Wednesday, October 29, 2014


I was looking at the Board and Committee roster of one of our system's largest beneficiaries to locate the bio of one of its members when it suddenly struck me, the disease that afflicts our continental entity -- JFNA -- has now spread and metastasized in related entities. So I began to contemplate further...and here are some thoughts:

1. The Jewish Agency Board members from the United States, once appointed directly by United Israel Appeal, are now appointed by JFNA. In the face of real pressure from JFNA Chair Kathy Manning and predecessors, successive Chairs of UIA -- Jane Sherman, yours truly and Bruce Arbit -- UIA continued to assure that federation  leaders were named to the JA Board. But, today, at a time in which the JFNA Co-Chairs are extremely supportive of UIA, the U.S. appointed JAFI Board members now include a significant contingent from communities which significantly under-allocate (based on federation averages) to the JAFI core. Sure, there are those who espouse, against all evidence to the contrary, the view that being "in the room" with others from more "responsible" communities will inspire those which under-allocate to higher achievement. That has never happened. These leaders are, almost to a person, terrific and committed individuals -- they should be told that it is their responsibility to positively influence their communal allocations as one of their Board obligations. Should they fail or refuse, they should be thanked for their service.

But, there is more. Whereas the American Board members to JA of the past -- from Max Fisher, z'l, Marty Stein, z'l, Alex Grass, z'l,  to Marvin Lender to  Shoshana Cardin to Richie Pearlstone to Jane Sherman -- were among the great federation philanthropists of their eras or, in so many instances, the Board Chairs of their federations who continued on long after their terms were over, examine the JAFI Board membership roster of today. Where does their cumulative and individual influence reside? Look at the roster and decide for yourselves. Then ask: how and why did this happen. 

2. I called the Board Chair of one of our "system's" entities to question why two important leaders, one a past Chair, of that organization were not reappointed to the organization's Executive Committee. The response, after the suggestion that this was none of my business, was something like this: "No big deal. I abolished the Executive Committee." Think of it: a Board Chair, in this case a lawyer no less, believed he had the power to unilaterally "abolish the Executive Committee." This struck me as so crazy and so extreme that I was, at first, speechless -- then I came up with this brilliant response: "No, you can't." He said, "I did." And there we are. Perhaps this attitude of l'etat c'est moi is the result of  some leaders never being entrusted with the Chair seat of their own federation where they might have learned process; or the failure of an organization's professional leadership to just "say no" to the extremes insisted upon by a transient lay Chair. Or, perhaps, it's just stupidity. Anyway, the Executive Committee of that organization remains "abolished;" whatever that means.

3. At the beginning of his Term, the same subsidiary Board Chair had charged two of his best and brightest with the organization's CEO to chart a new, exciting and ambitious course for the organization -- one that would give it new scope, purpose and program. The JFNA Co-Chairs bought in and all seemed to be in place. Then this organization's Chair just dropped it; absolutely walked away without looking back. Did personal ambition trump organizational priorities...again? Or was it a function, one that seems to occur within the ambit of our organizations far too often, of another organization whose chief volunteer officer never experienced a federation chairmanship?  Or did someone whisper in CEO Jerry's ear that these new powers and programs would be bad for, e.g., the continuing futility of JFNA-Israel and/or the GPT?

4. Then there is this...The leaders of the continental organization -- and, in particular, its CEO -- believe that those who serve on JFNA Board, Committees and as officers no longer represent their federations but, instead, are somehow empowered by JFNA and JFNA alone. Sure, the federations place their leaders on the JFNA Board, the federations educate and support them but a CEO with no comprehension of the federation ethos -- after five years, he still doesn't get it -- just rejects it. And federation CEOs just take it. Maybe, at the end of the day, there is no federation ethos any more.

Oh, yes, it's a mess.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Yes, it has happened. The Vice President of the United States will speak at the General Assembly. This is not so surprising inasmuch as V.P. Biden is known to stop his entourage and give a speech at a parked taco truck -- but G-d love him, he will speak at the GA. That's how important we are.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


1. How it is supposed to be done.  I guess when your organization -- in this case, JFNA -- does not know how and does no fund raising, it certainly doesn't know how to say thank you to donors. With different leaders, it might learn. Take, for example, how JNF thanked its donors as it explained the application of proceeds from its fund raising during and after the recent Terrorists' War in Gaza:  JNF didn't bother with ridiculous "branding" -- no Stop the Sirens b.s. -- JNF just went out and raised millions, then it told its donors what it did with the money "you" contributed.

