Saturday, May 31, 2014


Retired Israeli Ambassador Yoram Ettinger, in his monthly newsletter, suggested the possibility that up to 500,000 Diaspora Jews might make aliyah within the short term. He wrote:
"Currently, there is a rare window of opportunity for a dramatic wave of Aliyah of at least 500,000 Jews during the next ten years from Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Argentina, and Western democracies such as Germany, France, England and the USA, which feature a significant infrastructure of Aliyah-oriented Jewish/Zionist education.  That window of opportunity consists of the relative strength of Israel's economy; the confidence demonstrated by global high tech giants in Israel's long-term viability (e.g., Intel's recent $6bn expansion of its already robust Israeli presence); the sustained global economic uncertainty; the moderate (or no) cost of Jewish education in Israel; the rising threat of Islamic terrorism throughout the world; Israel's success in drastically curtailing Palestinian terrorism; the expansion of an Islamic presence in European countries with substantial Jewish communities; the intensification of global anti-Semitism; and the growing uncertainty in Russia and Ukraine."
Ettinger went on to reflect on what he termed on this "rare window of opportunity" which, in turned, caused me to speculate on the impacts the sorry state of our system would have on such an opportunity for the current generations of Jews to write a new and brilliant chapter in modern Jewish history. 

The daily exodus to Israel suggests that Ettinger's "window of opportunity" may already be open: aliyah from France in the First Quarter 2014 is up 400%; Jews from the Ukraine are lined up at JAFI offices seeking counsel on aliyah, is there any doubt that the third largest Jewish population in Eur-Asia will soon commence? And, then what? Then what? In ejewishphilanthropy this question was framed with greater passion: "The Jewish Agency’s Roman Polonsky reports from Ukraine: “This is the calm before the storm,” many say. “What will we do in case of emergency? How will you save us?” - See more at:
We can't use history as a guide because the North American system is in such disarray and the leading philanthropists of this era and earlier have either passed on, been abandoned or forced out of the system in too many places? The Marvin Lenders, Joel Taubers, Carole Solomons, Art Sandlers and Richie Pearlstones of the 90s have been eased or pushed out -- the Max Fishers, Alex Grasses and Walter Annenbergs of the Operation Exodus times have passed away and the passion of a Brian Lurie is focused on another organization. Our wealth as a North American Jewish polity has never been greater and, yet, where are the women and men, lay and professional, who will recall us to our responsibilities to our People as we did during the last Exodus? 

Even more recently, are examples cited by one Commentator to this Blog that are equally apt to this Post:

     "Sad. So very sad for all who love the Federation system and remember what it could accomplish not so very long ago. 

Think about current "leadership" and staff and ponder:

Could these folks design and implement the Loan Guarantee Program and absorption plans for over 1 million refugees?

Could these folks have the wherewithal to get a leader (from Chicago) to basically say "I will guarantee the bribe offered by Uri Librani to keep rebels out of Adis Ababa long enough for 16,000 refugees to be loaded onto flights to Israel?

Could these folks design a Katrina Response the scope of which our system implemented in 2005 which raised over $31 Million total and had responsibility to distribute over $22 Million of those dollars in a planful consultative process with active involvement of the impacted Gulf Coast Jewish and general communities? (Obviously not as seen by its lackluster results in response to Hurricane Sandy and other more recent natural disasters).

So very sad indeed

Back then, almost a quarter-century ago and, then, so recently.we rose to those obligations with pride and passion in unheard of numbers of donors and dollars. Today, because of systemic neglect  and worse, we have lost 2/3rds of those donors and our Continental organization has turned us and our communities ever-more inward. Fund raising commitment and passion are not mere spigots that can be turned on and off at the whim of a pathetic and credulous continental leadership. No one at 25 Broadway -- not a lay person nor any professional is preparing for the potential of a real $1 billion special campaign need. No, they are awash in the detritus of their own narishkeit.

As the brilliant Bret Stephens wrote so recently in a different context: 
"Goethe wrote that nothing is worse than aggressive stupidity, which is true. But pompous impotence sure comes in second place."


Friday, May 30, 2014


This e-mail just arrived:

Dear Trustees,

I want to clarify that the purpose of the Board of Trustees conference call on June 2 at 11:00AM ET is to authorize JFNA’s Compensation Committee to negotiate a contract renewal with Jerry Silverman.

As per Section 5.5-3 of the Bylaws (noted below), it is the responsibility of the JFNA Compensation Committee to determine the conditions of his employment.

Thank you.

Shabbat Shalom.

Michael Siegal
Chair, Board of Trustees
Should be a brief and transparent discussion, shouldn't it?


Shabbat shalom.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014


As I ponder the title I chose for this Post, I realize it could pertain to so many things at JFNA. Among them:

  • The merger itself
  • A succession of failed albeit experienced CEOs
  • Chairs with their own agendas demanding absolute personal fealty
  • One Chair who believed her agenda trumped those of the federations
  • The selection of Mr. "Outside the Box" as CEO/President
  • Chairs who know the meaning of leadership but fail to lead
  • The abandonment of those of our People most in need
  • The insatiable demand for Dues with almost no return on investment
There are no doubt more but, for the moment, these will do. But the Blog received the following anonymously days ago:
"Hey Michael and Dede, 
Not to pick on JFNA but the one thing most appropriate for a national organization to produce would be an intelligent and serious quality piece explaining the Federation model to new and old constituencies. The article could elucidate our approach to a global Jewish community and annual giving while recognizing the 21st century changes and realities head on. It's time to reconnect!" 
Unfortunately the Co-Chairs to whom this was addressed -- two wonderful lay persons who may not have anticipated the woeful organizational state they would inherit from the pathetic lay leadership who preceded them -- don't believe that they have the power to direct or do anything. So they do nothing. Leaders in attendance at the GPT meeting two weeks ago expressed "astonishment" at the lack of substantive input by the JFNA Board Chair.

