Monday, September 28, 2015


Among the sure things in Jewish organizational life that you can count on: if he hasn't been mentioned in the Jewish media for more than 30 days, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the Donald Trump of the charity world, will reappear to (a) trumpet his personal achievements and (b) kvetch about the organized Jewish communities refusal to recognize his triumphs and (c) appear in a posed photo with a refugee or impoverished Israeli or Holocaust Survivor. And, sure enough, as the chagim approached, there he was again in an article in The Jerusalem Post -- (September3, 2015) -- yes, IFCJ's Eckstein Decries Failures of Jewish Charities. I can picture the moment in the press room of The Jerusalem Post: "Hey, it's the IFCJ calling again. Get out the annual Eckstein article and print it."

Nothing herein is to deprecate the good works that the IFCJ starts (and, even sometimes, finishes) or Eckstein's fund raising acumen. But always...always...Yechiel's ego begins to creep in and, as in the case with JAFI (where his demands, among others, of a co-equal space on the JAFI letterhead with Keren Ha'Yesod and the Federation system -- even as those over their history have allocated hundreds of millions to JAFI -- were turned down), eventually led to a public argument and a public split. It appears that all Eckstein institutional relationships end up shattered.

Earlier this year, you will recall, Yechiel attacked the Jewish Agency upon withdrawing the IFCJ funding of Jewish Agency activities and, instead, setting up his (and I use the pronoun "his" with precision) own IFCJ small scale aliya program in the Ukraine -- a program he has since expanded. I have always wondered how the Fellowship's decisions are made -- there is a Board out there somewhere but it certainly appears that, the many staff members notwithstanding, this is a one man show -- and Yechiel assures that that "one man" will be...Yechiel. Now, he has expanded the scope of his wrath beyond JAFI to "Jewish charities."


Well, it seems that "organized Jewish charities" -- viz, federations and their ilk -- may not share Rabbi Eckstein's stated and unstated goals. And, to Rabbi Eckstein, they are, therefore, ignoring their responsibilities. So, what's Yechiel upset about now?
"Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Eckstein said that mainstream Jewish philanthropy was not adequately addressing issues such as the security of Jewish institutions in vulnerable countries, the welfare of Holocaust survivors in both Israel and the Diaspora, and bringing Jewish Ukrainian refugees to Israel."
Of course, as Eckstein well knows (as he serves or has served on the Boards and Executive Committees of the Jewish Agency and the JDC) the federation system's partners (at least those JFNA calls "partners") have continuously "addressed" these matters. And, through the efforts of the Claims Conference has been allocating hundreds of millions over the decades focused on Holocaust survivors and, with the JDC, rebuilding Jewish communities "in vulnerable countries." And, one can question whether Eckstein would be complaining about let alone operating his own aliya operation in Ukraine has the Jewish Agency merely capitulated to his multiple-paged list of demands that he nailed to the Sachnut door.

Yes, I have decried the federations and JFNA's abandonment of their overseas responsibilities reflected in the lowest allocations to the core budgets of JAFI and JDC, but I also have long experienced the disingenuous attacks of Rabbi Eckstein on the system when it serves his own purposes. So, when I read something like this in the Post, I can only laugh:
"He also criticized such charities for having excluded the IFCJ from public collaboration with them"
Sorry, Yechiel, but the reality is quite different, isn't it? And that reality is that it is Yechiel Eckstein who has serially killed his and his IFCJ's collaboration with: the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the United Jewish Appeal and, most recently, the Jewish Agency -- each time with anger and wholly imagined slights. Could the JDC be next?

Well, probably not given that the Joint is willing to stoop as low as institutionally possible to maintain its relationship with the IFCJ. Example? On the day after we observed Rosh Ha'Shanah 5776, the JDC bought an ad in at least The Jerusalem Post celebrating not the Holiday but...
"The Joint...wishes the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, under the leadership of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
                     Shana Tova -- a sweet and happy New Year
JDC is a proud operational partner of IFCJ, providing food and medicine to needy..."
Maybe that ad will buy JDC another year of peace with the IFCJ, but the Joint's leaders must know that you can't buy Yechiel's eternal partnership, as said about others you can only rent it for a while. And, when it all falls apart, as inevitably it will, it will be the Joint's fault for sure.

Again, none of this is to deprecate the often wonderful work the IFCJ has led, the important contributions Yechiel has made to the creative survival of our People. But every contribution seems to require being accompanied by public whining and the constant need for coddling and supplication. And that's never going to change.


Friday, September 25, 2015


I congratulate our friends at the wonderful ejewishphilanthropy for another prodigious achievement -- this time publishing a series of interviews by the brilliant professional leader, Misha Galperin, who posed a series of questions  to federation/system leaders. And, it is to Misha's credit that, like any good reporter, he just let these leaders speak in their own words without the necessity of commentary or observation. But...I will offer some...

