Thursday, February 27, 2014


In response to yesterday's Post where, in part, I lamented JFNA's silence on a number of issues, one Commentator underscored the shame of it all as follows:
  " JFNA did not launch a campaign to raise emergency funds for the Ukraine but have left it to JDC, JAFI and ORT to organize and raise the funds. As a federation professional I am aware of any number of federations that are actively raising funds for needs identified by the partners, yet there is no effort, statement, or coordination of this effort by JFNA."
This is the ultimate embarrassment, the ultimate insult to the CJF and the UJA, to those who bequeathed us the legacy of shared values and timeless principles -- our national organization and its leaders are not only silent about a set of circumstances that impact today on 300,000 of our extended family, it doesn't lift a finger to help them let alone lead the effort.

Here is what the Jewish Agency stated as it extended emergency assistance to the Jewish communities of the Ukraine:
"Since 1929, The Jewish Agency has ensured that Jews worldwide have a thriving and welcoming homeland in Israel should they choose to make Aliyah. While there is no increase in actual immigration from Ukraine, The Agency is seeing a rise in applications for eligibility. Should there be a sudden growth in Aliyah, The Jewish Agency has positioned the necessary resources for a successful absorption. At this point, the Jews of the Ukraine know that their Jewish brethren around the world stand with them and that they will not face alone whatever their future has in store." (Emphasis JAFI's)
And here is what JFNA stated: 
"________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________" (Emphasis JFNA's) 
And this silence has taken place while JFNA's lay and professional leaders have been in Israel. JFNA, making us proud.

Shame, shame, shame on us for sitting silently while letting this farce continue. While the forces of intolerance and xenophobia and worse threaten a portion of the Jewish People, our national organization sits on the sidelines playing with its "Signature Initiatives," with the inanity that is TribeFest, hiding its head in the sand once again.

Shame, shame, shame on us.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014


This Post's title was either stated by CEO Jerry or was sent to me by a well-known aficionado of tweets. In either case, it struck me as the opinion of the same person who uttered those immortal words to live by: "see no evil, hear no evil..and you can lead JFNA." At JFNA down is up and black is white...and woe is us. But, then again, JFNA continues to be about itself, and the Co-Chairs, who are approaching the halfway mark of their terms have either been disinterested or unable to right this sinking ship...or, worse, they may believe, as does their CEO, that, things are just fine. 

