Thursday, November 17, 2016


Let's reboot this Post with the positive culled from your Comments:
"I also thought that the attendance was small (and a lot of staff). But this is also a reflection of the growing professionalization of our federations. We don't have to play the AIPAC numbers game. It's fine if we don't have tens of thousands coming to the GA. AIPAC's convention is all about the numbers and trying to show off, and not about the content and the context. What I witnessed at the GA however was truly inspiring--a new generation of young Cabinet leaders, new Execs coming into their roles, new ideas about engagement and philanthropy." 

1. The Opening Plenary. With Chuck Todd moderating important Roundtables offering critical post-election analysis in a ballroom with a maximum capacity of 900, multiple rows are empty. Where are the promised 3,000 attendees? Well, really the same place they were last years and the three years before that -- not there. 

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who, as we have reported, has sowed the seeds of inter-denominational discord in Great Britain, roused the crowd with a call for Jewish unity, Kind of a "do as I say, not as I do" -- quite appropriate to JFNA.

2. Institutional Ineptitude. At the Prime Minister's Council Event, normally a major moment for the communities' largest donor group. Congressman John Lewis and Suzanne Heschel were reminiscing about that moment in the Civil Rights Movement when Jews and African Americans joined arms in Selma. JFNA at that moment flashed a photo on the large screen and Abraham Joshua Heschel's daughter said, "Uh, that's a scene of Rabbis at the Vietnam Memorial." Yep, some would call this hysterical, others, pathetic...but, it's really just JFNA. Sad and inept.

3. Speaking of Sad and Inept. You will recall that JFNA often confuses its letters with actual substance. At the JFNA Board meeting, the Board and Fed Members Corp were actually asked to vote on sending another letter to the Prime Minister (and the language thereof) with regard to, what else, the implementation or, more correctly, the PM's obvious "problem" in implementing the now 1-1/2 year-old enacted Resolution to provide egalitarian space adjacent to the Western Wall for non-Orthodox Prayer. Those Trustees participating in the Board Meeting by phone had yet to see the letter (although asked to vote on it) and the brief discussion of the letter suggested it was as weak as were its predecessors (but, according to Jerry, it just had to be that way). We heard that JFNA "has been working" with the Movements and "working with JAFI" on this but we all know what that means by now, don't we?

So, here is the letter, you be the judge of its worth and whether it's weak or compelling:

"Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

As leaders of Jewish Federations from across North America, we are writing to affirm our unwavering love for the State of Israel as well as to convey our collective appreciation for all you have done to advance the establishment of an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel and to make room for a diversity of Jewish religious practice and expression.   We recognize that no Israeli leader understands the importance of religious pluralism or has done more in this area than you have.

We are as committed to Israel’s strength and security as we are to her economic and social prosperity. We are sure you can understand the concerns we hear from many in our communities who struggle to understand why the implementation of the historic government resolution to create a space at the Kotel where all Jews are free to worship appears stalled.  

We know you recognize the growing sense of urgency to fully implement the Government Resolution, which resulted from the work of your office together with Natan Sharansky’s leading of the parties to a compromise. Your declaration at last year’s General Assembly that there is “one Wall for one People” has become a statement that our communities truly believe and expect to see come true.  

On behalf of the Federation movement we represent, we thank you for your leadership on this matter and look forward to your ongoing efforts to make clear to millions of Jews in Israel and around the world that, in spite of our differences, we are one People."*
BTW, there is a playbook on issues like this -- it's called the "Law of Return" Playbook. But, unfortunately, it's a "book." And, today, we don't read and we don't mobilize.

So, now, JFNA will apparently be processing all of its "letters" through its Board aend Federation Members Corporation -- a bizarre way of doing business.

P.S. The inane processing of this JFNA "letter" through the JFNA Board should be compared with the organization's statement on Presidential election -- a statement that seemed to be published just after the GA with no process whatsoever. Read the story here:  And, of course, later in the day, an unnamed "consultant" fell on his/her sword (for whom) I have a sense we all know) for this whole mess.

As we have noted before, almost every action this organization takes is ad hoc ...and senseless.

4. Oh, and that Board Meeting. Nothing Happened. But there was a two sentence plea for cash and a brief admission that core allocations to JAFI/JDC/WorldORT will reach new lows this calendar year. And Harold Gernsbacher delivered a passionate upbeat report on FRD while announcing a magnificent personal gift to a vital program of the Ethiopian National Project. If I get this correctly, the Board must approve letters but the National Campaign Chair can unilaterally announce a new Special Campaign. Interesting. 

There was a stirring address from JDC's Outgoing CEO, Alan Gill, and I confess I hung up before the presentation by the head of the Israel Government Tourist Office, Northeast Region, whom, I assume, is related to someone on the Board.

5. Monday Night. You ulta kachers, like me will remember that Monday nights when GAs were real went something like this: we would join our friends from our federations or our constituencies for a raucous dinner, then we would rush back to GA HQ for an always provocative and important speaker, then, or us Chicagoans, we would repair to the suite shared by our Chair and CEO and shmoooze, drink and share experiences. At this GA, there are those same dinners, then buses to an Israeli-Ethiopian film and "Hip Hop Party." Compare and Contrast.

6. The Message of The Forward 50. It appears traditional that The Forward publishes its 50 over the days of the GA. This year those fifty do not include a single Federation Movement leader -- not a single one. This is more than a little shocking but, perhaps, it is one major Jewish publication's determination on the system's growing irrelevance. I can think of several LCE who would merit inclusion; I would have cited JFNA's William Daroff within "the 50." But The Forward has made its selections and federation leaders ought to being paying attention.

