manning, I was engaged to represent both JA and JDC in the negotiation of this Agreement. I know [a] what was in the Agreement; and [b] what the parties intended). No matter hiw JFNA chooses to "brand" this thing, this Resolution is nothing more than an expression of "hope." 

As the current Resolution discloses: on August 15, 2012, JFNA unilaterally extended the term of the Agreement through December 31, 2013. Neither JAFI nor JDC agreed to such an extension.

I have described the structure of the GPT (an acronym that has become to symbolize the futility of JFNA as much as "ONAD" once did) as a "Rube Goldbergian" one -- this time the chaos emerges from something within the GPT "process" called the Partnership Committee, chaired by, trumpets please...Ms. Kathy Manning -- appointed to this position by, trumpets please...Ms. Kathy Manning. Yes, it is the "Partnership Committee" as only JFNA and the Global tail wagging the JFNA dog that could call a Committee "Partnership" when the ostensible "partners" don't even have a seat at the table -- why? It's our childhood game "Musical Chairs" but one that starts two seats short. (Picture the JA and JDC representatives are sent dancing around a set of chairs already filled and from which the JFNA/GPT appointees never rise. Jokes on you JA and Joint. [And that's for sure].) So. obviously, "Partnership" as used in the title of this Committee is, as always at JFNA, nothing but a joke -- what it means is "we'll decide and let you 'partners' know."

Oh, the Committee members? There are 7 of the 19 Large Cities -- the three with the largest allocations (Chicago, New York and Detroit); then 4 that rotate (currently Cleveland, Baltimore, Miami and D.C.); 2 Large Intermediate. 1 Intermediate, and then a whole bunch of lay and pro JFNA leaders (who may or may not have a vote, but probably do). If you are learning this for the first time, I'm sorry, it's the JFNA way -- they probably didn't want you to know at all. So, the Partnership Committee made its recommendation to the GPT Executive Steering Committee (chaired by....trumpets and drum roll please...Kathy Manning who [and I am not making this up] was appointed by...Kathy Manning) which approved the Partnership Committee recommendation (no doubt, unanimously). And, understand this, as well: the Resolution would empower this "Partnership" Committee to lead a global needs advocacy effort -- not JFNA, not the United Israel Appeal, not the Jewish Agency/JDC -- but the self-appointed Committee of the Global Planning Table. (See the membership above and the criteria for membership below.)

You will be pleased to also know that there is one criterion for federation membership: Partnership Committee Membership Requirement: Unrestricted plus other giving to Historic Partners -- 20% or greater of campaign. Sounds good, but, upon further review, not so much. So, a federation which allocates, say 5% (or even 0%) to the partners' core and makes a 15% (or, say a 20%) contribution to them (actually it could be to just one of them) through designated giving is eligible. I guess this just demonstrates how the core allocations have collapsed on the watches of the Partnership Committee Chair when she chaired JFNA, her predecessor and the CEOs who watched it happen while their lips were sealed with the glue of ineptitude and disinterest.

And, what has this GPT decision-making body recommended to the JFNA Board which has now approved it? First the contractual "split" between the Jewish Agency and Joint is over (although it really ended long ago); even as the conversion of "split" to a cash allocation recommendation appears to perpetuate it.  Rather than allowing the market to dictate distributions, JFNA, oops, make that the Global Planning Table, believes that it can establish for the federations the amount of the allocation to each partner. Yet, for those who objected to the "split" as the partners agreed with each other; now the GPT, not the federations...the GPT,  will do so -- yet, when questioned its leaders could not offer any explanation or rationale whatsoever for the anemic recommended cash allocations to core for 2014. 

Then, it is urged that the core allocations to our system's historic partners be increased. Fabulous idea; I applaud those who framed the concept. And, in the framing GPT document, federations are urged to add funding to special projects from new dollars, not out of core -- that is to be applauded as well. But...and this is a major "but"...the specific increase in 2014 core dollar allocations recommended by this GPT Committee to the federations would yield less to the historic partners than the reduction in core dollar distributions anticipated in 2013. This reminds me of those federations which project flat annual campaigns as a "goal" for the year to come -- relatively easy to achieve while the ball does not move forward. (Maybe one should compare this anemic "goal" with the JNF's recently announced $1 billion campaign goal. One organization which understands that there is no failure in reaching for highest goal; there is only failure in reaching for the lowest.)  If you understand the rationale for such timidity, please explain that to me. Maybe one of you does. And, enforcement -- don't be silly. This is a plea, nothing more -- it echoes the futility of the same pleas that were inserted (with the support of the same Large Cities) into the ONAD recommendations for four or five consecutive years. 

