Thursday, June 30, 2016


           "Here friends, just drink a little bit more of this here Kool Aid..."

On the occasion of the six month anniversary of his Board Chairmanship, Richard Sandler, for whom we had the highest of hopes when he took office, sent the following message to the JFNA Board. There are some excellent things in it -- prioritization, the elimination of the imperial consultancies over the best professions, a hearkening back to our values as embodied in the federations, among others. its reliance on a chief professional officer who has not proved (and had consistently been unable to prove) he possesses the minimal competency to achieve the "new priorities" (has there ever been an organization with a new set of priorities very couple of years leaving the last set of priorities behind even though the old may be the identical to the "new"?) or, for that matter, any? Why is there any optimism at all that this CEO can lead the implementation of the "new" priorities?

Here is Richard Sandler's message in full:
"Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Dear Colleagues,

As I have recently completed the first six months of my term as chair of the Board of Trustees of The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), I wanted to take this opportunity to set forth some of my thoughts about this time, and our goals and responsibilities going forward. As I am sure we all know but sometimes forget, we live in not only interesting but extremely complex times, especially for the Jewish community. It is during such times that Federations and all of us as leaders, both lay and professional, must remain measured and knowledgeable. We must remember that we represent an important and diverse community held together by common values. 

Our primary responsibility at JFNA is to service and strengthen the Federation system. Federations are the only community organizations positioned to work with all other organizations affecting the Jewish People. Federations are about making our communities stronger. We must provide focus to address the most important issues we face and allocate resources where needed to take care of our fellow Jews at home, in Israel and throughout the world.  

Among the various roles Federations play in our communities, we need to be the catalyst for engagement to address complex and often emotionally charged problems in a balanced and constructive manner. In other words, Federations need to be the adult in the room at a time when there are very few adults in the room. This need surfaced dramatically this past year during the Iran nuclear agreement debate.

Susie Stern, Jodi Schwartz, Harold Gernsbacher and I are all in agreement that JFNA does a great job in so many areas, but still needs to better assist our Federations in utilizing best practices. As the title of Marshall Goldsmith’s book says, “What got you here won’t get you there.” Our JFNA professionals are extremely dedicated, knowledgeable and committed to serving and strengthening Federations. That is why the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 provides for certain reallocations of resources to make specific individuals responsible for regular contact with Federations. We have also identified seven areas of focus for JFNA, which were distributed in the board meeting materials. Read the document.  

We are aware that there are daily distractions from the major functions and responsibilities of JFNA. We are committed to keeping these distractions at a minimum while serving the Federation system. It is the responsibility of our professionals to ensure that the organization stays on topic and focused. The organization functions most effectively and productively with strong lay and professional partnerships. However, we must keep in mind that our professionals hold the ultimate responsibility for carrying out our mission. We have to let them do their job.  

In the past six months I have had the opportunity to chair two board meetings and two executive committee meetings, participate in nearly weekly calls with senior lay and professional leaders, and represent JFNA at a Jewish Agency Board of Governors Meeting in Israel and as the representative of North American Jewry at a special ceremony at the Knesset. I have also met with various organizations and individuals who care deeply about their Judaism and Jewish community. I have the privilege of serving on the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, where I have worked with its executive vice chairman and others. To hear different points of view and perspectives, I have met with representatives of ZOA, Israeli American Council, J Street U, AIPAC, StandWithUs, New Israel Fund, Hillel, World ORT, JDC, The Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization. Following these meetings and my ongoing work in the community, I suggest we all think about the following three items:
  • The engagement of young adults. The Jewish community is losing young people to assimilation. We need to engage them and listen to them. When we have done so in Los Angeles, we have found that most young people have very little understanding of their tradition. Once engaged, they are extremely interested and want to learn more about Judaism and how it might affect their lives. We need to continue to introduce successful programs to more communities through FEDovations and best practices. 
  • A better understanding of each other here in the United States. We saw last summer the personal attacks that took place within our own communities over the Iran deal. We have lost the ability to talk to one another, reason with one another and focus on the common values that unite us. We need to be the convener of serious discussions on important topics that are often complex and full of emotion. We need to regain the ability to listen to different points of view and try to gain as much knowledge as we can about different arguments around an issue. It is hard to disagree with a point of view without understanding why someone holds that perspective. Federations need to become the convening and calming influence in communities that brings different parties together to discuss issues and solutions that could benefit everyone.
  • A lack of understanding or appreciation of the importance of Israel to our communities. American Jewry really does not have a good grasp of the complex situation that the Israeli people and the Israeli government face on a daily basis. Likewise, Israelis do not appreciate the issues that we deal with as American Jews, and how what goes on in Israel affects us on a daily basis. We at JFNA are working very hard to build more bridges and promote better understanding, and will continue to do so.

