Friday, October 28, 2016


Recently I wrote WHY?, a Post on JFNA's secret contract with the marketing/communications firm SS+K as a conduit on behalf of a secret donor. I commented there on the rank stupidity of a small group of JFNA lay and professional leaders to enter into a contract neither the terms of which nor the parties thereto could be revealed. It was on the same date that that Post was published that I received a call from  Debra Nussbaum Cohen, a free-lance reporter and a regular contributor to Haaretz. She called to ask if I had any insights into why JFNA was holding a Board meeting by conference call the next day but excluding Honorary Board members from the call for reasons of "confidentiality." I was unaware of the meeting but as Debra read the Memo (which she received from an invitee to the meeting) I explained that, perhaps, there was some fear that Marvin Lender or Joel Tauber, Conrad Giles or Jane Sherman (just joking -- we all know to whom the exclusion was addressed) would spread the news of  the purpose of the call and its results to the rest of the World -- as those of us who serve as Honorary Trustees include the past Chairs of the merging organizations -- UIA, CJF and UJA. Of course I knew to whom the exclusion was directed -- and it was none of those named above. 

And, as in so many things JFNA, the call for the meeting was deceptive:
"The Board will be asked to authorize this change in policy for IAN missions including the upcoming mission scheduled to depart New York on October 30, 2016. The Board will also be asked to authorize the entry of JFNA missions, including federation community missions planned through JFNA, into Israeli-controlled territories beyond the Green Line (e.g., Ariel or Gush Etzion, etc.)"
That Mission leaving 4 days after the meeting? Its Itinerary,  prepared long before the Board meeting, includes a visit to Ramallah the "capitol" of "Palestine" not a "Jewish settlement" at all. "Oh, maybe we forgot to mention it."  But the reality is that JFNA's gaggle of leaders just buried that headline -- "we're going to Ramallah" -- out of their constant fear that telling the truth, the whole truth, about anything, would be too much for federation leaders to contemplate. It's an insulting and deprecating attitude of unearned superiority -- and a constant one. So, an entire elected Board of Jewish communal leaders was summoned to a conference call meeting to discuss missions "...into Israeli-controlled territories beyond the Green Line" only to learn that they had somehow approved a Mission going to the claimed capitol of "Palestine." 

And, after the meeting, JFNA issued a press release that stated:
“Today the JFNA Board of Trustees approved a number of appropriate and necessary protocols to support the advocacy and education trips of the IAN. This vote ensures that IAN will continue to travel to Israel and the surrounding areas, not historically visited by JFNA staff. We are pleased the board reaffirmed the ability of IAN to continue this mission-critical work.” (emphasis added)
read more:
At the end of the day, the JFNA Board was summoned to a secret meeting that had only to do with Israel Action Network Missions but not those of the communities or JFNA itself? This all makes so little sense. Perhaps, Richard Sandler, putting on his kippah as By-Laws Chair, would like to revisit the importance of having an Executive Committee -- then Honorary Trustees wouldn't have to be excluded and 155 federations need not be called to a Board meeting. But, as we know, JFNA never looks back...just as it never looks forward.

And why were "Honorary Trustees" excluded from the meeting? As the Memo stated:
"Only voting trustees will be invited to participate as the issues under discussion are deemed privileged information."
Indeed..."deemed" by whom, exactly? And by what criteria? And what are the criteria for whom is to be excluded and when?

Now Nussbam Cohen has written her story the day after the "secretive meeting," as she described it in Haaretz, In Historic Shift, Jewish Federation Representatives To Now Visit Israeli Settlements. The veil of attempted secrecy has been lifted and revealed...mirabile dictu, there was no reason for secrecy in the first place. The secrecy attached to the meeting was dictated by fear of small controversies; the same reason, it appears, that the purpose and parties to the Klarman/JFNA/SS+K conduit contract was hidden. 

The entire discussion must have appealed to JFNA's false sense of self-importance. After all, today, unlike pre-merger, far more communities are sending their Missions without any input from JFNA than with it -- in fact, it's fair to say, JFNA neither knows how many Israel Missions are in the country from North American Communities nor what their itineraries are.

I tried to answer Debra's questions about the substance of the Board call, since revealed* -- whether JFNA-sponsored community missions and JFNA-arranged tours should visit settlement towns and areas in Judea and Samaria, and Palestinian cities as it turns out -- but I was admittedly distracted by this reality:

JFNA is more and more transitioning from public charity to secret society. Sunlight is being shut out on an ad hoc basis at the whim of its CEO and Board Chairs
A public charity doesn't execute secret contracts, it doesn't exclude from meetings for any reason, let alone no reason, those mandated by governance (elected or honorary, it makes no difference) to attend (and who are, by governance, required to get notice of meetings). I believe that the operative words her are: secret, whim and ad hoc. Were I not an Honorary Board Member but an elected one I would be pondering, "if they've excluded, e.g., Wexler, when are they going to exclude me?" But, of course, they already have, haven't they -- secret contracts, secret consultant fees, secrets small and large. In point of fact, secrecy in the work of a public charity is no more becoming JFNA than has been the secrecy insisted upon by President-elect Hillary Clinton (and the Clinton Foundation appears to understand the openness required of a public charity better than does JFNA). 

