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.



Anonymous said...

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.”

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.

Anonymous said...

Thinking alone will not solve the problem in any case. There must also be "actors" who are willing to act.

Anonymous said...

So much for that whole "Marketplace of Dialogue & Debate" thing.

Anonymous said...

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?

Anonymous said...

This guy has learned nothing and yet has the chutzpah to insult the owners of the organization that has overpaid him from the beginning of his work.

Anonymous said...

Jerry knew so little about the federations 4 years ago when he was handed this position; now 4 years later, he still knows nothing about our leaders or our purpose. Instead of studying the federations to see how we could be helped, he was, as you have written, constantly distracted by shiny objects. He has got to go. Now.