Friends who have informed this Post have told me that these two leaders had been promised support and cooperation from a significant body of lay leadership who offered them just those two things, along with their congratulatory messages upon Michael's and Dede's nomination. Instead, at every turn, as Michael has wanted to institute real change at JFNA, he has been blocked. Yes, blocked by his predecessor who feared that her "legacy" (the GPT, and, of course, CEO Thank-You-Ma'am-May-I-Have-Another) would be lost and by those that she could rally to her side. And, having been blocked, Michael just backed away.

But, really, the final nails in the coffin of this iteration of a continental system have been hammered home over the last five years -- really since Jerry Silverman was plucked from the obscurity of a small national agency, anointed CEO (and President, of course) and ever since has performed without purpose or supervision ever since. Silverman quickly developed a thin skin and a sense of entitlement; masked behind a rictus grin is the real persona evidenced at Senior Management Team meetings. With the retirement of Sam Astrof as COO/CFO there have been growing inadequacies in program monitoring and fiscal oversight that promise more problems in the future -- if there is a future.

A friend recently wrote to me that "in a normal organization, you don't get fired for being wrong, you get fired for being stupid." At our JFNA you don't get fired for being wrong or stupid, you get a contract extension.


Sunday, May 25, 2014


1. Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS":

"If JFNA had any brains it would have articulated its position regarding the abstention in a way that was supportive of its mission.

If it only had a brain.

Or a mission."

2. The following was sent by a Friend of the Blog. You must read the entirety...and, in particular, the very last line

"Conservative Rabbi With History Of Alleged Sex Abuse Changes Name And Trolls Internet For Business

Rabbi-Jon-Hillel-(Ginsburg)Jonathan Ginsburg, a Conservative rabbi who allegedly sexually abused a female congregant he was counseling, has changed his name and is trolling the Internet for business.
 Above: Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg
Last updated at 9:28 pm CDT
Jonathan Ginsburg, a Conservative rabbi who allegedly sexually abused a female congregant he was counseling, has  changed his name and is trolling the Internet for business.
The alleged abuse took place while Ginsburg and his wife were the rabbis at Temple of Aaron (Conservative) in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Ginsburg divorced her more than a decade ago.)
He resigned in June 2004, relocated to Chicago area and led a small Conservative Synagogue, Ezra Habonim/Niles Township Jewish Congregation in Skokie, IL.
But that job also ended and Ginsburg is also excluded in perpituity from the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly, which notes:
"…Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg is no longer a member of the Rabbinical Assembly, nor is he eligible for readmission. The RA has no association with nor does it endorse or recognize any bet din or other program run by, or participated in by Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg.…"
Now Ginsburg has apparently changed his name and gone into business for himself as a nondenominational rabbi as his listing on shows:
Rabbi-Jon-Hillel-(Ginsburg)Rabbi Name: Rabbi Jon Hillel
Religious Genre: Conservative, Reform
Rabbi Long Description: Need a Rabbi?
For Jewish individuals and families in need of a Rabbi, Rabbi Jon Hillel.  A veteran Rabbi, with 30 years of experience and training in Conservative, Reform Orthodox and Reconstructionist Judaism, is available for;

Jewish Weddings
Bar Mitzvahs
Baby Namings, Bris
Emergency pulpit subbing
House Blessings
Counseling and Other Special Jewish Events.

Rabbi, Jon Hillel,  has been a congregational Rabbi for 31 years in Brooklyn, Minnesota and Chicago.
He has studied and worked in Conservative, Orthodox, Reform and Reconstructionist settings. He is a native of Chicago, he received his B.A. in religion from the University of Chicago where he was the valedictory orator and received his Masters and Rabbinic Ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary where he received the Krasne Award for outstanding student.

He was a National Merit scholar and 1974 National High School Debate Champion. adjunct faculty of St. Catherine College and Metropolitan University.  He served on the National Rabbinic Cabinet, United Jewish Appeal, as Associate Chair of the State of Israel Bonds Rabbinic Cabinet Executive Committee and on many Boards of Jewish Institutions. He has served as coordinator of the Minnesota Rabbinical Association, and on the Nominations and Professional Development Committee of the International Rabbinical Assembly, and as President of the Niles Township Clergy Association, and was nominee for Jewish Community Hero 2011 by the Jewish Federations of North America."
No comment necessary.

3. Then one of my friends, not a psychiatrist, wrote: "Richard, you wrote your Love Story. You are now drafting the longest eulogy in history, every day." I know CEO Man-This-Isn't-the-Job-For-Me doesn't come to work every day saying "what can I screw up today," it just seems that way.

4. Saving the best worst for last; and I am not making this up. An agenda item for the JFNA Executive Committee: "JFNA Decision-Making in Sensitive Situations." You have to love this place!!


