Sunday, May 31, 2015


If JFNA is the Long Con in Jewish organizational life, then its annual Budget has become the ShortCon -- the Three Card Monte, the Shell Game -- that seemingly fools most of the people all of the time. Now, its the 2015-2016 Budget and it's a load -- a load of stuff, that is.

There was a Board-invited Budget prep session convened the afternoon of May 21; I received it the morning of May 21. I reviewed it, as you will, with a growing incredulity. Yet, the Budget is but the "short con;" based on what is not going on and what is at JFNA, it is JFNA itself that is the "long con."

It's hard to know where to begin with this 63 page document and the 79 pages of Appendices that attempt to mask so much that is wrong with JFNA but...

  • What is JFNA's actual budget? It's not $29.5 million, it's not $30 million. Those are the varying amounts of the "Dues Budget." And that Budget is proposed to increase in 2015-2016 by $700,000 that your Federation and mine will be expected to pay even though JFNA is spending close to $44,500,000 annually. The real Budget appears to be $40,089,000. That breaks down as follows:
    • Dues -- $30,290,000
    • Internal Fund Raising -- $3,558,000 (in one place in this incredible Budget document this is shown as "the same as 2014-2015" at $3,058,000; everywhere else this is stated as being increased by $500,000). 
      • Just one caveat -- JFNA didn't "raise" $3,058,000 in 2014-2015 -- didn't "raise" hardly a thing. It merely took money (from the Alliance and elsewhere) and called it "FRD."
    • Fees for Services and Program revenue -- $6,200,000
  • Thus, this Budget total is comprised of Dues, and two plugged numbers for which there is no evidence...none...where that $9,778,000 will come from.
  • "Absorption." You have to marvel at the chutzpah. The Budget narrative congratulates JFNA for "absorbing," e.g., "an additional $1.3 million in program costs" and $500,000 "related to salaries and benefits...absorbed." Yes, lots of absorption of everything, I guess, that is charged to the Budget.
  • And, how about FRD/Philanthropic Resources? If you like reading fiction as I do, you will love the sections allocating resources to Financial Resource Development inasmuch as reading them you are required to suspend disbelief, pretend there is a staff to support the effort and...
    • Accept as fact the fiction that last year $3.5 million was spent on Major Gifts development ("development" is my word; JFNA doesn't know what it means as you and I do)...that's $3,500,000...
    • And agree that it is appropriate to double Major Gifts development funding to $7,000,000. Really.
    • And, for $7,000,000 JFNA, not the federations, will produce 4 new $250,000 gifts, 30 PMC Gifts (which would mean $3,000,000) and another $1,000,000 in King David Society gifts and so on down the line. Couple these goals with the lack of any staff, and the reality that JFNA has never achieved an FRD goal for the past decade, maybe JFNA should just hand the $7,000,000 to the federations to enhance their FRD? 
    • Oh...and for "Inspiring Major Gifts" staffing will increase by 3.5 FTE (who exactly were those?) to 7 and an astonishing $750,000.Is it a fair question as to who will be hiring these professionals and to whom they will report?
  • What about the GA? You know, the GA that has diminished as has JFNA over the past ten years into a shadow of its former self. This Budget will throw another $550,000 at the General Assembly
    • For what purposes? Don't ask?
    • The 2014-2015 GSA attendance "goal" of "1,000+" lay leader registrants wasn't met -- instead, the number reached was "700+." Absolutely ridiculous, of course. 
    • This wouldn't be a deficit allocation for the 2014 GA would it? 
    • The sorry "goal" for the 2015 GA is nothing more than a 10% increase in registrants -- "...with most of growth" (growth? really??) among lay leadership!!
    • The "GA Operating Budget" will increase by 60% from $978,000 to $1,564,000 -- FOR WHAT?
  • Contingency? Oh, now that will increase by $100, $400,000
  • Consultants? Sure, we got 'em. The amount is being reduced from $1.762 (not including the Alliance Consultant paid $308,000) to $1.560 with no identification of who or for what?
    • No doubt that gross number includes the money being spent on the ghost that is Deborah K. Smith
  • The Global Planning Table? Speaking of ghosts...the number of FTE dedicated to the GPT will reduce to 1.3 -- apparently now just a placeholder. How the mighty have fallen.
  • The Rabbinic Cabinet. What had been an important thread in the fabric of our work for so long will no longer have any assigned staff, and will see its already small budget of $248,000 reduced to a miniscule $55,000. Effectively, the Cabinet is part of the JFNA's rejection of our institutional history.
  • FTEs in Hiding. Perhaps those who drive this Budget believe that they can just tuck away the personnel in, e.g., JFNA-Israel in various corners of various budget lines so as to hide the total number who are on the padded JFNA payroll. Thus, the Budget shows "only" 10.5 FTE on the Israel payroll (never specifying their function -- ever) plus another 5 FTE on UIA-Israel. The other dozen, more or less? You will never find them...except on the roster of JFNA-Israel and, then, you will just have to guess what most of them do.
  • Then there is the Network. Revenue from the Network is set as $1,995,000 (that's what federations call "Dues"), expenses charged to the Network -- $2,143,000. This is incredible -- beyond belief. The Network is being squeezed for revenue to support JFNA's Budget and being charged for costs it does not create. Thus, since then Board Chair Manning dismantled the Network's independent Board (there is no longer a Board at all; instead, an "Advisory Board" populated with fine leaders, five of whom, including the Chair, hwo are not even from within the Network communities), JFNA has squeezed the Network to make JFNA's Budget without regard to benefits to or costs created by the Network communities or to the actual staff costs of those assigned to the Network.
  • JAFI/JDC/World ORT? Better beware. There is not only going to be a "[C]omplete assessment of current partners (who is going to do that??)" but  identify "...potential additional organizations for consideration" at a time that allocations to the JA/JDC/ORT core budgets are at historically low levels. There is such an air of arrogance reflected in this Budget when there should have been humility and even shame.
Look, as always, there is more in this "Short Con." But let's end with this: by including "Allocations to Beneficiary Organizations" of $252,000,000 as an "Expense," an expenditure of $7,850,000 for the "Executive...including Headquarters" appears as but 2.6% when, in reality, of expenses net of allocations of $44,462,000, that item alone is 18%. Is that acceptable to you?

And, if the JFNA expenses net of allocations in 2014-2015 were $44,462,000 where is that money coming from in 2015-2016? And why?

Just asking.


Thursday, May 28, 2015


JFNA has been guilty of negligence over the years; it has enabled programs of no value; it has abandoned its overseas partners at critical times if not constantly -- but not until this year has it so transparently applied funds from other sources to fund itself without regard for fiduciary duty or, even, honesty. While in an earlier Post I applauded the extent of the debate and the transparency that preceded the diversion of donors' funds from Terror Relief as they intended, the decision was just a violation of fiduciary duty executed in plain sight.