And, in the instance of this secret Board meeting, perhaps there was concern that, inasmuch as those of us being excluded are among the few who participated and even led Missions that incorporated visits to settlement developments in Judea and Samaria. Perhaps there was fear that we would have opinions (and, certainly, more knowledge) on the subject that might conflict with those who proposed this agenda item's narrative (G-d forbid) and might express those informed opinions. I know that I believe that I was a better-educated and informed leader after being exposed to the passion and religious fervor in some instances of the settlers back in the day (or exposed to the cynicism of some who settled in those regions because they were so heavily subsidized by a succession of Israeli governments to do so). How does a leader who is denied access to the arguments in situ respond to the claims that "settlements are an obstacle to peace" unless one has listened to the arguments of those who are there, digested them and sorted through them to form one's own opinion. JFNA appears to place no value...none...on leaders' "own opinions."

But, I digress. As I told the senior JFNA Officer who called me after I wrote Richard Sandler the following: "I just received a call from a reporter who informed me of tomorrow's meeting for 'voting Trustees only.' This doesn't strike me as an action that grown ups would take" -- this is not the action that a mature organization would take. I reminded him of LBJ's mantra: "I want this guy on the inside pissing out; not on the outside pissing in." But I also lamented the fact that JFNA has become an organization so lacking in a belief in the rectitude of its own acts that it conducts them in either absolute -- consultant contracts, employment contracts -- or relative secrecy; and that's just impermissible...PERIOD, FULL STOP.

JFNA is more and more transitioning from public charity to secret society. Sunlight is being shut out on an ad hoc basis at the whim of its CEO and Board Chair.
Is this the kind of organization the federations really wish to continue to throw good/bad money after bad?  Really?


* Ironic is it not that Debra Nussbaum Cohen's unnamed source was an elected JFNA Trustee?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


At the end of this piece, please join me in asking the question...

The question "why" could apply to so much at JFNA. I'll focus today on the "why" everyone involved at JFNA in accepting and maintaining the secrecy (and that's what it is: "secrecy" not "confidentiality") of a $1,000,000 conduit transaction between a secret donor, JFNA as the conduit and the p.r./marketing firm SS+K? 

Here's what I have learned so far and, trust me, the secrecy and the conduit nature of the transaction, if that's what it is as it appears to be, do not reflect well at all on anyone involved at JFNA -- from the CFO, to two successive Board Chairs, and, of course with Jerry "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil" Silverman.

For reasons unknown and unrevealed, JFNA's leaders believe that they have the absolute "right'' to maintain a veil of claimed "confidentiality" over a consultant contract the vaguest of outlines of which were disclosed by title only in its 2014 990, filed of record, as you know, in Fall 2016. I would like to have written about the legitimacy of this contract's purpose, but JFNA refuses to acknowledge the facts of, anything about this transaction as if it has the absolute right to do so. It doesn't.

With a review of the public record and with the help of some of JFNA's leaders who know what happened but not why, and objected to the transaction, here's what we've pieced together and, admittedly, we still don't have all of the facts, in fact we don't have any of the facts -- those are locked away " a mayonnaise jar hidden on Richard Sandler's porch" or somewhere:
  1. Seth Klarman is a Boston-based investor and incredible philanthropist who is the major force behind The Times of Israel, the Palestine Media Watch  and CAMERA among his philanthropic and media investments. In the most interesting article in ejewishphilanthropy, Founding Funders: The Story of How American Philanthropy built a Jewish Homeland, the author cites Klarman for his major gifts to Shalem College,  the Friends of the IDF, The Israel Project and Birthright -- all gifts in Klarman's or his family foundation's name;
  2. The Palestine Media Watch: "Founded in 1996, Palestinian Media Watch is an Israeli research institute that studies Palestinian society from a broad range of perspectives by monitoring and analyzing the Palestinian Authority through its media and schoolbooks. PMW’s major focus is on the messages that the Palestinian leaders, from the Palestinian Authority, Fatah and Hamas, send to the population through the broad range of institutions and infrastructures they control."
  3. As disclosed in the 2014 990 (the last available 990) for the Klarman Family Foundation, SS+K, as Klarman's consultant, received a direct grant in excess of $300,000 for a cryptic "Program Strategy Consulting" project. (Is this beginning to sound familiar?). In the affected year, JFNA's staff told Silverman that JFNA should not be involved at all in a $1,000,000 grant that sounded to me very much just like this one. Silverman was heard by some lay leaders to be furious that any JFNA professionals would object to JFNA becoming a conduit for whatever the purposes known only to them.
  4. In the JFNA 2014 990 the undisclosed, secret conduit grant from that undisclosed donor to SS+K through the JFNA conduit was for $1,000,000 for...
  5. ...something called an SS+K "Project Connect Production." A contract, you will recall, that JFNA will not disclose to me or, apparently, to any JFNA Board member. "It's confidential;" it's none of my business and it's none of your business.
The Klarman Family Foundation's stated work and goals are noble:
"We believe Israel is essential to the Jewish experience and even to Jewish survival. In an environment of growing anti-Semitism, Israel is the one Jewish state — a historic homeland where every Jew is welcome. Israel’s significance extends beyond its importance to the Jewish people. It is also a dynamic, diverse and democratic society, with an entrepreneurial spirit that has helped make it a global leader in science, technology and medicine. The Klarman Family Foundation is committed to improving the quality of life and access to opportunities for all Israeli citizens so that they may benefit from the country’s prosperity."
Some who have examined the work and goals of the Foundation have raised serious questions:
"The Foundation also funds a number of controversial Arab and Islamic groups. In 2011, Klarman gave $10,000 to the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP), which claims to be “committed to strengthening Palestinian-American relations.”...ATFP also receives substantial funding from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), receiving $148,800 from the country in 2011...."
Another such group is the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), Zuhdi Jasser, a right-wing ideologue and promoter of surveillance of Muslim communities. Klarman is also a prominent funder of the American Islamic Congress, an organization that the George W. Bush administration helped start...
Some observers have argued that Klarman's funding reflects a "wedging" strategy, with Klarman aiming to support "Muslim and Arab-oriented front groups that advance pro-Israel interests while undermining the objectives of mainstream Muslim and Arab-American organizations."  (Citations omitted) 
So, here's what I believe but can't  know for certain because JFNA declared this consulting agreement to be a secret beyond scrutiny: 
(1) Silverman, unbeknownst to those JFNA professionals who opposed JFNA having any role, even as a conduit, in this $1,000,000 grant (perhaps, to support or expand the Klarman/SS+K Palestine Media Watch) when it was originally proposed; perhaps, because of the perceived potential "political purposes" of the grant, without disclosing the purpose of the secret grant proposal even to his then Board Chair, directed that the "deal" be approved: 

