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.



Anonymous said...

Richard -- Bingo!!

Anonymous said...

Look, Silverman should never have taken the job. What in his experience could possibly have convinced him he could lead this complex organization to greatness, or even to mediocrity? Maybe he thought that given the failures of his predecessor he would shine in some reflected light no matter how badly he did.

Wrong on all counts.

Anonymous said...

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.