Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Each year we all look forward to the annual JFNA Budget to see just how far the JFNA leadership -- and, specifically, its Budget and Finance Committee, the Treasure and the Board Chair -- can be pushed before their brains simply explode.  This year the Budget is simply an astonishing insult to the JFNA's lay leadership across the board. Candidly, I expected more from Jodi Schwartz and Richard Sandler. Instead we continue the charade -- every Budget year is sui generis; never are the prior years' results/failures measured; never is the chief professional officer held accountable. And on June 6 the jFNA Board will approve the Budget without change -- as it always does.

Let me begin by simply stating that I have seen the 2016-2017 Proposed Budget. I have compared it to the Budgets of prior years and to the best budget practices of federations and the old, gone but not forgotten UJA and CJF.  This year JFNA Board members are being given enough time to review a complex document,and can compare it to the fictions that were prior years' budgets, and, hopefully, they will finally do so. When I served on that Committee, in the fourth and fifth years of JFNA, Los Angeles had two members of the Committee -- terrific leaders. After the second year of their service, walking out of a meeting that, at the time actually had some substance, minor to be sure, but some, we were talking and they asked me: "What the hell are we doing here? We fly in the day before, then we show up, we're ignored, and we fly home." I picture most of the Budget Committee members in 2016 wondering the same thing.

Most of you who read this Blog with regularity know that I have strongly objected to using the Budget "process" as the internal planning mechanism for any organization -- especially a non-profit. The Budget should be the implementation vehicle for the organization's plans -- plans thought through, vetted with the owners  and, then and only then, funded followed by careful monitoring and evaluation. But, of course, not at JFNA. At JFNA, the Budget is and has been "the Plan," and that "Plan" has changed year-by-year-by year with seemingly no thought whatsoever. For example:

  • Last year the Budget was expressed in terms of Priority Program Goals ostensibly to answer the questions: "where can JFNA have the greatest impact for Federations and which programs can only a national system deliver?" Those questions have never been answered and certainly aren't in 2016-2017. 
  • Then, that 2015-2016 "Budget/Plan" focused on "five key areas" -- "Enhancing the fundraising impact of the ...system: Strengthening the human capital of the...system: Providing platforms for convening and collaboration; Coordinating and recommending domestic and international policy, advocacy and allocation priorities; and elevating the profile of the...system."
  • Of course, other than in its D.C. grants, in absolutely none of those priority areas did JFNA demonstrate competence let alone excellence and in most, abject failure. For example, the "goals" for FRD were so modest one would have expected total success even without a Senior Professional leading FRD -- but, no. 45 people...that's 45...on the FRD payroll and no leadership -- sounds like JFNA. And no one asks -- what were the millions used for?
  • And, we were assured...a.s.s.u.r.e.d...that because there were specified deliverables there would be constant and transparent monitoring and evaluation...and there were neither. JFNA lay leadership must examine and adopt the New York UJA model where a professional leader is in charge of measuring program success and reporting on success/failure; Yes, of course, JFNA of all organizations needs a Managing Director: Impact and Performance Assessment. It  won't happen, but can't one dream?
The Dues Budget -- revenue from Dues remains at $30 million (+) -- whereas JFNA's total Budget is at $53 million (registration and Mission fees, etc., and minimal additional fund raising). And the bottom line vacuum in planning continues while the organization claims it will suddenly engage in vigorous planning efforts in 2016-2017.

In the Budget document for 2016-2017 JFNA announced that it is "...committed to sharpening our focus on our core mission and aligning our resources and budget with that mission." That "mission," by the way, is unchanged from the days of UJA and CJF raising the seminal question: what the hell has JFNA been doing up to this point in time? (That's a rhetorical question -- we all know the answer.) Too many words, too little action.

Here's the "essential list of what JFNA seeks to achieve in support of our Federations..." in 2016-17. Maybe you've heard some of these things before:
  1. "Federation Relations -- Shift our business model from a program-centric to a customer-centric approach that deepens our relationship with individual Federations and our ability to deliver services that match their unique needs  (This should be enough to make you ill -- rebranding: our specialty)
  2. Planning -- Enhance the domestic and Israel/Overseas planning functions of the Federations (don't ask Jerry just how he might lead that given the lack of a planning function at 25 Broadway)
  3. Fundraising -- Strengthen the fundraising capacity of the Federations (does Mr. Silverman even realize that he has no senior FRD professional staff at 25 Broadway?) while abandoning real fund raising (except by its own constituencies) completely. I have been told that there are 45...count 'em, 45...FRD staff on the payroll with no senior professional leadership* Now there will be all kinds of "new" programs (most of which echo as "old wine in old bottles," truth be told) -- Major Gifts,  new FRD Education and Training department, new Supplemental Giving program and a  new FRD Community Consulting program -- absent almost any senior FRD professional leadership at this time let alone an FRD CEO, and, but for the National Campaign Chair, no lay leadership. Explain how that will work? Nope. Budget for FRD -- up by $324,000 while FTE are down by 2.5. Questions, anyone??
  4. Talent Development -- Strengthen the professional and lay leadership capacity of the Federation system (yet, Mandel determined to sunset its work in this area [funny JFNA failed to mention that]);  and without getting into whether Mandel competently performed JFNA has no internal capacity to accomplish this work. JFNA is out of the "Search" business -- the destruction off the proud Federation professional cadre is now a process "led" by the organization that should instead be leading its strengthening and development 
  5. Shared Services -- you have to wonder: was this Budget developed by just cherry-picking old Budget documents or what???
  6. Representation -- influence major issues and policies that affect North American Jewry, domestically and in relation to Israel, and respond to crises (I think this means more of the same). While critical areas of Federation need are living on fumes (or false promises), JFNA-Israel continues to be incredibly overfunded. The Budget for "Israel and Overseas" continues to amaze --2.-0 FTE in "Communications;' a new FTE for IRep and Negev Now (!!); another .6 FTE for something called "Israel Program and Planning" But, on the bright side, JFNA is no longer funding Sheatufim -- nice investment that wasn't. And Marketing and Communications, another ambitious silo, increases "Strategic Marketing and Communications to 10 FTE and a $400,000 budget bump (offset by a  corresponding cut to FedWeb.  
  7. Federation Brand" -- we'll strengthen it (Jerry believes that means getting his name in the media). See "Marketing and Communications" above.
Much of this exercise in fiction-writing is based on pure hope -- leadership's hope that Silverman can hire professionals who can implement these goals; professionals Jerry has never before been able to identify or hire. In the FRD area I'm just guessing that the narrative comes directly out of portions of the unseen "Agron Consultant Plan" but without the staffing or funding -- in other words...meaningless. How can anyone consider this Budget legitimate?