(2) he pushed the CFO to approve it -- and she did so never understanding (or caring?) that this deal would be hidden from the JFNA Board if asked;

(3) Seth Klarman, with a preexisting relationship with SS+K, possibly worried that a $1,000,000 grant directly to a for-profit entity, SS+K, at someone's suggestion, may have laundered the money from his Family Foundation through JFNA, its ultimate destination -- where else, SS+K, for some undisclosed Advocacy project (Palestine Media Watch? Anti-Muslim propaganda?) hidden behind the 990 shorthand "Project Connect Production" the substance of which was known only to the donor, Jerry Silverman, Pam Zaltsman, Michael Siegal and, now, Richard Sandler.. Any wonder that responsible JFNA leaders might have raised questions? 

And, if I'm right, if there is fire where JFNA is currently blowing smoke, this is a truly dangerous game that JFNA is playing. Yet, Richard Sandler has told me that he has reviewed this transaction and everything is just fine!

So, if I'm wrong about all of this, as is more than possible of course, and this is nothing more than a parallel donor-directed grant like the Ruderman Foundation disability grants, then why the need for secrecy? And who, really, demanded the "secrecy?" Klarman whose name is all over his other philanthropy? Silverman?? Why not just disclose the following: the donor, the purpose of funding SS+K and the results of Silverman's "monitoring" the grant for JFNA. The question of "why" the need for confidentiality arises as well because Seth Klarman's and his family Foundation's philanthropy are well known and not anonymous.

And, now, let's be clear: this is not a "cover-up" of the end result,  this cover-up was on from the beginning....and has been ever since. But, as has always been the case: Richard Sandler, "the truth shall set you free.", the question remains: "Why?"


Sunday, October 23, 2016


When I was just 7 years old, my Dad, of blessed memory, took me to my first Major League Baseball game. I will always remember climbing the ramp to the right field bleachers at old, now gone, Comiskey Park, and seeing the field for the first time looking like green velvet, I can still smell the freshly mowed grass. I remember the crack of the bat as Ted Williams hit a towering home run well over our heads and the despair at another White Sox loss. Ever since, I have been a White Sox fan, joy-filled at every victory, crestfallen with every loss.

The White Sox were a mediocrity then, as they are now, but I and many of my friends remained passionate and filled with hope each season. Many of us, me included, enjoyed a certain schadenfreude -- we were always assured that is the White Sox were downtrodden, the Cubs were even more so. Some of us, me included, got as much joy out of a Cubs loss as out of a Sox win. I still remember the immortal, snarling Leo Durocher joining the Cubs as Manager after a miserable season announcing: "This is not an 8th place team" and, sure enough the Cubs finished 10th that first year of Durocher's realm. There was the Cubs collapse in 1969 and often thereafter mainly attributed to a curse announced by one Billy Sianis when his pet goat was not allowed to join him at a game. 

Then, the White Sox arose three times -- 1959 in a World Series loss, 1983 in a woeful playoff loss and then in the magnificent World Series win in 2005. Each time we thought "no more will we be the second team in a two team town" and each time the Sox lapsed back into untold mediocrity. And, now...

The Cubs are not only back in the World Series, they are as "lovable" as when they were "lovable losers." I, like all Chicagoans, have found joy in their victories and find myself rooting for them through each agonizing playoff game. This is great for the once-beleaguered Cubs fans; it's great for my City.

All I can yell is GO CUBS. All of Chicago is with you.


Saturday, October 22, 2016


Some of you were critical when I questioned whether a new Federation hire, whom I didn't name, for a once vibrant federation that was facing a critical need for a new and vital CEO, might not be made of the stuff needed. That federation hired a person who had claimed success in a smaller community. I wrote: "'Applying principles and best practices from the corporate sector' he boasted of achievements that many did not see other than the reconstruction of the 'gaga pit' at the local JCC," 

Criticism aside, we wished the guy and the community well. That was in August of last year.  Less than one year later, he was gone. No more gaga pits* to conquer, I guess. Here's what Federation leadership wrote to the constituency:

"The _______________ Jewish Federation has been the preeminent institution for our community’s Jewish philanthropy since 1920. We take very seriously our critical role in supporting the care of our community members, enhancing Jewish community education and connection, and assisting our Jewish brethren in Israel and beyond. Our legacy is rich and we have much to be proud of.
We are writing today to share with you that _______________ will be leaving the ______________Jewish Federation this week. We thank _______ for his contributions to the ___________ Jewish Federation over the past year, and wish him well with his future endeavors."
Dismissive and, perhaps, unnecessarily terse. This was not alone a community's hiring error; it was as well a grievous error on the part of JFNA's CEO search practice and its selected "vendor," the Mandel Center for Excellence ( you can judge whether that title has become an oxymoron like "Airplane food"). For all the years of this Blog, I have suggested quite directly that JFNA get the hell out of the Search business. When it finally did so, sadly it wasn't because of failures like this one, but for financial reasons, JFNA no longer wanted to subvent the federation CEO Search business, period -- what JFNA termed its role in "Talent Acquisition" would be no more.

