Sunday, February 28, 2016


Recently, The New York Jewish Week published its "Jewish GDP (Gross Domestic Product) study" and announced "Some Federations Rebounding From the Great Recession."

This is an important study and it does offer hope (after weeks over which the stock market plunged) that "happy days" are either here again...or approaching after "non-profits still seen struggling long after recession" as The Jewish Week noted one year ago. Curiously, however, the author chose to focus on the "success," the rebound, of the Jewish Federation of Greater Boston -- The Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the CJP as its known. Curiously, because the CJP is not the paradigm I would have chosen...far from it. As we pursue this analysis, please bear in mind that the Jewish population of Greater Boston is about the same as that of Metropolitan Chicago and, then, let's compare:

First, the raw data on the CJP success:  " increased total revenues over 1.5 times (161%) since 2007..." Our friend, Jeffrey Solomon, now Senior Advisor to Chasbro Investments, opined:
"Boston's federation made the strategic choice to partner with Jewish families in their pursuit of doing good, most especially when these projects aligned with the federation's priorities. That abandoned the historical concept of the primacy of the annual campaign. As a result, they have been outpacing all other large communities, including in the growth of their annual campaign."
Hmmm, if Jeff was quoted accurately, there is direct correlation between abandoning "the primacy of the annual campaign" and Boston CJP's "incredible success." Under this construct, Cleveland, Chicago, Miami and Baltimore...everywhere in fact where the annual campaign retains its primacy with annual success and amazing vitality, should abandon that primacy right now. Further, because of the unavailability of comparative data, it can only be noted that CJPs growth has been almost totally in the realm of "designated" giving while its unrestricted annual campaign continues to wither. (A comparison of Boston's campaign data submitted to JFNA for Dues computations which deducts designated gifts from the gross annual campaign numbers helps to tell the tale.) But there is no reason really that either the author of the Jewish Week article or Jeffrey Solomon would know that.

There is probably no federation more dedicated to families -- with a particular focus on young families -- than is the Jewish Federation of Greater Chicago through its "JUF Young Families" Initiatives. The success of that community's annual campaign isn't "article worthy" because it happens year-after-year-after-year -- how boring that is, apparently. The same would be true of Miami and Cleveland and Baltimore, among others. For Chicago, 2015 was a record year:
"The Annual Campaign is the largest element of an overall fundraising operation that last year mobilized $203,718,220 to help more than 70 vital social service agencies and programs feed, clothe, house and otherwise care for 300,000 Chicagoans of all faiths, and provide humanitarian assistance to 2 million Jews in Israel and around the world."
The last available JFNA data that allow a comparison between annual campaigns of the CJP and Chicago are the of the 2013 Campaigns -- Chicago's at $81,541,439; Boston's at $44,402,700. Remember, these communities have almost identical Jewish populations. Then there's overseas allocations including supplemental giving -- Chicago's $30,797,378; CJP's $5,481,256. (That's Chicago's 37.8% of campaign; Boston's at 12.3%)

Now all of this is not meant to deprecate Boston's great revenue growth; merely to put it into a fair and appropriate context. After all if you start from $0 and raise $10 the percentage growth is phenomenal. But...really.


Friday, February 26, 2016


Those of you who are regular readers of the Blog know the appreciation I have for your intelligence -- in particular, in the intelligence that most of you who comment demonstrate. Every once in a while, however, there is a Comment so unbelievably stupid that it bears examination. Thus, the following Comment intended to respond to our Post on efforts in the Negev -- the successful from JNF and Ben Gurion University of the Negev and the minuscule from JFNA --
"If JNF and BGU weren't busy undermining the collective, sure. Why are you blaming JFNA for something most federations aren't willing to do? Or JNF and BGU for that matter." 
This brief Comment is just crammed full with such ignorance that I fear it came from JFNA-Israel, that bloated silo in Jerusalem.

Let's examine the quote. The first sentence demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of "the collective" and the functions of JNF and BGU; the second, total ignorance of the role of JFNA; the third sentence, incoherence. If we hadn't read this Comment together, we would probably find it impossible to believe that so much dreck could be shoved into three short sentences. I sense that this Anonymous Commentator is the same one whose anger and screed have forced me to reject earlier efforts.

