Thursday, January 14, 2016


This letter was transmitted to the beneficiaries of one Federation:
"Dear Colleagues,

As we shared with you during the summer, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle has adapted its business model in response to the changing needs of our community, both locally and around the world. Consequently, we are no longer making grants through an annual allocations process.

Our focus now is on Core Programs that we are executing in pursuit of our mission to create Jewish Connections for Life. The goals and direction of our Core Programs are informed by the 2014 Greater Seattle Jewish Community Study. One of the Core Programs will be Israel and World Jewry, whose goal is to build and strengthen connections between the Jewish community of Washington State’s Puget Sound region and Jewish communities in Israel and around the world, as well as to help Jewish communities in need.

We have established a committee to review the impact of our investment in programs in Israel and overseas, and we anticipate having additional information to share in April 2016. The committee may contact you if they have questions about your organization’s programs during the planning process.

Please keep up the great work that your organization is accomplishing, and we will be in touch when we have more information to share about our Israel and World Jewry investments."
Nice letter. Really nice letter. Read carefully it is the notice that this community is withdrawing its support of the collective. I know this federation well -- I once knew it as an outlier among federations in its geographic region -- its leaders, lay and professional, were totally committed to the sharing of financial resources on a collective basis. Then, gradually, as its annual campaigns diminished, it more and more turned inward. And, now this -- a really nice letter fooling no one. Bottom line, it's a sad and saddening letter and Seattle leadership is neither the first nor the last to send one like it.

But my sadness extends far, far beyond this community or others engaged in the same withdrawal from the collective. It is a sadness and disappointment that the moral compass that once were UJA and CJF is nowhere to be found at JFNA. Nowhere to be found. With all the talk of "envoys" and "ambassadors" marching out to assert the need for greater financial support for the core of our system's historic partners, at the end of Calendar Year 2015, core allocations from the federation system reached their lowest levels...ever. Under the professional administration of the grossly overpaid CEO, we have experienced 6 straight years of record low core allocations, one after the other, after the other. 

Some would argue that "the law frowns upon exercises in futility" and that advocacy for increased core is just that -- an act of futility. Much like this Blog. This ignores the seminal truth: that JFNA was bequeathed the absolute moral obligation to advocate for the exercise of collective responsibility. Instead, its professional leaders clearly can't comprehend even the concept and, truth be told, many of its lay leaders can't be bothered.

It was a nice letter. A really nice letter.



Anonymous said...

Maybe JFNA should send a letter like that too. Disband I&O and save millions of dollars annually. The sad truth is, absolutely no-one would miss them. Like Forrest Gump, JFNA spins tales full of sound and fury signifying absolutely nothing.

Anonymous said...

Our partners are broken and out of touch. This is the central issue and root cause. Let's be honest it isn't just about JFNA.

Anonymous said...


It is a different world today. More and more people have major objections to paying taxes to the Federal government or, for that matter, any level of government. Hey, and if the results mean less money for the needy...well, they're lazy bums anyways who are relying on "free handouts" from the government. I mean, really, it's totally their own fault. I want control of my own money.

You and I may deeply, deeply despise this invidious ethos in America but sadly it is also affecting the Jewish scene as well.

Anonymous said...

You should learn more about how Seattle has decided not to pay their full dues to JFNA -- instead they are basically going to pay JFNA the value of what they believe they get in return (which is much less). Imagine if every Federation did that?

Anonymous said...

It isn"t our partners that are broken but a broken JFNA seems to be doing everything possible in its power to break them - along with everything else - as we are urged to "think outside the box."
Federations that are writing and will in the future write these kinds of lovely letters are simply ligning up with the JFNA I&O ideology that everyone should do their own thing.
No collective, no historical partners, no common agendas - we're all on our own.
And this they call "thinking forward"?

Anonymous said...

Love JFNA or hate JFNA. It does not matter. We have a collective and members cannot decide to pay what they want. If they are unhappy with the budget/collective fair share dues, or whatever you call it, then they should work to lower to budget. Fight loudly to lower the budget or raise the budget. Advocate aggressively to change the priorities, service quality, and net value of the organization.

