Friday, February 6, 2015


Yes, I have written about the folly that is the NationalFederation/Agency Alliance from time-to-time. I have criticized its lay leadership and professional staff for failing the national agencies at every turn, for failing to retain its members and for looking the other way while federations have. one after another, cut their allocations to the Alliance or actually left the building, and for failure to even understand the value of the national agencies to our system. Now we see JFNA and the Alliance at their combined worst -- with the Alliance shilling for JFNA in a plot pursuant to which the Alliance will provide budget support -- a budget subsidy, if you will -- to JFNA outside of the Dues process. Another example of JFNA's version of "fund raising." 

After three or, maybe, four "strategic plans," the latest of which was in 2012 (the results announced as "Newly Redesigned for 2013") all of those Alliance failings continue, but, now, the Alliance, having valued the late, lamented JESNA to such an extent that it was prepared to fully fund the organization even as JESNA was in the midst of a final collapse (while cutting other national agencies allocations) and, in fact, somehow paid out $275,000 to the organization after it closed, has proposed and the JFNA Board has now approved the creation of JESNA TWO. ( While JFNA/the Alliance may not have been aware of JESNA's financial issues, JESNA only rented office space within JFNA. Any surprise?) Did anyone...any one...actually miss JESNA after it was gone? Has there been any hue and cry demanding a new JFNA-run education Unit?

So, JFNA commissioned a $303,000 "planning process" on national Jewish education needs (who asked for this, decided the Alliance should do it and just who was that lucky consultant?) and it came up with  "do JESNA again only JFNA will do it." Yes, this one would be a programmatic agency that would be owned and operated by...JFNA. Is there anyone alive and breathing in our system? Or...just breathing? 


"The National Federation/Agency Alliance strongly recommends the formation of a new Jewish Education and Engagement Planning Unit at JFNA.** This recommendation is the outcome of the Alliance’s Jewish Education Planning Process***, which surfaced a strong consensus from participating Federations that JFNA is well situated to play a central convening and catalytic role in the arena of Jewish education, identity and engagement. Jewish education is a key area of investment for local Jewish federations, generally comprising either their leading area of local allocations, or one of the top two areas. These local investments include Federation allocations to day schools, synagogue and other supplementary schools, camp programs, Israel experiences, special education, and more." 
Friends, tell me, seriously, what in the continuing history of failure after failure in the annals of the Alliance suggested to the chachams at the Alliance, this font of failures, that there was/is "a strong consensus from participating Federations (would that number be four or five or six of 155?) that JFNA is "well situated... to play a central convening and catalytic role in the arena of Jewish education, identity and engagement"? Was it that now, finally, JFNA will be given something to do beyond the failed mental masturbation that is the Global Planning Table? Something for Mark Gurvis to run? The Alliance to this point has been a zero sum game -- now it will have gone below zero.

Why did the Alliance members believe JFNA would be the appropriate and necessary vehicle for delivering this eunuch Unit? Well, it is because JFNA "...played a significant role in representing Federations' interests and concerns within the Government of Israel/World Jewry Initiative..." It appears to make no difference that that conclusion is not supported by the facts whatsoever...the GOI Initiative is presently going nowhere (ask anyone but the operators of the Jerry Show) and JFNA through its GPT Unit (otherwise known as the straw that stirs the JFNA Kool-Aid) has not raised the required dollars to fund that Initiative. This Education Unit has now been approved by the JFNA Executive Committe and Board. I know, a huge surprise.

Have you heard Federations clamoring for greater JFNA engagement in Jewish Education? Have you heard anyone in the Federation system demanding that JESNA be resurrected after millions of dollars of wasted resources? Some speculate that it is the resurrection of an idea of Joe Kanfer's, whose interest in Jewish education is lifelong. But Joe must know that there is no capacity within JFNA to go operational in any area.  Only the Alliance could conclude: If the federations have little interest in this Unit after JESNA's slide into liquidation, why not put this on the tab of the very  National Agencies the Alliance was created to fund but hasn't; makes as much sense as anything else JFNA or the Alliance has done...or hasn't. Those who believe that success in any endeavor requires "skin in the game," will soon have the experience of deja vu all over again -- when more money is needed for this thing, JFNA will cry poor as it did with the IAN which, after Silverman agreed with John Ruskay that that Unit be funded by JFNA out of its Budget, returned in two years with tears in its advocates eyes asking to be relieved of that obligation. Remember, friends, you read it here first.

So proud are the Alliance "members" who proposed this "Initiative" that they didn't even choose to vet the "concept" with their "partners," the funded National Agency leaders. I spoke with three national agency leaders from three separate National Agencies and two federation Alliance members who attended the last Alliance meeting; there wasn't a mention of Jewish Education Planning Unit let alone the contemplated creation of this Unit or the contemplated funding out of the Alliance funding pool.