  • The current JFNA Board Chair, Michael Siegal, is a mensch. And I know that it was not long after he assumed the Board Chair position (yes, my choice of wording here is poor) that he realized that if there were to be any chance of moving JFNA forward during his three year Terms that two actions at a minimum would have to occur: (1) there would have to be a change in the CEO/President position; and (2) the waste that was the Global Planning Table would have to be ended. He began these two processes with all good intentions by first creating professional "bench strength" under Silverman in the persons of Mark Gurvis and Renee Rothstein whom Silverman was told to hire and, then...well, stuff happened. There was organized pushback from Kathy Manning and her claque (after all this hire was all she "accomplished" over her three years; and there were no experienced candidates who would agree to succeed Silverman (and there were those who were asked). As to the GPT: it self-destructed as any top-down dictated mess would have been -- but, on Michael's watch (again over the objections of Manning), it's over. It took too long and wasted millions...but, it's over.
  • But, now, as the end of Siegal's terms are upon us, he appears to be living in some virtual  Alice in Wonderland world -- a place of tiny bubbles and unicorns, the only place where JFNA is successfully leading a whole bunch of successful federations, where all federations are willingly paying their Dues, a place where Jerry Silverman is a successful CEO. In other place on this earth. I mean, Michael, really? When Michael cites that "[L]eadership requires decisions and accountability for those decisions," was he speaking to his own "accountability" for the decision to extend the JFNA CEO's contract? If so, "accountability" would have required Michael to resign, wouldn't it? Then, Siegal writes about that which JFNA and the federations should be without for a second reflecting on the reality that they aren't...and that a major part of the reason they "aren't" is the organization he was elected to lead.
  • Then there is the incoming Board Chair. I have heard so many terrific things about Richard Sandler; I am eagerly awaiting his installation in November. While I have read his narrative, his vision, of a lay leader's and a Federation's responsibilities in ejp, I choose to believe in the Richard Sandler as I and others have come to know him -- as a decisive leader who doesn't suffer fools. To Richard Sandler Federation should be a kinder/gentler place (never a bad idea) that he apparently believes they are not now -- a "partner/convener...touching and working with all other organizations" and,  thereby "...strengthen(ing) the Jewish community based upon Jewish values." He sees federations as "think tanks" identifying the organizations that are best meeting communal needs and funding those. (In my community and yours, isn't that what federation allocations have always done?) While Richard rejects the premise that federations are general "fundraising organizations," he went on to state in response to Misha Galperin that "Federations raise funds for a purpose and that purpose needs to be clearly defined." As the Board Chair of our second largest community, he has demonstrated in deed -- not in word clearly, but in deed -- that he understands and appreciates the strength and value of the lay-professional partnership; he values a strong and thoughtful and creative professional leader. Further, unlike his predecessors as Board Chair, he will not sit idly by and merely pretend that all is well when it isn't.

Holy shit!! Up to the moment of Richard Sandler's election, for the previous three times. the selection of the JFNA Board Chair appeared to have had to be, as The Wall Street Journal's Jason Guy described the selection of the new quarterback(s) of the once woebegone New York Jets football team: " pulling a ticket at the deli counter of failure." No, it doesn't have to be that way, of course. It just was; I believe that with Richard Sandler's election, it is no longer.

To this point in time our ultimate leaders have too often been either those parachuted into continental leadership who remain bewildered for the three years of service or they come in like a Manning, with a personal agenda that ends up trumping their responsibilities to the federations -- they exemplify just why our continental organization has sunk like the Titanic. Richard Sandler can be the leader we have been waiting for for so long.

He had better be.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015


1. In the latest release of Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's e-mails, one, critical to the on-going investigation was Secretary Clinton's inquiry "where are we on this?" with regard to "gefilte fish." Known in some circles as "the mysterious gefilte fish e-mail;" we don't know the yet.

2. When our sitting JFNA Chair announced his (their?) decision to extend CEO Silverman's contract, he privately explained that he didn't want JFNA "distracted" during the last year of his term by a search for a new CEO. Instead, Michael, for all intents and purposes right now it's as if JFNA has no CEO. Really, how is that decision working out for us (or for Michael Siegal)? Best I can tell, there's just Pat McNamara, Mindy Hepner, Karen Strauss, Mark Gurvis, Renee Rothstein and, lonely in D.C., William Daroff.

3. More GA nonsense. In a September 2 "promotion" of the GA, JFNA prominently promoted a session that will ask the following question:
"What is the role of Federation and other Jewish communal organizations in a time of crisis? Where does community end and leadership begin? Examine these questions and more in this session led by Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute."
Yes, just consider the highlighted question. You just shake your head in shock and awe.