2. JFNA's Sad Lack of Meaningful Support for the Jews of the Ukraine. You remember that JFNA first asked the federations for $1 million, by letter...yep, a letter. Then, JFNA raised the request to, what, $3,000,000? Or was it, somehow, $2,300,000 -- as it appeared to be in self-serving summary of October 10. By letter. In any and all events, while our extended Ukrainian mishpacha is threatened by upheaval, one which continues, and the impending vicious Ukraine winter, JFNA has received the paltry sum of a little in excess of $1,128,000. Has anyone asked Jerry Silverman what the "needs" are or might have been anticipated to be? An amount far in excess of $10,000,000? Or did Silverman merely choose to ignore the real needs, never discussing them with JFNA lay leadership, or with JAFI or JDC? What's wrong with this picture? 

Now, after criticism from many sources and on these pages for the woeful lack of support, JFNA convened its "Ukraine Emergency Committee" (or whatever it's called) for the first time in weeks to discuss doing something. Anything. As is the case so often for this outfit, too little too late but good for meeting!

3. Do Federation CEOs have time to simultaneously lead other organizations? Apparently so. The CEO of one federation -- one that has not done very well at all for the last 15+ years is busying himself with leading a start-up NGO dedicated to Israel Mission experiences for newlyweds -- a noble proposition to be sure, but come on. Read the whole story: 
If all were well with his federation, would even starting up a new NGO be a good idea let alone being directly involved in its operation? Where is the continental guidance? Is there any? 

4. How is the GA Going? From all that I hear and read, not well...disastrous early Registration (even though JFNA reduced the lay Registration fees and eliminated the discount for early Registration). Perhaps folks looked at a map and saw where the venue is located. Then, the updated Speakers Directory appears to list every Federation professional registrant. Sadly most of the Federation "Speakers" other than those from, e.g., Baltimore, Nashville, LA, etc., are from communities that are in stasis or worse -- what do these CEOs really have to offer to a so-called "hands-on" GA -- a recipe for communal failure? And, the Program? Hardly "hands-on;" hardly a "Program" at all.

Just further evidence of the futility all around us. If any more was needed.


Saturday, October 25, 2014


An astute, albeit Anonymous, Commentator, responding to the articulated need for a system Reset, wrote:
"Richard with all due respect for your passion and deep conviction, and to your loyal followers and even to those who lead (lay and pro) the current establishment (JFNA & federations);

JFNA and the federations (as a whole) face the same challenge. By definition these are strategic challenges. Who are we? Are we what we were a generation ago? What do we do that is special and that the marketplace values? What governance and professional capacities do we need to be successful?

For instance: Are federations simply communal (whatever that means) fundraisers?
 Is JFNA a trade association or a catalyst in its own right.

There is nothing earth shattering about these questions and they've been raised by many, many others over the past decade plus.

What you and your readers are banging their heads against the wall about is elusive. For this to work there must be a critical mass of federations (and within the federation, of community leadership etc) who are marching to one beat and in one direction. We do it somewhat in emergencies. But absent crisis, this critical mass seems unachievable. Too much arrogance, certainty, undermining. It's hard to compromise. It's hard to yield when you have the right of way to do it your way. It might be best for your car (though in the long term I doubt it, but for that trip, perhaps), but it's not best for all cars and for traffic flow.

Our current systems, at the local federation level and at JFNA, are simply not built for what the systems (local and national) actually need to thrive. The marketplace is telling us year-after-year that our product is not compelling. (By the way, that's not just in the federation business but to a large extent within institutional Judaism.) Absent the right conditions, expect more of the same."
This Comment is spot on. In fact, writing with Washington's Norm Goldstein at the outset of the Manning "administration," we raised the exact questions (and more) for discussion by Manning and her incoming leadership. It became clear immediately that these questions were never discussed, that this leadership, sadly either was not prepared to discuss them or to expose them to a wider leadership audience -- certainly Silverman never has understood the questions so how could he even enter the discussion?

