Saturday, November 29, 2014


Straight from one Tower of Babel, or maybe two...or three. Forgive my skepticism, but...

You surely recall the Government of Israel/World Jewry Initiative that descended into chaos two months ago when a dispute broke out between the leaders of the Jewish Agency and the Israel Diaspora Ministry over, what else, who is in charge. The dispute in the press grew ugly and as the control issues were not resolved, the parties appeared not to be speaking to each other,  unnamed but highly aspirational UIA  and JAFI lay leaders (none named "Rube Goldberg" but THEY appeared to be in the same gene pool from the work product) stepped up and the results...well, they speak for themselves -- here they are:

  1. There will be something that will be called a "Public Benefit Company" ...
  2. The shares of which will be held in Trust for a Steering Committee...
  3. Which will consist of 12 seats -- 4 for the Government, 4 for the "Principal Funders" (undefined what that means) and 4 for JAFI whose...
  4. JAFI seats on the Steering Committee will be selected by the JA Chair of the Executive (subject to approval by the JA Executive Committee), 3 lay leaders -- one each from the World Zionist Organization, Keren Ha-Yesod and UIA/JFNA...
  5. This Steering Committee will "steer" the Public Benefit Company "Oversight Committee" which will have 3 members -- one each from the Government, JA and the Principal (sic) Funders...who will "control everything by "consensus" and...
  6. Create a "New Project approval process" (undefined)...and
  7. Oh, there is that Public Benefit Company that will have Project Boards (undefined) directing "projects" approved by that Oversight Committee subject to a "Delegation of Authority" by its "Independent Trustees and Directors" to that "Steering Committee." HUH?
Now, if this is something your federation/major donors would like to invest in, have confidence in, or believe this balagan will work, please send millions of dollars to "Boy We Sure F----d This One Up, Inc." -- a "Public Benefit Company." This could be from the folks who brought you the Global Planning Table...but it isn't. If you believe that any deal is a good deal, then this is good; if you believe that no deal is better than a bad deal, well...

Remember, if you will -- the Government of Israel/World Jewry Initiative began as a Jewish Agency/Government effort. The Prime Minister and Jewish Agency, with JFNA jumping on the then bandwagon agreed that a Company would be formed, managed by the Jewish Agency, folding in the unfunded Global Planning Table "immersive Israel experience" Signature Initiative. On the cusp of the roll-out, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry asserted that it would be running the company, JAFI was relegated by the Government to a participant with the WZO, etc., and a public spat erupted in the press. Then, these two JAFI and UIA lay leaders (JFNA was once again relegated to no role) embarked on a compromise effort. What resulted, you may judge for yourself -- but it appears to this trained eye to now be a process with no one in charge, a compromise for compromise's sake and an "agreement to agree." Oy vey.

Most amazing, this is the work product of hundreds of hours invested in good faith by truly committed volunteers. That part of this is to be applauded and remembered. They prevailed where, frankly, in the political thicket in Israel, I never thought they could. More amazing, as reported in ejewishphilanthropy two weeks ago, this structure is the basis of a "non-binding Memorandum of Understanding" on tentative programming between the Jewish Agency and the Government, et al., whatever that means. The focus of that MOU is spelled out in detail in an official JAFI statement detailed in the ejp article. If this works, these volunteers are to be congratulated; even if it doesn't work, their efforts were truly prodigious. A more optimistic note was struck in an article in The Jerusalem Post
Who will be the funders? Don't know. How will the money be raised and by whom? Don't know. How much money? Will anyone really be able to explain how this will all work? Don't know. But...we have a "structure," now, don't we? Don't we? 

You must see the "flow chart" on a piece of paper -- as in the ejp -- it makes even less sense than my description. Such is compromise.  Two volunteer lawyers had been running around Jerusalem selling as a "compromise." I have a strong sense, having spoken with friends in Jerusalem, that leadership there, listened, rolled their eyes, said "sure," initialed the thing and went back to their business. Sure, these fine gentlemen who drew up this structure convinced themselves this will work. I just do not think so; time will tell. 

And, as an anonymous "senior leader at JFNA" observed: "So, we have an agreement but no money." A fair comment that ignores the reality that it is JFNA that committed to raise the money in a pro rata match with the Government. 

Oh, that. Never mind.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014


My parents were the proudest of Jews, proud Jewish Americans, proud and liberal Jews. I have inherited my own liberalism from them and from my many aunts and uncles. No one would ever have questioned my parents', my aunts' or uncles', or my own embrace and support of Israel -- from pre-state through today. But, today, the general characterization by way too many, among them close friends, equating "liberal Jews" with anti-Israel attitudes and positions has become an intolerable and thoughtless canard. Being a "liberal" or "progressive" Jew today is to be cast aside by normally thoughtful people as being on the "same side" as J-Street, the NIF or whatever other organization is being castigated on the right and by the right as "anti-Israel."