We suggested that inasmuch as the JFNA-sponsored Negev Funding Coalition had failed to raise the threshold funds necessary to implement programs of substance in the Negev, that Israel would be better served by JFNA partnering with JNF and/or Ben Gurion University both of which have on-going multi-million dollar programs contributing now to the growth and development of this region so critical to Israel's present and future. Some of the readers who commented seem to have such a visceral hatred of JNF that their Comments had nothing to do with building the Negev or JNF's work there but, rather, with attacking JNF for everything from a gross lack of transparency to a lack of "collegiality." I was pretty shocked (and I am not easily shocked). 

Rather than focus on the insipidity of JFNA's convention of a small group of leaders in a "Master Class on Creative Placemaking" whatever that was, and however irrelevant to the creative work (we all remember what that is, don't we?) of BGU and JNF in the Region, some of you related only to your hatred of JNF. 

So do me a favor. Try to relate to the subject at hand. Is that too much to ask?


Wednesday, February 24, 2016


After my tribute to the over-compensated, a Friend and FOB, suggested a methodology employed in his/her community that (a) could be a paradigm for all communities and JFNA and (b) will never be put into broader practice. I offer it as one "best practice" that will never be replicated:

  1. CEO evaluations were the result of a process by which the CEO and the Federation Chief Volunteer lay leader agreed upon and selected a group of 4-5 senior officers.  
  2.  Prior  to a compensation meeting, we circulated, at various times, a document outlining questions, issues to be discussed, or periodically, we'd make it a more open ended conversation.  
  3. It always began with the CEO making a presentation on how he/she did on meeting the goals pre-established during the prior year.  Then we moved to an open forum of Q and A.  This was followed by the officers meeting in executive session to discuss anything they felt to be pertinent, privately.
  4. The lay Chair would share with the CEO orally, results of their thinking and a set of meeting minutes/summary would be prepared by one of the officers that the CEO and the lay Chair would sign.
  5. The evaluation would then be shared at a regular meeting of the Federation Executive Committee, not the Board. During this period our executive committee had 25 members and the board, over 100.  Our thinking, and this may be a rationale on my/our parts, was that such a large entity with varying degrees of fill in the blanks         , (understanding, involvement,etc.), was not necessarily the best place to hold such a conversation.
  6. The board was made aware of the evaluation as well as separately and at a different time, informed of the CEO compensation review and/or contract. The lay Chair would say he/she would be happy to speak with any board member who wanted more details.
What about your federation or what goes on at JFNA? Is there any doubt on anyone's part that had JFNA a fair and balanced, transparent and open evaluation process that Smilin' Jerry would still be smiling'? But it's hard to demand moire of the umbrella organization isn't it when the federations themselves cloak CEO compensation decisions behind a wall of such opacity as is the case in most places.

Then there was an Anonymous Comment that informed us as to the consequences of excessive compensation:
"I don't know if you are aware of the document from Guidestar on the issue of Excess Compensation or the IRS regulations. If not, check this link. 
Here's one important excerpt. "Nonprofit compensation practices can also draw fire from the IRS.The IRS is charged with enforcing the Federal Private Inurement Prohibition, which strictly forbids a tax-exempt organization’s decisionmakers—board members, trustees, officers, or key employees—from receiving unreasonable benefits from the nonprofit’s income or assets. Excessive compensation paid to nonprofit executives is the most common violation of this prohibition,1 and it can cause the IRS to levy hefty fines on the persons involved."
What's allowed? Charities can pay their executives market rate.
 • Market rate is determined by researching what someone in a similar position would earn at an organization that is of the same size and has a similar mission or field of activity.
• Charities can look at for-profit compensation when determiningmarket rate, as long as the job, organization size, andorganization mission/purpose are comparable.What are the consequences?
          Consequences of Not Following the Rules:
Penalties for excess compensation range from fines to revocationof an organization’s tax-exempt status. Fines are the morelikely consequence. Known formally as excess benefit transactionexcise taxes and informally as intermediate sanctions, the finescan be levied on both the executive who received the overpaymentand the board members who approved it or who knewabout the excess but did nothing to prevent it. For example:Say the executive director of ABCD Charity received a compensationpackage of $250,000 in FY 2008. After an examination(or, in layperson terms, an audit) of the organization, the IRSestablishes that $150,000 was the appropriate compensation forthe position at that time. As a result of this determination: The IRS requires the executive director to repay the$100,000 overpayment to the organization—with interest.6If the executive director fails to repay this amount, or repaysonly part of it, a 200 percent excise tax may be imposed onthe amount yet to be repaid.7• The IRS may require the executive director to pay an excisetax equal to 25 percent of the overpayment. In this example,the excise tax would be $25,000.8• The IRS may require each board member who approved the excess compensation, or any board member who knew about the excess but failed to prevent the overpayment, to pay an excise tax equal to 10 percent of the overpayment, not to exceed $20,000 per transaction.In this example, should the IRS decide to impose the excise tax, each board member would owe $10,000.
Our federation board annually (or at contract renewal) reviews the terms and compensation of the CEO with full transparency. I wonder if others do also. Are you or anyone aware of these findings and penalties against any federation, federation CEO or Jewish organization CEO? I wonder if there are any"finders fees" for whistle blowers?"
Let's stop feigning ignorance.