I received one of the greatest honors of my life two weeks ago when, as chair of the Board of Trustees of JFNA, I was asked to represent American Jewry in a ceremony at the Knesset. Through the generosity of the Ruderman Family Foundation working with the University of Haifa, the Knesset displayed an exhibit commemorating 100 years of North American Jewry’s contributions to the Yishuv and the State of Israel. It is a tribute to Jerry Silverman and Becky Caspi that JFNA was invited to speak for and represent North American Jewry at this ceremony. I thank you all for giving me the opportunity to represent you, and I encourage you to read my remarks

All in all, it has been an informative and interesting six months. I consider myself very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with such outstanding lay leaders and such a committed and talented professional staff led by Jerry and Mark Gurvis.  We have much to do and we are all dedicated to being successful. None of us shall ever forget why we are working so hard for our communities. The Jewish People have made incredible contributions to the world by living our value system and performing mitzvot. It makes the world better and gives life meaning. 

Finally, I am excited about two great upcoming Federation events: the International Lion of Judah Conference, September 11-13, and the 2016 General Assembly (GA), November 13-15, both in Washington, DC. 

Women's Philanthropy is one of Federations' strongest and most dedicated giving communities. At the 2014 conference alone, 1,500 Lions of Judah raised $27.1 million to support our work. I cannot wait to see what this strong sisterhood will achieve this year.

I have been extremely impressed with the quality of the GA over the past two years, and this year will be the best yet. The GA is our opportunity to come together as a community to discuss the important issues that affect us all and celebrate the tremendous work we do and the contributions we make. This year, the GA is right after the presidential election. I am sure there will be much to discuss about how that election affects our community, relations between the United States and Israel, and the important work we do every day.

The purpose of the GA is not only to bring us together to celebrate, but also to make us all more effective in our communities, both as lay and professional leaders. I ask each and every one of you to support, attend and reach out to your communities about the GA.

Please contact me with any thoughts or ideas you have at any time.


Richard V. Sandler"  

To my friend who once told me that Richard "gets it" -- guess not. I will not assume that Richard believes "if it's good for me, it must be great for all the rest of you." Rwexler


Anonymous said...

Is anyone surprised?

Anonymous said...

Richard is wise soul who has been involved with hundreds of non-profits. I'm sure he knows that volunteer leaders have a super-special role to play, but he seems to believe that in 2016 non-profit professionals do the day-to-day work. That makes him a smart philanthropist, not a stooge.

Anonymous said...

It appears that Anonymous 2:05 is either a professional wo just wants to be left alone or a lay leader too lazy to do his or her job. Either way, pretty sad and explains why we are in the shape we are in.

Anonymous said...


1. "Federations need to be the adult in the room." Let's start with JFNA's CEO setting an example. What comes to mind, among so many many examples to choose from, is his very public humiliation in the hallways of 25 Broadway of the past board chair. And was this humiliation over a deep-seated policy difference? No. It was over who receives White House invites and their #2.

2. "we must keep in mind that our professionals hold the ultimate responsibility for carrying out our mission." Note: this board chair proudly proclaimed at the conclusion of his chairmanship of LA's Federation that his major accomplishment was outsourcing his job (as board chair) to the professionals.

Whether Sandler gets it or not is irrelevant. He has no intention of doing anything about it. History will record him as just one more JFNA chair who helped the organization slide into no oblivion.

And with a chair that apparently doesn't believe in oversight and governance, can anyone blame the board members for being a rubber stamp?

JFNA's tagline for the 2016 GA: "Where mediocrity reigns supreme"

Anonymous said...

Great deal! Our lay leaders delegate their responsibilities to the so-called professionals and just serve as rubber stamp figureheads and cheerleaders. That certainly makes their job more pleasant.
It also is a great deal for the professionals who can do whatever they please and answer only to themselves. We just pay them (a lot) and let them do their thing.
Those words and concepts evidently no longer have any role in our organization. It seems that we have forgotten their meaning and prefer living in a pleasant social environment where we can eat bagels and socialize - no questions asked - saying nothing except "aye" and always congratulating our staff for doing such a great job.
What a wonderful business model!
What a wonderful world!
Is everybody happy?

Anonymous said...

Richard Sandler wrote that "we must keep in mind that our professionals hold the ultimate responsibility for carrying out our mission. We have to let them do their job."
It seems that even he doesn't understand who is supposed to be running the show - who is indeed supposed to "hold the ultimate responsibility." He is. We are.

He also states that "Susie Stern, Jodi Schwartz, Harold Gernsbacher and I are all in agreement that JFNA does a great job in so many areas." Like what for instance? Anything that has to do with the organization's core mission?

I guess there really aren't any adults in the room.