You will probably find of interest that JFNA is eliminating the "Talent Acquisition function within" Mandel -- actually abandoning it as Mandel phased out its work in that area, along with the the historic FEREP Program but, rest assured, friends, "JFNA remains committed to the Talent Acquisition focus." Whomever wrote this document, let alone those who approved it, should be ashamed.

And, given the propensity of JFNA to throw fresh money after failure, it will be "investing...an additional $250,000 in the GA program." In JFNA's words -- and this is true fiction -- "[T]his will help insure that we can build on (the GA's) growing success." OMG!! And, seeking of OMG, JFNA is increasing its theft of funds from  the National Agency Alliance Funding Pool from $350,000 to $819,000 (has the Alliance already approved this or is its approval no longer required?) for JFNA's own Education Unit. As you know, this is what JFNA calls fund raising.

And, as always, there is no disclosure of the compensation being paid to Jerry, or the amounts and extent of the JFNA consultant contracts outstanding -- because, well, frankly, it's none of the Trustees business.

And, please, don't worry. there will be constant program evaluation -- sure, just as in past years. If the past is prologue I guess that means there will be none. Please read the "Specific objectives for 2016-17" just as in last years Budget there were a set of "Objectives and Measures of Success." I urge Richard Sandler, if he has time, to review these and, then, do the right thing. But, most important, when will there be full disclosure of how the 2015-2016 Budget was applied -- ever? Where is accountability anywhere down the line at JFNA? Where is the demand, the outcry -- anywhere? 

There has to be real skepticism reading this Budget -- none will be expressed in public. It's just --sha sha, we're moving forward. Charles Bronfman recently wrote a fitting coda to the work of his and Andy Bronfman's, z'l,  ACBP Foundation. He closed that important tribute to their work and their partners as follows:
"We've discovered that everything can be measured, provided one sets standards and goals. That's true in many disciplines and not-for-profits should be no exception." (emphasis added)
JFNA believes that reciting standards and goals is all an organization needs to do; it doesn't mean you have to measure your performance -- G-d forbid.

Again. And Again we demonstrate the JFNA eternal truth: You can fool all of the people all of the time.


* Recently, a Mandel professional was named the "senior manager" of FRD -- yes, you may ask what she is managing.

Saturday, May 28, 2016


I have heard that question so often since I began this Blog, usually prefaced by: "Hey, Big Shot..." or, maybe, "Hey, a-h..e..."And, don't think I haven't thought about the answer every so often as I watch JFNA slide from mediocrity to calamity to its current sclerotic state. So, let me give it a try...

1. Mission. Clearly and unequivocally, JFNA needs to restate its Mission. How would this be?
The mission of the Jewish Federations of North America is to mobilize human and financial resources to care for those in need, strengthen Jewish life and advance the unity, values and shared purpose of the Jewish people in North America, in Israel and around the world.*
Then. I would sit with the entire JFNA staff and ask them to tell me what they have been doing and what they could do to accomplish the Mission.

2. Rebuild, Recreate and Reexamine. This isn't the first time I have given thought to this.

"We need to reinvent ourselves; we must be, and in many places become, relevant. In so many places, re-engineering is so vital right now. We can't do that until the lay and professional leadership of The Jewish Federations of North America understand the questions that need to be asked. And, with that understanding, the courage to confront the debate that needs to follow. The Jewish Federations of North America's leaders should consider immediately creating a lay-professional Task Force at the highest levels to review and recommend on the organizational mission, reach, direction and roles. In the interim...."

In a Comment to one Post an "Anonymous" (vu den?) correspondent posed a challenge:

"Can you give specific behavioral substance to your four principles:

"a moral center, a grounding in the reality of the federation experience and a dedication to the timeless principles upon which our federation system has been constructed and a commitment to real transparency."