Let's look at the facts:

  • JFNA has an annual Dues Budget of over $30 million, much of which is wasted on staff over-compensation; its real Budget exceeds $40 million.  Nonetheless its CEO has complained over time that this Budget (the line-by-line allocations from which have been consistently ignored to apply funds wherever the professional staff has deemed necessary while the Treasurer and Budget & Finance Committee merely blinks) is inadequate to meet JFNA's needs, whatever those may be;
  • The CEO has promised to fund raise to increase the amounts JFNA deems necessary to fund itself "adequately" but, not surprisingly, no one is buying in;
  • So, the chachams have come up with a "solution" -- "we'll just create programs and take the money to fund them from where they were supposed to be applied." Here are two egregious examples:
    • Funding The Education Unit. JFNA leaders leaned heavily on the leaders of the National Agencies Alliance to transfer funds intended for the federation-created family of National Agencies to enable JFNA to create this Unit within JFNA. Remember, this was done after a secret (no other way to describe it) consultant's study at a cost to the National Agencies (because it was from their funding that the consultant's fees were paid) of $308,000, resulted in an "Alliance decision" to fund this new Unit to the tune of $410,000 per year. To JFNA this is fund raising; to me this is theft. $2,000,000 for JFNA to play education with -- that's to JFNA with no successful operational experience and no evidence that it can run anything. Was there a proven need for this Unit; not to anyone's knowledge. Was there any proven ability of JFNA to operate an Education Unit; not to anyone's knowledge. So let's grab $2+ million of Agencies' money (money which the vetted national agencies desperately need) and let JFNA play with it. For JFNA it's other people's money anyway; and JFNA leadership just nods its collective head.
    • Funding the Negev Work Group/Negev Funding Coalition. The Jewish National Fund, the Ben Gurion University of the Negev and other credible organizations have or are committed to invest 100's of millions of dollars in the Negev -- funds that the charitable organizations have raised themselves and in cooperation with the Government of Israel. JFNA has been, in its mind, in Negev development activities since 2006 when it established a Negev Work Group which, supposedly, "...evaluates the most effective ways in which the...Federations...can contribute to the development and enhancement of the Negev." Then it established the companion Negev Funding Coalition in 2011 (comprised of 8 federations) apparently to fund the needs determined by the Work Group -- a typical Rube Goldbergian set-up that has produced negligible funding for less than ambitious projects. Then, with $4.1 million -- money raised for and committed to Terror Relief by donors during Operation Protective Edge -- not yet allocated, someone at JFNA (no doubt one or more of the minions at JFNA-Israel) said, "hey, where's ours? Let's convert this money from Terror Relief, its intended, committed purpose, to the Negev Work Group." As one Commentator noted: "I guess it was hard to make a decision so staff suggested they give $2.5 Million to themselves and the JFNA committee went along with them - donors gave to an emergency fund and ended up contributing to an ongoing project and continued empire-building..." In other words, let's use funds, not for their intended purposes, but for something else even though (1) the Terror Relief Funds raised during Operation Protective Edge were far less than any reasonable goal (had JFNA had one); and (2) Israel's population is threatened with the potential for a much more damaging war in the near-term future. In a self-congratulatory (and with totally confusing math*) JFNA puff piece -- The Sirens Have Stopped. The Needs Remain -- JFNA can only account for $31.5 million of $55 million that "[W]e raised" in Operation Protective Edge. Therein that $2.5 million appears to be hidden within a silo titled "Fortify Regional Networks of Support" while the Israeli press reported that a Hamas rocket attack on May 26 sent traumatized Victims of Terror -- children -- to the hospital. 
  • JFNA, under this leadership, even with a budget that claims that 50% is spent on Fund Raising, has demonstrated, among other things, that it does not know how to raise money let alone how to train others to fund raise. So, what the hell, let's see what sources we can find to pull big money for unintended purposes. We ought to be ashamed...but we're not, are we?

* This "fact sheet" actually recites the following: "We raised $55 million and sent it directly to where it was needed the most. More than half of the funds were allocated by the Jewish Federations of North America and the rest by individual Federations." Do these leaders even know where "half the funds" went?

Monday, May 25, 2015


When the horrific earthquake struck Nepal, JFNA was quick to act as only it doesn't -- it set up a Mailbox, and asked for donations. Then it promoted that Mailbox/"Fund" in an almost daily barrage of information about what others were doing -- mainly the Government of Israel (which, to our knowledge, receives no funding from "us") and the JDC, the former doing incredible work on the ground; the latter mainly distributing funds to the main actors in the Ukraine. We not only heard from Jerry "Show-Me-A-Disaster-And-I'll-Show-You-A-Mailbox" supplemented by a strange Memo from Becky "She of Two Titles" Caspi which implied that the funds from this Mailbox made the GOI's and Joint's and Chabad's (!!) work in Nepal possible. Add to the mailings a conference call, constant references to what others are actually doing in FedWorld and, wow, are we ever great. (BTW, the funds in this Mailbox are merely transmitted directly to the Joint, which has its own Mailbox.)

I counted 4 separate alerts from JFNA on Nepal in a single afternoon on April 28. Maybe JFNA will send a Solidarity Mission to Kathmandu.

Compare and contrast this JFNA all hands on effort for Nepalese Relief with the same organization's woeful efforts on behalf of the Jews of the Ukraine* or with regard to the terrorists' killing of Jews in France -- and, the best one can say, is that this was all the sadder. This reality tells the tale of an organization that has no priorities, promoting its lack of accomplishments as successes. Hey, I know these Funds, these Mailboxes, promote "the Brand," but to what end? We are raising no real money -- not for Ukrainian Jewry, not for the security of Western European Jewry, not for the Nepalese, not for anybody.

Sure, I, like you, believe that our efforts on behalf of non-Jews during emergencies are noble, ennobling and consistent with our traditions as embodied in tikkun olam but we see in this work for Nepalese relief no real effort at all. We open a Mailbox; is this truly "effort"? This is part of the "rinse/repeat" cycle at JFNA under Silverman; there's no there there. JFNA gives the impression that it has dropped everything for Nepalese relief -- not even the Red Cross does that.

Friends, while all of this was happening -- or, actually, not happening -- Prime Minister Netanyahu, in his last minute "successful" attempts to form a governing coalition was handing Ministries critical to the Diaspora, to us, to Shas, and walking back commitments to ease conversion rules in Israel pursuant to Knesset legislation in the P.M.'s effort to bring ultra-Orthodox parties into his new government. These moves may significantly impact on North American Jewry in ways that we cannot today predict and, yet, JFNA -- so engaged in its Mailbox approach to FRD; this time for Nepalese relief -- has no time to determine what the position of the North American Jewish polity should be and to articulate it. Instead, JFNA  sort of reported on the coalition building in the oh-so-self-important FedWorld  ("the most important news affecting the Jewish world" -- uh huh) by merely linking (once?) to media reports but apparently finding no cause for concern...none. With this group, events have to overtake them before they are even aware of them.

