Tuesday, December 31, 2013


31 December 2013

Dear Dede and Michael:

A happy and healthy New Year to you both and to your families. I thought that at this, the end of Calendar Year 2013, I would write to convey my concerns with the constant lack of direction at JFNA and with the state of mediocrity that it has become. You, as our elected leaders, can change things and I pray that you will.

I am saddened by the reality that neither of you reads this Blog; though I fully understand that no leader likes to read a litany of criticism of the organization which he/she leads. I truly wish that JFNA under your leadership were beyond criticism, and I also believe that you can make a difference from this day forward...but, only...only, if you seize the day and act boldly.

You have to know, 18 months after your election, that JFNA has continued its aimless wandering -- lurching in one direction (maybe the Global Planning Table) then another (maybe an illusory announcement of a $1 billion special campaign for free Jewish pre-School for all, with no substance, no planning, no consultation and, really, no thought) and then another (back to the twice-failed TribeFest wasting another $1 million-plus). And, all of these bear the imprint of the CEO, all words, cliches...amphigory. If this is the best that we can be, how sad would that be?

Where and what do you want JFNA to be at the end of your terms? And, what do you believe are the steps necessary to get there? Has the organization reached such depths that no one will take the CEO position were it to open up (as so many believe it should)? I just know that not to be true; and wouldn't that be the most warped excuse to just go on goin' on?

Here is what one Commentator wrote the two of you in response to an earlier Post:

"If I was Chairman of JFNA and the President (Silverman) put me up at a microphone to discuss a billion dollar initiative for pre-schools and summer camps, without vetting the concept and getting Federations in alignment first, I would return to his office and help him pack his things. 

It would be Silverman's last day on the job.

Even worse, is the fact that the Federations are not even upset. They already accept that JFNA has no relevance.

JFNA wants a billion dollar pre-school and camping initiative. JFNA wants a part of the Prime Minister's initiative. And JFNA does not want to shut up already about the Global Planning Table Fiasco.

Calling Silverman and Caspi failed managers does not begin to capture the depth of the issue.

If Chair of the Board Michael Siegal and Chair of the Executive Diane Feinberg support the renewal of Silverman's contract - it is they who have failed the American Jewish Community.

Be responsible: do a 360 degree evaluation. You will hear nothing but failure. The only place people talk about JFNA success is inside its own offices.

JFNA is a failure. If you do not believe it, hire an impartial firm to just compile what people are saying in the field. Listen to them. They pay the dues.

The latest excuse is now Jerry has a team in place. Give him a chance to use his team, It was Jerry who already proved his failure when he refused to put a team in place. Professionals and lay alike begged him to recruit and build a team. They told him he did not know Federations and he needed inside professionals. He refused.

You gave him his chance. He failed the challenge. Time for a new batter. "There is no one better out there" is the next battle cry. Yes there are. And it does not matter. You do not need to pay somebody a half a million dollars a year to make the chairs look foolish in front of the whole Jewish world. And you do not need failed managers to have no accomplishments.

Michael and Dede, you represent the owners of this team. It is up to you to set the standards of the players who will play on this team. You wanted the job - you won the responsibility.

Yes, Michael and Dede, you are both dedicated, caring and wonderful lay people. But you are looking foolish to everyone, as long as you are standing next to the Harlem Shake Jerry Silverman.

You cannot defend the indefensible.

Do the right thing."
My friends, my leaders, make 2014 a better year; a great year. Starting now. Seize the day.


