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?



Anonymous said...

A good idea but: the current leadership - both lay and professional - will never consider any form of open, honest discussion on how to move forward. It would mean they would need to be accountable to their real respective constitutienties (not just to a couple of LCE's) - it's simply not going to fly.

At JFNA, the culture of "my way or the highway" is the supreme operating principle. It's not changing any time soon.

Anonymous said...

In an environment where the current leadership actually continues to believe that "all is well" even as federation leaders have finally begun to tell them, quietly and politely (unlike you) that all has really gone straight to hell, there isn't any impetus for self-examination or accountability. I like what your smoking though.

Anonymous said...

Maybe there is hope in a new addition to our LCE ranks. After all who better to know disaster when he sees it than a former Wall Street lawyer who defended Morgan Stanley? Or flim flam than the attorney for Michael Milken? Better yet having just short of looking the other way when charged with investigating earlier behaviours of Rabbi Freundel teaches one a lesson in vigilance? right? Or maybe not.

Anonymous said...

Correction on my anonymous 3. The LCE in question defended JP Morgan Chase during the last financial crisis not the other mentioned banking House.

Anonymous said...

Not to put water on the hopes of anonymous 3, but YU's president is a former federal prosecutor and he allowed Madoff's hands to stay in the YU cookie jar. Talk about should have known better!!!

Anonymous said...

You can could call all of the continental meetings you might want and it won't b e worth spit so long as the current CEO sits in that chair at the top of the Tower of Babel supported by hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil

Anonymous said...

I think this will have to wait until the old guard LCE CEOs in the crucial cities have all left the scene. They are all far too implicated in the current mess.

Anonymous said...

One of those LCE's has a life-time contract and I hear has no interest in retiring. We're going to have a very long wait.

Anonymous said...

The only way change is going to occur is for enough Federations to say that they will not support a $30 million JFNA.
It will take courage, but I have to believe that there are many federations of all city sizes out there who are fed up with the lack of service they receive for the dues they pay.
JFNA cannot continue at $30 million.
If the budget were cut to $20 or even $!5 million, hard decisions would need to be made, which by the way, 90% of the federations did in the face of the 2008 worldwide economic downturn.
As did so many non profits....except, of course, JFNA.
Again, shame on us for allowing that to happen.

Anonymous said...

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) fundrasiers?
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.

A good Shobbos to all.

Anonymous said...

Strip away the ridiculous chatter about that vacuous phrase peoplehood and get back to the three anchors of the Federation movement: critical and immediate human needs; Israel and the institutional fabric of community.
Yes and a good shabbes to all.

Anonymous said...

To the last Anonymous Commentator -- great point, one that no one in jana leadership seems to understand at all. If you said this to their faces, here's what would happen: Siegal -- "good point," Feinberg -- "I will ask Jerry about this and get back to you," and Silverman --"huh?"

Anonymous said...

Comment #10 hits the nail on the head: These are questions that should have been addressed years ago, and revisited every year by JFNA leadership (along with the federations).
However, I agree with Comment #9 that it's all about the money.
If a critical mass of federations refused to pay their dues to support a $30 million JFNA, and instead agreed to passionately support a $15 million JFNA; then JFNA would be forced to answer those hard questions that #10 would be a start.