Let's say any of us is approached by friend, donor, Board member with the question: "how can you people allow this Silverman to be paid the outrageous amount that he is?" How would you answer?


Sunday, February 21, 2016


JFNA has many gifts of highly dubious value. For example, the "gifts" of hyperbole, bloviation, secrecy....but, today, I want to write about the "gift" that one normally associates with the street game of Three Card Monty. Let me explain in context.

In the always vacuous FedWorld, January 13, 2016, this highlighted citation appeared:
"AT A TOP GATHERING OF ISRAEL’S CIVIL SOCIETY LEADERS in Sderot, Federations’ support of Israel during Operation Protective Edge was featured as an important part of strengthening the Negev. Ongoing regional support is provided through the Negev Funding Coalition, made up of 7 Federations."
Now this would be great if the JFNA Negev Funding Coalition was actually engaged in any substantive "funding" of projects in this vital Region. Sadly, that's not the case. We have examined on these pages the real multi-million dollar investments of, for example, Ben Gurion University of the Negev and of the Jewish National Fund -- projects that are actually making a difference today...on the the Negev...just not in FedWorld.

Learn about JNF's Project Negev which has already begun to bring hundreds of thousands of new residents to Israel's South for which tens of millions have already been raised. Or learn about "BGU’s Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research (BIDR) is focused on harnessing the arid-zone ecosystem for human habitation." These are but two projects already in implementation by two great organizations focused on the Negev. Then there's the JFNA Negev Funding Coalition -- well-intentioned to be sure. The Coalition was "founded in 2011," almost 5 years ago. Google "Negev Funding Coalition" and eventually you will get to a Project for which implementation was to begin in 2013. But, first:
"Secure commitments of $25,000 each from 15 members: federations, other philanthropic bodie (sic) and Negev institutions by June 1, 2012"

Sorry, you just have to ask: how did that go? Answer: ask JFNA. This is how Three Card Monte is played at 25 Broadway, There are wonderful and creative federations among the 7 federation members of the Coalition; I'm sure they are doing their best. Another "project" -- probably with JFNA-Israel -- on paper and, no doubt, fully staffed. 15 members making $25,000 commitments? Ask JFNA. But the Coalition is doing something:
"INAUGURAL MASTER CLASS ON CREATIVE PLACEMAKING, organized by Federations’ Negev Funding Coalition, was held earlier this month in Be’er Sheva and additional towns in the region. The 3-day summit convened 200 changemakers, including elected officials, business leaders and artists, to discuss how arts and culture can revitalize community spaces"
Yes, cf., the work of JNF, the work of Ben Gurion U. with a Master Class on Creative Placemaking. OMG!! OMG!!

It's perfectly fine for JFNA to continue to hearken back to the federations emergency funding of support to Victims of Terror in the 2014 Operation Protective Edge and raid the Fund for Master Classes. That's the best JFNA can do even as the FRD effort then failed to reach the level of need. Any intelligent, creative organization would see the value of partnering with a JNF and/or BGU in their successful efforts at making the desert bloom and realizing Ben Gurion's dream.

If JNF or BGU would have them.


