Tuesday, April 28, 2015


1. On April 13, the White House convened two meetings with American Jewish "leaders" in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing. http://us5.campaign-archive2.com/?u=df4304ea8a37a7ef335a5fb1b&id=f1b61f2d9c&e=a8840142f1  The first of those meetings was with representatives of American Jewish organizations. One of those organizations, identified in reports, was "federations" and our representative was the ubiquitous Jerry Silverman. (Do the miles that Silverman has piled up on his wanderings inure to the benefit of JFNA?)  The purpose of the meeting appeared to be to explain away concerns in the Jewish community with, while seeking support for, the emerging outline of the Iran nuclear "deal." A subsequent report --http://www.algemeiner.com/2015/04/15/liberal-jews-push-obama-to-drop-support-for-israel-at-un-during-white-house-parley/ -- went into greater detail: 
"Regarding the first meeting, at which senior representatives of groups like the World Jewish Congress, the Conference of Presidents and the Anti-Defamation League were present, one source said the conversation was “difficult” and “depressing.” The source added that “nobody was breaking ground, they were at cross purposes.” An attendee who spoke with JTA described the gathering as “intense” and said, “There was an openheartedness, there were some deep reflections by the president.” Other participants who spoke with JTA used the term “therapeutic” to describe the tone of the talks."
We'll put aside for the moment the propriety of our Continental organization being represented at this meeting called at the White House by a professional, let alone this one -- he is, after all, the CEO -- when relevant organizations had their lay Chairs present. Let's focus instead on a singular reality -- here it is, April 28, more than two weeks after this meeting, and Silverman has yet to advise his Board of what occurred there (let alone why he was there); a dereliction of responsibility that is beyond irresponsibility. Does Jerry believe he had been invited to meetings of this nature, including this specific meeting, because of who he is rather than who he is supposed to represent? And...this is not the first time. My guess is that CEO Jerry just sat there like a good boy, grinning that grin of his, maybe eating some peanuts or whatever the President puts out for his guests and is just hoping against hope that his good behavior gets him another invitation...and soon. Don't we at least get a selfie of Silverman, Daroff and the President?

2. A friend sent me an above the headline, page 1 ad in The Times of Israel in which the JDC and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews were paired in an apparent expression of partnership -- the same "partnership" that was a threshold demand of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein for continuing his organization's incredible allocations to the Jewish Agency. At the time of that demand of JAFI, which was just one of many...many...federation Large City Executives vehemently objected citing the federation system's allocations to JAFI which had never been promoted in such a way. So JAFI backed away and Eckstein, reiterating that "this has never been about ego," pulled the plug. So, though I would not go so far as to suggest that JDC has sold its soul for a bit of porridge, who would doubt that if it hasn't already, that day will be demanded real soon.

3. JFNA is promoting its May 31-June 1 Board meetings with the fact that the wonderful Abe Foxman will be the featured ("only") speaker. I say "whooppee" and count me in -- can't wait to hear Abe. Also, Linda Hurwitz will be honored for her many years as National Cheerleader-in-Chief and, presumably, Michael Siegal will announce her secret successor -- who has no doubt been promised Michael and Jerry's "total support" -- whatever that means or ever meant. I wonder if Linda's successor comes from a federated community that allocates at the same level or higher than its City-size average. What are the chances?

4. In January 2014 JFNA proudly announced that one of North America's most valued Jewish philanthropists and leaders, Mark Wilf, had been appointed "to lead a new initiative* that will 'assess and communicate the needs of the Holocaust survivor programs' and bridge budget shortfalls of those programs." Mark and the Wilf Family have evidenced their commitment to the holocaust survivor community by their constant generosity to and leadership of this most major cause in their lives and memories to organizations ranging from Yad V'Shem, to Project Heart, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, among so many others. But here we have another JFNA "Initiative" that we hear about with great fanfare at its "launch" and then it disappears. I don't have to write about these pathetic failures that induce the best and brightest of leaders -- the Mark Wilks of our world -- and, then...nada, zilch, nothing.

5. One person (maybe there are more but none that I know other that I know of) took a careful look and published The Complete List of Jewish Communal Leaders..." who requested leniency from New York's courts upon William Rapfogel's conviction for stealing over $9 million from New York's Metropolitan Council on Poverty. I read some of the letters, all of which referenced "Willie's" good deeds (most of which were done in the normal course of business BTW) all of which were performed while he was stealing over $9 million from the agency he led -- a pattern of theft that appeared to have begun upon or shortly after his first day on the job. All I can say, after reading these pleas for leniency, is "what a great guy!!"


