Saturday, August 30, 2014


                          God in his infinite wisdom
                          Did not make me very wise --

                          So when my actions are stupid
                          They hardly take God by surprise
                                              Langston Hughes

Reading David Remnick's typically brilliant article in the April 28, 2014 edition of The New Yorker, Putin and the Exile, inspired considerable thought on my part on my own exile from the organized Jewish community. For that's where I am and, in large measure, where I have been since this Blog began. Like the Russian economist, once "...a member of the credentialled, globalized Moscow elite," who told Remnick "[B]etter Paris than Krasnokamensk," Russian prison, I can attest that it is better to be in "exile" in Highland Park, Illinois than be a tuches kisser to 25 Broadway. 

I sense certain similarities to those who have exiled themselves (as opposed to having been exiled from) from Russia. The warning to the exiled from Putin was: "Stay out (of our way) and thrive. Push back, presume, overstep and you will meet a harsh fate." The warnings to me were similar. And so I did...and the "harsh fate" has befallen me; mainly because I stopped urging principled action in private and took to these pages to do so. 

Yes, I was promised my fate by true friends of mine, including "the destruction of (your) reputation." And, as I have pointed out on these pages (over and over and over again), how the values to which we (and I emphasize it was "we" not just "I") subscribed over a decade ago were being deconstructed at what is now 25 Broadway, I was scorned and attacked and directed explicitly and implicitly to "lech l'azazel."

And, why? Because I wrote truths that no leader wants "out there" among the kahal. It has become dogma that we hide behind carefully edited Leadership Briefings and redacted Minutes and that Wizard of Oz's darkened curtains. I was committing the worst sin -- exposing the darkened room machinations of failed leadership to the light of the day. "We can't have that," I was told. "Stop it." Sorry. But I am more sorry that I presided with others over a merger process that produced...this mess. Would I prefer the UJA and CJF frozen in the amber of their last decade over the debacle we observe today? Duh...let me think about that for a nano-second. But, my friends, I did not invest four years of my life, with so many others, in structuring a merger only to watch it being deconstructed while sitting by in silence nodding my head in approval at the disintegration of things we held holy in common.

We have seen the surrender of our collective responsibilities to the self-selection by the federations with capacity of a couple of "Signature Initiatives" that will not be fully funded and to a donor or few to a "Voluntary Initiative" because the current professional leaders don't/never have understand/understood collective responsibility and the current most senior lay leaders and CEOs who know better don't care or can't be bothered. We pay outrageous Dues to fund an annual $30+ million budget rather than reform a Continental entity that gives us less at greater cost than did the predecessor organizations, one that has become the captive of a small cabal of lay and professional leaders who truly and sincerely have convinced themselves that "all is well," going great, actually. Sure, we have failed to raise money promised to fund a series of approved Jewish Agency and Joint Distribution efforts, seriatim; we have no priorities...none...everything is a priority meaning that none is (add Detroit flood relief as the most recent), we permit abuses at the Continental level that we would never tolerate in our own federations.

Friends, over my time in Jewish organizational life, I have been nothing more than an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Circumstances that permitted me to be a participant in modern Jewish history as I could not have imagined when I first entered Jewish communal life and leadership in the early 1970s. I have been blessed to have worked side-by-side and hand-in-hand with the best and brightest of Jewish communal professionals and lay persons. I will not turn my back on them and their teachings even though life would be so much simpler were I to do so for turning my back to them would be a rejection of the sacred principles and core values that they have taught me.  

Friends, a Rabbi recently wrote me in support of my efforts telling me that "dissent is a Torah value." I feel that and yet I have known for a long time that it is not in our system. Our communal system is like the mantra of Chicago's old Daley political machine: "Don't make no waves; don't back no losers." 

Some have asked me whether I am "embarrassed" at having written this or that; and I have answered that I am truly embarrassed by what I have witnessed -- the continued deconstruction of institutions tasked with the sacred work of community and People by those who either should or do know better. Never in our history have our communal institutions been less capable of rallying us and themselves to greater achievement. And, though some would like to think otherwise, I am not the cause of that reality, I am only an astonished witness.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Michael Siegal
Board Chair

RE: Time for a new CEO

Dear Michael,

You are rapidly approaching the end of your first 2 year Term as Board Chair. You have been a personable and outgoing Chair, always willing to consider multiple points of view on the many issues confronting JFNA, your "door" is always open. Yet, in my humble opinion, you have been unwilling to come to terms with the most serious deficiency of JFNA -- a CEO unworthy of a complex Continental organization. And, unless you do so now, your two Terms, your ultimate four years as Board Chair will be as disastrous, perhaps worse, than those of your two immediate predecessors. You know better than anyone that JFNA is in need of total reform.

Michael, I listened with incredulity this past June to your recitation of Jerry Silverman's purported "achievements" over the five years of his contract. You deserve full credit for having read the script with an apparent straight face; that statement was a disgrace, a whitewash of almost five years of one failure after another. You know that there have been no achievements, Michael, and, since June, the failures have become all the more exaggerated and JFNA is all the worse for them. 

