Thursday, October 22, 2015


Those of you who read this Blog regularly know that I am committed to a paraphrase of the mantra enunciated by the late Bobby Kennedy who adapted George Bernard Shaw's:
"Some people see things as they are and ask "Why?"
          I see things as they could be and ask "Why not?"

I continue to believe that JFNA has the capacity for excellence; yet, it cannot reach even mediocrity today. At our synagogue's services on the first day of Rosh Ha'Shana, our brilliant, community and spiritual leader, Rabbi Vernon Kurtz, took as his sermon theme for the New Year: "Courage." He challenged his congregants -- all of us -- to demonstrate courage in how we live our lives. I see and hear too very few...responding to that challenge in our Jewish communal institutions. Do you? 

And, of course, there's JFNA.

JFNA reached its breaking point years ago; it has long since passed its shelf life as it currently exists and as it currently, to use the term most loosely, "operates." It has existed as it does to this current point because its leaders -- from its Board Chair to its Board members -- have lacked the courage, or something equal with that, the will, to make the changes necessary to begin a change process starting with the CEO. I used the term will  because in their work, in their businesses, or in the work of their home federations, not one of the lay leaders at the top of the JFNA food chain would have tolerated for five weeks let alone five years the mess, the abject failure that JFNA has been permitted to become. Yet, when it comes to an organization that has wasted...literally wasted...close to $600,000,000...that's $600 million dollars...of donors'/federations' precious funds, these lay leaders have done nothing but turn away. And, that, they have done a really good job of. In my opinion JFNA's leaders -- lay and professional -- today aspire to nothing higher than mediocrity, if that. And that's just unacceptable. Even more unacceptable, at least in my opinion, is that JFNA has been so diminished by its lack of inspired professional leadership, with the the silent acquiescence of its lay leaders, as to be unrecognizable from that which its founders believed it could become.

It was evident to many, at the time of his hiring -- and undeniable by the time that his contract was extended -- that Jerry was selected as CEO for his weaknesses, not for his strengths, if any -- and those weaknesses have been detailed on these pages for the past five years. These were weaknesses -- no knowledge of how federations work, no comprehension of that proprietary lingua franca of federations, no understanding of the challenges faced by a system already in decline -- that have been self-evident since before his hiring right through today 5+ years later.

Jerry is the Dr. Pangloss of Jewish organizational life. His own words disclose his Planglossian views. You have read them in the Blog, you have heard them from the dais of GA after GA where he tries to paint over a literal witches brew of failures in this theater of the absurd that he has directed as CEO and President...a witches brew that has failed JFNA. And, over each of these years of a failed tenure, he has been attended to by a Board that, rather than replacing him, has played their continuing role as lemmings making of Jerry's lack of competence a prison from which we can't seem to ever escape. 

The laity refuses to stand up and exercise their responsibilities. Too much work for some; too painful for some others. Let someone else do it for even others. The sole beneficiary of this total lay leader neglect since his hiring has been Jerry Silverman. Many of us have asked how the hell could Michael Siegal, a brilliant, successful businessman and dedicated Board Chair, have renewed Jerry Silverman’s contract with the apparent consent of the requisite number of JFNA lay and professional leaders? True, no LCE were possible replacements — laziness, age, comfort…you know — and no one really looked very hard at them, no one, as had been the case in the past, put the requisite pressure on any qualified professional to take the position. 

Then there was the reality that Siegal and his claque played Charlie Brown to Jerry’s Lucy. Over and over, Jerry would claim that progress was right around the corner, that he had positioned JFNA to make great strides and Michael and the Acolytes believed him; and over and over, Jerry failed. Now, Michael Siegel has dumped Jerry and his contract into the lap of Richard Sandler with a “he’s your problem now. Buh-bye."

The need to replace Jerry arises even though at his hiring while there may have been skepticism, there was also hope that he would, he could step up. But each time we hoped Jerry would step up — and we did hope that he would step up — he, instead, fell back...and, with him, JFNA. JFNA has been so diminished by its professional leader, with the silent, sometimes public, acquiescence of its lay leaders, as to be unrecognizable from that which its founders believed it could become…and that is just unacceptable. The extension of Jerry’s contract was as risible and ridiculous an act of irresponsibility as one could imagine particularly in a non-profit of such criticality to our communities and our People.

Friends, there seems to be prevalent understanding that if a great organization fails to meet its aims, it ceases to be a great organization; so to this group of chachams the answer is an organization with no aims, no purpose. Thus, they reason, we cannot fail. And they are so wrong. Because while they have been doing nothing, the greatness has faded away. 

Do something.




Anonymous said...

Richard, This group of leaders (Board Chair, Board Members, CEO) will never ever get off their Knees and lead inasmuch as there is no one there who is willing to look at the reality of JFNA which is a laughingstock across the continent.

Anonymous said...

The only thing that will initiate change is for federations to stop paying their 'fair share' dues on the basis that they are not receiving the requisite services for the amount they are paying annually.
Once a few federations call the bluff of being thrown out of the JFNA organization, the landslide will begin and then something will need to change.
The threat of the local Lions of Judah no longer being allowed to participate in the national JFNA Lion Conference etc., will crumble like the deck of cards that is JFNA.
Courage of a few federations will start the ball rolling.
Is it too much to wish for that one or two will stand up at the microphone at the Board Meeting in DC and paraphrase Howard Beale?

Anonymous said...

Actually too many federations fold their JFNA dues into their overseas allocation and represent an inflated number to their community. If donors, by whatever pressure, ended this deceitful practice then truth and transparency might begin, brick by brick removed, to create the right positive dynamics.

Anonymous said...

The last Comment has identified one area of a lack of transparency/honesty. JFNA annually represents in its 990s that it somehow raises $850,000,000, more or less, and, because Guidestar lacks the staff to investigate, JFNA's "rating" is inflated by this kind of legerdemain.

paul jeser said...

Someday all hell will break loose when Guidestar and/or Charity Navigator figure out there is mu;tiple booking of contributions from individuals that go through the system: Feds report; so do some of the local and all of the national agencies they directly support; so does AJDC and (I think) the JAfI American operation; and then JFNA - all from the same contributions.

Anonymous said...

No it doesn't. You have no idea what you're talking about.