While certainly a discussion among federation leaders of what kind of JFNA they want, what its purposes might be, the evidence from one prior exposure of JFNA leaders to federations wants and needs suggests that discussion might be futile. For before the Global Planning Table went into full so-called "planning mode," JFNA conducted a series of regional meetings. At each, federation leaders from communities large and small challenged and rejected the very process and programs that would emerge as the current product. How stupid do they think we are? Very, very stupid.

The writer has set forth the basis for a discussion -- who at JFNA will move a real discussion forward that might...might...give JFNA purpose and relevance? Another rhetorical question.


Thursday, October 23, 2014


                                       "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall 
                                        Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
                                                 All the king's horses and all the king's men

                                                 Couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again

Do you, dear readers, think there is anyone (other than the CEO) who is engaged with this iteration of  JFNA who doesn't believe that the organization is terminally broken? A Comment offering significant insight inspired this reflection:

"In 1995 Samuel Norich, the current publisher of the Forward wrote a brilliant 86 page essay titled "What Will Bind Us Now" A Report on the Institutional Ties Between Israel and American Jewry in which he posited that a merger between UJA and CJF would lead to a dramatic reduction of collective communal support of Israel.
The merged organization would lose focus and water down efforts as it aspired to be everything to everybody and include a domestic agenda that would polarize the American Jewish community.
He could not have been more prescient.
It is time to allow UJA to leave the union and merge the JAFI and JDC fundraising efforts under one roof and get JFNA back to its holy agenda of building capacity of Federations.
Everybody wins. 
Under the current construct, the Jewish People lose."  
Of course every good idea, even this one, won't even be considered by JFNA leadership; this one because it would reverse the merger-created hegemony of the Large City Executives and the lay leadership oligarchy that has secured its power. But, that does not mean that this and other ideas should not be considered...immediately. It's long past time for an institutional reset, isn't it?

I don't know where such a reset might end up, but wouldn't a conclave called by JFNA where the issues of the future governance could be discussed by federation lay and professional leaders, academics, our Rabbis and foundation leaders have great value in and of itself? When the merger process convened a continental meeting on McDonald's Oak Brook Campus so long ago, that meeting itself was so valuable to all of us. It was a meeting called by UJA and CJF and, obviously, resulted in their institutional demise out of which we had hoped would arise something better. What we have today is so much worse that a total reorganization is called for -- one that might result, with better...far, far better...leadership in a rebirth of JFNA.

Friends, there is no rational basis for perpetuating a leadership and an organization that has resulted in one loss after another for the Jewish People, that has diminished rather than enhanced the Jewish communal professional cadre, that has lost the means to campaign and the passion that both propels and engages our donors, that focuses on increasing the number of donors rather than looking on with horror as the number of system donors falls beyond 60% the number on the date of JFNA's birth. 

I still believe, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, that we can do better in every area -- for how can we do any worse?


Monday, October 20, 2014


Perhaps you read a few months ago, as did I, the media plants and denials related to Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the Founder and President of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, whose alleged run at the Presidency of the State of Israel had made the Israeli press while remaining but a blip, if that, among the Israeli public. We all need a good laugh every now and then (other than the almost daily laughs supplied by our friends at JFNA); so, a big todah rabba to Rabbi Eckstein for this chapter of "As Our Strange Jewish World Turns."  There may be no greater argument in favor of abolishing the office of Israel's President than in those who aspired for that office. And, congratulations to Shimon Peres' successor President Reuven "Ruby" Rivlin.

But, in other areas, Rabbi Eckstein has been and is doing incredible work. As reported on August 5 in The Jerusalem Post: "Three planeloads of Ukrainian Jews sponsored by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews will land in Israel in the coming weeks... Asked about what role the Jewish Agency, which is responsible for immigration to Israel, will play in the flights, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, IFCJ founder, replied that as a private organization "we can do this quicker with better results by seizing the moment.""   And more -- The IFCJ has opened a Refugee Center in the Ukraine serving the Jewish communities with major staffing. And, if he had not chosen to  cut his grants completely, Eckstein's IFCJ might soon be allocating more to the Jewish Agency than the entirety of the federation system -- and far more already than does Keren Ha'Yesod. But, off goes Rabbi Eckstein...on his own.