Seemingly, it has become so simple for too many commentators to point a constant finger at "liberal Jews" for all of the ills that impact our Peoplehood. Thus, an otherwise incisive columnist, Jonathan Tobin, writing in Commentary concluded in a column on the idiocy of a Jewish Federation opposing students erecting a Sukkah at their public school:
"The problem here is that liberal Jews fear conservative Christians far more than they do ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Taliban (as Tablet points out, it is unlikely that the federation would have opposed accommodations of Muslim practices). And they are so paranoid about it that they are ready to restrict examples of Jewish faith in the public square in order to forestall any manifestation of Christian faith there."
Yep, it's those damn "liberal Jews" -- to Tobin and his ilk, it's my and your parents and aunts and uncles...and, me. To others it's anyone who voted for Obama -- "liberal Jews" all. Norman Podhoretz, writing in the Wall Street Journal asked "Why Are Jews Liberal?" And, on and on. The deconstruction of Jewish unity -- "Jewish liberals." The support of J-Street -- "Jewish liberals." All of the Jewish People's woes the fault of "Jewish liberals." As one of my mentors, a relatively newly-minted conservative, admitted to me: "we need every liberal pro-Israel voice we can find" to offset the wave of left-wing anti-Israel ones. 

We have a tendency today to sloganeer, to paint all with an ugly brush -- facts don't get in the way. I and many of you continue to thrive in an environment that embraces all Jews -- liberal, conservative, even neoconservative. But let those who believe that they can condemn all those whose views they oppose -- the Tobins and Podhoretzes and too many others -- remember, in doing so you are attacking my parents and yours. Shame on them.


Sunday, November 23, 2014


In a prior Post I linked you, my friends, to an absolutely idiotic interview that CEO Jerry I-Just-Can't-Help-Myself gave to the JTA's Uriel Hellman. All Hellman did was ask Silverman to provide an update -- a status report, if you will -- on each of the programs Silverman set forth in speeches, interviews and article over the past year. Hellman just let Jerry bloviate on-and-on without comment self-destructing in his jargon, cliches and "never minds." Is there any question of why and how JFNA has become the laughingstock of Jewish organizations? In case you missed it, in one of the most stupefying moves in human resources history, Jerry's contract was renewed.

On the cusp of every GA from my first in 1975 to the present, I would await eagerly the arrival of The Forward, to see who from the federation system, from UJA and CJF, would be named to that year's Forward 50 -- The Forward's  annual list of those it perceived were the most important figures in Jewish life worldwide. And that anticipation was always rewarded with the annual lists that always included our friends in leadership of federation and our system; those among our friends who inspired us. Take a look at the 50 the last few years; no, just look at this year's list on which the only...only...representative of what was our system, our Movement, were John Ruskay, recently retired from his leadership of New York UJA-Federation and Doug Seserman, the CEO of what was the Colorado Federation now a federation no longer, just JEWISHColorado, another "rebranding" without meaning to anyone other than Seserman and The Forward. Doug Seserman is someone who has proved his ability as a marketer, in marketing...himself, especially to The Forward -- to which doing the "bucket challenge" appears to have been a thing of genius.* The "system" is now not just a joke, but a footnote, an after-thought, if that.

Dan Brown, whose contributions to Jewish communal life, thought leadership and Jewish education through his ejewishphilanthropy have been incredible offered another commentary, when he wrote us in evident 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." JFNA has no voice, the federation system has lost whatever voice it once had. I believe that Federation CEOs have written papers time and again for each others edification but they apparently fear exposing their thoughts to a broader public. 

And, that's just part of the problem. JFNA cannot offer mentoring to Federation CEOs at any city-size level -- there is no one at 25 Broadway with sufficient federation background or experience to mentor, teach or, G-d forbid, learn. There is no one there with sufficient background or experience to even know what questions to ask let alone provide answers. Thus, these CEOs on the ground struggling with new demographics, a declining donor base, mobility, the need to engage not just the "next" generation but the generations of today, have no place to turn but to their fellows, directly or in their chat rooms and, too often, they are turning to those whose experience is even less than their own.

We have seen a succession of JFNA CEOs who have contributed to this strong perception of failure that racks the organization and the system today: Steve Solender, who was essentially "rewarded" upon his retirement from New York UJA with the professional leadership of JFNA (opening the door to the "reign of Ruskay") but who never had the confidence of his own leadership; Steve Hoffman, who did some good things, but began the exclusion of lay leadership from the decision-making process; Howard Rieger, another of the LCE post-retirement, who spent his four (+) years mainly behind his closed office door, drawing up enemies lists, and beginning the isolation of JFNA from its owners; and, now, Silverman, who, to his credit, has visited maybe every federation and, to his and the organization's everlasting detriment appears not to have understood a word of what he heard on any of those visits. 

The reality is that Jerry The-Brand-Is-Me has invested almost everything in "building the JFNA brand." But...and this is the biggest "but"...Jerry clearly never understood what the "Brand" stands for. The end result is a brand that stands for nothing. It is not about the federations, which it should be of course, but the brand "managers," if you will, don't have a clue what the federations are all about; the brand is, therefore, about itself. 

And "itself" is nothing but a joke.


* When The Forward first promoted this guy in April, we responded with When Insipidity Reigns, April 24, 2014. Suffice it to say insipidity still reigns.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


One astute Commentator raised an important question:
"A lot of time has been spent discussing the drop in core allocations to JAFI, JDC, and World ORT.
For all we know, JAFI, JDC, and World ORT may, in fact, be receiving more total dollars annually from the federation system than at any time in history....or maybe not.
Doesn't JFNA have the data on not only how much each federation sends JFNA for allocations to the core, but also in addition to the core allocation, how much each federation allocates directly to JAFI, JDC, and World ORT?
That, it would seem to me, would lay all the cards on the table for a transparent analysis of the situation.
And it would seem that this information should, in fact, be public information for the members of the JFNA System."
 In fact, JFNA has a lot of data which it parses out only to those it deems "worthy." The Global Planning Table has seen the same data as I -- allocations to core and total Supplemental (designated) giving. There is no breakdown as to where those dollars were allocated to in supplemental/designated fashion, but "Total Supplemental Giving 2013-2014" was $40.3 million (+/-) --  again, there has been no breakdown of the recipients. This total is not insignificant, but it nowhere approaches "more total dollars from the federation system than at any time in history" for JDC/JAFI/ORT. Far from it when one merely considers that the drop in core to JAFI since the merger now is approaching $100,000,000 annually.