* Yes, friends, another failed "initiative" -- a word that at JFNA has no meaning whatsoever.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


JFNA has not yet filed its Internal Revenue Service Form 990 for FY 2013-2014...but it has assured some at JFNA that it will do so "around April 30" and has sent around the 990 to some sort of "exclusive list" of recipients the 990 that it will be filing. Thanks to those of you who forwarded it on to me -- it won't surprise you that JFNA didn't do so. It discloses, of course, among other things, the ridiculous compensation that it pays its highest paid and a new and very questionable role for one highly paid consultant -- we'll get to all of that in a moment. But, first, please bear in mind that the data are already stale by almost  one year -- just the way that JFNA likes it. This is a document unworthy of a wrapping for dead fish.

Now...on to the farce:

  • Jerry "Even I Can't Believe What They're Paying Me" Silverman -- $724,000 (+/-). This makes Jerry the highest paid CEO in the federation system...and for what? Showing up, apparently, because there is nothing else to show for this egregious compensation, is there. That Silverman makes more than the CEOs in any federation you wish to examine would meet my definition of "excess compensation" (and, were the IRS to examine the disparity between compensation and deliverables, it would probably agree) -- how about yours? And, this, back in FY 2013-2014. Can't wait for the 2014-2015 990 that we will probably have a chance to see in 2017 or beyond.
  • Someone else on the payroll who ought to be asking herself "how did I luck into this job" is the estimable Senior V-P, Global B.S./Israel and Overseas, Becky Caspi. She earned was paid $341,000 in FY 2013-14. Just incredible. And, again, for what: building a silo in Jerusalem that housed 27 staff members in 2013-14 with no measurable accomplishments. Yes, Becky earned more than any CEO in our system outside of the Large Cities CEOs (and even more than some of those). 
  • And then there is one Deborah Smith, still the premier "consultant," on the payroll but with changed "responsibilities" -- now she is "in charge" of something called "Donor Management" to the tune of $272,000 in 2013-2014. What does she do for that compensation? Has anyone other than Silverman ever seen her? How many times did she prowl the hallways at 25 Broadway? What donors is she "managing?" Or with the name "Smith" is she just a "ghost payroller" like so many in municipal government? Does she come up to NYC from Naples Florida to pick up her checks? She remains a highly paid, highly valued mystery person.
These are three examples of how little attention the JFNA Compensation Committee pays to its responsibilities. In truth, there are many on this bloated payroll who are doing a great job and deserve to be paid more, while these three are so overcompensated as to make the JFNA compensation review "process," if there is one, as much a mockery as the rest of JFNA. It once again, as always, raises the question as to why the JFNA lay leadership just doesn't take its oversight responsibilities seriously. We have continuing serious fiduciary neglect by a group of leaders who know better...or should.

Friends, when you have a chance (and, ultimately, you will find this 990 on the JFNA website as well as on Guidestar) to review this thing, compare it to prior years and you will find, as I did, that JFNA treats the filing with a repetitive disdain -- other than the financials, the narrative sections are almost identical year-to-year. It's gibberish and nonsense.*

Yes, another year, another "read it and weep." As bad as the 990 is...and it's terrible...it offers one more glimpse of JFNA as the Potemkin Village that it is. Nothing more than a facade for wasting precious donor dollars. 

I know -- wait 'til next year. Sure.


* It's long past time for the Internal Revenue Service to seriously examine the futility of the 990 itself. For example, by the time the data are published they are stale -- as in the case of JFNA more than one year old.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


A few months ago I participated in a rather spirited debate over wealth, of all things, and whether a community or national organization should consider the source of funds (other than that it not come from a criminal enterprise or from a person guilty of moral turpitude) when determining either high (or higher) office or honors for a communal leader.

Here is where I come out -- donors (or potential donors) have many, many options today for their philanthropic giving. If a person of wealth, be it a man or woman, inherited that wealth, obtained it in a divorce settlement or it is a couple's determination that major gifts be distributed in the name of one spouse or the other, shouldn't we just applaud the decision to invest in our cause rather than in another?

But what should we make of those who have deployed their philanthropy in pursuit of offices and honors that would not otherwise be theirs? Do we care? Should we care? Should this even be a matter of debate or discussion? Is there something politically incorrect embodied just in the questions?

And how have the leaders of our causes gone about the cultivation of future donors regardless of age or gender who may become the inheritors of great wealth, regardless of source, without patronizing, pandering or worse? Well, in some places there has been grace, encouragement and acceptance; in others, there has been pandering and patronizing of the worst kind coupled with the transparency that accompanies rewards -- positions, offices, honors and/or places on the "meeting agenda." 

Is this somehow a "bad thing?" Our donors and prospects have an ever-expanding array of philanthropic choices; one might even say a never-ending array.. And, for the most part,  these are choices among "goods." So, our system is so fortunate when a donor, a prospect chooses "us," our philanthropic choice becomes theirs. To me, that is a good thing, a great thing. And, in order for that "choice" to be made, we have to assure the prospect, the donor that we are entitled to their trust, that we have earned that trust -- trust that their dollars will be dedicated to their philanthropic goals.