Then let's be sure to acknowledge Eckstein's prodigious philanthropy. Starting from literally nothing in the 70's with the formation of his Fellowship, Yechiel progressively built a fund raising machine on hundreds, then thousands then tens of thousands of small contributions from (mainly) Evangelical Christians with a love of Israel (and, no doubt, other motives  never disclosed, always denied) into a raise of over $100,000,000 a year by year-end 2013. Rabbi Eckstein, whose career began in Chicago as an itinerant Rabbi, part-time Chazan, and Midwest Director of the ADL, built his own stature on the backs of those contributions directing allocations to the Jewish Agency, the Joint Distribution Committee (from which Rabbi Eckstein became only the fourth recipient of its Raoul Wallenberg Award) and, more and more, to direct project funding. He is a charming man; I have always enjoyed speaking with him, in touring his Chicago office space; and watching him operate.

At the beginning, back in Chicago, the Rabbi's ambitions were already great. I recall, when I Chaired the Chicago Federation and its JUF in the mid-1980s, multiple calls to come to the Federation building and have my picture taken with Yechiel and an over-sized check. Chicago's FRD Director often was called to drop everything and travel with the Rabbi to, e.g., Uzbekistan for the same purpose as were my travels to the Federation -- only this was a fly-in and fly-out.  After several years of directing his funding through the Chicago Federation, Rabbi Eckstein apparently determined that he and the IFCJ could get more "play" by sending the dollars through the United Jewish Appeal but that route, too, was soon abandoned as Yechiel felt that he was being "ignored by the American Jewish community" which benefited so greatly from his FRD efforts. (He wasn't in any "ignored.")

Yechiel, no matter his frustration with his perceived lack of recognition by the Jewish community for his efforts, never abandoned Jews in need. But the fund-raising commercials he produced for the Christian donations he sought often showed Jews in incredible poverty and were often beyond the pale. They were often crude and harsh. Eckstein, through his IFCJ and its arms, redoubled his efforts, directly funding Jews in need through the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee. He required and, as he should have, received seats on the Board and Executive of both; even serving as Chair, inter alia, of the JAFI Aliyah Committee. But even those platforms weren't sufficient to satisfy Rabbi Eckstein's needs for public approbation for his good and great works.

At JAFI, Eckstein demanded as a quid pro quo that the organization's letterhead be modified to include him as a co-equal with the Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Ha'Yesod. It appeared to this writer that JAFI leaders had agreed only to renege when the push-back from the LCE became too great.  All during these years, the IFCJ became the largest single non-governmental contributor to the Jewish Agency and the JDC other than the Claims Conference. He was and is a major charitable force with which to be reckoned. Just months ago, he joined JA, JDC and World ORT with a $1 million grant to Jewish institutions in the Ukraine.

But, when any of the organizations through which the Rabbi allocated his funds for wonderful, often life-saving, purposes, exhausted the honors, the kavod, that they could or would offer, Rabbi Eckstein moved on -- and earlier, coupled with his denials, he apparently coveted the Presidency of Israel! To "celebrate" the Jewish New Year, Eckstein announced that he was pulling a $9,000,000 allocation  from the Jewish Agency, hiring the charismatic Eli Cohen, who ran the Jewish Agency's Aliya and Klitah Department until JAFI almost abandoned the aliyah effort to head up his own IFCJ Immigration "Department." (Never mind that Yechiel still serves on the Jewish Agency Executive and only recently resigned his rather woeful chairing of JAFI's Aliyah Department Committee.)

Given this history and the switch in corporate focus and venue of the IFCJ to Israel, where Rabbi Eckstein had become a citizen years earlier, and the location of the IFCJ broadcasting studios, is it any surprise that Eckstein might pursue the Presidency of the State of Israel? Well, in a word...yes. Notwithstanding his well-planted denials, it seemed well known in Jerusalem at the time that Yechiel had retained Moshe Teumim, the Israeli marketing and communications czar (known in Israel as "the man who made Shimon Peres President") as his behind the scenes stalking horse for an office for which he appeared to be supremely unqualified.