Thursday, December 26, 2013


Since I began this Blog almost five years ago, we have been blessed with tremendous insights from our readers. Like this one, responding to our Post on Delusions:

"Jim Collins, who once (after doing his homework on our system) made a brilliant presentation on finding an organizational core focus. If we think back -- both UJA and CJF understood what it meant to have one precious purpose driving everything they did. For UJA it was building a Jewish state and protecting overseas Jewry; for CJF it was empowering, ennobling and networking the senior lay and professional leaders of our communities. And both organizations delivered because they stuck to their unique strategic purposes humbling adapting grass roots experimentation into national models. When Milwaukee developed a national model for young leadership programing on a local level CJF promoted that model; when a relatively new Federation in DC came up with Super Sunday UJA ran with the program. They listened, they learned and then they led, a process duplicated time and again. All because they thought through who they were and what they were about. Purpose, focus, humility and excellence in delivery."
Anyone who has observed the aimless wanderings of JFNA over the past six years, and specifically, the past four, has to ask: where is core purpose, where are the core values upon which we built a once great system?

Instead we find our national organization in convulsions before each Board meeting and every GA on its calendar. Concepts that may sound good to a bored/Board audience, upon examination are always...always...found wanting to the point of specious. In JFNA we have an entity that exhibits all of the elements of Institutional Attention Deficit Disorder, jumping from one shiny object to another without sufficient thought or substance. As someone wrote me: "JFNA and, therefore, Jerry, are babbling on about preschool while the world merrily marches on without them." While all would applaud the concept of free early childhood education for very Jewish child, to roll out a concept as a "plan ready for implementation" is mind numbing.  JFNA is so out of touch with the realities with which federations are dealing on a daily basis as to be irrelevant.

Only at an organization that has no core could the CEO dismiss all prior "plans" and roll out things like a "$1 billion special campaign" to ostensibly offer free Jewish school tuition without any prior planning, without any consultation with the federations that would have to raise the money, without any consultation with anyone with expertise in Jewish early childhood education...without, without, without. Maybe this CEO is as Sun Tzu -- "let your plans be dark and as impenetrable as night" -- more likely, he's "Dopey," one of the Seven Dwarfs.

One "wise" act of self-preservation of this CEO and his predecessor has been to totally destroy the institutional memory that UJA and CJF bequeathed to this successor entity, JFNA. Some of those our Anonymous commentator cited above. And with the Kanfer-Manning and Manning-Goldberg regimes, the erasure of memory was so easily accomplished while too many who could have done something about this deconstruction sat by and watched in silence (and, worse, tried to silence and then censured those who pushed back). At least Howard Rieger had a sense of that history himself (even if he believed that institutional memory needed to be eradicated if a new "JFNA culture" was to emerge); once JFNA fell to the leadership of Manning-Goldberg-Silverman, the die was cast; personal agendas trumped building the system time and again.

Now, with the current Co-Chairs, leaders within their communities and the national system, and knowing, as they surely do, that what was once so valued could be once again, they need to get on with their jobs and assure the present and future as their predecessors did not.

From the road to institutional irrelevancy,


Sunday, December 22, 2013


There is no doubt...none...that if you spread blame around to everybody involved in leadership of JFNA or any organization, then nobody is accountable. It's so very easy and way too facile to look around and point the finger of blame for the mediocrity that JFNA has become at, among others: transient lay Chairs, or the Large City Executives as a group (or, at the least, three of them, or maybe just one of them), the inner council of JFNA lay leaders (whoever they are), or the JFNA Executive Committee (a mere rubber stamp of others' decisions), or at the Board. But, at the end of the day, the persons most responsible for JFNA's descent into the mediocre or worse, are the professionals who have led JFNA in its jumping the shark...and those who have decided not to hold them responsible for the failures past and present that predict a miserable and meaningless future.

I am told that five or six years ago, JFNA's then Board Chair decided that it was time for the then CEO to go. He went to one of the leading LCE and essentially requested "permission" to end that chapter in the fiasco that JFNA had become. Incredibly, that LCE (who had told me on more than one occasion that JFNA needed new professional leadership then and there), refused the JFNA Chair (on the ostensible basis that to let the then CEO go at that time would be "cruel" or something like that) who went slinking back to endure another year or so before the contract expired along with that Chair's terms. Since then JFNA has fallen further into a void so deep that, apparently, a failed, meaningless Israel GA appeared to the current Chairs (and a columnist or two) to be a "success" notwithstanding that the number of paid lay registrants from North America was less than 1,000. 