Friends, over the last decade, under a JFNA that used to dedicate itself to (and, in fact, was "dedicated" by the merger that created JFNA to) "more dollars and more donors," we have lost over 50% of our system's donors. AND JFNA IS DOING NOTHING ABOUT IT. Yeah, we have a leadership that's dedicated to something, we just can't tell you what that is -- and neither can they. We used to worry, even obsess, about a generation disinterested in federation or community -- today we don't even seem to give a tinker's damn about the reality that everyone...that's every generation...more and more seems to care not what we are doing let alone about what we are supposed to be doing but aren't. 

It's one thing for JFNA itself to be irrelevant; it's quite another when JFNA so clearly doesn't even care about our communities growing irrelevancy. Hey, gang, let's do another "Signature Initiative."


Sunday, April 19, 2015


Lee Smith, in a brilliant thought piece in Tablet on April 8 -- "Honey, I Shrunk the Jews" -- suggested that President Obama had managed to "shrink American Jewry" sending his message of our irrelevancy by transmitting his version of the Iran "deal" through a low level Biden advisor. Smith, of course, was joking as he closed his piece with what is obvious to all of us -- we have "shrunk" ourselves. And, it's pitiful...downright pitiful.

Anyone who was engaged in the United Jewish Appeal, z'l, will remember that in our visits to communities, in our solicitations, one constant in our message was that Washington is watching the American Jewish communities weighing our support for Israel by the only data available to them: the amount of financial support we provide our extended mishpacha. Of course, that was just one measure -- a measure we have discarded believing that our financial support for  those running for elective office trumps all else and applauding the strength of the support for Israel, without regard for its motivation, by the Evangelical Christian community. Financial support for Israel? We might claim that it far exceeds today that it exceeds by hundreds of millions of dollars what our allocations once were -- but we have no way of knowing what the amount really is. What we know is this: our communities today are allocating almost $200,000,000 less today than at the time JFNA came into existence -- collective allocations -- even coupled with designated allocations -- which have never been lower in our communal history.

Putting that horrible reality aside, we have also known, but seem to have forgotten, that our strength as a People is founded on our unity, on our recognition that a fist is so much stronger than any finger or fingers. Our unity has been shattered, in part...in large part... by the lack of any unified, collective response to the multiple and growing challenges we as a People face today. Who speaks for us? The leaders of JFNA, who should be our spokespersons, silent for so long they are incapable of inspiring us or our communities, their messages more an embarrassment than a call to action, were they even capable of one. Leaders of too many other organizations so fearful of being out front...actually leading...that they are way behind, trying desperately to catch up...or, more likely, they aren't trying at all.

After what seemed like a decade of self-imposed silence, the chachams at JFNA chose to issue a statement seemingly attacking the Iran "deal" -- the one issue where even I might have urged greater internal review. The result has been serious questioning of the "process," or more to the point, the apparent lack of process, in arriving at at statement signed by Siegal and, duh, Silverman. I guess it's true: consistency is the hobgoblin of tiny minds.

But, if we wish, we can continue to allow Alan Dershowitz or Abe Foxman or Rabbi Eric Yoffie to speak for us, but, really, who, in fact, do these fine men speak for? You and me, maybe, but our communities? Instead, our continental organization can't rouse itself (although its leaders did express "caution" -- I don't have a better descriptive term for their response -- over the Obama/Kerry Iran nuclear "deal" but did so apparently ad hoc) to offer a consensual response.   (I have been reminded by my betters that the JFNA Executive Committee won't be formally abolished until November 2015.) So, it's better, in the view of some, to just stand silent, send out a "Solidarity Mission" once in a while and rely on surrogates to speak never even embracing their statements. Ours is now an organization overwhelmed by its own institutional cowardice and laziness.

The best/worst example of these twin afflictions can be found in JFNA's position on the attempts by J-Street to join the Conference of Presidents -- an abstention. Jeez, the national Jewish college fraternity, AEPi, actually cast a vote, while our "adult" organization chose abstention, prudence, caution. 

That's us today, friends pp abstention, prudence, caution...nothing.


Thursday, April 16, 2015


In an example of both desperation and courage, the faculty of Yeshiva College at Yeshiva University voted "No Confidence" in the once-respected Richard Joel last month. As reported in the New York Jewish Week, the faculty "...cited the administration's lack of financial oversight, mismanagement and refusal to take responsibility as reasons for the move." Hmmmm...got me to thinking, of course...

