Monday, December 21, 2015


I am, as any reader knows, constantly mystified, baffled by certain things in Jewish organizational life today. Stuff continuously happens absent purpose, absent management, absent accountability. For example...

...A bunch of Foundation leaders and Jewish communal professionals have banded together to form and implement something called LeadingEdge. Promoted at the recent GA (why not, Smilin' Jerry is on its Board), this brand spanking new non-profit presents itself as kind of a savior of the profession and, perhaps, the lay-professional relationship. It just doesn't quite stand up to scrutiny. If LeadingEdge isn't familiar to you, perhaps its f/k/a Jewish Leadership Pipelines Alliance is -- but, certainly, a rose by any other name...

There are some great names, some terrific professional leaders on the LeadingEdge Board. Among them:

  • B. Elka Abrahamson, President, The Wexner Foundation
  • Sandy Cardin, President, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation
  • Phyllis Cook, Managing Director, Helen Diller Family Foundation
  • Chip Edelsberg, Executive Director, Jim Joseph Foundation
  • Jay Kalman, Executive Director, The Marcus Foundation
  • Rachel Garbow Monroe, President/CEO, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation
  • Rafi Rone, V-P, Jewish and Israel Initiatives, Joseph and Harvey Meyerhof Family Charitable Funds
  • Julie Sandorf, President, Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Jacob Solomon, President/CEO, Greater Miami Jewish Federation,
  • Jeff Solomon, President, The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies
  • Andres Spokoiny, President/CEO, Jewish Funders Network
  • Caren Yanis, President, Crown Family Philanthropies
Then there are also the likes of Silverman, David Edell and Steve Rakitt. All of these, plus a fine staff and a raft of consultants are working in a self-described "...unprecedented partnership between Jewish foundations and federations to build a robust talent pipeline for Jewish organizations." 

With the exceptions noted, I can't imagine a more powerful group to initiate and influence change for a variety of purposes; but should one of them be the express purpose of LeadingEdge? Isn't this just another example of the blind leading the blind? For, after all, haven't we already enough examples of those with no experience in the federation field, some even hostile to it, attempting to "fix" a communal organization problem or two or many? Yes, there are a few from the list above who have a deep federation experience in their resumes...but very few. Many have partnered their foundation's work with federations'; then, again, many have not.

Framing this new organization's work:
"Why are great leaders for Jewish organizations so hard to find? Opinions vary. Some think we don't do a good enough job preparing the next generation of leaders to take the helm. Others think the culture of traditional Jewish organizations is not attractive to top talent. Both mindsets are right."
Really? That's it -- we didn't prep a new generation of leaders and our "culture" is not attractive? And, this group, great people all, few who know anything about Jewish organizational work beyond the Foundation world, will "fix" it? Sure they will.

Sure they will...and they will do so...

  • Without the involvement of a single lay person experienced through Jewish organizational involvement/leadership
  • With a small staff of, I am certain, brilliant young professionals who, if they ever walked into a Jewish federation, did so to meet someone there for lunch
  • With consultants, one of whom professionally led a Large City federation through years of under-achievement
To their credit, the leaders who created LeadingEdge deserve applause for having identified a gaping void and for their willingness to give their time and, I assume, some funding to fill that void. Wouldn't it help their effort if they broadened their Board to include:
  • In addition to the excellent Jacob Solomon, Federation CEOs with a positive track record and demonstrated creativity. Like: "the Steves," Barry Shrage, Mark Terrill, Larry Fine, Lee Wunsch, Jay Sanderson and others
  • Lay/pro leaders -- who have had, first, an intensive lay leader background, and, then, proven leaders in Jewish organizational life. Leaders like: Michael Horowitz, who left an in-depth lay leadership role in Detroit to lead the Atlanta Federation for three years; and/or David Fisher, who moved from JFNA National Campaign Chair back to the business world, to his recruitment as CEO of Birthright Israel
But, what goes through Smilin' Jerry's mind as he sits with these LeadingEdgers and looks around that room -- well, in truth in Jerry's case nothing is going through his mind -- shouldn't it be: "Damn it, we should be doing this. This is our job." Meanwhile New York UJA-Federation has developed a cutting edge program, The Institute for Jewish Executive Leadership,  just as JFNA should have been doing for years. More's the pity that JFNA's CEO/President is merely an invitee to someone else's party. Maybe Richard Sandler understands; this embarrassment cannot continue.

The effort to fill the Jewish organizational leadership pipeline is vital. Let's make the effort work.



Anonymous said...

You have put your finger on among the biggest failings of JFNA under Silverman's brand of leading from behind. Yes, it's terrible that an organization that should be at the vanguard of preparing Jewish professionals to assume greater and higher responsibility has let a group of foundations step in (AND serve on the organization's board!!!!); but, what about turning its responsibilities for financial resource development over to a group of consultants most of whom worked for the system, some for JFNA; and turning over Mission planning and execution to a consultant while JFNA's Israel Office does nothing or almost nothing.

You would think that the federations would rise up in disgust.

Anonymous said...

There is a sacrificial goat phenomenon, not unknown in large federations and national agency circles, of obscenely high paid CEO's protecting their position in times of board discontent by decimating the ranks of long time second level senior staff, many of whom had served loyally and productively for years, often decades. Young professional learn from this demoralizing and cynical lessons in regard to the virtues of loyalty and ethics. And now we naively ask why this class of corrupted CEO's do so little to reform JFNA?

Anonymous said...

Did you forget? "THE MANDEL CENTER FOR LEADERSHIP EXCELLENCE (in partnership with the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning) is providing 8 communities with an 8-module curriculum for training Federation volunteers in leadership development and Jewish texts through its Yesod volunteer leadership development program, now in its second year."

And, no doubt, its achievements have been remarkable, haven't they?

JFNA has found its rightful place ON THE SIDELINES of Jewish life.

Anonymous said...

wow. next someone will suggest that we blame jerry's second grade teacher for calling him out in class and the trauma that ensued which ultimately impaired his abilities. in the end, the success/failure of any ceo is linked to vision, ability to implement, and to engage critical stakeholders. successful ceos do all three. and, they are called on to do it all the time. this goes for the for profit and the not for profit sector. any jfna executive who has many many masters, including the lce, without the ability to navigate shark infested waters is doomed. not an easy task. jerry aside, the system has done a terrible job at training personnel and placing the right people in the right role.

Anonymous said...

Wait a second? Jerry was traumatized in second grade? This ould explain everything.