Monday, March 31, 2014


Let's take a refreshing break from the woes of JFNA.

A recent article in Time was titled "Can He Write a New L.A. Story?" (March 31, 2014), and featured the new Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti. For our purposes that story could just as easily featured a photo of Jay Sanderson, L.A.'s CEO and framed the identical question about that City's Jewish community. I recently visited Los Angeles and what I found was the emergence of the L.A. Federation as the communal central address. And was I surprised for the good.

Why the surprise? My visits to the Los Angeles federation date back over four decades. Even before the first visit, when I would commute to our Loop offices with my dear friend, Joel Shinsky, z'l, Chicago's Campaign Director, I would look at the UJA communal campaign stats and complain: "Look at LA's campaign, Joel, they are eating our lunch." "Patience, Richard," Joel would respond, "wait until year-end and let's compare." And, sure enough, by year-end, year-after-year-after year, the Los Angeles campaign was in the crapper. By the 90's, UJA had to send in its CFO to review the Los Angeles financials, so far behind had the community fallen in paying its annual allocations. I followed, negotiating an allocations payment plan with the community that was honored in the breach. And, I followed periodically with meetings to discuss overseas allocations -- which had dwindled to almost nothing. In the 80s, I had worked with communal leadership to assure that its now historic partnership with Tel Aviv was "approved" by a recalcitrant JAFI (which had been pushing communities to partner only in the Israel periphery) and in the mid-90s Los Angeles' lay and professional leaders called me in on an emergency basis to explain to the federation's leaders the work the national system had undertaken in response to the flare-up of the "Who Is A Jew?" issue in Israel. Over time I developed a great respect and affection for a succession of the community's lay and professional leaders but I watched them struggle to gain any traction in campaign, in allocations, in executing their myriad plans even with a history oof great lay and influential lay leadership.

And, then the community chose Jay Sanderson as its CEO some 4+ years ago. While Jay had led the Jewish Television Network for years, I had my doubts as to whether his experience and success there could translate into communal success. And, when I first met Jay shortly after he was seated in the CEO Chair, I admit to surprise at Jay's articulation of strong opinions about the Jewish Agency, the Joint, the community and about JFNA. Little did I realize what a quick learner Sanderson was, how much he knew or the reach of his contacts through-out not just the Jewish but the general community. And is he ever leading Los Angeles. He is proof that strong, visionary professional leadership can effect transformational change, not just talk about it.

The Annual Campaign of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has emerged from years of flat or negative to have grown by 7% over the last year and is growing again. The number of donors in a community characterized by a lack of affiliation is growing in percentages greater than any other Large City. Best, the LA Annual Campaign is centered on the Jewish values and timeless principles that have been at the center of the best campaigns in the country. When Sanderson first took the helm of the L.A. Federation he discovered a $6 million dollar deficit, one that he confronted in part by bringing on board as CFO a work-out specialist. The Federation's Young Leadership programs are the envy of most federations around the Continent. 

And Jay has jumped in to serve JFNA. He, like Nasatir, Hoffman and Ruskay, has been one of Jerry Silverman's "go to" professional leaders. This year Jay is the leader of the LCE. Jay doesn't appear to tolerate fools, his influence will be felt continentally and internationally.

From my first meeting with Jay to the last one just days ago, I appreciated his sense of humor, his sarcasm, his candor. I even appreciated his willingness to meet with someone who had been critical (and who met with me against the advice of "friends" of mine who cautioned him that such a meeting would be at best "a waste of his time.") But Jay knew he had a great story to tell and he tells it so well. But it is a story supported by facts, by data, by growth unheard of in my decades of visiting the community. I congratulate Jay Sanderson and his lay and professional leadership.

In that Time hagiography about Mayor Eric Garcetti, coincidentally a long-time Sanderson friend who will co-officiate a communal Seder at the Federation, the Mayor said: "L.A. has never been afraid to reinvent itself and we have to do that at this moment." Jay Sanderson might have said those very words about the JFGLA -- he has certainly lived them. And there are still mountains to climb.


Friday, March 28, 2014


             "There's No Success Like Failure; and Failure's No Success at All"
                                        Bob Dylan

Enough "insiders" have hinted to me that Jerry Silverman has been (or soon will be) given a contract extension that I have to believe it's true. The reasons are no doubt far more complex than "there's no one out there other than Jerry who would take this job;" but that's the sole reason that has been articulated. This extension if true is the ultimate abdication of lay leadership responsibility; for certainly this Board Chair knows that this decision is not in the best interests of JFNA, not in the best interests of the federations and not in the best interests of the Jewish People. As our friend Daniel Gordis recently wrote (in a far more sobering context): "Masks and pretense were for Purim, but Purim is behind us." I, like you, want a CEO who is filled with Big Ideas and the management skills necessary to the office -- instead we have...

As you regular readers know full well, it was not difficult to predict almost 5 years ago that Jerry Silverman would struggle mightily in the role of JFNA CEO. And to say that he has struggled would be a gross understatement. Clearly, he relishes the paths down which he has taken the organization but, rather than putting an end to the professional debacle he inherited, CEO Jerry has merely continued the downward spiral unabated. Rather than a paradigm for all of the positives that one hired from outside the federation professional ranks might (emphasis on "might") bring to the this most critical role, Silverman has evidenced all that can go wrong when the person hired as the lead professional in an organization of such complexity has neither any familiarity with that complexity nor, apparently, the ability to comprehend it.

I was reminded of the values experience can bring several weeks ago by a piece on 60 Minutes Sports on Larry Brown, a proven winner as basketball coach supreme, who returned to coaching at age 73 as the Head Basketball Coach at Southern Methodist University where he resurrected a moribund college program to the level of a Top 25 team. One of his SMU players attested: "...he has been there before. I understand now that if I just listen to him, great things will happen." When Larry Brown arrived at SMU, the cupboard wasn't bare but close, SMU had been on an epic run of losing seasons...and within two years an experienced professional and a proven winner did what almost everyone thought impossible. Rooting for JFNA's success at this point isn't like rooting for SMU; it's far more like being a fan of the Chicago Cubs. It's the clash of reality vs. hopelessness. JFNA has proved over the past 8+ years to be beyond hope without new professional leadership. Year-by-year I have watched as the future of JFNA, the promise of JFNA has receded from us until there is neither future nor promise, only the failure of the present. Friends, what has emerged is a dystopian version of CJF or UJA, take your pick. It sure isn't what any of us who voted for the merger ever intended.