It is and has been clear that the "lack of...oversight, mismanagement and refusal to take responsibility" at JFNA easily matches that at Yeshiva University and may even have both preceded and exceeded it. Yet, there is no faculty at JFNA to raise the issues, only a few voices in the wilderness, though those voices may be increasing their ranks joined by the Jewish press from time-to-time. Those who have a real voice inside JFNA -- the JFNA Board and the federation CEOs who might raise a hue and cry over the abuses they see taking place every day -- are silent. And there is no reason to believe that so long as the LCE are preaching a message of sha sha telling one and all that "all is well" and that things will change.

So, where could one look for that hue and cry, if anywhere? Several years ago, during the brief time that I served as Chair of the United Israel Appeal, a group of mega-donors came together claiming that allocations through UIA to the Jewish Agency were being deployed to an entity infected by political activities which would, if true, jeopardize the tax deductibility of our donations. JFNA's leaders with UIA's understood that if true, the buck would stop with JFNA and the federations, the implications far more threatening to federation donations and JFNA's defense was vigorous, led by Joe Kanfer, then the Board Chair, and Sam Astrof, the JFNA CFO/COO, and superb outside counsel. The allegations were proved to be without merit but not before that original group of major donors sought out the support of a broader group of major donors across the United States to join them in their cause. 

Among the core group of mega- and major donors who raised these issues with UIA and JFNA were and are men and women who are fully familiar with JFNA's abject failure today...and over the past decade. Yet, they have remained silent in the face of facts as well known to them as to your author. There is no doubt...none at all...that if they gave voice to their common concerns with the failures and waste that continue at 25 Broadway, there would be change, transformational change...immediate change.

Why have these men and women failed to rise up to date? Perhaps an example will suffice. Back in the mid-90s, a great and Large City Federation, a significant allocator to both JAFI and JDC, began to decrease its overseas allocations by 10% (or more) annually. The community was the home of many advocates for and leaders of the Jewish Agency, men and women of great generosity, and no shrinking violets among them. I and others met with the greatest leader of that community and showed him the numbers, which we believed spoke for themselves; that leader assured us that he would meet immediately with the federation CEO. Not more than one week later, that leader called me, I remember it like it was yesterday: "Richard, I just met with ______, we went over your numbers and he showed me how wrong you were." I was momentarily speechless -- our numbers were those supplied by the federation itself, after all, and the exec had told me of the community's plan. Later that same day, that CEO, a friend then and now, called me: "Richard," he said,"Don't ever call my lay leaders about allocations again. I don't want them confused with the facts." 

But this example and our institutional silence over the past decade should not stop our leadership from doing what is right, from advocating in fulfillment of the moral obligation that is ours. Yet, we have wallowed in silence and that is our shame.


Monday, April 13, 2015


Several years ago leaders at my Federation in consultation with our community's local agencies decided that it would be beneficial, even critical, to all for us to share a common understanding of the fiduciary obligations of Board membership. Two of us, both attorneys with broad service on the boards of directors of local, national and international organizations, were asked to present an outline of the responsibilities that come with non-profit Board service, the legalities, if you will, and answer questions at a series of meetings.

For almost a decade, working with JFNA's terrific CFO/COO Sam Astrof, I had participated in JFNA's annual Seminar for new Federation Presidents, discussing the same basic subject matter. These were always well-constructed and well-attended Seminars -- I have to wonder whether JFNA still conducts them and whether the Board member responsibilities subject is still taught. In any event, I came to those Chicago briefings on Board fiduciary responsibilities well-prepared, as did my partner, a brilliant lawyer and communal leader who had demonstrated real commitment to principle.

The Chicago seminars, as I remember them, were well-attended with an eager audience of Board members, old and new, who listened well and asked insightful, often hard, and always thoughtful questions. Senior Agency and some federation professionals also attended. I would like to think that these gatherings were more than just an exercise for the attendees -- I know they weren't there for the food. I remember the prep work we did for these and the joy we had from our participation as I contemplated where our Boards are today, some eight years or more after these Seminars were held.

I would conclude that there has been, first, a steady fall-away from historic principles of Board service in the past decade that preceded a more precipitous drop over the last few years of that decade. I have experienced this awful phenomenon personally -- the duty of inquiry abandoned by so, so many, included among them those who were and are my friends, who have readily abandoned principles once held dear out of a false sense that "leaders" deserve absolute, unquestioning obeisance...that what leaders say must be true even in the face of facts that, if examined, might prove our "leaders" wrong because...well, because they are our "leaders" and no further inquiry is required.

My friend, Howard Berman, the Past CEO of Rochester Blue Cross-Blue Shield/Empire Blue of New York, had written a definitive treatise on non-profit Board service. It is a valuable tool. Howard and I have spoken frequently on the subject of nonprofit Board member fiduciary responsibility. He, as I, has been shocked, surprised and disappointed with the evident collapse of Board member responsibilities in this era of ours in so many places. No one who looks at what has occurred could be anything but shocked.