The question that should be asked, never is: "Where in the world is JFNA making a real difference?" Never is the predicate asked: "Where and how could JFNA make a real difference?" But, you can't ask any questions of substance, let alone find answers, if JFNA's leaders don't understand (and haven't even tried to understand) the federation ethos -- and they don't understand that ethos at all; they just don't get it. Opening a Mailbox/Fund may be part of it, but to JFNA it is all of it.


* It should be noted that one day after the out-pouring of JFNA alerts on Nepal relief, Michael Siegal announced that JFNA will convene a Solidarity Mission to the Ukraine. I would say better late than never but, when the federations have raised only $4 million (and, perhaps, some more on the way, but nowhere...nowhere...near the $5 million JFNA recently claimed) to assist our partners in their efforts in Ukraine (and, strangely, consider that failure a success), it's more like anything is better than nothing. In the dictionary this feeble effort appears under the definition of "a day late and a dollar short."

Friday, May 22, 2015


The organization that hasn't a clue what it should be doing or what it could be doing has now found a new way to pass the time and waste our money -- it's called FedWorld. Its premier "Edition" appeared on-line on April 29.  The next day -- the "2nd Edition" -- arrived with the tagline "The most exciting thing to hit your inbox." JFNA, masters of hyperbole. It's a web paper ostensibly promoting federations or JFNA or something -- but, really, if the first "editions" are the best evidence, it's about...well, whatever JFNA decides is "newsworthy." This has to be among the biggest wastes of time on a growing tab of time wastes at 25 Broadway...yet...inasmuch as all of the JFNA-related Nepal information (which is after all the bulk of what JFNA appears to about today) is highlighted on the JFNA home page.

So what's going on in FedWorld according to JFNA? Well, there's:

  • Federations/Philanthropy: There's Nepal 
  • JFNA Notes: Let's see -- there's Nepal
  • Then there are cites to articles...on "other" publications -- Chronicle of Philanthropies, JNS*
  • Oh, yes, there are references to the work of the Secure Communities Network and the IAN
  • And links to "critical" stories in the Federation world -- e.g., Bernie Sanders running for President and a New York Rabbi will receive a "Papal knighthood."
  • The "2nd Edition" -- more of the same; and in the 3rd iteration and ever since, JFNA discovered that "'millennials' generation can become the new wealth builders and philanthropists;" and on and on, more and more on Nepal 
I didn't read anything about Prime Minister Netanyahu's Coalition Agreement with United Torah Judaism that abandoned all efforts in support of a positive change to Israel's Conversion Law. JFNA hasn't even sent one of its "letters to the Prime Minister" on the subject -- guess there is no time what with the Nepal Fund and all.

There isn't even accuracy. In a reference to its work in FRD for Ukraine, FedThing reported a $5 million total -- just about 25% more than actually transmitted to date. For JFNA that's called "accurate reporting." I assume you need your own tout sheet to put out data like this.

Sure, there's more --this one pager is as chock full of nothing as can be stuffed onto a single page...but, really, should any of JFNA's meager energies be devoted to this? How many staff were required to input on this thing? One, five, ten? And wouldn't one be one too many? Then, the JFNA Budget document discloses that this thing is JFNA Program Priority -- already with a "circulation" of 7,000 although elsewhere the "mailing list" is said to be 6,000 (this from the same organization that thinks that 3,000 are still attending GAs) JFNA projects a 10% "increase" -- and to get there -- to 6,600 -- all JFNA has to do is buy a few mailing lists don't they? Waste follows waste...all the way down the drain.

I remember a meeting -- I think it was five years ago at my federation where a small group of us met with the recently hired new CEO, Silverman. Among the suggestions for him was one from Steve Nasatir -- JFNA should publish a weekly  column of sufficient interest that it would be picked up in the Jewish media promoting federations' work. And five years later...we get this stuff?

We constantly see our organization flailing about looking around for "purpose," because its leaders fail to understand that its purposes have been lost -- strengthening federations, strengthening our partners, more dollars and more donors. Take a look at FedWorld and tell me how this thing strengthens strengthens anything.

Do you think there is anyone...a single 25 Broadway who has questioned: "Isn't it time, after 16 years of existence, that JFNA be known for a single achievement?" Instead, having achieved, nada...there seems to be the attitude that "Let's just work on brand recognition" even if the brand stands for, nada...not a thing.

For reasons I will never understand, the JFNA lay leadership, the basic check and balance on an unknowing, directionless professional leadership, just sits by and permits the professionals to apparently do whatever they wish, no matter the waste, no matter the distraction -- apparently without even a question. 

Vayezmir!!! The mess marches on. The circus rules.


* I don't question the beauty of our communities fulfillment of the mandate of tikkun olam as expressed in our donors contributions to the Nepal effort, or Katrina, etc. But, when a minor Mailbox/Fund effort, and that's what Nepal is, becomes a daily JFNA obsession, it is a reflection of JFNA's aimless purposeless wanderings as well.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


1. Let's begin this Post with examples of what Federations have done in the face of the broad assault by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions extremists on things we hold sacred. And please excuse my pride that one of these federations in question is my own. Yesterday, the State of Illinois House of Representatives, responding to an initiative of Illinois' new Governor, Bruce Rauner, and the Jewish United Fund of Chicago, assured by a vote of 102-0, that Illinois will immediately become the first State " adopt legislation countering the BDS movement." The legislation, previously passed unanimously by the Illinois Senate and now pending our Governor's signature, will require five State pension funds to divest from companies that boycott Israel. Here we have an example of how to turn the BDS effort on its proverbial head -- it's simple, it's a small step, but it's a major beginning to turn momentum to the pro-Israel community.*

And then there is Tennessee where at the initiative of the Nashville Federation, anti-BDS legislation was passed on April 24: "With strong bi-partisan support, the Tennessee General Assembly has passed a resolution condemning the boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and the worldwide increase in anti-Semitism." Even earlier this year a similar Resolution was enacted in Nevada.

For those of you who would ask what role our JFNA played in the efforts here -- none.  Nothing --  JFNA, beyond its constant references to aid to Nepal, did manage to publish a sentence on the the JUF initiative (!!) in its brand spanking new waste of time FedWorld on May 15. Meanwhile this JUF-Chicago effort and those in Tennessee and Nevada must...must...become part of a national federation movement and, certainly, with the expertise at the Israel Action Network, that's where the action will take place. State-by-state, federations, through their CRC network or through their legislative offices, will use the Illinois, Nevada and Tennessee examples as  best practices and, ultimately, at the Congressional level as well where anti-BDS legislation is pending adoption as well.

The Playbook, including a grass roots letter-writing and phone calling effort, is right there for the doing...but not by JFNA.