Intentions aside...what two or three specific actions should they take on each of the four? At this point in our movement's history and in the conversation you have so earnestly undertaken a list of action items would be helpful."

In a conversation with Jerry Silverman before he assumed his position as President and CEO, I respectfully suggested that he and his Board Chair (now Chairs) rebuild JFNA starting with the successes the organization has had in its first decade. He chose to ignore me almost in toto ... but, let me lay it out for you as I envision and envisioned it (on these pages)

Finding a greater success than the singular success in the lobbying/grantsmanship error at JFNA-Washington would be the equivalent of discovering a new avian species. Such a success just doesn't exist. Pushing the successes of JFNA-Washington to the front of the queue would be a great first step. Not just part of a litany of supposed "successes" as the predecessor leadership had constantly conjured, but bragging on William Daroff's and his staff and lay leaders' successes as examples of what The Jewish Federations of North America can do for its owners. 

Simultaneously, "confess error" -- the reversion of JFNA-Israel from New York to Jerusalem has proved to be a failure. It has yielded no positive results and has demonstrated what one arm of the system operating out of control and out of sync at great expense can cost The Jewish Federations of North America. Discontinue the millions in expense and with that termination reassuring JAFI and JDC and World ORT of the system's trust in them and, thereby, restating the historic federation-JAFI/JDC partnerships. 

Then, invest the money saved in downsizing and relocating UJC-Israel with a reinvigorated Overseas Missions Program -- subsidizing Young Leadership Cabinet, Prime Minister's and King David Society Missions within a reshaped Development Department under The Jewish Federations of North America umbrella and a new professional leader. To those who will argue that Missions are doing just fine, consider how many today are outside the auspices of JFNA because Federations believe they can just do them better, plain and simple.

Whatever happened to the multi-million dollar Marketing and Branding Initiative; use those savings to revive the national role in the Annual Campaign and in designated and endowment giving initiatives, hiring up men and women with the background and reputation that will enhance the national organization's prestige and esteem within the local federations. In so doing, end the separation of Development, Planned Giving and Endowment and the "Philanthropic Services" merging them under the leadership of the Office of "National Chairman for Campaign and Development." The fact that JFNA has not had a Senior VP Campaign and Development for years now under Smilin' Jerry is the best/worst evidence that he is not now nor has he been up to the job. (NB, many had recommended a singularly successful chief development officer from inside the system to Jerry and his then Sancho Panza over two years ago. They rejected him/her "because of budget issues" -- what "budget issues" today now that Paul is presumably gone?)

Begin to take and articulate the federation position on matters of public policy here and in Israel. The Jewish Federations of North America can't remain silent on these issues as if they are the sole purview of the JCPA and the Conference of Presidents. As the Board Chair, Richard Sandler's must become the voice we hear on matters impacting up the federations and our donors. 

And, thereby, The Jewish Federations of North America must become the moral voice of federation collective responsibility. JFNA should publicly acknowledge this role and appoint a Blue Ribbon Committee on Collective Responsibility to recommend the means and methods of implementation...and, more critically, to implement. It is not enough to convene JAFI and JDC periodically (although those meetings are superb hasbara and are a basic "good" in and of themselves) and merely report how cash and allocations are being drastically cut -- it is quite another thing to actually attempt to do something about it. Moral responsibility has to trump passivity in this area once and for all. If the federations' national organization, the organization that now bears their name and brand, fails to stand for collective responsibility, my friends, it stands for nothing.

A decade  ago as an outgrowth of a major FRD Study, the national organization embarked on an Emerging Communities effort partnering with two high potential growth federations in the West. This was to be a starting point. After two years of engagement, UJC's "leaders" terminated the effort with no discussion within UJC governance bodies (and none even with the communities directly impacted). The Emerging Communities partnership should be reborn and expanded in a demonstration of the national organization's commitment to partnership with high growth high potential federations around the continent where The Jewish Federation's of North America's impact can be significant.

And, JFNA must reinstate where necessary and invigorate where still in existence its critical and successful work through I-LEAD, the National Bond Program, Federation Peer Yardstick, CPE, Emerging Leaders, Presidents and Executive training and the circulation of best practices (oops, FEDovations).

All of these need to be and can be done in an atmosphere of transparency and accountability. An atmosphere where the issues confronting our system are freely and openly debated and where those who serve -- be it on Work Groups, Task Forces, Councils, Executive Committee and Board -- feel and believe that they are part of the process, not excluded from it and no longer ignored. Transparency also mandates that leadership be open and honest not only with ownership and constituencies but with the media.

The seminal question: is JFNA merely going to perform functions or is it going to serve a purpose? To continue down the current path, to merely tweak rather than re-engineer, will be like changing the in-flight food on the Hindenburg -- it would be doomed to failure. To those who suggest that The Jewish Federations of North America continue its slide toward being nothing more than "a really great trade association," think of all the great work that must be done and wouldn't be.

Each of you may have your own construct for a rebuilt JFNA that will be far better than these. Offer them...soon.

This would just be a start that must be accompanied by a new CEO. NOW.