Examples abound:
  • Start with The Network. Coopted by JFNA leaders with promises from Kathy Manning of greater engagement and increased integration into JFNA, The Network Board was then divested of all powers and its exec terminated with a resultant alienation of the best of a most generous leadership of our 300 non-federated small communities around America. How is The Network doing? Well, under Network Chairs like Dick Spiegel and Joel Alperson, The Network raised as I recall $10,000,000 in the early years of JFNA (JFNA, we've learned, now claims those numbers -- its own numbers -- were "inflated."). Immediately prior to the Manning "defenstration" of The Network it raised in excess of $7.5 million for the aggregate Annual Campaign; one year later I have been told by those within JFNA that it raised almost $2,000,000 less...that would be a reduction of over 25%. Who could believe that this could happen? How's that for JFNA FRD? (We'll write more about this soon.)
  • The JFNA and Campaign. To her credit, Development Chair Linda Adler Hurwitz has organized a "Development Cabinet" that includes "over 40 Communities." And she and her new lead professional have sent out a list of "recommendations to maximize fund raising." Of course, if you read the two pages and implement every single recommendation, your community's FRD won't, in fact, be "maximized." Most of these recommendations are, what I would characterize as "toilet training fund raising" and the rest are old wine in old bottles. But, hey, you have to start somewhere.
  • Then there is the Dues Budget. Many of you will recall that JFNA committed itself to raise $1.5 million to reach its total 2014 Budget goal. How's that coming; has JFNA sold itself to Foundations and promised them programming that might not otherwise be on its agenda to try and reach that goal? Is that the JFNA version of "fund raising" and is it acceptable practice -- that funding Foundations (doing wonderful work, of course) are setting the system's priorities and the GA Agenda? Sort of an institutional "pay to play?" And Dues? How many federations have told JFNA that they can or will no longer pay the Dues imposed upon them? How many have expressed a sense of taxation without representation that they will no longer tolerate?
  • And what about The Alliance? After another Strategic Plan and new lay leadership, one might have expected more than a reduced allocations pool, federations withdrawing from membership and at least two, for the moment, allocated national agencies out of business as at year-end 2013. JFNA has taken its usual position: "What's The Alliance?" Instead of National Agencies having their agendas validated and Alliance member federations being the National Agencies' advocates, these valued Agencies have to devote more time and resources to their own FRD efforts that should be devoted to their core purposes (or, in the case of JCPA, to its CEO publicly advocating for support for Kerry's "peace" proposals) . And, JFNA -- "What's the Alliance?" And, this week, Joe Kanfer, who as JFNA Chair presided over the decline of The Alliance, joined his daughter in a thoughtful ejewishphilanthropy piece discussing the "need" for umbrella Agencies. Hmmm, where was that discussion during Joe Kanfer's seemingly never-ending terms at JFNA?
  • Silence. Where is JFNA's voice on any issue? The peace process, the constant drumbeat of anti-Israel slanting in its news stories and op-ed pages by The New York Times, restitution for Holocaust Survivors and their direct heirs most in need, the implications of the dire circumstances in the Ukraine on the Jewish community there -- on any vital issue all we hear is...nothing. Certainly there are issues of such complexity that a member organization cannot frame a public position, but there are also those on which there is a common view with broad support; but, still, JFNA has no voice. While in Israel this week, Chair Siegal (in a Memo that accompanied a letter [what else?] to the Prime Minister signed, in a most bizarre and ignorant way, by Siegal, Silverman and Becky Caspi [?] but not by the JFNA Co-Chair, Dede Feinberg) discussed a progressive Knesset Bill "to change the conversion process" in Israel but fretted the potential negative consequences.
  • Who Will the Apologist Be Now? Joe Berkofsky, longtime JFNA "explainer-in-chief" has left the organization after a decade of having to explain the often inexplicable. He joins PuderPR as CEO. Good luck, Joe.
JFNA could matter; it could make a difference; it could stand for something; it could raise money -- but that would require leadership for starters.


P.S. The following is an example of JFNA's courageous voice: -- you really have to read it ro believe it.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


1. If I were one of those asked to interview for the CEO position in a "Vibrant Jewish Community," I would ask the Search Firm rep if he/she knows what the ratio is between that vibrant place's operating budget and annual campaign results. Then I would ask if he/she would like to modify that community's description to "in a deep hole?"

2. Speaking of "in a deep hole," I expect that the next "invitation" to attend the Festivus will read something like this: "Join us for the most important event on the Jewish calendar. If you Register today, it's free. Plus, we'll pay for your hotel room. So bring a friend. And, the drinks are on us, too.

3. In February 152 American Jews, of various levels of prominence, signed a petition circulated by a minor Jewish organization, urging support of the Secretary of States peace demands. The brilliant Rabbi Daniel Gordis has written a typically thoughtful response at  Knowing many of the signatories, I doubt that some of them even know what Kerry is/was proposing let alone "get" Gordis' admonition (too subtle). One thing is certain, the more thoughtful of those who signed that thing know better. As Gordis asks in his op-ed Give Peace a Chance?: "Have you read a single book by a committed Palestinian who says that just as the Palestinians have a right to a state, so too do the Jews, and it's time for Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state? Neither have I."  


Thursday, February 20, 2014


Even before Hadassah Hospital filed for bankruptcy, friends in Israel and friends here engaged with Hadassah were telling me that Hadassah "leaders" were playing a dangerous game to preserve their power while putting one of Israel's most treasured resources at risk. Imagine that -- putting a treasured institution at risk in a desperate effort to protect their positions.

As Dan Brown wrote in despair and anger in
"Hadassah WZOA is a tiny shadow of its former self. Not because of Madoff -- remember, after the legal settlement Hadassah still had a net gain of tens of millions of dollars on Madoff -- but because of gross mismanagement in the U.S. and of Hadassah Medical Organization here in Israel. Hadassah WZOA has sold off or scuttled everything. Everything. Young Judea and all its camps; their education and any programming; so many of its offices and staff; and its Israel properties -- save the hospitals. There's nothing left..."
And, in the midst of an organizational and management disaster, Hadassah's fundraising in North America continues with no disclosure of Hadassah leadership's role in the catastrophic circumstances in Israel (because it "wasn't our fault") and its leaders continue to oversee an endowment of in excess of $500,000,000. Yes, these "leaders" apparently have determined that the Hadassah endowment corpus to be used only in emergencies (or designated by donors) will not be used in a manner sufficient to save Hadassah Hospital.