God, the past looks so much better, so much brighter, when set against the dark dystopia of the JFNA of today. Please don't let this continue. Even a free pass has an expiration date. Today's JFNA, at a time that we need it the most, in the midst of this Terrorists' War on Israel, is a train wreck, it is flailing and it has provided ample evidence that, other than a few meaningless events, some allocations and self-promotion, it hasn't a clue about how a great, complex organization responds to crisis or even is to operate in the day-to-day. You know have to know it. The question is not "what do you know;" it is "what are you going to do about it?" And, if the answer is "nothing;" then you will preside over the demise of our system while we continue to waste close to the $30.5 million a year (or $29 million) in Dues paid by the federations. 

We need someone to fix JFNA -- that requires someone who understands it and understands the federations and understands the sacred principles and core values of the federation system. After five futile years, Jerry Silverman has proved one thing above all others: he is someone who doesn't get it at all. The worst thing that you have done halfway through your Terms is to have perpetuated a professional leadership that still fails to understand what "federation" means or should mean. JFNA remains without purpose or vision. In a crisis it knows not where to start, what to do or how to lead. Stephen Sondheim described one of his great failures as having had: "No passion. No blood. No reason to be." That's where JFNA finds itself today. We need to start over. 

And, what does "starting over" mean? It means, first, of course, that Jerry Silverman must Then it means that those distractions -- most critically the Global Planning Table -- which will never meet their own financial thresholds must end and the lay persons who have been their sponsors must go as well.  These are the apologists and enablers who have assisted this CEO in the attempts, like the Global Planning Table, to create " alternate reality to the one he is responsible for." It is the one filled with Briefings and Memos filled with cotton candy and unicorns and... no relevance to the reality of a failing /failed JFNA. You know who they are.  It was John Stuart Mill who wrote: "With small men (and women), no great thing can really be accomplished." Then, Michael, let me ask, with great respect: name one "great thing" that has been accomplished by JFNA during your two years of leadership, or, more broadly, during the five years of Jerry Silverman's Presidency?

As one more perceptive than I put it just a few days ago:
"You can complain about Jerry's ineffectiveness and being out of his 'element', and you would be right.
However, as (another) has said, this is much more about the National Lay Leadership of JFNA.
Give Jerry credit: If JFNA Leadership is not complaining, why should he think he's not doing his job; let alone embarrassing himself and JFNA?
This falls in the lap of the then Search Committee members and the current JFNA Leadership.
The more telling question is why none of them are speaking up.
They all seem to have conveniently forgotten the definition of Leadership.
They all should be ashamed of themselves and the communities they represent."
Michael, you can continue to step away from confrontation but that's not leadership, is it? If you don't want to be criticized: say nothing, do nothing...but then you are nothing. A great statesman, who understood leaders and leadership, said: "Take your job seriously; but don't take yourself seriously." I know that you take your job seriously; you are a serious person. But my own experience has taught me time and again that any and every lay leader's success is dependent on the strengths of his chief professional in the best lay-professional partnerships in Jewish life. 

If you were to ask me for advice (which you haven't and. in all likelihood, won't), I would paraphrase Chicago's Mayor, Rahm Emanuel: "The (Board) didn't elect me to think about my next position, they elected me to think about (JFNA's) present and future." I don't believe that, unlike your predecessor, you were positioning yourself for years to become JFNA's Board Chair, Michael; I believe you were drafted to take this role to effect change and for that reason and others, you have the ability and the position to lead the polity in critical directions. I clearly do not understand why you have chosen not to do so but I join with others in urging you to take the action now that you know needs to be taken to right the ship and tack to new directions and new professional leadership. 

You do know how to do these things. Just do them.




Sunday, August 24, 2014


1. Stop the Sirens. Someone at JFNA (or somewhere) came up with this as the tag line to a "campaign" or "goal" arising out of Operation Protective Edge. Pardon me for asking that which you may already asked yourselves: "What the hell does this mean?" Will our funds raised actually "stop the sirens," in some way bring the Terrorists' War on Israel to a close? Huh? I know, just forget it and contribute; it's meaningless, just a slogan -- you know, like "We are one"...only better, way better. Why "better?" Because it means nothing -- from the folks who brought us the "Circle of the 15 Second Club." Makes me so proud.

2. They live. You may remember, or more probably don't, that I have noted on more than one occasion that the GA has apparently been kidnapped by professionals -- that substantive materials on the GA were now being transmitted by JFNA pros without even a reference to the GA Co-Chairs. As if in rebuttal, the GA Co-Chairs reappeared in a mailing designed to "excite" us about the GA "campaign session"  -- it should be a very brief Plenary given JFNA's limited acquaintance with the concept. Welcome back, Gail and Howard. Makes me so proud.