I agree wholeheartedly with one recent correspondent who wrote:
"The conversation on advocacy needs to shift and focus on three basic truths:
1. The indivisible nature of local and overseas needs- hence a single Jewish agenda built around peoplehood and community
2. The unique set of deliverables provided by global partners (what we once described as "the franchise")
3. The acknowledgment that for 3/4 of our Federations or more local needs alone cannot maintain the loyalty of their biggest donors"
If JFNA could lead us here, what a change in systemic attitude might occur. But the leaders of JFNA seem to be so involved in brand and self-promotion, they appear to have no time or interest in promoting the critical work of those with which we have charged with our responsibilities.

But, far too often, there are federation professional leaders who, when challenged about the deconstruction of the overseas allocation engage in pathetic sophistry. Here's how it works -- a donor sees the JFNA data. It shows your federation with an overseas allocation of 12.3% including Supplemental Giving. He asks the CEO how can that be? The CEO responds: "Well, JFNA's number is just wrong. You have to deduct our cost of raising the money, our overhead, from our campaign numbers first. Then you compute our percentage -- it's really...40%." Thus, you have a community whose overhead is 50% -- and there are those that even exceed that percentage -- which allocate almost nothing but under this perverse logic that community's CEO could argue that its allocates 50, 60, 70% to overseas. Sophistry, pure and simple.

JFNA's numbers, which are the same as those used by UJA before it, compare true federation-to-federation figures -- annual campaign and allocation  -- applicable across the board. The results may not look good -- in fact, they look horrible -- but this data enable a fair evaluation of each federation's allocation in the absolute and relative one to every other.

You will recall that JFNA abdicated its advocacy and allocations responsibilities to the ineptitude of the Global Planning Table; and what did that leadership do? Nothing. It collected data that disclosed that over ten federations are allocating directly to overseas beneficiaries; it "eliminated" the "split" by converting it to cash; they acquiesced to the "repayment" this year of not only allocations "advances" by a few federations but of an allocations loan by JFNA. In other words, in the shadows in which JFNA and the GPT work best, these two Potemkin Villages just did what they do best...nothing. And, in doing nothing, damaged the credibility of our system even more than they did before. And, just who have been the continuity in this deconstruction over the past five years? Kathy Manning and Jerry Silverman. 

Let's have transparency and let's have some honesty -- two excellent places to start.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014


There is a post-GA or pre-GA or a constant at JFNA -- confusion compounded by another missive "From the Desk of Jerry Silverman" post-GA.

What am I talking about? Pay attention, if you please...forget the constant misuse of numbers -- 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 -- we all know that these numbers are always...always...just made up to rationalize failure after failure. Just pay attention to this -- Jerry's hallucinatory summary of the GA (he may have been at another conference after all):
Innovation and Collaboration at the 2014 GA
November 17, 2014
Dear Friends,
It’s hard to believe that only one week ago, 3,000 lay and professional leaders from Federations around the continent, as well as representatives from every corner of the Jewish world, were gathered at the General Assembly (GA), awaiting special addresses by United States Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Under the banner “The World is Our Backyard,” we came together just outside Washington, DC for three days of learning from experts, sharing success stories and celebrating Federation’s unparalleled ability to touch more Jewish lives than any organization on the planet.

Many of you flocked to FEDovation sessions, which showcased more than 50 of the most groundbreaking Federation programs this year, from new approaches to education, Israel and communal engagement for Millennials to the latest fundraising strategies that are invigorating Annual Campaigns. As Michael Siegal, chair of JFNA’s board of trustees, reminded us, “Many of the most innovative Jewish communal programs today started as pilots either created or embraced by Federation.” Together, we are working to foster further idea- and resource-sharing, both online and through in-person skill exchanges.

This year, we introduced a smartphone app that enabled all participants to communicate in real time throughout the conference. One user remarked that the app made the GA feel like an “intimate gathering among close friends.” According to app users, GA high points included an address from actress and activist Marlee Matlin, who emphasized how crucial inclusion of Jews with disabilities is in creating a truly accessible Jewish community, and the commemoration of Veterans and Remembrance Day, led by five distinguished Jewish military chaplains from the U.S. and Canada.

From our global backyard, Jews from Ukraine, France and Israel reinforced the importance of Federation and our partner agencies’ support as rising anti-Semitism and anti-Israel actions threaten Jews around the world, and Holocaust survivor Nesse Godin reminded us never to forget our past as we forge ahead to the future.

Likewise, Vice President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuaffirmed the strength of the historic American-Israeli partnership, especially against continued unrest in the region and the looming threat of a nuclear Iran.

In the words of our Federation leaders, this year’s GA was “thoughtful,” “meaningful,” and “full with love and appreciation for the Jewish People.” Relive your favorite moments and share them with friends and colleagues with our multimedia Video and Press pages."
BTW, I won't accept for a moment a reference to a Holocaust survivor's vivid reminder "never to forget our past as we forge ahead..." from someone who has partnered in the erasure of our institutional history. "Innovation and Collaboration" indeed.