And, almost simultaneously with the Federation unnamed above, one in the Northwest announced that its CEO, who made it through thee years, would be returning to his home State. When that leader was hired directly out of a lengthy term leading a University Hillel, I predicted on these pages that, with no evident federation background, he wasn't quite ready for the challenges he would be facing in a community struggling to find its footing after years of failed campaigns. 

Those who were quick to criticize me in these two instances (and others) wholly failed to comprehend that I was expressing my concern, one that has only grown, that women and men were being hired without regard for the fact that, absent substantive experience, mentoring and a place to turn for guidance and counsel in the most complex of communal organizational environments, they were being set up to fail -- Camp directors, Hillel directors, United Way CEOs, etc., were being asked to essentially find their own ways -- they were put out on a slab of melting ice and told "don't worry" and then left to sink or swim. 

What are the repercussions to JFNA? Oh, I'm sure it goes like this: "Hey, that's not JFNA, that's Mandel." If they recommended to you someone that failed to meet your expectations, "that's not JFNA's fault, you chose him." So, don't expect any compensation, any Dues relief. And, by the way, Mandel will be available for your next Search. But, setting aside the growing number of failed searches, it is JFNA that has failed these new hires; it is JFNA that has nothing to offer them in terms of support or knowledge that would assist them. Guess JFNA would tell them: "Hey, just ask FedCentral." And, then, JFNA walks away; "our job is done."

And there are really those telling federations exactly those things. And there are those in leadership who believe everything at 25 Broadway is just fine...fine, indeed.


* For those who don't recall: 
"Ga-ga" is a variant of dodgeball that is played with one ball. The game combines dodging, ... The ga-ga pit generally consists of flat walls atop a smooth dirt, turf, or sand surface.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


A recent New Yorker cartoon: CEO at the head of the table, pen in hand, his Senior Staff seated around the table. The CEO: "How about you just shout out ideas and I'll keep writing them down until this Post-it is all filled up."

1. What the hell has happened to UIA? The United Israel Appeal continues to perform the monitoring, allocating and oversight functions assigned to it by the merger, but, otherwise..? As one of you Commented, now UIA merely reprints the works of others in its weekly recitation of something called: UIA Presents -- as in UIA Presents Natan Sharansky...and then reprints Natan's Tablet plea for the affirmation of the compromise deal on the Wall; or UIA Presents...David Brown's award of Chicago's highest communal honor. When it comes to substance, however, UIA Presents: Nothing...5 (or was it 6) years ago, the JFNA Board ratified a UIA advocacy initiative that offered great hope for overseas advocacy and, then, it just disappeared; less than two years ago, UIA's Board Chair (it was never brought to UIA's Board and, by then, the UIA Executive Committee had been disbanded by its own Board Chair's fiat) meekly acquiesced to the demand by JFNA leaders that all advocacy vest within JFNA-Israel -- how has that been going for UIA, for JAFI (or JDC or World ORT) or, for the matter, JFNA? In fact every single initiative already put in motion two years ago has never moved forward. Why not? By whose orders?

In fact, it appears that not a single UIA initiative on the table two years ago has moved forward at all. An Action Plan approved by UIA's Board and JFNA's, has been ignored as if it never existed. The UIA of today seems to be nothing more than a Chair, an Executive and an Israel staff with the Board nothing more than a rubber stamp, if that. Sound familiar? Yep,  it has become UIA Presents...Nothing. When we preserved UIA at the time of the merger it was because we recognized the important, limited role under IRS Revenue Rulings it continued to play and the importance of its Board as a means of offering significant lay leadership roles for Israel overseas advocates. As it now exists, if at all, as nothing more than a Chair and a staff; and a group of lay leaders able and ready to lead -- perhaps it's time to fold all of its work into JFNA.

Allow me to Update this Post with one of the first Comments received:

"UIA has the potential to fulfill its role and more, except that it has been almost completely coopted by the JFNA culture and bureaucracy.
UIA still has a great group of lay leaders but JFNA has taken over the supervision of the operation and sets the agenda as to what UIA is "allowed" to do (and what not) and to keep it in its place. UIA was always a lay driven organization - the exact opposite of JFNA in its current form.
By getting rid of anyone that thinks that UIA should be doing something more than filling its most basic technical roles and making sure that those in charge are loyal to JFNA's view of the world, they are indeed slowly but surely making UIA irrelevant.
And just as the JFNA lay leadership are allowing the organization to go down the drain, so the UIA lay leafership are alowing their own organization to be coopted into becoming a meaningless remnant of its once glorious past.
Sound familiar?" 

2. Marketing Rules: Substance is Nothing and JFNA in Management Chaos. I have observed on these pages that for almost a year now, JFNA's Consulting Services efforts have been devoid of senior professional leadership. In fact, though I cannot be certain, there may no longer even be a JFNA Consulting Services function even though I think there remains a Chair and a Committee (but, then again, maybe not). Now, one of you has sent me the Job Description for a lead Consulting Services professional and that description tells you all you need to know about JFNA under the Smilin' One.

