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.



Anonymous said...

Who the hell wants my CEO to travel on "my 4th Solidarity Mission" while fund raising chaos reigns here? What could Silverman possibly contribute that JFNA-Israel could not to these Missions?

Time to renegotiate his contract? Only to terminate it.

Anonymous said...

Jerry Silverman is the Federation system equivalent of John Kerry -- traveling constantly, accomplishing nothing, while things go to hell all around him.

Maybe the federations truly deserve no better.

RWEX said...

Sent to me by an esteemed pro:

"So now Silverman uses the urgent crisis in Israel to trumpet US legislation “impacted” by the Washington Action Office for much less significant issues in our country. Unbelievable."

Anonymous said...

Yet another indication of how low JFNA has sunk and how they can't get top leadership (or any leadership). The invitation to register for the "exciting" GA arrived. The invitation was signed by two of the JFNA staffers, Renee Rothstein and Debra Leipzig,not volunteer chairs, not Silverman, not an officer of JFNA, but two staffers - granted one was a Senior VP. As important as they made it sound - "Israel is in crisis, our solidarity as a global Jewish community is more vital than ever, so is the GA. It is the most powerful symbol of our unity." Yet they couldn't even credit the invitation to someone above the pay grade of Rothstein and Leipzig, or better yet, someone who wasn't paid at all. I wonder if they asked Seigal if they could use his name and he refused.

Anonymous said...

Here's the deal -- those who bear the biggest shame (after you and whoever else led us into this mess) are those who sat on a Search Committee, had to know that Jerry Silverman was as unqualified as any person could possibly have been for a position for which he was almost uniquely unqualified, yet voted to make him the CEO of a most complex organization.

Anonymous said...


In this week's Forward your conclusions couldn't have been better validated: 1. He actually believes that JFNA is raising the federation-driven Israel Emergency dollars when, in fact, JFNA is doing nothing but sending them on; and 2. he should NEVER be allowed to speak to the press.

I thought Michael Siegal was a great businessman -- maybe he isn't.

Anonymous said...


It is clear that the authority given Siegal by the Board to negotiate an extension of the CEO contract carries with it the ability to end Silverman's tenure -- does he have the balls to do that when he knows he should? I am betting he doesn't inasmuch as he has shown no interest in leading, just another cypher with a microphone.

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding? Jerry's the best -- his firsthand reports from four, count them, 4 Solidarity Missions are reports we couldn't do without. His introductions to others' reports of organizations doing something have been real great.

In other words, what a waste of hot air and millions of dollars of salary and benefits.

Anonymous said...

Remember when we had a National Campaign Chair? Well, in the current crisis I had to look it up. Here's what I found: "Linda A. Hurwitz is the National Campaign chair of The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). She is the immediate past president and past chair of National Women’s Philanthropy (NWP), and recently served as JFNA’s National Training chair." Remember Carole Solomon, Bob Schrayer, z'l, Steve Selig, Mark Wilf, David Fisher -- their voices would not have been silenced at times like these. Yet, per JFNA, this Israel Emergency is not worthy of a national campaign; it is a "Fund." The voice of the National Campaign Chair is nowhere to be heard.

This is how poorly served we are today by our Continental system.

Linda, whoever you are and wherever you are, what the hell are you doing?

Anonymous said...

Richard. The way this Silverman was selected and then compensated and now extended will at least have the saving grace that no one with the lack of "qualifications" will ever be hired and paid like this again. It is a shame that the organization is paying the price that it is.

Anonymous said...

This was how Silverman described himself (only in part by the way) in The Huffington Post -- ?Gerrald (Jerry) Silverman is President and Chief Executive Officer of The Jewish Federations of North America. He is a highly experienced leader in the North American Jewish community and longtime corporate executive, with over 25 years of experience."

Yes, indeed, "highly experienced." Woe is us.