2. Then there's the always stupefying CEO who on his travels continues to dissemble unlike anyone in his position anywhere/anytime. Clearly he will say anything to get him through the meeting in which he finds himself. Most recently, with the data set forth in our Post The End of the Collective fresh at hand, CEO Jerry I-Can't-Count-But-Watch-Me-Make-Stuff-Up has been telling audiences that "the range" of overseas allocations is from 10%-40% with a national average of 30% "on a campaign of $900 million." Not one...that's nary a one -- of those statistics is correct (unless one...that's ONE...federation allocating almost 38% including designated gifts creates a "range") and the national average allocation according to the most recent data available, sadly, is just over 20% rather than 30% -- the average allocation hasn't approached 30% since Jerry Silverman joined the disaster to which he has contributed so much. Specifically, and again according to the most recent figures provided by JFNA itself, core allocations for Large Cities average was 21.8% and for Large Intermediates, 21.2%.** 

At one meeting, in response to a question about the sharp decline in donors during Jerry's 5+ years, he had the chutzpa to assert that "federations in the 1990s made a conscious decision that it was more expensive to focus on small donors rather than on major donors" as if (a) that were true (it wasn't/isn't) and (b) this would excuse the huge percentage decrease in donors during Silverman's years of negative leadership. All this answer evidences is how little Jerry Silverman, awarded a new CEO contract for no apparent reason other than convenience, knows about our system, its history or its present.

These misrepresentations are bad enough in the abstract; in context, they are even worse because Silverman probably believes them.

Everything about this most recent series of misstatements reminds me of what Cousin Vinnie said after cross-examining a particularly stupid witness in the classic My Cousin Vinnie: "I'm done wit' dis guy." Shouldn't we all be?

3. Then...there is this. The following is the complete statement of Michael Siegal and Dede Feinberg on May 13:
"Dear Colleagues,

Today, Vatican and Palestinian leaders met to advance a discussion that began in 2000 to produce a treaty that refers to a Palestinian state. The meeting, which has been reported by news outlets including The Washington Post and The New York Times, was met with “disappointment” by the Israeli government. “This move does not advance the peace process,” they said, “and further distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct and bilateral negotiations.” 

At this time, the Obama Administration has not commented on the discussions. If a statement becomes available, we will distribute it.

Remember -- this was the complete JFNA statement. Or, as some might ask: WTF? Was there supposed to be an opinion paragraph that was lost in translation? Or was this just like a newspaper story -- telling us something we already knew. As Tablet pointed out, before the JFNA WTF?: this "recognition" first took place in 2012.


* For an insightful and full discussion of the Illinois effort, read Jay Tcath's, Jewish Federation of Chicago's Executive Vice-President and one of the point persons on this effort, op-ed in today's Chicago Tribune at

** These are the results at year-end 2013 only because JFNA has released only 2013 allocations by community data. Trust me, the year-end 2014 results will only be worse given that total allocations to JAFI, JDC and World ORT reduced significantly once again in 2014.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


First, I must say that there have been some important and positive steps at JFNA that must be acknowledged even by JFNA's most severe critics. Let's look at some of them:


The "JFNA Ambassadors Program." One of the first steps taken by new Global Operations: Israel and Overseas Chair David Brown has been to recruit a group of lay leaders as "Ambassadors" to approach communities and advocate for increased allocations to all of JFNA's "partners." This is almost "revolutionary" inasmuch as (1) there has been no such advocacy by JFNA is over a decade; (2) it removes the Global Planning Table from the advocacy effort it arrogated to itself and then abandoned; (3) no sooner had Silverman taken the reins as CEO than he visited at least one community -- Dallas -- and told the assembled lay and professional communal leaders, as reported to me, words to the effect of "JFNA will never come into your community and ask that you allocate more money to overseas" (and then told me in a phone call that I initiated to question what he believed JFNA's allocation role to be), that he had said no such thing); and (4) may lead to JFNA demanding that UIA abandon its Chaverim advocacy for JAFI alone leading some to conclude that JFNA Israel wants to coopt UIA's efforts in all areas. Eventually, we'll learn the names and communities of the "Ambassadors" and, hopefully, they will all come from federations whose core allocations exceed their City-Size averages thereby cloaking them with a degree of legitimacy. We can hope that this time -- as similar efforts (under differing names) have been begun and abandoned in the past -- the effort will be constant and succeed.

"New" Leadership. While JFNA is and will be stuck in place so long as Silverman is sitting in the CEO/President Chair, Michael Siegal has recruited a sometimes new cadre of Continental lay leadership.* Among them**:

  • Harold Gernsbacher, the incoming National Campaign Chair. Harold is an experienced fund raiser, one who has earned his chops in his own community and at the Jewish Agency. He is energetic and persuasive and does not suffer fools or fooling around. He views this position as fund raiser, first and foremost, and a cheerleader second. Let's hope that he can reestablish the National Campaign Chair as a fund raising- first function. All he needs is a staff.
  • David Brown, already deep into his leadership role as Chair (see the "Ambassadors" program above), Global Operations: Israel and Overseas. David has the opportunity to refocus the JFNA Israel Office in positive directions he needs to avoid being "played" by the existing professional staff. David's leadership roles in Chicago demonstrated that he will reach his own conclusions and influence positive actions. All he needs is a staff.
  • Richard Sandler, the incoming JFNA Board Chair, has taken active leadership roles at JFNA since he began his Board service as the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Chairman. Thus, he comes into this important office with his eyes wide open and the support of his own community's innovating and forward-thinking Federation CEO. One can only hope that Richard sees JFNA "warts and all" and knows better than his predecessor where he must begin his leadership role. But there is one caveat: Sandler let it be known that he believes that lay leaders should get out of the way and let the professionals lead. So...All he needs is a staff.
  • Jodi Schwartz, the incoming Budget and Finance Chair and Treasurer, has had in-depth engagement at the New York Federation, UJA (where, as I recall, among her many holes, she Chaired the YLC a few years ago), and CJF. (I recall about a decade ago, one of my then law partners had a transaction in which Jodi was on the other side -- I said to him "Jodi is brilliant." He responded: "Yes, that's what she told me.")  The positions she is assuming are critical roles that have for too long been filled by JFNA cheerleaders in the tradition of "hear no evil, speak no evil, and, in particular, see no evil." While friends I trust who have watched Jodi in JFNA meetings of late have told me that she has become part of the JFNA Hallelujah Chorus, another toady among the toadies, if Jodi reverts to the integrity she had shown in her other positions in other organizations in Jewish communal life -- a background that commends itself to a JFNA leadership role -- the organization's integrity will be boosted immeasurably. Yet, unfortunately, in her prior JFNA leadership positions (Chair of the Administration and Bylaws and Governance Committees), there is little to suggest that she will suddenly "revert to form," to her former self, as she steps in as Treasurer. But, if she runs a transparent process with a Committee that is allowed/encouraged to asks the hard questions and reject non-answers, JFNA may have turned a corner.
The End of the waste that is the Global Planning Table. Somehow, the JFNA leaders will find a graceful and quiet way to end the GPT. Although the GPT leaders -- mainly Kathy Manning, Michael Gelman and David Butler, with Becky Caspi staffing -- may cling to the belief that there is still hope for the Planning Table, the evidence...all of the to the contrary: almost no significant dollars raised for any of the three "Strategic Initiatives," no Second Membership Criterion monitoring, no allocations advocacy, no...nothing to show for four+ years and millions of dollars wasted. Ms. Manning may still go around stating that "...the Global Planning Table is already making a difference in Israel," and we should continue to let her do so. Absorb the remaining "functions' of the GPT -- especially if one is a real planning and evaluation effort -- into JFNA and just say "thank you" to everyone involved.


