Monday, June 6, 2016


I am just a voyeur at an ugly, sad tragedy. I don’t like it.

Approaching 7 years ago (G-d, has this been going on for 7 years??) at the demand of a self-centered Chair with the acquiescence of a Search Committee eager to please her, and with total disregard for the impact upon the institution they were charged to steward, JFNA parachuted a know-nothing into a land where he neither understood the language nor possessed the intellect to learn it.  

This was the inflection point for JFNA. The point at which JFNA turned away from assisting communities (except at times of natural disasters and through the  great work of the long-standing Washington Office) and turned entirely to self-promotion, led, at almost all levels of its professional staff and consultants by those who have never worked in a Jewish Federation in their lives.* For, from its then newly-minted CEO, to its professional leader of JFNA-Israel, from its sole-sourced Global Planning Table Consultant, straight through the current FRD consultant…not a day has been spent working inside on a federation staff. (Before Jerry even began his CEO stint, at a meeting in Chicago, I urged him to pick a federation at each City-size and then to go spend one week in each of those Federation offices "shadowing" a Federation CEO -- he, of course, said "I'll get back to you"...and then, mirabile dictu, never did.)

Silverman's disqualifying flaws as CEO have metastasized throughout the organization.  
Maybe Becky Caspi is to Jerry as Ben Rhodes has portrayed himself to be to Obama. And…that’s how she has kept her job. But, look around at JFNA's silos, and other than in its grantsmanship and some planned but as yet unimplemented FRD restructuring, nothing is happening.

And while Jerry smiles away, the truth for him is: You cannot recruit, you cannot train, you cannot retain, you cannot administrate. This, friends, is "failure" writ large.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: "You cannot achieve greatness without enthusiasm." Look at the best of community CEOs historically -- viz, Nasatir, Hoffman, Larry Fine, Darrell Freedman, John Ruskay, Barry Shrage, Alan Gill, Howard Rieger and so many others -- they are/were infused with enthusiasm for the cause and for the great communal work right to and through today or their retirement no matter what I think or thought of their results. 

And, then, there is Jerry Silverman. Approaching 7 years of chasing little shiny objects and, usually, without success. That is, of course, unless you believe that no Sr. V-P FRD, no Sr. V-P Community Consultation, a silo in Israel running amok, a succession of failed GAs -- maybe a great marketer can paint those as successes. Can you? When Michal Siegal announced that he and some small group of leaders with whom he consulted couldn't conjure up any triumphs -- instead he read a document that suggested somehow JFNA was now on the cusp of imagined transformational change. Since that announcement, you tell me: what change have you seen? Name one...just one...please.

There is a form of institutional psychopathy at work -- it's reflected in a group mentality that rejects everything and anything that is outside the narrative set by the few and trusted; and the few and trusted just can't be bothered with evaluation because they are "too busy and, anyway, everything is fine."

Well, friends, look around if you can; you might notice things are getting progressively worse -- any, then, you might commit to doing something about it.

A guy can dream can't he?


* I apologize as I have forgotten that Mark Gurvis joined JFNA after 29 years in the federation field -- the exception that proved the rule, I think.


Anonymous said...

So I looked around at the self-love today at the JFNA Board meeting -- a small group of Insiders and Large City Executives and then the rest of us and I concluded that the waste at JFNA and the problems never addressed are the results of a destructive inbreeding tat, like all inbreeding, produces the most recessive traits.

Anonymous said...

No, the "inflection point" was not Silverman's doomed hiring, that was merely the culmination of a series of terrible decisions. The true inflection point was when you and a bunch of so-called leaders agreed to merge UJA and CJF. Just look at what that decision has wrought. Disaster.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't disagree more with the Anon at 4:25. All one needs to do is to look at the results under Solender and Hoffman to know that the merger was the right thing at the right time.

Anonymous said...

CEO Silverman must be reading your stuff. It can't be coincidence that he used the term "inflection point" in his lengthy and unnecessary speech to the Board meeting on the same day this Post appeared. Then again, maybe he only read the title.

Anonymous said...

Re Anon 4:25....really?
17 years and you are still bitching about the merger of two distinctly different cultures that predictably wasn't the perfect match, but was a decision that was made nevertheless by the leadership of both organizations? Isn't that one of the traits of leadership----making decisions, trying your best to make them work, and then tweaking things along the way when bumps in the road are encountered?
Get over it already.
The real 'annual' issues haven't been dealt with effectively, and the most glaring one is the annual evaluation of JFNA Senior Leadership.....including the CEO. Is there anyone on the JFNA Board who will ask that question and ask to see the written reports that are created for every other staff member?