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.


Anonymous said...

Richard, you are missing one important criteria - the ability to "pay homage" to a select few LCE's, no questions asked.

Also let's face it, this board chair is never going to rock the boat of the LCE in his own community. He's just not committed enough to the federation world to create a ruckus in his own backyard.

Anonymous said...

If you are correct, the reason we have this guy, Silverman, for another 5 years is that the Board Chair can't be bothered for the rest of his 2 years, searching for and hiring someone competent. This suggests (1) that this Board Chair believes that he has accomplished something in his first 2 years other than smiling and traveling and making excuses for Silverman and (2) has substantive plans for doing something over the next 2 years. Under what rock did we find this guy? The same one under which we found Silverman?

Anonymous said...


This should no longer be about Jerry Silverman. This is about Michael Siegal, another weak and failed lay leader. You seemed to have hoped he would be an agent for change and, look, he doesn't have a clue what leadership means other than to defend the indefensible and do nothing but be an apologist for a failed organization. And look at those who are fighting so desperately and openly to succeed this failure of a leader -- sycophants and worse.

An organization gets the leaders it deserves -- so very true.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous # 2 asks where did we find this guy? All part of an orchestrated deal between Ruskay, Hoffman and Nasitar allowing these 3 CEO's to hand-pick - without opposition, respectively, JAFI's board chair, JFNA's board chair and the Chair of the Exec. Tisch was a disaster (yes, he brought some money to the table) as Siegal is turning out to be. Nasitar's choice for Chair of the exec never made it to the nominating committee (due to a communications snafu I was told at the time) resulting in the choice of a well-liked, but ineffectual leader from a community with minimal influence.

Anonymous said...

These "elections" and the history pointed to by the Comment prove that parachuting in a Chair from outer space, no matter the qualities as a philanthropist, never works and placing "well-liked, ineffectual" lay leaders who would rather not "interfere" in the organization they were elected to lead, never works either.

When you team know-nothing do-nothing lay leaders with a chief professional of no apparent ability, you have the perfect storm for organizational destruction.

Anonymous said...

We have management by hysteria by a group that couldn't hit water if they fell out of a f'in boat. This is an organization that wastes our money 24/7 while its leaders pat themselves on their respective backs for accomplishing nothing.

Anonymous said...

Which large city exec is not being renewed? I bet they show up on JFNA's payroll?

Anonymous said...

Granted we have a vacuum of leadership. However the crisis is one of policy not personalities. We can no longer articulate the "why" of our enterprise and cannot agree on the "how" of what Federation is about. We are zombie fundraisers going through the motions without either belief or understanding.

Anonymous said...

According to JFNA's 990, the document that JFNA reports its activities to the IRS, JFNA reported that it spent $20,766,393 almost $21 million dollars on Fundraising.

JFNA states in its Federal filing justifying this annual $21 million dollar expenditure:

JFNA's philanthropic resource department provides fundraising expertise, consulting, and support for Jewish Federations... The department supports the central engine of Federation Fundraising.

Below is the e-mail regarding the meeting of the Development Cabinet at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. Read it and judge for yourself. This is the UJA campaign. This is Fedovation.

From the GA webpage:
THE GA IS THE PREMIER LEADERSHIP RETREAT for Federation volunteer leaders and professionals engaged in the business of Jewish philanthropy from across North America and around the world. With Israel in crisis, it is more important than ever.

Emphasis is JFNA's. If this is premier leadership, I will stick to the cheap seats.
From: Desk of Reuben Romirowsky []
Sent: Thursday, November 06, 2014 10:18 AM
Subject: Development Cabinet Meeting - Sunday, November 9 - 11 AM - 12:30 PM - National Harbor, Maryland

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. Please review the attached Sapir Award document to give this discussion context.

If you haven’t already done so, please let Karen Feingold ( know if you will be attending.

We look forward to seeing you.

Dr. Reuben Romirowsky
Senior Vice President, JFNA Philanthropic Resources

Direct: 212-284-6946
Fax: 212-271-6720
Cell: 646-369-3184

The Jewish Federations of North America
25 Broadway, Suite 1700
New York, NY 10004-1010

Anonymous said...

One LCE exec who is no longer in place after 3 years used to work for Jerry in the Jewish camping foundation or whatever it was called. Anonymous is probably correct, he will show up at JFNA one day again working for Silverman.

RWEX said...

This crossed my transom this a.m. from an Anonymous Commentator:

"Amazing. As the famous movie line marvels: "America! What a Country!"

Contract renewal? What a joke/sin.

I'm at the GA. So far it is all about reps from every organization and special interest wanting to meet with federations and other potential funders. Last night, I saw more of those types checking in than federation staff & laity. ‎I assume more federation folks will be here given my own meeting schedule.

The federation and JFNA folks I did see were mostly those who run various departments or serve on key committees. A few large and small fed folks who have been involved for many years.

Should be interesting."

Anonymous said...

Richard, You have been very protective of Michael Siegal from the beginning of his Term(s). Your readers, however, have seen through what can only be described as Siegal's lack of leadership and laziness in a position that calls for so much more. It's as if Michael knows what he should do but just can't be bothered. What a waste of opportunity.

Anonymous said...

No doubt Siegal, who had zero engagement with JFNA before becoming its Chairman, was advised by someone like Steve Hoffman "don't worry, you will be a figurehead, you won't have any issues because I will protect you -- it will be just like it was when you Chaired Israel Bonds." Wonder what Hoffman tells him now?

Anonymous said...

This has to be the worst administration in the history of organized Jewish life. It is no wonder that so many leaders of federaions that have sunk to the bottom support it

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to those celebrated strategic initiatives we heard so much about a few years ago? I thought we were supposed to get regular, transparent updates (such as a dashboard) to track the progress. I was under the impression that one of Gurvis's key tasks was to move this forward to create accountability to reach stated goals.

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to those celebrated strategic initiatives we heard so much about a few years ago? I thought we were supposed to get regular, transparent updates (such as a dashboard) to track the progress. I was under the impression that one of Gurvis's key tasks was to move this forward to create accountability to reach stated goals.

Anonymous said...

There is no accountability anywhere for anything at JFNA -- just another failure among the hundreds. Gurus, Rothstein...if they were expected to bring some professionalism ro an organization surely lacking any, they have joined the roster of failures under this lay and professional leadership.

And nobody is holding anyone to account.

Anonymous said...

I know this is naive, even stupid to suggest but if Jerry Silverman had any self-respect, he would resign, negotiate his severance and just resign. The damage he has done and the damage he is doing are irreparable. Make it worthwhile for him to walk away and get the organization it needs so desperately, even if it takes two years.