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


Anonymous said...

As a counter-point some, who don't know the ineptitude, will point to the Post naming Silverman one of the 50 Most Influential Jews in the whole wide world. Just think what Silverman might be were he competent.

Anonymous said...

Does that list state whether or not the are a good influence or a bad influence?

Anonymous said...

JPost naming Silverman in the top 50 just shows how out-of-touch their editors are with Jewish America. It's really unfortunate.

Anonymous said...


Please explain how the most prominent paper in your city endorsed the "what is Aleppo candidate".

RWEX said...

Although irrelevant to the Post, this knowledgeable Commentator must know that the same editorial included:

"The Republicans have nominated Donald Trump, a man not fit to be president of the United States. We first wrote on March 10 that we would not, could not, endorse him. And in the intervening six-plus months he has splendidly reinforced our verdict: Trump has gone out of his way to anger world leaders, giant swaths of the American public, and people of other lands who aspire to immigrate here legally. He has neither the character nor the prudent disposition for the job."

Now, let's stick to the subject, please.

paul jeser said...

This post, on a local level, plays out and shows the current dysfunction of the Federation system.

On a fill page inside rear cover (probably costing $2,000+)ad in this week's LA Jewish Journal, there is High Holy Day message from Fed Exec Sanderson starting out by apologizing for not know the significance of the Federation when he took the job! Yikes!

What adds insult to this embarrassment is that this 'High Holy Day support your Federation' message came only from him - not the President, not the Campaign Chair.

Any person who is a product of the Hornstein z'l and/or Bubis z'l Jewish Communal Service programs would have NEVER placed this type of ad.


Anonymous said...

Back to the topic, Richard. Your Post suggests that Silverman might ask, as Gary Johnson did, "and what is Aleppo?" You are wrong. Jerry wouldn't even be able to frame the question. Richard Sandler has doubled down on Jerry, as Michael Siegal did before him. Siegal's terms as Chair saw him lead JFNA nowhere, now that legacy has passed for over one year from Siegal to Sandler and Sandler is carrying on the tradition of "see no evil, hear no evil" and, of course, "speak no evil." He is, like Silverman, the embodiment of Sergeant Schultz of "Hogan's Heroes:" :"I see nothing, I hear nothing, and I say NOTHING!!!" Worse, Sandler thinks things at JFNA are "great."

Anonymous said...

When it comes to functioning as a board chair, Sandler is already on public record as "DO NOTHING."

For all your folks who work at JFNA and read this blog (and claim you don't), I propose an updated tagline for the GA:
Sandler and Silverman: Going Nowhere Together!

paul jeser said...

Let me end this year and begin the new one with the question I have asked numerous times. We all know what the issues/problems are, So, what are 'we' going to do to fix them?

Anonymous said...

Of course none of this would be happening and Silverman would be gone if Richard Sandler were still the Chair.

Anonymous said...

Jerry may know where Aleppo is but he still doesn't know what a federation does. Or what JFNA should or could do.