So, the Presidential trial balloon went up and quickly disappeared from view; Eckstein never even registered in Israeli's public polling. But given his history and determination, a determination reflected on billboards around Israel bearing his punim, his new "I will do aliyah myself" funding, don't count Yechiel out next time. 


Friday, October 17, 2014


Friends, you have raised some questions in your Comments that I wanted to try to answer in today's Post:

  • Can't you send the Posts directly to the JFNA Executive Committee? Well, yes, I guess I could, but though many of them would deny it, many clearly do read it. I would guess they ponder the questions raised, consider the impudence of the source, and then go back to their dormant states. 
  • Did you ever get an answer from the Board Chair to your recent Post addressed to him? No, the Board Chair can't be bothered with serious questions about the competency of the JFNA CEO. He is too smart and too experienced not to know -- so why bother responding? 
  • Why do federations still pay Dues yet demand nothing of JFNA? Because a termination of membership would mean, among other things: no more Lions of Judah, no more Professional conferences, no more Young Leadership Cabinets, no more Dues "deals" (you know, the ones we never hear about), no more GA participation. So your community just swallows hard and pays and pays, asking for nothing in return -- some communal Dues approach $6,000,000, others in excess of $1,000,000, but for every community, except the "richest," Dues are a hardship. A reformed JFNA could still offer all the things federations fear losing, but even challenging the on-going pathetic wanderings of the JFNA of the present and the past 8 years carries the risk of ostracism and worse.
  • What about the guy who wrote that your claims to "exile" were "crap"? Did he ever respond to your request for the names of his blind copy recipients, among other things? Nah, bullies don't respond to requests (unless they are from someone who can do them some good). 
  • What about the Board Chair, did he ever respond to your recent letter Post? No and no. I am reminded that his predecessor claimed never to read this thing; yet, admitted to one and all that I ruined many a breakfast as she read it. Facts hurt so much. I reflect on the courageous statement that Zygi and Mark Wilf made on television last week as they reversed an earlier public position about an employee: "We made a mistake...And we needed to get this right." How I long to hear those words from the JFNA Board's long past time to call a mistake for what it was four five years ago and is...a mistake. And then do something about it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


It must be reassuing to retiring  federation CEOs (whatever the cause might be) that, if they behaved themselves within the frat house (that is showing appropriate deference to their fraternity brothers), there will be opportunities aplenty for them in the outside world. Examples abound, let me offer two:

  1. Ted. A prodigious and creative fund raiser, he raised his community to heights never before experienced maybe never even imagined over a lifetime with the same community, many as CEO. With superb professional partners, he built a great staff and with great lay leadership led one successful campaign after another. Then, for reasons we are not to know, all of a sudden, he retired or "was retired." But, never fear, he is now working for the Jewish Agency where he will bring his fund raising skills to bear on the Government of Israel/World Jewry Initiative. Maybe he will be able to explain why JFNA is not doing so; maybe he will explain why/how the GOI "management" of this "Initiative" will be a good thing. Or maybe not. Good luck, Ted.
  2. Max. Then, one of JFNA's greatest cheerleaders among the federation CEOs, the long-time professional leader in MetroWest, retired after working side-by-side with some of our system's greatest lay leaders from that community  in building a formidable federation. I love Max so much, having worked with him often in the UJA days and into the merger, that a few years ago I offered him the CEO position with JAFI North America, knowing of his commitment to collective responsibility and the core of both JAFI/JDC. He considered the offer before deciding (wisely as it turned out) to remain at the helm in MetroWest. I never perceived Max to be the fund raiser that Ted is, or that many of his fellow CEOs are/were but, great public supporter that he was of every cockamamie JFNA scheme (you could always count on Max to stand at the microphone and applaud anything and everything), after the most brief of retirements, Max has been retained (at what cost, we will probably never know) by CEO I-Don't-Have-Time-To-Raise-Money (just what does Silverman do, one might ask?) to spearhead raising money from within the federations for those moribund "Signature Initiatives" and, no doubt, for the National Holocaust Initiative (another $60 million funding scheme that, even with a great Chair in Mark Wilf, seems to fit no priority at JFNA) and who knows what else. Good luck, Max, you will need it.
Yes, I wish them both well. 