I have been told by those who know that a cardinal rule of marketing is to "under-promise and over-deliver," but CEO Jerry, who supposedly knows marketing if nothing else, offers the opposite -- for example, allegedly responding to the Pew Study, with the Board Chair in tow, promising, among other things, a $1 billion fund raising effort to offer free Jewish pre-school to all and tripling Jewish camp enrollment. With no planning and little thought, and box car numbers not even achieved in the seminal Operation Exodus Campaign, an organization totally reliant on the federations to raise any money whatsoever, announces its so-called "plans" with no prior discussion with the federations or with those early childhood professionals who find the proposal inconsistent with their own vision (http://www.jta.org/2013/11/27/default/jewish-preschool-leaders-want-support-but-not-free-tuition) (and having read the excellent JTA piece, were JFNA really to be a serious player in early childhood Jewish education rather than merely throwing out a number that would be, at best, 4 times less than would be needed, wouldn't JFNA have had its representatives all over the Washington DC Conference of the Alliance for Jewish Early Childhood Education? But...no, nothing, no one) and with the claque as always offering a standing ovation. CEO Jerry -- all marketing, all tactics and neither strategies nor sense. (In all of my roles in Jewish communal life, never did a senior professional embarrass me as Michael Siegal has been embarrassed by the JFNA CEO in this instance.)

The Global Planning Table continues to be a twenty ton weight on JFNA's neck and continues to frustrate all who have attempted to understand its lack of direction, support and the expenditure of untold millions at the direction of the CEO ("if we close the GPT down, JFNA will go out of existence"), and Ms. Manning and her acolytes. 

Now, Silverman is frantically hiring --a new COO and Marketing and Communications senior pro, both hired, it appears to this observer, at the demand of the Board Chair; a new FRD senior professional, who may have sought a number of other positions before this one fell to him, and who will need counseling and mentoring to enable him to relate to the "other" 154 federations beyond the Hudson River. And, more to follow. I am certain that the Chairs have heard the pleas from the CEO -- "I need  a new contract so I will have the time to integrate the new staff and really...really... demonstrate what JFNA can do under my leadership." If this post hoc ergo propter hoc argument flies with the Co-Chairs for whom I have only respect, more's the pity.

Yet, CEO Jerry has proved that he both approached and has run JFNA for the last four years the way once-"candidate" for President Herman Cain was described as selling pepperoni pizza: "with a greater concern for marketing  than for nutrition." Sadly, the system has endured four years of failure. Year-by-year, for the last six years, I have watched as the future of JFNA and the promise of JFNA have receded to the point where there is neither future nor promise under the current professional leadership, only the failure of the present, only the mediocrity that JFNA is today.

Given the continuing embarrassment after a federation investment of over $600,000,000, and the reality that there is no there there, isn't it time for real change? Past time for real change? And, don't we all know who has to be responsible for that?


Thursday, December 19, 2013


On erev Thanksgiving JFNA announced the hiring of a new Senior V-P Philanthropic Resources (ersatz FRD). After a fruitless search (and a number of turn downs from excellent professionals) for close to a year, JFNA has added a long-time FRD professional from the New York UJA-Federation -- no doubt on the recommendation of recently retired, now JFNA consultant, Paul Kane, who, you will recall, came to JFNA from NY UJA-Fed as well.

The new Senior V-P has a terrific background in one federation but...experiences at New York, if the Paul Kane hire is an example, have little relevance in the FRD area to the rest of the federation system. If the new hire is good, and a quick study, this short-coming will be easily overcome.

But, in its announcement of the new hire, JFNA could not resist the hyperbole so characteristic of an organization that knows not itself:

"(he) brings to JFNA the kind of proven track record and extensive communal experience that will help us drive our system’s fundraising forward,” 
This quote was attributed to CEO Jerry -- who, of course, came to JFNA with neither and, apparently, doesn't believe that either is necessary to his position, back for years ago or now.