Thursday, February 18, 2016


Bob Hyfler was the long-time, exceptional Senior V-P of Planning at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington before moving to JFNA to join Steve Hoffman in service as a quasi-COO and to create a planning function within an organization in desperate need of one.  After Hoffman returned to Cleveland, my recollection is that Bob was a victim of one of Howard Rieger's thoughtless "restructurings." Bob has neither lost his love for the federation system nor his understanding of how the Continental organization can assist the federation owners. Recently, Bob Hyfler wrote:
"The issue is not simply one of personalities and operations but of strategic role and first principles. In my proudly demoded way of thinking our system will not prosper by fully embracing the unholy grail of designated giving. Federations were built to guarantee the infrastructure of community building at home, the infrastructure of nation building in Israel and the safety, support and rescue for beleagured and struggling Jewish populations worldwide. Aping the distribution practices of private foundations (which for a host of reasons we do poorly) will not further these aims. The day to day business of Jewish life seldom meets the criteria of sexy, innovative and new, nor can it survive based on '3-5 years and out' grant making. Are there smarter ways of distributing the dollars raised by Federations? Definitely. Should we be listening more to our grass roots? We must. Can we communicate with donors based on greater program specificity - of course. However the 'hows' of Federation practices must not be so transformed as to undermine and hence lose sight of our historic and still relevant strategic role in Jewish life." 
I would wager there are not more than two persons (maybe not more than 1) at JFNA, and certainly not Smilin' Jerry, who understands what Hyfler is talking about, let alone is capable of implementation.

Needless to say there is no on-going planning function at JFNA; G-d forbid. It's hard to conceive of a serious continental organization of and for the federations that not only has no internal planning function for its own work, but no external planning function that would assist the owners -- for example, in annual campaign and special campaign planning assistance; federation-agency planning assistance; merger planning (as opposed to merger implementation); allocations planning; and on and on. But...there's no one home at 25 Broadway. There is no planning capacity...none at all.

I have never been a believer in those for profit or non-profit organizations that operate on a "planning through budgeting model" -- where the budget is the plan. If JFNA leaders were to have the temerity to suggest that we can find its "plan" in its budget then it would be obligated to demonstrate how it has performed under its budget -- and it can't do so. In fact, the JFNA annual budget is nothing more than framework and, since the departure of its former CFO, Sam Astrof, JFNA has been transferring budgeted dollars from one silo to another with no evident lay oversight -- how else could one explain the alleged 50% of Budget ascribed to Financial Resource Development when there is and has been...none? Where has that money gone? Don't ask...never ask.

And, again, the question: where is the leadership demanding that JFNA exercise its planning responsibilities? How can JFNA legitimately claim to be planning for the system (or even itself) when it has no planning budget, no planning personnel -- and, yet, it does have and has had a Senior Vice-President for Institutional Advancement!! (And, what's that job description?)

Ahhh, me, the circus is so much fun.


Monday, February 15, 2016


Our great friend, Gary Erlbaum, highlighted an interview that the historian, Rafael Medoff, provided The Jewish Press upon the publication of his book: The Anguish of a Jewish Leader: Stephen S. Wise and the Holocaust." Medoff is a noted expert in Holocaust studies* and his conclusions with regard to Rabbi Wise's incomprehensible abandonment of those Jews who might have been saved millions of whom, as we know, would perish in the Holocaust are worse than troubling. 

Here is but one of the historian's findings:
"Sometimes, however, Jewish leaders start out as firebrands and then gradually get tired, or even co-opted. Sometimes – and this is true of some leaders today as well – they start to really enjoy the “kavod” of having their photo taken with prime ministers and become reluctant to risk losing that by speaking out on controversial issues."
It appears that one antidote Rafael Medoff has initiated in response to his own conclusions and observations is the following, now in wide circulation:

Unethical behavior among Jewish leaders has reached crisis levels in the American Jewish community. It seems hardly a week passes without news of yet another scandal involving rabbis, Jewish organizational professionals, or other individuals in leadership positions. These disturbing developments make a mockery of Jewish values, shatter the trust that we have placed in our community's leaders, and alienate young people from Judaism.

Whether the offenses involve interpersonal relations, employer-employee relations, or Jewish governance of institutions and organizations, and whether the victims are Jews or non-Jews, the result is the same: individuals in positions of power exploiting their power to disadvantage and, in many cases, traumatize others.

