Friday, January 3, 2014


“Show me somebody who is always smiling, always cheerful, always optimistic, and I will show you somebody who hasn't the faintest idea what the heck is really going on.” 
― Mike Royko
Back in the day, each year Esquire Magazine would offer a Year in Review section that would feature, on multiple pages, a picture of Richard Nixon with the caption "why is this man smiling?" It was a rhetorical question. You would be smiling too if you were paid close to $700,000 a year and producing...well, almost nothing...not Nixon, CEO Jerry.

Michael Wilbon, the former Washington Post columnist, ESPN commentator and analyst, described recent coaching decisions by the Detroit Lions head coach as evidencing "a real dose of stupid every week." And, seemingly, that's the case at JFNA as well as with those Lions.

A couple of odious comparisons seem in order:
  1. Back in the day UJA was led professionally by Rabbi Brian Lurie. Brian was and is a leader of incredible charisma and as UJA's CEO, he was a constant font of ideas that flowed from him like water from a river. The ideas were expressed at the UJA Campaign Executive -- monthly, a most exciting place to be for those of us privileged to participate. Some of those ideas were incredible -- new FRD approaches, Partnership 2000, the Exodus Campaign. Others were, frankly, not worthy of comment -- but, they funneled through an Executive Committee where we debated and discussed. They either were rejected or emerged filtered through the experience and wisdom of everyone in the room -- from our patriarch, Max Fisher, z'l, to a pisher like me. And, the great ideas emerged ultimately from a process and elevated our system. There was excitement at every meeting; Brian was filled with passion, enthusiasm and creativity.        Then there's today, where an idea like a $1 billion campaign for a "free pre-school education for all" is thrown out there by the JFNA CEO with no filter, quickly rejected by Jewish pre-school educators, who had not been consulted, as both inadequate (with 540,000 eligible Jewish children and a cost ranging between $6,000 and $12,000, you do the math) and unresponsive to the real needs. Today, to use the words of a brilliant analyst in another field, our organization takes close to $650,000,000 of our donors'  money and "sprays cockeyed notions  like a showerhead in a spa." (Yep #ish, Heroes, TribeFests, and $1 Billion campaigns to nowhere.)
  2. Or consider this: at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago's Annual Meeting, our CEO, the brilliant Steve Nasatir, presents the "State of the Federation" -- our work, our achievements, our challenges in the past year and going forward. Steve does so (as do so many of his colleagues in federations large and small across the Continent) because he can, because he has led our community to those achievements and because he understands the challenges we face and the opportunities those challenges create. Compare those annual addresses to the narishkeit of the JFNA CEO's annual GA speeches filled with pandering and jargon and cliche.
Friends, these are comparisons between fact and fiction, between real leadership and the ersatz brand we have today. It's just two examples of why JFNA is what it is today. Can our leaders not see? Of course they can. Can our leaders not act? Of course they can. 

What's stopping them?

And, "why is this man smiling?" Wouldn't you?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

He's "smiling"because nowhere but in an organization like this could someone with his track record earn even half as much.