Oh, yes, there is both a staffing and a funding component to this initiative. You will remember that the once-treasured JESNA had an excellent Board (independent of JFNA) and for most of its short life, a great CEO and brilliant educator, Jonathan Woocher, and, even with the system's financial support, couldn't make it -- JESNA was unable to raise sufficient funds to sustain its efforts, no matter how valued they were. This Unit would be staffed by two full-time professionals to be hired as an initial staff component -- one senior and the other...a junior planning associate. They would report to the JFNA EVP -- that would be Mark Gurvis at the moment. How would all this be funded? The Alliance would reallocate $200,000 from 2013-14 (that evidently it has been holding rather than allocating those precious dollars to the other member National Agencies -- you would remember them as "partners") and, then $550,000 per year, for each of the next three years out of the Alliance allocation pool. 

So, get this -- JFNA will create this Unit which it will control, assure its funding out of the Alliance funding pool and thereby require no fund raising by JFNA; thus, this Unit will compete with all of the other national agencies which our system created or participated in the creation of and to which it has a fiduciary obligation, all the while shouting "what a great idea of ours." All this from an organization that had no clue that its funded Continental education agency, JESNA, was on an inexorable slide toward liquidation. Now, JFNA itself, with no evident ability to do so, will lead an education effort that may be vital today but for which it is ill-equipped and unprepared.

As one Comment to this Post put it perfectly:
"Mmm, the Alliance underfunds an agency contributing to that agency's demise. Said Alliance initiates a study that concludes the demise of the agency is a serious issue that must be rectified with the creation of a new department at JFNA. The new entity will be funded by the Alliance with the funds that previously supported the now defunct agency. Well played..." 

Let me remind all of us that the Alliance was created as a partnership among the federations and the national agencies our system created. There is the organizing, formative documents of the Alliance, still in place, that contemplates in any way the creation and funding of a JFNA Unit while pretending that this Unit is a national agency.

Gosh almighty, this sounds like such a great idea!! It's like those old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movies -- "let's put on a show!!!!" only the results will no doubt set back Jewish education rather than move it forward.

Oh, yes, let's put on a show, by all means.


* Maybe they meant "Continental" -- or maybe not
** Does anyone really believe that this was an "idea" that originated with the Alliance?
** * If the Alliance had a Jewish Education Planning Process, it was one unknown to the Agency members of the Alliance. The National Agencies were unrepresented in the "process."


Anonymous said...

Does JFNA just make stuff like this up as they go along? Where are the checks and balances in this place -- it appears that this is like kindergarten. It certainly appears as if there are no set goals for this organization whatsoever, so it just strikes out in one failed direction after another. If I ran my business like this, I would be fired; if you ran your business like this, you would be fired. But at JFNA this IS the way business is run and no one gives a damn.

Anonymous said...

Talk about Nero fiddling while Rome burns -- this is a classic. Will JFNA soon be competing with federations so that the former can raise funds for this JESNA 2? It's all so ill-conceived, under-funded from the get-go. It's an idea that should have been laughed right away from the table, but in a place with no priorities and no programs of its own, it's embraced as if it were a good idea.

Anonymous said...

When I was an exec in a large intermediate federation we often called upon the top consulting resources of JESNA to help our community deal with day school issues, supplemental school issues and so forth. The consultants were top educators and administrators who brought thoughtful ideas to the community. For many years JESNA also planned regional conferences for top lay and professional leadership and brought them together for 2-3 days to deal with more "global" educational issues. I think Joe Kanfer may even have lead a national gathering for this purpose, perhaps in Chicago if I remember correctly. All those people who think in their wildest imagination that JFNA will be able to do 1/100th of this please raise your hand - not counting you, Jerry - oops, I forgot he doesn't read the blog.

Anonymous said...

As a former professional at JFNA who served on the Sr. Management "Team" I can tell you (1) JS reads every word of the Blog and (2) he can't deal with any criticism whatsoever. It won't surprise anyone that he also can't stand the Nasatir/Hoffman leash that he's on. It's a mess and there is no staff capability to "run" this proposed Unit or anything else.

paul jeser said...

My pre-Shabbat comment:

So, Nu?

What are 'we' going to do about this mess?

Shabbat Shalom!

Anonymous said...

In addition to the last anonymous before my good friend Paul made his comment, I have a suggestion for Jerry. "If you can't stand the Nasatir/Hoffman leash (heat) get out of the kitchen. On second thought, even if you can stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Anonymous said...

Mmm, the alliance underfunds an agency contributing to that agency's demise. Said alliance initiates a study that Concludes the demise of the agency is a serious issue that must be rectified with the creation of a new department at JFNA. The new entity will be funded by the Alliance with the funds that previously supported the now defunct agency. Well played Jerry and William!