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.


Anonymous said...

A quick google search will inform your readers that Israel Quest continues to this day as an endowed program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

Anonymous said...

See, a great Brand can withstand the test of time...and be replicated as if it were new. Maybe Butler "just forgot."

Anonymous said...

If "Israel Quest" continues at theD.C. Federation, perhaps UJA and United Jewish Appeal do as well inasmuch as they copywrote those "brands" as well. Or, perhaps, maybe they just wanted to sell all these brands as a fund raising opportunity.