As committed and engaged members of the Jewish community, we appeal to Jewish institutions of all denominations and factions to embrace the following core principles of ethical behavior, which are anchored in the time-honored values we cherish as Jews and Americans:

1. Concealing evidence of unethical behavior is itself unethical and antithetical to Jewish values. Moreover, it enables the perpetrators to perpetuate their shameful conduct, by allowing them to freely move to other communities and institutions where they may repeat their offenses. 

2. Excusing the offenders' conduct or blaming the victims for coming forward is intolerable. The fact that a perpetrator is held in high esteem, whether rabbinic, academic, or communal, should not be a deterrent to exposing his or her misdeeds.

3. Whistle blowers should be encouraged. Those who have information about inappropriate behavior by Jewish leaders should be urged to come forward, without fear of retaliation or ostracism by the community.

4.  Jewish institutions and organizations should treat their employees according to the same principles of fairness, respect, and non-discrimination that American law requires of all other employers.

5. Jewish institutions and organizations should be governed in accordance with the principle of complete financial and administrative transparency. Failure to file U.S. government-required disclosure documents impedes the Jewish public's access to information to which it is entitled.

6. Jewish institutions and organizations should adopt a system of checks and balances to ensure their leadership is responsible and accountable. 

7. Jewish organizations should hold regular democratic elections for their senior leadership positions. Elections in which there is only one candidate, or in which voting is restricted to only a portion of the membership, raise questions as to whether the culture of that organization is sufficiently democratic and participatory. With regard to positions that are not subject to elections, the size of an individual's donations to the institution should not be the decisive factor in determining his or her selection.

8. Jewish organizations should adopt term limits, to combat the phenomenon of entrenched and self-perpetuating leaders.

9. The leaders of Jewish institutions and organizations should not receive excessive financial renumeration. Salary levels should correspond to a minimal portion of the budgets of those institutions.

10. Jewish institutions must have zero tolerance for racial, ethnic, or gender discrimination. Those who practice such discrimination should be considered unsuitable for leadership positions."
Medoff's conclusion and prescription are so spot on one would have thought that he knew the professional leadership of JFNA (and elsewhere).

Think about yesterday and compare leadership then to now. Shoshana Cardin, at a time of incredible controversy, when American Jews were being accused of "dual loyalty," confronted the then President of the United States, George H.W. Bush. This incredible leader, mentor to so many of us, who wrote multiple chapters in modern Jewish history, didn't merely mealy-mouth the niceties of Jewish unity and seek to seen side-by-side with the then President; she didn't retreat with caution for fear that she might be denied an invitation to a White House get together. Not Shoshana; never Shoshana. Instead she confronted President Bush and spoke truth to power. 

But what we have come to see is exactly that about which Medoff wrote, the cooption of American Jewish leadership by the promise of "kavod" or the flip side, the fear of kavod being denied, the dreaded loss of some petty corruption. Has leadership's, lay and professional, appetite for "proximity" -- a chance to sit with the President or Secretary of State -- overridden judgment? Has fear of the loss of that "proximity" overridden responsibility? Or does it only appear that way? Perhaps the answer is found in the statistics that disclose that JFNA professionals were among the most frequent White House visitors for "briefings" or what-have-you. Just glad to be there. 

Coopted much?

I am sure there are those who would tell you that these visits, this "proximity," are critical to the elevation of the "brand," critical to the elevation of the Federation (as JFNA now identifies itself), that the closeness of our professionals and some lay leaders to a given administration, especially this one, is vital to the grant achievements of JFNA-Washington. Yet, in a quiet moment, I think William Darfoff, one of JFNA's best and one of the most frequent White House visitors, would acknowledge that the most vital work is being done in the trenches, in successfully seeking and gaining bi-partisan support in Congress for the critical needs of the federations. 

So what's the price of this beloved "proximity," if any? I don't know, but at times it sure looks like the price is our integrity, as in all things. 

Not that there is much of that left.