This deterioration in the comprehension of Board responsibilities became especially acute in my mind when I realized upon reflection that too many, those who know or should know better, in fact follow that "duty of inquiry" at their home federations, and less so even there, yet merely accept as fact any and everything they are told at the national, Continental and international levels. One of my great friends from Chicago, who served on the Board of one of our international "partners," resigned; he told me he did so because "everything was hidden" and questions weren't permitted --  he is among the few with the courage to have done so. Most merely take the easy way out, asking no questions, seeking only the verbal assurances from their "superiors" in lay leadership that "all is well" and accepting those as absolute truth. Most have joined the chorus shaking their fingers at those of us who question and demanding our silence while maintaining theirs. And the results, as they say, speak for themselves.

That "partner" of mine in conducting our local Seminars on fiduciary responsibility?  I still love him.


Friday, April 10, 2015


I am a dinosaur. I admit it. I consider my status self-evident; I wear that status on my sleeve with pride. I believe in the ideal; I believe that our organizations should have standards and maintain them. And I observe with great disappointment as our Continental organization, the dismal JFNA, has essentially lowered the bar as to all things that are within the definition, or at least what was the definition, of "leadership." 

Recent "appointments" to leadership of critical JFNA constituencies have contributed to my strong sense of angst. I won't name names and, certainly, constituencies are entitled to select their own leaders...but, c'mon now. And I am certain that the chosen leaders for the two most critical constituencies are wonderful women and men, truly committed Jews...but, really. 

JFNA ought to just state explicitly and on the record that "we just don't care about allocations any more" -- in fact, its leaders have demonstrably not cared for a decade. When your most major constituencies' leaders come from communities whose allocations are an insult to the core concept of collective responsibility, these appointments demean the organization on whose leaderships councils they will now serve.

What these appointments mean is that women and men from communities which represent the lowest common denominators of our system have reached the highest levels of leadership of JFNA -- an organization totally bereft of any evident standards for its highest (or any) positions. One of these newly appointed Chairs comes from a community that by name and philosophy has "defederated" even as it still pays its JFNA dues....its allocations to Israel and overseas needs in any other era would be considered a joke. Another comes from a community which has such an minuscule allocation to those same needs that in any era would be considered to be unworthy of a community whose leaders serve in any leadership capacity in our Continental entity. But today...not only "step right up" but join our most inside leadership group -- the unauthorized by any governance JFNA "Coordinating Council!!"

When your organization has no standards for its own leadership, it is a reflection of the umbrella organization's lack of purpose, of failing to understand what its role was designed to be in Continental Jewish life. And as JFNA is totally lost, why should its constituencies be any different? Why should we expect the federations to reflect our stated purposes when those at JFNA evidence none? Or do I have this "formula" upside down? Why should the parent organization have any purpose beyond self-preservation when the federations themselves have none?

Our organizations wander aimlessly in the wilderness and have no clue just why or where. But we do.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Among JFNA's favorite things are "Initiatives" -- usually with Initials. They seem to birth one after another  but never to success. Sometimes they are "created" and then sent off into the vapor of "partnerships" -- almost none of them are ever accountable to the federations which are providing most if not all of the funds. And, then there is at least one that is non-existent. Let's look at some of these and try to measure the "results" to date:

  • The JFNA Campus Initiative. I don't know what to call it. It appears not even to exist. You might recall last Summer, JFNA was busy proclaiming how it was somehow a/the "conveyor" of multiple organizations to somehow prepare for what would be a most difficult year on college campuses across the Continent. The reality is that this "effort" -- which was more of a Briefing subject than a real action item for JFNA -- had no impact. In fact, the recent front page NYT article on the outrageous anti-semitic actions of UCLA's student government didn't even merit any public reaction or statement by the usually loquacious buddies -- Siegal/Silverman (who did have time to charm us with their so-called "analysis" of the Netanyahu address to Congress, which, BTW, they attended). If this Initiative does exist, it has either disappeared or failed; probably both.
  • The Israel Action Network (a/k/a the IAN). On a related note, our system created and then poured, and continues to pour, millions into the IAN to fight the continuing and growing invidious boycott, divestment and sanctions activities of those whose hatred for Israel pounds away on campuses, academic organizations, church groups and the like. At its creation, cooked up by the largest of federations' CEOs, it looked to me like a backdoor means of boosting the budget of the historically impotent JCPA by those millions -- the results sure have not matched the investment. Here is how the IAN describes itself: "The Israel Action Network (IAN) is a strategic initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America, in partnership with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, created to counter assaults made on Israel’s legitimacy. Israel today faces an intensive and increasingly sophisticated assault on its right to exist as a sovereign democratic Jewish state." The IAN website is filled with a self-congratulatory set of "accomplishments" that I would sum up as "without us it could have been/would have been worse." How can one respond to that? JCPA "contributes" staff led by long, long, too-long-time Senior V-P Martin Raffel; we contribute money (and, apparently, creative writing). What is your sense of how this "Initiative" is going? My sense is that the IAN and the challenges faced across the Continent require: (a) a total reorganization eliminating JPAC as the "operating partner," and bringing in a pro-active, relevant set of new partners, enhancing the lay cadre (the IAN has a superb lay leader as its Chair but that's it); and (b) providing funding equal to or exceeding the challenges we as a Jewish polity face. 
  • United Against a Nuclear Iran (a/k/a UANI). This "Initiative" was also a brainchild of the creativity of Large City federations -- create an organization to fight for sanctions against Iran in the struggle against a nuclear Iran, keep Jewish organizational leadership out of sight, create a strong international board, a great staff and push hard. So, the CEO is Mark Wallace, a Bush appointee to the UN and probably best known as one of the "handlers" in Sarah Palin's pursuit of the Vice-Presidency as described in Game Change; its President is an impressively credentialed leader. The Board is impressive, the accomplishments not so much. I don't believe we know how much the federation system has quietly plowed into this "Initiative;" we do know that Prime Minister Netanyahu first warned the world about Iran's nuclear intentions in 1993; and UANI began its work in about 2013...and we can all read the papers, can't we? UANI became the first organization to be cited by the NYT within hours of the announcement of the deal to support it.
  • The Secure Communities Network (SCN). Heard a lot about the SCN; it appears to be doing excellent work both on the Continent and now, so we are told, in Western Europe (where the SCN appears to be superfluous given that organized European Jewry has long had a security apparatus in place and, in France, the Jewish Community Security Service [since 1980] the existence neither was JFNA apparently aware, of course). Go to the SCN website and it is clear that SCN is a vehicle either strongly affiliated with JFNA or another of those "partners." I challenge you, however, to go the SCN website (or anywhere else), and locate the lay Officers and Board of this affiliate. Is it possible that the SCN is the best example of the new normal -- a federation-owned, in whole or in part, non-profit that has no known lay leadership whatsoever? I looked further -- found the 2013 (yes, the 2013 990 -- a filing that JFNA has yet to find itself capable of) IRS Form 990, executed by one "Gerald Silverman, Director" and, there it was -- the Co-Chairs: Stephen Hoffman and Malcolm Hoenlein. They decide how the organization's funds are to be spent. No lay leaders. Enough said, I think.
  • The Global Planning Table (the GPT). Oh yeah, that one. Fully thought through? Of course not. Fully funded? Of course not. Best I can tell, the GPT decided to wrest control of the fund raising for its feeble three Initiatives from JFNA -- just a further example of  this tail wagging that dog. 
There are more, of course. All unsuccessful.


Friday, April 3, 2015


Friends, one of you offered an Anonymous response to my pre-Pesach Post. Its insights are worthy of repetition here:
"Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "THE PATHETIC NOW":

1. The JFNA has no voice on the Iranian deal because the federations it serves have no voice and no role. Federations have zero political clout (70 Daroff WH visits + Silverman's 12 that have achieved ?? are but samples of this), and zero political advocacy mechanisms or expertise. JFNA can issue all the statements it wants. Zero influence.

1a. What's with Daroff banging his own chest on Facebook about being the #1 Jewish White House visitor? His modesty is such that he explains that two Jews that had more visits (Saperstein and Diament) didn't count as they serve on an Obama's faith-based council.
All self promotional, Potomac fever perception building with little to show that's commensurate with the expenditure + visit frequency.
I don't see any chest banging from AIPAC, which actually can demonstrate what it does with the legislative and executive branches.

2. Regarding Max Kleinman. Exceptional professional who's served with distinction. But even Max can't sell that which has no market. This isn't about how good of a salesperson we have. The GPT may or may not have been a good idea. But the concept wasn't developed with genuine buy-in and commitment from federations. So it stands to reason that proposals emanating from the GPT (after years of tortuous deliberations) would land poorly. Tranquility Bay to Houston -- the federations aren't bought in. Time to move on.

3. Our system is without a focus and apparently incapable of developing one and pursuing it relentlessly. European Jewry is smoldering if not on fire (in a few countries, it's a five-alarm). Holocaust survivors are hungry and living in squalor (even in Israel!). And the Jewish future? How's that looking? These are three major opportunity areas that are begging for focus and collective action.

Let's hope our federation system finds the afikomen this year. We won't find it unless we actively look.

Zissen Pesach to all."

Well and sadly said.