** It will not surprise most of you, my friends and readers, that this Post was adapted from one published on November 7, 2009.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


We all know that the National Young Leadership Cabinets historically have been the springboard of federation, UJA, CJF and agency, national and local, leadership. From my own era have sprung exactly those leaders, men and women alike -- campaign and Board leaders of UJA, CJF, JFNA and every agency and community I can think of. The experience of a Cabinet Retreat or a Washington Conference, z'l, or, in my own community, the camaraderie and mentoring at monthly informal get togethers taught us so much about team-building, about the Jewish values expressed through community. And, oh, those Retreats -- where there were no "minimum gifts" -- there was the demand of the members themselves to capacity giving.

Today. Well here are some of the current criteria:


Age: Candidates must be between 30 – 40 years of age in the calendar year (2016) that they begin their tenure on NYL Cabinet

Retreat: Cabinet Retreat is required of all first year members, and is strongly encouraged in all subsequent years. Retreat is the heart of the NYL Cabinet experience– if an accepted applicant is unable to attend Retreat, the NYL leadership team will review their circumstances and offer deferment opportunities on a case-by-case basis.
*The 2016 Cabinet Retreat will take place July 27 – 31 in Charlotte, NC*

Campaign: At their first Retreat, candidates must make a minimum gift of $5,000 to their local federation’s 2017 Campaign

Community Limits: We recommend each community have no more than five (5) lay leaders join NYL Cabinet in any given year. Should a community recommend more than five, JFNA will review this on a case-by-case basis

Leadership: Candidates should have already demonstrated leadership in the local community and are eager for future growth. The best candidates are those you believe to have the potential to be your future Federation Campaign Chair(s)

Giving Potential: Each candidate should make a leadership-level gift, increasing year over-year, toward his / her Federation’s Annual Campaign. Additionally, NYLC members are encouraged to participate in 2nd line campaigns and emergency campaigns. Lastly, members are asked to partake in a meaningful conversations about endowing their gift."
Now I love the weekly Shabbat messages, and I am certain that the Retreats are still filled with ruach: but, shouldn't there be more? Are the YLC members still doing fund-raising -- sending teams of trained lay solicitors into communities to support the annual campaigns? Of course not inasmuch as there iOS no longer an FRD function at JFNA? Back in the day (as in halcyon days of yore) with a great young UJA professional as support, I and my fellow Chicago Cabinet members would travel, at our own expense, to small isolated communities (mine was Decatur, Illinois) to bring Jewish programming and experiential workshops -- I have a sense that these kinds of experiences, which elevated our leadership training, are beyond the interest of the Cabinet Members of today. And, "full disclosure capacity giving" is no doubt viewed, like gift announcements and car calling, as no more than  a relic of some distant, forgotten past.

And, of course, I remember the incredible excitement of the Cabinet Washington Conferences -- each surpassing the one that preceded it in attendance and spirit...until early in the life of JFNA when they were viewed as either (a) too much work or (b) preempted by the AIPAC Policy Conferences which, as the century turned was attracting large numbers of YLC Members. Then the Cabinets created Tel Aviv 1 -- an Israel venue for the Cabinet excitement. But costs and time investments for young leaders stood in the way of a Tel Aviv 2...and the Cabinets turned to Mitzvah (oops, Good Deed) things and Shabbat messages, Retreats and little else.

Speaking of "costs and time investments," isn't it time that JFNA. deploying some of its Budget bloat, heavily subsidize the Registration cost of the YLC Retreat? Isn't $999 a preposterous cost for an event that is annually organized to develop our future? That's $999 plus travel -- plus, plus. Let's make this event free -- reflective of our institutional commitment to Cabinet. If that commitment is more than lip service.

Oh, if only someone were in charge who truly understood what the Cabinets once were and could be again. Another "if only..."

Sunday, May 22, 2016


Years ago, when I served on JFNA's Consulting Services Department Committee, I took issue with several of the federation Comprehensive Plans in which the Department participated (with, of course, a consultant...always, even then, a consultant). My issue was a simple one framed as a question: "What is JFNA's (it was "UJC" back then) responsibility to assure that basic federation principles are included in federation comprehensive plans in the preparation of which JFNA is engaged?" The answer was: "the customer is always right." 

Is it? Is the customer always right? And, if the customer rejects, in these instances, basic federation principles, what is the obligation of JFNA, if any, to assert those principles? And, then, extend the question to those who conduct Federation CEO searches: are they just note-takers executing orders or do they have any obligations to the system and/or the profession (such as it remains today)?

I've been told, more than once, as indicated above, that JFNA must be responsive solely to the wants and desires of its customers. If the customer, the federation, wants to move away from the core principles upon which federation qua federation has been built, so be it. In the context of the CEO search processes if the community wants to move away from professionals trained in, steeped in and committed to the federation system, so be it.

But, really, is that it? Doesn't the umbrella organization of and by the federations have an obligation to stand up and be counted on behalf of the basic concepts underlying the construct of federation? Or, as in so many other things, is this JFNA nothing more than a bystander, a note-taker or, as JFNA likes to consider itself, first and foremost (and, some would say, only) a note-taker...a rubber stamp...for others. I can think of two instances of many where JFNA assisted local communities in comprehensive community plans that moved them far away from the fabric of federation -- one was Philadelphia (which has since certainly returned to the very bricks upon which community is built), whose "Plan" was so removed from the underlying tenets of federation that the then JFNA CEO demanded that his name and JFNA's be removed from the communal acknowledgments; the other, San Diego. These were two instances among many others. In none were basic federation principles ever articulated by JFNA or its vetted consultants.

