Monday, April 28, 2014


It's not just change, it's a "profound, revolutionary move." It's how Orwell would  say we define "nothing" as "change." It's illusion. And just what is it? The story, in part, is told in a Forward article Denver no longer has a Jewish Federation. Yep, it is now JEWISHColorado "f/k/a Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado." Let the Colorado f/k/a CEO tell it:
“'We’re dropping the F-word, both for ‘federation’ and for ‘foundation,’” said Doug Seserman, president and CEO of JEWISHcolorado. He explained that the name change is part of a 'profound revolutionary move' to fit the needs of the 21st century. 'It still says ‘federation,’ without the word ‘federation.’”
Friends, only JFNA could match this bullshit. But, the Forward, which should know better, thinks that this is all innovation:
"Colorado may be the most visible example of how a small number of Jewish federations are adopting innovative ideas for change, but it is not the only one. In Pittsburgh, another leader in innovative practices, communal activity is now measured and publicized, enabling ordinary Jews to see what their philanthropic dollars are doing. Ideas like this would have been inconceivable a generation ago, but now they are seen as a possible model for the entire federation system."
This font of innovation, this JEWISHColorado, is one which hired as its new CEO over a decade ago, a marketing guru in the private sector with no federation experience -- you know "cutting edge," "outside the box" and all that. Seemed at the time that he was hired because of his articulation of a new communal vision -- what I would describe as "thematic giving" but which resonated in that federated community as "Total Choice FRD." Just words without meaning; and now moved to titles without meaning. This is big-time "innovation;" probably "profound, revolutionary." Uh-huh.

I was in the community shortly after the hire, explained to the new CEO at a private meeting that this form of designated giving had only worked in federations where there was a vibrant annual campaign in place -- that's still the case. This new CEO threatened right there to resign. Cooler heads prevailed, Total Choice FRD did as well, and, then, it didn't. Here's how it worked/didn't work. Donors would be solicited, given the choice -- the total choice -- to donate to Federation's "Core Funds" to support federation's "core" purposes I guess, or to any philanthropic purpose of the donor's choosing. least in theory.

Over a decade has now passed; where is this community? The annual campaign results for federation's "core" purposes are down in real dollar terms, way, way  down in comparative values to 2003. The so-called "increases" in campaign in this Federation are mainly in large gifts to non-beneficiaries where the federation has acted strictly as the donors' conduit -- "Total Choice" equals "Donor Choice" and the community is the loser but for one real gain -- keeping some donors names on the list. You can place your own value on that.

So, what do we call communal data that suggest that the community is raising significant dollars when the majority of those dollars are committed to non-federation purposes? Well, you may choose my term (which you may guess) or any other you wish. 

So what, you may ask, this CEO's constituency must not care -- after all the chief professional officer has been there for over a decade? Well, that's true, but I have no doubt that in interviewing for new positions elsewhere, this CEO  has been representing vastly increased campaigns under his leadership -- of course, careful examination would have revealed that those "increases" have been generated by adding in the "conduit funds" "raised" and transmitted to entities outside the federation ambit -- in other words, wholly illusory increases. 

Now, this community is moving rapidly to an even more radical fund raising approach -- one that will assure that this place will no longer be a federated community -- truly "profound, revolutionary." Believe it or not, this community will no longer fund those agencies which actively fund raise within the community. Get this straight now: by dint of its failed FRD -- this ferkocht "total choice" -- agencies were told to fend for themselves -- if you aren't receiving enough through "total choice." you have to raise your budgets yourselves. Today these same agencies are being told, so you went out and raised money, now we will not raise any for you!!! Brilliant!!! Make this CEO the successor to Jerry Silverman. 

Oh, JAFI and the Joint?? They have already been told, in the loudest voice imaginable: for every dollar you raise in our community we will offset our communal allocation to you. And, as is typically the case, the reason the Agency and JDC are fund raising in this community is because it has been allocating nothing to them. 

The Forward piece, which suggests that the reporter knows far too little about how the vast majority of federations are doing and how they are doing it,  talks repeatedly about something called the "black box," probably meant to reference the "federation as a black hole." (A sorry pejorative seemingly perpetuated by those who lead the community.) But, if Colorado or other communities (incredibly, one community cited as a shining example for Colorado is San Francisco where failure is the sad communal reality) believe that a name change is the answer to its problems or even an answer, one can only pity them.