Then, reflect on the reality that not one specific takeaway, not a single "FEDovation" is offered. Then hit the "Video" link above and watch the 4 minute clip from CEO Jerry's address to the 3,000 (I would add..."or so" if 1,500 were close to 3,000). Listen/observe the use of the "royal we" and readily realize, as I did, that there is not a single reference to a single thing JFNA, itself, did. "We" is really you..and all that "you" did you did without one bit of assistance from JFNA even as you paid $30 million to JFNA to do something for "you." (Oh, and one of the FOB's suggested that we all turn off the audio and just watch CEO Look-At-Me gesticulate wildly [and inappropriately]. It's damn good.) 

And, why couldn't CEO I'll-Take-Credit-For-What-You-Did reference anything that JFNA had done for you other than organize a series of small Solidarity Missions -- because JFNA, under this leadership, didn't help you much if at all.


Monday, November 17, 2014


As I write this I am looking out our den window at the first snow of winter falls along with the temperature; winter has arrived early. Of course a long, dark winter descended upon JFNA years ago -- no sign of sunshine or light can penetrate the darkness.

Every day in some way JFNA exhibits exactly why it has become both irrelevant and a laughingstock. While JFNA lay leadership believes in the fairy tale of a really important JFNA and many of you may still believe in the ideal of a functioning and important organization, feast your eyes on what follows, look at yourself in the mirror and ask the following question: "How much money is my federation wasting on this?" 

Friends, what we have here is an epic failure of lay and professional leadership. They not only know not what they are doing, they know not even what they should be doing. So, instead, they don't do a damn thing.

The following is the actual verbatim Agenda of the JFNA "DEVELOPMENT CABINET" meeting at the GA. This Agenda tells you all that you need to know:
"Dear Development Cabinet Member,

The following is the Agenda for our meeting on Sunday, November 9th from 11 AM – 12:30 PM at the GA..  We will be in room Chesapeake 6.


1.     Welcome – Linda A. Hurwitz

2.     Philanthropic Resources Update – Reuben Romirowsky

3.     Reinventing the Sapir Award: How Should We Recognize Community Campaign Success? – Linda A. Hurwitz

4.     Making a More Effective and Powerful “Pitch” for your Cause – Chris Westfall, US National Elevator Pitch Champion, GA Plenary speaker

5.     Adjournment

The main purpose of our meeting will be to exam how we recognize successful campaigns."
Wow!! The "National Elevator Pitch Champion."

Yes, while so many federations need direct fund raising assistance and guidance from their national organization, if there was one, while the system's donor base has shrunk to heretofore unheard of lows, what does the so-called Philanthropic Resources  Development Cabinet" discuss? "Reinventing the Sapir Award" and "elevator pitching." Are you kidding me? JFNA has reached a point so low, it is off the radar screen; aren't more federations reaching out  today to consultants for the services that should be and were provided by our national organization? What are your federation Dues being used for at 25 Broadway?

And, at the same time, Chair Michael Siegal pontificated beautifully and meaninglessly about a vision and specifics JFNA is wholly incapable of framing with its current administration. As one Commentator put it so well:

"The federation "owners" don't have a shared clue about what they need or want. How can JFNA know what its owners want if the owners don't even know?

By and large, the federations are paralyzed. The American Jewish world has changed and its hardly done. The federations are the status quo institutionalists. supported by those who came to Jewish maturity (and I'm not talking bar/bat mitzvahs) via these same institutions. The donors are clueless or unaccepting about what change means, even as they know change is needed (it's already happening!) for the next generation (which they are scared to death of losing). The major lay leaders and professionals are scared to death of losing donors, their paychecks, status etc = paralysis. 

And JFNA is similarly paralyzed. Its doesn't know what it is and its owners are of no help in figuring this out. On second thought, it's not paralyzed; JFNA is simply and tragically chasing its tail the same way its owners are. When the owners get a clue and get decisive, JFNA will follow suit. In the meantime, buy long in tail chasing."
So very true.  It all just makes one want to cry.


Friday, November 14, 2014



To: Trustees, Federation Chairs and CEOs
From: JFNA Leaders

In a recent message to you, we at JFNA appeared to take credit for the passage of a conversion bill that, upon cursory examination, could be a game-changer. That Memo pointed out, in pertinent part: "The issue is complex, most of our involvement took place behind closed doors..." As our Memo concluded, this was not legislation at all but a decision of the Israeli Cabinet in the nature of an Executive Order in the United States. In fact, our critical involvement was so secret, we weren't even aware of it.

Now we wanted you, our faithful, to know that "behind closed doors," JFNA has even more critical and secret successes. Among them:

  • The settlement of all issues in resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process;
  • Hamas's abandonment of terrorism;
  • Hadassah Hospital's reorganization and balanced budget;
  • Recognition of the State of Israel by the Satmar;
  • Universal agreement that the world is flat;
  • The elimination of all anti-semitism in Western Europe and Great Britain;
  • The restoration of the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews allocation to JAFI;
  • Reconciliation between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu; and
  • Our takeover of the work of both the Conference of Presidents and Aipac.
It's true that none of these matters are particularly relevant to the things we are supposed to be doing for our owners, the Jewish Federations of North America, but we thought them very, very important for JFNA, and, in particular, it gave our JFNA-Israel Office things to take credit for even though all of this was accomplished where we do our best work -- "behind closed doors."