Hadassah "leaders" in America and Israel have stepped forward in lockstep to defend...themselves, I guess. (For the most recent finger-pointing, see Their decisions, their actions, their negotiations, but not ours. They seem to believe that Hadassah donors will continue to fund Hadassah operations and management that have placed the organization's most important asset and most visible symbol of donor commitment at absolute risk along with the organization itself -- while they seek a Government of Israel bailout. These "leaders" apparently believe that Hadassah is "too big to fail;" that, pushed to the brink, the Government will rescue Hadassah from itself. Here is what Marcie Natan's letter to donors about the bankruptcy filing asks of Hadassah supporters:
"HWZOA’s position is clear; we will support HMO and do our part to help see it through the restructuring process. It is our expectation that HMO’s other stakeholders – the Government of Israel, the unions, the university and the hospitals creditors and suppliers will join us in that effort."
And then it asks its donors and supporters to sign a petition to the Government of Israel asking for that bailout. Nowhere...nowhere...does Ms. Natan or Hadasssah explain let alone take responsibility for the circumstances that have led Hadassah to the doors of Israeli bankruptcy. Instead, in its letter to its "members" Ms. Natan asserts:
"And like that crisis that faced America’s car companies, the financial challenges confronting HMO have no single root cause. Rather, this crisis is the result of dynamics that have been building for years including unsustainably low reimbursement rates for services; unaffordable union contracts; and unrealistic commitments to the university who trains their students and conducts research at HMO facilities."
And two weeks ago The New York Jewish Week published its article "Hadassah Says Administrators Overspent" -- yep, these "leaders" "blamed the mounting debt on administrators who were not forthcoming." Uh huh, sure.

Yep, not our fault -- theirs, theirs and theirs. This finger-pointing is characteristic of other organizations which are sliding toward disaster. 
There are so many reasons Jewish organizations fail. Hadassah is not unique -- where the lay leaders are in such thrall of the professional leaders, the chances for irresponsible actions multiply exponentially. Yes, mutual respect is critical, but obeisance is not. The lay-professional partnership is vital to Jewish organizational success...but that presumes that leaders know that their roles have limits set by the fiduciary responsibilities imposed upon both lay and pro.

So, what is required here? A few thoughts:

  • A constructive trust must be imposed on the Hadassah endowment so that responsible parties will be in charge not those who have placed Hadassah in this crisis (oh, I forgot, not their fault);
  • The Officers of Hadassah should resign en masse and be succeeded by those whose vision is not impaired by their attachment to the failures of the present and recent past;
  • The chief professional officer, who has led the organization during this disaster, must go; and
  • New leadership must take responsibility for the organization's survival.
The scariest quote in Steve Ain's article in The New York Jewish Week  on the subject is the assertion by Hadassah President Natan:" We will continue to be the majority on the Board (of the Hospital) I anticipate that in the end the hospital will come out of this...stronger for having reigned in excesses."

To continue down the disastrous path the current leadership has taken Hadassah would doom this historic charity to the scrap heap. What a shame that would be.


Monday, February 17, 2014


1. What Jewish organization, held in high regard, maintains two doors to its office suite -- one for one of its highest ranking pros, the other for the other of its highest ranking professionals (!)? If you enter the "wrong" door, you find a receptionist who sends you to the other door? Oh, and there are two receptionists, one for each. Sitting practically next to each other. 

2. The Philadelphia federation hired a new CEO (boy is she in for a set of challenges) using the esteemed Darrell Friedman to run its search. The hire was ignored by JFNA no announcement, no bells and whistles -- don't use Mandel, don't expect our promoting the results of your search. The new CEO also had some FRD and Federation experience in her background, albeit not much -- maybe JFNA objected to the new hire for those reasons.

