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.



Anonymous said...

I have great respect for Hannah Rosenthal and the fine Milwaukee Jewish Federation which she leads. But the issue is not "inclusivity" as she concludes. It is the process by which JFNA used to develop its decision on how to vote.

Some Federations might agree that the issue is inclusivity. Others most definitely will not. They will side with those who feel there are some organizations that are outside of our pale of community and are detrimental, even destructive, to what our Jewish federation movement is trying to achieve. That is an honest debate. But just because the Milwaukee Jewish Federation had decided that goal #1 is "to be a warm, welcoming, and inclusive Jewish community" does not make that goal #1 for JFNA or for every Jewish community, or more precisely the definition of inclusivity used in Milwaukee might not be acceptable to every Jewish Federation in the JFNA system.

The issue would be inclusivity had JFNA articulated a clear vision of its decision making process on this issue. Then we could have discussed whether or not it was appropriate for JFNA to cast a vote in the affirmative or the negative for J-Street's CoP membership.

It's great that the Milwaukee Jewish Federation is hosting a wide array of views, including JPost's Glick.

What is needed is an respectful dialogue at the national level, better engagement, and respect for all views into making a decision....whether or not Rosenthal and the Milwaukee Jewish Federation agrees with that decision.

RWEX said...

Well said.

Anonymous said...

Both Hannah's and Anonymous's posts are relevant.
The question now is, will someone in a leadership position at 25 Broadway
explain to the JFNA Executive Committee (and then to the Federation CEOs) what exactly Jerry did to "feel the pulse of the continental system"?
Jerry's mantra has been 'accountability'.
Will anyone have the courage to demand an answer to that question?

RWEX said...

Thank you -- I just read your Coment and fell out of my chair in laughter -- "Jerry's mantra ihas been 'accountability.'??" He is the least accountable professional I have ever experienced -- if only he were.

He may preach "accountability" but he knows noot thhe meaning of the word.

Loved your Comment.

Anonymous said...

Regarding accountability, The Search Committee would certainly know that this is what Jerry professed to be his management style.
On a separate note, it is sad that nobody appears to be interested in pursuing the answer to the pulse question in the previous post.
To your point Richard, that's the real shanda: Nobody cares