In fact, close to two years ago, JFNA had the chance to hire one of the best and brightest campaigners in our system. But Paul Kane was still on board even though, beyond the Millionaire's Roundtable, there appeared to this observer that he never tiptoed into the direct FRD arena (even though, arguably, that was the purpose for which he was hired).  Claiming "budgetary issues" two years no hire was made and two years have since passed until this November engagement.

So, is JFNA going to pay Paul Kane to mentor the new hire even though Paul, too, was from the same UJA-Federation environment? Do JFNA's "ideas,"  were there any, in all areas look like the unforgettable New Yorker cover where the world essentially ends at the Hudson River? 

In 2012 JFNA published a Campaign Plan for that year and this with 7 "goals"...here they were/are:
  1. "Inspire leading investors in the Federation Movement.
  2. Provide support to Federations in their financial resource development and community building efforts.
  3. Continue to strengthen affinities including Women’s Philanthropy, Young Leadership Cabinet, Cabinet Alumni, and Next Generation.
  4. Increase endowment opportunities for the Federation field, for donors, and for JFNA endowments.
  5. Provide training opportunities and tools for Federation professionals and volunteers to enhance their development and community building efforts.
  6. Grow financial resource development in the Network of Independent Communities.
  7. Re-imagine and revitalize the Missions program to support and expand Federation efforts." 
Now, two years later, tell me where there has been any...any...success in any of these seven areas of "focus;" in other words, "what focus?"

I wish the new hire every success. P.S. What ever happened to Matt Freedman, an exemplary fund raiser from a relevant federation?


Monday, December 16, 2013


Friends, it is more evident, day-by-day, that the Global Planning Table is totally out of control, dragging JFNA along with it in the destruction of the system, with the Large City Executives performing the last rites. The JFNA Co-Chairs and the leaders of JAFI and the Joint surely know that the GPT is out of control; yet, ignoring all of the evidence..all of it. 

Either the GPT or its Partnership Committee or who knows what entity of the GPT, is meeting this week. Let's take a look at some of the worst examples of a system in chaos:

  • The LCE have asserted (and believe that the GPT leaders have agreed) that the funding of the GPT "Signature Initiative" will only be derived from "new money," not from current core allocations. Perhaps, this belief makes them feel good; and, certainly, were it true, that would be a step in the right direction. The reality is something different. Perhaps a few of the largest federations will allocate a small amount of new dollars to the Initiative; but the reality is that most communities will only find the funds from their current core allocations. Then what? Will those pushing for funding only out of new money stand their ground? Or will they as in every prior instance...cave? The past, my friends, is prologue. And JFNA's leaders sit by in silence as their/our organization is further diminished (with CEO Silverman's total support).
  • Then there is this conflict: the GPT has assumed the role of lead advocate for an increased core allocation (as pointed out in prior Posts, this is more than a little strange, given that every act taken by the GPT to date has been in derogation of the communal core allocation). It is also the advocate  for federation funding of Signature Initiatives. The inherent, patent conflict of interest in these two roles, totally opposed is each to the other, are ignored as if the conflict of interest does not exist. And JFNA's leaders sit by in silence as their/our organization is further diminished (with CEO Silverman's total support).
  • It is now absolutely clear -- crystal -- that the Global Planning Table's leaders (that's Ms. Manning and her acolytes, including some major philanthropists who just don't get it) plan to substitute themselves in the guise of the GPT as the interface between the federations and overseas needs -- the worst of all possible outcomes. And JFNA's leaders sit by in silence as their/our organization is further diminished (with CEO Silverman's total support).
And there is nothing but silence all around.

Sad...really sad.


Friday, December 13, 2013


As is usually the case, those of you who Comment on these Posts offer superb insights. Here is what one of you wrote immediately after the General Assembly:
"JFNA and Jerry are pinballing from idea to idea so fast that they do not pause to consider how idiotic they look. Lucky for us, in our own communities, most donors do not know who or what JFNA is. If they did, JFNA would be bringing down the value of our local Jewish Federation brand.