3. CEO Jerry.

4. You know, I have made a lot of fun at the expense of what has come to be known as the Festivus. But, really, who would have thought that JFNA itself, the progenitor of the Fests, those who really believe it means something, could bring such shame upon itself. And it keeps doing so, again and again, and again. Why, this month alone, in its latest "promotion" of the unpromotionable, it beckoned its prospective attendees with this: "Want to hear megillah and celebrate Purim in style? Come to our Black and White Purim Ball (ahem, open bar)."  (Emphasis added) I mean, really, you want to bring shame to our national organization, keep up this kind of drivel.

Reflecting on this subject, one Commentator sent us a "reminder:"
"Zeek wrote this two years ago and is certainly correct that our leadership is stunned and off balance: "They cannot, in good conscience, believe that TribeFest—essentially a spring-break style fest of Jewish partying with content elements thrown in—is a worthy goal in and of itself, or that it represents or conveys the purpose of Jewish youth leadership going forward. After all, the leaders supporting TribeFest are among those who worked to support the Jewish State through thick and thin, who struggled to bring succor and welfare to millions of immigrants and war refugees during the twentieth century, and then partnered to fight for Soviet Jewry, and now raise resources to give our elderly dignity as our population ages. To think that they are declaring our crowning achievements to be a grand weekend of young people in Vegas (i.e., once upon a time, our community mobilized to drain swamps in the Galilee; in 2012 we successfully drained margaritas at the Bellagio.) would be to make a mockery of who they are and who came before them." (" 
5. Just when you think this Festivus thing can get no worse, JFNA sends another promotion, so revolting I thought of reprinting the whole thing here. (If you must, you can find it at But let me summarize: you register for $300, you can "send a friend for free" and, if you do, you get to go to the "Purim Party" for free. And here is how this is presented: "You get to share the experience with your friend, that’s awesome! And to show our thanks, we’ll get you into the Purim party on Saturday night for free. (Open bar. Hot Jews. This is a no-brainer.)" Their words, not mine.

Let me repeat: "THIS IS A NO-BRAINER." 'nuff said.

Jewish humor, indeed. Jewish tragedy in reality.


Friday, February 14, 2014


  • During the week of January 12, a Southwest Air flight bound for Branson, Mo landed nine miles away from the Branson airport, on a small inadequate runway. No one yet knows why. For reasons perhaps known only to me, I see this episode as but a metaphor for JFNA -- flying aimlessly, never knowing where it should land. At least the Southwest pilots were suspended; at JFNA there are never consequences; just waste.
  • A recent Commentator remembered: "A bit of history that may be titled, "here we go again?": In the early years of Birthright a letter (open to varied interpretations) was sent by the first CEO of UJC indicating Federation support for the initiative. Whether it, and dollar amounts discussed, was a commitment or simply broadly aspirational, was the stuff of much dispute and ill will between all the erstwhile partners. Even once a new partnership formula was developed and appropriately processed and approved the bad taste and mistrust remained. The point here being that national organizations should never make representations, particularly financial ones, from the top down unless they have meticulously vetted support at the grass roots. One can only hope that the lesson has been learned or internalized by the few who remain engaged from that earlier period. Sadly I fear we are system with either little memory or a selective one at best." Promises made; promises broken. That's us. And, now, J-Quest and The Children Zone and, even, something...something...on civil marriage in Israel. Let's create more false expectations to follow everything from Operation Promise to the Ethiopian National Project to Completing the Journey and everything in-between. We're in the promise business -- except we don't keep any.
  • Speaking of J-Quest...this brand awakened some memories. I checked my files and, sure enough, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, back in the 90s, had not only created a Teen Israel Experience program titled "Israel Quest" but had trademarked it (as I recall, the same Federation had trademarked "UJA" and "United Jewish Appeal"). Who chaired the D.C. Planning area back then? David Butler...yes, the same David Butler who effusively praised the SVP of Marketing for coming up with J-Quest!! It's a small, small world isn't it; filled with small ideas.
  • Is it really impossible to gain a professional leader of excellence and experience for JFNA? I don't think so, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. At the time of the merger, so long ago, when hopes were high, it was only the then lay leadership's bias against sitting federation executives that stood in the way of hiring one of two of the best and brightest in our system. And, at the end of the day, New York's lay leaders' insistence (along with the demands of the Large City Executives) resulted in the hiring of the first CEO -- a disaster. That led to the engagement of Steve Hoffman who brought his real energy and insights to his professional role (and overwhelmed any number of lay leaders in the process) for the two-and-one-half years that he was there. JFNA was on the rise when Steve left it in the hands of the almost-retired Pittsburgh CEO, who frequently bragged about flunking out of at least one college, on his way to the professional and personal pinnacle, and, then, proved why -- sadly, his was a regime that was more about vendettas and bad judgment than victories and organizational growth. Then, at the the demand of the immediate past Board Chair, there was the "out of the box" disastrous . hire of the current CEO on a long-term contract at ridiculous cost. Watching JFNA under these leaders has been like watching a David Lynch movie -- beyond comprehension. Yet, against all of this history, clearly there are men and women of excellence who could turn this Flying Dutchman of a ship around; men and women who know and love our system, who are of our system and also understand the kind of transformational change that would preserve the core values and timeless principles on which the best of our system has been built. It's just a matter of reaching out to them.
  • Can you believe that one week before the January meeting of the Global Planning Table last month, unless you were among the most special, the most special, you had never seen a draft of another of the many consultant documents that would be the subject of that meeting...or, for that matter, knew what the content would be? As this same consultant had the exact same delivery "schedule" and modus operandi when she consulted with the Jewish Agency and the then UJC, why should anyone be surprised. I have written before about the GPT "tail" wagging the JFNA "dog;" now it's the consultant wagging the "tail" of the tail. Great work, great transparency and great oversight.
  • Two things JFNA will never run out of: hyperbole and cliches. The most recent overstatement concerns, what else, the Festivus. Here's the latest (and I am not making this up): "With so much excitement, some people even call it the Jewish Super Bowl." Uh huh; sure they do. Let me help -- for the next teaser: "Bigger than the parting of the Red Sea." And, the next: "Bigger than the birth of the State of Israel." I mean, it's really, really, really big. Or, not so much.
  • Speaking of the Fest disaster, it seems clear that the $1 million Budget (which appears to be in dire need of adult supervision) for the thing not only permits professionals to come up with the hyperbolic "reasons for coming" like that above but also this "Flight Alert":