We should all be thrilled, just really thrilled, that our system is such that a retired federation CEO will always resurface somewhere -- JFNA anyone? Some of us recall when JFNA's first CEO/President was gift-wrapped by UJA-Federation of New York and delivered with the "hire me" sign around his neck to JFNA's doorstep clearing the path for John Ruskay's impressive decade and one-half Presidency. Then, after Steve Hoffman returned to his sinecure as the Cleveland CEO with all kinds of compensation from JFNA, he was succeeded, by the demand of the LCE, by the recently retired Pittsburgh CEO, Howard Rieger, for his four years of futility. 

Now, the paradigm of "outside the box" futility, allegedly directing the expenditure of $20 million a year on FRD (!!), and not wishing to dirty his hands on raising money for the GPT (if the effort fails, he might get blamed), hires a freshly retired LCE CEO to fund raise in his stead. There must be some gratification, must there not be, on the part of CEOs everywhere, that the old, old boys network, assuring full employment post-retirement, continues -- maybe that's one way CEO Jerry keeps the CEO community "happy;" it sure can't be the way he is not doing his job.

At the end of the day, my friends, while I can tell you what the predecessors as JFNA CEO did or didn't do, can you tell me what Jerry actually does? Can anyone? Can Michael Siegal do so with a straight face? Can Siegal look at himself in the mirror with any sense of pride and tell just himself "I have done the right thing"? Are they really going to extend this guy's contract? Have they already?

If any of this makes sense, please let me know. If it makes no sense, as I believe, let Michael Siegal know.


Saturday, October 11, 2014


On practically the eve of Yom Kippur, as if to give the leaders of the GPT and JFNA more for which to atone a few days later, the Global Planning Table Committee and its oversight committee (I have no recollection of what that is called, only Rube Goldberg knows for certain) met at 25 Broadway and by phone. If you didn't know about the meeting, that's because you, like me, weren't supposed to. 

I was pleased to know that some in leadership believe it's time to declare victory, make the GPT into some form of Israel and Overseas Think Tank and fertig. The Strategic Initiatives that might be or get funded (it looks as if only one -- the "voluntary" Initiative funded by Foundations -- that one pursuing issues related to Israel's Civil Society focused on marriage this time -- has any chance of funding). 

Unfortunately, that would mean that Ms. Manning and her claque would not have taken over all of the critical overseas and domestic functions of JFNA as has been their apparent goal so you can imagine the push back at a sensible strategy. Sturm und drang. Yes, screeching for the idea of "today Israel, tomorrow the world" was Michael Gelman -- you remember him, of course, as a wonderful and generous philanthropist with his wife Susie, often articulate, and, as JFNA Chair of the Executive under Ms. Manning, her henchman, for lack of a better term. Gelman argued for an all powerful Global Planning Table (like the all-powerful Oz, I guess) wherein the validating Partnership Committee (where most of the participating Federations sit) would be erased and all dictates "decisions" would now flow directly to the GPT Executive Committee (chaired by. Manning...of course (who, you will recall, Chairs JFNA By-Laws Committee which is pushing for the elimination of JFNA's Committees, so why not; and, perhaps, in the future, by...Gelman) where sit but certain self-selected Large Cities and a few constituency leaders. Further, I have been told, in ALL...Israel and domestic activities (e.g., UIA, the "split," JAFI, JDC, World ORT) would report to the GPT Executive. 

So, at least you had discussion at this obscure "Table" of these polar extremes -- one an excellent idea to staunch the bleeding and restore (if that's the right word) JFNA to its proper leadership role for all federations; the other to drown the system in that very blood. I don't think anything was resolved but, based on past experience, Manning (with David Butler and one of his D.C. clients, Gelman) will be twisting the arms of the most malleable to get her way. And, on that note, within the next ten days or so, the Global Planning Table Committee will be learning from the Global Planning Table "Partnership Committee" (that's the one that leadership proposes to rid itself of) chaired by Ms. Manning (c'mon who else could possibly Chair such a thing) its recommendation on the fiction of the "split." That recommendation, I have no doubt, will be to eliminate or drastically change that which the federations have ignored in practice for years. But, a recommendation, any recommendation keeps you know who at the microphone. 