4. Follow the bouncing ball at 25 Broadway: The usually invisible JFNA COO, Mark Gurvis, suddenly appeared in an e-mail last month announcing two staff appointments. One, the professional who will "lead" the new Jewish Education and Engagement Unit -- you remember, the Unit created out of whole cloth out of a consultant report allegedly commissioned by the Federation National Agency Alliance, funded with $500,000 per year for at least 4 years (that's $2,000,000 by my count) allocated by most federation Alliance members to enhance the work of National Agencies diverted without challenge to the budget of JFNA and whose work will be devoted to implementing the underfunded now (as always actually) moribund Global Planning Table"voluntary Initiative" of the now defunct Global Planning Table. If you can keep up with this Rube Goldberg path of your federation dollars at work, please know that the remaining senior GPT professional at the end of that dismal day, has been reassigned to the Jewish Education and Engagement Office

5. The biography of a successful candidate to move up from Federation CEO in Federation B to Federation A included the following in his list of "achievements":
"________ consolidated all Federation staff to underused space in the JCC building, then led many significant upgrade projects including: construction of the lobby lounge and upgrade to the Patio Gallery, the 2011 __ Volunteers project that created the intergenerational garden and gaga (sp) pit and addressed many maintenance needs throughout the building, and replacement of many roofs, HVAC units and other capital repairs made possible through the agency’s improved financial performance."   
Must have been the creation of that ga-ga pit that sold Community A on this candidate's credentials.*

6. Let's close with this: JTA reported that to cool down visitors this Summer, showers had been installed at Auschwitz. 
What else is there to say?



* For those of you like me who haven't a clue what a ga-ga pit is:
"ga-ga (literally 'touch-touch' in Hebrew) is a variant of dodgeball that is played with one ball. The game combines dodging, striking, running, and jumping, with the object of being the last person standing. Players hit the ball at each other with their hands, and are eliminated if the ball strikes them below the waist. The game can be played by a group of individual players or with teams, as well as in one-on-one matches. Rules, ball types, pit surfaces, and pit sizes can vary widely at different venues. Other names for this game include Israeli dodgeball, octo-ball and panda ball." 
         The ga-ga pit is the pit in which the ga-ga game game is played. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015


Where has all the money gone, long time passing?
Where has all the money gone, long time ago?....
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn? 
Do you ever wonder where our money goes...or who is watching to confirm that it is being properly spent as the allocators have contemplated? Or are you, like our leaders, disinterested? Or do you assume that our federations and their agent, JFNA, are actually demanding accountability? In its 990 filings with the IRS, JFNA states clearly that over $800,000,000 are its responsibility -- 100's of millions pass through its bureaucracy designated for third parties. What happens to the money after JFNA sends it on? Who/what is monitoring that those funds are being properly applied? It's not that our money is being misspent that we know of, anyway; it's that no one knows, do they?

Who's watching the store? When JFNA opens one of those many, many Mailboxes -- say for Haiti Relief for which millions were collected by JFNA and sent on after the devastation of Hurricane Jeanne -- who gets the money and who assures that it's properly spent? Does JFNA get a report in writing? The Wall Street Journal recently suggested wanton waste, money not getting to the intended beneficiaries, etc., and The Red Cross being unable to account for the expenditure of tens of millions -- no doubt, some of it the funds JFNA transmitted. Ask JFNA if it can account for the Haiti Relief dollars (or Nepal Relief or funds sent by communities to the Jewish Coalition on Disaster Relief or other) and you will no doubt get the following: a smirk, a Mad Magazine, z'l, stupid grin and "we'll have to get back to you on that. (And, then, two things happen: [1] nothing and [2] your name goes on a JFNA "do not call" list.)

Do the federations have any interest in where their/our money goes? They seem to ask no questions, maybe they fear the answers they will/won't get. This is not like the situation with the Jewish Agency where UIA, JFNA's subsidiary, is monitoring the federations' allocations not just for the system but for the U.S. State Department in the application of U.S. Refugee Resettlement Grant. And JDC? Well it annually receives $10s of millions in federation allocations and 100s of millions from the Claims Conference. Just read the latest on the corruption and negligence of the Claims Conference under the Joint's noses (and, perhaps, its management) and maybe, just maybe, the light bulb will go off and someone at JFNA will demand a line item accounting of where the tens of millions of federation allocations have gone, how the money has been spent and on what...not alone the funds from multiple Mailboxes, but, for example, the millions ultimately wasted on the no dead Global Planning Table. But...probably not.

This neglect is symptomatic of so much that is wrong with our system today. Too many -- not all but too, too many -- seem to view their Board membership, especially their Board membership at JFNA, as some kind of honorarium excusing Board members from seriously embracing their responsibilities and exercising them. I have to admit with sorrow that some may not even know what those responsibilities are. Monitoring? Accountability? We'll leave that to the professionals. (And, as we have noted, at least one JFNA venture seems to have no lay leadership involvement whatsoever.) Us...we set the policies --that's what we do -- and that's all we do. Actually, in too many instances, "we" don't even do that. We show up at meetings, nod our heads, vote as we're told and return home satisfied that we have met our responsibilities...

And that's how our organizations have turned to crap...congratulations.