The current CEO was/is no Larry Brown. From interviews with many who served on the JFNA Search Committee back then, Silverman was hired because (a) he gave "a spectacular interview;" (b) the Search Committee Chair (and Chair of the Executive at the time) demanded the hire as Jerry was an "outside the box" candidate and she wanted to "break the stranglehold" that the LCE held on the position; (c) the cadre of federation executives (I think we all know who they are) offered no alternatives; and (d) there was no experienced candidate with whom to compare Silverman. Jerry's credentials -- a successful term as CEO of a small national agency, the Foundation for Jewish Camp, and a successful sales and marketing executive at Dockers. Even today I am not familiar with Jerry's educational background. All in all, these experiences that the Search Committee believed were sufficient to rationalize hiring Jerry have proved to be a flimsy foundation for someone being paid close to $700,000 a year to lead our complex organization with almost no return on an investment in him of about $3,000,000 after 4+ years. And, now, without any real hope that things will be better, without any hope that he will be better, he is granted an extension.

I don't know about you but the rationale that "no one else would take this job" just doesn't fly. Who was asked? The usual group of "best and brightest" -- Nasatir, Hoffman, the retiring Ruskay, Jay Sanderson, Jacob Solomon, Mark Terrell (some or all of whom may believe that they are already "running" JFNA without any need for accountability inasmuch as their fingerprints rarely appear)? And, among the Large Intermediate and Intermediate City CEOs are many women and men, brilliant professional leaders, schooled in all that federations of every City-size need from their Continental organization -- none considered? What about an interim CEO who has proven leadership credentials who might, for a two year period, step in on an interim basis and attempt to right the sinking ship? A Darrell Friedman, a Bob Aronson, Bobby Pearlman or a Mel Bloom? And, what about the professional leader of another organization who has demonstrated that he is at the top of his game -- Russell Robinson, David Fisher, Jeffrey Solomon? And, surely, there are women and men in addition to these. Yes, I know that these leaders may have no interest and that all may have the fatal flaw of being their own person. of not being totally beholden to or subject to the control of the LCE, but do we want an organization in which we can take pride? Or do we want a continuation of the failure that JFNA is today?

What the Co-Chairs have done is to create some greater professional depth -- the hiring of Matt Gurvis and Renee Rothstein was done at their demand, certainly not at Silverman's initiative. Yet, as many who Comment on these Posts have observed, these two fine and exciting professionals are now mismanaged by the mismanager in chief. We are all aware of the mantra we hear in every quadrennial -- "...are you better off today than you were four years ago?" If you frame that question in the context of our national organization, the question suggests its own answer: "JFNA is in a worse place by far today than it was four-plus years ago." In fact,  JFNA is in such a terrible place -- there is a Stygian gloom over 25 Broadway.

 Isn't extending Jerry's contract a statement that we're happy with the status quo? And, why would that be? When the best (only??) reason to renew the CEO's contract is that "we can't find anyone else to take the job," doesn't that tell you all you need to know about the organization in which we have invested about $650,000,000 to date?  What is required today is a professional leadership capable of "unleashing the greatness" that is within the federation system. If all we are about is the "brand" without reference to either the values or the core principles that the "brand" must be about, we will continue to fail and fail and fails.

While I say with you that we can do better; that we can be better, our leaders have determined to take the easy way out and reward failure.  Yes, in the face of constant failure and embarrassment, our leaders have decided to reward CEO Jerry with a new contract. Shame on them; and shame on us.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014


While our federations' national organization, JFNA, flounders as never before, our two overseas partners -- the Jewish Agency and the Joint -- are blessed with strong lay and professional leadership infused with the values of their organizations and dedicated to their present and future. I was reminded of this leadership growth by the election, at the JA Board meeting last month, of Cleveland's Chuck Ratner to succeed Jim Tisch as the Jewish Agency Board Chair. Both JAFI and JDC and World ORT go from strength to strength.

Let's take a look:

  • At the Jewish Agency, the growth in lay leadership has been a constant -- from Corky Goodman's terms forward through Alex Grass, z'l,  Richie Pearlstone, Carole Solomon and on to Tisch culminating now in Chuck Ratner matched from Sallai Meridor forward to the inestimable hero of the Jewish People, Natan Sharansky, there is strength and there is passion perhaps unmatched over the past 25 years at any organization. With Alan Hoffman as CEO and Misha Galperin as the head of FRD, there is a creative dynamic at the Jewish Agency that has been most evidenced by the partnership with the Government of Israel in the newest and most ambitious Initiative on Jewish Identity and Peoplehood.
  • At the Joint the leadership tandem of Alan Gill, the CEO, and Detroit's Penny Blumenstein brings knowledge, strength and passion to their positions that match perfectly with the Joint's historic vision and values. In these challenging times, Penny and Alan embody all that is great about the JDC as they join JAFI and the Israeli Government while continuing the Joint's vital work around the globe. Penny Blumenstein, as Detroit's Federation Chair learned early on the futility of attempting to work with JFNA, Alan, who before his decades of work building JDC-Israel was the CEO of the Columbus federation, has been and is a passionate spokesperson for the Joint.
  • At World ORT, my friend and mentor, Robert Singer served 14 years as Director General/CEO, after his incredible work in the rescue of our Soviet Jewish mishpacha, succeeded by the estimable Shmuel Sisso, once the respected Israel Consul General in NYC. Their American professional leaders -- Harry Nadler, Jim Lodge and Howard Feinberg -- have more direct federation leadership experience than, I would guess, the totality of the JFNA professional staff.
Lets face facts, JFNA and its GPT affiliate (or maybe its the GPT and its JFNA affiliate) are way out of their league when it comes to any attempt to manage or manipulate the Jewish Agency or Joint or both, hopefully, both together. JFNA's lay leaders are top drawer but are far out over their skis when it comes to the passion, experience and vision of a Tisch, a Ratner, a Sharansky, a Blumenstein, and at World ORT a Dr. Jean de Gunzberg. And pro to pro, it's just no contest. Alan Hoffman, Alan Gill, Misha Galperin, Shmuel Sisso and...Jerry Silverman and Becky Caspi?? It's real leadership vs. the faux variety. It's real professional leadership as opposed to...what?