The Silo of JFNA Israel. 27 people on the payroll and lacking a single measurable accomplishment, JFNA Israel is in serious, serious need of total deconstruction and, then, reconstruction. Instead, it appears as clear as can be to an outsider that Becky Caspi, the empire builder, who appears to have some Rasputin-type control of CEO Jerry (maybe a Star Trek-like "Vulcan mind meld?"), with nothing else to do, is now out to join United Israel Appeal to the silo. Perhaps the fact that UIA meets its fiduciary responsibilities and does its jobs -- monitoring our allocations for IRS-compliance, advocating for JAFI, administering the U.S. State Department Refugee Grant, and operating its owned projects -- and does them well with a small staff, its budget not even paid for by JFNA, is threatening to Caspi who must fear that someone, some day will actually examine how the JFNA Israel office spends its funds. Maybe Caspi and Silverman don't realize that UIA, while a subsidiary of JFNA, has its own Board and Chair; and, perhaps, Caspi believes that if she can add UIA to the "silo," JFNA Israel will have finally done something even though what it has done will have been UIA's. Where is the push back? Well, this probably wouldn't be happening if UIA still had a lay Chair.

The Non-CEO CEO. Meanwhile, and I probably don't need to underscore this, if Silverman is CEO, it is his responsibility to direct the JFNA staff. Included among that staff is the professional head of JFNA Israel. If CEO Jerry cannot or will not manage JFNA Israel, inasmuch as he is doing little else other than traveling and, I assume, thinking great thoughts and taking speech lessons, it's just another...another...reason for him to

Sadly, of all I have written about JFNA ineptitude, none of it had to be made up. From the first TribeFest forward through abuse of the JFNA Budget, to one failed FRD effort following another, to the total support of the Global Planning Table ("if the GPT fails, then JFNA will be out of business" said CEO Jerry), etc., etc., etc., there is a continuity of failure that makes one just want to look away. It's been 6 years of watching a car crash in slow motion.

And it continues...the poorly thought out "Education Unit," for which JFNA immediately hired two professionals -- to do what, exactly? Think about education? With hundreds of thousands of National Agency dollars to throw at Jewish education, with no history of operating anything (unless throwing failed parties like the multiple Festivii and dwindling GA after GA count as "running" something), you can predict the outcome of this thing -- hundreds of thousands if not millions ill-spent before the plug is pulled. 

The good does not outweigh the bad, but at least there is some good.


* I rarely take any "credit" for anything that happens at JFNA but I will take some for the "release" of the roster of sort of new leaders. Let me explain: inadvertently, on May 13, I released this Post even though anyone who compared that draft with this final version will note major changes. I reverted the Post back to Draft but not before 5 people downloaded/read it -- at least one  a JFNA professional.'re welcome.

* * I have not included in the list Susie Stern, who will serve as the Vice Chair -- succeeding the now non-existent Chair of the Executive Committee and all Vice Chairs other than she. Susie was a great leader within the United Jewish Appeal (back in the day) but in her service as JFNA National Campaign Chair and as Chair of the Nominating Committee she proved to be a great presenter and an excellent order taker. At JFNA, for those two characteristics, you get a "promotion." Susie could be much better than she has been. Let us pray.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


On May 6, JFNA's epic publication FedWorld announced a major allocations decision as follows:
 "THE OPERATION PROTECTIVE EDGE COMMITTEE made its final $6.1 million allocation of the funds raised by Federations to help Israelis cope with and recover from last summer’s conflict. The committee will continue to provide oversight and evaluation of funded programs. Heartfelt thanks to outgoing co-chairs Susie Stern, of New York, and Heschel Raskas, of St. Louis."
Perhaps only coincidentally, shortly thereafter, an Anonymous Commentator wrote the following: 
"Did a JFNA Committee or some group within JFNA make a decision to divert millions pledged during Operation Protective Edge from aid to the victims of terror to be used in the Negev for undefined purposes. Did they do so without any JFNA governance action and without communicating this diversion to the federations or federation donors who had dedicated these millions for another purpose entirely? Who authorized these acts and under what authority?
If these actions are true, what trust can we have in JFNA whatsoever?"
 If the allegations of the Anonymous Commentator above are true -- and I honestly hope they are not -- then JFNA would have enabled a process that corrupts our system. No one has the right to divert donors' funds intended for one purpose to another without the consent of the donor. Our organizations' sacred responsibility is to the donor -- though I wouldn't expect most of the current crop of professionals to understand that, I would expect that Susie Stern and Heschel Raskes would have.

$6.1 million is a major allocation -- too major to be merely "announced" without any detail whatsoever, and without any review and ratification by a governance body -- in fact it would be a perfect function for an Executive Committee but, sadly and of course, JFNA has decided in its wisdom to do away with its Executive Committee.

With all of that as preamble, I decided to inquire of the JFNA Board Chair and the Chair of Israel and Overseas -- and I learned that while there was some controversy in the allocations process, leadership engaged in what has been characterized as "robust debate" within an open process in which the major funding communities of Operation Protective Edge FRD participated along with other federation leadership. Apparently there was dissent but the allocations decisions were consensual and the Committee Co-Chairs assured a fair result. (Board Chair Siegal, in an email response to me on which, CEO Jerry was copied, promised me that I wold receive a print-out breaking down the allocations of the $6.1 million. Here it is, one week later, and I have received...nothing!! Unfortunately, this is typical.)

Sure, there are legitimate questions that can be raised about the flip of millions of dollars from terror relief by JFNA essentially to itself through its dormant Negev Work Group and Negev Funding Coalition; whether these millions might not be better held in a Terror Relief Fund escrow for future emergencies and, thereby, remain true to the donors' intent especially when the fund raising for Operation Protective Shield fell far below any reasonable goal and, as reported last week from Gaza in Tablet, actions there are "creeping toward another explosion;" and whether JFNA is merely attempting through this reallocation to revivify the futile, bloated silo of its Israel Office. I hope, but do not know that those issues were part of the Committee's debate. 

But we as a Continental Jewish polity should be satisfied that the allocations decisions were fairly arrived at with the right leaders in on the decision. If only all of JFNA's decisions were arrived at in similar fashion.