Wednesday, November 12, 2014


The 2014 GA is history. Some thoughts and corrections:

1. My error -- next year's GA will be in Washington, but actually in the District, at the Washington Hilton. Why will it return to D.C.? Ask Siegal or Feinberg or Renee Rothstein.

2. Attendance. Well, it was bad. Nonetheless, once again, JFNA, by the end, was announcing their favorite fiction in numerical terms -- 3,000. Or, even, 4,000. Unfortunately for them, one of my guys noticed the fire safety card on the wall of the rooms of the Plenary -- "occupancy by more than 1,500 is prohibited by law." Lie about one thing, lie about almost anything and everything. UPDATE: A friend with knowledge of the facts advised me that the capacity of the 2 BALLROOMS is actually 2176 -- better than 1500, a lot less than 3,000 or 4,000.

3. Gestures. Apparently, CEO Jerry has been taken speech lessons. His address to the Plenary was characterized by insane gestures suggesting either over-coaching or a terrible case of Tourette's. Maybe it's an improvement.

4. Fed-O-Vation. Once again the branding iron has struck in the land of no institutional memory. You see, at least 25 years ago and longer, the predecessor organizations were offering what was/is known as "best practices" to the federations. In fact, so was JFNA. Some examples? 

  • Under the leadership of New York's fantastic lay leader, Ellen Korda Kroll, in the early 1990's the CJF Planning Department produced a set of best practices in Outreach to Intermarrieds -- maybe someone at 25 Broadway could find it. If not, I have a copy as I chaired the CJF Planning Committee then;
  • UJA in the 80s and 90s was producing annual best fund-raising practices and offering them to the federations. Those works are also available.
  • In the mid-Oughts JFNA Planned Giving and Endowment Department produced best practices for federations with separately incorporated foundations. While that best practice effort was squelched leading to the resignation of a terrific lay Chair of the Department, its results are probably  available unless Joe Imberman was directed to burn them.
So, call it what you will -- Federation, Shmedovation -- it's yesterday's and today's "best practices." An effective organization would have put them on-line, accessible with a keystroke. Not JFNA -- it pretends very old idea it rehashes and rebrands and calls it "new." 

Those few lay people who attended this GA and spoke with me generally thought it was set in recent memory. Damned with faint praise.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014


In a thoughtful Comment to the Infection Post a few weeks ago, one person wrote the following:

"Richard I believe that you are well intentioned (mostly) as are some (not all) of your anonymous responders but you need to stop using LCE as a blanket term. There are 19 large city Execs and only a small handful with any real system clout. You also have a small number of lay leaders who act on their own without knowledge or consideration of the impact of their decisions or non-decisions. When you make blanket indictments you hurt those who want change but cannot effect change."
I will try to be more careful.

I know, we all do in fact, that what this Anonymous Commentator wrote is true. I have been in the room with many of these same guys (at a time they were all "guys") and they could hardly agree among themselves to the meaning of "federation" then -- no doubt less so now -- and most are risk averse. Over the course of writing this Blog, I have heard from some Large City Executives directly, met with others, who would explain that without the support and leadership of LCE X or LCE Y or LCE Z, nothing will change; they can effect no changes; and they would not go public; they also said that with the leadership and support of LCE X, Y or Z, change could and would be almost immediate. But, sadly, there should be no expectation that X, Y or Z will be doing any leading to change. They haven't and they won't.

Another anonymous Comment suggested one step that might be taken:
"It's a shame that none of those not part of the handful don't take some of their own action along with their community. Or maybe they are and not being vocal about it. I can think of several things they could do even without clout. One example - Let JFNA know that their community is reducing dues until ABC happens. If A happens they will increase a portion of the withheld dues. If B also happens an additional portion and so forth. I'm sure that the creative minds of the remaining 15-16 people can come up with other things they can do besides sit by passively and do nothing. Or if they are doing something they should be more vocal about it. They have more power than they think. They are only beholden to their local community. Do they really think their local community will remove them from their positions if they take a meaningful stand on JFNA contrary to the views of the few with clout?" 

I have presumed on what I know to be the intelligence and knowledge of you the readers of this Blog. I believe you know that consistent with the "golden rule," I hold those professional leaders of the largest Dues-paying communities responsible for the deep, deep hole which they have helped the chachams at JFNA dig. They, of all people, no how bad things are. They are the ones I am writing about; they are the ones who could and should make a difference. But they are also the ones who are running JFNA from their positions of comfort in their home federations. They are the Wizards of Oz behind the darkened curtain. And, to a person they would deny it -- wink, wink.

If there is any hope at all for change, it is embodied in a new "group" who, if they choose, could inspire others to change -- I am talking about a Marc Terrill and  a Jay Sanderson, and others who know what they see and, in my experience are not abashed in speaking out. I am talking about the still fresh New York UJA's Eric Goldstein, who may take a careful look at how his community's $5,135,000 in Dues are wasted year-in and year-out and, unlike his predecessor, say "what the hell?"

On the lay side, it is so much harder to see, let alone hear, voices demanding change. On all sides, if you know women and men who can no longer abide a system that serves only itself, its "brand," worthless though that brand may be, give me their names off-line and I will reach out to them. Some of you have already done so, and I have spoken with many of you, but it is not yet a group of sufficient size to constitute what we need, a movement. But, with your help, we can get there...we will get there.

As Nelson Mandela said: "It always seems impossible until it is done."