The Search is on for a Vice-President Federation Relations. The Job Description is an elaborate one that promises so much:

  • "The Vice President of Federation Relations will lead a team (there is no team) serving on the front line of building relationships between The Jewish Federations of North America and the 151 Federations it serves across North America (there are no such relationships).
  • The Federation Relations team will be responsible for working closely with JFNA professionals in regular contact with Federations (there are none), synthesizing information and insights derived from those interactions into a dynamic “customer service” profile of each community. Federation Relations staff will be responsible for analyzing trends and needs and bringing them to the attention of JFNA senior leadership to advise where reallocations of JFNA resources and staff time may be appropriate or emerging problems averted."
There's more, of course, promising so much. Bottom line it is an important position that could rebuild the Consulting Services operation if it works...maybe, but, of course, as this is JFNA, it must be rebranded.'s downhill from the hyperbole above.

Will this new VP report to Jerry? Oh no, Jerry can't be bothered with reporting functions. As with everything else he most likely will not even know what's going on. Will this new VP report to COO Mark Gurvis? No, even though Mark is supposed to have the management function over all JFNA staff portfolio holders... but not this one. No, this potentially most critical federation relationship manager who will coordinate the organization's federation relationships will report to...Renee Rothstein. Yes, Renee Rothstein who runs JFNA's Strategic Marketing and Communications operation will supervise JFNA's embryonic "Federation Relations" (ah, the rebrand) function. This only makes sense if one accepts as a given that in the Silverman "regime" everything is about marketing and p.r. -- nothing is really about substance. Yes: Reports to: "Senior Vice President, Strategic Marketing and Communications." Yep: WTF???

Then there's Mark Gurvis. I don't know Mark at all but I have heard good things about him in this otherwise dystopian  operating environment. He is the COO; the operating department leaders were to report to him, at least that was Michael Siegal's plan -- obviously no longer. This inane reassignment of reporting responsibilities from the COO to the SVP-PR could only happen in the administration "led" by a CEO who couldn't manage his way out of a Sketchers shoe box. So, now you have it: Federation Relations will report to PR; Israel-Overseas apparently reports to no one; FRD it appears will continue to report through a brilliant new Senior VP-FRD to a Consultant, maybe not, who the hell knows?

How long will JFNA be the "WTF" capital of Jewish organizational life? Your guess is as good as mine; probably better. But I would hazard a guess: this will last so long as Board Chairs continue to ignore what is right in front of them, satisfied in the belief that everything is just swell.

Just swell.

Chag sameach.


Sunday, October 16, 2016


     A Cartoon in a recent New Yorker showed a clown at the podium surrounded by 
     an audience.  The clown angrily announced: "Other organizations are l  aughing
     at us"

"Clown hysteria has taken the country by storm, fueling both fear and fascination while prompting calls for calm from police departments and even from the master of horrors, Stephen King.
And, then, I learned that they are calling it "the great Clown Panic of 2016."

OK, it had to emerge at some point. Now seems to be the time. I have to admit that for the past 6 years many of these Posts have been inspired by nothing more than my lifetime coulrophobia -- my absolute fear of clowns. It first happened when my parents forced me to  watch the Howdy Doody Show, z'l, on which appeared the frightening Clarabell the Clown. Maybe it was when I went kicking and screaming to a local TV show -- the eponymous show of Ray Raynor of blessed memory, where the immortal and original Bozo the Clown stepped on me with his enormous shoes. Rather than take me to therapy, my parents thought they would cure my burgeoning fear by dragging me to the Ringling Bros. Circus only to watch me collapse in screams at the appearance of Emmett Kelly in full makeup. Even hearing "Send In The Clowns" would send me into paroxysms of fear.

Yeah, many years passed and, as a presumed adult, I managed to avoid all clown contact. My children and grandchildren were deprived of my presence at circuses over the decades. I was declared to be "clown free" by my psychiatrist. I was cured. Or so I thought.

And, then came...Jerry... Smiling' Jerry. And, ever since, my coulrophobia has returned, non-stop, raging. So, here I am today wondering: When will wearing the Bozo outfit finally get too heavy? When will wearing the big floppy shoes wear him out? Soon? Please? Yet, there is the continuing reality that Jerry is being paid at an astonishing pace -- more than Clarabell or Bozo or any of the the aggregate.

And, then, a friend, not knowing of my irrational coulrophobia, sent me the photo of Jerry wearing that bright red clown nose and a look of total bewilderment (!!) (See, Post of July 3). Oh, the paroxysms of fear and loathing.

Now I am absolutely aware that Bozo and Clarabel and Emmett Kelly were great clowns. We all know that. They performed their clown stuff with perfection. But even the work of the best of them inspired my own coulrophobia, exacerbated it, in fact. But I had been pronounced cured, the shock treatments worked. But when Smilin' Jerry popped out of the JFNA Klown Kar, wearing that bright red clown nose (or not) there I was, shaking in fear once again.

If you hear the squish, squish sounds of the big floppy afraid; be very afraid.


* Yes, I paraphrased the clown's admonition.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


If collective responsibility is not dead, its mortality is on full view at JFNA. Dues, allocations, The National Agencies-Federation Alliance, you name it, so many federations have lost their way by going their own ways. But, if further evidence were needed, one need look no further than JFNA's emergency response effort. Once the gold standard, JFNA emergency response has fallen on the hardest of times. Maybe, somewhere, a conscious decision (were JFNA capable of conscious decisions) was made to just default  our institutional disaster response to NECHAMA; Jewish Response to Disaster, leaving it to NECHAMA to do what we once did (sound familiar?). 

