Sunday, April 24, 2016


Well, there's pandering...and, then, there's this...

When the non-Orthodox Movements and the Women of the Wall were "awarded" a section beyond the Western Wall as "their own," JFNA was among the first to congratulate itself for what was really the work of the Women of the Wall, the Reform Movement in Israel and Natan Sharansky who negotiated a "settlement" that seemed to be a first step toward a more civil Israeli society. JFNA's leaders were warned that this "done deal" was hardly that but that didn't stop the Smilin' One from accompanying one self-congratulatory piece with a picture of himself on a Jerusalem March for "justice" two years earlier. And, sure enough, the deal has been undone.

Knesset Member Nachman Shai, wonderful friend to so many in North America from his years of successful and insightful service as the director of JFNA's Israel Office, just published a piece in The Jerusalem Post that is worth reading in full. In Nachman's op-ed, --"The Western Wall Battle, Round Two,"  we learn that which some of you knew from the get-go -- in Israel, "it's not over until it's over and, even then, it's not over." 

It seems that while everyone was busy congratulating each other (and in JFNA's case, itself), the forces of intolerance were already at work undermining the compromise and treating it (and its sponsors) as if it never existed. When follow-up -- by JFNA, the Reform and Conservative Movements, among others -- was vital, there was silence from JFNA. Friends, this is how it has gone and how it goes in an era of institutional mediocrity. At JFNA HQ this outcome seems to have come as a complete surprise -- maybe JFNA-Israel, that bloated silo in the heart of Jerusalem, was still working on the Global Planning Table while all this was on-going.

Here is what Nachman Shai observed, as an Israeli:
"The question is, is Israel ready to accept the changes that are going on in the Jewish world today and can it adapt to them. Everyone knows that the government and its representatives in the US have no problems working in full cooperation with the Reform and Conservative communities.

It is obvious that in every diplomatic issue, Israel is assisted by the US Jewish community, with all the different circles it encompasses. And is this way the government accepts all the different denominations. It’s hard to talk about Israel’s greatest accomplishments in Congress or vis-à-vis the American government, without mentioning the hard work, effort and dedication the Jewish community there has put in. This is the strong and broad bridge the upon which US-Israel relations are built."
And, here is what JFNA has said and done since the deal fell apart...NOTHING!!

I think back and ask you to do so as well, to the time when the "Who Is a Jew?" issue reared its ugly head in Israel and enflamed North American Jewry. Think about how we, through CJF and UJA, mounted trips to the Knesset and the Prime Minister's Office by our lay and professional leaders around the Continent to bring the message directly to Jerusalem that their actions then contemplated to change the Law of Return in a manner that would disenfranchise our children and grandchildren and ourselves, in so many instances, would jeopardize North American Jewish support for the Government responsible. And the contemplated changes quietly, quietly, quietly disappeared. Now, we send letters, if that.

There is, of course, somewhere in the dustbin of history that is the present JFNA, a playbook for just what we accomplished then, and how we did it. But, today, we so clearly  lack the institutional will and the leadership to mount the effort. Or, perhaps, we don't appreciate any longer the centrality of Israel in our lives.

We can continue a process that sees others accomplish what are our goals, congratulating ourselves for their work, then learning that because we did nothing, accomplishment was lost. It's the old JFNA two-step...and it never fails to amaze even as JFNA more closely circles the drain.



Anonymous said...

Richard, you are constantly asking for evidence of what Jerry Silverman/JFNA has accomplished during his tenure, and you've just described it: He has created an organization that is bereft of volunteer leadership that would demand 'action' on critical issues that impact North American Jewry.
In addition, he has decimated the senior professional staff at 25 Broadway....the good ones saw Jerry for what he is and have departed for more meaningful careers in the Jewish Communal World.
Now these are accomplishments that the JFNA Board must be proud of, that have taken place during their watch.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous at 9:01 - "an organization that is bereft of volunteer leadership" and "he has decimated the senior professional staff at 25 Broadway" - these are the exact outcomes the LCE's desired and Silverman has been happy to oblige.

Anonymous said...

So it looks like someone has been successful after all - successful in destroying our national organization by planting "professionals" that they could control to lead it nowhere and putting the lay leadership to sleep so they wouldn't notice what was going on.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous 1:35 pm: Really? The LCEs have conspired to make the National organization to which they pay around 75% of the $30 Million budget (ok, perhaps a few under-the-table deals notwithstanding) as inefficient an ineffective as possible, with a CEO that is embarrassingly overpaid?
Wouldn't they be better off working to make the organization to which they collectively fund around $23 Million annually, effective and efficient, and something to be proud of?
How onerous would it be to their individual fiefdoms (and I use this respectfully, not critically.....they've built them and they are the ones that deliver) for JFNA to be functional for the 151 constituent federations? The LCEs will always have the clout that they are entitled to.
What exactly could a strong, knowledgeable, effective JFNA CEO do to change their world in such a way that compels the LCEs to continue to throw money down the drain....every year to sustain (not destroy) JFNA?
And they've done this right under the noses of Kanfer, Manning, Siegel, and now Sandler?
Or has this group been part of the conspiracy?

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous at 5:30 pm - Simple fact: if the LCE's wanted SIlverman out he would be long gone - the lay leaders (with the exception of Manning who recruited him) non-withstanding.

Ergo, the LCE's are happy/satisfied with a do-nothing CEO leading a do-nothing organization. Or, do you have a better reason Silverman is sill in place? Do you contend he is actually a positive force? Do you contend he has actually accomplished something (anything?) in his years at JFNA? (If the answer to the last question is yes, please provide specifics as most of us would like to know.)

And while we're discussing embarrassments, let's not forget the highly overpaid ineffective Sr. VP of Israel and Overseas. What exactly has she accomplished in her tenure besides developing a bloated staff? What added value (forget added, what value?) does she bring to the table? Remember, the buck stops with the CEO for her lack of effectiveness/accomplishments.

Simply, I'm looking for specifics of SIlverman's value as CEO. What exactly has he accomplished that justifies his still being in place? And without those specific accomplishments he should be history. And in practice, only the LCE's have the power to make that happen.

Anonymous said...

It always amazes me how some people manage to attain the status of "untouchables" and are able to maintain their positions without question even though by any standard they should not be allowed to do so. If it isn't a few LCE Executives that are protecting them then who or what the hell is it?

Anonymous said...

I think many of the commentators are forgetting the rules of the game in this business of ours. When things go south in a local large community you seldom question the CEO but rally round him as he purges the next level of professional leadership and beyond. Why should it suprise us when this same model of board management carries over to some national agencies?

A related incident: Bullies at the top protect protect their peers and their arrogance knows no bounds. While just today it was reported that Hoenlein wrote a letter on COP stationary supporting leniency for a convicted egregiously crooked public servant. We skewer millenials when they deviate from our party line but have nothing but understanding and forgiveness for those brothers who are the true embarrassment.