And, now, the GPT, or is it JFNA, (trust me, it's that confusing), wants to insert itself into the core allocations advocacy fact, establish one that does not currently exist. This from a body and from current GPT and former JFNA leaders who dedicated themselves for the past 6 years to the deconstruction of those very core allocations -- allocations to the Jewish Agency, Joint and World ORT that are today at historic lows. Is it not fair to ask why the three historic partners should entrust advocacy management to an entity -- the GPT Partnership Committee and its Chair, Manning? And, further, why would JFNA itself allow the Partnership Committee lead an advocacy process when JFNA should have been devoted to just that process from its beginning but which has, but for one futile effort over thirteen futile years, ignored this historic obligation as it has so many others? Is it not fair to ask who at JFNA, oops, GPT is even capable of leading such a critical process? It sure isn't Ms. Manning. It's all more of the same.

As noted above, back in that ONAD "era," if it can be recalled as such, each year the ONAD Resolution was accompanied by a gratuitous plea -- that the federations increase the overseas allocation for, e.g., the Ethiopian National Project, without reducing the core allocation to the Jewish Agency or the Joint. The response -- eyes rolled, glazed over, the hortatory language meaningful only to those who made the plea -- was the now "traditional" use of the overseas core allocation as the communal ATM, raided year-in and year-out by those who chose to close their eyes to the meaning of collective responsibility or never understood the concept to begin with. Leading the way --  the very organization that was created in part to protect that core overseas allocation and advocate to increase it. The Board and Executive Chairs who preceded Michael Siegal and Dede Feinberg were too busy with the shiny objects of the GPT and vendettas to be bothered. With their JFNA CEOs in tow, they preferred to deprecate the work of the historic partners ("you would be doing better job if you [JA/JDC] knew how to market, had better programs, etc.") rather than to work positively to enhance and promote their value to our People. So it is worthy of applause that there are federation leaders imploring their fellows acharei on the allocations front. That is an achievement after 6+ years of silence and a shrug of the institutional shoulders as the core allocations reduced and reduced and reduced again and again.

Over the past decade, what happened to those who argued for advocacy? Pushed aside, told to "get with the team or get out," ignored or relegated to this Blog. Collective responsibility was "so 90s and so over." Instead it was special projects, Signature Projects, the Global Planning Table -- when, in reality, there was no planning, nothing more than a rationalization of the GPT by and for she who dictated its terms (and, almost, its outcomes). Now, JFNA implores JAFI and the Joint to "trust us." They say: "We'll (or, make that the GPT) lead an advocacy effort for an increase to your core allocations. No, we have no staff to lead this effort...but, we'll find some. No, we have no lay leaders to lead this effort, but, maybe, UIA , can provide us some for the Jewish Agency's advocacy -- we own UIA after all and, therefore, we can control them. And, the Joint, trust UIA or the long dormant Israel and Overseas Committee or the GPT to advocate for you as well. We know, we know, we convinced both JAFI and JDC to make the merger that created JFNA by telling them it would all be about increasing their resources; if we fooled 'em once, no reason we can't do it again, is there?"

Is there?


Friday, October 25, 2013


Well, sometimes with JFNA there is hope and most of the time there is none. JFNA has been circulating an "on-line" Forward op-ed of which CEO Jerry and Chair Siegal seem to be extremely proud. It also appeared on-line in Huffington Post. It purports to be a JFNA response to the Pew Report. It is disgraceful if one is to be honest about it. And I have literally been flooded as rarely before in the five years of this Blog with copies of the op-ed from JFNA Board Members, federation chairs and federation professionals questioning how this could happen and the futility of trying to effect change at JFNA. One wag wrote: "this is governance by bad press release."

You may recall that we published the CEO's New Year's Message of just last month -- a statement that totally confused the work of others with those of JFNA and the federations. That was merely the prelude to this sad piece of claptrap. Maybe the CEO just doesn't comprehend that he is claiming as JFNA's the successes of others -- Birthright, PJ Library and, of all things, Camp. "Ideas" like free Jewish preschool for all can't be argued with -- but the CEO and Chair offer nothing on how to do it. Worse, they offer not a word about federations being on the front lines confronting the challenges offered by Pew (even as many are); and nothing about JFNA being on the front lines of anything in Jewish education (other than helping push JESNA off the ledge through the "work" of its Alliance). It is a real embarrassment that Jerry was able to convince Michael Siegal to add his name to this...this...ridiculous example of "let's throw it against the wall and see if it sticks."

And, then the twosome gave JTA an interview listing the "four ideas" -- all good, all without any specifics, all beyond any of JFNA's demonstrated capacity. The "interview" was merely the verbal regurgitation of the press release. Just words, just trying to catch a train that has left the station -- "this is what we see; this is what we think." OMG!! (In this interview, CEO Jerry demanded that Birthright's "gatekeepers" share their alumni lists with federations -- just a brilliant tactic in the midst of recent negotiations between JFNA and Birthright leaders on the subject). 