Then there are the CEO searches. JFNA has made an investment in preparing and encouraging federation-trained professionals for communal CEO service. Yet, JFNA's CEO Search agent, at the Mandel Center for Leadership blah, blah, blah, has regularly acquiesced, if not encouraged, federations to search "outside the box" (that literally means today "inside the box" as, more and more, federation professionals who are aspirants for CEO positions are passed over for, e.g., camp or JCC directors) excluding those from inside the federations often completely. What, if any, responsibility...obligation...does JFNA have to the profession of Jewish communal service, to those excellent federation professionals who, if properly vetted, mentored, trained and presented would excel as federation CEOs? This used to not even be a question. Today, Silverman believes himself to be the paradigm -- and I agree (that's not a compliment).

I know great professionals, some sitting federation CEOs who wished to be considered for a new position who have been told that the federation Search Committee in question "won't consider a sitting federation CEO." Others have been counseled that they have been effectively "black-balled" by JFNA's CEO and should not apply. If the best and brightest of communal professionals are being excluded from CEO consideration for whatever the reason outside of their qualifications, then don't JFNA and its agent have a responsibility to the  Jewish communal service profession to at least say: "Wait a minute; we think you should consider ______________ who has demonstrated great potential in (insert name of Federation here)? 

Yeah, sure.


Thursday, May 19, 2016


The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta has a new CEO; he'll join the Federation after the 2016 Summer Camp sessions end from his position as Executive Director of Camp Twin Lakes. Yes, indeed. Another great, intensive Search identified the perfect person, Eric Robbins. And, here he is:

"Eric has been the Executive Director at Camp Twin Lakes since September, 2005. Based in Atlanta, Eric oversees all staff and operations of Camp Twin Lakes and works closely with the Board of Directors to set goals and implement CTL's strategic plan. His favorite camp song is "Rise and Shine," and he has fond memories of hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was a camper. In addition to children's camps, he has also directed a camp for senior citizens."
I am not making this up. "Rise and Shine" might be the perfect anthem for a number of communities. And I don't mean to suggest in any way that a person who has been a Camp Director for 11 years isn't the perfect CEO match with one of the largest and most vibrant Jewish communities in North America. After all, as JFNA described him, Eric Robbins is: "A gifted relationship builder and an active Jewish communal lay leader."*

So, I was thinking...I was a great camper at Ramah in Wisconsin for 7 years, matriculating to running the dishwashing operation there for another two years. No one contracted food poisoning (to my knowledge) while I ran the dishwashing equipment. I loved Camp Ramah. My favorite song was "Am Yisrael Chai." I was a scholarship recipient; and constantly felt thereafter the imperative to give back.

I know that my experiences in leadership roles with the Jewish federation movement, the United Jewish Appeal, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the UIA and the JDC will be obstacles to consideration of my playing a professional leadership role in federation life but I believe that I can convince the Search Committee to ignore this handicap to my candidacy (and my Blogging) and look, instead, at my camping experiences (and dishwashing success) and my favorite song. The thought that successful Federation experience is now disqualifying is anathema to me...and, I know, to you.

But I recognize that I am behind the curve. After all, look at the serial successes of those from the Camping movement who have been parachuted into CEO positions -- there was that leader of D.C. Camps who lasted close to two years as CEO in Palm Beach. And, of course, there is the paradigm who is Jerry Silverman -- we all know his lack of any accomplishments. I guess these guys leadership experiences recommend a Camp background as a condition precedent to becoming Federation CEO today.

Thus, my kippah will be in the ring for the next LCE job opening. After all, the logical step in federation professional leadership is to go from professionals with experience in the federation movement, to a leader of the Foundation for Camp, to Camp directors -- doesn't even have to have been Jewish camps any more -- to me, a graduate of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin (and its dish room) even though those years were a few years ago. Yeah, just a few years past. 

So, DRG or Mandel or whoever...just give me a call.

In the meantime, all together now:
Rise and shine and Give God the glory, glory...Children of the Lord

* I checked the Board of Trustees roster for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta -- Eric is not a Trustee; so, perhaps, his communal lay service was elsewhere. An Anonymous Commentator below has informed us of a list of his communal roles

Monday, May 16, 2016


If JFNA were a hospital patient, it would be in the ICU and periodically appearing on the heart monitor to flatline, approaching the need for hospice care. We all know how it happened, how we got to this day -- we were there at the beginning and, now, we are close to the end. We have seen the patient decompose over the last six+ years into a sclerotic, semi-comatose invalid.

Sure, we know that periodically specialists -- let's call them LCE -- are called in to resuscitate the patient, applying the defibrillators time and time again, only to see the patient lapse back into the sorry state that brought them to the bedside in the first place. So here are the questions: can this patient be saved and, if so, how? It's costing us $30,000,000 +/- to keep it alive and all we have to show in return are some nice federal grants, a few worthless acronyms, a whole helluva lot of overpaid professionals and a mess of consultants -- in other words, almost nothing. And, we, in the main, sit idly by, pretending stuff is happening and ignoring the comatose, sclerotic body at our feet.

