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. 



Anonymous said...

Richard, I don't agree with your observation that Jerry should be 'on-site' instead of attending the Peres funeral (I agree with you on 99% of your observations).
Despite all the things that Jerry does that are ineffective and irresponsible (especially for his inflated compensation), The Peres funeral is where Jerry is doing what he should do as the CEO of JFNA.
Visiting communities that were devastated by Matthew would be a waste of time: He is clueless, and would not be able to offer anything tangible to those communities anyway.
Regarding the CJF/UJA merger to create UJC, I don't recall what the initial projection was for the budget of the new organization, but I do recall that in the early 2000s, it was around....drum-roll: $45 million!
I'm just curious as to how the leadership of the merger could come up with a $12 million combined budget for the 2 existing organizations if the merger failed, and at the same time be responsible for a $45 million budget of the 'successful' merger just a few years afterwards.
Or maybe I mis-read your post.

Anonymous said...

I am sure that Richard can speak for himself, but I do have a few thoughts about the original idea of a $12 million budget. In those days as I recall CJF's budget was less than $10 million when I was on the finance committee. I believe That $10 mil included the GA budget as well. Thus if you take out the GA and focus only on the community consultation and other direct services that CJF was doing you could probably get to something like about $5 million. At the same time, while I don't know exactly what the details of the UJA budget was for FRD (I'm sure Lee Twersky could give it to us almost to the penny) maybe there is another $6-7 million for the FRD consulting. This would then be a reasonable budget for a trimmed down organization before adding in break-even items like a GA or mission subsidies, etc.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Anon 12:27: Thanks, makes sense and appears to be fiscally responsible.
I just don't get how you (not you personally) go from $12 million to $45 million, even with liberal rounding.
What was the new organization supposed to do that would cost some $30+ million more than $12 million for the services that would be provided (given the 'trimmed down size) to the system?

Anonymous said...


Just before merger
CJF was $12 million
UJA was $30 million
UIA was under $2 million

JAFI received $200 million from annual campaign

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:27 here replying to Ann 11:34. Unfortunately I can't answer your question. I was merely pointing out that should the merger have failed $12 mil was a possible fall back budget as Richard said until the system could work out some alternatives focusing on the most critical elements of community consultation and services, and FRD.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:27 & 6:32...thanks.