And, there is the idea of "Jewish Development Zones." It's a great idea -- sprung in this op-ed like something new on an unsuspecting populace...and that's what makes the whole op-ed even more shameful. In the early-2000's JFNA began intensive work with under-performing high potential communities. The idea sprung directly from a pioneering FRD Study. Working with the then JFNA FRD staff, I was proud to have been asked to serve as the lay chair of this effort. A number of communities asked to participate, two were chosen -- Las Vegas and Phoenix. The work had just begun, with Las Vegas, great progress was made...and, then...JFNA pulled the plug. It's professional heads of FRD had quit under duress; the CEO terminated this program. The lay chair of the effort was never consulted. 

So, for sure, pull a program that actually could have been fully functioning and fully funded out of the shredder, rebrand it as "Jewish Development Zones" and try to scotch tape the shredded strips of paper together -- it will probably read better than that op-ed. Then, again, it is likely, given his disinterest and the collapse of FRD on his watch (best evidenced by the inability to hire a professional leader to head the effort) that Silvermen was unaware of the earlier effort and no one on his staff was able to tell him about it. 

And, by what seichel, what pilpul does JFNA take an Israel GA and "turn it around" to focus on the Pew Report? To these guys, Jerusalem is just another New Orleans, another Vegas or Chicago. This is clearly an organization with neither purpose nor Mission nor priorities. Read Silverman's first reaction to Pew and compare it with these utterances. Look up "feckless" in the Dictionary and you will find it next to the JFNA logo.

Read that thing, my friends-- how many times (other than in the name Jewish Federations of North America) is the word "federation" used? I see "communal structure," I read "communities" and other such but "federations," our owners, not once. Better to call this a "death notice" as opposed to an "op-ed." 

We know that Siegal and Feinberg, our Co-Chairs, understand that for the 4 years that preceded their election and longer, JFNA's leaders engaged in an attempt to wipe clean historical institutional memory.  You read the op-ed and it as if no one at 25 Broadway has a clue as to what the federations have done and were doing before the Pew Report and will cpntinue to do. That the Pew Foundation has no clue could be expected; that the federations own organization doesn't is incomprehensible.

We're in worse shape than I had ever thought...hard to believe.



I am, by nature and experience, an optimist.  Perhaps, if you review the Posts on these pages over the past 4 years, you wouldn't think so...but, you would be wrong. And I am increasingly optimistic about the possibility that JFNA's Co-Chairs can right the Costa Concordia that JFNA has become and move it forward.

Let me explain...

I truly believe that in Michael Siegal JFNA has a Board Chair who truly cares about the federations he represents; and in Dede Feinberg, a Chair of the JFNA Executive who understands and truly loves the totality of our system. They are dedicated, as their predecessors were not, to JFNA serving the all of the federations and all of our system as opposed to JFNA existing to promote itself. Yet, they are almost at the halfway point of their three terms -- and, candidly, there is so little to show for the time they have invested in trying to save JFNA from itself. So, here, before I try to offer a prescription of what can be done coupled with what needs to be done, is a Comment received from a brilliant albeit Anonymous writer (I have edited a small portion of the Comment as inappropriate):
"Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "ARE YOU SURPRISED?":

Our JFNA Lamentations are different.
We spend more time and money on a Global Planning Process to spend money we do not have. (Yes, I have heard the lies, there is money just waiting in the wings for this to all happen.) 

We spend millions of dollars on this GPT waste of time and not even a fraction of that amount supporting campaign.

We make a mockery of leadership development in TribeFest that grows no leadership. We trot out the occasional young person who discovers Federation via a free trip to Las Vegas. Do we support and nurture the existing young donor - not.

We invite our competitors as Partners to TribeFest and other venues, while we ignore our real partners in the JCCs, JFSs and day schools.

We raid the Pushka, virtually stealing Tzedaka dollars to promote JFNA, and not our fund raising mechanism. Not to build capacity, but to build the kingdom of JFNA. It is a crime against the Jewish people.

We have built a virtual Fiefdom in Israel, whose goals,  expense, and actual activities would not be endorsed by any Federation in North America.

We hire senior staff, pay them 6 figure salaries and never let them do their jobs.

We have weakened the treasure of UIA, by diminishing its crucial role and effectivity at the altar of JFNA's megalomaniacal past leadership and the false idol of "Brand". UIA is the only JFNA activity in Israel actual serving the Federations.

We claim success in the face of repetitive failure. We self congratulate and repackage failure as success. If one cannot admit failure one can never really improve. 700 some people planning to come to the Jerusalem GA and no more than 40 Federation execs will be a failure of biblical proportions.

