Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Not everyone would agree but, as recently written on the pages of a major magazine:
"New Year's can be a time for new beginnings, a fresh page for reworking some of the mess left over from earlier travels..."
We shall see.

At this point there can be no doubt that Smilin' Jerry S. is the avatar of institutional mediocrity. Jerry is the proverbial canary in the coal mine -- if we can't fix this, then we can't fix anything. We could count the ways once again, but, rather than doing so in this Post perhaps it's time to look in one place, one Post, this Post, as to those who bear the most significant responsibility for the mess JFNA is in. Let's begin...

1. The Board Chairs. We could start almost anywhere, but, bottom line, it was one Board Chair, Kathy Manning, who demanded that the CEO Search Committee she chaired with her typical decisiveness push Jerry Silverman forward and crown him as chief professional officer his lack of federation experience, training or education notwithstanding. Assured that Silverman would follow her every demand without question, and, in particular, her dictate of the convolution that would become the Global Planning Table. JFNA would never recover. 

Manning's successor, Michael Siegal, came into office assuring those who asked that he understood that the CEO had to go; he even demanded that Silverman create the strong "bench" that he had theretofore resisted: hiring a COO and a well-regarded Marketing and Communications senior pro. And, then...nothing. As Frank Underwood, the brilliant, nasty anti-hero of House of Cards, concluded: "What is the face of a coward? The back of his head as he flees from battle." 

Now Richard Sandler has to confront the mess that JFNA has become -- and the question is open -- does he perceive that JFNA is comatose and...will he? And, if he will...when? Or is he willing, as his predecessor proved to be, to waste his three years as Chair?

2. The JFNA Board. Insurrection from the Board level is most unlikely. While the power of the federations within JFNA is in the hands of the Board, there is nothing in JFNA's history (or for that matter, in the history of any of our organizations) to suggest that there will be a spontaneous coming together to try to propel JFNA out of its lethargy and mediocrity. These are the brightest of leaders, some of whom have transparent ambitions to succeed Sandler -- thus, they believe that it is in their interests to make no waves, to sit back and await direction. The Board has become the least likely place to find or develop the requisite momentum for change...but experience also suggests that they will follow their leader. The Board, as a group, just wants to be "on the team;" point them in the right direction. I look at the JFNA Board list and see the names of our best and brightest, sitting at meetings, raising no questions, making no waves and I am reminded of the old joke:
"Two kids are sitting in a high school auditorium, listening to the principal give the welcoming speech for the year. The principal says, "The two greatest dangers that students face are ignorance and apathy."
One of the students turns to his friend and asks, "Dude, what's 'ignorance and apathy?'"
The other student, bored and restless and wanting for the speech to end says, "I don't know and I don't care."
Unlike these hypothecated students, the JFNA Board doesn't want to know and, if they did, they might...just Then again, probably not.

3. The Large City Executives. Sure, this is the most likely place from which the movement for change might emerge. After all, it was the LCE who, having forced Steve Solender upon the strongest of Board and Executive Chairs as JFNA's first CEO, quickly saw Solender, a beloved member of their "Brotherhood" but inept in the position and eased him out to make room for Steve Hoffman to succeed him to be followed by the ultimately overwhelmed Howard Rieger; who ultimately acquiesced in the engagement of Smilin' Jerry as they continue to act as the puppeteers. They are a smart group -- they are the "Masters of the Universe" (well, this "universe" after all) -- they can certainly see what has happened to and at JFNA. One of them lamented to me: "I am watching that which I dedicated my life to building, being destroyed." But they have aged; they have become fat and happy and safe in their fiefdoms, their collective focus turned inward. And, inward it shall remain so long as the Smilin' One turns to them for every JFNA decision. 

But, there is hope -- Eric Goldstein, brilliant lawyer and major philanthropist, to whom the New York UJA-Federation turned to succeed John Ruskay as its CEO, represents the most important Federation among the 155. There can be no doubt the Eric has been quietly observing JFNA, asking the right questions about the ROI of New York's multi-million dollar annual Dues support of JFNA. Twice in the short painful history of JFNA, professional issues at the top were self-correcting (Solender, Rieger); but not any more. Certainly Eic Goldstein and Richard Sandler, long-time colleagues in the legal world though on opposite coasts, might at some point coalesce in their significant respective leadership roles and demand and effect change at the top of JFNA. Their leadership in such an effort would be irresistible.

There are those among JFNA leaders who see nothing wrong in how the organization is being run or in its lack of direction or in how the bloated Budget is spent. Yet, the reality is something quite different. As one Anonymous Commentator wrote us:
"JFNA isn't providing financial support for anybody anymore - no FRD, no campaign, no Israel & Overseas advocacy (an "agenda" maybe but not what it should be), no collective responsibility, no leadership, no accountability..."
When the leadership, if the leadership, the Board and the LCE sit down and examine the JFNA of today, the Commentator's conclusions will prove irresistible. Maybe...maybe...change will take place. A brilliant professional, one with whom I have had differences over time but for whom I have always had the greatest respect, wrote me privately, He said, in part:
"Your blog today was so sad and so true. Alas, those of us who care about the collective, who still believe there is a Jewish people - not just internal tribes- are watching a lifetime of work fade away. It is not just JFNA’s lack of performance these past 15 years - under several CEO’s- it is also that the donor base – even as it changes – has not been educated by federations about our core values. There are a few exceptions but the rule of collective action lies torn and broken."
This professional leader is so terribly right about a system that has gone so terribly wrong.

Friends, responsibility for where and what JFNA is today falls everywhere. It starts with me, with those of us who actually believed that with federation ownership of the "system" would come a sense of and an exercise of the responsibilities that come with ownership. We were proved to be wrong...very wrong. Ownership proved to be its own reward, an end in itself...and ownership with an abdication of responsibility at every 1 and 2 and 3 above...has brought us to the empty vessel that JFNA has become. 



Anonymous said...


You have have understated the LCE component, or more precisely, Chicago and NY (and to a lesser extent Cleveland). If NY and Chicago veto something that's it--period. Can you point to ANYTHING that JFNA, UJC or CJF got done if those 2 Federations were opposed to it?

Anonymous said...

The LCEs may be pulling the strings but BLAME is totally on the lay leadership. They are supposed to be in charge and it is about time that the take charge.
We elected them to do that and it is their job to lead the LCEs and the professional staff. They and only they are responsible and in this context they and only they are to blame.