What's the prognosis? The "leaders" of the Global Planning Table are desperately trying to stuff the square peg of their "Strategic Initiatives" into the round hole that is the Government of Israel/JA/World Jewry Plan. It is an almost pathetic effort to salvage something out of the GPT after four years and millions of dollars. What JFNA is truly needed for at this point is to lead the fund-raising effort for the GOI-JA-JDC Initiative; and, yet, every party to this process knows full well that JFNA is incapable of raising funds for anything, other than its own Dues. Sure, Chicago and New York, Cleveland and Baltimore, maybe LA and Miami, will come up with seed money for the Global Planning Table "Strategic Initiatives." But those Federations and their leaders will assure that the "GPT Initiatives" will be redefined to fit within the GOI-JA-JDC efforts and, if not, they will not be funded. Oh, there may be some face-saving -- "thanks to JFNA for its leadership, blah blah blah" -- but, we'll know; oh yes, we'll all know.

At points along the way toward these failures, as we have reported, Silverman, et al., predicted that "if the Global Planning Table fails, the system will be destroyed." Foolish and short-sighted leaders bought into this mantra even though it was more of the same Emperor Has No Clothes style of leadership. The reality is that the GPT was systemic quicksand, as soon as new Chairs came into office, knowing, as they did, that the Global Planning Table was nothing more than an illusion disconnected from institutional reality, a quagmire and, yet, they did nothing to stop it, they were stuck, taking JFNA deeper into the muck. Certainly the leaders of the Jewish Agency, the Joint, World ORT and in most of our funding Federations know that the Global Planning Table is sucking not just the funds out of the Partners but sucking the soul out of the system. 

And, yet, they do nothing about it.


Saturday, March 22, 2014


The "what me worry" attitude of Hadassah WZOA leadership has been blown apart in an in-depth analysis that is required reading for anyone who cares about non-profit governance. And what did Wharton discover? After the research disclosed abuses in almost every area of Hadassah Hospital's management, operations and leadership: "That begs a bigger question: Where were the whistleblowers? Where was the board of directors? Why didn’t either Hadassah headquarters in New York or the health ministry intervene?" The lack of accountability, the lack of controls and the utter disregard of Board Member responsibility was a cancer within Hadassah WZOA. And, of course,  the same questions of accountabilitycould be raised with regard to JFNA.

Look around, my friends. Hadassah WZOA has no monopoly when it comes to non-profit organization Boards disregard of their responsibilities. At one important Federation, for example, a Board Chair was heard to say that "I and our Board are delegating everything to our CEO/President." Too many JFNA Board members and officers view themselves as nothing more than cheerleaders and eager rubber stamps for a woebegone series of JFNA administrations. Unbelievable but true: when substantive questions were raised at a JFNA Budget and Finance Committee, those raising the questions were admonished by one of our system's most respected professional leaders that questions at a Committee meeting are inappropriate -- end of discussion. No further questions? Motion to approve. "Great meeting; thanks for coming." 

Worse, the JFNA lay and professional leaders have engaged in a course of conduct where the organization's budget is nothing more than an ATM from which funds can and are moved around the JFNA ouija board at apparent whim. This is an abuse of process in itself; the entire budget process is thereby corrupted. Where is the systemic accountability here?

A leader for whom I have the greatest respect just wrote a magnificent albeit absurdly pollyannaish letter to his constituency on the incredible future vision the past weeks have created in his mind for the Jewish future in the hands of among others JFNA. When I finished reading it, I felt like the woman at Katz's Deli in the great film "When Harry Met Sally." You remember, the woman had just witnessed what she believed to be Sally's epic orgasm that chewed the paint off the walls. The woman's request of the server: "I'll have whatever she had." To all the Kool-Aid drinkers: get ahold of yourselves.

And our organizations go forward down the path to their demise happily oblivious to their own destructive moves. Our JFNA Board Chair with his CEO, with neither process nor much thought, can dramatically announce out of the blue on the cusp of last year's GA that JFNA must immediately commence a $1 billion special campaign to enable a free Jewish day/pre school education. The GPT Chair announces two -- count 'em, two -- "Signature Initiatives" that could total a cost of close to $100,000,000 or more, without real committed federation financial support and almost no details. As one analyst, in another context wrote last month: "When you don't need to grapple with specifics or difficult trade-offs, writing speeches with uplifting themes is extremely easy."

Process...governance a means for thinking and then working things through. But not at our national organization, not at all. Friends, it's all so pathetic. 


Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Sadly there are too many examples of JFNA that exemplify the chaotic, ad hoc approach to program and constituency management that have resulted in disengagement, fractured relationships and a general deterioration in what were, and not long ago, shining examples of what JFNA could have been. The Young Leadership Cabinet patronized with program responsibility for TribeFest while per capita giving by Cabinet members falls to the lowest levels. And, then, there is The Network...

Several years ago the lay leaders of The Network, then the self-governed satellite of JFNA representing close to 400 non-federated communities, complained to Board Chair Kathy Manning about the disproportionate overhead support JFNA was taking from funds raised by The Network and the real taxation without representation that Network leaders experienced. Her response was both cynical and typical -- she promised this leadership that they would gain representation on the JFNA Executive Committee and that she would appoint a Committee to examine The Network's concerns. And, so she did. Manning appointed a fine young leader from Miami to Chair the effort -- with one problem: the Miamian had had no experience with or exposure to The Network. To Manning and Silverman that was important for they would be able to dictate outcomes. And, so they did.