And, where, you might ask was CEO I-Agree-With-You-and-I-Agree-With-You-Too in all of this? As he is wont to do when he does't know which side to choose, he "filibustered" in such a ridiculous way that no one knew where he stood. He called the GPT "an amazing success" that "...has already changed the world for the better." He is the Cheerleader-in-Chief, blind to all that is right in front of his eyes, when he should be the CEO. He called the GPT's "accomplishments" "significant" even though there have been none; and he foresaw the GPT as the permanent planning arm for Israel and Overseas. Fund raising for the "Signature Initiatives" -- terrible, of course, but CEO Jerry I-Only-See-Blue-Skies-and-Unicorns said FRD for the Signature Initiatives "is looking very good" at unnamed federations. (Is this how the man sold khakis?) A disgrace.

This, of course, brings me back to Max Kleinman. In the absence of any lay leaders, Max delivered the d'var torah. No mention that he's on the GPT/JFNA payroll to raise the very money Jerry and his crew haven't.

Let me try to sum this all up -- the vast number of federations and the Network communities are no longer relevant to nor within JFNA. Just pay your Dues and leave us alone. Or, maybe you hadn't noticed. Yeah, you, the ones who pay the Dues...awake from your slumber.

So it goes in the Lake Woebegone of the Global Planning Table where Jabbawokees dance among the snowflakes while JFNA dies a slow death.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014


As GA 2014 approaches, just one month away, a revisit is appropriate -- and it's not good:

  • The list of Speakers has been expanded. Beyond the liberal justices of the Supreme Court and some talking heads from MSNBC and NBC, added are a few TED speakers and a whole bunch of consultants. There is the LA Federation Campaign Chair and the usual JFNA/GA lay and professional leaders (?!) including "Mr. Federation: Jerry Silverman"...
  • But, who won't be  here  The Prime Minister, the President, the Vice President or any Federation CEOs.
  • The thing is still being held miles from the "District" in a land far, far away called "National Harbor" but you can count on buses to a Smithsonian Event and an expensive taxi ride if you want to spend your free time (of which there will be time aplenty) seeing some D.C. sites or visit with your Senator.
  • The Program has some moments of excellent potential and good take-away as well -- but here we are, about one month from the GA Opening and there is no meat on any of the bones -- who are the presenters, who are the panelists? We are apparently not to know. But all else pales in comparison with the total lack of focus of this GA on the experiences of our People over the past months -- experiences that are so vivid, even CEO Jerry can't get them (or his supposed "role" in them [ask those who heard his "me-me-I-I" speech at their Conference) out of his mind. I remember vividly that on the cusp of the 2006 General Assembly in Los Angeles, the CEOs demanded that the GA be totally refocused on our communal relationship to Israel; a reset we need so desperately once again. But the CEOs appear to either have run out of steam or interest. A great philanthropist was lost when she resigned her GA leadership role in protest 8 years ago -- today we won't run that risk and our present leadership just doesn't give a damn,  all in proof that JFNA leaders have not only wiped out institutional memory of the UJA/CJF eras but of its own more recent past as well - Santayana weeps.
  • If you are a JFNA Board member, at the end of last month you received an inquiry as to whether you would be attending all, two or none of three GA "convenings" ("convening" as a noun, really?). Apparently JFNA doesn't yet have sufficient registration as at October 1 to know who is coming. This could be, maybe even deserves to be, a disaster. One thing is for sure -- after seeking your input, literally pleading for it, the GA Program reflects nothing more than bad business as usual. 
  • Then, but days after the first "Survey," came another -- "We need your help. Answer a few questions for a chance to win an IPhone 6." The questions: check off the break-outs you might attend; and, another listicle, check-off your top break-out choices. The purpose -- we need some idea of the size rooms we will need to accommodate the throngs. The problem: not one of the multiple choices involved Israel, Western European anti-semitism or the Ukraine, among other  critical issues facing us; and session-after-session involving foundations and groups outside our system. Nope, we are just trying to see the size meeting rooms we'll need. Idiocy.
Look, I still encourage you to go, make your voices heard, demand that JFNA start to actually make a difference rather than continuing to pretend that it does.