Our well meaning top leadership accepts the lies of our chief professional and are being lead like sheep to slaughter. Their naïveté in the face of the Flim Flam Man - our ... salesman in chief, is very sad. They diminish their own reputations of solid past leadership. It is not fair because they are not the cause of the devastation, but if they do not step up and stop it, history will only record their failure, while it gives a pass to those who came before them.

I too lament. I lament that Jerry Silverman is being allowed to destroy the JFNA that I love.

Pay off Jerry's contract, pay off our Senior VP in Israel's contract and fire the overpaid consultants before our Jerusalem on Broadway is destroyed in Biblical proportions. We do not need a new book of Lamentations.

Michael and Dede, the time to act is now."
Yes, the time has come for action. Yet, I suspect that one of the barriers to the action needed is a fierce opposition from, who else, Kathy Manning and the acolytes who believe that she walks on water; after all, one of the two or three "accomplishments" of her three years was installing Silverman, in "taking" the CEO position from the "clutches" of federation CEOs. The other "prize," the GPT, remains an ultra-expensive barrier to real change presented as if it were change. She just doesn't get it; and the current Chairs need to move forward and do the right thing.

I would suggest that the Chairs appoint an "Interim CEO" -- a person who would step in for no more than two years; evaluate the professional staff; make such changes as would help the Chairs and the person who will succeed him/her right the ship and position JFNA for moving forward at the end of that person's stewardship in the right direction as a vehicle of and for the federations. JFNA must become about its owners; no longer about itself.

A cartoon in a recent New Yorker illustrated the problem: two lumberjacks, axes in hand, are assessing their task -- cutting down a truly massive redwood. One turns to the other: "Should we have lunch first?" To Michael and Dede, no time for lunch anymore.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013


I had nothing to do with the engagement of Olga Yorish by the Jewish Federation of Orlando as its CEO -- other than to kvell as I did in a Post upon her hiring. I reprint below Olga's statement of both her joy and the challenges she and the community face. Compare this with the JFNA CEO's High Holiday "greeting" last month:
ttp:// "Twenty four years ago a man, a woman, and a child stood in the arrival hall of the Boston Logan airport. Tired and disoriented after a long flight from overseas, their old life in the USSR left resolutely behind, they were hopeful for a better future. In Boston, they were met by a group of people representing an organization whose name the woman didn’t know. Nor did she know that this organization would soon become her life and her passion. Last April, the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando Board of Directors hired that woman (yes, you guessed right, that woman was me) as an Executive Director and charged me with moving this Jewish Federation forward. 
During my first months, I had more than 200 individual and group meetings with volunteers, community members, agency colleagues, and Federation staff. In all these meetings, I have been impressed with a variety of opinions, strength of convictions, and passion for the community and its institutions. I have discovered that there is a lack of information and understanding of what the Federation is about; there are some hurt feelings and broken relationships; there is an opinion that the Federation is not relevant to the Jewish community; and at the same time, there is a somewhat contradictory notion that the Federation is able to and must take care of all the problems. What struck me most, however, was a recurrent theme of a lack of a unified Jewish community bound by common goals and aspirations.

What do we have to do to change it? There are a few critical components that define a strong and vibrant Jewish community. First of all, it is a commitment to our core values of Torah, Tzedakah, and Chesed – faith, justice, and acts of kindness. It is also a commitment to educate the future generations, to transmit our heritage to children and grandchildren. What also makes a community strong and vibrant are opportunities for all Jews to come together. And a key component is a central organization that keeps it all together and ensures stability and growth.

All these elements are present in the Orlando Jewish community. We have not one but two excellent campuses used by 1,500 people every day. We have thriving synagogues led by dedicated rabbis and lay leaders. We have strong agencies led by talented and dedicated volunteers and staff. We have day schools and multiple other Jewish educational opportunities. And we have the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando that is the glue that bonds the core components together.

From many of my conversations, I learned that there is a desire to rebuild and repair; there are many people who are remarkably supportive and encouraging; and there are thousands of people in this community who continue to invest their time, energy, and resources in the Jewish community locally and around the world. This is a community mandate and a vote of confidence that the Federation is relevant and needed. The Jewish Federation is the one place that belongs to every Jew, the place where philanthropy, volunteerism and shared commitment come together to make a difference in the world. Federation was established to improve the quality of Jewish life worldwide, nurture Jewish learning, care for those in need, rescue Jews in danger, and ensure the continuity and well-being of our people. We have been doing all this for many decades and we must and will continue to do it. We are the one organization that can, should, and will build a community with a capital C. A Community where agencies and leaders are fully supportive of each other; where the interests of the Community come first and individual agency and personal agendas are secondary.

