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.


Anonymous said...

Silverman is the living paradigm for JFNA -- futile, never understanding and incapable of leading. A sad excuse for a CEO.

Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity, can you name some people whom you think would be better at the top professional position of JFNA? Would be interesting for your readers to know whom you are thinking about...

Anonymous said...

Bozo the clown would be a better CEO of JFNA. At least it is funny when he dances in public. No Harlem Shake,

Anonymous said...

It's way to easy to blame Silverman. But he can't help it if he has proved to be the wrong person at the wrong time for the wrong job. For that blame first Kathy Manning and those of her blind followers and then Michael Siegal who knew better and did nothing.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Stop blaming Silverman already.....he was either the right choice or the wrong choice (I think the latter).
The blame falls on the Search Committee for his first 5 years; they should have done some diligence (I would be curious to know exactly what form that took).
Regarding his renewal contract, you can take your pick, but don't give the Executive Committee a free would appear that nobody there had any complaints.
And you've got to hand it to Jerry for simply taking what JFNA Leadership wanted to give him.

RWEX said...

Points taken.

Anonymous said...

Below is a personal anecdote as to why I believe it is a gross mistake of JFNA and Federations to remain silent and not to at least discuss the Jewish State legislation controversy now taking the headlines in Israel. Aside from subverting the spirit of Israel's Declaration of Independence and giving ammunition to Israel detractors worldwide, the bill would give legislative status to Jewish law - a step toward theocracy that would further alienate Diaspora Jewry.
A year ago I had a conversation with a senior JFNA professional during which I expressed my satisfaction with the wide range of Jewish self definition and exploration in Israel. The colleague disagreed saying what I was witnessing was a move toward "Israeliness" not Jewishness and that was undesirable. So much for Zionism in our leadership circle.

Anonymous said...

The story related by the 12:23 Anonymous commentator is interesting. Is Israel a required major element of Jewishness? i can tell you it is for me. Not sure if it's "required" for me -- it just is.

The bigger question this suggests is whether there is a singular definition of Jewishness that connects with (and more importantly is ascribed to) by the Jewish people?

I think that for American jews, increasingly there are many meaningful definitions and just at the same rate there is decreasing identification with (and subservience to) Jewish institutional authority for these definitions.

This is being played out within JFNA, within federations and of course across the Jewish community (and especially within established Jewish institutions).

JFNA is a failure because it lacks a common vision shared by, committed to and executed by its member federations.

Federations are failing for similar reasons, just on a more micro level.

By failing I mean like a building is failing (as opposed to lack of success. In fact I'd contend that it is the very success of these institutions and the successful socio-economic status of American Jews -- thank God! -- that have created he conditions for the failure).

When American Jews were the "outs," cohesive and shared definitions were needed and they worked. When American Jews became the "ins," our people felt free to self-navigate, self define, etc. The Big Tent that was safe harbor when safety was needed has become un-engaging. By definition it lacks the distinctiveness (and/or has conflicting distinctivenesses within it that are no longer compatible) and so people leave the tent for their own tent.

All this is scary to be sure, but also inevitable considering the current conditions. I think as such there is no alternative but to either assume the fetal position or engage in the new fragmented Jewish world where meaning, purpose and value/values rule.

Happy Thanksgiving!