One of you has Commented as follows:
"Richard is rightly upset that the reporting on Nepal or Haiti etc isn't up to our expectations. But no federation can spend donor funds on these mailboxes, on their overhead or on their monitoring, because our donors won't let us. I don't have a solution, I just want to throw in a complicating factor. These mailbox campaigns by definition are not what we do. So we can't spend funds on them in the way we would like."
I want to be clear: Federations monitor their allocations to local agencies through internal allocations and budgeting processes; Federations have every reason to believe that JFNA, the recipient and conduit for allocations, will monitor funds transmitted to and through it to assure that those funds are properly applied. JFNA, even though it receives (and, in the main, wastes) $30 million annually in Dues, does no monitoring. And, there's the rub.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


JFNA Statement on Iran Deal

"New York – While the vote on the Iran agreement is likely behind us, the long-term challenge of preventing a nuclear Iran isn’t. America and our allies need to closely monitor Iran’s compliance of the accord and be prepared to act quickly and decisively against any Iranian violations.

This agreement adds a new variable to an already unstable and unpredictable Middle East. A strong U.S.-Israel relationship is more important than ever to both nations as we confront these challenges. Strengthening the spirit of the relationship, deepening strategic cooperation and supporting Israel as it reexamines its defense needs in light of the agreement are important next steps.

While the last several months have seen divisions over the Iran issue, we also must remember one thing on which the Administration, Congress, the Jewish community and indeed the American people all agree: Iran must never acquire a nuclear weapon."


I know that many of you reading the above for the first time here believe that this is some terrible parody that I dreamed up in some nightmare vision of what JFNA would finally say after the Iran Deal apparently became veto-proof. But you would be wrong. This is the actual statement apparently written by humans at 25 Broadway (as opposed to the popular theorem that if you put 100 monkeys in a room with typewriters, they will produce Hamlet).

Yes, this is exactly the mush we weren't waiting for the last 90+ days. It's really too bad that with all the staff at JFNA HQ they had no one able to read the "Iran agreement."



Wednesday, September 16, 2015


You keep hoping that something...anything...will get better and, then...

Jerry Silverman, CEO extraordinaire, used his Rosh Ha'Shana message -- What Happens Now? (a title unintentionally [for certain in Jerry's case] ironic) -- to first argue for the continuing importance ("self-importance?") of what he likes to call "Federation" when he is referring to JFNA, for being the convener (actually the co-convener) of important, informative conference calls to present, as it turned out, the Obama Administration's multiple messages in support of its deal with Iran, and, then, off on tangents that lead me, and, perhaps, only me, to the conclusions expressed below.

But...let's start with form rather than substance. It's one thing to have one's name inscribed on a letter, Memo, Book...even a Blog. But, for CEO Jerry, there must be a new level of insecurity. His name appears to be in Bold, 1 inch high. It's in a Font heretofore unknown to me -- not Helvetia 12, not Arial 14, no, not even Verdana 16 -- this one is Egomania 20!!  You have to see it to believe it!!

OK, enough of that, let's move on to the real problem here, as in all things...substance...or, more appropriate to JFNA, the lack thereof. Sifting through the now wholly expected bloviation, Jerry has postulated the following points:

  1. "First, we need to refocus on what united us throughout this trying period." Sure, Jerry, just how did JFNA "unite us" over the past months? And, what exactly, did JFNA contribute to those points of supposed "unity?" Best I can tell, JFNA contributed nothing, had no suggestions...and still doesn't. To JFNA the best thing to do was to stay above (or was it behind??) the fray avoiding any discussion whatsoever, even when urged to convene that and, at all costs, avoid any debate whatsoever. And, speaking of "debate..."
  2. "Second, we need to accept that debate—even an intense, painful one—is at the center of who we are as a people." Friends, this is so confounding -- JFNA, which assured that there would be no debate whatsoever under its auspices during the entirety of the real debate taking place in our communities, now dictates that debate is at the center of just whom we are...I guess he meant "you are" inasmuch as JFNA is once again nowhere to be found. It's unfathomable, as with most things, that JFNA could once again articulate: "do as we say not as we do." It's beyond pathetic; it's abysmal. In point of fact, JFNA avoids debate on anything and everything; this is the most significant reason for the lack of engagement by federations with JFNA. Jerry Silverman lives in some parallel universe that permits him and only him to believe that JFNA is doing exactly...EXACTLY...what is is not doing and has never done. And we permit this inanity to go on.
  3. "This brings me to my third point. The esteemed Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has described conflict management as 'the single greatest unresolved problem in Jewish history.'” Hmmm. Really? Well, whether one agrees with Jerry/Rabbi Sacks as to the priority of this "problem," one has to ask: how does Silverman jump from the need for real debate -- a thing unknown at JFNA -- to this "greatest problem" of conflict management? And, then, to make this another "focus" of the unfocused GA  (what are there now, 20 foci...or more?).
  4. And, the bloviating just goes on and on with all forms of platitudinous advice without specifics, offering no real insights and, worst, offering not a single specific example of a JFNA plan or program that might accomplish any of these cliche-driven "Points."
Is it too late to hope for...what, exactly? Hope for change? Hope he can change? Can JFNA truly get better in 5776 with this

I think we all know the answer.