3. The end to Collective Responsibility. Now it might have happened without  the huckstership of CEO Silverman, but he gave it without an apparent second though of the implications when federations demanded that they be empowered to directly allocate funds raised to meet the Israel Emergency to beneficiaries of their choosing. Maybe it's just an acquiescence to the current reality, an irresistible tidal wave but, at least to me, it is the inevitable outcome in a system in which an unknowing set of leaders don't see the train coming right at them. It all started, really, in the first months of the then UJC when one federation (you can probably guess which) sent its funds directly to the JDC. I pleaded with UJC leaders to approach the Joint and request it not accept this direct payment -- they did nothing. Now we are where we are...nowhere.

And, what else? JFNA has projected federation core allocations to JAFI for year-end 2014 at just a bit above $85,000,000 -- friends, that is truly astounding as it is $100,000,000 less than was allocated to the Jewish Agency alone at the onset of JFNA...and not a word of public shame...or protest. It's a horror story without apparent end. And, what of JFNA's advocacy for core allocations -- a major plank under Chairman Siegal's agenda -- oh, that? Silverman reported to the Jewish Agency in the weeks just passed, that he/JFNA would focus on larger allocations to P2gether efforts -- knowing/not knowing that those allocations are "anti-core" in almost every instance. 

4. The futility of context. This story appeared in the Chicago Tribune, August 17, 2014:
"An Orthodox Jew whose religious traditions suggest that the deceased should be buried whole in preparation for the afterlife is suing Skokie Hospital for cremating his amputated leg instead of preserving the limb to be buried next to him..."
And no comment is necessary -- just a question: how might this Orthodox Jew be compensated in some way (and which way) for this grievance?

And so it goes in Lake Woebegone.


Thursday, August 21, 2014


Apparently, when it comes to self-promotion, you can no longer shut Jerry Silverman up, you can only hope to contain him. His latest, in the Times of Israel:
"Though Silverman has personally seen a decrease in anti-Semitism on campuses over the past decade, 'the only information they’re getting is what they see in the media.' And the go-to sources for this age group are often Comedy Central, the echo chamber of like-minded thinking on social media.
'The awareness of what is taking place is really clear, the heroic measures of the IDF in stopping infiltrations — they’re heroes,' says Silverman, adding this awareness is shared not only by US Jewry, but 'all over the US the public is now understanding [Israel's plight].'
'You have terrorists coming out of the tunnels into backyards that are reaching kilometers into Israel' says Silverman." (emphasis added)
CEO I-Have-My-Blinders-On has an opinion on everything. What was the last campus he visited -- UCLA, Chicago Loyola, Vassar, Swarthmore, Michigan, MIT? But, that's not really the point -- this JFNA CEO who hardly understands the Federation condition, if at all, has an opinion (usually wrong) on everything...and anything, if it gets him some pub. I haven't seen the inside of Jerry's office but I wouldn't be surprised if there is a "me Wall" there. I truly think that Jerry Silverman has come to believe that he is the equal of Abe Foxman and Malcolm Hoenlein...and therein lies the problem. He isn't. Not close. Not even in the picture. Not even a footnote.

I first suggested putting a sock in it before the November 2013 GA when he decided to opine that the federations embark an a "1 Billion Dollar" Campaign for a free Jewish education for all -- a wonderful and noble concept, never discussed with anyone (other than perhaps Michael Siegal), without a prayer of success from an organization that has failed in every FRD effort on which it had/has embarked under this CEO. He has the ultimate responsibility for an Israel Emergency Fund that was first $10 million, then, almost immediately, $30 million and, with rockets still flying and our Jewish extended family at daily risk, clearly another "target" will be coming soon -- all evidence of a lack of thinking through a crisis.

What was at the beginning but a trickle -- his venture into farcical Gangnam Style Harlem Shaking on a Mission of 25 young people that he participated in because he had "promised" the Cabinet Mission leaders that he would go if they got 25 participants, his insistence to Large City Executives that the farce that is TribeFest continued for a third time "because the Young Leadership Cabinet demanded it" -- has become a torrent of torpidity. Jerry Where's-the-Press? is available for a quote on any Jewish subject, no doubt believing that "my name in the paper" somehow elevates JFNA. So, most recently, his trivializing proposed branding of a "Circle of the Fifteen Second Club" to "reward" those who participated in Solidarity Missions during the height of the terrorists' attacks on Israel, was an embarrassment beyond words...again. Then there are his unilateral decisions -- e.g., federations which exceed there pro rata "goal" for the Israel Emergency "Fund" (never a "Campaign" G-d forbid) may allocate directly wherever they see needs (not that these favored few wouldn't have done so in any event). The result -- federations  as at August 20, had raised over $36 million, but transmitted only $20 million (and much of that for designated programs of federations' choosing, not subject to JFNA allocation). And, then, his personal videos post-Solidarity Missions offering the same views on Jewish unity as expressed in the Times of Israel quote above.

(And, often, there is an embarrassing amount of humor. Example: during a Jewish Agency FRD Committee call this week, JA pros presented with regard to the 2015 JAFI Budget. The Jewish Agency International Development CEO spoke with regard to a horrid projected 2014 calendar year core allocation from JFNA at $87.5 million. Jerry interrupted to ask where that JFNA allocation number came from. "You" was the response. Case closed.)

