Wednesday, January 7, 2015


The quotation above is a bastardization of that attributed to the late Massimo Vignelli in the year-end edition of The New York Times Magazine; it might even have read: "One Life is Too Short for Doing Anything...Anything at All. It is clearly the mantra of the do nothing/accomplish nothing JFNA 2015. The organization stands for nothing; it is without passion or purpose; it is so far from where its founders intended that that intent and their/our vision can no longer even be found in JFNA's work or direction. And, it's lay leaders? Either too disinterested or too lazy or too "I can't be bothered" to hold themselves or their professionals (helllloooooo Jerry) accountable. How did we get to this dystopian state? Let me count the ways.

Before the merger "negotiations," UJA leadership took our great leader, Corky Goodman's, counsel to heart -- "we have to trust the federations." By that Corky meant simply that those leaders whom he knew so well could be "trusted" to always do the right thing for our system and for the Jewish Agency and Joint Distribution Committee. From the outset, however, it soon became clear to me and others that the federations' interest in the new entity did not extend beyond the concept of "control" -- merger, I am afraid, to those who contributed the most to the budget of UJA, which until the merger, they supported but did not feel they controlled, was the means of gaining control of those tens of millions of dollars. And, merger, almost immediately, meant that the federations now "controlled" program -- for example, the largest of federations gained no benefit from what was UJA's FRD efforts or those of the nascent JFNA -- so why support those even if they had the highest value in every survey of the totality of the field. And, so, FRD became first a shadow of its former self and, ultimately, cast not even a shadow to the point where JFNA today has failed in every one of its impotent FRD efforts over the past 9 years.

There have certain consistencies over the past 9 years at JFNA in addition to the elimination of FRD capacity:

  • The identification of constructive criticism, any criticism, as treasonous dissent;
  • A JFNA-created growing chasm between North American Jewry and our partners in Israel and overseas;
  • A greater distance between 25 Broadway and the Federation owners;
  • An abdication by JFNA laity of its responsibilities everywhere one looks;
  • An inability of JFNA itself to articulate its vision, its purpose or its goals.
And, one of my least favorite moments of 2014 -- when the total confusion emerged between the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency over which would be responsible for aliya, JFNA issued a strong statement of support for JAFI's continued leadership role in bringing Jews to Israel. Yes, another letter to the Prime Minister for which JFNA has become so infamous -- yes, infamous, because when it came to backing up that support with money, with allocations, JFNA followed through as it always has under this leadership -- with the lowest allocations to JAFI, to the JDC, to World ORT than ever before. Thanks for the support guys.

The legacy of Michael Siegal and Dede Feinberg, two wonderful people and great philanthropists, will be four years of "nothing." JFNA had become the institutional version of the game of Whac-A-Mole, a series of failures, one following the other so quickly that heads spin. 



Anonymous said...

I'd read your Blog but I'm really, really too tired and, what the hell, I'm not going to do anything about anything anyway any time.

Anonymous said...

Richard, do you really still believe that anything you (or anyone else) may write, that these impotent so-called leaders are going to take some, any, action, you should have been disabused of that prayer when Michael Siegal agreed to extend the contract of the woeful CEO and then attempted to justify the extension with a list of alleged "accomplishments" that any fair-minded person would say were totally bogus.

If you were counting on Siegal or Feinberg or any of their fellow leaders to even utter a discouraging word, let alone do something, you would appear to be as delusional as they are.