Oh, Jerry Silverman? He looks on the system he leads with obvious disapproval: "Right now, we're (that's the federations) because we still believe in the concept of annual campaign and in collective giving." Pathetic. Has Silverman ever had the feeling he ought to not speak on a subject about which he knows nothing but just can't?

If this place is not the Tower of Babel, it's certainly in the picture.


Friday, April 25, 2014


Who said this in an interview with a reporter?
“Right now, we’re counter-cultural, because we still believe in the concept of annual campaign and in collective giving.”
Damn us -- "we still believe in the concept of the annual campaign and in collective giving." That was the driver of the clown car, himself, CEO Jerry Silverman.

So it's come to this. I have observed from time-to-time that the JFNA CEO of the moment so fails to comprehend the values and core principles on which our system has been constructed, that he actually endangers both those principles and, thereby, the system itself. (and continuously for the last almost five years) he has proved it. CEO Jerry, from Day 1, would urge his staff to "act first and apologize later." And Silverman followed his own mantra -- but, some things one can't apologize for. One certainly can't apologize for a constant hubris, one described a Commentator to the Weather Post just days ago:
"Before taking the job Silverman was proclaiming
to those who would listen - especially in Boston - that he would be the savior of JFNA.

He expressed that the challenges were easy for him to overcome.

Optimism is good; a self-inflated self-worth is not."
It is that very "self-inflated self-worth" that has led JFNA to the disaster that it is. The question is: why is anyone following?

In a Forward article on Erev Pesach on a purported revolutionary change at was once the Colorado federation, Silverman demonstrated (1) his gross inability to keep his mouth shut about things he doesn't understand (like the system he is supposedly leading); and (2) his rejection of those things that distinguish "federation" from, e.g., the Foundation for Camp or, for that matter, Dockers. The direct quote is so antithetical to the position he holds that, in a normal organization, he would be dismissed immediately. Yes:
"Right now, we're counter-cultural because we still believe in the concept of annual campaign and in collective giving."
Yes, the CEO of JFNA has determined that the very actions upon which the federation system is premised, the very campaigns which sustain federations ability to pay JFNA Dues as well as the critical core purposes upon which federations' centrality has been built -- from the successful to the not-so-much -- are nothing more than "counter-cultural." And he bases that conclusion, it is clear, on the least among the federations, not the best or even the better. The "annual campaign is counter-cultural." Chew on that for a while. Think about who just said it. Think about the position that person holds. And think about the kind of lay leadership that would tolerate the person quoted as its CEO: what does this say about them? (These are rhetorical questions. You, we, all know the answers.)

I would be astounded that the CEO of an organization that is the umbrella of our system -- one premised upon the very annual campaign and collective giving that this guy deprecates -- would fail to understand his responsibilities. Yes, the two things that distinguish the federation system from all other charities somehow make the federations "counter-cultural" by the Gospel According to CEO Jerry. But, I am not astounded -- it is CEO and President Jerry Silverman, after all, who knows about as much about our federation system today as he did almost five years ago when he joined it as our so-called "leader" and, in his own mind, "savior."

Here is how "counter culture" is defined in Merriam Webster: "a culture with values and customs very different from and opposed to those accepted by most of society." Silverman has stood the "counter-culture" on its head -- as in the most Orwellian dictates of JFNA, once again black is white and white is black. Perhaps, this total mischaracterization of where the vast, vast majority of lay and professional leaders of federations today would tell you that those communities which reject the annual campaign and the collective are the outliers, the failures and the hopeless as is, so apparently, JFNA.

