Monday, February 9, 2015


                                 Time is walkin'
                             It ain't no friend of his

I appreciated that a number of you who attended the Federation CEOs meeting post the JFNA Retreat told me your impressions of CEO Silverman's astonishing remarks there. I guess that CEO I-Am-So-Lost delivers an annual State of JFNA speech to the assembled community CEOs. This time Jerry, challenged by articles in local community newspapers and in the submissions to the ejp, all of which challenged him and JFNA to show some leadership, to convene a real conversation about the system -- things he hadn't done in 5+ years -- Jerry said he was "now" ready to let "Jerry Be Jerry." As one of my friends asked: "who the hell has he been these last 5 years?" Indeed.

So, now, Jerry Silverman, the "human paraquat," will emerge, like a butterfly from its cocoon, as what: a new person? A leader? Has he actually been in training at a cost of $650,000 per year for the last half decade? Does anything in the record suggest that Jerry possesses the bandwidth necessary to change himself, let alone the system? Is this how he convinced his Board Chair to extend his contract after no accomplishments over five years? Hard to believe but Silverman asserted that he was now ready to push back against the "status quo" -- whatever that means to him. To me Jerry is the status quo at JFNA, presumably this will be Jerry pushing back against Jerry. Anyone who has been observing JFNA for the past 5+ years knows that it has been like watching an auto accident in slow motion.

It was the columnist Paul Krugman, who described another as he might, if he knew him, describe Jerry: "Always wrong and never in doubt." Jerry has been, from Day 1 of his "era" the "poster child for tone deafness." And, now, this. JFNA has become, under what passes for leadership under CEO Jerry, as said so well in the incredible British play King George III "a weakling shadow of what went before" as is Jerry himself -- he is neither a Marty Kraar nor a Stanley Horowitz; yet his terms will extend beyond there. Amazing and sad. A series of Inspector Clouseau moments do not a leader make.

"Jerry being Jerry" is such an ominous concept. If this is a goal, whose is it? What is it? There is an old saying that "a goal without a plan is a wish, but a plan without details is fantasy." That's a good summary of 5+ years -- the fantasies of FRD "successes," of a "changed and meaningful" General Assembly attended by 1000s, of a JFNA whose programs are carefully monitored and publicly evaluated as promised with every ephemeral Budget and more and more and more. It is as if Silverman and his acolytes live in organizational Fantasyland. Just ask yourselves, friends, over the last decade and, in particular, the last 5+ years, what have been JFNA's contributions to the creative survival of the Jewish People? And,, "Jerry is going to be Jerry?" Puhleez.

JFNA, bereft of purpose, vision, engagement or goals at this stage of its corporate existence, is like a business in desperate need of either a total reorganization or an immediate turnaround. As the new CEO of McDonald's (which, after a disastrous year, didn't extend its CEO's contract but replaced him...hmmmm) wrote: "When you're in a turnaround situation, you can't incrementalize your way out of it. We are typically a risk-averse company...very methodical and thoughtful and thorough in the way we move. But time does not allow you to do that when you're in a turnaround; you have to act differently." Raise your hands if you believe Jerry Silverman is capable of turning JFNA around.  

And what of Michael Siegal, JFNA's Chair, you ask, how does he fit into this maze? He is nothing more or less than Jerry's enabler-in-chief. And that will be his sorry epitaph.

If Jerry wants some guidance, a helping hand, he has my number. At least he'll get the unvarnished truth. I, as many of you, would remind Silverman that the Jewish values on which the greatest philanthropic system was built are not shibboleths of a past era, and thereby so easily discarded; because if you throw them away (or, worse, fail to even understand what they are/were), you throw away the sacred trust that has been handed to you. I would tell Jerry that we need someone in his position to fix the organization -- and that requires someone who understands it. If Jerry is going to be the one to lead the system out of its dystopia -- a Dystopian failure for which Silverman has major responsibility -- he must immediately develop that understanding. Right now Jerry is not the "fixer" he would like to be -- in fact he is the antithesis: someone who doesn't get it at all. Can Jerry be that person? Can he be the person we need? First, he will need to recognize that by 2/3rds of the way through his term, the lovely, caring and generous lay person elected as our Board Chair has spent his capital -- and accomplished nothing. It is now up to Jerry to try to understand what federation means, that JFNA remains without purpose, vision or achievement. 

Jerry needs to understand he must start over. And, I may be proved wrong, but I don't think he can. Is there any evidence to the contrary? Anyway...Jerry, just give me a call...let's talk.



Anonymous said...

Jerry needs to call many. But will he? No. As those of us who know him know, Jerry can not accept criticism. And unless he can overcome that single trait, there is no hope he can move JFNA forward.

5 suggestions for Jerry said...

1. A corporate alliance with the New York Knicks
2. Hire Ron Dermer
3. Pitch your story to Brian Williams
4. Become an east coast weather forecaster
5. Take Mel Brooks suggestion and develop a personalized jingle or song as an opening
for speaking engagements ("hello my name is Jerry, I ride the Jersey ferry, Am always sharp and Merry, so now on let's call me Bruce")

paul jeser said...

re: 5 suggestions...

If it were not so sad it'd be funny.

Anonymous said...

Well, we keep finding out more and more about the JFNA CEO, and all of it so evident when the Board Chair extended his contract. This says as much about Siegal as it does about Silverman. And all of it shows why JFNA is where it is today...nowhere.

Anonymous said...

If you were Michael Siegal, how could you look yourself in the mirror each morning knowing that your acquiescence to Silverman's continuing role as CEO will go down as a decision that doomed JFNA to failure, not even to mediocrity but failure? I cannot believe that Siegal runs a major company.

Anonymous said...

An Imperial, self-isolating CEO...half-hearted lay leadership... Rubber stamp board...and a den of Steve's

Anonymous said...

Any major organization that would have Jerry as its CEO has immediately put its own credibility at risk. That has certainly been the case at JFNA where the lack of measurable achievements during his initial contract term deserved termination not extension.

Anonymous said...

Haven't we already seen "Jerry as Jerry" enough? The master of his diminished domain is like the Court jester -- idiocy that sometimes makes us laugh but, in the main, we want him banished for his foolishness and lack of any purpose -- just like JFNA itself.

The most recent example -- the Solidarity Mission to Paris. Seemed good for the participants and worthless for French Jewry. It was a "feel good" exercise that glorified its lay Chair -- which was its evident purpose (another supporter for Jerry through cooption) -- and otherwise wasted valued resources and left me feeling just sad.

Anonymous said...

Check your facts. It wasn't "worthless." Solidarity means presence. They don't need money; they need not to feel alone. They were very grateful for the visit. Look, there is plenty to pick on without making up stuff.

RWEX said...

To the last two Anonymous Commentators -- you are each entitled to your strong opinions. Having traveled on or led over 43 Missions -- each had value. I am certain that the recent Solidarity Mission had value as well as an expression of the unity of the Jewish People . Let's leave it at that for the moment. (I will have my own take on that Mission in an upcoming Post.)