Thursday, May 22, 2014


Yesterday, as I advised on these pages, Chair Michael Siegal announced that there would be a Special JFNA Board of Trustees Conference call on June 2, basically to ratify a recommendation that CEO Can You Believe This? contract be extended. There had been a Committee comprised of Siegal, Dede Feinberg, Steve Silverman and Linda Hurwitz, our "leaders," who reviewed what they would call the CEO's performance and are now recommending this farcical action.

So, in my response to the meeting, I wrote the following to Michael:
"Please respond to the following questions prior to any vote:
            1. Can you please list what has been accomplished by JFNA for the federations during Jerry's tenure to date so that we may make an intelligent decision

         2. What is Jerry Silverman's total compensation, including all benefits, for the current fiscal year."

There were other questions I might have liked to ask but didn't that would have included:
1. Are the four of you truly leading? 
          2. Have you compared the record of CEO You Have Got To Be Kidding with those of Phil Bernstein, Marty Kraar, Stan Horowitz, all deceased, or Steve Hoffman or Brian Lurie?

       3. Is JFNA or our system better off today than it was 4+ years ago?

       4. Is this the recommendation of serious leaders?

       5. Who was called by this "Review Committee" to get the now famous "pulse of the system?"

Then, one of you asked some further substantive and important questions:

"and another set of bedrock questions:
1. What is Jerry's and JFNA's understanding of the VISION of the federation movement?
2. What is the explicit MISSION of JFNA in fulfilling this mission?
3. What STRATEGIES have they/he conceived of and implemented to this end?
4. When,where and how are these type of questions seriously addressed?"
 Think any of these questions will be answered? One thing is certain, the extension of this contract on the record of the lat 4+ years means that this leadership just doesn't care.



There is so much wrong, such a mess, a balagan, one can only cite "highlights" while the JFNA lay leadership hears no evil, sees no evil and speaks not at all (unless there's a microphone and a script):

  1. It took a Comment to a Post on the most recent failed TribeFest to spot the total futility of what has become an annual travesty. That Comment noted that the heroic young adults at the University of New Mexico, who fended off a BDS attack, were subsidized participants in Festivus 3 as college students. It turned out that the "responsible" JFNA professionals who led TribeFest were doling out subsidies to college students. The original intended Fest audience, per JFNA, were unaffiliated young men and women -- the age of members of the convener  Young Leadership Cabinet. But, as JFNA could inspire no real interest by that group even with ads promoting Fest as a drinking "fun" thing, JFNA expanded the intended participation to affiliated young adults (including mostly YLC members) who would be heavily subsidized. Now, desperate for numbers -- college students were receiving subsidies. Remember -- these drinking social non-events have cost your federation and mine a total of $3 million (+) -- at any other organization, heads would roll; at JFNA...promotions. Let's have some transparency: how much in total subsidies were paid out and to whom; what age cohorts received subsidies; how many college students were subsidized; home many YLC members were subsidized; how many unaffiliated? Etc. We will never be told, fuggedaboutit.
  2. Then there is the 2014 Campaign Chairs/Directors Mission, once the annual crown jewel of a series of UJA fund raising Missions. Fully-subsidized, these Missions, begun in the mid-90's when I served as UJA National Chair, they infused the federation campaigns with knowledge, passion and inspiration for those who would lead the annual campaigns. This year, not only has the subsidy been reduced to $1500, the venue has been changed in a most curious way. Originally set for St. Petersburg, where the Jewish Agency and Joint run inspirational programs and Jewish activity and daily life are full, the venue was changed to...Greece. Yes, a prime vacation spot with a Jewish population estimated at less than 5,000, with a JDC presence, as opposed to a thriving City with a Jewish population of well over 100,000 with the constant daily activities of a vibrant community. Who made the decision to move the venue? Who demanded the change? The same people who run TribeFest? A Comment below supports the conclusion that Greece may be the most inappropriate place for our communal leaders to visit as Greece is the most anti-semitic country in the world!! Yet, there they go.*
Look, there is so much more...but...have you ever see an organization in greater need of adult supervision and leadership?


* I have heard a rumor that one of the "major" LCE "demanded" the change of venue for the Mission. No one knows why; nor, it would appear, is there any rational reason for having done so. Yet, JFNA's CEO passed the word without ever challenging it. This example, if true, suggests why the LCE as a group and individually have been silent on the extension of CEO Jerry's contract: he is the ultimate made-as-instructed "professional." If an influential LCE tells Mr. Silverman to jump, he doesn't even ask "how high?" before leaving the ground.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Received today:

-----Original Message-----
From: Desk of Michael Siegal []
Received: Wednesday, 21 May 2014, 10:41AM

TO:             JFNA Board of Trustees
FROM        Michael Siegal, Chair of the Board

The JFNA Board of Trustees will hold a special meeting of the Board by conference call, to be held on Monday, June 2, 2014, at 11:00 a.m. ET.

Dial in information:
US & Canada:   Numbers omitted
Conference ID: 

Per Section 6.8 of the JFNA Bylaws, this meeting is called for the purpose of authorizing Jerry Silverman’s reengagement as JFNA’s President & CEO. Upon authorization by the Board and per Section 5.5-3 of the Bylaws, the JFNA Compensation Committee shall determine the conditions of his employment.

Please make every effort to attend the call."  

To put it another way -- JFNA, requiescat in pace.