I challenge our rabbinic leaders to join us in this work, to bring forth their talents and influence to achieve this goal. I challenge our agency lay and professional leadership to move beyond institutional interests and look at the big picture. Will it happen? It must. It has to, for the sake of the future of this Jewish community.

As we kick off the 2014 Shaping the Future Annual Campaign, we have established an ambitious goal to increase annual giving by 15 percent. I propose to use this increase to create a grants fund for collaborative and innovative community programs. It’s time for the Federation to get back to its business.

Every morning, as I arrive at work, I think of the privilege it is of being the executive director of the Jewish Federation. I think of how to use this day to make it stronger. I know how fortunate I am to do what I love and to love what I do."

This, my friends, is how a leader sounds, motivated by love, history, passion and experience. Can she succeed? It's going to be tough -- the community is long-divided, local agencies appear to be determined to pull it apart, it is a federation burdened by debt and history. There is no national organization with capacity to help (even if it had the will to do so). But if anyone can do this, this inspiring leader can. Wish her well.


Saturday, October 19, 2013


"[t]here are mountains of data...on how he is not regarded as strong or tough or up to the job..." 
No, this was not written about CEO Jerry ...the problem is that it well could have been...over and over again. While failure is all around him, the President/CEO appears to believe that he is "protected" by his ability to dance (even the "Shuffle") away from every failure of leadership unscathed ... untouched. Well, he's wrong. Even as his bloviations, hyperbole and cliche have reached the level of credibility of that infamous Iraqi "Information Minister" -- you remember Baghdad Bob? -- during the Gulf War, credibility is crumbling, leaving...just a pile of rust -- four years' worth of failed Teflon.

JFNA gave Jerry Silverman a great chance -- following a terribly flawed predecessor, he was given 5 years to propel JFNA forward; I can think of no one who didn't want him to succeed. Four years later and where are we? Are we better off today than we were as a system four years ago? Clearly not... are our leaders prepared to acknowledge the mistake. 

Some have suggested that I blame former Board Chair, Kathy Manning, for the mistake that this hiring has turned out to be. But, that's not the case, not really. She is to be congratulated for her naked and absolute manipulation of otherwise smart leaders and for ending the blatant hegemony of the LCE (which, after the abject failure of Jerry's predecessor) that had literally imposed a Howard Rieger on the Continental level. On the other hand, of course, she chose Silverman without any consultation with...apparently anyone (other than, maybe, continuing consultant Deborah K. Smith, and, perhaps, husband Randall Kaplan) with any knowledge of the federation system. And she didn't do that because she didn't have to being, as all of us would come to know if we didn't already, that, as the mirror told her every day, she was the smartest person in the room.

And, though Jerry was her guy, she often treated him with a "patronizing over- fondness" -- thus, when doing a supposed evaluation of Silverman, her investigation as to your sense of the CEO would begin "isn't Jerry great!!" Your answer, obviously not required. 

Jerry, who had had great success in revitalizing a small national Jewish agency - the Foundation for Camp - learned that his experience there was not transferable to what was to become JFNA. Not only did he serve a very strong Chair, to whom he knew not what to do other than bow and scrape, but he had to serve a number of the LCE to whom bowing and scraping were probably not enough. 

One perceptive albeit anonymous Commentator, writing in response to the recent Let's Talk Tachlis Post, wrote:
"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." 
Amen -- on all points. Enough is enough.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Sent to me with best wishes by a Friend of the Blog:

"Coming soon to a theatre near you!!" 


Sunday, October 13, 2013



1. They still call the GA "the most important gathering of American Jewish leaders." It's not any longer...but it could be once again. Has anyone shown the Chairs, Siegal and Feinberg, the Report prepared, delivered and almost implemented until Kanfer, Manning and Rieger shelved it. Maybe CEO Jerry can find it (if he can't, someone tell him to call me [he never reads this]) and, if so, send it to his Chairs.

2. Then, there's stuff like this:

 "JFNA Poll: We're seeing some pretty amazing specialty challot around the internet these days. Will you be doing anything unusually sweet for your Rosh Hashanah Challah? Salted caramel apple? Dates or figs? Truffled honey swirl?"
Yes, friends, this is exactly what some professionals (who knows how many) at JFNA are wasting their time and your money, conjuring. Even earlier, after another FOB looked at this latest inanity, he noted that "after 4 plus years they have 6,916 likes. Compare that to JNF 34,000, JAFI 30,000 English only, Project Heart 11,000." I don't know what a "like" is, but JFNA hasn't got almost any -- and, who knows, of a paltry 6,916, how many are directed by JFNA senior professionals to sign on. And, still, there are those at JFNA who believe that this waste has value -- probably written by the same professionals assigned to find and publioize those inane "65 reasons to attend the 2013 GA."