Sunday, September 13, 2015


  1. "...a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction""

You know, like:
  • Abbas/"(may be) an Angel of Peace" 
  • CEO/Jerry Silverman 
  • Airline Food
  • Jumbo Shrimp
  • Jerry Silverman/CEO
  • Justice Clarence Thomas 
  • Rabbi Barry Freundel 
  • FedWorld/"The most important publication in Jewish life" 
Each and all of the above clearly meet the definition of "oxymoron" -- but that reality hasn't stopped JFNA, in the person of Chair Michael Siegal, from offering CEO Jerry a contract extension or from investing even more in the last of them -- the ridiculous and redundant FedWorld. In its budget JFNA speaks to a "circulation" of this infantile publication of 6,000 -- a figure about as unlikely as "a GA of 3,000." The Budget promises to increase this circulation by another 1,000 in 2015-2016. And, how easy that will be: just buy a few mailing lists and send the thing out to 2,000 more (so, maybe, another 1,000 will look at the thing and, then, toss it). How much are we paying for this? Whatever it may be...too much. (But, it is no doubt considered a giant step forward in Institutional Advancement and Building the Brand.) I don't know about you, but whenever I hear Jerry speak, I also hear (as was expressed in the great HBO show Veep) the sound of circus music.

You probably have your own additions to this list -- send 'em on.


Saturday, September 12, 2015


I want to take a moment to wish each of you and your families a wonderful New Year -- one filled with good health, the continuing hope for peace and prosperity.  

May the New Year be one in which all of us realize that we have serious fiduciary responsibilities that no one can meet other than us. Let the Shofar summon us to our sacred responsibilities to our communities, to our People, to our families and to ourselves.


Thursday, September 10, 2015


In anticipation of a Global Planning Table Partnership Committee meeting on August 11, its members received a Global Planning Table Update -- August 2015, an Orwellian "history" if ever I have read one. Whoever wrote it deserves the JFNA 2015 Fiction Award. Here is how it read with my perspective noted. But, first, a comment:

  1. This history begins in 2011 ignoring that what was to become the GPT began with a fraud -- a claimed "consensus" in support of a "Table" in the last minutes of a poorly attended 2010 JFNA Board Retreat where no "consensus" was sought, no vote was taken. From that moment forward, propelled by a dynamic, driven Kathy Manning, what I would estimate as close to $4,000,000 of your dollars was wasted on this wasted, wasteful effort.
  2. The GPT version of "history" begins with the establishment of the GPT in 2011 "[A]fter more than a year of planning." Here's what passed for GPT "planning" -- a well-used consultant was retained by JFNA apparently to sell the unsaleable. Draft plans were the subject of a series of Regional Meetings at which JFNA "welcomed your input." Uh huh. In Chicago, for example, with Silverman and the consultant present, after a confused and confusing presentation, the audience of federation leaders to a person, rejected the plan as presented. FOBs present at every single one of the Regional Meetings reported that the "plan" was met with similar denunciation. After this uniform rejection of the GPT Plan as presented, Manning, Silverman and the consultant went "back to the drawing board" and presented the same exact plan (with some poor wordsmithing) as if those Regional Meetings never occurred. 
  3. Then the GPT "structure" was formed -- a bewildering set of "governance" and "working group" vehicles including a large "GPT Committee" with no power and an inside group -- The Global Planning Table Partnership Committee -- that would make decisions chaired by the self-selected Kathy Manning who for the next years would sit astride both the Chairmanship of JFNA and that of this GPT Partnership Committee, controlling all. (At a point in time, Washington's David Butler would be given the largely ceremonial position as Chair of the GPT Committee (not that Partnership Committee), a leadership function he performed quite well as the public face of the GPT while Manning played the marionette to David's puppet.)
  4. Does any federation leader care what the cost of this insanity has been -- or do they prefer, as one of the most senior JFNA lay leaders put it last month at the meeting of the GPT burial society: "...we have to put this (closure) in the best light, because so much money was..." wasted. The air is heavy with total irresponsibility...and it's not that the leaders -- lay and professional alike -- weren't warned from Day 1 of this total fiasco.
Incredibly, chevre, in the comical "GPT history" presented to the Global Planning Table Committee last month, all of the "fault-finding" seemed to be "out there" -- none of the problems were "in here" -- not the convoluted structure, not the top-down dictation from the start, not the disconnection from the federations, not the imperious nature of decision-making. So, there were these according to the Orwellian history of the GPT:

  • "...less than a month after the Board approved the...initiatives, Operation Protective Edge began..."
  • "JFNA (NB: not the GPT, JFNA) made efforts to reach out to every Large, Large-Intermediate and Intermediate size Federations to pitch each of the three projects, but due to dynamic changes in the marketplace, we had limited success raising funds for the ICZ and JQuest, and JFNA (NB, JFNA not GPT) was unable to launch either program." (emphasis added)
  • "JFNA assumes responsibility for failing to solicit the necessary funds from Federations...It is clear that this lack of communication led to Federations' ambivalence about GPT projects."
Through some perverse logic (or, perhaps, it is merely comparing the absolute failure of fund raising for the ICZ and JQuest Initiatives) raising $648,000 for a multi-million "Voluntary Initiative" is considered a "success." 