Monday, May 19, 2014


In response to recent Posts with regard to JFNA's sorry state, I have heard from numerous Federation lay and professional leaders off-line with their own parallel impressions of what should be our thriving continental organizations. And, no one escapes their ire -- not me for being part of creating what has evolved into a total, costly mess; not the LCE, and some are quite specific in pointing fingers as those of them they view as the main perpetrators -- those who know better but perpetuate the mess and enable its growth; not the JFNA Executive Committee (who some view as the most venal of the current breed of enablers); not the current Board Chair who is characterized by most who commented upon him as "a huge disappointment;" and, with an unusual unanimity among those who reached out to me, the current CEO (one called to tell me that "Silverman makes Rieger look like an effective leader). 

Then there the questions: what are ownership's expectations? If there are any, what are they and are they being realized? Has anyone ever set goals for its senior professionals, for the CEO -- or are they merely left alone while the CEO panders and patronizes -- "Great idea, I will get back to you on that," hangs up the phone and then...nothing? And if there have been goals, why don't we know what they are, so we,too. could evaluate the performance or, more than likely, the lack thereof?

Looking at the predicament of the "outside the box hires," Rabbi David Teutsch, the head of the Center for Jewish Ethics at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College commented in The Forward with great insight:
“Most people who go into Jewish communal work with the intention of doing good never develop the expertise or effectiveness [to run] an organization of this size…. It’s a comment on the failure of lay and professional leaders to nurture and develop and respect Jewish communal professionals.”

Read more:
And it is all the more sad when those who have perpetuated these "failures" are your friends, are people you otherwise respect.

One reader wrote the following to me:
"Try this thought-experiment. You are participating in a meeting of your family foundation or 'giving circle.'You have a modest five figure amount to distribute. In your back pocket is a memo you received as a member of your federation board. You, along with your fellow decision-makers are supportive of overseas needs, inclusion, religious diversity, outreach and the proud and equal role of women in Jewish life. However, in each of those federations and our (continental) organization are way down on the list of those making a real difference. We were once in our sphere the Macy's, the Lord & Taylors and the Nieman-Marcuses rolled one -- today we are not even K-Mart.
Nothing being done in areas mentioned is compelling enough to give you the reason to take that memo out of your back pocket. Maybe at some future board meeting someone needs to open the conversation as to what it is we do that truly separates us from our philanthropic competitors and quasi-partners. Maybe then we will understand the story that can and needs to be successfully told."
Yes, friends, "today we are not even K-Mart." We write our letters to the Prime Minister without realizing that we are no longer relevant -- here at home or in Israel. We are worse than a mediocrity; we are irrelevant. Blame flows everywhere and, yet, no one pays the price for our irrelevancy.


Sunday, May 18, 2014


A letter from a federation CEO to Jerry Silverman has disclosed that after CEO Jerry "felt the pulse of the system" he somehow divined that JFNA should abstain from voting on J-Street's admission to the Conference of Presidents. 

"From: Hannah Rosenthal []
Sent: Thursday, May 15, 2014 5:47 PM
To: 'Silverman, Jerry' (
Subject: Letter

May 15, 2015

Jerry Silverman, CEO
The Jewish Federations of North America
Wall Street Station
PO Box 157
New York, NY 10268

Dear Jerry:

We just completed our May Executive Committee meeting, which ended with a directive to me to let you and the JFNA family know how very disappointed we are with JFNA’s decision to abstain from the Presidents’ Conference vote to admit J Street.

This has nothing to do with whether or not MJF Board members agree or disagree with policies or statements by J Street.  This is about inclusivity.

In Milwaukee, after much research and community planning (our reimagining process), the number one goal of MJF moving forward is to be a warm, welcoming, and inclusive Jewish community.  We regularly hold public programs representing vastly different opinions on policy positions, especially relative to Israel.  In a few weeks, the anti-J Street film will be shown here.  Earlier this month Caroline Glick (one-state solution) presented a program.  At all times, we seek ways to include all voices in our community conversations.

And we believe that our national voice, JFNA, has undercut our message of inclusivity.  The President’s Conference is supposed to represent all points of view on our beloved Israel, and we believe your lack of support to allow an agency focusing on peace in Israel flies in the face of who and what JFNA is supposed to be, and who we in Milwaukee are.  We do not have litmus tests for people or groups that want to engage with the Milwaukee Jewish community.  We think it counter-productive and counter-intuitive to abstain from a vote about ensuring a variety of positions are represented by the CoP.

As you know, I did call you about this matter.  When Mark Gurvis returned my call, he explained that you ‘felt the pulse of the system’ and decided not to take a stand.  Not to take a stand on inclusivity!  MJF is also disappointed in the process you apparently used to ‘feel the pulse’ of the federation system.  We most definitely were not asked for feedback, and want to know how in the future we and/or other large intermediate or smaller federations will be consulted during such an assessment.

Finally, let me say, while I may be new to the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, I came here with much experience in the JFNA (was UJC) system.  I knew the system was better than this disregard for differing opinions on how to reach peace in the Middle East.  And I fervently hope the system will be more considerate of varying positions and issues of inclusivity moving forward.

Hannah Rosenthal
President and CEO"

(emphasis added)

Let me make sure I have this straight -- JFNA's leaders didn't trust their Executive Committee, didn't trust the federations (other than some self-selected ones) but they trusted Jerry Silverman's sense "of the pulse of the federation system???" OMG.

JFNA "leaders" are so ashamed of this non-vote, so embarrassed by it, they have refused to acknowledge it. In a bathetic "what's up at JFNA" over Michael Siegal's signature that was distributed after the J-Street non-vote, no mention of the abstention. But, now, there it is. Who is advising JFNA on its communications "strategy" here, Baghdad Bob? And, while debate on the issue would have been healthier than this stealth strategy, JFNAs leaders appear to cower at the thought. (Makes one question how many other "decisions" have been made after CEO Make-No-Waves feels around for a pulse -- perhaps, he should first take his own.