Monday, November 10, 2014


Given the dismal attendance at this GA being held at National Harbor, Maryland (or is it Harbour Island, The Bahamas?), you would have thought that next year's venue would be both exciting and an attraction, in and of itself. And, so it is...the 2015 GA, November 8-10, will be held at...drum roll, please...National Harbor, Maryland. It's no longer about the location (even though that was the one criterion emerging from Kathy Manning's one-woman "GA Reset Committee" that was implemented, causing the then next year's GA to be snatched from Houston as I recall), and it's clearly not about attracting attendance, it's not about the federations, it's apparently all about the deal.

Vice President Biden assured an overflow crowd (the magic of meeting in a smaller room) that he staked his personal reputation on Iran never having a nuclear bomb and that Israel is America's greatest friend and vice-versa -- "we're family." Perhaps, he should have delivered this speech in the Oval Office directly to the President.

I am so blessed to have such incredible Commentators -- Anonymous or no -- whose insights offer a constant wisdom. Here is one on this GA -- equally applicable to so much of the narishkeit JFNA today:
"As has been stated by other contributors neither JFNA nor its constituent federations can offer an inspired shared purpose or compelling shared agenda. So is it a surprise that the GA is irrelevant?
It is a conference without a reason for an organization that is similarly uncertain about what role it plays. And the marketplace knows it."
The question is: why doesn't Michael Siegel know it? Why don't the federations know it? (I won't ask why Silverman doesn't know it.)

On a positive note, my friends advise that the few Plenaries have been well run and well-managed. On a note less positive, reporters from a wide array -- maybe a "swath"(?) -- of break-outs have described most of them in terms ranging from "worthless" to "same old same old." (I think that's just two ways of saying the same things.)

Enjoy your receptions, dinners and what could be an excellent Panel on perceptions of Israel.


Sunday, November 9, 2014


Like all of you, I want nothing more than success for JFNA at the GA. Today's leaders, however, seem to be incapable of anything. Viz,

1. What would you do if you were a JFNA Co-Chair and year-in and year-out your CEO has misrepresented to you the number of GA Registrants? Would you (a) terminate him or (b) extend his contract? I know what I would do; you? So, this year, what number did CEO I-Can't-Count give his Co-Chairs? Was it the mythical "3,000 registrants" repeated year-after-year? Was it 2,000? Was it 1,500? Or was it the 750-900 "max" in attendance for the Opening Plenary as reported to me by a number of you in attendance? (The photos you sent me suggest that the number was even less than that.) Maybe the Registrants got lost trying to get "National Harbor, Maryland" to register on their GPS;

2. The presentation by our Supreme Court Justices was inspired. The seminal question to Justice Kagan: "I understand you had the first bat mitzvah in an Orthodox synagogue and Rabbi Steven Riskind was your Rabbi. Tell me how that went." This tells you more about the registrants, about us, than about the session. Friends of mine were heard trying to keep the bile down in their embarrassment..

And, so, the GA 2014 has begun. Your impressions, if you are still awake would be appreciated.


Saturday, November 8, 2014


                                 "It's been hard not to in the world this
                         dope was ever put in charge of anything."

Will Leitch, the New York Magazine columnist, wrote those words after "...watching (NFL Commissioner) Roger Goodell's nightmare month" -- September 2014. I have been watching JFNA for as long as you and I can remember, and I have a similar question for Michael Siegal about he who has become his man. Apparently, those with the power of doing something about this whether at the NFL, an incredibly successful umbrella, or JFNA, an incredibly unsuccessful one,  have determined that it is not in the interests of the owners of the NFL, or the federation owners of JFNA. Yes, friends, even as not a single lay leader of our continental entity can possibly identify a single achievement by JFNA during this CEO/President's first five years, something has compelled them to reward failure as if it were success. Here is a guy who should have less job security than a substitute teacher awarded with a contract extension. If his hiring was the joke it, predictably, has turned out to be, what words can describe extending his term for another five years?

At the outset of Silverman's contract someone(s) had the perverse idea that paying him like one of the top tier CEOs -- those who had actually led federations to great success over a period of years -- would make him one. They were so very, very wrong. In the incredible epitaphs upon Ben Bradlee's death, several attributed the following Bradlee directive to his staff: "Just get it right." Sadly, that dictate has been turned on its head at JFNA to: "Just get it wrong." They have...and there is no accountability whatsoever...if there had been, there would have been no extension whatsoever.

I learned that when Michael Siegal joined JFNA as Board Chair, he was committed to end the CEO Jerry "era." But something happened -- either he was  impressed by Jerry's obsequiousness, or "inspired" by Jerry's preposterous "ideas" -- from multiple TribeFests to a $1 billion special campaign for a free pre-school for one and all -- it certainly could not have been any real analysis of the failures of the last five years or his terrible hiring judgment (the two biggest hires of the recent past -- Gurvis and Rothstein -- were imposed on Silverman by Siegal) after his excellent engagement of Mindy Hepner bringing a superb pro back to 25 Broadway and offering hope soon dashed. Friends, where is the new muscle being built at JFNA -- the kind of new muscle built at Olympic Steel or the Los Angeles or Chicago Federation or at any business that aspires to success, where a real CEO understands how to build an effective organization. Clearly Michael Siegal has a high tolerance for embarrassment.