I was sensitized to this failure by the careening destruction of October's Hurricane Matthew which carried with it significant losses to major Jewish population centers on the Florida, Georgia and South Carolina Coasts. An organization with a real emergency response effort would have been prepared to assist those communities from the moment the Hurricane left its path of destruction; all JFNA was prepared to do (and did, immediately, before the Hurricane rained its havoc on Savannah and Charleston) was open a Mailbox, create a Fund, send a plea to the Federations..

From a staffing standpoint, once the JFNA emergency staff so responsive in earlier emergencies was eliminated (by whom? why?) and efforts were transferred to JFNA-Washington, William Daroff has been on the scene doing everything that the continental organization could do side-by-side with a committed laity. But JFNA can only do so much with the financial resources it has available and, that's exactly where the effort lags.

My recollection is that into the early years of this decade (or toward the end of the last), JFNA maintained an emergency fund in excess of $1 million enabling it to engage in rapid response to national emergencies impacting Jewish communities; replenishing that fund as it was spent down. Since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, however, and I may be wrong,  it appears as if that fund, spent down as it was, was never replenished. Sure enough, someone(s) decided that emergencies, however severe, could be met with (1) a solicitation letter to the communities and (2) a...mailbox, of course; and (3) a Fund awaiting deposits. 

Thus, JFNA only offers financial assistance today to today's catastrophic emergency as funds dribble in. Why, one should ask, I think, hasn't JFNA established a multi-million dollar revolving Emergency Fund enabling the immediate financial assistance often necessary when a catastrophe strikes? It's great that in at least one recent weather-driven disaster Daroff was on-site offering both human assistance and embodying JFNA's concern (Of course one might ask: where might the CEO's physical presence be more needed -- at the Shimon Peres funeral in Jerusalem or physically at the site of the devastation in Baton Rouge or in Florida and South Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Matthew?) but what ever happened to the body of experience brought to bear a decade ago in the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina -- oh, wait, all of those great professionals have left JFNA. 

Let's face facts. JFNA, nothing more than a shadow of its predecessor organizations, UJA and CJF, has been led in a downward spiral to its present sad state as a second-rate trade association. It could have been so much more; it should have been so much more. For $30 million per year it has/had to be so much more. But it's not.

My friend, Lee Twersky, the UJA CFO of such incredible integrity, as he and I led the merger process and confronted what we perceived to be CJF slow-walking every issue, outlined what might be the budget and the assignment of tasks -- FRD to UJA and  trade association responsibilities to CJF -- in the event the merger failed. We came up with a total budget of $12 million. Instead we watch as the merged entity wastes so much of $30 million each and every year

JFNA is what its owners have allowed it to become. 


Monday, October 10, 2016


Two brilliant students of the North American federation model circa 2016 concluded:
"Todayoften leadership succession occurs by default as individuals are inserted into positions of responsibilitypossessing a minimal understanding of the nuance and complexity of what it may mean to serve as the voice and compass of a communal institution."**&utm_campaign=Thurs+Aug+25&utm_medium=email
And, all you and I can say is: "look around." We only need to look at 25 Broadway and its "Amen Corner." It's truly horrible to have to say it, let alone to repeat it, but for seven years we have allowed our continental organization to be run by a one so evidently and obviously ill-equipped as to diminish our system day-by-day-by-day. And, no one with the power to do something about it is willing to "stand up for truth." Rome's new Mayor, anyone?

Here's my opinion...

You and I don't know of any law firm, any business, any non-profit, any federation that would tolerate a CEO/President absent any measurable success for a single year, let alone seven; but at JFNA, "mired in mediocrity" as it is, we not only tolerate it, but by our leaders' actions and inaction mediocrity is perpetuated and even encouraged. And all you have to do is look around.

At braishit, at the beginning of JFNA, the first Search for a CEO produced several finalists. The then Board Chair supported one of those candidates (who was ultimately hired as COO and was so unprepared for the job that she burned all bridges and left soon after) but the Large City Executives at that time put forward the New York UJA-Federation CEO, then the longest-serving CEO in our system, on the cusp of retirement (or something). They  demanded that he get the job (and, in fact, he might have been the best candidate in retrospect); and their insistence proved irresistible even to one of the strongest personalities ever to Chair our system. That CEO was not up to the job and was succeeded by Steven Hoffman. And, Hoffman begat Howard Rieger. 

Seven years ago, when another Board Chair demanded that her choice for CEO, on the record, I think you'd agree, as ill-equipped for the position as was the candidate supported by that first Board Chair and rejected over a decade earlier, the LCE, now seemingly disinterested but clearly having within their cadre at least one superb potential candidate, just walked away. Since then, more than one of these men (and they were all men) has said to me in great pain "I am watching that which I have spent my lifetime building being destroyed before my eyes." And, then, did nothing about it. Stand up for truth? Not any more.

So, what do we have today? It has been said that "action without vision or purpose is merely passing time." At incredible cost, we are merely passing time, my friends; permitting the shambolic Silverman "(mal)administration" at JFNA to metastasize and endure.  We have confused the appearance of activity with accomplishment.