Sunday, October 5, 2014


Through the windows of our home I can watch the seasons changing, the leaves, brown, red and yellow, fall like the snow that will soon follow, and change is everywhere...except at JFNA.

They never cease to amaze...

  • JFNA proudly announced a Mission of the system's largest donors that sounds exactly like parody: "King David Society Mission to China     A community of philanthropists with a passionate concern for the worldwide Jewish community will be travelling to China. Today’s China is a fascinating mix of the modern and the ancient. We’ll tour imperial palaces, climb the Great Wall and explore winding backstreets. We’ll encounter the incredible Shanghai Jewish community - founded by Baghdadi Jews, a refuge during the Holocaust and the Russian Revolution, and still going strong today. March 9-17, 2015." Yep, "...and still going strong today." Uh, huh, sure. When Chabad came to Shanghai, the native Jewish population was estimated at 150; today the community, consisting mainly of foreign Jews working in Shanghai is estimated at 1500. The history is fascinating -- but while huge Jewish populations in France, in England, in Germany and on and on, are facing enormous anti-semitic attack, while in Hungary, Jews (and, in particular, Survivors) face anti-semitism not felt since the 1930s and '40s), while the Jewish communities of Ukraine are facing life and death decisions, for JFNA to send a Mission of its major donor constituency to...Shanghai? This borders on, or may be, institutional insanity.
  • And in a Tweet on September 29, CEO I-Might-Be-Raising-Money-But-I-Have-No-Time, we viewed a photo, maybe a selfie, of himself in an empty chamber, proudly reported: "Looking Forward to Seeing the PM Speak at the General Assembly." Sure you are, Jerry, so glad you were there. Later Jerry reported: "Amazing speech." Thanks.
  • Dan Brown, the brilliant and incisive Founder and Publisher of ejewishphilanthropy wrote a Comment to a recent Post in which he noted. with some deserved disgust: "Not one person - professional or lay - has the courage to write a serious article on the Jewish communal system as it exists today. I know - I've invited submissions from some of the most visible." I am certain that Dan was not surprised; submitting "a serious article" would entail taking a position (risky) or demonstrating some understanding of the systemic condition (very risky) -- and what professional or lay person engaged in our system today would want or be able to do that? Or, equally likely, they just don't have time to write -- too busy attending speeches at the U.N. or planning Missions to China, or something of equal importance.
Any wonder that some can write that we no longer have a system? 


Friday, October 3, 2014


I love our religious services -- their rhythms, their nigunim and their meaning -- I always have. I especially love the services on the yomim noraim. This year, as the Shofar was about to be blown, in my synagogue, we read a Meditation that resonated with me -- I wish our leaders had read it as well:
"The shofar exclaims: Wake up from your slumber!  Examine your deeds and turn in repentance, remembering your Creator.. You sleepers who forget the truth while caught up in the fads and follies of the time, frittering away your years in vanity and emptiness which cannot help: take a good look at yourselves. Improve your ways..."
I took the message of this Meditation personally -- all of it, even the passages I have not reprinted here; but I fear this call is lost on too many of those in power. I know them to be good women and men, yet I find them "frittering away (their) years in vanity and emptiness." We see expediency where there should be principle. And our organizations suffer, wither and wane.

Rich Bernstein. the dedicated Chair of United Israel Appeal recently included the following in his Yom Kippur message, a message that resonated with me as it did Rich:
                 "Avinu Sh'bashamayim, O God in Heaven
As we approach another year, we ask Your blessings upon us and upon our loved ones. Grant us the courage to peer into our lives, the wisdom and discernment to evaluate what we see, and the strength to act with resolve to change whatever needs improvement."

Certainly our leaders know what their offices demand of them. If they cannot bring themselves to act, it is not because they know not what must be done; it is because they lack the will to do what is right. 

All we can ask is that the call of the Shofar wakes them from their slumber. 

As for me, I know that I have hurt any number of you with what I have written (and thought but not written) over this past year and wish that I could apologize to each of you for anything that I have written that has been hurtful. I, too, will try to heed the call of the Shofar in the New Year.

G'mar hatima tovah to you and your families.