If a community is undergoing definable, financial hardship, I am all for JFNA working something out. But if it is ideological (don't like the CEO, don't like other staff, think the budget is too high, think the program priorities are misaligned, etc.), then this is not a private matter but a public matter for the collective. JFNA is doing a disservice by not sharing this information with all the Federations. I don't need to know about financial hardships. but if what Anon 10:25 AM is correct, then that's not right.

And JFNA is just plain wrong to hide the information, and communities playing such games with their dues are just plan cowards if they keep it quiet.

I am not arguing if JFNA is providing a decent value received or not. Or whether the budget is too large or too small. Or whether the volunteer or professional leadership should stay or go.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Seattle and their dues, it would be interesting to find out if they alerted JFNA of what they were going to do and why, and what JFNA's response was. Perhaps they invited Jerry Silverman to address their Board on what they receive in return for their level of dues, or even perhaps go over the JFNA budget line by line. I would think that each Federation has the right to ask for those two responses.
It doesn't happen at the JFNA Board meetings; nobody goes up to the microphone to question anything.
But at the local Federation level, the rubber meets the road, and questions will be asked, with answers demanded.....Did that happen in Seattle?
And we all know that this is the tip of the iceberg, and once the word gets out about Seattle cutting their dues, others will follow.

Anonymous said...

Friends, I just want to thank you for the incisive Comments to this Post. You have raised the questions that must be asked by the Board Chair of his CEO. I think any of us, seeing this mess would understand that the lay leadership is being terribly served by the lack of any transparency at 25 Broadway.

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

What is this "collective" to which you refer and genuflect reflexively?

Is it a 50-year-old formula to split dollars with the recipient agencies spending it as they please (in service of Jews)? Is it a shared mission, vision, programatic execution and evaluation?

Seems to me Seattle is going the way of SF, Boston, Philly and others and choosing on its own how to spend its dollars. These funds will still be spent in service of Jews. Isn't that supporting the collective?

The collective you worship is winding down. New collectives are forming. They're driven by different perspectives and shaped by different needs -- and largely guided by the same values.

Will Seattle's approach work? Who knows? But the establishment has been sliding for a quarter of a century. Let's try something new in service of Jews.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with 6:53 PM.
And that's precisely the point regarding 25 Broadway and the $30 Million budget. Things are different in 2016 than they were in the last quarter of the 20th Century. However there is no leadership from JFNA to guide the Federation System that must have a conscience about the Collective that is the North American Diaspora.

Anonymous said...

The "collective" is not any formula - old or new. It is deciding together and not having everyone decide on their own. It is collectively setting a shared agenda, strategy and workplan - locally, nationally and internationslly.
The "collective" is the glue that will hold us together and keep us together. Without it we are lost as a unified community and as one people. Without it we are just a bunch of Jews - not a Jewish Community.
If we do not operate "collectively" our days are numbered.

Anonymous said...

We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.

Benjamin Franklin

paul jeser said...

Important thoughts, perspectives...

Isn't it time for that meeting I've suggested?

Anonymous said...

The elephant in the room is that for the vast majority of Jews the supporting "the collective" is no matter an imperative. And, even for those who do believe in supporting "the collective," it is no longer self-evident that The Federation is the optimal way to do that. Can I, for instance, meet my Jewish obligation to my community by giving directly the the agencies, organizations, and synagogues (either locally, nationally, or internationally) that are most meaningful to me? Or does a lack of an investment in The Federation, mean I haven't done anything for the "Jewish Community?"

Additionally, the world has changed. Jews are more geographically dispersed and mobile. Even the notion of a "Jewish neighborhood" is an anachronism in most communities today. Federations will either need to change and adapt or continue their slow decline. Will we support those attempting to innovate or denigrate them for lack of commitment?

Anonymous said...

What matters is that whatever we decide to do, we decide what to do together and do it together - collectively.
That may seem old fashioned but that is the only way to go if we want to remain a community and not just a bunch of people each doing their own thing.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to those defending "the (traditional) collective," the notion that your collective is the only way Jews come together to decide together what to do and then do it is just not true. Besides, it's not happening (if it ever did) as you think anyway.

