Two brilliant students of the North American federation model circa 2016 concluded:
, , ."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:As was written about another:
- 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."
"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, this...this...is 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