Some of you have questioned how this can be; how federation leaders -- in the main smart , knowledgeable and decisive elsewhere -- sit by and let what has happened happen without a peep. Let me respond with an example that might "explain." Years ago, in my community, we elected to the Federation Board an attorney whom I knew to be both brilliant and combative in both his law practice and  personal life. He was a generous philanthropist as well and had served earlier with distinction on at least one Agency Board. He had been to Israel on Missions and was well-acquainted with the issues facing the Jewish community. He agreed to serve on the Board and regularly attended meetings. For two years he sat at meetings month-after-month and said nothing...not a thing. On several occasions I asked him why and he just shrugged his shoulders...it was truly inexplicable. He had so much to offer and he said nothing at all.

Oh, in private he expressed his growing dissatisfaction to any who would listen but at meetings he merely smiled and voted. And after his two year term he left the Board. I still don't understand it; just as I will never understand where the voices of JFNA Board members have gone; you know, the voices they use at their own Federation Board meetings -- but, at JFNA, uh uh. As they have allowed the organization itself to go comatose, so they themselves are found in the same sorry state. 

JFNA, where everyone is comatose.


Friday, May 13, 2016


                        QUI TACET CONSENTIRE

It's abundantly clear to this observer that the lay leadership of JFNA and the most senior professional leadership of our communities lack the will or the energy to make JFNA the viable leadership organization it was intended to be at the time of its creation. Instead, like Nero, they fiddle while Rome burns. 

Friends, I have no answer to the question of why this so-called "leadership" has abandoned fiduciary responsibility for affability -- and, wow, are they ever affable...with each other. It's not that they don't know what needs to happen to make JFNA viable -- and "viability" isn't measured by how many times JFNA (Silverman) appears in the media or how many invites our "leaders" get to the White House -- they just can't remove the blinders long enough to do what must be done.

Any objective "leader" knows that JFNA, under the Smilin' One, is engaged in a walk down the up escalator. The fiduciary malpractice is on-going on a gross scale. It was once said by a limited partner in the New York Yankees during the George Steinbrenner era: "There is nothing more limited than being a limited partner of George Steinbrenner." Today, in practice, by their own choice, there is nothing more meaningless than being a Board Member of JFNA. 

It's all so painful to watch, let alone in which to participate. To paraphrase one of my favorite cynics: "What can you say about JFNA at this point that you haven't said about a colonoscopy?"

Worse than the mismanagement that has resulted in the massive professional void at "Philanthropic Resources" and Consulting Services, and, even with many (too many) sitting in the ineffectual offices at JFNA-Israel with the commensurate massive waste of federation resources, is an almost total lack of understanding that a weak, ineffective JFNA ultimately weakens the very federations which support it financially and in silence. So many communities are in need of services from JFNA -- and they don't/can't get them from an organization that is incapable of assisting its own constituency. This is what happens when "leadership" places loyalty ahead of accountability. By demanding nothing of its CEO/President other than showing up, and then compensating him as if he were an outstanding leader, the JFNA lay leadership has proved the adage that good gets better and bad just gets worse.

There is a Dutch social media group of Euro-skeptics calling themselves GeenPell -- that means "not a clue" -- they might have talking about JFNA for the last decade. And what do we do about it? Nothing...nada...zip.

It was John Greenleaf Whittier who wrote: "For all the words of tongue or pen, The saddest might be 'what could have been.'" That's what those historians who will review the demise of the North American Jewish community will write about us...us.

Qui tacet consentire.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016


There is no one who ever walked the path of Jewish life with the beloved Ernie Michel, z'l, who didn't understand that they were walking side-by-side with a giant of modern Jewish history. Ernie's death last week left a void for his beautiful family and for all of us who knew him that cannot be filled.

It was Ernie, as a Holocaust Survivor, who dedicated his life and his professional career with the United Jewish Appeal and, ultimately with the UJA-Federation of New York, where he was venerated by those lay and professionals with whom he worked as no other, to the cause of "bearing witness" not in silence but through word and deed. He deserved every beautiful award he received for a life filled with challenges and so fully lived.

I knew Ernie through my federation work and on numerous Missions but it was only four years ago, when I accepted a fund raising position with American Friends of Project Heart, the Government of Israel sponsored restitution program for the worldwide survivor community that I had the privilege of working with Ernie. He was the first person I reached out to for assistance. After a brief explanation of our purpose, Ernie simply responded, as I am certain he had to so many before: "Richard, how can I help." I was then blessed with many opportunities to sit with Ernie in his office at UJA-Federation over the next two years, and gain his insights, his constant encouragement and, most important, his sense of commitment, of historical perspective and his friendship, all of which I not not only cherish to this day but the memories of those meetings sustain me as they sustain everyone who knew and loved Ernie over his life.

We offer our condolences to his wife, partner, closest friend, Amy Goldberg, always at Ernie's side, and his children and grandchildren. Please know that as we remember Ernie, you are in our thoughts and prayers.

At our last meeting, Ernie, gave me a copy of the cover photo that graced his book  -- Promises Kept: One Man's Journey Against Incredible Odds.  Almost all of us have the book and remember that photo -- Ernie sitting on the railroad tracks leading to the camps at Auschwitz-Birkena, contemplating, loss, revival, personal commitment and Jewish history. Ernie signed the photo: "To my friend, Richard, never give up the fight. Love, Ernie." 