When Jerry and Michael's so-called thought leadership piece appeared in the Forward, they espoused focusing on four areas: free Jewish preschools, Jewish camping, birthright alumni and Jewish development zones. Then, when he spoke at the GA, all of a sudden, he put a big focus on lowering the cost of 'being Jewish in America'. Did he, perhaps, read Gil Troy's op-ed piece that appeared the day before his speech in the Jerusalem Post that was delivered to his hotel room during the GA? Sure seems like it.

For CEO Jerry the Pew Report has become nothing more than another shiny object to distract the organization from its goals and purpose -- if it has either any more. You may recall that last year, JFNA prepared another so-called Strategic Plan for itself -- making it one for each of its many CEOs -- this one called "Strategic Initiatives." While nothing more than a collection of stuff so old that in many instances dated back to UJA and CJF, nonetheless JFNA committed to implement the Initiatives and to measure their successful implementation. Then, as of the GA (and a few interviews and press releases preceding the GA), off JFNA went on a frolic far removed from the very Initiatives to which it had committed itself. It's all so stupid, so wasteful, so unfocused. Or, as I might add, "so JFNA."

In its weekly Sign of the ApocalypseSports Illustrated wrote:
"A group of Bosnian fans intending to see their country's World Cup qualifier  against Lithuania went to Latvia by mistake. Said one fan: 'I will surely remember this stupidity (for) the rest of my life."
At JFNA it's the equivalent of the same thing only their "stupidity" is quickly forgotten (and, more than likely, repeated). Time and again under current leadership, JFNA plans to go to Lithuania and ends up in Latvia -- the aimless wanderings of a lost organization. Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013


The recently concluded Jerusalem General Assembly was "marketed" as "A Marketplace of Dialogue and Debate." Not having been there I have had to rely on the insights of the many who were there and who offered theirs to me. The general consensus -- actually, the unanimous opinion of those who wrote or called -- was that at no Session was there a truly involving and engaging "dialogue" or, even more certainly, "debate" in which the audience was invited to participate.

After everything I heard, I am pretty sure that JFNA leaders neither understood or care about the definitions:

  • "Debate" -- "a discussion involving opposing viewpoints"
  • "Dialogue" -- "an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue"
Sure, within the "shuk" and in the hallways, as always, Registrants (the few) and attendees (the "more") engaged in  both debate and dialogue; but at the public sessions, points of view were expressed and brief Q and A allowed, but what you and I know to be "debate and dialogue" -- uh uh.

If there was unanimity on anything about this GA, it was that JFNA, desperately trying to reach its attendance projections, did the same thing the Chicago Democratic machine did at the disastrous 1968 Democratic Convention -- it filled the room with whomever it could -- mainly Israelis -- folks who paid nothing or almost nothing. So, while JFNA trumpeted boxcar and fictional numbers, if anyone cares to examine actual North American lay registrants, the numbers will turn out to be around 1,000. 

And, that's bad, really, really bad. These results demand that the GA be fairly studied in depth by a group of federation lay and professional leaders, led by Executive Chair Dede Feinberg -- not a one person "Committee" as was the case when Ms. Manning led and determined the outcome of the last Study. (And, when practical recommendations for reform drafted by a professional experienced in and with our communities were simply suppressed by leadership dictate.) 

We all recall that one recommendation from under Ms. Manning's dictate was to move "all future GAs" to places offering tourist attractions -- somehow this resulted in a Houston GA being canceled and moved to D.C. (where 942 lay leaders paid and registered). The 2014 GA will convene in D.C. (this marks the third time the GA will convene in Washington since that last, failed GA "plan." Why will the 2014 GA even be held? "We've made big deposits."

It's past time to examine the costs/revenues for the last five GAs and an honest, transparent accounting be provided the JFNA Board. This Study should take place immediately, be concluded by the January Board Retreat, and then, discussed at the federation level, and at the June Board Meeting, a real debate and dialogue can take place as to the future of the General Assembly.