The outcomes: The Network Board, made up of caring and committed Jews from among the 300 Network communities, was discharged and relegated to service as an "Advisory Committee;" and The Network's long-time Executive was fired (she would sue JFNA for wrongful termination). There would no longer be a Network Board to raise issues of representation or to raise issues with regard to the excessive costs being charged to The Network for JFNA overhead -- costs that far exceeded the direct costs incurred by JFNA for administering The Network. In fact, had The Network been a Federation, its charged costs would have exceeded those of most of the Large Cities (and still do). The Network now had that seat on the JFNA Executive, but at a terrible cost. Now The Network was silent; its indigenous leadership, who had contributed so much in terms of time and dollars, emasculated and alienated. And that's the way Manning and Silverman liked it.

What were the consequences? In the year prior to these unilateral and thoughtless actions (which were later presented to the JFNA Executive as if they were thoughtful and planful), The Network leaders raised and contributed $7,500,000 to the system; in the year after these Draconian acts ordered by Manning and Silverman defenestrated The Network, FRD dropped like the proverbial stone -- to $5,600,000. This represented a 25% drop in a single year.   Nothing else could possibly speak more eloquently to the impacts of the Draconian changes to The Network than did the 25% reduction in FRD. And even that total may be grossly overstated inasmuch as the gross $5.6 million may have been pumped up by the inclusion of major gifts made directly by Network donors to Overseas agencies who solicited them across the Continent.

And, with The Network Board dismissed, that Advisory Board was now Chaired by the same Miami philanthropist who led the "study" that relegated The Network to nothing more than a minor Committee of JFNA. By my count, of the 13 Committee members, at most four are from Network communities and two are from Manning's own Small Federation -- the better, I guess, to keep the leash tight. And are these leaders out among the 156 independent communities that comprise The Network, raising money? Or are they merely...advising? The FRD results would suggest...neither. Certainly, the enthusiasm that once characterized The Network Board, whose members were predominantly from The Network Communities, was no more.

Perhaps I should have titled this Post THE NETWORK -- ANOTHER JFNA MESS because the following Comment, among others, confirmed:

"There is no question that organizations are raising big money from designated giving from Network communities. This phenomenon began to occur about the time JFNA started "taking control" of the Network. There were communities that wanted to designate or have some say in where their funds were going and not have them used for JFNA overhead. Instead of embracing this and using it as a vehicle for raising more money those communities turned away from JFNA and started bypassing the system. One story I heard was that JFNA tried to take credit for the "designated" gift and they were blocked from doing so since the funds did not go thru their books. I also recently heard of another Network Community in the NE that is still raising over $100k that has turned over their fundraising to the local JCC because they can't get any support from JFNA to help them raise the funds. As they continue to raise the funds they will support their two local agencies and will designate 100% of their remaining funds to the overseas partners as they wish with none of the funds going to JFNA at all."
Sure, let's reward he who is supposed to be managing, running JFNA with a new contract.

I remember so well when Marty Stein, z'l, a past UJA Nationla Chair and his professional partner at UJA, Russell Robinson, presented The Network concept to the United Jewish Appeal Board. I remember how their enthusiasm was quickly matched by ours. The income projections had not yet been met when Manning/Silverman determined to undermine all that was good about The Network. Of course, this is the model that JFNA presents to the world: Take something that's working and screw it up: the motto: "if it's not broken, break it." They did so with no plan and no interest in what the impacts of their decisions would be. Now, they somehow believe, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, that somehow the Global Planning Table's pursuit of the Holy Grail (forgive me) of "Signature Initiatives" will meet the ultimate goals not just of programmatic success but of tens of millions of dollars raised.



Sunday, March 16, 2014


So many of you so often offer insights that I sorely lack. Here are Comments recently received:
"Contrast the GPT process and product to the JAFI/GOI initiative and its a tale of two cities: from the neverland of JFNA we see a dragged on expensive process dominated by the few and an over compensated consultants. Out of JAFI a promising work in progress with an ambitious startup timeframe and the engagement of diverse 100's in the conversation. Their just released Preliminary Report is well written, sensible and clear with some inspiring suggestions. Was it perfect? Maybe not? Was it an attempt at transparency and inclusion - definitely. Did it cost less in time and dollars to get to this point? Undoubtedly." 
"And while the Large City Execs are having their pow wow, the Jewish Funders Network is having their annual meeting. Those who believe the world revolves around them figure "no biggie", but where was the JFNA staff - who could have both contributed, and learned, from the various Jewish Funders Network sessions? Out to lunch as usual. 

If JFNA's CEO had any common sense at all, the LCE meeting would have also taken place in Miami - where personal relationships with hundreds of funders could have perhaps bloomed. 

But no, JFNA continues to live in its own bubble trying to be all things to all people and succeeding at none. 

JFNA, z"l. May their 20th Century memory be a blessing."
These two Commentators understand, what JFNA's lay leaders just haven't or can't come to terms with -- that JFNA and the Global Planning Table that has been allowed to become the tail wagging that dog, are being submerged beneath the waves of waste and simple lack of competency and comprehension.

Then the Blog received this Comment to our Post on The Hypocrisy of the GPT:

"Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "THE HYPOCRISY OF THE GLOBAL PLANNING TABLE": 

"From day one the GPT declared that it was about "new" money. All over and above. Steve Nasatir, John Ruskay, and Steve Hoffman all repetitively clarified this in meetings and made declarative and definitive statements over this issue. The issue was clear and the worries were assuaged by ironclad promises by GPT and JFNA leadership.

This is no urban legend. Now comes JFNA and declares this was always about reallocating JDC and Jewish Agency core allocations. This is reason alone to drop membership in JFNA.