1. JFNA's leaders found their voice. Almost a miracle. Urging "...Caution and Congressional Review of Any Iran Deal" Mssrs. Siegal and Silverman within hours of the announcement of a preliminary framework and, certainly, without having read it, called it a "weak deal."
Maybe they didn't know that JFNA's entity for this purpose, United Against a Nuclear Iran, became the first NGO to acclaim this framework, in the NYT.  They have found their voice, now they have to use it properly.

2. It's been over one year since the brilliant leaders of JFNA filed its Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service. Even then, the 2012 -- yes, that's 2012 -- 990 covered the 2012-2013 fiscal year so the filing that is long past due (we'll assume that JFNA filed the requisite extensions) will cover FY 2013-2014 so the info will be over one year stale. Inasmuch as JFNA has already filed the 2013 990 for its UIA subsidiary, one has to ask: what are JFNA's leaders hoping to hide?

3. We reported months ago that JFNA had entered into a consulting agreement with Max Kleinman immediately after Max's retirement as the long-time CEO of the MetroWest Federation. His job: ferret out funding for the underfunded unfunded Global Planning Table "Strategic Initiatives" and, specifically, the "Israel Children's Zone." The deadline for that funding was set as March 31, 2015. Max didn't/couldn't come close; so, of course, the deadline will be extended perhaps to infinity and beyond. What does this say about the present/future of the futile Global Planning Table? What does this have to say about Max Kleinman's consulting position?

4. JFNA's Board Chair and CEO have been trolling around for successors to the Chair of the JFNA Budget and Finance Committee (and here we thought that Steve Silverman had been named Chair of that farcical effort for life) and for a new National Campaign Chair for the non-existent National Campaign. We know of at least one Federation leader who turned down the Budget chairmanship for the farce that the budget "process" has become. And what about the number of leaders who have been asked so far to become the National Campaign Chair, a position devoid of meaningful staff or purpose. Deck chairs on the Titanic? Time will tell.

5. Perhaps it is just as well that JFNA decided to rid itself (as of November 2015) of the claque that serves as its Executive Committee (and I should note that it is not just the claque that is going -- that would have been sufficient -- it is the Executive Committee itself). The last meeting of that august body was apparently and totally devoid of anything other than self-serving reports and an "orgy of self-congratulations and self-aggrandizing reports." Instead of hard questions being asked about anything...anything at all...there was only heard the sounds of arms breaking while patting themselves on their respective backs. Ouch.

6. And Finally. On the eve of every Pesach holiday from the first days of my involvement in federation through the UJA, I received (and sometimes sent) a message in keeping with the spirit of our Holiday of freedom and Peoplehood. We tried to inspire our donors and we were challenged to do ever more as we were all together at Sinai. And then there came the Pesach message of 2015 from Jerry Silverman -- A Passover Message. It was well meant, no doubt, but thereafter it was suffused with fear: we don't watch the door for Elijah, we fear who else might be coming in; we tell Jews in Europe and the Ukraine that "we haven't forgotten you" when our actions (a single Solidarity Mission of three days in Paris, a paltry $2.5 million raised to help our extended Jewish family in the Ukraine [which Silverman inflated to a paltry $4 million only days after Michael Siegal disclosed the lower amount]; an overstatement of the value of the Secure Community Network to European communities which have had their own Jewish Security instrument in place longer than the SCN)...when our actions say "we have forgotten you except on occasions like this."  I have to admit that when I first read this thing I thought "it's April1 -- maybe Jerry sent this as a cruel April Fool's Day joke." And to our eternal prayer at Seder's end "Next Year in Jerusalem" was added "Or Paris. Or Kiev. Or wherever Jews choose to live." The letter was a pathetic conflation of misinformation and bloviation devoid of any inspiration, meaning or understanding. So terribly sad; so terribly Jerry. In the alternative, you might read Aliza Gershon's, now the Executive Director Tzav Pius, an Israeli non-profit, whose message of Jewish unity and how to achieve it in ejewishphilanthropy was especially meaningful. http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/building-a-united-israel-more-important-today/

Friends, I wish you and your families and loved ones a Chag Pesach sameach. May we all draw inspiration from the great story of the march from slavery to th emergence of the Jewish People and from being together at Sinai.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015


This is no April Fool's joke.

There was a time when our national (now continental) organization actually had a voice on issues critical to the Jewish People. Not any more. Like so many other things of importance, JFNA, which represents us...ostensibly all of us...has just got nothing to say about anything on the Federations' agenda. And we have watched this happen -- this grape shrinking into a raisin -- in the same silence that afflicts JFNA like a metastasizing cancer. Our leaders attend the Prime Minister's speech to Congress, tell us about a speech we all watched, but have no opinion on anything; leaders travel on a Solidarity Mission to Paris, tell us all about it, but offer nothing more than a "we're with you" to French Jewry...and so it goes.