Sunday, May 10, 2015


On the April 18 weekend it was reported that an actual deck chair from the Titanic was auctioned off for $120,000. Rumors that that historic antique now resides in Jerry Silverman's office are no doubt untrue. Many of you have called me or written me off-line sharing your concerns with the sorry state of our Continental organization today often expressing real doubts about the present and future of our once-strong system; and many of you have written anonymous Comments to my Posts, sharing the same sense that I have -- that we are not being led and that we are approaching, if we are not already there, the end of a meaningful, purpose-led Continental organization. We are literally up s___'s creek without a paddle. I just finished reading Anita Shapira's brilliant biography of David Ben Gurion -- the saga of the right man at the right time, like so many other remarkable men and women in Jewish history. Of course, no one writes about the wrong man for our times -- I will.

Friends, Jerry Silverman, or, more correctly, the Office of the JFNA CEO, is the proverbial canary in the system's coal mine -- if we can't fix THIS, then we can't fix anything. And, to date, the so-called "leaders" of JFNA -- through laziness, smugness, arrogance, you name it -- don't think anything is wrong while the coal mine is about to totally explode. As the Brits would say, "this is an unforgivable cock-up" of epic dimensions. Our "leaders" seem to think that living in the bubble in which they reside is living in bliss when it's really living in ignorance. And it is clearly "[T]he unexpected virtue of ignorance" echoed in "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" -- an ignorance grounded in denial -- that tells all you need to know about JFNA 2015. 

In the recent Israeli elections, the Zionist Union's commercials had a simple theme, somewhat imagined, in their opposition to the reelection of the Prime Minister -- Nine Years of Nothing -- a theme applicable to JFNA under Silverman -- Five and One-Half Years of Nothing...and Counting. There may have been the illusory promises of a brighter future and some kind of "change leadership" to some when Jerry  was hired but, truth be told, these were nothing more than promises unkept by the wrong man at the wrong time for the wrong organization. Think about it -- name me one example...just one...of a successful new program initiated (yeah, you may call it an "Initiative") under Silverman's leadership and carried through to a positive finish. To me there is ample evidence today as there was 5+ years ago that Jerry, who loves sports with a passion, can't hit a major league fastball let alone a minor league curve.

Silverman staked the organization's "survival" as he put it directly and publicly upon the success of the Global Planning Table (he frequently stated, starting in 2014 that "if the GPT fails, it will be the end of JFNA"). Yet, though there were multiple reasons for the Global Planning Table to fail of its own accord, it was Silverman himself who led the woeful GPT to the dustbin of history when he, personally and through his hire, former Large City Executive, Max Kleinman, couldn't come close to raising the threshold tens of millions necessary to kickstart one or both of the pathetic "Strategic Initiatives" themselves. Things have gone so offtrack with the GPT that its Committee Chair had to postpone a scheduled May 11 meeting (which would have been the first meeting in months) while "JFNA’s senior leadership is assessing how to best address the GPT Committee’s mandates" (whatever that means). No future meeting date has been set. In addition, the proposed JFNA Budget contemplates the elimination of two GPT staff positions emasculating the contemplated professional effort. In other words, after five years and who even knows how many millions wasted, the GPT is dead while Jerry Silverman survives. It did not have to be this way.

Yes, yes, certainly to the entrenched and immovable leadership at JFNA, or, worse, at the GPT, I am a revenant and a scold. So be it. I, with so many of you, identified what would become the Global Planning Table from the beginning as a terrible mistake, ill thought through and, ultimately, shoved down the throats of the federations as if it were some magic formula for change. It never was. And any thinking person who looked at the Rube Goldberg structure that emerged from made as instructed consultants and the fertile mind of Kathy Manning would have/should have seen it for what it was -- a multi-million dollar mistake, pure and simple that just got worse as it went forward, ever onward. Worse, even worse, was that while the GPT was failing, its leaders, with the acquiescence of JFNA's CEO who proved to be its greatest misinformed cheerleader, arrogated to themselves allocations decisions (the "split"), fund raising and more and more. 

And, add to the failure of the GPT (which is in all respects the failure of JFNA) we have the excrescence that is JFNA-Israel staffed to the hilt and beyond…doing what, accomplishing what exactly? And the JFNA Budget has evolved from a serious document that laid out the organization's direction for the coming fiscal year to a work of fiction. It is, as an incisive critic once wrote: "mumbo without the jumbo." If one looks into every nook and cranny at JFNA, friends, one finds nothing more than an incredibly expensive trade association -- an organization that has completely lost its way.

Under this regime, we have substituted "opening a new Mailbox" for fund raising. Just opened one in response to the horrific tragedy of the Nepal earthquake; opened one to assist French Jewry after terrorist attacks; opened another and another and another. Those in JFNA leadership seem to truly believe that once a Mailbox is opened, once a "Fund" is created, their job is done. This is among the saddest manifestations of the abandonment of sacred responsibilities that I can think of; add to "the Mailboxes," the "letters" requesting support for, e.g., the Jewish communities of the Ukraine, or any other critical need and you have summed up the futility of this version of a Continental Jewish organization. The JFNA tagline ought to be -- "JFNA -- Always Failing to Meet our Responsibilities on Your Behalf." So very sad.

If you brought in, e.g., McKinsey and Company to examine JFNA today -- not a bad idea, actually -- that consultant would find an organization in absolute need of total reorganization* -- of its laity and, most certainly, of its Office of the President and CEO. They would find an organization sclerotic or worse -- apparently comatose.  Perhaps the best analogy to the present of JFNA may be found in the words of a Russian dissident, Vladimir Ryzhkov, commenting on Putin’s contemplated actions to get Russia back on track: “The country needs surgery, and he proposed therapy.” For JFNA perhaps he would have said: “This organization needs surgery and its leaders proposed…nothing.” Nothing at all. How many years will it take to clean up the mess the current leadership "team" is leaving behind? Five? Ten?

And, there's the rub. We all know by now that Silverman's contract extension was based not on any fair examination of the record of futility of his first contract "term," one absent any measurable accomplishment or even hope for any in the future, but on the Board Chair's unconscionable and unsupportable decision that replacing him would so engage Michael Siegal that he and the organization would accomplish nothing before Siegal's term itself ended next year. Well, no surprise -- nothing is being accomplished and Silverman is and will still be with us. What an outcome!! And, while Michael Siegal sadly dissembles, even he must know he has led an organization of such promise through the mediocrity he inherited right on down to irrelevancy…total irrelevancy. Irrelevant to and within the federations; irrelevant to its historic partners; irrelevant in Israel. Calling the JFNA of today a "mediocrity" is an insult to the very definition of "mediocrity."

