Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Let's start here...with an article from the L.A. Jewish Journal:

In each of Israel’s wars in recent years, as the country’s soldiers have been on the front lines and its civilians in the south have resided in bomb shelters, the Jewish social service establishment has consistently called upon Jews in the Diaspora to donate money to help. 
And the donations reliably flow in, usually totaling in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. During this summer’s seven-week war between Hamas and Israel, for example, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) raised $49 million — nearly $1 million for each day of the war — for its “Stop the Sirens” relief fund.
Here in Southern California, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles raised about $3.6 million during the summer’s war, of which $1.7 million was sent to JFNA’s fund. The balance, approximately $1.9 million, is yet to be distributed, said President and CEO Jay Sanderson. The funds remaining from JFNA’s $49 million come to about $30.7 million, according to a spokesperson.
Where exactly did all the money go? And what about funds that were raised but not yet spent? 
To the extent that these questions can be answered clearly, they are largely determined less than a mile west of the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City, inside the fortress-like walls of the Jewish Agency headquarters on King George Street, home to the offices of some of the world’s most influential and wide-reaching Jewish social service agencies.
In the midst of the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel, staff in that building were tasked with allocating the donations from Diaspora Jews to assist the injured people and damaged communities near Gaza.
And their work continues, even though the fighting has subsided. 
JFNA raised $42 million in the United States between July 8 and Aug. 26 for an emergency relief fund for residents of southern Israel. Another $7 million was raised in Canada.
Sanderson said that the $3.6 million raised in Los Angeles was “significantly more money than we expected” for this war’s relief fund. He said two donors donated about half the money, with $1 million coming from real-estate developer and former Federation president Bram Goldsmith, and $800,000 given by an anonymous donor.
Speaking with the Journal from New York on Aug. 26, the day a monthlong cease-fire was announced, JFNA CEO Jerry Silverman said its $49 million fund already had distributed about $18 million to the organization’s partner agencies in Israel, which “have the platform and infrastructure to move on a dime” to provide relief to the  hundreds of thousands of Israelis who live near Gaza.
Because JFNA does not make any direct contributions to recipients, its 16-member allocation committee, of which Sanderson is a member, based its spending decisions on what a select number of social service organizations in Israel said was most needed during any given day or week. That committee was assembled once the war began in July.
A report compiled by JFNA indicates that during the seven-week conflict, the group spent $5.4 million on respite activities for children (such as day trips); $5 million on therapy and trauma support; $3.4 million for “resilience” support; $3 million to deliver food, medicine and other necessities to elderly people who cannot safely leave their homes; $767,000 in loans and direct consumer spending for small businesses near Gaza; and $617,000 in therapy and “resiliency workshops” for hospital workers and Lone Soldiers. 
Working primarily in conjunction with the Jewish Agency, the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC), and the Conservative and Reform religious movements in Israel, the more than $18 million spent by JFNA financed numerous programs that seem to have touched tens of thousands of Israelis, if not more.
JFNA was unable to specify how much money it sent to each of the handful of social service agencies that coordinated on-the-ground relief efforts in Israel. As of press time, the Journal was able to receive detailed figures from four of the five organizations that coordinated the vast majority of JFNA’s relief efforts.