Sure, there is no one "out there" who might be the logical choice to succeed the current CEO -- that is to say the current group of controlling LCE are either too fat and happy to offer themselves for a daunting task or, like Miami's Jacob Solomon, just not interested (and, after all, they control [or think they control] Jerry's every move, maybe his successor would not so easily or readily bend to their every whim). But, the consensus view of so many who believed the time had come for Silverman to be succeeded by a professional of excellence, vision, discipline and purpose, is that Michael Siegal just didn't want to "spend the next two years in a Search for a successor." Just didn't want to be bothered. Just didn't want to be bothered. Michael, truly a good man with a great heart, decided, for reasons unclear that he would rather be nothing more than the steward of a daily disaster -- he now owns that disaster as if he created it.

The tragedy of Silverman's first five year Term was that he never understood the job -- he believed he had been (and probably was) hired to promote and build the "brand" (viz, JFNA itself), not the federations, not the annual or special campaigns. It was and is the brand, the brand, the brand.That's why Silverman is able to tell his JFNA lay "leaders" that they no longer serve the federations that appointed them as their representatives, but, instead, that they are now serving the "brand" -- something bigger (only that's not the case, of course). If Billy Wilder were a student of JFNA, he would have written Jerry's mantra: "I am/we are big, it's the federations that got small."

Follow the path of failure with me, friends:

  • Community Heroes -- failure
  • #ish -- failure
  • More donors -- failure
  • TribeFest 1, TribeFest 2, TribeFest 3 -- failure, failure, failure
  • Complete the Journey 1 -- failure
  • Complete the Journey 2 -- failure
  • A $1 billion "campaign" to provide a free Jewish pre-school -- non-starter
  • A whole series of GAs -- failure, failure, failure, failure, failure
  • Global Planning Table Strategic Initiatives -- non-starters
  • Global Planning Table itself -- failure
  • "Stop the Sirens" Special "Campaign" -- failure
  • Independent fund raising to support the JFNA Budget -- ha ha ha*
  • Overseas Core Allocations -- failure
  • Ukraine Emergency Fund -- failure
There are more, help me out here, but there have been no successes...none. Under Jerry's brand of leadership, JFNA had made no impact anywhere.

Given this record, were this private industry or, even, a local federation, the CEO would have been gone in a nano-second, with no second thoughts and no CEO-in-waiting, just the sense that we have to do better and that we can be better. A series of Inspector Clouseau moments does not a CEO make. 

Sadly, CEO Where-Am-I is so lost in the confusion of his own words, his lack of focus and in his sense of his self-importance at just being CEO that, if pressed, I doubt that he could tell you who he  actually is. But, he is blessed -- protected by the "masters of the universe" and a few lay leaders who should know better.

Then we learned that after JFNA lay leaders demanded that Silverman hire Mark Gurvis to effectively "run the store" (is he allowed to do so??) and Renee Rothstein to run Marketing and, apparently, the GA, (how's that going??) now there has been a decision somewhere to add two experienced retired CEOs, each more than capable to serve as JFNA CEO -- Max Kleinman and (name to be added later when and if confirmed) as "consultants." What the hell? What good is  building scaffolding on a structure already in collapse? If these hires aren't an admission of the failure of JFNA's CEO, what would be?? Today the "cost" in terms of the on-going incompetency has surely exceeded $1,000,000...that's more than ONE MILLION DOLLARS...a year for the "Office of the CEO/President." This is nuts.

I could write even more (and probably have), but no one has exposed Silverman's futility better than reporter Uriel Hellman in an article in JTA last week.

I urge you to read it in its entirety. JTA accompanied the article with a picture of the CEO at his most shambolic, speaking at last year's GA, making it up as he went along. All Hellman did without commentary was to list CEO Here-Is-What-We-Aren't-Going-To-Do representations and promises in a year of speeches and interviews and then let Jerry bloviate and prevaricate in response. The article title begs its own question: "...How Close if Jewish Federations to its Stated Goals?" Answer: not close, not close at all. It is absolute farce in Silverman's own words. In an example of the worst kind, Silverman on the "fedovation" that will take place at the GA:
"Here’s how Silverman describes it: 'We’re going to be really pushing the envelope,' he said. 'We used to have an exhibition hall, where you’d walk up and down and see exhibitors. We’ve now created a whole space that has spaces for people to sit and have dialogue, spaces for different groups to meet. It’s real, new dynamic open space …We’ll see different groups go into a fedovation and then, whether it be volunteers or professionals, will come out and have a space to go really unpack them and say, ‘How can we apply it to our federation?’ ”
I had suggested on these pages that one condition of this CEO's extension be a "put a sock in it clause" -- Hellman just proved why merely by letting Jerry speak. It's failure writ large in Silverman's own words. Last month, one Large City declined to renew the contract of its CEO after three years of no campaign growth -- at JFNA, its CEO, so mired in failure that he can't explain it, just awash in gibberish...another contract. Michael Siegal: look yourself in the mirror.
Friends, as Jerry Silverman's contract has been extended it became absolutely clear that the only criteria for JFNA CEO today are the ability to tie a tie and form a sentence -- and even under those minimal criteria, Jerry Silverman almost doesn't get it. His apologists and enablers assist him in the attempts to create "an alternative reality to the one he is responsible for;" it is one filled with unicorns and cotton candy relevance to reality. Mired in failure of his own making, Jerry Silverman will labor on.


* JFNA will suggest that funding from, e.g., the Ruderman Foundation is an example of success. And, sure, it's been successful for Ruderman to directly fund its own wonderful programs under the JFNA Banner. Help for the JFNA Budget...not so much.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


I often wonder if  in addition to the important JFNA roles as Sr. V-P Protecting the Brand, Sr. V-P Employee Titles and Most Sr. V-P Explaining What Jerry Really Meant, there is someone at 25 Broadway with the title and heavy responsibility as Really Sr. V-P in Charge of Wasting Lay Leaders Time. That takes us to what will be lengthy program/table discussions during the upcoming Board meetings on how to change JFNA's Governance. 