I am looking at that photo, which now sits on my desk, Ernie, and I am thinking of you with my eternal thanks.

Baruch dayan emet



Well we certainly have the ignorance...but where's the "bliss?"

It took a reader to review the inane waste that is FedWorld (JFNA in microcosm) and report:
"Richard -- on a separate note...if you look at today's (5/2/2016) FedWorld email....under the JEWISH EDUCATION & ENGAGEMENT section...you will find the following.

Marketing guru Seth Godin argues that the internet has replaced mass marketing with individual ‘tribes.’ Two articles review a new book that stresses the importance of relationship building over programming. Hillel outlines best practices for engaging young adults and creating a stronger Jewish community. Leading Jewish professionals offer one-line definitions of 'Jewish Engagement.'
• TED—Seth Godin on the Tribes We Lead
• Jewish Journal—The key to building community is social interaction, not ‘social networks’
• eJewish Philanthropy—Relational Judaism: The only experience left for Jewish community
• Hillel—The Hillel Model for Jewish Engagement
• Gina Schmeling—The zone of Jewish engagement


Of course we know that there is no shame at all at 25 Broadway (and, apparently, none where JFNA's officers reside, either). There's not just a lack of embarrassment, there seems to be pride in the lack of accountability on all matters, FedWorld being the least of it. For in an accountable organization -- one where the professionals are accountable to not just themselves (for that would be nice, wouldn't it) but to the lay leadership of the organization for which they work -- we would already have seen change at the top. 

But, not at JFNA. Apparently, accountability is unheard of or the lay leaders are just too damn busy. Uh huh...sure.


Saturday, May 7, 2016


Recently, the Chair of JFNA's Israel and Oversea Council sent out a form letter to, apparently, the members of the Council (I am not one of them; few of you are). Here is how David Brown's letter began:
""One of the findings of the recent Pew Study Israel’s Religiously Divided Society that resonates with me as chair of JFNA’s Israel and Overseas Council is that 69% of Israeli Jews believe a thriving Jewish diaspora is necessary for the long-term survival of the Jewish people. While Federations have long linked our destiny to that of the people of Israel, their reciprocity was stirring to see in print, underscoring a shared commitment to a strong global Jewry."
Now that the recipients were sufficiently inspired, I think, I guess, Brown moved to the real subject and focus of the Council -- allocations. And the message was spot-on:

"The publication of the Israel Pew report coincides with the start of spring which is also allocation season at Federation, the time of year when financial decisions impacting Jews around the corner and around the world get made.  Yet unlike representatives who speak for local programs and agencies, those who live in Jewish communities far away rely on each of us to help ensure they are remembered and make the case in our Federation board rooms.
This year, I urge you to speak up and speak out on their behalf.  The needs are great, including for ongoing support and winter relief for Jews affected by the sustained crisis in the Ukraine; supporting families in Israel’s periphery living below the poverty line; ensuring that lone soldiers serving in the IDF receive the ongoing support they require as they fulfill their military service, and more and more." (emphasis added)
This is exactly where advocacy has to start -- within one's own community. I thought that David's message should be one heard by every JFNA Board member, not alone the few members of the Israel and Overseas Council, and the day after its original limited publication, Richard Sandler distributed it to the rest of us .

But because there is no viable -- make that just "no" -- financial resource development function at JFNA today (just a fine Campaign Chair, his faithful (and, perhaps, perpetual) consultant) and a "plan," where the allocations effort should reside inasmuch as fund raising and allocations are binary, JFNA will be stymied in this effort as in almost all others. Further, today, unlike that time before a great professional, Cheryl Lefland resigned, there is no professional with allocations and cash as her/his focused area of professional work, leaving the professional leadership of allocations advocacy in the hands of JFNA's bereft Jerusalem-based Israel and Overseas Department; one that anyone who reads these pages knows hasn't a single accomplishment on its institutional CV. Can this Department truly be the professional partner that will lead JFNA to North American allocations success? Reading the materials to which the readers of David Brown's letter are linked, at least at this point the answer is "no."* But, the "links" aside, the message is important.

Brown's message is one that must be taken to heart by JFNA's professionals -- from top to bottom. Starting with Silverman, whom you might recall (he won't) on one of his first out of town federation visits, that one to Dallas over five years ago, pandering to them as well as any presidential nominee is doing today, "promised" the community that JFNA will never ask a federation to increase its allocations. 

To me this effort could be a watershed moment for JFNA -- the moment in time at which leadership chose to meet one of its moral responsibilities. 

Or, of course, it could be nothing at all.

We'll see.


* As an example of an apparent lack of understanding appeared in David Brown's transmittal:
 "Get access to materials that support the I and O agenda. Did you know that a 16-year-old girl was arrested in January for planning bomb attacks against a Jewish school in Copenhagen and another school in Denmark? Read more about the Jewish communities of Scandinavia"Somehow someone at I and O believes stuff like this will inspire allocations...has anything at all to do with allocations.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


OK, I admit that I have devoted a great deal of ink and thought to the waste at JFNA -- waste that is most evident in the aimless wanderings of JFNA--Global Affairs, Israel and Overseas ("JFNA-Israel" hereafter). Admittedly, it's been an easy target -- a silo without accomplishment or accountability always is -- but why is that so? And why does it continue  in the fashion to which we have grown accustomed over the years. Why is the adult supervision it so obviously needs so lacking? And why has JFNA-Israel become JFNA in microcosm?