This Post is not about whether Milwaukee's (or any other Federation) positions on J-Street and so-called "inclusivity" are correct; nor is it about J-Street at all -- this is again about a total lack of process and a total lack of transparency under a leadership that lacks any understanding of either. When federations are excluded from decisions like this one; when the JFNA Executive Committee and/or Board are excluded from decisions like this one; when the CEOs of dues-paying federations can only obtain information on a decision by calling Silverman (or Gurvis), we not only have dysfunction, we have dangerous disengagement.

Yes, Silverman "felt the pulse of the system" (probably by placing his hand on the wrist of some LCE or two) and, no doubt, he found none. I'd say that JFNA leaders should have the courage of their convictions, but there are none of those either.

Total mess.


Friday, May 16, 2014


"Grim-faced  in a dark suit and black skullcap, Mr. Rapfogel quietly read passages from a well-thumbed copy of the Torah while his lawyers...went over terms of a plea agreement" (New York Times, April 24, 2014)
The Torah was a nice touch, wasn't it, from one who stole at least $1 million in funds that William Rapfogel skimmed from New York's Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty? He apparently continued a "tradition" begun by his predecessor over 20 years earlier.

How much "thumbing" do you think Rapfogel had to do to get to the "Thou shalt not steal" part?

And, where were the organization's Board members while this theft was on-going? They were paying "Willie" over $400,000 a year, basking in the glory that he brought to the organization while he was quietly stealing $30,000 a month by 2013. 

The "skim" in this case flowed from overcharges on the organization's insurance, paid over in cash to Rapfogel and his predecessor. Was there no Insurance Committee or did this Board "leave it to Willie?" Was there no open bid for the organization's insurance? This was not a matter that "fell through the cracks," it was one that demonstrated a shocking lack of lay oversight.

Friends, there is a lesson here for all of us, for all of our organizations. As someone once said: "Trust...but verify." Our responsibility as non-profit Board members is to exercise diligence; not merely to trust that what we are told is gospel (I know). In South Palm Beach County, for example, the Federation and a senior professional, among others, have been sued by a long-serving Federation financial professional who was terminated after questioning those to whom she reported about matters including alleged self-dealing. Who, other than a court, is looking into this? Who looked into the claims if and when the allegations were made before this pro's termination? (And, as an aside, why would any responsible federation "professional" carry a handgun to work?)

I once rode down an elevator with the Chair of one of our most important federations after meeting with him and his CEO. I asked, making conversation, how much time the Chair had to spend away from his office on federation matters. The answer: "Not, much, I made a deal with _________ (the CEO) when I agreed to take the Chairmanship -- he can call me if he needs me, otherwise he will take care of everything himself." My thoughts were something like "OMG." But what I heard from that Chair I have seen play out in too many places...places that could be or could become at risk from just such a total delegation of lay responsibility.

I continue to lament the abandonment by JFNA of its responsibilities to educate and mentor both lay and professional leaders in the core values inherent in the lay-professional partnership -- the very partnership that ennobles both lay and professional leaders. The balance necessary in that partnership is neither an easy thing to create nor is it simple to maintain; yet, it is such a precious thing. And, who at 25 Broadway today would be capable of driving that education/mentoring process? Who at the Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence would be capable of doing so (we will soon write about the strange Mandel reconcepting and duplicating the Wexner Heritage Program)? 

Nowadays, when JFNA has walked away from so many of its responsibilities to the field, in the main because its leaders no longer even understand them, we will look with hope and optimism to the promise offered by the ever-creative Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and associated mega-foundations which will soon roll out a program to attract and mentor the next generation of non-profit organizational leaders. I would expect that the curriculum will include the lay-professional partnership with all of the nuances inherent to that partnership.

If only we had a continental organization rather than a JFNA that is striving so hard to prove that we don't need one.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014


It's bad enough that Matt Freedman, a star in FRD when at the Baltimore Federation, left JFNA after what must have been years of frustration trying to bring the federation FRD message within the walls of JFNA. Then we learned late last month that Susan Solow-Dubin, Managing Director of Philanthropic Resources, who had been a wonderful FRD pro dating back to before the merger, would be leaving as well. Soon the shell that "Philanthropic Resources" had become under the last and present JFNA CEOs will be a totally empty vessel.

This is all so sad; and it didn't have to be. My understanding was that Michael Siegal entered upon his Board Chairmanship with an absolute commitment to reassert the national organization's leadership in the Annual Campaign -- to "more dollars and more donors." And, what happened? The CEO frustrated the Chair's intent at every turn, ultimately hiring a New York senior professional to succeed Paul Kane, who himself continues to lurk in the hallways of 25 Broadway after offering no visible leadership to JFNA's campaign leadership (unless one counts the periodic meetings of a Millionaire's Roundtable that appears to have no campaign relevance) himself. That Silverman hired in succession two New York UJA pros (the current one, Dr. Reuben Romirowsky, formerly the "Executive Director-Westchester Region, UJA-Federation of New York," and before that The CEO of Jewish Family Services of Metro-West) to "lead" a national FRD effort demonstrated how little CEO Jerry knows about the needs in the field.

