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.





Anonymous said...

Nice letter -- but misaddressed. You should have sent it to the Large City Executives who are the ventriloquists to the JFNA dummies. You know that every decision at JFNA is vetted by a small group -- we all know who they are -- of these professionals. Nothing is done or not done without their blessing -- it's the "golden rule" (you know, those with the gold rule) and who can point to a decision of theirs over this past decade that has moved the system forward? They know everything, consult with only themselves and then close their eyes to the damage they do.

So, even though they won't respond, resend your letter to those who could do something...if they wanted to do something other than not leave their fingerprints on the damage they have done.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Siegal should have read this piece from July 15 in ejewishphilanthropy, then he could ask himself "what am I about to perpetuate at JFNA?"
Leadership in the Volunteer Community
Posted on JULY 15, 2014 Written by EJP

Long standing professionals often forget for whom they work. They also tend to forget the importance of their role to nurture leadership and volunteerism. They forget the need to apologize to others, to admit they have erred.

by Charles Simon

- See more at:

Of course, he has already rationalized that in Silverman he has the best person for a job Silverman has proved he cannot do

Anonymous said...

It's not "time for a new CEO", it is long past time. I can't even see JFNA achieving mediocrity under this CEO. Do we aspire to failure as a Jewish community?

Anonymous said...

I am not familiar enough with the politics of the Large City Executives and their pulling the strings, as described in the 1st comment.
However, I'm guessing that they must represent a significant percentage of the $30 million budget for JFNA, which they apparently pay in full (of course I could be wrong here).
Yes, they are entitled to a degree of 'influence' due to their contribution to the 'whole'.
However it seems that if they are in fact paying their dues, and getting very little back in services (let's face it, their individual staffs are larger than JFNA's, and in most cases, more knowledgeable), then they are supporting the other 130 or so members of the Federation system, and therefore doing more to perpetuate 'the collective' than they are given credit.
Which then begs the question: If the Large City federations are not 'demanding' services, how is the $30 million being spent annually with respect to the other 130 federations who really need said services?

RWEX said...

The excellent questions raised in these Comments -- and those which will certainly follow -- deserve answers from the Board Chair. See if those answers are forthcoming. "FOLLOW THIS SPACE."