And, everyone involved should have known:

A professional leader who, 7 years on the job, still finds the ethos of federation qua federation, totally elusive. He believes the job entails self-promotion, and branding above all, as if he were still selling khakis. Like a wayward Presidential candidate, Jerry is still asking the federation equivalent of "Where is Aleppo?" Hired to both lead JFNA and manage its staff, lay leadership  soon understood that Jerry could not manage the staff, and demanded that he hire a COO, and  Mark Gurvis was engaged, leaving Silverman to be the "outside man." But he doesn't know how to do that job either. So assuming, arguendo, that Jerry could be the best "face" of JFNA (vayezmir), the lay leadership effectively cut his job in half, if not more, but still compensated him as if he were (a) demonstrating excellence and (b) still performing the full panoply of the job. It's totally insane. 

At the time of the unconscionable extension of Silverman's contract after 5 years of failures, I catalogued the efforts:
"Follow the path of failure with me, friends:
  • Community Heroes -- failure
  • #ish -- failure
  • More donors -- failure 
  • TribeFest 1, TribeFest 2, TribeFest 3 -- failure, failure, failure
  • Complete the Journey 1 -- failure
  • Complete the Journey 2 -- failure
  • A $1 billion "campaign" to provide a free Jewish pre-school -- non-starter
  • A whole series of GAs -- failure, failure, failure, failure, failure
  • Global Planning Table Strategic Initiatives -- non-starters
  • Global Planning Table itself -- failure
  • "Stop the Sirens" Special "Campaign" -- failure
  • Independent fund raising to support the JFNA Budget -- ha ha ha
  • Overseas Core Allocations -- failure
  • Ukraine Emergency Fund -- failure

There are more, help me out here, but there have been no successes...none. Under Jerry's brand of leadership, JFNA had made no impact anywhere."
As was written about another:
"Never has ignorance been such cloudless bliss: (his) self-delusion buoyed by those around (him), amounted to a kind of genius." 
And, in the two years since that contract extension: more nothing. You tell me, friends, what do we have beyond a seven year shutout? After 7 years it should be clear to one and all that what you see in Jerry is what you get -- nothing. He is like a necrotic limb on what is a failing body — one that can’t be isolated or quarantined and one the patient -- that would be JFNA -- refuses to amputate. Unlike Nasatir or Hoffman, Solomon or Terrill or even a relative newcomer like Sanderson, unlike Fine, Fogelson, Freedman or Meyer, Margolies, Blattner or Wunsch, who know the "whole equation" of "community" in their respective heads, after 7 years, Jerry appears to understand nothing beyond the mastery that comes with stroking his lay leadership. Like a child manipulating his parents, the one thing Jerry clearly knows is which buttons to push -- because there is no explaining how Silverman keeps his job. 

Over seven years, under his "leadership" (and there must be a term for the lack thereof) with the support of disaffected Chairs, they have rendered JFNA vestigial, irrelevant to the point that one can envision a time in the near-term future when the federations will determine that they don't need an expensive, bloated Continental entity that does almost nothing...nothing that can't be done by a down-sized trade association. Where CJF was led professionally by a Phil Bernstein, a Marty Kraar, and UJA by a Rabbi Herb Friedman and a Stanley Horowitz, what passes for professional leadership today? If it weren't happening right in front of us, we would say this can't possibly be true.

For Jerry Silverman from the date he accepted the position as CEO was plunked right down in water far, far over his head. As for those CEOs who lead their federations to glory, is it fair to ask; have the most skilled among them, saved failure for late in their careers and betrayal of the values they have taught us for now when all of us most need their voices?

And, yet, 'tis pity, 'tis true...too damn true. 

As pundit Peggy Noonan described someone recently in words that suit Jerry like a pair of Dockers: "There's a clueless quality about him. It's not that he doesn't get advice, it's that he can't hear advice, can't process it or turn it into action."  Or, as Orwell identified another: "...(he) tries to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." But, I guess if you are at the top of the JFNA lay food chain and you tilt your head just right as you look up. those black clouds above look just like puffy white bunnies. Yes, with Jerry Silverman "doesn't get it" has not only taken on new meaning, it has become a tag line. And, yet, he can serve with a straight face on the board of a non-profit one of whose purposes is to guide "CEO On-Boarding."

Friends, I know you are asking with me, what has become of us?

Think about it: seven years and not a discernible success unless making of JFNA the home of banal self-absorption is "success." Can JFNA's lay leaders -- and you know who you are (and, yes, you read this Blog) -- after seven years of failed (not "failing," FAILED) professional "leadership" really believe, when they look themselves in the mirror, that somehow we are on the cusp of some sort of inflection point? That we have hit bottom and are now are on our way up? Friends, if as they say comedy is tragedy plus time, we have allowed JFNA to become a laugh riot. But, instead JFNA is an overwhelming tragedy for everyone involved. Some have accused me of placing Jerry in a bad light. To paraphrase Seth Myers: "Also putting Jerry in a bad light is...light.

This mediocrity, this stupidity, this comedy, this tragedy cannot remain sustainable. We deserve better.


* That non-profit is LeadingEdge

Friday, October 7, 2016


Recently, I published a Post It's Kaddish for the Lay-Professional Partnership. In that piece I suggested that lay leadership has been in large measure responsible for this deconstruction in their willingness to delegate their fiduciary duties to their CEOs, happy to shpil nachas rather than put in the heavy lifting required to engage in a true partnership with their professional cohorts.