Again and again and once again, the question arises: where is the adult supervision -- are there any adults taking charge of the mess that JFNA has become? A mess that gets progressively worse? Jerry Silverman can publicly deprecate the value of the annual campaign -- so "counter-cultural" -- (that must seem better to him than admitting that JFNA can have no positive impact on the AC in the manner it is being run) and then permit/supervise/direct the ultimate defenestration of any semblance of an FRD function at the continental level. And the JFNA lay leaders, ostrich-like, keep their heads in the sand -- out of harm's way, abdicating their responsibilities as if they have none.  

Maybe...unlikely, but maybe...all JFNA aspires to be is an expensive trade association...a mediocre Council of Jewish Federations. If so, let's remember that the CJF annual budget, pre-merger and absent the GA, was in the area of $6.5 million. If you believe the institutional aspiration to be something greater (as the merger intended), examine the professional leadership losses two successive CEOs have engineered or permitted:
  • Vicki Agron -- now a happy and extremely busy consultant to a myriad of federations and organizations on FRD;
  • Gail Reiss -- today the President/CEO. American Friends of Tel Aviv University
  • Debra Roshfeld -- the Senior Executive V-P/COO. Jewish Federation of Palm Beach 
  • David Saginaw -- Executive Director, TIKVAH School, Odessa
  • Matt Freedman -- ??
  • Susan Solow-Dubin --SVP, Campaign, Westchester Region, UJA-Federation of New York 
  • Marilyn Wechsler -- still raising millions annually for the Jewish Agency
  • Rhea Attias --former Exec of the Network
  • Danyelle Neuman -- as a number of you reminded me, the invaluable professional who led Fisher Flight and worked to give meaning to the now shut down Jewish Leadership Forum who has made aliyah and leads major donor events for the Jewish Agency
What are the first two things you notice: (1) a disproportionate number of top women professionals (none of whom were or are shrinking violets)...gone from JFNA; and (2) all but one of whom are engaged in important leadership and/or financial resource development. And since the "Silverman years" not even an internal communication at 25 Broadway telling co-workers of another departure.

As we have noted before, perhaps often, the place is a mess. As one of our correspondents noted: "Maybe the last person can turn off the lights." And, you know what? Even after the lights are turned off and the place is closed down once and for all, like the cockroach, TribeFest and the JFNA that perpetuates it will continue unabated. No doubt.


Saturday, May 10, 2014


In earlier Posts I have commented on the futility of The Alliance, the national lack of effort to create and enhance a national pool of funds in support of the national agencies created by our system. The Alliance has become nothing more than a national joke and, in The Alliance's treatment of the NCSJ -- Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia -- a paradigm of JFNA's own failures...everywhere.

To The Alliance lay and professional "leadership" the NCSJ allocation looked like just another ATM machine to be drawn down to fund other agencies and purposes. So the NCSJ was deprecated, its purposes and impacts in its areas of operation and expertise derided and its allocations cut, cut and cut again. In 2007, the NCSJ allocation from The Alliance was $450,000; by 2014 that was down to $132,000 -- a 2/3rds reduction. Other funded national agencies also suffered cuts from the funding pool, but none as Draconian as the cuts to the NCSJ. When explanations were sought, none were provided -- "do more with less" was the mantra. At no time did The Alliance "leaders" aggressively seek more members and greater funding -- too busy with other stuff, I guess.

While those who were engaged with the NCSJ and those who had been assisted through its efforts advocated for the NCSJ Budget, The Alliance "leaders", rather than doing their jobs -- rather than vigorously reaching out to expand its membership and increase the funding pool, focused instead on just...exactly what? My belief was and is that, at the least,  the NCSJ serves as an insurance policy for the continental Jewish community in the event of crises in the Republics of the Former Soviet Union and a cost-effective one that cried out for greater federation financial support. I guess that these Alliance "leaders" disagreed. And, look at what has happened.

The NCSJ has been our federations window through which we have learned of the impact of the Ukraine-Russia crisis in almost real time. The NCSJ communiques are being distributed to federation leadership on a daily basis in my federation and, I hope, in yours. The NCSJ contacts within the Jewish organizations and structures in the Ukraine and its reach within the new government there has provided our system with vital insights. The NCSJ has proved its worth ten times over if not more.

But, what The Alliance has done through its ineptitude has been to force national agencies to do exactly that which The Alliance (and its predecessor entities) was created to forestall -- engage in vigorous fund-raising. And, NCSJ and its fellow agencies have done so merely to survive, merely to perform the functions the national system had created them to perform.

And so it was that here in Spring 2014 the NCSJ has been the sole source for detailed, comprehensive in-depth information, contacts and expertise on what has happened and is on-going in the Ukraine and the impacts of what has happened there on the Ukrainian Jewish community. Yes, the Jewish Agency and JDC are engaged in critical work on the ground in the Ukraine but neither of them have the reach of the NCSJ. The NCSJ has been there for us today, in the current crisis, because it has been there last year, the year before, and even the decades before those years. Where have our communities looked for information, for Updates, for expertise -- the same place, the NCSJ, which The Alliance has ignored even undercut since its formation.

Oh, and while cutting the national agency allocations to those agencies which were created by our system, The Alliance invited two organizations to join The Alliance -- organizations neither created by nor part of our system (and which have been raising funds in competition with it). Yes, We!!