*DrRafael Medoff is the founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and author of 16 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. His latest is “The Anguish of a Jewish LeaderStephen S. Wise and the Holocaust” (available on Kindle from or as a free downloadable PDF from

Friday, February 12, 2016


Yes, I still remember, only weeks ago, Smilin' Jerry get max mileage out of JFNA's public opposition to the intolerant public statements of Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau's attack on Israel's Minister Naftali Bennett's visit to a Schechter School. JFNA's position on our behalf was better stated at the time by Board Chair Richard Sandler, when he wrote:
"I was puzzled and chagrined to read of Chief Rabbi Lau’s recent comments regarding Minister Naftali Bennett’s visit to a Solomon Schechter school while in the United States. This kind of dialogue is an unfortunate example of how we build barriers within our own community. Instead, I urge us to seek opportunities to work together with an eye toward engaging our young people and ensuring our future as a people, according to Jewish values."
Yes, Sandler spoke for all of us when he wrote that emphasizing that it is JFNA that must speak out toward "ensuring our future as a people, according to Jewish values."  So, this encouraged us to believe that when Jewish values were next challenged by intolerance that threatens Israel's democracy, JFNA would again speak out. exactly.

A minority in Israel among the Jewish community, have been engaged in a growing number of acts of extreme violence condemned by the Government, and by a number of North American Jewish leaders. In fact, JFNA would have you believe that ut too has spoken out, exactly. On its Website Home Page, JFNA directs us to a Jerusalem Post op-ed by Susie Gelman. "Chair of Federation (that's what JFNA calls itself, "rebranding" as if the federations themselves) Initiative." It's an excellent op-ed; it would be great if JFNA could have written it itself. Here's how Susie is identified in the Post: "The writer is a past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, a longtime community leader and the mother of an Israeli citizen." Not quite JFNA or "Federation."

At one and the same time, the apparently extremist Israeli Justice (in terms of what she has now proposed "Justice" may be the wrong description for her role entirely) Minister, Ayelet Shaked, has proposed and the Knesset has preliminarily endorsed, something "branded" the Transparency Bill -- legislation that would require only "Foreign-funded NGOs" -- those non-profits that receive more than 50% of their funding from foreign governments to so note, formally, in official publications. As reported in Haaretz: "In practice, the legislation would affect left-wing organizations almost exclusively." Former Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, noted that Shaked's bill represents "one-sided exposure." The Washington Post denounced the legislation as "A Danger to Israeli democracy." And Chemi Shalev, in a devastating January 4 opinion piece in Haaretz -- "The great betrayal: American Jews stay silent as Israeli democracy withers" -- demanded opposition to this legislation which so clearly is intended to suppress free speech in Israel:
"By staying silent, by refraining from the kind of forceful, game-canting protest that the current situation warrants, American Jews are not only abandoning like-minded Israelis, they are betraying Israel itself. They don't owe it to Israeli liberals to come to their aid; they owe it first and foremost to themselves." (emphasis added)
Further, the emboldened fundamentalist attacks on Free Speech reflected in the New York Times front page article Culture Wars Shift in Israel to Art Realm, on January 30, 2016, are but further evidence of the harsh turn for too many against democratic values. It's past time for our institutions to speak out.

Yes, we all recall JFNA's pride at its public, institutional response to Rabbi Lau -- under the circumstances, an easy target for JFNA. Yet, JFNA's silence on this matter is both shameful and typical. Here, unlike the instance of the Iran Deal, even JCPA summoned the courage to speak out against the so-called Transparency Bill...but not JFNA. Chair Richard Sandler called out Rabbi Lau's outburst as antithetical to our Jewish values. This Shaked legislation is certainly worse. Which makes the silence from JFNA even more pathetic.

We should be defending Jewish values everywhere they are threatened...we aren't. We are, once again, silent. But, remember, we did go after Chief Rabbi David Lau, didn't we? And wasn't that special?


Tuesday, February 9, 2016


1. Out of the blue, FEDWorld announced, after months of silence, one month ago:
"HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN UKRAINE “likely to remain dire” in 2016, says 2016 forecast from Federation partner NCSEJ. Federations’ Ukraine Assistance Fund continues to be a lifeline for thousands of displaced and impoverished Jews affected by ongoing conflict."
It's as if the NCSEJ jogged the institution's memory -- but not that from the on-set of the crisis for the Jews of the Ukraine, JFNA lifted its finger to open a Mailbox (vu den), and created an allocations effort for the funds it didn't raise, thereby underfunding the needs by tens of millions.