It would be easy to attribute this insipidity to the erasure of institutional memory -- the ongoing process at JFNA that reached its heights under Silverman and Manning (and before them, Kanfer). As we wrote:
"As Prime Minister Netanyahu recently observed: 'People have historical memory that goes back to breakfast.' He was not referring to our friends at JFNA -- they have 'succeeded' in eradicating both historical memory (and current memory as well). We are not supposed to remember how JFNA has presided over the last 8 years in the abandonment of its historical partners, its merger obligations or the meaning of collective responsibility. We're not supposed to comment on the fact that JFNA has become the City of Detroit -- bankrupt, Detroit has lost 2/3rds of its population while JFNA has presided over the loss of close to 2/3rds of our system's donors. (Yet, Detroit recognizes its crisis, while JFNA ignores its responsibilities.)"
And why would Silverman want any of that history? For that would mean the hard work of studying, of learning and understanding the core values and timeless principles upon which the federation system has been built, upon which it has achieved greatness. No, far better to know nothing, to patronize and pander and drop a cliche or some jargon and dance the Harlem Shake. No, knowing of the history, the values and the principles would also require a real leader to embody them and act upon them. This studied ignorance and indifference allow this CEO to endorse the pretense of "change" offered by a single, failed federation's dropping "Federation" from its name (more comment upon that upcoming in the next Post) as evidence of so-called forward, "revolutionary" thinking while the system he purports to lead is nothing more than the "counter-culture." 

Way back when (about Rosh HaShana, September 2012) in a Post titled "A Deluge of Toads" the hand-writing and hand-wringing about this CEO was already on-going:
"She promised us that we had hired a new Moshe -- someone for the ages, from outside our system who would lead us out of Egypt. A successful businessman who spoke the language (ignore the cliches), not another of those 'Large City Executives.' He would be filled with new ideas. At last we would find our way to a new land of milk and honey. They flew in Moses from Boston. So far, truth be told, all we have experienced has been a deluge of toads."
And things have only gotten worse.

Meanwhile, what about the adults in the room -- the lay leadership that should be doing something about this insipidity? The Board Chair is demonstrating what can only be described as acting in a pusillanimous manner so out of keeping with the expectations so many of us had of him when he took office. There has been no leadership on the most critical matters confronting the Board Chair and if he does nothing now, his legacy will be as dark, dismal and devoid of accomplishment as that of his immediate predecessors. And the vast majority of Chief Professional Officers -- where are they when the CEO who works for us spits in their faces as he denigrates their work? Yes, where are they? 

JFNA is so lost and, instead of a real leader we have....this...Dockers guy telling us, what? That the best of our system are part of the "counter-culture?" Are you kidding me?

Oh my, are we ever lost. Totally.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014


      "I may not have my life put together, but at least I never made a Harlem Shake video"
                                         (A Tweet reflecting a recurring theme on Twitter )

While Spring has finally arrived in Chicago, it's abundantly clear that that polar vortex that destroyed our Winter has descended upon 25 Broadway like a blanket of wet snow, darkness and wind....lots and lots of wind...and it's not leaving. If you visit the Jewish Federations of North America website, you will join me in scratching your head and, perhaps, howling at the wind, inasmuch as there is literally no there there. It is truly all so sad.

No doubt there is much going on that can't be revealed to the North American Jewish polity -- the machinations of the Global Planning Table, for example; or those Working Groups on which serve not a single lay leader. There are also the continuing programs of UJA and CJF which are still the core work of our system but oh, so diminished. For example the Campaign Chairs/Directors Mission. Used to be fully subsidized as an investment of UJA in the federation Annual Campaigns, now JFNA has reduced its participation to $1500 per leader -- another example of the failure of continental priorities; measure the ROI of the CC/CD Mission against the non-return from $3 million (+/-) thrown away on three miserable failed Festivii and, in a nutshell, you have captured JFNA. 

You will recall that at the close of her terms as JFNA Board Chair, Kathy Manning couldn't come up with any "successes" over her 8 years -- first as Chair of the Executive and, then, based upon that success, as Board Chair -- other than these offered up as "success": (1) the hiring of Jerry Silverman and (2) the GPT. Even as she trumpeted those "triumphs," they were crumbling around her, bringing JFNA further down to its knees. The GPT, as predicted on these pages and elsewhere is sucking the marrow from the bones of the overseas core allocations; and Silverman...well, a continuing zero. (Listening to CEO Silverman extol the value of one or another failed thing -- the GA, TribeFests, you name it -- is like watching the "spin room" after a political candidate's failed debate or Baghdad Bob or whomever.) It has become clear, if it wasn't before, that it's damn hard, nigh impossible, to run an organization and give yourself the Heimlich Maneuver at one and the same time.