That's a real debate and dialogue, my friends, not a meaningless marketing tag line.


Saturday, December 7, 2013


Yes, that loop attached to the earlier Post did capture the essence of JFNA. and even I have to marvel at the accuracy of the metaphor. For recent examples:

  • Start with the kal ha'kavod we delivered to JFNA's Chairs for their letter urging federations to increase their overseas core allocations. Then we learn during questions at the JFNA October Board meeting, that that letter had never been sent to (or, at least, received by) the JFNA Board members -- at least, not all of them. Where does the buck stop at 25 Broadway?
  • What organization that you know of would permit a major part of its agenda to be high-jacked by one of its Committees, operating independently of the organization's governance? The answer should be none -- but that is exactly what has happened at our beloved JFNA. The Co-Chairs have apparently acquiesced in the "Partnership Committee" -- a wholly self-created and self-serving "Committee" of another, the Global Planning Table -- having made itself responsible for dictating allocations outcomes, and, supposedly, advocating for the system's historic overseas partners (without any apparent competency to do so). This makes even less sense given that JFNA has an eager Israel and Overseas Committee which appears to be perfectly positioned to undertake this responsibility with the expertise of, among others, UIA. (We, of course, well understand and sympathize with the Partnership Committee Chair's acquisitive desire to be at the forefront of any effort that might keep her "in play" for her next run at the Chair of the Conference of Presidents.) 
  • How many times can one request a list of JFNA's consulting agreements and the amounts thereof...and never get a response? Many, many times, apparently. Maybe the Chairs now know the answer.
  • Here's a strange one given the whining heard from 25 Broadway about a lack of sufficient money from the JFNA Budget to accomplish great things (or anything, really). Although I found it hard to believe, I read it in a JFNA Briefing on staff positions -- strangely not from CEO Jerry but from Chairman Siegal -- that one of CEO Jerry's acolytes has been appointed to the newly created position of "Vice President, Institutional Advancement/Thought Leadership." (I am not making this up.) I believe this person was one of those who "thought up" TribeFest (she certainly defended it vehemently). After all, how can you claim your organization is engaged in "thought leadership" if you don't have a "thought leader" on your staff? But "thought leadership" in this case seems to be related to this "how does JFNA raise money for itself from your donors?" This may help to explain why some of the best and brightest of the JFNA professionals have their resumes on the street.
  • On the subject of "thought leadership..." Is this CEO Jerry's new role...and were the "roll-out" the preposterous interviews pre-GA and the misplaced, insincere "big ideas" of a $1 billion dollar "campaign" for a "free" Jewish education with no substance along with tripling the number of Jewish campers over a few years and "give us 350,000 names, Birthright" the best/worst evidence? Actually...there was no real thought given, was there? Along with no planning, no consultation...nothing.
  • Now that you have read the previews, see JFNA the Movie,The Sequel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrAIGLkSMls

Friday, December 6, 2013


On this date we interrupt our "program" to remember that on this date, in 1987, twenty-six years ago, which feels like only yesterday, our system, with very Jewish organization gathered on the National Mall by the hundreds of thousands, to demand freedom for Soviet Jewry. All of who were there committed ourselves to never again be silent along with those inside and outside our federated system who were at the forefront of what became to be known as the Soviet Jewry Movement.

I was there with my community, one of several hundred Chicagoans who traveled to D.C. that day to joined the mass rally -- the banners, the cries,  speeches and songs and applause. It was a great day -- one that culminated in the seminal Operation Exodus -- in which we began to write a chapter in modern Jewish History -- a small part of the chapter written in capital letters and blood, sweat and tears by those heroes in Refusal and the over 1,000,000 who left the former Soviet Union for freedom, those who have so strengthened Israel and our own communities.

And, looking back from the perspective of today, I will also remember that day and the Exodus and the Exodus Campaign which followed that day as the pinnacle of our system. I believe we can rise to the occasion and ascend the summit again and again and again -- and I know you do as well.



Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Friends in Israel for pre-GA events had been reporting that CEO Jerry was bouncing off the walls with joy telling all within earshot "we've hit 3,000; we've hit 3,000." Of course that wasn't the case but if it helped Jerry to believe the unbelievable, go for it. Even if 3,000 is the number JFNA had used in D.C. when there were less than 950 lay registrants, it's such a great number -- like 2 or 4 or 6 or 8 but it's 3,000, and JFNA Jerry loves 3,000.

Then there was this Comment:

Anonymous said...

When the Silverman/Siegel proposal was published yesterday (11/7) in EJP the tweet/like/share response was about as low as you can get. It seems even their own accolytes including a power tweeter on senior management are distancing themselves and the internal shunning (a long held tradition at JFNA/UJC) is now actively at work. I'd look for an announcement shortly after the GA if not during.
So, perhaps, this speculation is driving delusion; perhaps this speculation feeds the CEO's need to serve a most public role in multiple GA venues -- a role that would/could better be played by others (even G-d forbid, lay people); perhaps this speculation is the catalyst for the multiple press releases and interviews that preceded the GA all self-serving, all ridiculous and all announcing that "I am the indispensable person, I am the 'thought leader.'" Uh huh.

And, perhaps, in the scenario that has been the last four years there have been lessons that might serve Jerry's successor well. Among them (and I am sure there are many more):

  • Understand the core values that drive success. The current and immediate past JFNA CEOs not only rejected the history of the federations (the former knew them but rejected them; the current CEO continues to have no apparent clue). Those values can drive success and create historical continuity, instead, there is no connection between our system's core values and the national institution... a prescription for the very failure we see all around us.
  • Tell the truth --  For example, what would have been wrong with first telling the JFNA Co-Chairs "this is going to be a very hard GA to populate given costs and logistics and the failures of the past GAs. But we are going to break our backs to make the program so compelling and so exciting and we have a major recruitment plan and we will keep you posted every step of the way." But, no, as I understand it, the CEO continued to misrepresent the terrible numbers into the Summer and, then, it was too late -- not too late to continue to misstate registration right into the GA itself -- "we got 3,000!!" -- the history of fake numbers empowered the CEO to make those misrepresentations weekly to the JFNA Chairs. There have been other instances of untruths -- the one sticking in my craw was evidenced by Silverman's willing, even eager, endorsement of the fabrication that Manning did not utter the words "no Zionism -- too controversial" at a GPT meeting, something that he knew had happened. Yet, he felt unrestrained by the truth in misrepresenting what Manning had said to federation CEOs across the country.
  • Stop the favoritism. There is ample evidence that at JFNA the federations with the gold rule...and rule...and rule. A CEO who understands the system would make it clear that he or she is listening to all federations -- to their CEOs and their leaders. When a Large Intermediate or Intermediate Federation lay and professional leaders see a Large City cut an undisclosed Dues deal and its new CEO put on panel after panel at GAs on subjects with which his community has had no demonstrable success while they get no speaking privileges (other than to kiss the JFNA CEO's ring), small issues grow to big ones. An excellent manager, be it in business, in law firms, in federations knows how it's done -- but not at JFNA. This has to change.
  • Focus on the big issues and get some quick victories -- this CEO focused on what in his first years? Community heroes, #ish, TribeFest  (all failed)and the tried and true hand-me-downs from UJA and CJF, the "rebranding" to JFNA (the name chosen by UJA-CJF pre-merger)? That's it? And other shiny objects -- the Global Planning Table among them -- began to capture JFNA's attention. There were neither big issues nor victories of any kind and haven't been.
  • Get over yourself. Know that JFNA is neither about you nor about JFNA -- it is to be about federations. Understand that there is no reason for arrogance, only humility. Succeed by doing not by talking; and cliche and jargon merely communicate failure. Listen to advice and don't reject criticism out of hand even from those you won't countenance out of spite or pique.
  • Hire the best and brightest. Instead of reaching out to hire the best and brightest as a focus, the last two CEOs have engineered a brain drain from the highest ranks within JFNA of the best and brightest. I won't embarrass them by naming them, but they have gone on to great success with among others Tel Aviv University, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, JA and the JDC, World ORT,  among so many.  Many former JFNA professionals have been engaged by a broad array of federations around the Continent to supply what JFNA now can't. Friends, if you can't keep the best, how do you recruit the best? When this exodus began -- at the very beginning of an avalanche of departures -- I asked the  then Chair of the Executive to do some exit interviewing, to understand how bad things were -- she never did so.
  • Transparency. A concept apparently unknown to the CEO and embodied in the questions unasked by a succession of Chairs. "Never ask, never tell." Shouldn't the laity know what is the total of all consultant contracts; who are the individual consultants and how much is each paid (including the ubiquitous Ms. Smith); what has been the return on investment from each consultant contract -- for starters. There are millions being paid out to consultants. And how are GA deficits handled -- how are the deficits there and at TribeFests, for example, "processed" within JFNA -- certainly there has been no formal Executive Committee action, no Board review. There is no transparency at JFNA, not in its Budget and not in its practice. It appears that staff has, at its whim, shifted dollars from one Budget line to another while everyone involved, right up to the Treasurer, sits with the hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil attitude...as cheerleaders, not as the fiduciaries they are supposed to be.
When will things change? When the Co-Chairs realize they are in fact the Co-Chairs.