2. Like all of you, I received an e-vite to join a JFNA "delegation" to the United Nations on March 31. There was no explanation of what we would be doing there, but having taken a tour once with my family, it's a nice building. Oh, I suppose there will be some training -- e.g., what to say when one meets the United Nations Ambassador from the Democratic Republic of Korea or Cameroon or Namibia in addition to the Ambassadors from Israel and France. If JFNA-Israel were aware of the existence of the NCESJ no doubt meetings could be arranged with Ambassadors from Russia or the Ukraine (see 1. above) or another of the Republics of the Former Soviet Union. Inasmuch as there will be no lobbying for any objective of JFNA (as there seem to be none), expectations for this Mission will be...none. Great photo-ops though. Just like those White House visits. 

3. Speaking of distractions. A question: If it weren't for those alleged "distractions" just what would JFNA be doing?

4. Just when I was getting down, one of my favorite professionals sent me Natan Sharansky's daughter, Rachel Sharansky Danziger's inspiring message on the 30th Anniversary of Natan's arrival in freedom. This is how she closed her piece:
"Your spirit and strength in those years freed a man, and brought an empire to its knees. When I feel tired, when I fear for the future, when we squabble and fight within ourselves, I go back to your echos inside me, and find hope."
 Inspire yourselves and read the entire Post at:

Thank you, Rachel.


Saturday, February 6, 2016


                               "No reason to be"
                                               Stephen Sondheim

In its analysis of the "Trump phenomenon" last month, Time Magazine concluded, at least in part, that Trump was the logical end of the emergence of "disintermediation" in the political realm. This was the beginning of the end of the "middlemen" in political life as voters in the age of social media no longer need or trust them: the end of party bosses, mass marketing, even, possibly, political parties themselves. This grabbed my attention...and not in a good way.

The dictionary defines disintermediation as the: 
  1. "...reduction in the use of intermediaries between producers and consumers, for example by investing directly in the securities market rather than through a bank."

Were I a federation CEO/President or Campaign/FRD Director today, regardless of City-size, I would be deathly afraid of what disintermediation means or will mean or could mean for my community and for me. Perhaps the same question could have/should have been raised when CJF first began promoting designated giving in the early '90s; or when JAFI's IEF first "projectized" its budget in the mid-90s; or when the first federation demanded that its UJC Dues be recalculated subtracting designated gifts from its annual campaign statistics to achieve, in the case of the Boston CJP,  a reduction in its Dues support for JFNA; or when we all began "bowling alone" a decade and one-half ago; or, perhaps, you have a better date for the beginning of the disintermediation of the federation construct. I would suggest that it could have been at any of these moments which coincided with the breakdown of trust in the federation and the complicity of federations in that diminished trust. And, now the piper must be paid.

What does it mean to our communities, our organizations? It means that our donors more and more believe only in themselves; their message is that "we don't need you to make charitable investment decisions on our behalf." "We don't need you to identify needs that need to be met, we can find the outlet for our charitable passion through Google." The federation is more and more viewed as nothing more than the first "middleman" in a daisy chain of "middlemen" adding incremental costs in this process of disintermediation...costs that mount up and mount up. And, in desperate attempts in some communities to stay relevant and important, federations have often bought into the argument and, in so doing, have reinforced the breakdown in trust and the perception of no longer being necessary.

Recently, ejewishphilanthropy published a thought piece authored by two former leaders of, first, CJF's pioneering efforts in endowment and planned giving, Don Kent, and Joe Imberman, who, until last year had led JFNA's PG and E programs with distinction before and through the merger until last year. The article, "Think Forward -- the truth about Federations, donor advised funds, and supporting foundations (or 'what is participatory philanthropy?')" Here were two professionals charged with enhancing the role of federations for our donors who, instead, literally gloat about their role in promoting donor disintermediation as, what they (and, now, we) term "donor centered philanthropy." It's participatory philanthropy, alright -- donors and beneficiaries "participate" and federations are but the conduit. And, the authors, once system-dedicated, decry a lack of "sufficient funding" of the endowment/planned giving effort. Nowhere do these two great professional leaders offer their comments on the reality that some Jewish communal endowment efforts (e.g., San Francisco) see donor funding flowing in excess of 75% to secular charities annually. In their roles as professional leaders of our Federation system, neither Kent nor Imberman felt the subject was worthy of  public discussion, dismissing the subject with continuing emphasis on the great growth of donor-advised funds, supporting foundations and more. 