Friday, May 9, 2014


G-d, I love the leaders of JFNA. They can't even get their story straight on something as simple as voting aye or nay on the admission of J-Street to membership in the Council of Presidents. While other "organizations" have registered their votes and now are demanding "reforms" in the Conference "processes," our dear friends at JFNA can't even decide (a) how they voted and (b) whether to tell their own constituency.

Follow the latest travesty: the vote took place, J-Street couldn't even muster a simple majority for admission let alone the extraordinary majority required; though JFNA went through no governance process in determining how it would or would not vote, it refused to disclose how it voted; The Forward's J.J. Goldberg arrived at the conclusion that JFNA abstained through a mathematical process of elimination (he knew the pro-admission votes and from there...JFNA abstained); a few days later a source advised and The Forward published, in its May 9 print edition, that JFNA had, in fact, voted "aye;" and thereafter The Forward redacted Nathan Guttman's story on-line and deleted all references to JFNA's vote. 

And, here we are: JFNA, with no governance process, determined to vote on J-Street's admission*, but is so ashamed of its vote won't reveal it. Reminds me of the Gore-Bush election where 2500 Floridians in Dade County voted for Pat Buchanan because they were confused. Hanging chads, anyone??

Makes one proud, doesn't it? 


* I am still wagering that JFNA abstained

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


The title to today's Post is actually, in practice, JFNA's operating theme -- the organization and its leadership can be counted on to over-promise and under-achieve in every area of its work. I was reminded of this by an Anonymous Comment directed at another Anonymous Commentator to our Post on, vu den, TribeFest 3. Read on:
"... a lot of Birthright money comes from federations? Kindly back-up your comment with facts; how much did all the federations together give to Birthright last year out of Birthright's total budget? Certainly millions, but I doubt it is much more than about 6% of the total. While that is still millions of dollars, it is FAR BELOW the 1/3 of Birthright money that the federations were supposed to kick in."
So, even the most admired and supported program of our era -- Birthright -- remains underfunded through a JFNA unable to inspire us or deliver on the promises it has made. 

But you could, if you wish, look at any area of supposed commitment and you will not be surprised to learn that time after time JFNA has shown no its multiple asks for funding for project after project and the results show it. Where would you wish to look: "Signature Projects," supposedly the precursor to, what else, the "Signature Initiatives" of the Global Planning Table; ""Finish the Journey," the final push to bring the Falash Mura to Israel; the Ethiopian National Project; the Ukraine Assistance Fund (which some believe has been fully funded, but as there were no articulated goals [and as to which JFNA insisted that the fund-raising not be called a "campaign"], who knows how to define "success") measuring "success" is impossible; even Operation Promise (still in a prominent place, believe it or not on the JFNA website a decade after it was shut down); and on and on. One failed promise after another. This is not to mention $1 billion for a free pre-school education for every Jewish child thrown out there at last November's GA with neither forethought nor follow-up.

Oh, if you ask JFNA's so-called "leaders," they will no doubt tell you that its the federations' failure not theirs; after all, JFNA just throws the programs, the projects, the campaigns out there, it's up to the federations to see them through. There is no commitment at 25 Broadway to anything (except, of course, the Rube Goldberg labyrinth that is the Global Planning Table and the inanity that has been the annual TribeFest) and the continuation of UJA/CJF programs on a diminished basis. That's leadership JFNA-style. 

Starting in the years of Howard Rieger's CEO-ship, JFNA started sending passionate, even accusatory, letters to local communal leaders pleading for funding for one or another project as JFNA fund raising -- and the lack of funding priorities defies and defies reason right through today. (Of course, one thing has  remained clear -- JFNA's singular priority has been and is the payment of its Dues, everything...that's EVERYTHING...else is secondary.) JFNA operates by the mantra "if you don't know where you are going, every road will take you there." All of us know damn well that where everything is a priority, nothing is.


Sunday, May 4, 2014


Perhaps I missed it; perhaps we all did. Generally speaking JFNA is silent on almost every issue -- the Ukraine, French Jewry...civil society here and in Israel, poverty in Israel, anti-semitic terrorism Worldwide, and on and on. You name it, JFNA has no opinion on it other than to periodically offer condolences for victims. After all, they might respond, we've appointed a "Work Group" on that and they're "working on it." But, almost always, our "leaders" are, essentially, speechless. 

Oh, sure, the organization has opinions -- you remember Board Chair Siegal and CEO Jerry expressed the unsolicited opinion that the system ought to raise $1 billion for a free Jewish early childhood education for all -- they just forgot any substance or process to accompany this throw-away last November. They have also sent the Israeli Prime Minister a number of letters on everything from civil marriage to civil society -- letters!! We have imagined the Prime Minister tossing them unopened into the old circular file. 

And then there was the Conference of Presidents vote on the application of J- Street to membership. Thumbs were raised in the air at 25 Broadway to see which way the wind was blowing before JFNA determined to vote...well, how, exactly...on this wayward organization's joinder. First, it appeared that JFNA would hide behind the "aye" votes of, among others, the ADL, the Reform Movement and the JCPA, but JFNA never went public with whether it voted in favor of or against "inclusion" of an organization theretofore condemned for its anti-Israel anti-consensus positions by many federation leaders, including my own. You see, how JFNA determined how it would vote and, then, how it voted is not even to be known by its own Board. (My guess, and it is purely that, is that JFNA was one of the three organizations which abstained -- though abstention would have the same affect on J-Street's attempt at membership -- because JFNA is so proudly pareve in almost all things, one of its worst but most consistent qualities. Since the publication of this Post, The Forward's J.J. Goldberg has cited JFNA as having abstained even as he has yet to be able to confirm.) How many of your federations' leaders were even asked for input before the fact? 