But, this twosome (and, no, I am not including the Kool-Aid chugging Global Planning Table Cheerleader-in-Chief, David Butler, who appears to have sacrificed the leadership cojones I know he once had for a shot at higher office) -- Past JFNA Chair Kathy, who appointed herself as Chair of the decision-making body of the GPT, and CEO Jerry -- have "succeeded," if one may call it that, at two things: (1) celebrating JFNA's failures as successes, the thing they do best; and (2) creating a small cadre of lay persons, many of whom know far better, who beat their breasts and are part of what one observer in another context called the "fake umbrage" crowd -- those who rise up in anger against any suggestion that JFNA is in a self-induced coma, against any attempt to end Silverman's term, and, apparently, against any attempt to get JFNA on track.

That "fake umbrage" crowd include the folks who most resemble barnacles -- affixed to a dead hull like it offered them something other than the opportunity to go down with the ship. Had these same leaders, among them wonderful leaders in their own communities, taken a serious look at the trail of failures behind them and, then, done something about it, think of where we might be after wasting so much of $650,000,000. But, they have deluded convinced themselves, against all proof, that they are attached to a winner not the hull of the Titanic. 

As Prime Minister Netanyahu recently observed: "People have historical memory that goes back to breakfast." He was not referring to our friends at JFNA -- they have "succeeded" in eradicating both historical memory (and current memory as well) -- but he could have been. We are not supposed to remember how JFNA has presided over the last 8 years in the abandonment of its historical partners, its merger obligations or the meaning of collective responsibility. We're not supposed to comment on the fact that JFNA has become the City of Detroit -- bankrupt, Detroit has lost 2/3rds of its population while JFNA has presided over the loss of close to 2/3rds of our system's donors. (Yet, Detroit recognizes its crisis, while JFNA ignores its responsibilities.)

It's all so sad. It's a long, long, long way down from Phil Bernstein, Carmi Schwartz and Marty Kraar and Irving Bernstein, Stanley Horowitz and Brian Lurie to You've Got to be Kidding. Just as it's a long, long, long way down from UJA and CJF, sacrificed to the demand of the LCE for control, to the JFNA of today. And, no, I haven't forgotten my role in all of this.  As the recently deceased historian and social commentator Jonathan Schell wrote in a different context: some actions "...reveal a kind of bankruptcy...of many of the things we placed our faith in..." And, yet, there is no one -- not an LCE not a Michael Siegal -- no one -- who is "blazing with anger" or even a little upset over what is and what isn't happening even in the face of an institutional catastrophe unlike any other. No, they continue to present failure as success.

Yes, while we in the Midwest have seen Spring overtake the polar vortex at long last, 25 Broadway remains in the Ice Age and, so obviously, with no relief in the offing.


Sunday, April 20, 2014


When we first published the fable of TribeFest 3's "success," we failed to focus on what a Commentator picked up on quickly -- that the "heroic" Lobos for Israel" who attended the Fest were college students. Then another Comment offered insights:
"JFNA needs to clearly articulate who TribeFest is for -- a 22-30 or older crowd. Once determined, who can best deliver the program. If for a younger cohort, then why not partner with Moishe House or Birthright...and if for older crowd then JFNA's YL efforts may work."
These Comments reminded me that the first failed Fest was focused on attracting unaffiliated young adults -- those out of college; failed Fest 2 expanded the focus to affiliated young adults -- again, those out of college; and Fest 3...anybody who would take a subsidy and come. 

Once again, JFNA offered an event driven by numbers -- didn't achieve them, but TribeFest 3 was all about numbers. Adults -- bring 'em; Cabinet members -- y'all come; college kids -- welcome. Purpose of TribeFest 3 -- who knows? One thing we know, TribeFest, like a JFNA National "Soul" Mission, has been about nothing, like, as well, the Seinfeld Show.


Saturday, April 19, 2014


One of JFNA's lay leaders for whom I have only great affection and respect wrote me the other day. She sent me some very positive correspondence about TribeFest. I want to share that with you. The following was sent to JFNA in response to a post-Fest 3 "outreach" by the "Associate Director, Community and Professional Relations" asking those communities which received "grants" ("subsidies") to "help (JFNA) report back on the impact the national subsidy program has!" And, back came the following:
"Dear Julia,

Thank you for emailing me in Sam's absence.  Actually, we have quite an amazing post-Tribefest report for you!

