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.


Anonymous said...

Aren't you the same Blogger who, upon the installation of Michael Siegal and Dede Feinberg as Co-Chairs, expected transforming changes at JFNA? HOW DID THAT GO?

Anonymous said...

I never thought you were naive until now. Do you really believe that the few remaining and preexisting authors of the Global Planning Table are going to let it fade into the oblivion it deserves? They are going to keep pounding away until they have not only buried the GPT but destroyed JFNA in the process -- it's just the way they are.

Anonymous said...

Sandler may be JFNA's last hope...he's a nice guy, but LA friends tell me he's fierce when he knows what needs to be done. Let's hope it doesn't take him too long to diagnose the beast and that he doesn't get lost in the fog of too many pro and lay opinions about the system's challenges. And, then of course let's hope that he is willing to force real change in NY and Jerusalem. If nothing gets better in his term....

Anonymous said...

You are right to lump Silverman and Caspi together -- the costs they have imposed on the federations go far beyond the outrageous compensation that have been and are being paid. I, with you, cannot name one achievement of either or both of them for our system even as they achieved remarkable compensation for themselves.

Why do so-called leaders who must see how ridiculous this is continue to encourage it with contract renewals and compensation increases? Are they blind? Or don't they care?

Anonymous said...

nothing like mild mannered lay leadership to politely allow things to fall apart without even attempting to put up a fight to save what little is left of our once glorious system - where are the leaders that care enough to rock the boat and go to battle for what is right?

RWEX said...

To the last Anon, like you I have been looking for those lay leaders who will speak truth to power -- it's the modern version of Diogenes searching for an "honest man." You just keep looking, urging, pushing, praying and, to date, failing.