Worse, as Federations began to suffer reductions in, often the imminent collapse of, the unrestricted annual campaign, in too many places, they turned in apparent desperation to "gimmick campaigns" abandoning the centrality of federation in community planning and fund raising to total "donor choice," "total choice" -- "designation" by whatever name was chosen. Some even dropped Federation from their name (see, e.g., JewishColorado). The message was, at its core, " us, send us your money and we'll just send it on." It made no difference to these communities, growing in number, that they had abandoned in largest measure the concept of collective responsibility that distinguished federation from all other Jewish charities. Worse, JFNA, designed to be the federations' collective voice, was more and more led by those who failed to understand the core principles and historic values upon which community was built, even publicizing and promoting the least of communities as offering some form of what JFNA calls FEDovation which are, too often, nothing more than "anti-FEDovation." The worst practices have become ingrained as "best practices."

What can be done? First, a reenergized/reformed JFNA must rededicate itself to the founding principles of "federation qua federation." This will require a professional staff inculcated with the spirit, passion and meaning of federation and the ability to communicate those values in word and deed. (How many in today's JFNA Senior management have a significant federation experience in their backgrounds?) 

Second, federation leaders around the Continent need to be inspired to a rededication to those values that built the system. 

Third, planned giving and endowment professional leaders must assume responsibility for leading their donors toward greater support of the communal enterprise as one of their operating principles. It is not enough to increase the number of Supporting Foundations and DAFs, which the system has done with incredible success, without a concurrent and complimentary commitment to the work of the Jewish community in all of its aspects. 

My sense is that it is probably too late for the system to be saved as such. Each federation will continue to bowl alone, collective responsibility will become more and more limited to emergencies and catastrophes except in those communities steeped in the historic values of federation. Some will argue that this "disintermediation" is fundamentally good for federations; giving donors greater control will help build trust in those places where trust has broken down. I would ask: show me one community where that has actually happened. Just one.

I despair.


* This Post originally appeared in ejewishphilanthropy, January 27, 2016:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


There's a new book, just released, titled The Confidence Game, the tagline for which is Why We Fall For It...Every Time. I would suggest this tag line as a framing question.

OK, friends, here's what we've learned:
  1. Smilin' Jerry receives (it would not be appropriate to use the term "earns") a salary + benefits estimated at in excess of $700,000...annually. 
  2. He quite clearly does not manage: Israel/Overseas, JFNA-Washington (and inquiring as to when he will get his next invitation to The White House does not qualify), the Network (may not know what "the Network" is), or FRD/Philanthropic Resources (what are those? he might ask). In fact, wasn't Mark Gurvis hired to "manage" those operations? If so, great job!
  3. He does spend time interfering with Marketing and Communications 
  4. He keeps very careful records of his "earned airline Mileage" on an annual basis
  5. He keeps his lay leaders and those he perceives as his Large City Executives close
  6. He may update his rumored "Enemies List" on a daily basis
  7. His favorite phrase is "I'll get back to you on that" and then...doesn't
  8. GA after GA have been underpopulated by lay registrants and new ideas
  9. Though he shouldn't, he gives interviews 
  10. He visits communities with regularity. For example, he just hit Milwaukee which cut its overseas allocations in a Draconian manner -- he did not mention this on his visit; maybe he was unaware.
  11. Does he sit in a darkened room and read all of his staff's outgoing e-mails?
And, here's what I know: when JFNA offered the CEO position to a great communal professional who was known to have minimal management skills, nonetheless he was proffered the position (which he turned down (more than once), because he was a spectacular preeminent fund raiser. What was the rationale for Smilin' Jerry's retention -- neither a manager nor a fund raiser? Good personality? Great dancer? Etiquette? Heckuva dresser? None of the above?

Why would anyone, especially communal/systemic leaders have "confidence" in this CEO? Do they see something that is not evident to anyone who studies the record? 

I, we, have a sense of what Smilin' Jerry does. What we also have a sense of is the sum total of five+ years of his "efforts" -- not one substantive accomplishment beyond those of the continued programs of UJA and CJF, which JFNA implemented from Day 1; not one beyond those benefits of the spectacular work of William Daroff and the legislative/lobbying staff. 

I can tell you that when Rabbi Brian Lurie was UJA's CEO new and successful programs grew from his fertile and creative mind like clusters of grapes on old vines. At the JFNA of today federations have been left to fend for themselves at a cost of $30 million per year.

You tell me...what does he do?