On Wednesday, April 2nd, the University of New Mexico's student senate heard a resolution to divest from six companies who do business in Israel.  It was brought forward by Students for Justice in Palestine.  The hearing room was full to capacity, perhaps as many as 150 people were present.  There were perhaps 30 people present who were against the resolution and only seven students of the 30.  

Led by Sarah Abonyi, founder of Lobos for Israel, six other students spoke in a careful and polished manner against the resolution.  Half of the students had never spoken in public previously -- other than at their b'nai mitzvah ceremonies.  None had spoken in front of such a hostile crowd.  

Of the seven students who spoke, three attended Tribefest: Ezra Rabinsky, Rose Davenport and Jacob Goldstein. They did beautifully, despite the tension and the animosity of the crowd. 

Of the other three Tribefest attendees, Gabe Zambello would have spoken, but he had to attend class, Julian Lesnevich suffered a death in his family the previous day, and Dan Majewski is no longer a student. 

The student senators did not know much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but they knew that they didn't like the animosity shown.  After a difficult three hour meeting, they rejected the resolution (7-12), after unanimously striking all reference to Israeli companies first.  

It was extraordinary, and perhaps the first time a BDS resolution has been unanimously rejected at a US university.  After the meeting, I went through 750 tweets that occurred during the meeting.  The vast majority were hostile to Israel, often sarcastic to our students, and some veered straight into old-fashioned anti-Semitism. I have never experienced anything like this before.

Our young people were very brave.

I know that Tribefest made a real difference for them, as all three, Ezra, Rose and  Jacob, were immediately willing to stand up for Israel and the Jewish people, despite the real difficulties.

Thank you for enabling them to attend the event.  I know it gave them the strength to face the BDS movement head on.

All the best,"

And, kal ha'kavod to New Mexico. 

But, really. Is this exemplary experience worthy of the encomium offered by the JFNA Vice-President, Institutional Advancement (and kudos of course to the JFNA Senior V-P for Titles): "This is extraordinary. Should be used somewhere to demonstrate so many facets of what we do..."

Well, here's the thing...or a few things:

  • Does the New Mexico experience (or even 4 or 5 like it) rationalize the expenditure of over $3 million on a succession of what can only be described as failed Fests?
  • In the letter transmitting the New Mexico success, my friend asserted that "TribeFest came out of Young Leadership Cabinet's desire to offer a low entry outreach and engagement event for young people." Having heard from Cabinet leaders, I can tell you that that assertion is merely the rationalization for the triple failures of the three Fests. The Fests were imposed upon the Cabinets, pure and simple.
  • Other than the few operational federations, each of which is struggling, anyone who knows federation and its continental organization knows that these institutions...our institutions, should not be engaged in direct programming. In fact John Ruskay seriously questioned why JFNA was engaging in the Fests (when almost identical programming was being provided to the same "intended constituency" by others) -- there was no answer, of course. And, so it has continued with different audiences but the same dismal results year-after-year.
So, of course congrats to New Mexico and to its six heavily subsidized Festers for their good works. But....really?


Wednesday, April 16, 2014


1. The apparent abdication of his responsibilities as JFNA Board Chair has inspired a number of Comments. Some have appeared on these pages, others have been sent to me off-line. The theme that runs through them all can be summarized as follows: "This wouldn't be happening if Michael Siegal were still the Chairman of the Board."

2. Remember Matt Freedman? Back in 2011 we applauded his hire away from The Associated, the Baltimore federation, as JFNA's Associated Vice-President for Philanthropic Resources. Imagine, an experienced campaigner from a great federation now on the staff of JFNA. And, with all things JFNA...nothing. It was as if Matt had been swallowed up in the black hole that JFNA had become. First, perhaps the cause of the mysterious disappearance, Paul Kane, hired by Silverman to do...almost nothing it appeared...seems to have tasked to Matt the impossible job of collecting non-binding federation non-commitments to the Ethiopian National Project, and, then, similar, the non-binding non-commitments to "Completing the Journey." Then, JFNA hired another New York UJA pro to "succeed" Kane upon his retirement. And, now, Matt has resigned...or been forced out. Another example of Silverman's managerial acumen.