And, finally, the Global Planning Table undertook to mandate a "change of the 'split.'" The GPT  acknowledged that "...the Federation collective (hmmm) has not been ready to change the historic 'split.'" This will not stop the GPT from pursuing a goal that is already dictated by the federation "market." The GPT's "help" isn't needed or wanted here, either.

So, the shiva can begin, friends. The GPT, at its meeting, announced, over the fevered, unreasoned objections of Kathy Manning, its author and, at the end of the day, almost its only defender, "as of now, the Global Planning Table and its Committee are retired." According to the GPT itself, its "work and influence will endure." Michael Siegal was reported as "almost gleeful."

Sadly, the melody dirge and the waste the GPT created linger on.


Monday, September 7, 2015


Bob Hyfler, a terrific federation planning professional who served on the Senior Management Team at JFNA until he was "retired," still has a passionate interest in federation and our national system. He recently commented on these pages (as he has with brilliance in ejewishphilanthropy) with great insight:

"Never in recent history has there been a constellation of meaty and relevant issues begging for public discussion in the Federation world and a Federation forum:

The privatization of major gifts philanthropy;
Is Federation alienated from the grass roots?;
Is "Israeliness" threatening to Diaspora Jewry?;
The continuity agenda 25 years later;
The future of Federation and community in an age of political and religious disunity

Serious issues, Jewish issues, issues worthy of the thoughtful attention of all." 
Bob Hyfler is so right -- and his is not an exhaustive list. We have suggested a continental forum more than once; Bob has now suggested some topics that presume upon JFNA's lay and professional leaders' willingness and ability to convene a continental dialogue. Recently, on a JFNA Board call, Boston's CJP leader, Barry Shrage, for whom I have developed a growing admiration, asked that JFNA convene a dialogue on the Obama "Iran Deal" -- that was met with a response from CEO Silverman of "...let's talk about this off-line." Whatever is going on at JFNA (and there must be something going on, mustn't there?) other than co-convening conference calls, it isn't happening on-line, that's for certain.

So, my question -- why won't JFNA leadership host a Continental dialogue on anything? I think the answer lies in the reality that JFNA leadership is incapable of doing anything -- there is a fear of the polity's, lay and professional alike,  discovery that JFNA leadership is devoid of critical thinking, more interested in what they perceive to be sh'lom bayit than in debate, dialogue or discussion. This leadership fears any agenda it cannot control, and fears any outcome that has not been precooked in its off the books "advisory group."* You can't lead a discussion of an issue you don't understand -- and I really sense that JFNA's leaders do not comprehend the issues with which federation leadership is challenged as never before.

Thus, when the National Campaign Chair reported to the JFNA Board last month that the aggregate of federation 2015 annual campaigns has flat-lined at an increase of a little over 1% (and that the vast number of federations -- all those smaller than the Large Cities -- are showing negative campaign results) -- there is not even a question raised; there is no discussion and JFNA is incapable of any assistance lacking any FRD staff to do so. It has gone beyond the pathetic, friends.

I have given a lot of thought about the necessity of an educated leadership -- at our federations and at our continental institution. My friend, Dr. Jeffrey Solomon and I, years ago wrote an article on the subject. What I have seen emerge, not everywhere of course, but in too many places, is a cadre of leadership that lacks any educated background -- Jewishly or communally or both.** The end result is a leadership that has less knowledge than the Jewish polity they are supposed to lead. This then leads to a leadership fear of opening a dialogue that they are incapable of leading.

Friends, all that one observes confirms JFNA's futility. Keep paying your Dues.


* If you visit the JFNA website, link to "Our Leadership," you can peruse the list of the members of the non-governance "Advisory Council." No comment necessary.

** With Mandel, JFNA rolled out what appears to be an echo of the Wexner Program for lay leadership development. Five federations now participate. Is this another "too little too late" dip the toe in the water effort or will it be something meaningful?

Friday, September 4, 2015


You will probably not remember, though I do, that in advance of last year's abysmal GA, The Forward's Uriel Hellman interviewed Jerry "Do-You-Know-What-I'm-Doing-I-Don't" as "JTA thought it would be a good time to check in and see how the priority areas that Silverman identified last year have fared." (Emphasis added) Needless to say, it was all bloviation and obfuscation -- Hellman just let Jerry hang himself in his own words.

Now another year has passed -- the record is what the scoreboard says it is -- and it's another year lost. So let's revisit the revisit and total it all up again in Jerry's own bullshit words.