Sunday, December 1, 2013


Wow, can that Jerry Silverman talk...and talk...and talk. The master of hyperbole, cliche and jargon can't distinguish fact from fancy. And, so it was, shortly before the recent GA, in an "interview" with JTA, CEO Jerry, at his most bombastic, said it won't be "..just talk when federations meet in Israel for GA." And, then, it was..."just talk."

The GA? "It's about really creating the great debate and dialogue on the challenges of our times." 250 (yes, that's 250) "young adults" would be brought together "to debate and contribute ideas to 'tackle key challenges facing Jewish communities and Israel." Uh huh. And, per the CEO: "The idea is to listen." If you ask Federation leaders you would quickly learn that a major fault with JFNA and its CEO is an inability to do just that... and Jerry has proved to be the non-listener in chief. 

There is also, as you know from recent JFNA pronouncements, an intense focus on the Pew Report -- even if the responses from JFNA have been a set of half-baked, par-baked, non-baked "ideas" thrown out there without planning or forethought. 

But all that "promised debate" -- "debate" that Silverman promised "[T]here are going to be real actions that will be taken post-GA from this." Uh huh. Even a mass walk of participants (really a "small mass" -- not 3,000 but, maybe, 1,000 or 1,200) from Safra Square to the Kotel in what CEO Jerry said "...is a show of Jewish unity to underscore the centrality of Jerusalem and that there is a place for all Jews at the Kotel." And, yet there weren't enough North American Jews to make any real impact.

It's so difficult to actually envision a GA at which debate takes place after years of enforced silence. When in the 70s the so-called "Young Turks" rebelled seeking (and obtaining) seats at the table, or when the GA was the place where the decision was made to stage the great Rally for Soviet Jewry, we had GAs of substance and debate, dialogue and decision. But that was then and this is now...and has been "now" for too long.

To Jerry Silverman it appears that saying "the right thing" is enough. In his mind, saying it is doing it. And that's the sad truth. As one commentator once observed, this is like "A loud noise at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other." He was, of course, writing about babies.

Seriously, while your organization hits the rocks and is sinking, what does it say about your CEO who dabbles in the folly that is Festivus for a third time; who at a critical time for JFNA promises young leaders that if they get 25 people to go on a Mission, he'll join them...and, then, does (you remember the Harlem Shake?); who drafts numerous white papers describing the GA as a place of debate and thought leadership while giving numerous interviews "full of sound and fury signifying nothing;" and moves his staff around like the deck chairs on the Titanic...and he is still there!!