The lack of transparency in all things at JFNA is one of its most troubling and pathetic "qualities" so unworthy of an organization of and by the federation owners. This has become an organization unworthy of the least of us.

Speaking of where insipidity reigns, then there are those organizations, "led" by the rabbinic leaders of the Reform and Conservative Movements, threatening to withdraw from the Conference of Presidents because they didn't get there way in the vote that rejected J-Street's membership by an extraordinary majority vote in a democratic process. Here are self-important leaders of Movements in serious decline saying they will take their balls and go home. Shame on them -- but at least they said how they would vote, did so, and tried to influence others vote rather than the shameful disappearance from the debate by a JFNA that failed to even consult with more than a majority of its most federation lay and professional leadership before taking its position (or not doing so). These are not leaders; they're not even sheep.* **

JFNA's lack of position is everywhere but nowhere more so than in the work of JFNA Consulting Services and Development (now part of "Philanthropic Services"!!). Not just no position, not even an articulated opinion...ever. Yes, JFNA's Consulting Services Department was there in Philadelphia, San Diego, Colorado and others collaborating in communities turning away from the federation model, turning their back on the centrality of the Annual Campaign and never offering an opinion. And look how well those communities have done. This from the continental organization of and for the federations. Ask Consulting Services if their charge is to include providing some direction, some federation-centric outcomes -- and they won't know what you are talking about. "That's not our job" has been the mantra since the beginning. Is it a fear of offending or is it a lack of lay direction from a succession of absentee leaders who, if they pushed back against the grain, were removed, no questions asked. Thus, the questions for that succession: (1) has/had one of you lay Chairs, during the years of your leadership, visited a federation with which your staff was consulting? (2) Did your Department Committee ever discuss a set of consulting guidelines (e.g., that centrality of the Annual Campaign or the meaning of the lay-professional partnership) to offer any parameters for the JFNA professional consultants? (3) What is JFNA's appropriate role vis-a-vis the communities for which it is performing consulting services?

It's a mess of epic proportions. Make it "THE SILENCE OF THE DOLTS."


* As if to prove my point both in this Post and that on DECISIVE JEWISH LEADERSHIP, in a mailing last Friday that went to G-d knows who, EVP Mark Gurvis, on the subject of Donald Sterling, first directed interested federations to a brief statement by LA's Jay Sanderson, then, but hours later, JFNA moved forward with courage. Read below:

"Further to my earlier message on LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling, as the media situation has evolved, we have shifted to a decision that it would be advisable to make public comment.  Following is the very brief statement we’ve issued today:
Today The Jewish Federations of North America made a statement responding to the remarks attributed to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. 
The Jewish people have a long history of fighting racism and we are deeply disturbed by the reprehensible statements attributed to Donald Sterling.  There is no place for racism or bigotry in America today and certainly not in Jewish life.  We categorically reject these comments."
Yep...decisive and courageous.

** Then, in the May 9 edition of The Forward, appropriately unnamed JFNAers revealed for the first time that it "...engaged in lengthy talks, a source close to the group said, before deciding to back J-Street's admission request. But JFNA would not disclose its decision publicly." HUH? 

Then, the same article on The Forward internet site deleted even this attribution. "It's our secret and we're keeping it." Where is Joe Berkofsky when you need him? Will the daily comedy that that is this sorry version of a national organization ever end?

Thursday, May 1, 2014


While I watch JFNA wallow in the swamp in which it finds itself with a failed professional leader operating with no apparent direction from the lay Chairs whose responsibility for the leadership of our continental organization they have abdicated, apparently, to three Large City Executives. And those three, and we all know who they are, seem perfectly happy that no decision is made without them even as JFNA sinks/has sunk into the quicksand.

If we needed an example of the impact that decisive Jewish leadership can have, we need not look any further than that demonstrated by Adam Silver, the President and CEO of the National Basketball Association. Only recently elected to office, Silver faced a seminal crisis arising out of the racist diatribe delivered by the Jewish owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling. Silver recognized that he could not equivocate, he had to lead the Owners (his "Board") in not only supporting a lifetime ban but the forced sale of the team. As one observer noted: "He took his power and exercised it." Or as another said: "He did his job." Three months into that job, he did it -- he pushed his Board, many of whom might have been reluctant, to do the right thing. He led.

The only leadership one sees at JFNA is Jerry's -- and that might be a good thing were Silverman leading this critical organization in the right direction. BUT HE IS NOT. And no one, not the Three Wise Men, not the Board Chair, not the Executive Chair, not the Executive Committee, Advisory Board or the JFNA Board itself has the courage to say, as Charles Bronfman did -- "ENOUGH. WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH." Enough ineptitude, enough embarrassment, enough waste, enough cliches, enough pandering. ENOUGH. Sometimes, as Adam Silver has done, leaders must take risks in the best interests of the institution...real leaders do so.

I have heard from so many Federation Executives who have written me in confidence telling me in no uncertain terms that they have no further interest in working with an organization and CEO who are patronizing and unresponsive, not once but multiple times. And, yet, JFNA's leaders are silent. 

We don't need an Adam Silver (although that would be great), we need Chairs who have the courage and the will to do what they know is the right thing to do, to lead their leadership to support them in doing the right thing...AND TO DO IT NOW.