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.



Anonymous said...

Actually, John Ruskay says something very similar. I don't think it is meant as the condemnation of the system that you think it is.

RWEX said...

Thanks. What do you think Jerry meant? A compliment to the system? A suggestion of an alternative approach? Or was he just repeating something he heard John say?

Anonymous said...


No, no, no. As a long-time Silverman-watcher one would have thought that you would have understood what Jerry meant. Here is exactly what he meant -- "Colorado and others are in the counter-culture (though I do not know what that means). The annual campaign is central to our work and we are doing everything we can to make it strong. Collective giving is critical too -- at least until JFNA Dues are paid."

Anonymous said...

Hey, everyone knows that Silverman rarely if ever understands what is he is talking about -- why would he this time? He can't be blamed; only pitied.

Anonymous said...

Has anybody ever thought of a public petition limited to past and present board members of federations?

Anonymous said...

John Ruskay did say something similar and I heard him say it. I believe he said it even before Jerry was hired at JFNA. John's metaphor was swimming upstream.

Anonymous said...


Looks as if Jerry is going to hide behind a "Ruskay said it first" defense, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

IF Ruskay said anything like that which Silverman DID say (and I agree with the last Anonymous that Silverman is merely taking cover by making it up), John would have said this: "On the one hand a few would say that the annual campaign and the collective effort have become counter-cultural, BUT ON THE OTHER HAND the vast majority of us believe that the centrality of the annual campaign is part of the core values that distinguish us."

Anonymous said...

In the hierarchy of incompetency, we all know who reigns at the apex. But there are so many fellow travelers -- those who have propped up the least in pursuit of higher office or some other worthless honor; or those too lazy to rise up; or those seeking to preserve their "power" -- without any idea how to use that power once they have it.