3. "We are independent and unaffiliated, just like you." This may not be a bad come-on if you are not a featured speaker at the JFNA Young Leadership Cabinet Retreat, as the Rabbinic leader, founder and Executive Director of a web-based organization called PunkTorah. Yeah, makes you wonder "what's with these people?" Where is the pride in exactly the opposite of the message of the JFNA-selected speaker to the Cabinet Retreat -- that's right, pride in affiliation? We are so lost in the maze that JFNA has created, finding our way out isn't even on the JFNA agenda. 

These are but three of many examples....too many. At JFNA the belief is that if "we cool" then we don't have to "be good." And, they aren't even "cool," are they? Let's face it, over the last few years, to paraphrase a great creative force in our culture, we have seen our system move from the "existential" to the sadly "ironic" -- from the era when we asked "should JFNA exist and how?" to today when the question has become "who cares?"


Thursday, October 10, 2013


I would wager that everyone reading this Post has a soft spot in his/her heart for all of those of our brothers and sisters, our children and grandchildren living in constant peril 24/7 in Sderot. Many of our friends barely escaped to shelter from the terrorists' bombs sent to deliver fear and death from Gaza. To visit with children and their parents who had not seen sunlight for for days, often weeks, was a surreal experience, suggesting the fragility of daily life for all within the range of terrorists' rockets. Our communities have built shelters and funded Victims of Terror and our historic partners have engaged in sacred work on our behalf providing respite, travel to camps and therapy. And, once again, organizations like ORT and JNF have played key roles in meeting the needs of an impacted traumatized but ever-resilient population.

We were there as partners not only with what became our Sderot extended family but with the Government of Israel. Now, we learn from the pages of The Jerusalem Post that Sderot Mayor David Bouskila, friend to so many across the North American Continent, staged a one-person sit-in protest at the Prime Minister's Office, occupying a tent to symbolize the frustrations in trying to reverse what the Mayor claims has been a NIS 25 million cut in Government funding "for residents' basic needs" since 2009 -- the GOI disputes the claims that the cuts were for "basic needs," and argued that funds allocated to Sderot may have been poorly managed.

Inasmuch as so many of our communities have a special relationship with Sderot and with its people, one might have thought that maybe one -- no more, just one -- of the 10s of staff of JFNA's Israel Office might have alerted the federations to these issues affecting this special place in so many of our lives. But, no, they have other things to do -- you know, that GA is coming to town; they want JFNA to replace the Conference of Presidents as the key player in the relationship between the Government of Israel and North American Jewry; and Ms. Caspi and others there have major responsibility for the illusory Global Planning Table. Maybe they just don't have time for Sderot, for its families and children. When JFNA-Israel has an opportunity to actually do something; well, "now is not a good time."

What might JFNA actually do under these circumstances. Well, first of all, it could play the role of honest broker examining the facts on the ground in the dispute between the Government and the municipality; advising the federations of their findings. JFNA-Israel could be the advocate for the municipality in attempts to find common ground with the GOI under the special circumstances embedded in the relationship of our communities with that community. There are probably more things that JFNA-Israel might do -- but, really, I expect that nothing will happen.

You can only cry.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013


As we have constantly observed, you, our readers, federation leaders all, have had greater insights into the constant calamity of JFNA than I. And, after yesterday's Post, that continued to be the case:

"As a Fed Exec I was stunned by first the mail and then letter. No advance notice...and as you said our allocations decisions were made in May/June. the issue had to be known by then.

A call with execs would have been helpful before the email. The email did not sit well with my lay chair since our community has given more overseas and is a leading federation in that regard.

Bad form to say the sky is falling when this, as you said, is no new revelation."
And, then:
"In response to a question today from JTA (what do you do when a survey comes along showing that the number of U.S. Jews engaging with Jewish life and religion is plummeting?) Silverman says,

“You really need to bring together thinkers and thought leaders who can really think this through. I don’t think that’s the G.A. population. That’s not the forum to think this through.”(emphasis added)

Well, if the GA isn't the place, maybe Silverman plans to discuss the subject at TribeFest! Or, perhaps he simply feels JFNA just doesn't have any interest in hosting such an important conversation. Or maybe they just have lots of high-priced consultants but no real thinkers!

If he waited this long to break his silence on the importance of collective responsibility (interesting timing on his part with his contract is up for renewal) maybe he will eventually see the light and convene a conversation on shrinking Jewish engagement and the effect on the federation system!