    #TribeFest #FlightAlert: SFO - MSY from $347 on @flyfrontier via @KAYAK Register & book flights today. @JFEDeastbay
    Original Tweet:
    Yes, the pros at JFNA apparently have so little to do, they are out checking flight schedules to get you to New Orleans. (Maybe JFNA will pay for your flights if you plead hard enough.) There is no limit to the desperation at play here. Don't miss it if you can.
  • Let's finish on some positive thoughts: As always, I am so proud of my community. In 2013 the Annual Campaign in Chicago raised in excess of $81.5 million, an increase of $2.2 million over 2012. This remarkable achievement was built upon not only a history of communal and individual commitment, but incredibly hard professional work led by the indefatigable Steve Nasatir, and FRD Director Rachel Sternberg, a great lay Chair, Michael Zaransky, and his lay team. This is truly inspirational stuff.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Last month one of our Commentators noted that the 2014 General Assembly will be held in a Hotel far from the locations in Washington, D.C. that attract tourists and conventions. So I checked. And, it's even more ridiculous than I had first thought; In fact, it's unbelievable.

The GA will be held at The Gaylord Washington. If that name sounds familiar, think back to The Gaylord Opryland -- where some Nashville GA participants are still looking for their rooms. The Gaylord Washington isn't even in Washington, D.C. It's in something called National Harbor, Md. It's south of Alexandria, Virginia. It looks like a nice facility, relatively new and 20 miles from The Capital Hilton -- once a favored CJF venue for Quarterly meetings for those who remember them -- offered just for perspective.

Now I never liked the Marriott Washington Wardman Park for a lot of reasons but it was in Washington D.C. for G-d's sake. The Gaylord Washington is so far from Washington, D.C., it appears that you can't even see it from there. (I noticed on its website that one of the photos shows a room with a telescope!!)

I can hear the internal JFNA conversation now: "We're gonna have the GA at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel." "Sounds great." "Yeah, and they'll give us a real deal at a brand new Gaylord for a Washington GA -- a 'two-fer.'" "That's great. Maybe we can have the Gelmans Chair it; they haven;t chaired one for a while." "Has anyone here talked to any of our leaders in D.C. about this place?" "Yeah, no one has ever heard of it; they say it isn't close to anything." "Screw them, book it." 