A group of well meaning Jews meeting primarily in New York, and occasionally in Florida and California dream up some well meaning programs and without any study or understanding of the existing budgets of JDC or the Jewish Agency, decide that they know better and that JAFI and JDC should pay for it out of dwindling core allocations. This process slanders the very concept of "Planning".

They ask JDC and the Jewish Agency to work on the proposals and put meat on the bones of the wishes of the committee, and then declare that the Jewish Agency and JDC support the initiatives. Pure sophistry.

To suggest that there is a conflict of interest between advocating for increased core allocations while advocating for signature initiatives is illusory. There is no conflict. JFNA is not involved in any meaningful way in increasing or even maintaining core allocations. Voila - no conflict! And voila dwindling core allocations too. The GPT, by its very ongoing existence, is eroding the glue, the connecting tissue, the very ties that bind us together as a collective community for fulfilling Jewish responsibility world wide

This is only another indication of an organization operating out of control. The only thing that matters any more to JFNA is its own public personna. It no longer represents the Federations, no less North American Jewry. All that matters is promoting JFNA.

Just look at flagship programs: 

Tribe Fest: measure of success - just numbers. It serves no mandated need. It does not develop Federation leadership. It is in the primary programming business which is not now nor has it ever been JFNA's mandate

General Assembly: All about the numbers. Federation recipients like JCCs, JFS,s, Homes for the Aging, and day schools are not even invited to participate. It is all about agencies that we do not fund. Shiny objects, smoke and mirrors. No meat.

Mark Gurvis: JFNA heralds the hiring of a quality federation professional. To quote JFNA in its press release: "In this newly created position, Gurvis will work closely with President and CEO Jerry Silverman to manage the organization and strengthen JFNA’s services to Federations. " The first major project assigned to Gurvis is the Israel Prime Minister's initiative. Help me. I am not kidding. There stand Becky Caspi and Danny Allen, the top paid senior staff hired to manage JFNA's Israel engagements, and Jerry adds Gurvis to head the project. As we used to say in solicitations, when JFNA made them, "I would like you to consider" that this is complete and total proof of managerial incompetence. The one place that did not need Gurvis gets Gurvis, while the rest of the system continues to be starved to death. 

My beloved lay chairs, this is virtual embezzlement of our peoples' Tzedaka dollars. You have a higher responsibility than even your own money. This money is coming out of the Pushka. You gave your manager resources to manage and he mismanages them day in and day out. And you are standing by. 

This is your reputation on the line. And this failure is ultimately yours."

Finally, this:

"Josephus said... 
Were there an historian of the Federation system (which there really is not for want of survivors) that person might summarize the past 15 or so years as follows:

The partnership of Federations with its global partners was replaced with a vision of an all powerful federation driven UJC;

UJC board authority was replaced with the supremacy of the large city executives;

The supremacy of the LCE'S was replaced by reliance on a smaller inner group LCE's;

The small inner circle of LCE's was replaced by the UJC/JFNA CEO working in consort with a powerful and bullying chairperson and chair of the executive;

When, with a formal change of lay leadership, past leadership refuses to give up authority, and newly elected persons to the senior two lay positions showed the potential if not the will for independent action, the CEO ignores them and does what he pleases."
Friends, I despair, as do these Commentators far more articulately than I, of the JFNA Chairs doing anything to right this ship. After all, it's damn hard work and it's "uncomfortable." The easy way? Just keep doing what you've been doing.. and as the Comment states: "This is your reputation on the line. And this failure is ultimately yours.

Go to any community and ask your major donors what they know of JFNA and the GPT -- eyes will roll. Explain what JFNA has accomplished with $650,000,000 of our funds and explain the Global Planning Table to them and the result will be the loss of 100s if not more of our major donors. But, no, keep hoping that somehow federation CEOs can continue to hide from the donor community the reality of what JFNA has not done over 15 years, that we have allowed $650,000,000 to be spent without accountability, with so little to show in terms of ROI. In fact, I would guess, that were Michael Siegal, successful businessman and philanthropist, not the Board Chair of JFNA and its "co-cheerleader in chief" with CEO Jerry, he would be standing with me and so many others urging transformational change at JFNA and an end of the Tower of Babel that the GPT has been from Day One.


Thursday, March 13, 2014


I started the week writing of the Tower of Babel spinning out of the minds of those foisting the Global Planning Table on us. And, we have written before about the Rube Goldberg-like structure of the Global Planning Table, where ultimate decision-making after a labyrinthian set of Committees and Task Forces makes accountability almost impossible and puts the ultimate power in the hands of very few -- but not in the hands of JFNA's Chairs. And as we have observed, since the "Planning Table" was "conceived" five years ago, that the GPT was the tail wagging the JFNA dog to the exclusion of the vast number of federations large and small alike -- except when money is needed. And, we have called the GPT "leadership" on their misrepresentations -- from the now GPT Executive Chair's dismissal of "Zionism" when she chaired JFNA to the most recent confusion by the GPT Chair of real vs. "tentative" financial commitments for Strategic Initiatives allowing these to move forward with nothing more than the latter. "See, if we wait for firm, real financial commitments, we might not ever get these Initiatives off the ground, so we'll take the 'soft commitments' so we can move forward even though we at GPT resolved to await 'firm commitments.'" Friends, this is your GPT at its best and most cynical. So, I'll end the week observing the helpings of hypocrisy that the Global Planning Table is serving in larger and larger portions.

Now, as the rubber hits the road, the Global Planning Table Committee at its meeting on January 28 and in the Executive Committee of that Committee  meeting thereafter evidenced the basic cynicism and hypocrisy that have characterized this out of control "thing" from its inception. In the recent past, we have discussed the inherent conflict between the GPT leaders arrogation of JFNA's responsibility to advocate for the core needs of the Joint, the Jewish Agency and World ORT -- while, for all intents and purposes, the leaders of those organizations and the leaders of JFNA itself stood silent. I mean, after all, there is an inherent conflict, isn't there, between the pursuit of dollars for "Signature Initiatives" and the advocacy for increased core allocations when the former are not restricted at all to new money? 