We have reached a low point that not even the worst cynic -- I guess that could be me -- could have predicted at the time that that terrible, inexplicable hiring choice was made 5+ years ago. Recognizing that Jerry Silverman was destined, by his lack of understanding of federation or the core values upon which federations were constructed, or that he lacked all comprehension of the lingua franca of Jewish communal work, was not some form of bias or precognition on my part -- it was nothing more than a frank appraisal of reality. I am saddened that all of what has occurred over the past 5+ years was so damn predictable. Jerry may be a nice guy (I don't however remember that being on the criteria for the job search); but, based on the last 5+ years (and each and every one of them) he is and has been and will forever be the wrong man for the wrong job for the wrong time.

On these pages I have suggested why and how a continental Jewish polity -- lay and professional federation leaders -- might come together with the best of thought leaders to reform the Jewish Federations of North America. But there must be first an acknowledgment that JFNA will not emerge from any reconstruction on a pathway that even offers the promise of a better tomorrow unless it is totally reborn under a new professional leader -- I have offered many names of who might be up to the task were he or she interested. Just think back to a time when we were led (nationally at the time) by the Phil Bernsteins, the Herb Friedmans, the Stanley Horowitzes, the Marty Kraars, the Brian Luries, the Irving Bernsteins and look at us today -- in a Continental organization with a yawning void at its head. What needs to happen is that the federations must insist that JFNA effectively be placed in a conservatorship with a top professional -- one who understands federation and the system -- named as Conservator to lead a real reformation of the organization on an interim basis. These steps would, in turn, lead to new leadership and a recommitment to organizational purpose.

In the alternative, perhaps it is time to admit the obvious -- that JFNA has diminished itself into nothing more than a trade association of and for the federations: today, instead of FRD, there are Mailboxes and one failure following another;today, instead of programmatic successes, there are a string of failed "initiatives," one failure following another; and, now, there is FedWorld!! JFNA itself might confess to the trade association status but fears that reality would result in an appropriate reduction in Budget...and reduced compensation to the over-compensated. Let JAFI/JDC should they be able to work together at last reconstruct a "UJA" from the ashes of the JFNA disaster -- together they could not raise less from the federation system than is allocated today -- and probably a whole lot more.

When there is finally change for the better at JFNA, no doubt there will be a heavenly choir singing. And we will all hear it and sing along. Until then...pray with me.


* What else can one say about an organization that, e.g., increases the compensation of those whose successes after years of employment could fit in a thimble beyond comprehension and add titles such as: Director General, Israel Office and Senior Vice President, Israel and Overseas for the same person.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


Are you like me and do you wonder whatever happened to:

  1. Sheatufim? In the original Post I assumed that Sheatufim had gone out of business. Two insightful Commentators (see below) have noted and underscored my error -- for which I apologize. I have rewritten this subsection) You remember way back to the days that Israeli philanthropist and entrepreneur Ronnie Douek kick-started Sheatufim, the organization dedicated to Israel's civil society in "partnership" with, among others, Zionism 2000 and JFNA? JFNA, over the objection of many, plowed well in excess of a quarter million dollars into the enterprise, and had/has a number of very important people on its Board -- Bobby Goldberg, Susie Gelman, Michael Gelman and Toni Young, among others. When asked why we kept throwing big money at this thing year-in and year-out, the answer, as I recall, was that "we needed a seat at the Sheatufim table" -- so, apparently, we bought it. As late as November 2013, less than two years ago, Sheatufim presented at the GA. We know what Sheatufim received from JFNA -- cash -- but we seriously question what, if anything, the federations received from its payments to that organization.
  2. TribeFest, the Festivus for None of Us? Y'all recall the first failed Fest -- over $1 million of donors' money wasted on a party -- true, it was a Jewish party, but there was no return on investment, just over $1 million wasted. Silverman and his claque then decided to ignore Santayana's reminder and repeated the Fest again...and, then, again. And, looking back as JFNA's leaders won't do, what, other than the  waste of precious assets -- maybe $3 million in total -- did the system receive in return? Absolutely nothing. In most places, heads would roll...but not at JFNA where failure has to be rewarded because outside of JFNA Washington, there are no successes.
  3. Select Core Priorities? Rolled out with great fanfare by JFNA and the inestimable Global Planning Table in 2011, these "SCPs" were described -- incorrectly vu den -- thusly: "Select Core Priorities (SCP) is the temporary overseas allocations model as called for in the November 4, 2010 agreement of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the Jewish Agency for Israel (Jewish Agency), and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).  SCP gives Federations the opportunity to direct up to 10% of the funds previously allocated via the core split model to one or more of the four programmatic "core" areas within the Jewish Agency and JDC agendas.  SCP expands opportunities for designated funding and is being implemented in addition to the existing framework for supporting Elective programming."  Friends,  at least 13 papers addressed these "priorities" at the demand of the GPT. The result? In 2014 federation allocations to these "Priorities" totaled $1,717,642 or 1% -- that's one percent -- of the pathetic total allocations. The costs to JAFI and the Joint for this exercise probably haven't been calculated but GPT/JFNA leaders couldn't care less. Oh, and the suggestion that this designated allocations process (that's what it is my friends) is or even was "the temporary overseas allocations model" proved to be the disaster that some of us predicted it would be.
Which JFNA disaster do you remember that matches these? JFNA...let us count the ways.

Monday, May 4, 2015


This moment in time has been coming for a long while. Those who care about what we affectionately recall as "the system" have been watching, commenting on and documenting the steady unwinding of what was such a beautiful and meaningful "Movement" since the day leadership was handed over to the unknowing and uncaring, to those who didn't and don't comprehend that absent collective responsibility, federation and its umbrella organization become nothing more than "another Jewish charity." And, here it is -- the collective is dead with federation lay and professional leaders celebrating the last rites.

In mid-April -- that's 4-1/2 months past calendar year-end, JFNA sent out the final 2014 allocation/distribution numbers to the Jewish Agency, JDC and World ORT (I do not know if federations received the same information; certainly the JFNA Board did not receive the data). Here is what they were told were the "final" 2014 allocations distributions:

                       JDC                       JAFI               ORT
   Core       $29,443,570         $87,607,082     $2,421,155
   SCP*          1,176,261               541,381          

   Advances                ($3,568,750)                                                                   

   TOTAL    $30,619,831        $88,148,463   $2,421,155

Yes, JFNA managed to make this calculation as complicated as possible. Let me explain: to make the allocation numbers less horrible (they were still abominable) in 2012 and 2013, JFNA cajoled some federations to "advance" allocation dollars against future allocations -- those advances totaled $5,408,000 in those two years. From the way the 2014 numbers were presented to JA/JDC/ORT those federations which advanced funds recouped $3,566,750 in 2014. Thus, the totals to JAFI/Joint and ORT were net of these recouped dollars.

And the allocation numbers as presented by JFNA may not include all of the designated dollars allocated by the federations -- for reasons totally unclear. Was/is JFNA holding back (there is probably a pejorative term I could use, but I won't) and using those dollars for its own internal purposes until, for lack of a better term, caught? Or is there a more charitable explanation -- like negligence or failed oversight? But this is just a footnote, important as it is, to the abandonment of the collective represented by the 2014 numbers.