So, why, you might ask, has what was once our "most important meeting of the year" been shuffled off to a convention facility, no matter how nice and relatively new, that is so distant from the sites that draw us to D.C. that there is no value to other than insiders who only like to play GA with themselves anyway? Is the GA now about JFNA and nothing else like so much of JFNA itself? Will the wonderful corps of Washington D.C. volunteers be able and willing to get there for three or four days?

(One reminiscence from the 2007 GA in the Opryland Hotel. As I was leaving the Hotel for the airport, I saw Isaac "Buji" Herzog sitting in the lobby alone. I went over to say hello. Asked him if I could help him in any way. "Yes, Richard," he answered, "can you help me find my room?")

And, so the gang that couldn't shoot straight has done it again. They just can't help themselves.


Saturday, February 8, 2014


Whenever a senior professional leaves his or her position suddenly (unless by death, G-d forbid), the immediate speculation is that the departure was not of the professional's choosing; and, often, the speculation is wrong. The Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund of Greater San Francisco (or whatever it's called) offers a recent example.

For over a decade that community had lacked stability in the office of its chief professional leader. Ever since Sam Salkin, an excellent professional leader, left the CEO position in the early 2000s, San Francisco ran a revolving door in its executive suite, with the brilliant endowment guru, Phyllis Cook, periodically (but with some regularity) stepping into an interim CEO role; Tom Dine after a successful career leading Aipac, lasted a little over one year in San Francisco, followed by Daniel Sokatch, who saw greener pastures at the New Israel Fund, after, as I recall, less than 12 months.  After a lengthy search the community turned to Jennifer Gorovitz.

Gorovitz was the first woman to professionally lead a Large City Federation when she took that position in San Francisco 2010 (after a brief period as Interim CEO); promoted from the Endowment Fund. From her public bio and her retirement statements, she was quite proud of that fact alone. If nothing else, she brought needed stability to a position that cried out for exactly that. 

This Federation's Annual Campaign has remained far below its potential for years. The Annual Campaign numbers -- both dollars and donors -- continues to wallow in mediocrity. This appeared to be related to both an historic emphasis on the Endowment -- the corpus of which grew from wonderful Jewish donors while the distributions when I last looked were over 70% to secular causes -- paired with an Annual Campaign built on designated giving. (One of the CEOs walked me back to The Four Seasons Hotel one night after we had dinner together and discussed the Jewish World. As we stood on Market Street, he told me that "a number of our donors and Board Members live in the residences here." "They should be a great base for your campaign," I noted. "They're not," he said with a shrug. Enough said.)

There were few indications before her abrupt retirement that Jennifer had tired of the challenges of leading a community through change, in particular one of historic underachievement compared with communal capacity, even though she was so transparently underpaid. At the top of the community organization chart, she had hired a new COO, a new Chief Development Officer and a new CFO, all within the last two years, all superb professionals, offering the community the promise of a better future. And, now, out of the blue, she will leave that senior staff hanging out to dry while she eagerly returns to the "excitement" of a trusts and estates law practice?? While the move makes no sense in the context of the sacred work which Jennifer led in greater San Francisco, it happened, and the reasons are hers and her lay leadership. 

Jennifer Gorovitz was the lowest paid of all of the Large City Executives. Her compensation was insultingly low even in comparison to what she will earn, for example, as an experienced trusts and estates lawyer. It may be that after five years of dealing with her lay leadership, who had to be aware of how shockingly inadequate, on a comparative and absolute basis, was her annual pay, Gorovitz had had enough given the 24/7 of the challenges and responsibilities Jennifer confronted. Certainly no one at JFNA would have thought to mentor San Francisco's lay leaders in the meaning of the lay-professional partnership; was anyone at JFNA even privy to any issues that might have predicted this result? OK, it would probably have made no difference.