I have asked those that I trust whether JFNA-Israel is but a kind of Ponzi scheme laundering 10s of millions of dollars every year without an achievement to show for it. They assure me that not all of the dollars allocated to the silo are wasted; just most of them. The silo grows through budget games eating up not just the millions allocated to the JFNA-Israel entity but also a substantial amount of the FRD Budget inasmuch as there is no FRD on-going at JFNA at all.

To those who would ask whether the same waste would have occurred at UJA back in the day, I can only answer that it could not have. There we had a legitimate budget process that began, as it does at JFNA, with a staff effort, but culminated with (1) a two-day hands-on lay driven set of budget hearings where Department staff and lay Chairs were challenged on their accomplishments, explained their failures and defended the Budget requests; (2) the Budget and Finance Committee then met and recommended the Budget; and (3) that Budget then was approved (or rejected or modified) by the UJA Board. Compare that to the JFNA Budget and Finance "process" where, for at least the last decade, the Budget is prepared by and vetted by and through staff; and, even questions on the Budget are frowned upon or rejected; a single meeting of the Budget and Finance Committee for a few hours (including lunch and snacks) is found to suffice and that Budget then proceeds to an annual pro forma JFNA Board rubber stamp.

It is in this way that JFNA continues to run amok and will continue to do so unless and until lay leadership steps in -- at the Departmental/silo level, or at the Budget and Finance Committee level, or at the Executive and Board level. And, even with wonderful, sometimes ambitious, lay leaders at each level, there appears to be a continuing desire to do nothing, to exercise no leadership, to "JFNA business as usual." It's as if the powers that be when assessing the next version of leadership look around and state: "there's _____ _____, h/she's safe, no trouble, no push back...perfect." And we get the leadership we deserve.

This lack of accountability is shameful; yet JFNA has become an organization characterized by unaccountability (look up the definition at your leisure) from top to bottom and bottom to top. It's certainly not just JFNA-Israel that has not been held accountable for a lack of achievement, It's a place where financial resource development, designed to be one of JFNA's strengths has been permitted to wither and disappear without professional leadership, without a lay Campaign Cabinet, incapable, as we have pointed out on these pages, of assisting federations in need as FRD once did with strength. And, on and on and on. It's a veritable consultants' paradise.

We are now well along in the JFNA Budget cycle for 2016-2017. This will be the test of responsibility for Jodi Schwartz and Richard Sandler, leaders for whom I have had the highest regard. We expect a lot of them. 

We'll be watching.


Sunday, May 1, 2016


 the choice of taking either that which is offered or nothing; the absence of a real alternative

So often you have called me or spoken †o me in confidence to tell me that the reason you have chosen to do nothing about the mess that is JFNA is that there is really no option -- it's the mediocrity and worse that we have or the collapse of the organization leaving us with nothing at all. This has been framed to me as a true Hobson's Choice. And, each and every time I have heard this, I have responded with the reasons that, if one thinks about them, transforming change is still possible.

I was advised a long, long time ago by a great Jewish leader: "Richard, just remember -- don't defend the indefensible or deny the obvious." I have tried to be true to that advice. It's time for surgery, not bandaids.

When Jerry Silverman first took office, there was some hope after one of his first acts was to bring a superb professional, Mindy Hepner, back into the JFNA fold. I complimented him on these pages for that "rehire." But since, as one of you recently observed:
"It is the awful organizational culture that we have allowed to become entrenched within JFNA, where even the best people are confronted with the reality of organizational politics that could easily compete with any power-centered, empire-building bureaucracy.

Is it any wonder that good people that are not willing to play these games either run away or are chased away so often - and usually under such unpleasant circumstances?
I'm sure the results of the recently completed staff survey will show that JFNA is a great place to work (because if not, the results will either be doctored or not released).

A great place to work for the bosses and their cronies and for the line workers who don't really understand how bad things really are.
We, on the other hand, should understand how bad things really are and, more important, we should be doing something about it.
And just how "bad" is it? 

  • Bad enough that there has been no Senior Vice-President FRD (or "Philanthropic Resources") for over six months;
  • Bad enough that there has been no senior professional leader of JFNA-Consulting Services for over six months;
Here are two of the most major JFNA functional areas servicing the federations themselves without senior leadership

But it gets worse: there is not nor has there been a community planning professional staff at JFNA since, I believe, Bob Hyfler left during Rieger's years. Thus, everything (or, make that "anything") that is done at JFNA is ad hoc.

Where is the outcry? Can the lay leadership even comprehend the waste that must be taking place? FRD has a budget of close to $15 million -- how is it being spent? On what? I find it hard to believe that Richard Sandler and Jodi Schwartz, two lay leaders of incredible and proven commitment, continue to sit by -- I can almost hear the fiddling here in Chicago -- as if they lack the power to do anything about it.

"How bad things really are?" Really, really bad. Make that REALLY REALLY BAD."

Doing nothing is not a Hobson's Choice -- it is no choice at all.