How is the contemplated intense discussion described in the Memo from Board Chair Siegal outlining the session? "...[W]e would like to take advantage of being together at the GA and obtain a broad swath of input..." (Who really talks like that?) Yes, a "broad swath" -- that means, quite simply, a "row of grass" or "a broad strip or area of something." Exactly.

What's proposed: getting rid of the Chair of the Executive; getting rid of the Delegate Assembly; apportioning voting rights and changing the make-up of the JFNA Executive Committee. Now these could probably all have been placed on some form of Consent Agenda given the manner in which most of the "questions" have been framed for "discussion;" but let's look them over as if they were each worthy of intense table discussions and reporting out the "swath."

1. We don't need the Delegate Assembly as it was "envisioned as a venue for meaningful engagement" which, today, "takes place at the Board, Executive Committee and some of the committees of the Board." Sure it does. Anyway, its "anachronistic." What might be added is the following language: "it has become anachronistic because we made it so." Real engagement is dangerous.

2. We don't need the Chair of the Executive because this Chair doesn't do anything. That's my conclusion; you may reach your own. There have been terrific Chairs of the Executive -- Sonny Plant, z'l, and Kathy Manning come to mind as having taken on major assignments and influenced policy (in the latter case, influenced it in the wrong direction) -- and others who mainly just took the job and effectively disappeared. None understood that they were responsible for oversight of JFNA operations (as opposed to policy). 

3. The Executive Committee is too big -- mainly because so many CEOs are invited to "sit in" with their lay leaders. There are too many opportunities to breach the cherished "rules of confidentiality" and it's just too damned big. Let's cut it back to 4 CEOs, the Board Chair and Kathy Manning and we'll be just fine (especially if we cut out the Board Chair as well).

4. Now that we're ridding ourselves of the Delegate Assembly "anachronism," let's apportion votes on the Board by some formula or another. Discuss and report.

There is clearly something to be said for a total lack of institutional memory -- now it is not just of UJA and CJF -- it includes any memory of the merger or of JFNA's own history. 

Have a great "swath of conversation" or go out for a cup of coffee and some fedovation.


Sunday, November 2, 2014


The Global Planning Table Committee met by phone on October 20 to listen (I guess that's what that Committee does) to "recommendations on the 'split'" of core allocations dollars between the Jewish Agency and Joint. I don't know what the results were/are but the materials sent to the Committee the morning of the meeting (!!) were sufficiently confusing as to only raise serious questions and yield the obvious conclusion that JFNA/GPT are, like Nero, fiddling while Rome is burning -- you were expecting something different?

  • While federation annual campaigns, with no assistance or direction whatsoever from JFNA, have increased since 2011, core allocations have dropped over the same period from $139,200,000 in 2011 to a projected $120,200,000 this calendar year -- a 14% reduction to the lowest point...EVER
  • Somehow JFNA advanced $2.9 million from its own "reserves" to core in 2012, federations then advanced $2.3 million (net) in 2013 but, apparently, that $5.2 million will be deducted from federation allocations in 2014? Huh? Where wqas this deduction voted upon? By whom? Why?
  • JAFI and JDC and World ORT will each receive the lowest core allocations from the federations that they have ever received...that's EVER. Each and every year, for the last 8 years and more, these core allocations have reached a succession of new lows year-by-year.
Here are some of the b.s. you would hear were you on the Committee:
  • The overseas beneficiaries (to continue to call JAFI/JDC/ORT "partners" under the circumstances is blasphemy) should not complain, look how much they received from the "Stop the Sirens" and "Save the Ukraine" "campaigns." This is, of course, so facile and so false. These emergency dollars went directly to program, often to third party service providers, so to attempt to "count" special campaign distributions is a rationalization of failure, pure and simple. (And, never forget, in that last Terrorists' War, the federations [not JFNA...never JFNA] raised over $300,000.000; the War this Summer yielded maybe...maybe...a claimed $50 million, far more than the JFNA "target" and JFNA has not even seen that much.);
  • "We're projecting an increase in core allocations in 2015." On the basis of what, prayer? (That projection would somehow see a decrease in ORT's allocation.)
  • "We think the split should change." In its first year, the then ONAD (Overseas Needs and Distributions Committee), later to become as big a failure as the GPT has been from its beginning, was under the thoughtful and respected leadership of New York's Alan Jaffe. Its recommendation was that allocations divisions among the then partners (for that is how JA/JDC were then treated) should not be changed at a time of decreasing allocations. Later that would be reflected in both federation recommendations and the agreement of JAFI/JDC rejected unilaterally by Kathy Manning for reasons never explained -- that increased allocations be divided 50/50. Although a number of federation leaders who supported a freeze on core changes back then retain their great influence on the failure that is the GPT, I doubt they even remember where they stood then let alone stand up and fight for what they surely believe to be a matter of principle.
I have no doubt that the Neros who lead our wreck of a system today will call for significant modification of core allocations. I also have no doubt that the federations, the "market," if you will, will continue to make their allocations decisions as they have. JFNA has abandoned core allocations advocacy; the GPT leadership has given that advocacy its usual lip service without follow up. And CEO What's-Advocacy, will continue his uninformed silence as JFNA marches further in its pursuit of irrelevance.

The balagan continues.