  • "Let's have a national Google map of every adult opportunity in the country." (J.S. at the 2013 GA) In the 2014 interview, Silverman said this plan is "still in the queue." Of isn't...anywhere.
  • "We must commit to offering a free Jewish pre-school to every Jewish family..." (J.S. in an October 2013 Forward Op-Ed) While the Chicago Federation continues to grow its JUF Right Start Program and has reached out to other federations to create their own path (Portland for one is doing so), JFNA has done in "nothing."
  • "We need to triple the number of campers over the next five years." (J.S. a 2013 GA) Perhaps Jerry, in enunciating this "goal," was waxing nostalgic about his days as the CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp. There has been no growth and no greater federation investment in Jewish camping than two years ago.
  • "We need a Wikipedia of Jewish communal knowledge. We're going to build it and make sure it works right...this will be a top priority this year." (J.S. at 2013 GA) Ahhh, the historic "commitment" to Federations -- nothing more than the rebranding of "Federation best practices." And JFNA couldn't even complete that task, that goal. To my knowledge, it's nowhere; like JFNA itself.
  • "The Global Planning Table was making 'great progress' ...pursuing three priority areas...and would...launch a couple of 'really exciting signature initiatives' in the next six months." (J.S. in an almost constant refrain from 2012-2015) JFNA couldn't raise a sweat let alone the dollars necessary to fund three Signature Initiatives. There are now no funded Signature Initiatives; just Jerry's sad rhetoric about the difference the GPT would make (or, in the words of the now defunct GPT Partnership Committee Chair [no, the Chair is not defunct just the GPT] "the difference the GPT is already making." What virtual reality is she living in?) Silverman managed the millions of waste that is the only by-product of the Global Planning Table to date.
It was a great professional friend who once described a long since forgotten leader as "a fresh breath of hot air." And, then there's Jerry Silverman -- a constant wind hardly fresh.

I hope another reporter will interview the bloviator-in-chief in advance of this year's GA. We need a good laugh...or cry.

While we are at it, there have been excellent Comments on this Post, the best of them being:
"I dunno, I kind of like a conference dominated by outside professionals and business seeking consultants of all stripes, politicians, Chabad apparatchiks and competing philanthropic entrepreneurs. After all, if we are to have a fire sale of Federation human and organizational assets we might as well get to know the market. My suggestion to committed lay people is that they find a good bar and talk leader to leader with each other." 
I don't know who you are, but if you ever want to co-author a Blog...just asking'...and thanks to all of you.


P.S. Practicing for its annual announcement that 3,000 registered for the GA (even if it's only 700 or 1,000), JFNA proclaimed in its captive FedWorld that 10,000 "attended" the Webcast in which President Obama spoke and responded to questions on the "Iran Deal." The Religious News Service wrote that the number of viewers/participants was 5,000. Still a good number. Why the constant need to embellish? 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Speaking of dead, awaiting burial...

Few are left who directly remember the merger battle that brought the leadership of the United Israel Appeal into what would become the sad JFNA and with it the vote of UIA to enable the United Jewish Appeal's dissolution as part of that merger process. But I remember it well as I led the merger side and I have apologized...every chance I have my dear friend and mentor, Shoshana Cardin, who raised the most serious and substantive objections to the merger... and who had a prescience about what the merger would wrought that I and others lacked...or ignored.

I was surprised, as others were shocked, when I was offered the UIA Chair to succeed the inspired leadership that Detroit's Jane Sherman demonstrated in that role. Jane strongly and consistently asserted UIA's role to a succession of JFNA Chairs and CEOs -- as UIA set the JAFI agenda through our federations'  allocations  managed the lengthy portfolio of properties owned/managed by UIA, protected the millions at stake in the United States Resettlement Grant, assured the tax deductibility of our Federations' allocations and advocated for the Jewish Agency working hand-in-hand with a strong CEO, our great friend, Yitzchak Shavit, z'l.

Jane was such a strong advocate that prior to my "seating" as her successor, I was required to fly to NYC at my expense to meet with JFNA's Co-Chairs Joe Kanfer and Kathy Manning so as to assuage their fears and assure that I would be a more "manageable" Chair than was Jane. (I had already been elected UIA Chair by its independent Board.) I assured them as I was required to at the Los Angeles GA just prior to my installation that so long as UIA's limited roles were protected by JFNA and that no actions would be taken by them that would negatively impact on the Jewish Agency, I would "be a good boy." They gave me those assurances...and promptly, almost immediately, breached their agreement with me and, worse, much worse, breached their own fiduciary responsibilities to JFNA's UIA subsidiary. When I privately objected, these leaders threw me under the bus; when I then went public, they backed the bus up almost as well as the driving of which Suge Knight is accused. After months of bitterness, with a lackey best left unnamed, these leaders threatened amending the UIA out of existence unless I resigned. Under those circumstances, even with the continuing support of many UIA and JAFI leaders, I resigned.

The UIA Board elected Milwaukee's Bruce Arbit as my successor. Bruce is/was the best and most knowledgeable lay leader with unquestioned integrity with whom I have had the chance to work over my decades of leadership roles -- no one knew the UIA or the Jewish Agency better and no one was forced to fight harder, almost constantly, to preserve -- not expand, preserve -- UIA's obligations under the merger and its responsibilities under IRS Revenue Rulings, than did Bruce. Far, far more knowledgeable than the JFNA leaders against whom he was forced to push back, Bruce earned -- vu den -- perhaps, albeit doubtful, their respect but certainly their enmity. Time and again, JFNA leaders, having promised Bruce that he and UIA would be the link between JFNA and JAFI, would merely ignore these commitments and act unilaterally. The JFNA lay and professional leadership knew no better, did no better...even after they were reminded.

