Friday, March 7, 2014


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.



Anonymous said...

More about the CEO at her last job. Here's wishing her outsized success in Texas!

Anonymous said...

The note to leadership on the Ukraine emergency fund should not have been "Leadership Briefing" but something more befitting jumping on a bandwagon. Federations had already been "Leading" by raising and allocating the funds. In case one or more of the readers of your blog did not receive the briefing it is included in full below with notes on each sentence or paragraph that I have added. 1. Title - Jewish Federations Announce Ukraine Assistance Fund
March 6, 2014 (When did they recognize that this was a crisis – two weeks after everyone else did?)
2. “As the situation escalates, needs in the Ukrainian Jewish community become even more acute,” said Michael Siegal, Chair of the JFNA Board of Trustees. “It’s critical that we maintain our commitment to provide assistance to the most vulnerable in our community and ensure our Jewish institutions are secure." (How exactly will they do this?)
3. The Executive Committee of The Jewish Federations of North America yesterday authorized the distribution of funds raised through our collective Federations to overseas agencies. (What exactly are collective federations? Since when does the federation need JFNA to authorize distribution of funds raised by a federation? How did the Executive Committee get that authority?)
4. The Ukrainian Jewish population, estimated at around 300,000, is one of the largest in the world. The area is already home to some of the world’s poorest Jews, and the currency devaluation and increasing economic uncertainty are affecting the entire community. (These are the reasons we need conduct an emergency campaign? The three partners (JDC, JAFI and ORT) have been dealing with these issues as ongoing business. The emergency has to do with the unrest in Ukraine causing unusual needs identified by the partners. I'm sure that the websites of the partners will tell us what those needs are for the "emergency" campaign. Why not list some of them in the briefing to leadership?)
5. JFNA is committed to working with its partners at home and abroad throughout this crisis. (How, By taking full credit for whatever the partners do with the funds raised by some other means?)

Anonymous said...

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.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused by your first bullet. on the new federation CEO. Is your comment, "there must be a new definition of Jewish communal professional out there" meant to that a Hillel director is not a Jewish communal professional? Also, why delete her name if you're going to cite her entire bio? What am I missing?

Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blogs for years. at time with amusement, and at times with appreciation. I find your call out of the new federation exec uncalled for and unjustified. This professional leader brings to the table a committmnt to our field of Jewish communal service and has dedicated her life to our field of service. Isn't this what we are looking for in our search processes? A well qualified, proven communal professional we will now bring her skill sets and passions to an intermediate sized Jewish federation which has struggled to find continuity in its CEO position? For the record, she was not the chair of the search committee, she was not a vice chair of the federation board. She is an emerging star in the field who reinvogorate her new community based upon her years of training and experience in St. Louis and Delaware. Kol Hakovod to her new community for this hire.

RWEX said...

To the last Anonymous:

I made my point poorly and apologize. You have made your points well.

Anonymous said...

Shame on you for sniping at this outstanding professional without knowing anything about her beyond what JFNA distributes. She is a finer person and leader than Wexler. Our communities lose top professionals when volunteers like Wexler get involved and thrive on vitriol and slander. No surprise that only the vicious and cutthroat succeed in such an environment. I'll take a 41-year-old with passion, creativity and talent over a bitter old has-been Federation retread any day of the week.

Wonder why JFNA stinks? Look in the mirror. I guess that if you don't have anything nice to say, just write a blog.

RWEX said...

Thanks for writing. If you let me know where I may reach you, I have some referrals who can help you with your reading comprehension...among other things