In thinking this over, I have concluded that in too many instances we have seen JFNA lay leaders and those at the federation level attempt to dictate to those pros who should be their partners as if they are but scriveners. And the results have been disastrous -- disastrous not just for the lay-professional partnership but for our institutions. Examples?
  • Of course the primary example was the dictation so evident in the creation of the Global Planning Table, probably the least thought through multi-million dollar disaster yet from the Continental entity;
  • At the outset of JFNA the Board Chair tried to insert his personal choice, a prima facie case of the inept and inexperienced, as CEO. When that failed, he successfully pushed her as COO where she lasted for only months;
  • There was the selection of Rabbi Lord Sacks as the preeminent Plenary speaker for this year's GA. We have been advised from outside and inside JFNA that Sacks' selection was demanded by a GA Co-Chair over the objections of the JFNA professionals;
  • Back in the dying days of the infamous ONAD "process" ONAD's lay Chair attempted to ignore the vote of his own Committee in pressing a short-sighted personal agenda;
  • We have seen federations where, by dint of the size of their gifts, lay chairs have overridden Committee and Board decisions with which they disagreed and in other instances have unilaterally canceled Board meetings when they proved to be "inconvenient" -- in these instances and others the lay leaders demonstrated a lack of any understanding of their role...or they just didn't give a damn...or both
  • And more
And, each and every overreach by lay leaders whose lack of understanding of our system parallels or exceeds that of the professionals they have either ignored or to whom they have dictated has been fodder to those other professionals who have consequently concluded that "we can't leave this to the lay leadership." Now, they might have come to that conclusion absent the cited inanities, but those serious missteps of the leadership laity are impossible to pass over as contributors to the professionals' rationalization.

Just listen to the discussions at JFNA meetings as to whose voices are loudest; just recall whose voice demanded that questions on the Budget at a Budget and Finance Committee meeting be cut off; just remember who have articulated "red lines that shall not be crossed" at meetings too numerous to mention; and more and more while the voices of lay leadership are silent. 

Yes, we have acquiesced by our continuing silence. Some would call it cowardice.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016



  • ...The two FRD consultants who have remained unnamed for what is now months since their hiring? Well, we still don't know who they are. (Well, we do, but we are not free to utter their names.) Yes, while they are busy contacting the communities assigned to them by another consultant, JFNA's "announcement" of their engagement still does not identify them by name; and there has been no announcement even to the JFNA staff identifying them either. They are truly the stealth consultants. Here's how the "process" (has anyone ever counted the number of "processes," all ad hoc of course, JFNA has in place at any one time?) apparently works, it's simple: Vicki Agron, also a consultant, of course, decides the federations where the two consultants she hired for JFNA will work; no one knows the criteria, if any, Vicki uses to identify the communities which will be served or those who don't meet the secret criteria. Thus, if your community wants consultant assistance, you best call Agron -- she won't be calling you. So long as this is all a secret, I guess Smilin' Jerry thinks it's fine, if he knows anything about it at all. To me this is nothing more than noblesse oblige -- top down dictation from 25 Broadway. If this makes any sense to you, tell me so. This is just the way that JFNA conducts its business.  
  • ...The $1,000,000 SS+K contract the terms of which remain locked under a false claim of "confidentiality?" The Chair affirmed to me that he was totally and completely satisfied not only with the terms of the SS+K/donor/JFNA contract but with the ad hoc "process" (really...none) by which the arrangement between and among donor/JFNA/consultant was approved. It's all apparently in furtherance of JFNA's or, more than likely, the donor's "Israeli advocacy." (More on that in an upcoming Post.) We just have to take Richard Sandler's word for it; he is the Board Chair, after all. Well I still have received no explanation as to why Board members may not see even appropriately redacted copies of consultant contracts upon request. This again is just the way JFNA conducts its business.
  • ...The invitation extended to Lord Rabbi Sacks to headline 2016 GA?  You know, the invitation demanded by a lay GA Co-Chair overriding JFNA staff's warnings, to a clergy member who has shown no tolerance toward the Religious Movements supported by the vast number of North American Jews? Well, the objections to Sacks has almost wiped the smile off Jerry's lips ad has certainly sent the CEO into hiding on the subject. So Lord Sacks is still on the GA calendar. One would think that JFNA, with a succession of GAs already suffering from year after year of minuscule lay attendance, would not engage in practices that will keep more lay leaders away.  But this is just the way JFNA conducts its business.
  • ... Why has JFNA abandoned an historic commitment to the Jewish communal profession?  We have all heard JFNA speak to its "commitment" to the communal professionals; it has all been lip service. Nothing more. This year JFNA abandoned the system's historic support for FEREP, the "Federation Executive Recruitment & Education Program" that has meant so much to the professional movement for so long. Then it dropped its financial support for Mandel part of which historically was dedicated to professional education. Friends, couple these acts of abandonment with the JFNA CEO's acceptance of (or was it capitulation to his demand) to serve on the Advisory Committee to LeadingEdge, a communal professional support group. Maybe LeadingEdge should give Silverman some professional education. Once again, this is just how JFNA conducts its business.
Four matters cloaked in secrecy by JFNA dictate. So there you have it: secret Consultants, secret contracts, a secret speaker selection process and a secret abandonment of its responsibilities to the communal professionals. JFNA makes secrecy an art.

These four matters alone suggest that matters at 25 Broadway are in chaos, unmanaged chaos -- this is not "management by chaos," friends, that would suggest that there is some management going on. This is "non-Management by chaos." Things at JFNA have gone from worst to worser, from dumb to dumber. And it's going to get far worse if the most senior lay leaders don't step in...

...but they won't.