Wishful thinking, I know."
 After well over 100 federation visits, this CEO has concluded that the federation lay and professional leaders who attend the General Assembly aren't capable of "thinking...through" the critical issues confronting North American Jewry? And the GA itself is "...not the forum?" As another of you wrote: "So much for that whole "Marketplace of Dialogue and Debate" thing." And, then:

"Silverman is an embarrassment but he is our embarrassment representing as he does the worst no-nothingnism of our system. We have never really valued critical thought nor have we ever allowed intellectual mediocrity to be a barrier to positions of authority lay or professional. Thinkers? When was the last time a federation personage of any so called stature even commented on e-Jewish philanthropy, in the Forward, or other forums where serious Jewish ideas are discussed. Silverman spoke an inconvenient truth while too dumb to know how damning it was"

And, at the end of the day, your question: "After 4 years how can Jerry Silverman insult the intelligence of Federation leaders and continue to serve as the chief professional officer of the federation entity? Are our leaders so blind, deaf and dumb? Or are they not leaders at all?"



Monday, October 7, 2013


On September 30, Co-Chairs Michael Siegal and Dede Feinberg and CEO Jerry Silverman sent the federations a sad, almost poignant plea for increased allocations this year and next for the Jewish Agency and the Joint. Here is that letter in pertinent part:
"We are writing you with great urgency as we review projections for collective funding in 2013. Our forecast of unrestricted funds, the foundation on which our partners, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel, rely upon to carry out our mission, is down by at least 5% ($7 million).
We are therefore taking the extraordinary step of asking your federation to reexamine your current unrestricted allocations for global Jewish needs with a goal of increasing funds for 2013 and 2014. For 2013, we are asking you to consider a supplementary allocation, and for 2014, to rebalance the needs of all Jews that we serve; locally, in Israel and around the globe. (emphasis theirs)
The continuing decline of collective funding, which has diminished from $190 million in 2003 to $133 million in 2012 -- with a projected further decline to $126 million  -- has enormous implication for services, for the integrity of our collective enterprise. (emphasis mine)
...Now our partners' work is itself at risk. It means weakened support for building a global Jewish community in which our kids will live and thrive. It means that we are less able to shape the Jewish future and respond to Jews in crisis around the globe..."
There was more; it was a magnificent plea, one long, long past due. After years of silence, of a focus distracted by the Golden Calf of a Global Planning Table, JFNA has almost admitted how much our partners have been diminished by our system's deconstruction of collective responsibility. But...

  • The history of the decline in core allocations is truly even worse -- at the birth of JFNA, the allocation to JAFI alone was in excess of $185 million. There should be shame that until this letter, JFNA wholly failed in its fiduciary responsibility to its partners (and the federations themselves sat by in silence, cutting the allocations);
  • A letter, while superb, can never be enough...never. I understand that JFNA wants back into the advocacy process. My own belief is that it's long past time for the Jewish Agency and JDC to come together in advocacy for themselves -- with JFNA as a limited partner. JFNA lacks the professional personnel, it has lost the understanding, the history, the background and the passion that JAFI and the Joint have in abundance;
  • There remains a disconnect between JFNA and the federations with regard to the timing of allocations. For many, if not most, federations the 2013 allocations cycle has already concluded; the availability of "supplemental funds" for most communities is but a dream. This Blog is filled with Posts urging advocacy action; let us pray that this letter -- admirable in how it opened the door to a reversal of what has become almost a systemic disregard of obligation;
  • Then there is the confusion created by the Global Planning Table recommendations for funding its "Signature Project" out of "new money" (perhaps) and the JFNA leaders' plea for additional core dollars. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize that JFNA and the GPT are now creating competing needs without prioritization. The end result is, once again, going to sow confusion at the wrong time, undermining the good will its letter can create; and
  • You just can't reverse over a decade of neglect and, often...too often...deprecations with a single letter.
While I titled this Post Revelations, for those of you who have read my rants from the beginning, these are not revelations at all. But, as I am sure we would all agree, one letter from JFNA, no matter how well-written, will only be meaningful if it is followed by real commitment and follow-through, something sorely lacking at JFNA from the very beginning. Let's see some now.


Friday, October 4, 2013


With the chagim and all we have a lot of catching up to do:

1. The GA - Worse Than We Even Thought. If you were wondering what drove the frenzied attempts to hype the GA -- changes in focus, agenda, venues, speakers -- as I was, the answer has come clear. After months of denial that there was any "problem" with attendance, the Co-Chairs learned, only by cross-examining CEO Jerry, that at a time when historic numbers told a story of 1,000 paid registrations, JFNA had received 400 -- yes, paid registrations were at a level 60% behind the annual pace. Appears that JFNA will be forced to pad its numbers with free "registrants" from Israel. JFNA professionals are already looking for scapegoats -- watch 'em whisper that it's all the fault of the LCE.