It should be clear after five years of Silverman that there is some difficulty in forming rational thoughts and expressing them. Take the Times of Israel quote above: what is the Jewish community's responsibility for informing college students so that they have the broad background to absorb and reject the daily infusion of misinformation and wild accusations of the Jon Stewarts? Apparently, from Silverman's perspective...none.

We have reached the level of farce -- maybe that's appropriate for a circus.


Monday, August 18, 2014


Michael Oren recently wrote a brilliant treatise In Defense of Zionism in The Wall Street Journal  After citing the daily public attacks on Zionism, Ambassador Oren found the reason at the heart of these attacks: "Zionism worked." 
"The answer is simple: Zionism worked. The chances were infinitesimal that a scattered national group could be assembled from some 70 countries into a sliver-sized territory shorn of resources and rich in adversaries and somehow survive, much less prosper. The odds that those immigrants would forge a national identity capable of producing a vibrant literature, pace-setting arts and six of the world's leading universities approximated zero."
Yet, today, even some Jewish leaders question the Zionisms place as a driving concept, a modern Jewish value. Some find it, in the face of attacks, a concept too controversial. 

Then there was the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago's Michael Kotzin, special counsel to the JFMC President, writing in the Times of Israel, who earlier than Oren's victory declaration called for the creation of a new narrative reflecting Zionism today, "a Zionism that is at once authentic, honest, and contemporary."

"The ultimate purpose ... is to advance understanding of the basis of Israel's existence and to enhance a sense of personal connection with the state and its people. The practical goal ... is to rebut the mendacious, all-too-common demonization of Israel as an evil colonial power and of Zionism as a racist ideology, and to counter the misleading Palestinian narrative that is used to attract adherents to the delegitimization cause."

Would it not have been spectacular if JFNA and, for that matter, the Jewish Agency, Joint and World ORT had jointly and severally embraced this new Zionism as a cause. It would have been spectacular if JFNA devoted its resources to this Movement -- to developing a curriculum for our schools and for our organizations. Sure, there is no one at JFNA capable of doing so, but, maybe...possibly...JFNA could have devoted its not insubstantial resources (that's, um, "Dues") to engaging Wexner or Fisher/Bernstein (or, even, Mandel) to consult/lead this project. 

But, JFNA can't be distracted from whatever is currently distracting it (beyond the glorification of self) to actually focus on something it might achieve. No...that's not the JFNA we know and love. That JFNA, so ill as it is with Institutional Onset Attention Deficit Disorder, can't concentrate on anything (other than the historic TribeFest and its ilk) unless authorized and permitted by the Large City Executives. This means the only good idea is one of their own. (This is not a recent phenomenon. I remember when the brilliant Stanley Horowitz, z'l, was the UJA CEO. Stanley was a former revered Federation CEO, no one knew the system and its professional leaders better than Stanley. He had just convinced the Large City Execs to reverse course and endorse a major UJA FRD effort. I asked him how he did that. He replied: "Easy, I convinced them that it was their idea.")

Then there are the institutional barriers within JFNA -- the Global Planning Table, for one. So long as there remain leaders with influence who believe that even the use of the term Zionism in a GPT document that will be forever unread shall be forbidden, dedication to the creation of a new Zionism will be overwhelmed by opposition. Oh, sure, that opposition will be as "underground" and opaque as these "leaders" who operate best in the dark can make it. but it surely will be there. Support for Zionism among this unknowing leadership is as distant as is the same leadership's comprehension of the term, That has to change before...well, before anything positive happens.

If you will it, it is no dream? Eem tirtzu ein zo agada. Perhaps some day JFNA may find the will...perhaps not.


Sunday, August 17, 2014



January 8, 2015

FROM: Michael Siegal
             Dede Feinberg


Tomorrow, our 15th JFNA Solidarity Mission will depart from Liberty International Airport, Newark, NJ, for Israel where we will once again and forever express our unity with Israel and the Israeli People. We still have room on our three buses (lots of room) and would love it if you would join us for the next week. Yes, you may already have plans or work or family obligations tomorrow, but, come on, drop everything and experience what CEO Jerry Silverman has already experienced on the first 14 of these expressions of We Are One, if we may use that hackneyed phrase.

If you are interested, grab your Passport and call Gil Travel -- we can still get you a seat on one of three El Al flights tomorrow for $1,555.55 (yes, United has a flight for $1,200 with seats out of your home airport through EWR but this is our Mission) and ground costs, double occupancy will be $1301 for three nights in Israel at a Dan Hotel or someplace. It's expensive but we have to pay our speakers and our costs even though they are all either military, political or, G-d bless 'em, our staff.

We know it's very last minute but we really need to fill those buses, and you can make it happen. This is really about JFNA, after all. 

If you have questions, it's too late to e-mail them, please just call us and we will answer them to the best of our ability. But, really, time is short, Jerry will answer any questions on your flight or when you get to Israel, for sure. Just throw some stuff in a carry-on and get to a nearby airport and get to Newark Liberty International -- but first, Register and send us a check..