Michael Geller, a spokesman for the JDC, wrote to the Journal that the group received $4 million from JFNA during the summer war, using the money for 11 different types of activities and support, including respite activities ($1.9 million), trauma support ($608,000), equipment and games for shelters ($241,000) and therapeutic plush dolls for traumatized children ($149,000).
The ITC, which counsels and trains individuals and cities in trauma support and recovery, reported that it spent about 5,000 hours during the war assisting in therapy and anxiety support. In addition to consulting with regional councils near Gaza on emergency management, ITC’s “emotional first-aid emergency hotlines” received 30,000 calls during the two-month war. The group did not specify as of press time how much money ITC received from JFNA.
The Masorti (Conservative) movement in Israel reported to the Journal that it received $517,600 from JFNA’s relief fund. Masorti spent $200,000 on relocating its Ramah-NOAM summer camp, which was within range of Hamas rockets, to a location near the Sea of Galilee in the north, another $104,500 on respite activities, $113,100 on counseling for remote communities and relatives of soldiers, and it plans to spend $100,000 on High Holy Days programming for underserved Jewish communities near Gaza.
David Bernstein, director of development for the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, reported that his group received about $477,000 from JFNA as part of Stop the Sirens. Bernstein wrote in an email that beneficiaries of the funds included children from kibbutzim in the south and Bedouins from Rahat and other villages, who participated in respite activities. The Reform movement, according to Bernstein, also provided pastoral assistance for soldiers and traumatized civilians, and provided food and games for people in bomb shelters.
As of press time Sept. 9, the Journal had not received information from the Jewish Agency on how much it received from JFNA during the war.
Over the coming weeks and months, both JFNA and the local Federation will need to decide how to spend millions of unspent dollars from this summer’s campaign. At JFNA, about $24 million (plus the additional $7 million from Canada) remain in the emergency fund. Silverman said that because “the donor’s intent is to support Israel’s needs today,” JFNA intends to distribute these remaining funds as soon as possible. 
“The $24 million will be allocated appropriately and thoughtfully over the next month or six weeks, assuming something is worked out” with regard to a long-term cease-fire, Silverman said.
Aaron Goldberg, director of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation’s office in Israel, said during an Aug. 13 interview in Jerusalem that preparations for such emergency efforts began long before “the gun is being fired.” During times of calm, JFNA utilizes its seat on Israel’s National Emergency Authority (similar to FEMA in the United States) to help plan how it would allocate money raised for emergency war relief. 
“When a conflict begins, you don’t know how long it’s going to last,” Goldberg said. “People seemed to believe in the beginning it would probably be a week, which is what previous conflicts looked like.”
One of Goldberg’s roles as the L.A. Federation’s Israel liaison is to advise Sanderson on where Sanderson, as a voice on JFNA’s allocation committee, should recommend sending relief money. In his Jerusalem office, Goldberg repeatedly stressed one such need — Israelis’ psychological relief from the constant siren warnings in southern communities. 
“Day in and day out, for a period of three weeks, every 15 minutes, every 10 minutes with sirens — it screws people up,” Goldberg said. “This is a time when kids are supposed to be in the parks playing; they are supposed to be in day camps.”
In Los Angeles, Federation still has $1.9 million available to spend in Israel from the campaign. Sanderson said this surplus will not be filtered through JFNA’s fund, but  instead will be distributed according to needs identified by Federation staff in Los Angeles and Israel.
“[That’s] why we have an Israel office in the first place,” Sanderson said."