And, it gets worse. As we have reported CEO Jerry Silverman, in meetings with JA and JDC leadership, demanded that these two organizations commit to funding JQuest and The Children's Zone -- as we called it "JFNA's/GPT's version of fund raising."

This GPT hypocrisy is picking up speed. Chair Butler reported that the GPT is in the process of appointing a "special advocacy subcommittee on core allocations" that will eventually get on with the task -- probably after studying the self-evident data for months -- got to be careful, don't you know. Meanwhile, the GPT leaders see the Government of Israel/World Jewry Initiative as, among other things, its opportunity to access a new pool of money -- apparently referring to Israeli tax dollars. (I'm not making this up.) Oh, there's also hortatory language of "how important it is" that funding for Signature Initiatives not be merely a reallocation of dollars from overseas core, but these "hopes" are clearly nothing more than the same language offered during the debacle that ONAD had become by the end of its sad history. GPT plans to contact your donors, your prospects, your foundation donors and your federations. (CEO Jerry has already talked to foundations, "some of which are interested in investing" in the Signature Initiatives. Uh huh.) While some GPT Committee members actually raised questions about the obvious conflict in simultaneous approaches to federations to both increase core and fund these Strategic Initiatives, there was no response.

So what about the Jewish Agency and Joint? Their representatives told the Global Planning Table Committee that neither has sufficient funds to contribute financially to these Initiatives -- citing the precipitous drop in core allocation funding by the federations under JFNA. When the Global Planning Table Committee went into its "Executive Session," those allowed to be present, I am told, concluded that while it's too bad that core allocations have been reduced, the GPT expects the Jewish Agency and Joint (and presumably World ORT) to financially support the GPT priorities. You see, the Global Planning Table has now determined not only the priorities of the GPT, but those of JFNA and those of the Jewish Agency and the Joint (and, presumably World ORT). Oh, they'll set up a meeting of GPT leaders with JA and JDC to tell them so.

Get ready for an Education and Engagement Campaign, soon to come to a meeting place near you. And JFNA lay leaders sit idly by.


Monday, March 10, 2014


The Chair of the Global Planning Table Committee, Kathy, oops, David Butler, e-mailed the general population with the news that his Committee was moving forward with two "Signature Initiatives." This was to be done only if financial commitments had been received for the costs of start up. But, were those commitments really in hand? Here is what Chair Butler wrote:
"Prior to the meeting, GPT leadership reached out to member Federations that were involved in the design of the Signature Initiatives in order to secure the minimum threshold commitments required (according to the GPT design document) prior to officially launching any Signature Initiative, namely a minimum of 10 Federations willing to invest a total of a minimum of $500,000 per year for 3 years.  We have secured tentative commitments that meet these thresholds."
There are a lot of lawyers involved at JFNA and David is a good one. But it doesn't take a lawyer to understand that there is a vast difference between having in hand a "minimum threshold commitment" and a "tentative commitment." It appears that what the GPT has in hand is "fools' gold," another hope and prayer. And is the illusion of real "commitment" enough on which to build "Initiatives" that bear a price tag of ultimately 10s of millions of dollars? Is that how we built our law firms, our businesses? Of course not. But that's exactly the illusory foundation upon which the Global Planning Table has been built from the get-go. Suggestion: publish the list of federations which have made a commitment and the amounts thereof. Simple? Apparently not.

We all know what a real commitment is. There are federations of course which for one reason or another don't. Examples abound, unfortunately -- allocations made, then unpaid in the millions; quid pro quo agreements (agreements between individual federations and the national organizations pursuant to which certain debts were forgiven for promises of increased overseas support) breached almost before the ink was dry; and more. At the beginning of what is now JFNA the federations unanimously agreed that they would freeze allocations for two years to stabilize the system; in the first year, all federations held to that obligation. In Year 2, one...a single...Large City, announced that it would walk away from the responsibility; and the entire deal unraveled. (Later, when the JFNA Fair Share Dues formula was announced, that same community demanded that its annual campaign statistics [the basis for Dues] be revised downward to subtract out designated dollars [dollars that had been included in that federation's statistics forever] so as to lower its Dues obligations.) And, as we have reported, since Operation Promise, either by reason of a lack of Continental commitment or federation will, for the past eight years, not a single JFNA financial initiative has come close to its goal.

One could ask the inevitable "why?" Is it a lack off trust in JFNA? Is it a lack of resources at the federation level? Is it a constant failure to prioritize? Is it a failure of the causes themselves? Is it the constant distraction at JFNA of new shiny objects? Is it all/none of the above? One thing we know as a certainty: JFNA has not had one fund raising success to which to point in at least 8 years.

So, for critical "Initiatives," that require 10 federations to pony up $50,000 each (on average) per year for three years for each of two Initiatives as "seed money," administered by JFNA, what may we reasonably expect based on JFNA's sorry history of failure after failure? First, while the GPT has arrogated to itself the responsibility for advocacy for the core budgets of JAFI/Joint (through the appointment of a subcommittee so "special" we aren't to know who is on it), there is no prohibition of federations raiding current core allocations to fund the Initiatives. Forget conflict of interest; in fact, forget every value. Second, while there may be close to full payment of these "commitments" in Year 1, there will surely be growing fall-off beginning in Year 2 -- meaning that to the extent the Initiatives are being offered as the federations' means of participating in the Prime Minister's Initiative, the federations will have dropped the ball. And, when that ball is dropped, then the financial burden will fall more and more on the Jewish Agency and Joint.

And, in this context, haven't the Agency and Joint leadership been hearing demands from CEO Jerry that they will be responsible for major funding of these "JFNA Initiatives?" To CEO Jerry, that's fund raising.

It's all such a mess. Humpty Dumpty has had a great fall...