3. Writing of Paul Kane reminded me -- has he really retired? What is the amount of his consulting contract that sees him at 25 Broadway almost more than when he was a full-time employee? What is he doing beyond the non-performing Millionaires Round Table? Any answers will be appreciated, of course.

4. Looking for CEO Jerry? A friend of the Blog tried to reach Mr. Silverman by e-mail on April 10 (the date is important). Here is what that correspondent received as a reply:
"I will be out of the office from November 22nd through December 1st. I will not be checking e-mail during this time. Please feel free to contact my assistant..."
I often think that JFNA would be far ahead of where it is were Jerry's assistant (and Howard's before him) in charge.

5. And on April 9, Globes reported that an Israeli Government Committee recommended that Hadassah Hospital be "taken away" from the control of WZOA ("It's not our fault") Hadassah.

And so it goes here in Lake Woebegone.


Sunday, April 13, 2014


 "It is not an arrogant organization that chooses priorities, it's an irresponsible organization that fails to choose."
JFNA Chair, Michael Siegal, sent out "An Update on Our Work" (3/26) that focused, if one can call it that, on five, count 'em...5, what I guess he would call "systemic priorities" in which JFNA has (or is) engaged. I will summarize them for you in my own way (but, trust me, the entire list fails to justify a budget of $10 million let alone $30.5):

  1. Ukraine. Emphasizing a meeting that CEO Jerry had with Eduard Dolinsky the very excellent chief pro of one of so many Ukrainian Jewish organizations (whose lay Chair, during the Ukrainian Revolution, gave public support to the now deposed Putin Puppet President, Yanukovych...but, never mind), Michael wrote of the creation of the JFNA Ukraine Assistance Fund Allocations Committee (with two superb Co-Chairs) -- but never mentioned what the "ask" JFNA has made of the federations or whether JFNA is leading the FRD effort. But, he wrote, the new Committee will "...make appropriate grants as new needs emerge." (Makes you wonder who writes this stuff?
  2. The Kotel. You will be reassured by the fact that someone(s) from JFNA "participated in a group discussion" on the management of the "egalitarian section" of the Wall. Things, as they say, are moving in a positive direction...but it is Israel and it is the Kotel, after all.
  3. Conversions in Israel. On this one there has been "deep discussion" by federations and the religious movements that "encouraged Knesset leaders" to reject legislation that would detrimentally impact on progress on religious diversity in Israel. "Discussion will continue."
  4. Disabilities Advocacy. With thanks to the Ruderman Family Foundation, JFNA has been trumpeting its leadership in the area of internships for Jewish people (I assume) with disabilities. Kal ha'kavod to the Ruderman Family. 
  5. TribeFest 2014. The Kool-Aid cup runneth over. 1,200 party-goers from  85 communities. Someone, maybe many, saw something that "excites and inspires us for the future of our People." G-d, let's for sure do it again for another $1 million plus.
There you have it -- a "meeting" with the chief pro of a small Ukrainian Jewish group, a "group discussion" on matters related to the Wall, a "deep discussion" by someone with someone on Conversion legislation, thanks to the Ruderman Foundation, the catalyst for assistance the the disabled community and, of course, the "buzz" from another TribeFest. Insipidity to some, Kool-Aid to others.

Your JFNA at work.

Chag Pesach Sameach to you and your families.


Thursday, April 10, 2014


What would you suggest be done?

1. Shortly after Silverman was anointed as CEO, he began a trek from federation to federation, something I thought welcome and long overdue. Then I learned that in a meeting with lay leadership in a Large Intermediate Federation in the Southwest, he was asked point blank by a lay leader whether JFNA would lead an effort to build the core allocations. His answer: "JFNA will never ask a federation to increase those allocations." I checked with two other communal leaders who were present; they confirmed that Jerry said exactly that or words to that effect. I called Silverman and asked him point blank; he not only denied saying it; he said he would never say such a thing.

I know pandering when I hear it; I also know that the communal lay leaders heard exactly what Jerry said. And this was when I stopped giving Mr. Silverman the benefit of the doubt.