How many Registrants as of today, less than 45 days before the GA begins? We're hearing 700-800. A disaster.  JFNA runs an ad on Tablet Magazine seeking registrants-- "bubbles" in the ad state that the GA will be "inspiring" that it will be "momentous" and that it has something to do, apparently, with "Peace."  They still don't get it.

2. What is Jspace? And, then, what is's "Jewish organization of the year"? is a self-styled "Jewish online portal, a place where Jews from all over the world connect on the first online homeland for Jews." Got it? It's the "first online homeland..." (Sorry, I just vomited in my throat.) Anyway, staying on topic, Jspace anointed the JNF as its "Jewish organization of the year." And, appropriately so -- I have come to know JNF as a place of creativity deserving of the financial support it has grown for programs of substance and impact in Israel. (While JFNA dithers with "planning" for the Negev, JNF is building projects there.  BTW, JFNA didn't win!

3. What should a real, effective CEO be doing? As our friends at ejewishphilanthropy pointed out last month:
"The CEO is an organization's chief fundraiser. Good donors -- and even board members -- flee when they see problems that the board is blind to or doesn't want to deal with."
In the context of JFNA, we not only have a Board that is blind, it has been deaf and dumb as well. The CEO "chief fundraiser" has participated with his first Co-Chairs in driving JFNA away from its core purposes, two of which are/were directly related to raising more revenues and more donors.

And, he's still there? Or so we're told.

4. How about this? More than one federation whose Board members will be in Israel at the time of the GA have inquired about the possibility of these leaders attending one day of the GA. The answer: "There will be no day rates." Understand: GA attendance is in the toilet but there will be no day rates? You might ask: "where are these "decisions" made and how are they communicated: on stone tablets?

5. Multiple Choice: (a) JFNA; (b) Congress; (c) I can't choose

And, that's all the news from Lake Woenotgone for now.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013


We have all heard the phrase, read about it, uttered it ourselves -- we're "thinking outside the box" in looking for a new Federation or JFNA CEO. Given the trending today, best I can tell, "thinking outside the box" in 2013 would mean looking for a new CEO from within the ranks of sitting federation chief professional officers because "the box" today means anything but one of those men or women.

There is a "pack mentality" that did not exist at the predecessor organizations, a mentality characterized by groupthink and self-censorship. To be part of the pack demands absolute fealty to its leaders; troublemakers (that's another word for anyone who pushes back) are pushed aside. It is that pack mentality that has lined up federation after federation playing "follow the leader" in their pursuit of "anyone" other than one who has actually faced the fire of federation professional leadership. And the "pack" has been pushed at the apparent direction of that mystery woman, the highly paid, rarely seen, Deborah K. Smith, someone called JFNA's "Consulting Partner...for Human Resource Development" who helps to steer federations away from federation professionals when seeking a new CEO. If you read Deborah's CV in the JFNA Annual Report, you will be duly impressed with a deep body of professional experiences -- none in the federation system.

The obvious end result is that JFNA has become no more than a bunch of strategies without a framing narrative, without core purpose  -- how could it be anything else when, until the hiring of a new COO (apparently imposed on Silverman by the Chair), the JFNA Senior Management "team" had only one continuing member with any federation experience? Sure, its leaders talk about the centrality of federation, but there is nothing to suggest they even know what that once meant. Have they read the seminal works of Woocher or Phil Bernstein, z'l, or Irving Bernstein, z'l? Do they even know who they are? How does one who has no experience in or with the federation system lead the development of a framing narrative for and of that system? Evidently it can't happen because after four years we have seen no evidence of one. You will recall that on the cusp of the installation of the new Co-Chairs last year, CEO Jerry promulgated a so-called "Strategic Plan" (under some other Brand. but of course) that was nothing more than the old wine of UJA/CJF in new bottles. And, even that worn-out piece of fish-wrapping has not been implemented.

As far as JFNA is concerned, its apparent advice to federations is "don't hire from within the federations" -- from Deborah Smith on down to the Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence, the message is clear -- "time for a change" and, thus, "outside the box" thinking of yesterday has really become nothing more than the "inside the box" practice of today. On rare occasions, it works -- but only with those who have had some exposure to the federation system -- a Michael Horowitz, or a Jay Sanderson for two. But, in the main, federations have failed when reaching into academia or into the marketing milieu for a new CEO.

So, what might be done? How about eliminating the cost of Mandel/Deborah K. Smith from the Budget, negotiate an annual contract with the best of the Jewish organizational Search firms -- David Edell or Korn-Ferry or one of the others with the credentials to do the job(as many federations already are doing) -- and expose our communities to the best and brightest from within and from the outside. Then let us see how that works out.