Next up: The GPT Hypocrisy

Friday, March 7, 2014


An Anonymous Commentator, in response to our Update reference in our recent Post to the needs that must be met in the Ukraine, has offered:
"Re:Ukraine - isn't this what the core funding is for? Isn't this why it is important to have ongoing Annual Campaigns - so that we DON'T need an "emergency campaign" every time there is a crisis? Maybe - just maybe - we could have some consistency of message here. Maybe our system should have said we do NOT need an emergency campaign because your dollars given with love and devotion each year ensure that things like this are taken care of.
But, yes, let's always assume the worst, because what fun is there in defending our mission."
And I appreciate the suggestion, the admonition and the sarcasm. Of course, this Commentator would be correct were we living in 1984 when core allocations for Overseas needs were over 50% of the aggregate annual campaigns, or even a decade later when those allocations had fallen to 40%. But, today? Come on. Aggregate core allocations today are at levels those who created the national system would not have believed -- they have fallen below 15%. At most federations, the core allocation has become an after-thought, an example of "send 'em what's left over." In too many instances, the overseas allocation to meet core needs is less than the individual federation's JFNA Dues. It certainly is not 1984 any more.

The circumstances in the Ukraine today can't be dismissed with a shrug and a "...things like this are (or should be) taken care of" through our annual communal allocations -- and that's because the Anonymous writer and you and I have stood back in silence and watched as those allocations have dropped precipitously to the point where additional funding in times of crisis are required. Or, maybe I'm wrong. This is certainly a topic worthy of continental debate. But, let me ask my Anonymous friend: "of what federation are you a member? What is its allocation to the core of JA, JDC and World ORT?"  I would love to hear more from you.



1. There must be a new definition of Jewish communal professional" out there. Mandel just announced a new Federation CEO hire. This is how her experience leading to this position was listed: "__________ is a dynamic, experienced Jewish leader. She has consulted with the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, worked within Jewish Community Centers, and served for the past two years as the Executive Director of the Kristol Center for Jewish Life at the University of Delaware Hillel. She also brings entrepreneurial skills to the community, with her experience in creating and leading Nishmah, a nonprofit project for Jewish women in St. Louis." That actually sounds like an interesting resume but, apparently, not hyperbolic enough inasmuch as this Federation's Board Chair was said to have described the new CEO thusly: "____________ has many years of experience as a Jewish communal professional..." Yuh think?

2. Kudos to the Jewish Agency, Joint and World ORT for incredible work on the ground in the Ukraine. While events boiled around the four corners of the country, our partners never stopped their life- and community-affirming work, not for a minute, sometimes at great risk. Who will assure that the costs of securing communal institutions and protecting our extended Jewish family there are covered? Apparently, individual federations will have to do so because JFNA has done nothing. It strikes me as totally unacceptable that JFNA rushes to establish "mailboxes" funding relief from natural disasters as far away as Japan but when a community of 300,000-350,000 Jews finds itself in the midst of national chaos, needing our help...nothing. OK...almost nothing inasmuch as JFNA has convened some interesting and informative conference calls on the crisis and considering a "mailbox" rather than any emergency campaign. (See below for the latest "developments?")

And here is what happens when our system...our JFNA...leaves a void -- surprise, others fill it. In the midst of the Ukrainian crisis, you may have received a solicitation from the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS announcing an Emergency Campaign to assist the Jews and Jewish Communities of the Ukraine. Watch  -- the slick website solicitation. You or I might not know without exploring every link on that site, that the FJC is a creation of Chabad -- and, please understand, from even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chabad has been doing G-d's work there, and everywhere there, often in partnership with, e.g., the Joint, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and many others. Sometimes, as in this "emergency campaign," the FJC engages in heavy overstatement, but, that misses the point -- the facts on the ground demand that this is exactly the Emergency Campaign that our system should be running... and which we aren't. The sound you hear is that of our lunch being eaten. And, the question is: "Why?" Who made a decision that our national system do nothing? Or is that merely how it goes today? 

OOOOPS...THIS JUST IN -- Yesterday, in a spurt of sudden activity, JFNA "...established the Ukraine Assistance Fund."  It appears to be a mailbox without financial goals; it is certainly not, G-d forbid, a campaign, but it is " provide urgent support for Jews in Ukraine." A Memo was followed by one of those very terse Leadership Briefings that told us almost nothing. Two wonderful lay persons will lead a Committee " review needs and allocate funds" from the Fund. And, I suppose, those communities, like mine, which have already allocated over $100,000 for specific purposes in Kiev and the Ukraine can now send those funds to the Fund??? Who knows. Unstated -- for reasons not clear -- either in the communique from JFNA or in the attached "Q and A," is that communities are being told, apparently only in phone calls with JFNA, that there is a "goal" of $1 million for the Fund. What's the reason for the secrecy? How was this "goal" arrived at? 

The Briefing advised that JFNA will distribute funds raised  "by our collective Federations.."  Of course, there is no such thing...but, then again, JFNA under this CEO has never understood core concept of "the collective."  But it is important to note that the Fund was approved by the JFNA Executive Committee -- this was great news for many of us had come to believe that the JFNA Executive Committee no longer existed.

3. Next week JFNA will roll out Festivus 3 in conjunction with the most appropriate Jewish Holiday for this thing, Purim,  the promotion for which (that would be for Fest 3, not Purim) has reached new heights of patronizing (with some of the drinking references unconsciously demeaning to both the planners and the intended audience). This "it's not just a party" stuff suggests to me that it is just a party...a $1 million waste for now the third year fully distracting JFNA's Young Leadership Cabinet and Cabinet staff from the serious work of leadership as all of us remember that work. At one point, after the then JFNA leaders reviewed the first fiasco, one esteemed pro pointed out the folly of our national organization engaging in direct programming -- he was ignored...twice. Fiasco One was followed by Two and now Three. Are there no adults in the room to merely say...STOP THIS FARCE? (That was a rhetorical question.) The only beneficiaries of the FESTIVI are those who have the peanut concession at this circus.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Last November the Jewish Agency convened a meeting of 150 "thought leaders" from around the World to discuss the broad range of issues related to the Government Jewish Peoplehood Initiative with a focus on Jewish Identity and the Next Generation. The seance was well-attended and many fine ideas emerged. The Jewish Agency produced what I would characterize as a glossy Summary of the Proceedings; it included many pages of photographs of the Plenary and Break Out Sessions. All I saw were pictures of 150 men and women, surely our "best and brightest," at an average age that I would speculate was about mine -- 72. That strikes me as not exactly the demographic that can best plan for men and women in their 20s.