And, of course, there will be no funds raised on this Mission; we won't even take your money if you hand us a check. Promise.


You might be asking yourselves what possibly inspired (if that's the word) this e-vite. Well, late on August 13, I and many others received a somewhat dissimilar but timed almost the same e-vite from our Chairs (followed by one from the two superb Mission Co-Chairs), to join them on a three bus Fourth Solidarity Mission departing on August 17. 

I am a total believer in the need for our expressions of Solidarity...but should Missions be the only way?



Chair Siegal circulated an August 5 letter from Prime Minister Netanyahu on August 20 that stated in pertinent part:
"Indeed, JFNA's Solidarity Missions over the last months have been an important demonstration of unity during what has been an especially challenging and turbulent time..."

Friday, August 15, 2014


The Terrorists' War on Israel has generated incredible communal response. Yet, while federation after federation has seen an outpouring of donor generosity, the Continental system has barely been able to rouse itself to any action other than, as one Commentator pointed out:
"...they coin phrases like "Stop the Sirens" and they create "clubs" as in "The Circle of the 15 Second Club" and they provide "Updates" of what others are doing -- that's what passes for doing something when your organization is bankrupt."
I recall that at UJA way back when leaders actually led or participated in the fund raising at the heart of avery Emergency Campaign, we had a "Bible" for just such an exigency, a playbook if you will of tried and true, best practices. I know that it is right there at 25 Broadway --  the chachams are either unwilling or unable to implement it. But, at JFNA, under what passes for "leadership" today, the institutional arrogance dictates that we start everything from scratch. I wish I could believe that that has meant that JFNA can "do it better" but all of the evidence proves that they couldn't do it any worse than they are. And this sickens me to my core. 

Nothing is more painful to watch than JFNA literally use the daily attacks on Israel as a vehicle of self-promotion ("Jerry's on CNN!!" Yippee.) Nothing is more mysterious than the plain fact that the JFNA National Campaign Chair is nowhere to be found at a time that cries out for her to be the rallying point -- but she has been silenced. (Of course, for that matter, except in some periodic e-mails, so has the Board Chair and, of course, the Chair of the Executive is also AWOL -- but they have each led the 5-10 person Solidarity Missions!!)

Oh, they have run some good Solidarity Missions (number 5 or 6 or 7 coming right up) sans fund-raising. And, rather than then deploying the participants to fund raising events around the Continent, JFNA has done nothing. But it has convened Teleconferences, let's not forget. A time for Regional Rallies to expose those from communities around the Continent to the "facts on the ground?" -- JFNA does nothing. 

In fact, "JFNA Does Nothing" could be a continuing theme in all things.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014


No matter where one stands politically, the idea of Congressional litigation against the President (and/or vice-versa) is so repugnant for what it says about our dysfunctional government. Yet, all of these threats and discussion have been a catalyst crystallizing my own thoughts about what might be done to reconstruct JFNA into the delivery vehicle we, and that is all of us, contemplated at the time of the merger.

Clearly the merger cannot be undone and, clearly, the current stewards of our continental institution have neither the vision, the understanding nor the will to make of JFNA the expression of our communal core values and principles. A few of you are aware that before I retired from the practice of law, I was part of a firm that had a great depth in its non-profit law practice. I was able to use that expertise in my pro bono work for the Jewish Agency, the Jewish Agency North America and, even, for JFNA. So, last month I sat down with some of my former partners and associates to discuss how we might approach the courts to seek redress for JFNA's abandonment not only of principle but of purpose; to remedy the illness that is embodied in excess compensation; and to end, once and for all the opacity that blocks scrutiny of every decision from all except the privileged few. 

I recognize, possibly more than anyone, that litigation is never the best means to achieve the best most-reasoned end -- and in the context of our non-profit world, it would be far better were our leaders willing to do their jobs...but it is evident that they are either unable or unwilling to do so. They would rather attend meetings that are no more than self-congratulatory assemblies of the few, approve budgets that serially have not been followed year-after-year while spending is directed and redirected away from governance-approved budget lines to the whims of the few with no approvals, extend the term of a CEO who is to our Continental institution as John Kerry is to our nation's foreign policy(?) institution -- among other things. 

Sure, JFNA will point to its constant clean Audits as somehow proof of anything other than how well-run our financial professional have run that part of our organization. But clean audits, good as they are, are neither proof of accomplishment, nor the validation of actions outside of corporate governance nor the constant manipulation of the organization's budgets.

This is the Do Nothing JFNA...full stop. Oh, there will be a lot of pressure to somehow prove JFNA's "value" by pushing the Global Planning Table agenda -- seeking full funding from the same "best customers" who fund (and, need I add...control) everything. No one seems to realize...or care... that the vast number of federations have seen their financial resources and their donors stretched beyond all limitis while JFNA makes "ask" after "ask" without regard to priorities -- the federations' or G-d forbid JFNA's (if it had any). Throw out a "Signature Initiative" and, bless them, the same four or five federations line up and say "where do I sign" and "can't we do more?" JFNA is guilty of gross dereliction of duty, breach of fiduciary duty and it appears that litigation is the only path to effect change so long as JFNA is without leadership or purpose.