2. Some two years ago Chair Manning demanded that a GPT group delete references to support of Zionism as "too controversial." When I printed that fact, Jerry denied it, certain LCE denied it, Manning denied it. Yet, even though it was true, no one cared about the facts. Falsehoods all around. Ultimately Manning apologized to those federation leaders she had accused of spreading this fact, effectively acknowledging that she said it. (She hasn't apologized to me.) Jerry, who led the assault, hasn't to my knowledge, apologized to anyone.

3. In February 2013, a few of us spent time with the incoming Chair of the Executive. She wanted to know our concerns and we spelled them out to her. Later that same day, she came up to me and told me that our list was filled with misinformation and that Jerry had given her the true facts. He just patronized her with stuff he made up on the spot, I think she knows that all those things that we had listed for her were, in fact, true.

4. And, most recently, in the face of LCE "strong reservations" about TribeFest, CEO Jerry claimed to them, outrageously, that TribeFest, from the beginning was demanded by the Young Leadership Cabinets. Patently false.

There's more...much, much more. Can you imagine what would happen were your CEO to just misrepresent the facts to your lay leadership? But, at JFNA it's part of the DNA. The apparent JFNA formula for success: have no qualifying credentials, if you don't know the answer to a question, make one up. Not only are you hired, we'll pay you $700,000 to keep doing whatever it is you're doing.


Monday, April 7, 2014


Well, around the country some bad stuff is happening. To-wit:

    1. In one Large City an undisclosed conflict between the Federation President and the CEO resulted in the lay President's resignation. Does anyone remember when, first, CJF and, then, JFNA, conducted an annual 2 day seminar for federation presidents and execs. Does anyone recall when the national organization would attempt to mediate situations like these so that they would never reach the "it's him/her or me" stage? Well those days appear to be so over. Does this federation explosion "out" the reality that many CEOs neither know how to work with lay leaders or just find them to be an unnecessary annoyance that they would like to just give their money and get out of the way and, also, that many lay leaders are faced with circumstances for which they, too, are unprepared?
    2. At another federation the outgoing CEO announced that the community was innovating a major Women's Foundation to focus their grants, apparently, on communal issues and programs related to women philanthropists. Big innovation -- Chicago, among many other federations, has had a Women's Foundation for at least a decade. Were JFNA to have a functioning FRD  (oops, Philanthropic Resources) Department would't such an effort be promoted continentally as a federation "best practice?" 
    3. Remember the "Ukraine Initiative?" JFNA established what was nothing more than a "Mailbox" and, then...a Task Force. Excellent Co-Chairs, allocating money as it arrives. Oh, there was a $1 million "ask" of the Large Cities on a Fair Share basis -- then JFNA sat back and waited for the money.  This is the JFNA way -- cowardice where a little courage, a little real initiative, a real commitment would be appropriate. If not, as many have argued, why do it? Did some LCE demand it or did the facts on the ground cry out for it? Is there one JFNA asked the federations for funding and then actually raised the money? Instead, CEO Jerry is writing paeans of praise for the wonderful PJ Library.  Guess there's either no crisis in the Ukraine or JFNA has no time for it if there is one. Who's driving the Clown Car? Is someone at 25 Broadway driving this bus while the Co-Chairs pretend that all is well?
    4. When was the last time that JFNA offered a set of funding priorities for  federation consideration, deliberation and decision? Well, maybe never. Today, with funding "Signature Initiatives" in conflict with increasing core allocations, etc., out of the blue arrived on your Federation CEO's desk a request directly from the Ethiopian National Project -- not even through JFNA although the folks there have known about it since at least last December. "The leadership of the Representatives of Ethiopian Jewish Community Organizations in Israel has asked the Ethiopian National Project to share the attached letter with you, the leadership of North American Jewry." (But, you can be assured that JFNA supplied the ENP with your e-mail address.) Where does this request fit within communal priorities? One thing is for certain: JFNA doesn't have a clue. And, later the same day as the ENP request, in a Memo from the Chairs and Silverman, the same mailing list was advised that a Task Force was appointed on "the same subject" back at year-end -- "within a matter of days" of the ENP request back then. That apparently secret Task Force has met three times and will report back by May -- that will be over 5 months after the request made of JFNA. (Imagine with me the conversation at 25 Broadway on March 25: "Mr. Silverman, the ENP has sent a letter to every federation seeking that funding of its work." Jerry: "They did WHAT? Get 'em on the phone. Don't they know that we have a Task Force working on this at our leisure [We do have a Task Force, don't we?]") Those ingrates.") But, rest assured that's as quickly as our JFNA can respond to what the ENP identified as "critical needs."
    5. This should probably be #1 on the "trending" list. JFNA reported the Festivus results and, as usual, they were spectacular. One of the co-Chairs wrote of how great and meaningful it was: 1,200 participants, lots of wonderful stuff, inspiration and, though not mentioned, eating and drinking beyond "Kosher gumbo" and some kind of Black and White Ball. But, taking JFNA's count (always questionable because always inflated) of 1,200 (have you noticed how certain events seem to have a JFNA-assigned number to them? 1,200 for TribeFest, 3,000 for every GA -- and they are always vastly overstated?), that works out to a cost to you of $833 per participant. ($1,000,000 budget/1,200 participants) If you believe that there will be a positive return on that "investment," I have a bridge to sell you. This was the third time, down for the count.
If you like things the way they are, raise your hand.


