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


Anonymous said...

For shame, Richard. This is despicable innuendo. What do you actually HAVE as proof? You're asking questions like Donald Trump, leaving unfounded statements out there as dirty slanderous attacks. You used to be better than this.

Anonymous said...

Is this all JFNA's fault, Richard?

RWEX said...

No, this is not "all JFNA's fault." It is safe to say that all of us have, at one time or another, in one place or another, been tempted by and. probably, have succumbed to the petty corruptions and temptations all around us. I certainly have. I would like to think that I, and you, recognized that i whatever public positions we have held, we would have recognized a basic responsibility to represent our constituencies in a manner reflecting our Jewish values and our institutional ones, as well.

As to the first Comment, I gave some thought to just rejecting it but I thought the comparison to Trump sufficiently outrageous albeit nonsensical in context that all of you should have the opportunity to reflect on whether I am guilty of "dirty slanderous attacks."

Anonymous said...

I think the 2 Anons are being too hard on Richard.
To me it's another way of asking 'How in the world does JFNA spend $30 Million each year?
What areas have become bloated and which one(s) have been decimated?
Doesn't anyone in leadership ask those questions?
I may be wrong, but I believe that this is the heart of the matter.

Anonymous said...

Not related to this post...I assume you just received the email from the new merged day school org...and its new chair Kathy Manning...good luck to that new entity...but maybe she will hire jerry away to lead it and save JFNA

RWEX said...

Tell us more...

Anonymous said...

For all interested --

Anonymous said...

This is the email that was just sent out from Kathy about the new jewish day school organization...

February 17, 2016
8 Adar I, 5776

Dear Friends,

I am honored to introduce myself as the newly-elected Board Chair of something quite unique in Jewish life: a new Jewish day school organization that is being created by the remarkable combination of five existing Jewish day school organizations. I was drawn to “NewOrg” by the extraordinary vision of its founders, who realized that combining the resources, knowledge, skills and commitment of their organizations will result in a new organization that will be greater than the sum of its parts – a stronger, more efficient resource for the hundreds of wonderful day schools across North America.

Since many of us have not yet had the opportunity to meet and work together, I will share a little about myself. Born and raised in Detroit, I have lived in my husband’s hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina for almost 30 years, where I have practiced law and have been deeply involved in our Jewish and general community. Our family learned the unique value of a day school education when we sent our three children to B’nai Shalom Synagogue Day School. I chaired the Board of B’nai Shalom for two separate terms, once in a time of growth and ten years later in more difficult financial times. I have also chaired the Board of the Greensboro Jewish Federation and I was privileged to be the first woman to chair the Board of the Jewish Federations of North America. I serve on the Boards of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and the Jewish Funders Network. As you can see, building a strong Jewish community has been an important part of my life’s work.

I have already begun working with an exceptional group of Jewish community leaders who represent the six organizations whose diligence, creativity and vision for the future has resulted in the momentous founding of NewOrg: Dara Yanowitz (Schechter), Jodi Hessel (PARDES), Joseph Steiner (RAVSAK), Michael Bohnen (PEJE), Nathan Lindenbaum (YUSP) and Yossi Prager (AVI CHAI), and our newest Board member, Yehuda Neuberger. We expect to have additional board members to announce soon.

The NewOrg Board is already collaborating on a range of important initiatives that are critical to our success. These include coordination of our initial offering of programs and services, team building, branding, and selection of the Chief Executive Officer who will lead the NewOrg team as it works together to serve, grow and continuously improve the Jewish day school field.

In the coming weeks and months, we expect to share with you additional information about our progress in the development of NewOrg. At any time you can refer to for the most recent information. Of course, you should continue to engage with the founding organizations, which will operate independently in fulfilling their missions until NewOrg launches this summer.

Thank you to the many people who have expressed support and good wishes for this historic initiative in Jewish education. The founders, Board and I are excited for the endless possibilities we can accomplish together. We look forward to working with you to serve our schools and the greater Jewish community.

With great excitement for the future and gratitude for your help,

Kathy E. Manning

Anonymous said...

What a concept: Kathy hiring Jerry Silverman away from JFNA with a $1 Million+ package!
Unfortunately, the JFNA Compensation Committee would make a counter-offer.

Anonymous said...

Manning is about the most ambitious Jewish "leader" I have ever watched. Before done with one position, Manning will always be looking for the next. JFNA Executive Chair, she positioned herself to succeed Kanfer as Board Chair, Board Chair, she positioned herself to lead her own creation, the Global Planning Table by appointing herself: GPT Chair she promoted herself for Chair of the Conference of Presidents; stymied there by actually qualified leaders, she found this new entity. The climbing knows no end.

RWEX said...

I had to reject a Comment but needed to advise all correspondents that if you wish to call other Commentators "cowards" attach your name to your Comment -- don't send it anonymously.

RWEX said...

To the same rejected Commentator: You should know by now that when you have something to say, other than attacking those who have Commented (or me), you will be published. Until then, please know how much I appreciate your tenacity. And remember, this Blog is like your home television -- if you don't like what you're seeing, change the channel or turn it off.