The partners and associates with whom I have been and am meeting believe that there is a basis for a lawsuit over the almost total waste of donors' funds and the serial breaches of fiduciary duty by our leaders about which I have been writing for so long. In fact, these lawyers, most all of whom are non-Jews, find it rather incredible that this Jewish organization, once the paradigm of financial responsibility, my organization, our organization, could have spent $650,000,000+ in Dues with no evident accountability.

We are moving forward.


Saturday, August 9, 2014


Over the past two months JFNA embarked on multiple fund raising efforts on three fronts -- they have foundered as our Continental system disappears before our very eyes. Let us count the ways:

  • The Global Planning Table -- two so-called "Signature Initiatives" the commencement of which is dependent upon JFNA gaining commitments from 10 federations for an aggregate $30,000,000 -- $15,000,000 for each "Initiative" over three years -- a condition precedent as it were. The funds are not going to be there, are they? And, if they are, where will they come from -- the core allocations??
  • The Ukraine Emergency Fund -- to assist our partners on the ground in the Ukraine, JFNA sent out a letter, created an Allocations Committee and just waited for the finds to roll on in. The funds are not rolling on in. This Allocations Committee has done its job; it's just that JFNA hasn't done anything beyond declaring a crisis, an "emergency." If you look at the JFNA website, there is not a mention of the Ukraine; as the crisis deepens, JFNA has turned its attention elsewhere. So it is that Rabbi Yaacov Dov Bleich, the Chief Rabbi of Kiyuv and the Ukraine, is personally and heroically relocating refugees from East Ukraine and Crimea to temporary camps and the aliyah numbers are increasing exponentially day-by-day while we look on in apparent wonder.  And speaking of "wonder," is it any that JDC and the other overseas partners are doing the necessary, sacred work and  FRD while JFNA is doing neither?
  • The Israel Emergency Fund -- then there is this, this thing. With Israel in the midst of a Terrorists' War without apparent end, you will recall that JFNA first set a short-term "target" (never a "goal") of $10,000,000 then increased that to $30,000,000, and just how much has been actually raised to date? The best information I have gleaned is that the total is far short of $30,000,000 -- far, far short. Five continental Solidarity Missions operated by JFNA (with no fund raising component), numerous individual federation-led Missions (one from my community will depart today with over 15 leaders on which there will be strong fund raising as always), and no Emergency Campaign -- because some federations don't need them and others don't want them. (One Large City has raised less than $50,000 while Birmingham has raised $500,000.)  And what has JFNA done in this environment -- set a "target," set up an Allocations Committee that is doing fine work -- and, then...nothing. Federations have begun to allocate directly...and no one senses a problem?
As we have noted before, there appears to be no National Campaign Chair any more -- just as there is no National Campaign. There is nothing but failure all around us. These failures should be intolerable -- but CEO Raising-Money-Ain't-My-Job, appears on CNN and gets a contract extension.

So, friends, if you look up the definition of "failure" in the dictionary, you will find a picture of the JFNA logo.

What a great brand. Yep, like that Seinfeld show...about nothing.


Thursday, August 7, 2014


1. The Israeli loss of life to date in Operation Protective Edge has been enormous for a country and People that values life higher than all. To date 64 members of the IDF, fighting for us, have been killed. But not to JFNA's CEO. Here is what he wrote in his "Day 30" Update: "... officials confirm that Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure has been severely crippled, and that immediate threats posed by terrorist tunnels (which resulted in 11 IDF fatalities) have been removed." Jerry, please stop!!

This Comment appeared to yesterday's Post. It tells this story better than I:

"Richard, you should definitely not feel slighted that Silverman doesn't read your blog. It seems he doesn't read papers either. Today's leadership briefing day 30 has the following statement. As of right now, "Israel has witnessed more than 24 hours of relative calm. The result is a growing sense of cautious relief throughout the country. While the IDF remains positioned along the Gaza border, officials confirm that Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure has been severely crippled, and that immediate threats posed by terrorist tunnels (which resulted in 11 IDF fatalities) have been removed." Either Silverman is using the same inept people to count that typically over count the GA and Tribefest attendance in this case to seriously under count the tragic death toll or he doesn't understand that the entire purpose of going in to Gaza was to dismantle the tunnels. This action has resulted in almost six times the death toll (as reported by J.S.for the IDF as of yesterday."  

2. On an absurd note: Over two years ago I published some "Rules" that, if observed, might make all of our lives easier. One that I felt very important read something like this: 

 "If you are one of twenty or more people e-vited to a conference call or a    meeting, do not hit "Reply All" to advise all other Invitees of your availability or lack thereof."

Some very special folks apparently believe that everyone is interested in their whereabouts.  