What Jay Sanderson neglects is "that (the allocation of emergency funds raised in an expression of our collective responsibilities) is why we have a continental organization." Only, of course, we do not have one that can be entrusted with the distribution of those funds, do we? And, no one is asking the seminal question: "WHY IS THAT?" Yet, this is not a criticism of those federations which have determined that they can individually better determine how the funds they have raised be spent 7,000 or 10,000 miles away; this is an attempt to explain this new reality and how and why we are here. 

Certainly our funds would have a far more dramatic impact were they collected and distributed collectively rather than be individually doled out by Los Angeles, Chicago or any other federation, whether or not that community has the resources to have an Israel representative on the communal payroll.

First, as we all know, it is a pathetic joke to state, as the Journal article author did, that "JFNA raised $49,000,000" for its Israel Emergency Fund; the reality is quite another thing. JFNA raised...NOTHING. JFNA is in the collection and distribution business and the results as they say speak for themselves -- a lower percentage of campaign dollars sent through our Continental enterprise than ever in our history. And, what factors have led us to this sorry state? Well, consider:

  • A distrust in JFNA borne of waste, redundancy, overstatement (there is no "$49 million fund" even as CEO Jerry recites the number as if it were real) and the reality that JFNA has not engaged in any fund raising (although it did distribute a kind of "case for giving" and some excellent "Q and A");
  • The real numbers of the JFNA "effort" are sobering, and found in Chair Siegal's plaintive plea for cash on Monday: only $4 million of unrestricted cash remained available for allocation on top of the woeful $18.9 million already received -- we all appreciate Siegal's candor and my suggestion to CEO I-Can't-Count remains: "stick a sock in it":
  • The growth of the "federation representative" movement since San Francisco created its Israel amutah in the early 90's;
  • The constant drumbeat of anti-Jewish Agency "advocacy" by a growing group of federation CEOs based on the assumption that the JAFI bureaucracy of twenty years ago (not today) and fed, if "feeding" were necessary, by many of those "federation representatives" for reasons self-evident. Couple those destructive efforts with the anti-JAFI rhetoric and actions of Michael Siegal's predecessor, which Siegal has attempted to overcome, and you have  a recipe for the very negative response to JAFI's efforts even during a time of war in Israel and its aftermath;
  • In the creation of the Israel Emergency Fund "targets" of, first, $10,000,000 and, then, $30,000,000, JFNA completely undersold the depth of American Jewish concern for the impact of the Terrorists' War on Israel on our Israeli mishpacha, leaving federations fro Los Angeles to Birmingham and so many others in the unique circumstance of raising far, far in excess of the "fair share" asked of the federations. These "outcomes" left those federations with a "surplus" to distribute, by their conclusions, reached separately, to distribute as they determined, but not to or through the collective;
  • The significant delay in the timeline between funds sent to JFNA and their distribution, The fact that JFNA had received, at the date of the Journal article, only $18,900,000 of $49,000,000 raised by the federations (with another $4 million "left to allocate") is telling commentary on the reality of our collective responsibilities in 2014 as expressed through JFNA.
  • An historic breakdown in the understanding of the exercise of our collective responsibilities and the impacts that collective response can have.
The historic high percentage of federation self-directed allocations is the culmination of the breakdown of self-imposed (because no continental institution could impose it) communal discipline accelerated by the breakdown of trust in JFNA as an entity deserving of trust. After all, who knows better how to distribute our donors' funds in an emergency than the federations themselves, in the opinion of those who raised the money?

We have seen our so-called "system" go from "donor choice" reflected in the designated gifts of more and more donors whose trust in the decisions of the central communal body has broken down, to "federation choice" reflected in the individual communal-designated allocations as the trust in the continental body -- JFNA -- has self-destructed. It is so dire that I would wager that no one at JFNA, including CEO We-Raised-$49-Million, knows how much federations raised -- the only  number we know for certain is the amount JFNA raised...$0.

During the last Israel Emergency Campaign, one Large City decided to distribute $150,000 away from the collective effort in $5,000 "allocations" to 30 different Israeli NGOs rather than send those dollars to the then UJC. When I asked the then Israeli representative of that Large City "why, what could the impact possibly be on any of those organizations?" he just shrugged his shoulders.

It appears that we now have a continental enterprise only to preserve the Lions of Judah and Young Leadership Cabinets and some nice professional education efforts -- for $30.5 million per year. JFNA is so diminished, it has made itself unnecessary...and it has done it to itself while we just watch and ignore what we are witnessing.



Anonymous said...

And beyond the righteous call for a new spirit and substance of leadership at JFNA what, Richard, is your proposed remedy to the specific disconnects you
catalog? The many who would agree with you would welcome an action focused proposition on how to right our communal approach to meeting needs in Israel.

RWEX said...

We need a new leadership -- not just here at JFNA but at the Jewish Agency for Israel, where the current professional leadership appears to n to know how to inspire us or even to implement its own plans. Yet, as our Continental system has reduced our core allocations over the shelf life of JFNA to a horribly diminished amount to both the Joint and JA, there are serious questions in my mind as to the extent of our influence over JAFI plans and policies at this time.

Thus, the leaders of the federations need to sit together and devise a set of strategies, commit to their achievement by broad consensus and, then, offer JAFI and the JDC a serious quid pro quo.

I do not believe that JFNA, in its present leadership vacuum can even understand that there is a serious issue let alone be able to lead the federations to a consensus to which the federations would be seriously committed. Do you?

Anonymous said...

I agree Richard. We live in an age of giving circles and private foundations where a Jewish priority is what a handful of wealthy players say it is. Federations, JAFI, JDC once stood for something, a collective whole different in kind and degree. Sadly, we too are now chasing after the financial support of the few and mimicking their ways rather than championing the interests and empowerment of the many. We will all be the worse for it.
Anon 1

Anonymous said...

The "new normal," as it were, has converted what were the incredible Jewish federations becoming "just another charity." That evolution will just throw them into the pile with every other Jewish NGO. It's over, the decline has begun and there is no one home at JFNA who is even aware of what the system once was or could be let alone what it has become.

paul jeser said...


The JNF has done an outstanding job doing what the Feds used to do.