After Yitzchak Shavit succumbed to the cancer he had fought with such courage for so long, Bruce led the effort to engage Danny Allen and bring Danny back to his pre-merger role as UIA Executive Vice-Chair. I knew from the get-go that Silverman and Becky Caspi would be unable to establish a working relationship with Danny solely because Allen knew so much more about UIA and, more critically, JAFI -- far, far more than the two JFNA professional leaders would ever know. And, sure enough, rather than develop a partnership with Danny, CEO Silverman and Ms. Caspi sharpened their knives and worked to undermine Danny at every turn.

So it came to pass that Bruce's terms ended and Miami's Rich Bernstein succeeded him. Very smart, ambitious, absent local Federation Chair experience Rich embarked immediately on what appeared to be an enhancement of UIA's powers. Rich commissioned a "UIA Futures Report" appointing strong Co-Chairs in D.C.'s Norman Goldstein and Nashville's Fred Zimmerman, the implementation of which would engage UIA in a major advocacy effort (on behalf of its agent, the Jewish Agency) with the federations, more intensive monitoring of its own projects in Israel and other efforts. With incredible leadership, Bernstein and the UIA Executive Vice-Chair Danny Allen, JFNA leadership and the JFNA Board approved the expansion of UIA's work.

Then, with no explanation and no governance action, Rich unilaterally "terminated" the UIA Executive Committee (when I privately expressed my amazement to Bernstein, Rich could have cared less and, clearly, objected to my amazement) and, more and more, Rich began to act unilaterally in ways which appeared to me, and to many others, to be self-promoting (while ostensibly "on behalf of JAFI").

Rich declared himself to be the one, calling in one other JAFI Board member, to resolve all issues as between the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency to create a compromise that would allow the GOI/JAFI/Federation "World Jewry Initiative" to move forward. The results, as they say, "speak for themselves." As ejewishphilanthropy reported one month ago, the "Initiative" is dead. The UIA Chaverim effort, envisioned as sending tens of lay leaders into the federations to advocate for JAFI's core allocation and more -- well, there have been no reports on their success but JAFI has been advised that the 2015 calendar year federation cash allocations will reach another historic low. The results, as they say, speak for themselves.

(Further, after an expose on the pages of this Blog about abuses in the administration of the Jewish Agency's very important MASA Program [in which, you may recall, an Anonymous Commentator joined the emerging dialogue under a nom de plume], Rich "demanded" in J'Accuse fashion that I "deny" being the Anonymous writer, He did so in a "when did you stop beating your wife" manner notwithstanding that I long before these attacks, I had denied in writing being whoever he was wrongfully accusing me of being.)

Then, last month:

  1. UIA elected Memphis' Andy Groveman, a dedicated, passionate leader within the Jewish Agency and UIA, and an outspoken, committed advocate for overseas allocations, as Bernstein's successor. Andy will need leadership skills he has yet had the opportunity to demonstrate to withstand the acquisitive tendencies of the lay and professional leadership of JFNA's Global Services: Israel and Overseas Council and protect the mandated roles of UIA. I know he will try. Now Andy's first loyalties will have to be to UIA, as the Jewish Agency's principal and JFNA, not to the Jewish Agency, UIA's agent. This may be a difficult transition for Andy. I wish Andy and the UIA Board well; and
  2. After walking a tight-rope for over two years as UIA's professional leader, strengthening UIA and its role vis-a-vis JAFI every step of the way, Danny Allen abruptly "resigned," apparently forced out by Silverman and the constant undermining of Allen's UIA leadership by Caspi. Sadly, Danny, who should have expected the unwavering support of his Chair, Richard Bernstein, inasmuch as everything that Danny had done in his UIA role was to strengthen the organization, found none when he most needed it. Rich appeared to this writer to be far more concerned with his relationships with Siegal/Silverman, et al., than anything else. Instead of standing up for Danny Allen, who appeared to have been under almost constant threat of termination by his superior, Rich Bernstein was not to be found. 
  3. Now, Andy Groveman will have the difficult juggling act of assuring that Danny Allen's successor will be a woman/man who will have the strength and understanding to continue UIA's multiple legal responsibilities without compromising his/her professional integrity to Jerry Silverman and Becky Caspi. Yet, the job description for the UIA Vice-Chair position, drafted with such care prior to the Search process that led to Danny's hiring, is now being reviewed, not by Rich Bernstein, not by Andy Groveman, but by Mark Gurvis, David Brown and Becky Caspi, none of whom have any role in the operations of UIA. Andy Groveman will "lead" the Search process. I have spoken with several professional leaders who would be ideal UIA professional leaders -- each has used the identical language to tell me: "I could never work for Jerry Silverman."

During my brief tenure as UIA Chair, I observed that among all of the arms/tentacles of JFNA, it was UIA that (a) had a Board comprised almost totally of federation Board members and/or present or past Campaign Chairs and (b) was performing its functions faithfully and responsibly as charged by the merger agreement and IRS Revenue Rulings. If that does not continue to be the case, there will be no further need for UIA.