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 ( (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?, 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?



Anonymous said...

I hope that everyone read that figure of $600,000,000 wasted on JFNA over its years and hung our heads in shame.

Anonymous said...