Viz, yesterday I and 92 others received an e-vite to a Conference Call meeting. One very special person let all of us know that: "I will be in israel. If I am not at dinner I will join

So, now we all know. I'm rooting that she goes to dinner.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014


I hope you readers recall my expression of optimism and encouragement on these pages by the early Program for this November's GA. Well...sorry. Yes, I am sorry to report that the chachams at 25 Broadway have decided that critical elements of the General Assembly are to be about...JFNA and only JFNA. Yes, comparisons once again abound that this year's GA will be like the old Seinfeld show -- about NOTHING!!

Here's the scoop. It has been proposed that what could be a vital Plenary in the midst of the GA will be dedicated to the system's overseas and Israeli partners. The focus will be on the core allocations -- even as JFNA has sat on the sidelines with no advocacy while those very allcoations have reduced time and time and time again to their lowest point in history. And, what about those "partners?" They have been instructed that each will have no more than five minutes and that they are to use those five minutes to talk about "what JFNA core allocations have meant to our organization." Yes, tell the assembled what JFNA's great work has meant to you. Could these chachams actually believe that JFNA has been anything more than a conduit of the funds raised and allocated by the federations? Are they that stupid? (Rhetorical question.)

I am reminded of the old saw about the self-centered guy who spends 15 minutes telling an old acquaintance about himself in exquisite detail; then he asks: "Well, enough about me; let's talk about you -- what do you think of me?" Only this is worse. What has JFNA meant to your organization? Well, as President Eisenhower responded when asked, on the cusp of Nixon's first run for the Presidency, what Nixon had contributed to the Eisenhower-Nixon 8 years: "I'll have to get back to you on that."

Back in the days of ONAD, before it collapsed of its own weight and futility, I was serving as Financial Relations Chair for the then UJC, and was asked to present an analysis of federation allocations to the partners' core. Even then it was not a pretty picture. I could see federation leaders' eyes glazing over. Then, one of the best and brightest professionals, a good and respected friend, erupted -- "why are we wasting our time with this?" He and his colleagues believed that the Israel Emergency Campaign raise should have been added to the allocations ignoring the reality that those dollars were ALL deployed by the partners for the emergency or passed through to other organizations. My question became: why are we wasting time with ONAD?

If these "partner" organizations are to be candid, they will need no more than a nano-second to respond: "What has JFNA meant to fill in the blank? We now receive millions less in annual support to our core budget." Then, sit down. But, of course, that won't happen. The Joint, JAFI and World ORT will mouth the politically correct niceties required of them. But we'll know what they are thinking -- "What the hell are we doing here?" 

And, you will be thinking the same thing.


Sunday, August 3, 2014


We have noted with a certain degree of frequency that JFNA and maybe some other Jewish organizations appear to reward failure as is if failure were success. And, it appears that the larger the failure -- say the continued failure to meet the institutional goals set for it by the most highly compensated -- the greater the compensation.

Yes, you are probably not paying your CEO enough. How can that be? Well, if Jerry I-Wouldn't-Be-Making-This-Selling-Dockers can be paid in excess of $750,000 annually for this mess, then, my G-d, my CEO who is actually doing something/anything should be making more...much more. Here's how it's supposed to be done.

The Council of Non-Profits lays it out:

Why Have a Written Policy to Review the Compensation of Nonprofit Executives?

One answer is because charitable nonprofits always should be able to justify that the compensation received by the executive director/CEO and other staff is reasonable, and not excessive. The practice of having a written policy and following it to review compensation levels helps ensure that the nonprofit is meeting not only the expectations of the IRS, but also the expectations of donors and the public, who expect that their donations are being put to prudent use by the charitable organization. A related goal of a compensation policy is to ensure that your nonprofit is paying ENOUGH to attract and retain the most highly qualified and talented employees.
Legal Background: The IRS Form 990 asks charitable nonprofits about the process used to approve the compensation of the executive director/CEO (and certain other key employees): "Did the process for determining compensation of the following persons include a review and approval by independent persons, comparability data, and contemporaneous substantiation of the deliberation and decision?" (Form 990, Section VI, Part B, line 15) Nonprofits filing the Form 990 must describe the process on Schedule O.
Ensuring that the board has approved "reasonable and not excessive" compensation for the executive director/CEO is one of the fiduciary responsibilities of every nonprofit board. Boards that engage in an annual process of reviewing and approving the compensation of the executive director/CEO (and certain highly paid "key" employees as defined by the IRS) and that document this process in the minutes of board meeting(s), will be protecting their nonprofit (and themselves). An annual review also ensures that the nonprofit is acting in a transparent manner because through the process the full board will be aware how much the executive director/CEO is being paid by the nonprofit.
- See more at:
Do not worry if you don't have a "compensation consultant" reference handy, your CEO or CEO candidate can surely provide one. Be assured that that consultant will provide you with the comparative data that will disclose, e.g., what CEO Jerry or Steve or Steve or John (or his successor) makes. But probably not what some lower-compensated but equally or more successful CEO made. Yes, you may have accomplished absolutely nothing before you took the job but somehow you can compare yourself to those whose accomplishments are undeniable. And, mirabile dictu, you get away with it.