At the end of the day, Jennifer Gorovitz made a strictly personal decision. We may never learn the reasons for it but we respect it for it is as difficult to say I am stepping away as it is to accept the responsibility in the first place, maybe harder. But an Anonymous Comment on these pages this week should make all of us reflect on a system gone terribly wrong:
"The disrespect for federation professionals is rampant. It's not, on the whole, a disrespect manifested via mean or discourteous behavior (although it is implicitly discourteous). Lay "leaders" think they can do all federation jobs, from CEO to marketing director and beyond. Professionals are glorified clerks and messengers, checking in, getting approvals on various operational items like invitations, colors and name tags, navigating egos, styles and personalities.
 Micromanagement is widespread and paralyzing. Individual federations and the system as an entirety are unable to focus on identifying doable priorities and apply sustained effort to achieve priority objectives. Lay "leaders" from board members to various committee members fail to restrain themselves. The ensuing cacophony of voices is shrill, unfocused, contradictory and distracting noise that simply adds to the already significant challenges facing an American Jewish community in the midst of significant changes.
 Actually all the noise prevents addressing with real focus and energy the real challenges we face. Professionals who've been around (and aren't the Big Shots you mention) rapidly conclude there's no way out and certainly no reward for thoughtfully bold and focused decisions. Too many meetings, too many people (and seemingly never enough) needed for the elusive and actionable "buy in." 
Should federations hire from within? Not necessarily. But at the same time, the trend toward outside hires is a strong indication that something is wrong.
 Federations need governance and the strategic direction and overall (and CEO) evaluation that along with fiduciary oversight are fundamental responsibilities of a governing board.
But they should stick to their job. In fact, if they got the strategic part right maybe our federations and the entire system wouldn't be so adrift right now. There are many necessary roles to play. We need to define and respect the roles, lay and professional, played and let lay and pros play their role without interference and excessive process."
These conclusions may not be true of every place, of every community. But it's out there, isn't it. It's all so very sad. It's gone so very badly.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014


So, where are we? Nowhere, actually. At 25 Broadway each day is like every other.

Here is some of what one Commentator wrote six years ago:
"Like Mr. Wexler I have worked with many fine professional who have spent the bulk of their careers in Jewish communal work and have also come across some fine people who came mid career from a business or volunteer background. The success of the latter individuals is dependent on them internalizing the very real, specific, and unique skill set we all require of our pro's: managing process and the respective lay and professional roles; understanding the culture and idiosyncrasies of Jewish organizations; knowing how to effectively focus their personal talents in these unique settings and not least of all seeing our Federation enterprise in the context of a long and complex history. This calls for a "professional" and not some bright committed person who wakes up one morning and says (To paraphase Orson Well's character John Foster Kane) "I think it would be fun to run a Federation". Look at the track record of the transplants Mr. Wexler and you would see that acting on such a whim can in too many cases, but as I understand it not all, be an uphill climb."
No longer do we look for that "unique skill set;" instead, like Monty Python, we see our federations and JFNA looking for "something completely different" never understanding the reality that there have been no successes to which a federations or Mandel or JFNA can point of hiring from a pool of neophytes -- those with no federation background or experience for the position of CEO. So much is beyond these new hires' comprehension -- starting with the values that we treasured, values too often unknown to those who come in from the cold and, now, into many places, values unknown to the lay leaders who are doing the hiring. What was once "trendy" -- hiring those with no professional background in Jewish communal life, has now become, as ejewishphilanthropy described it, a "tsunami" extending coast-to-coast, from sea to shining sea, including the New York UJA-Federation and, of course, JFNA.

Our values have been lost in the process of the "new and different." Take, if you will, the values we learned through a series of Mission experiences that meant so much to us in the growth of our Jewish experiences. As one terrific national leader recently lamented:

"There's not one of us who can't point to one moment on one mission that was a turning point in his or her life.  Now?  We're lucky if we can live via memory and/or remote control.  As a devotee of ... missions ... it just makes me sad.  Institutional neglect has reduced 'cutting edge' to 'public self-abuse.'"

JFNA in its ignorance now promotes the "virtual" Mission experience -- which, in reality, is not a Mission experience at all, more like watching someone's video of their trip.

We are well on our way to making of federations -- once the central planning body of the Jewish community and our link to the Jewish world beyond the borders of each community through our collective action -- nothing more than "just another charity." The defenestration of the professional "movement" continues without even hearing a word of protest from the professional leaders who built this system. Just think, in less than a generation we have willingly permitted the destruction of that which we and our forefathers built. And hardly a voice is heard in protest. 