I was reminded of all of this by a confluence of events these past months and weeks. Like these:

  1. The seemingly daily onslaught against our children and grandchildren on college campuses across the Continent -- attacks too often being defended by a few courageous Jewish students willing to stand up and stand strong, with the help of our federations, or without that help. And JFNA, which claimed over the Summer, to be a "convener" of Jewish campus advocacy groups? Where is JFNA? Cowering...in silence.
  2. Our Board Chair and CEO write proudly that they attended Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to Congress (much like CEO Silverman's "selfie" at Netanyahu's speech to the UN earlier) but JFNA as our institution offers neither commentary nor advocacy for or against the Obama Administration's "diplomacy" -- that's "for others to do." Where is our...that would be...our...voice against Iran's emergence now or in ten years, or after something called the "breakout?" I would suggest that our so-called leaders, so fearful that they won't be invited to Presidential Chanukah parties or Congressional appearances in the future, read Jennifer Rubin's brilliant analysis in her Blog on washingtonpost.com: "(W)hat can Congress do? Well, it can express bipartisan outrage and pass a resolution deploring the president’s end run. But it must do more. Ideally, one would summon a bipartisan veto-proof majority to fix U.S. sanctions in law with no presidential waiver unless a deal meeting the existing U.N. resolutions was agreed upon. (I suppose Congress could use the power of the purse to defund our U.N. contributions, but let’s not get carried away.) But we also have to consider that this might simply be unattainable or susceptible to the argument that Congress can’t constitutionally eliminate all executive discretion. The next best option would be to increase the threshold for waiving existing and new sanctions — in other words, to narrow severely the president’s ability to waive U.S. sanctions, and require officials in the intelligence community and/or the military to add their certification (and thereby put their own credibility on the line as well). For example, U.S. sanctions would not be waived unless and until Iran gave a complete accounting of past nuclear activities and dismantled the Arak facility, things that the Iranians have refused to do and are objective criteria the president and the intelligence community could not honestly certify have occurred."   Our "leaders"? Cowering in silence. 
  3. The failed cash collection and failed allocations efforts at calendar year-end 2014, following the same failures in each of the prior ten years and more hasn't merited a public comment or a public plea or, even better, a public acknowledgement of failure after failure and a public commitment to do something about it. Instead of taking responsibility, JFNA leaders have merely passed the buck, literally and figuratively, to the Global Planning Table and, in so doing, abandoned an important leader from a responsible community who had the advocacy portfolio as if he didn't exist. "It's so hard to remember these things" I guess.
  4. There is a growing almost, if not, daily anti-Israel onslaught on the pages of The New York Times be it in every Jerusalem Bureau Chief Judi Roderen's "news" stories or in the op-ed rants of Roger Cohen, Tom Friedman or Nicholas Kristof. The onslaught seemed to pick up speed as Israel's Prime Minister came closer to his date with Congress. And JFNA? Cowering...in silence. So who speaks for me, for you? It sure isn't JFNA or JCPA. Who is meeting face-to-face with the NYT Editorial Board (as our leaders would do and have done in Chicago and, probably, your community as well)? Sure it's a "New York" paper, but one that prides itself (for reasons presently unclear) on being a "national" one -- one deserving a national response. But...not from JFNA.
  5. And, of course, the Ukraine. No Solidarity Missions to Kiev. Nothing at all. Here is what the NCESJ wrote recently, after interviewing Jewish Ukrainians across that beleaguered country: 

    "These stories show that many Ukrainian young people are struggling to survive in the current economic environment. But they are not giving up. Through student organizations, Jewish community and civil society groups they are active in defining their future and holding the government accountable to its commitment to reform.
    What they need is support from the U.S. government, the American Jewish community, and others to weather the storm of the current crisis, and to prevent Ukraine from becoming a failed state."

    JFNA, through Chair Michael Siegal, of course, sends a letter and then...only cowering in silence.

    And, of course, nowhere is there debate among JFNA leadership on the great issues confronting our People. Here's what goes on at JNF: "The engagement and involvement of our lay leaders makes it a partnership, between the professionals, our volunteers and our cause. We talk and debate about everything, yet we are always focused on the cause and mission, not individual personalities and egos."

    Read more: Leadership with JNF is about time-- and dedication to Israel | Russell F. Robinson | The Blogs | The Times of Israel http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/leadership-with-jnf-is-about-time-and-dedication-to-israel/#ixzz3VUuDcb3h
    Follow us: @timesofisrael on Twitter | timesofisrael on Facebook

    Yes, JFNA, which once had a "voice" on our behalf, once had a standing Resolutions Committee, once had an institutional spine, now has been silenced but for a letter to the Prime Minister or to us once in a while. When the Conference of Presidents was created, so long ago now, our federations, or JFNA, did not cede away our obligation to speak out, to express the consensus of our federations, our donors...

It just seems that way.