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.