In fact, I was reminded by this circumstance of men and women of my generation sitting around planning for men and women millenials of one of my sons' businesses -- in the fashion arena. I put on some of his clothes thinking I was complimenting him. He took one look at me and urged me to change clothes -- "You are singlehandedly going to destroy our brand. You're not exactly our demographic." I can also think back to GAs where young federation leaders were trotted out for a discussion of "what attracted you to our work?" Were these wonderful affiliated leaders who we needed to hear from? Did they really offer us anything more than the mistaken sense that ours was the path and that others would follow in lockstep when, wherever we looked, literally the vast majority of the generation we so desired to attract weren't.

And JFNA pursued TribeFest, that expensive act of futility that has cost us millions with return on investment. First, in Las Vegas, there was the abysmal turnout of unaffiliated to what was nothing more than an expensive weekend of fun, games and "mosh pits." Lost $250,000; gained us, what, at best a couple of hundred young Jews who now might have an interest in our work? Then, in Year 2, at a budgeted cost of $1 million (G-d knows the real cost), it was come one-come all to another Vegas-style extravaganza and JFNA ended up with mainly those who were already affiliated for the same lack of substance. And, now, with no accountability for the first two failures -- at a cost that can be estimated at over $2 million -- another $1 million+ will be "invested" in attracting the same people to the same event with the same hyperbolic expectations -- just moved to New Orleans (for Purim).

Someone wrote me off-line and suggested "this wouldn't be happening if Michael Siegal were still Chairman."

I have to admit that at my advanced age there is no way that I can plan for the engagement of the Millenials in our work. I would go so far as to suggest that no one of my generation can possibly do so. But I can look at Jane Sherman's -- through the Fisher Family Foundation -- Flight initiative, Chicago's Nachshon Missions and similar and conclude that there are models that are working, that will work, just as the Young Leadership Cabinet once did.  Tragically, our system has allowed the waste that the Fests have been and are, to distract it from the real work that replicating the successes created by others might yield.

It's all the Emperor's New Clothes in real time.


Saturday, March 1, 2014


All of you who read this Blog regularly know of my continuing frustration with the National Agencies-Federation Alliance. From the merger forward, but especially over the past eight years, The Alliance's relationship to its funded national agencies (which were those created by and for the federation system) can be characterized as one of neglect. The Alliance is another example of JFNA dropping the ball, apparently so disinterested, JFNA's top lay and professional leaders don't even know what's going on.

Eight years ago the New York UJA-Federation, which was then providing a disproportionate amount of Alliance funding made it clear to The Alliance leadership that it wanted to reduce that annual funding. Rather than seek additional federation participation, and additional funding from the federation members, or engage in any advocacy with New York lay leaders, The Alliance leadership went through a faux planning process, the transparent purpose of which was to reduce funding to as many member agencies as it possibly could. Some less favored national agencies were given Draconian cuts to their allocations while a number of federations dropped out of The Alliance and two funded Agencies, one of which, JESNA, was always fully funded (whatever that meant in the context of Alliance funding) went out of business. If there was ever an active effort to increase the number of Alliance members or to solicit additional funds for the agencies' pool, that "effort" was never evident, and, certainly, unavailing. 

Many readers know of my continued involvement with and support of the work of the NCSJ-Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States& Eurasia. Even before the creation of The Alliance, there were (and are) those who targeted the organization for defunding. I have argued that the NCSJ, with its efforts with Jewish organizations and the governments throughout its areas of expertise and work, was and is an inexpensive insurance policy for the system, and a first responder in times of stress and need. It proved it a few years ago when its intervention on behalf of one of our system's treasured partners helped to save that organization with over seven figures in alleged tax liability. And, of course, it has proved its worth in its daily reporting to our federations on the impacts of the "revolution" in the Ukraine on the Jewish communities there. (And, of course, NCSJ's work was ignored in Chair Siegal's  otherwise excellent report --What Ukrainian Unrest Reminds Us About the Value of Overseas Allocations. But, it should be noted that the NCSJ's work was added in a later communique.) My federation transmitted the NCSJ Reports (and those from the Jewish Agency and Joint) directly to its constituencies -- yours? Those Reports will certainly continue as the drama in the Ukraine and its impact on the 250,000 Jewish Ukrainians continues to unfold. Also, the efforts by a group of Alliance "leaders" to further defund the NCSJ will continue as if these efforts on our behalf never took or take place.

A most interesting commentary on the demise of the Foundation for Jewish Culture and JESNA, theretofore two of the national agencies created by the Federations, appeared in an op-ed in ejewishphilanthropy -- utm_source=Mon+Feb+24&utm_campaign=Mon+Feb+24&utm_medium=email -- where Marcella Kanfer Rolnick and her father, Joe Kanfer, a past Chair of JFNA questioned: Do We Need National Organizations? In an otherwise thoughtful piece, nowhere do the Kanfers "confess error" to Joe's own neglect of the national organizations during his terms as JFNA Chair. But...never mind.

Let's face it, The Alliance has been a flop...or worse. Its staffing went from a full-time professional dedicated to its work, to a professional effort that is part-time (and who knows how big that "part" is); a succession of Chairs seem not to understand The Alliance purpose; its federation membership is down; its funding pool is way, way down; it has lost national agency members; and every member agency has had to devote more of their resources to fund raising than at the time of the merger. There is a sense among the federations which I have visited that national agencies funding is not a JFNA priority; and there is a real feeling among national agency leaders with whom I have discussed funding that they have been ignored and abandoned. It's another sad in a series.