Thursday, April 3, 2014


You will recall, as I do, that the "culmination" of the 2014 Jerusalem GA, occurred when about 1,000 (wow!!) participants marched in an expression of unity with the Women of the Wall to Robinson's Arch or thereabouts, to celebrate the historic compromise in which JFNA claimed a piece of this "victory." Well, it seems that JFNA has marked this as just another moment in time as its leaders turned their attention to but another shiny object -- legislation to liberalize conversions in Israel.

While all of us who read the Israeli press know that the "deal" with regard to open prayer on an extension of the Western Wall has fallen apart, you would never know it from the Briefings that JFNA supplies us so often. Since that ga March, other than over-stating the numbers, JFNA has written nothing -- not even one of its periodic inane letters to the Prime Minister. Perhaps they are awaiting instructions from Jewish Agency Executive Chair, Natan Sharansky, whose historic compromise appears to be on life support. JFNA's "partner" in this Jewish unity effort was the courageous organization of Women of the Wall; they are now objecting to the compromise because the Government's "company" has turned over Wall "operations" to an ultra-Orthodox entity that does not appear to support gender equality. JFNA apparently can't find the words.

But, onto the barricades on the conversion issue. You may recall that just a few weeks ago, JFNA sent out a "briefing" on the subject along with a "strong letter" to the P.M. using support for piece of legislation introduced by a member of the minority in the Knesset that would "open up" the conversion process beyond a tightly controlled Ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate. Then, a few weeks later, apparently JFNA "got religion." 

On March 15, JFNA published an epic Leadership Briefing. First, it read:
"Member of Knesset Elazar Stern from Tzippy Livni’s Hatnua Party), has proposed a bill that attempts to liberalize the process of conversions in Israel. Creating more options for conversion is a high priority and can impact directly the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis whom we helped make aliyah from the Russian-speaking world as well as many others. So, of course, we welcome such moves and are pleased that it looks likely that the bill will come up for second and final readings in the Knesset as early as this Tuesday."
OK so far? "we welcome" yada yada yada. (Except, of course, that it's Tzipi not "Tzippy" and Hatnuah not Hatnua but, so what?) But, then, same Briefing, new paragraph:
"When we were in Israel two weeks ago, we led an extensive series of meetings with Israel’s top political leadership on this issue. Our message was singular – no bill is better than a bad bill. A bad bill could even jeopardize moderate Orthodox efforts."
You may be as confused as I. Could our chachams not have anticipated that other Knesset members who do not look upon religious tolerance as we do or as Member Stern does might introduce their own amendments to Stern's Bill and piggyback it into the night? Are our leaders so naive? Do we support the Bill or not? Do we want it withdrawn?

Anyone with any sense of institutional memory knows that the "Who Is A Jew" issue can be the most corrosive and volatile one; one that has and can again divide North American Jewry from our Israeli mishpacha. But, there is that shiny object out there pulling our "leadership" in, apparently, two directions at once.

If it weren't so potentially explosive, it would be funny. Keystone Kops anyone?