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?


Anonymous said...


With all due respect, you are dead wrong on the JStreet issue.

The Conference is as far from a democratic organization as you could find. Some of those groups are outright tiny--certainly not "major" in any way, shape or form.

On the other hand, the JCPA--a true umbrella organization--supported JStreet's inclusion. That right there is enough evidence that J Street belongs as part of the big tent (and that it is surely bigger and more impactful than many of the organizations which currently constitute the Conference).

It doesn't matter that I don't agree with some of what J Street does. We can use that same argument with any Conference member organization.

RWEX said...

Not my point, but....ok.

Dan Brown said...

According to The Forward,

Jewish Federations of North America (reported, unconfirmed).

Read more:

I guess the "media situation has [not]evolved" sufficiently for JFNA to speak the courage of their convictions.

paul jeser said...


With all due respect to Anonymous (7:41am) he is dead wrong on JStreet (even if that was not your point).

JStreet has proven itself time and time again to be WAY beyond the pale. It is a danger to Israel and to the Jewish People.

I will site two liberals (there are many others):

1) Liberal BU sophomore: JSTREET: THE PRO-WAR GROUP

Raphael Fils - Political Science major and sophomore at Boston Univeristy originally from Los Gatos, California. He is co-founder of Safe Hillel and founder/President of the JUMP, a political organization that's the future of pro-Peace and the new political home for everyone.

2) Alan Dershowitz:

As to your point - at least in my community, the JFNA is an unknown and the Federation is no where to be seen - especially on issues like this.

Anonymous said...

Paul Jeser:

The JCPA thought it belonged--that is a pretty broad-based constellation (larger national organizations, individual local federations) that said it deserved a seat at the table.

That far outweighs what you or I or any other individual/group on one side of the spectrum or another may have to say about JStreet's kashrut.

Again, I don't always agree with JStreet, and you may never agree with it, but that's not the point. If the broad-based community says otherwise--that it at least needs to be at the table (and the JCPA is a pretty representative body)--then that ought to carry the day.

RWEX said...

Soon I will write about JCPA on whose Board and Executive Committee I served -- but this "debate" between an Anonymous and Paul Jeser has now gone far off the point -- which is neither JCPA nor J-Street -- that future Commentary off the subject (which most of you will recall is about JFNA's lack of both the courage of its non-convictions and transparency) will be rejected with regret.

Anonymous said...

Richard, My federation has done "all of the right things" -- paid our 6 figure Dues every year, acted like the good boys and girls the leaders want us to be -- and, then, on a voting matter like this one, not only do we get no vote, we get no information other than in The Forward or JTA or your rag, Well, that's exactly what JFNA will get from us from hereon out...nothing.

Anonymous said...

You wail and flail at JFNA all of the time. How about taking a look at JCPA? Its CEO seems to have an opinion on all things listing his name, title and organization with no apparent authority to do so. Now, JCPA votes to admit J-Street to membership in the Conference of Presidents. I am convinced that JCPA had no consensus among its members to so vote, but did so anyway.

How much of our money does that organization waste a year; on what?

Anonymous said...

First, Chag Yom Haatzmaut Sameach to all!!

So here is my reading between lines theory of what might have transpired rewritng the e-mail accordingly into transparent English:

"We spoke with our outside communication consultants and they at first told us to do nothing and duck. Then they came back and said we wouldn't get away with that so should say something very very short in line with what everyone else is saying but without commenting on anything anyone should actually do. So here goes..."

RWEX said...

Spot on, my friend

Anonymous said...

"Dolts," you say? How about something from the animal family -- these lay leaders at ostriches, heads in the sand or up their own ___es. Wherever, they appear to see nothing and they clearly do nothing.

Anonymous said...

Are you being fair? if JFNA were to have voted to admit J-Street, many federations would have been upset; if on the other hand JFNA had voted "no," many federations would have been angered. Of course, the vote was to abstain. Apparently, no one at JFNA realized that an abstention had the same impact as a "no" vote -- they and their "controllers" aren't the brightest bulbs in the box, after all. Then, they compound their predicament by refusing to admit the vote they made -- even after J.J. Goldberg's work that deduced the vote from the totals.

I ask you again: are you being fair? Given the rank stupidity what other outcome could there have been from this ship of fools?

RWEX said...

As a friend pointed out, the last Anonymous missed one thing -- voting "yes" would have pissed off maybe half or more; voting "no" would have pissed off the rest -- but only abstaining managed to piss off EVERYONE. Then go hide and refuse to divulge HOW JFNA voted. Only on the good ship Woebegone could this be viewed as "genius."

Anonymous said...

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.