We speak of wanting our organizations to "run like a business;" yet, when it comes to compensating, e.g., the CEO of JFNA, we operate our non-profit like a gift shop, bestowing reward after reward without regard to performance. In fact, compensation appears to be rewarded in the absolute reverse -- fail and we will pay you more because G-d forbid we might otherwise lose you!! Why do business leaders behave in this way? There ain't no explaining it; perhaps, it's because it isn't their money. Perhaps it's because they have forgotten it's their fiduciary duty to protect those assets. Many of us heard the incredible recitation of JFNA's so-called "achievements" when Chair Siegal described them at the last JFNA Board meeting; I was not present, someone tell me if his nose grew longer with each or if he maintained a straight face.

Oh, and after you make the compensation decision, you will hide it in the 990 which becomes public two years after the fact -- this appears in most instances to be "..the process (pursuant to which) the full board will be aware how much the executive director/CEO is being paid..." That's what passes for compensation "transparency."

And, why is that? Because of shyness? No, me thinks it is mutual embarrassment with how our donors' dollars are being spewed (some would say "wasted"). I and you are all for our professional leaders being well compensated for their achievements; I and you are dead set against CEOs who have not earned it being compensated at levels that are beyond comprehension. Unfortunately, too many lay leaders appear not to be able to tell the difference.


Friday, August 1, 2014


One of the best and brightest of my professional partners in national Jewish life once described a national lay leader as "...a fresh breath of hot air." The windbag he described is gone from the scene but, baby, look at us now!! For today what passes for our Continental professional leader is but a gasbag engaged in daily self-promotion, ego exercise and in the glorification of self (or, he might say, JFNA) for doing...what exactly? Oh, in the current crisis, it's for: four Solidarity Missions (well done), Daily Briefings and allocating. I guess if the news of the day and our direct contacts with our extended family in Israel aren't enough, we can watch CEO You-Can't-Do-Without-A-Daily-Dose-of-Me on videos he believes to be inspiring. (One senior professional watched the first of these videos and wrote me, calling the exercise "pathetic" -- an understatement.

More critical is what JFNA is not doing -- not inspiring us, not running any national campaign...NONE. And why the former? Who knows. And, why the latter? There's the rub.

It traces back to the decision by UJA and CJF leaders meeting in Max Fisher's, z'l, suite at The King David Hotel over a decade and one-half ago. After debate late into the night and early morning, Corky Goodman said that, bottom line: "We have to trust the federations." And, as was often the case when Corky led us, we agreed. And, now, 16 years later, the ownership of our system by the federations has brought us to the abdication of our collective responsibilities to our brothers and sisters in Israel at this perilous time. While the smallest of federations appear to need the collective response, the larger the federation the more likely that a major portion of funds raised will be/have been sent on to JFNA entrusted to an Allocations Committee but a greater and greater amount is being directed by each federation as each federation sees fit. In no prior crisis have I seen this breadth of designated allocations outside of the national or continental system. And JFNA -- Solidarity Missions (well done), Daily Briefings and allocating. The discipline necessary to the exercise of a true collective effort has now completely broken down. 

And all of this at a time when a true continental effort is needed. As a system, our leaders, until now, have known that we are at our strongest when we act collectively -- that while our individual fingers may have some strength, it is only when they are gathered into a fist that we amass and exercise our greatest strength. While a $10,000 grant to a favored agency in Israel gives an individual federation a nice warm feeling of doing good, 155 $10,000 grants yields a powerful result. Sure, the needs being met by others than our historic partners are important and, no doubt, often vital, but a drib here and a drab there won't meet the immense needs now or post-War when that day arrives. I listen to CEO Silverman pontificate about "unity" while presiding over the worst examples of systemic disunity in the face of a crisis our "system," if it can still be called that, has ever seen.

In a different age -- before we entrusted our system "to the federations," in a crisis for our Israeli mishpacha like this one, the United Jewish Appeal would have deployed lay leaders  (remember them?) after Solidarity Missions out to the federations to speak and inspire action not merely to report on what they saw; Regional meetings would have been convened and a national campaign would have been mounted with serious fund raising by the then national system. Today, daily prattling in Briefings from JFNA about the "unity" they have observed, an elusive, growing "target" (but, G-d forbid, not a goal) and meetings of its allocations committee to approve the distribution of funds. While JFNA may believe that its Israel "partners" are so dense that they can't see what's happening here, trust that to meet the needs, they will just rely on the non-campaigns of JFNA...they are wrong. The partners direct campaigns have begun pushing us further and further from collective response. They are doing so because they see and feel the needs and are mandated to meet them -- with or, as in this case, without our total support through a collective effort.

JFNA will continue to brief us, Silverman will continue to send us videos and the federations will continue to do what they do when we are leaderless -- whatever they want. In every prior crisis faced by our Israeli family, we have been there for them...every time. This time, to our eternal shame, we know what we should do but we are leaderless and, in the guise of "protecting the annual campaign," we are not there.

It has gone from embarrassment to disgrace.