In just three years, friends, there has been a drop in allocated dollars by $11,000,000 (after the repayment of the Advances) -- 9%. Maybe that doesn't sound too bad even if the result is that in 2014 what were once our system's "partners" received their lowest annual allocations in history. Period. And, if one looks at the draconian drop in core allocations to JAFI alone since the first year of the merger -- $185,000,000 dropping to $88,148,463 in 2014 -- a reduction of more than 52%. This drop is beyond belief unless you understand...

...That from Day 1 of the Global Planning Table, the "leaders" of the GPT have conspired to drive core allocations down while focusing an easily persuaded federation polity to drive designated allocations up. Thus, they created the "brand" of the so-called *Select Core Priorities -- something Manning, Butler, Silverman, et al., articulated would be "a new model allocations strategy" but which has been but a meaningless 1% siphoning off of total allocations. Not happy with that result, then the same chachams came up with Signature Initiatives, which would have required, in at least two instances, driving core allocations into designated Initiatives to the tune of $15,000,000 per Initiative per year. And, while a few federations pushed to fund these Initiatives with only "new money," just as they has argued that the Select Core Priorities be similarly funded, these were overwhelmed by the tide created by GPT leadership. Had the GPTers succeeded, core allocations would have been further and even more catastrophically depleted, if that were possible. To date, these Initiatives have gone...nowhere. 

And, core allocations? Well in 2014 the GPT leadership arrogated to itself allocations advocacy (that was easy -- JFNA neither did any nor wanted/want to do any), appointed an excellent Chair, and, then...abandoned the Chair and the function. The results, as they say, speak for themselves.

Meanwhile -- and some would argue that these efforts are a direct result of JFNA's failures on their behalf, JAFI, JDC and World ORT are in our communities raising direct dollars in support of core and projects within their budgets as well as designated projects, as they have had to do. They are raising 10s of millions annually. The result is a system in disarray if not total collapse. (In a not surprising reaction, some federation CEOs, whose communities have effectively abandoned core allocations to one partner or all of them scream about the "partners" approaching "their" donors. These leaders don't understand  [or care about] the cause, only the effect.) Meanwhile, JFNA opens Mailboxes/Funds and takes credit for the work of  the Joint, the Jewish Agency and World ORT and, incredibly, (if a transmittal from the Director General, Israel Office and Senior Vice-President, Israel and Overseas, on April 28 could possibly be believed) in the aftermath of the tragic Nepal earthquake, even that of the heroic work of the Government of Israel (and of Chabad of Nepal). Unreal.

So, where are we? JFNA has abandoned core -- each and every one of its overseas efforts has been a failed effort toward designated allocations. It appears to this writer that in the near term, core allocations to JAFI/JDC/ORT will be made solely by New York, Chicago and a few others. And, how long can that, and our system, last, if that is the case? It's a rhetorical question.

It's pathetic.


Friday, May 1, 2015


I, like so many of you, was so saddened to learn that our hero and dear friend, Volodya Slepak had died in New York City on April 23 after a life fully lived. Literally 1000s of American Jews, and, certainly, all who visited Moscow while the Iron Curtain was sealed shut met Volodya and Masha and, after meeting, however short it may have been, realized we had been in the presence of a man, a couple, of historical importance.

For the Slepaks could have been our parents, our aunts or uncles but for an accident of history that cast them in the roles of Refuseniks, of Prisoners of Zion. We first met Voldoya outside our Hotel in Moscow, where he met us on a cold mid-October night in 1986 while the Iron Curtain was still sealed shut. He was unmistakable with full beard and a glint in his eyes and a warm embrace as he walked us back to the Slepak flat just off Tverskaya Street in Central Moscow, then up the stairs to meet his wonderful courageous wife, Masha, and Akhmad ("our dog has been in refusal longer than any other dog") where I, my wife, Bobbi, Steve Nasatir, and Rabbi Willie Frankel, z'l, sat and chatted long into the night over tea, and more tea. He showed us the mettle of a true leader in his strength and determination, the quiet strength of a great leader. For behind the great humor, and the self-effacement was the strength of an unbreakable will. He and Masha spoke of their son, who was able to make aliyah, and whom they were so desperate to join that, in 1978, they placed a huge hand-drawn sign over their apartment balcony crying out "Let Us Go To Our Son in Israel" for which Volodya was sentenced for "malicious Hooliganism" to five years in exile in Siberia. He returned to Moscow unbowed, indefatigable in his efforts for freedom for all Jews.

When we visited the Slepaks they had been in refusal for 16 years, and when we asked them what we could do for them on our return, their answer was probably the same as the 1000s of Americans who had visited them over the years: "Visa, demand visas for us and for every Soviet Jew, and never forget us and the millions like us." We did not forget; no one who ever met the Slepaks was not inspired by them as were we.

Almost one year to the day later, in the era of Glastnost, the Slepaks were given permission to emigrate to Israel. It was a day, and, later, a time of incredible joy, of North American Jewry reaching heights not achieved since. The Slepaks were released; they traveled to Washington for the great Rally for Soviet Jewry, we reunited with them in Chicago -- they inspired North American Jewry wherever they went. 

And, then, another incredible meeting. Out of the blue, in the late 90's, Arlene Kaufman, the wonderful and incredibly generous Palm Beach philanthropist who would later serve as the Palm Beach Jewish Federation Chair and, for many years as International Chair of MASA, among so many roles vital to community and People, approached what is now the NCESJ expressing her desire to fund an oral history of the Refusenik Movement. Serendipitously, I was in Jerusalem when the time came to film the Slepaks. I remember those moments as if they were yesterday: Mark Levin, the brilliant, long-serving CEO of the NCESJ, the videographer and I were off to the Slepaks modest home in West Jerusalem. It was such a wonderful couple of hours. As we sat with Volodya and Masha, (with Akhmad, also free, running around the house), with the sounds of Jerusalem, of freedom, all around us, we remembered the past but also heard the appreciation of freedom and some of the quiet fears of being forgotten -- something that never happened. I had the sense of my philanthropy having come full circle -- from Moscow to Jerusalem, with the help of, the strength of North American Jewry buttressing their own.

And, then, three years ago, on a small celebratory NCESJ Leadership Mission to Moscow, as we traveled up the now busy Ulitsa Tverskaya thoroughfare in a changed, now-modern Moscow, we passed the very apartment where that banner flew almost 4 decades earlier and I was again reminded of the Slepaks, of the Refuseniks as a Movement's, courage, of their Jewish souls.

Bobbi and I, and Steve Nasatir and Rabbi Willie Frankel were so blessed to have touched history in this incredible chapter of modern Jewish History. I will never forget Volodya, the Slepaks, none of us will. Memory can be and is a blessing at this time. Vladimir Slepak continues to inspire with a message that resonates within me: "never, never give up." Our hearts go out to the Slepak family.