As one respected professional wrote me last week: "Richard: You continue to call it like it is. Eric Goldstein’s appointment blows my mind. The new movement to hire CEO’s from out of the field is a real shanda for those of us that have toiled in the field of Jewish communal Service for many years. The reason that AJCOP merged with JCSA a few years ago after 40 years was because many of the professionals who came in from outside the field thought it wasn’t necessary to financially support a Professional Association. It is really sad day for the field that I have worked and loved since 1964." Friends, with every hope that Eric Goldstein will be the brilliant CEO that New York-UJA expects, this is a sad time for everyone.

For those responsible, or irresponsible, look at yourselves in the mirror. Instead of perpetuating Community, we perpetuate self -- what's my next position, with whom do I have to curry favor to achieve my personal goals? Who must be ostracized because they might speak out? And, if the collateral damage of these personal quests is the destruction of community and collective, so be it. 

We are on the cusp of being no more.


Sunday, February 2, 2014


Clearly, the biggest story of the last few weeks has not been the GPT, or the upcoming TribeFestivus 3, or the JFNA Board Retreat But, instead, it has been the hiring of a fine, bright 54 year old Modern Orthodox lawyer, philanthropist and communal lay leader, Eric "Ricky" Goldstein as New York UJA-Federation's new CEO, succeeding John Ruskay. While I know of no media story about this decision that didn't wish Eric Goldstein well in this critical position, the defensive posture of New York's leaders to even the discussion of this hire in the context of the Jewish communal profession, was enlightening, if not surprising.

The New York response endorsed on the pages of The Jewish Week and The Forward ( I think can be boiled down to this: "it's no one's business but ours; we hired the best person for the position, the best person for NY." And, the implicit addendum: "If it's bad for the Jewish communal professionals, let them eat cake" or something like that. (If I am misinterpreting the New York response, someone will surely let me know.) And, this is New York leadership's right, of course, as it would be for any federation. But I, like many of you, would like to know that the implications for the communal system of the hire of an "outsider/insider" as opposed to promoting one of UJA-NY's brilliant senior professionals or even engaging a senior professional from outside New York City were considered, debated and rejected.

But New York-UJA's leaders owe us no explanation whatsoever; and we aren't going to get one. Ricky (I don't know why but that sobriquet, nickname or nom de plume eludes me) will be judged by his success, by the achievement of the goals he has articulated and the goals established by his lay leadership. The concerns expressed by me and others, including those who commented on the relevant Posts of this Blog, have been with the impact of the New York and, before, so many other similar federation search results on the Jewish communal service profession -- what ejewishphilanthropy correctly identified as a "tsunami." (Quotes from the ejp analysis appearing in JTA, were censored in later editions of that story excising the impact on the profession, at the demand of whom exactly?) The best and most successful Large City federation chief professional leaders in and of our federations today were all -- each and every one of them -- professionals from within our system. Nasatir, Hoffman, Terrell, Shrage, Ruskay, Solomon, Kleinman, Kaufman and many, many more. At smaller but very important federations, I have to come to know so many more who view their profession and the work to which they have dedicated their lives as sacred. But, the more are becoming fewer and fewer still. And when a Ruskay signals that continuing the "tsunami" in New York City is just fine, the profession trends toward further diminution, even irrelevance.

And, if this deconstruction is an issue, where is the debate? And who will or can lead it? Certainly not JFNA whose CEO was hired as a direct result of the desire to go "outside the box" for the professional leadership that JFNA isn't getting today...and where the decision to hire Jerry -- not Jerry per se, but Jerry as one from "outside" the federation system --  was never debated by any leadership group (as that would have breached the requisite "confidentiality" of the Search "process" -- see, you can only "trust" the Search Committee [or more likely some "special" subgroup thereof] to maintain that Confidentiality). And, because there has been ("can't be") no debate, the "system," if there still is one, has gone along to get along with every hiring decision made by a small leadership group in every community regardless of size. 

As we have pointed out, there is not one example as yet of communal success in a federated community which has chosen as a new Chief Executive Officer one with no prior real experience as a communal professional. May Eric Goldstein and New York UJA-Federation be the first.