If you send money to a Jewish family service organization, aren't you supportive the collective? Same goes for JDC or Jafi, CRCs and the like. Each one of them is an expression of supporting the (a?) Jewish collective.

The donor who gives to any one of these agencies isn't decide on his/her own. By definition these dollars are being pooled with others and deployed consistent with the organization's mission.

If the "traditional collective" is the glue, it's long since lost its mojo. I'm not sure this singular Jewish community has ever existed, perhaps when American anti-Semitism was pervasive. But it's long gone. There is no singular Jewish community. Lament it, mourn it, yearn for it. But don't wait for it. The American Jewish "community" is actually many smaller communities. The same way there is no singular definition of an American Jews, there is no singular Jewish community.

Maybe that's why Jfna is by and large a failure as a platform for collective (7:40am's definition) action. It could possibly be a success as a trade association reflecting its members needs and wants. It could possibly be a resource, facilitator or play another essential role in creating limited collective action opportunities -- synergies between communities on specific matters. In the meantime, Jfna defies definition, doesn't know its mission and languishes. One can only conclude that its owners are satisfied with its role and performance, or simply don't care. But even if it was a functional organization, the collective it represents and embodies is simply a collective that is self declared and self defined.

anon at 6:53.

Bob Hyfler said...

The Jewish Federation concept is more than just the simple notion of a collective. Like most concepts worth discussing and arguing over it is complex and multiple-dimensional. No single objective definition exists but a host of elements play into each of our understandings. Some of which are:

The importance of infrastructure and maintaining the idea and processes of a system



Accountability to and interaction with the Jewish public

Efficient and effective use of resources in both fundraising and the delivery of services

Timeless global Jewish connections

Discussing and acting on common priorities

The timely and large scale responses to both crisis and opportunity

Voluntarism and the concept of a lay citizenry

Which are necessary? Which sufficient? The useful conversation is to what degree Federation boards and stakeholders continue to value each of the above and how we can adapt them to 21st century realities.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we can't turn back the clock but there is no denying that a system that could orchestrate a "Breakfast of Champions" would have been worth saving and would be worth restoring or recreating.
The defeatist attitude and belief that it can't be done have become excuses for not working hard enough and not caring enough to try.
Sure, it isn't a popular idea today but it is definitely worth the fight to make it popular because otherwise we are going to all loose big time.
Let's hope we can get our collective act together before we are presented with our next really big existential communal challenge.

RWEX said...

I want to thank all off you -- even those with whom I might disagree -- for your Comments. Here is a discussion -- a debate, if you will -- of which we can be proud; of which a true Continental organization would be proud. It was civil, often insightful and spot on. Don't stop now.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to disagree with what Bob posits. No but to follow.

He concludes with two good questions. Now the but. But these questions aren't enough. The ultimate question is whether communities will fully buy-in and execute accordingly. No cherry picking. No voting for it in NY at the board meeting and then going home and ignoring what was decided in NY. If you're in, you're all in. It simply doesn't work otherwise.

Now how to get to that? Well, I don't think it can happen. Not because I'm defeatist. I happen to think that if it was compelling (more compelling than going alone), it would be hard to achieve but doable.

But I for one don't think it's necessary. I think the things the traditional collective needed to get done have gotten done and now we're just holding on because that's all we know and it's hard to let go. Don't misunderstand, I believe in the power of working together, leveraging resources etc. I think, though, that this can only be done on a smaller scale, with fewer moving parts, fewer decision points and fewer people. The desperation to stay the size we have been and to keep everyone in our flock is actually impeding our ability to define, focus, align and execute. Let's stop whining about who's not behaving and start working with who wants to be here.

And we're not losing and not going to lose. The Jews will be just fine, thank you very much. Ideas move people. Meaning inspires people. Organizations that get things things important and transformational done will draw people and dollars.

anon 653 & 1004

Anonymous said...

You should do a little digging and find out if there are any other Federation's that "pay for the value they receive". I know of at least 2 other of the big federations that were doing that as well.