7. The Closing Plenary. Maybe it was appropriate, symbolic even, that as this GA approached its end Tuesday morning, Jerry Silverman spoke to a 1/2 empty (at best) room. Even Jerry should now "get it" -- the GA needs a complete overhaul and, at the least, a serious discussion as to whether it should continue to be an annual event. I know, I know, the arguments will be made: (1) if JFNA doesn't do it, others will step into the void; (2) we contract with hotels years in advance and would be at risk for substantial damages for termination; and (3) we've already announced the time and place of the 2017 GA in LA. But, of course the responses are simple: (1) the GA itself is a "void" -- attendance has fallen much like allocations; (2) let JFNA's hotel consultants negotiate a deferral of the LA GA to a year in the future; and (3) just move all of it back. Use the year hiatus for a hands-on examination of the GA by lay leaders with experience Chairing GA's. 

And, of course, see you in LA.


* Some of you have suggested that my Post on November 10 in which I "pointed out" that JFNA had totally dropped the ball on the Wall issue was the catalyst for this "letter" suddenly being placed on he Board Agenda (It did not appear on the Agenda distributed to the Board before the meeting. You're welcome.


Anonymous said...

The GA is nothing more or less than JFNA lay and professional leaders, having no clue as to what to do with a failed program, just continue to throw money at it and just hope that it gets bette on its own. There's no evaluation but clearly placing the GA in the hands of Rothstein hasn't improved a thing except maybe the graphics.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this update. Clearly no surprise.

Why would you even consider going?
In this day and age, don't they publish all their talks on youtube?

I have a more ethical question. How many for-profit businesses is JFNA promoting? And which executives are lining their pockets from these entities?

A friend who has pumped a bunch of money into Israeli startups sent me the following invitation.

Ourcrowd may be nicely promoting Israeli startups, but are no different than that annoying broker calling incessantly to sell you pieces of private non-trading REITS from Phoenix or nursing homes from Ft Lauderdale.

What other for-profit businesses did JFNA promote?


We invite you to celebrate this honor with us at the upcoming Jewish Federation of North America’s General Assembly in Washington, DC. At the event, you'll receive an in-depth overview and update on the state of the Start-up Nation. As proud sponsors of the JFNA, we will be hosting a top shelf open-bar reception for those attending the GA.

OurCrowd Startup Nation Celebration Reception
Sunday, November 13th
6:00pm – 8:30pm
Jay Room, Washington Hilton
1919 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC 20009

Top shelf open-bar and hors d'oeuvres will be served.
RSVP is requested.

Please note that this event is limited to credentialed GA guests as it will take place within the conference hall. If you or any of your community members will be attending the GA, please register and visit us at the INNOVATION: ISRAEL Exhibit, booth #406. For questions or additional information, please email

Hope you will be available to join us, and we look forward to celebrating together.

Anonymous said...

I love the music

Anonymous said...

No they don't publish all the talks on Youtube. The whole point of the GA is to meet people and share ideas. If you don't go, you'll never understand.

Anonymous said...

sponsorships??? Shock. Horror.

Anonymous said...

And when people that aren't financially sophisticated lose money in jazzed up Israeli tech deals, is JFNA responsible?

Anonymous said...

Along these same lines, perhaps you could write about the growing willingness of JFNA to sell itself and leadership positions to the highest (and sometimes not so high) bidders -- whether its GA chairmanships or that secret conduit deal. Does no one realize that this "For Sale" sign at 25 Broadway just drives away leaders with great potential?

Anonymous said...

So no organization has ever done sponsorships, or corporate underwriting, or asked for donations to cover costs so they keep the costs down for the budget? C'mon. You're being ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

To anon 7:38
Clearly you are a believer and not in Richard's camp
So, do you think Jerry is doing a superior job?

Anonymous said...

Top Shelf Open Bar?

Is JFNA know for its alcohol?

Bob Hyfler said...

Those who never attended a Saturday night GA plenary of the Council of Jewish Federations,evenings of song,solidarity and purpose, cannot appreciate the majesty of the Federation movement in it's golden age.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:38 here. I'm a believer in our Federation. I'm in Richard's camp. And I have enough business experience and philanthropy to know that it's better to get sponsorships than spend all my campaign dollars on GAs.

Anonymous said...

Oh, one more thing (7:38 here again). I don't know if Jerry is or is not doing a good enough job. I know that my Exec, who is fairly new, is doing an excellent job--he is dynamic and strategic, and is grappling with leadership issues that no one saw coming. I know from what he tells me that several of the LCEs are of this high caliber, and that gives me great comfort.

Anonymous said...

total waste of effort, time and money!

Anonymous said...

Whoever said that the speakers were strong and inspirational must surely come from a small community.

Aside from a very few exceptions, the speaker list was decidedly second rate.

Though clearly, there were as many speakers or more as there were regular attendees.

So Kudos to Jerry (or his programmer) for solving the registration problem by throwing speakers at the problem and being politically sensitive enough to have 75% plus of them be women.

While most were benign, if draws, a few were very questionable. One would be Aluf Benn, publisher of the now radically left wing Haaretz whose primary writers - Gideon Levy and Amira Hass - actively support not only BDS, but violent opposition by the Palestinians to the Israeli government and civilian population. Haaretz has just moved completely off the map of civil society.

Otherwise, I must truly disagree with your characterization of Lord Rabbi Sachs who has always spoke and written as a true lover of all Jews.

Anonymous said...

Clearly you have no clue what abysmal comments and actions "Chief" rabbi Sacks has made and done against the reform and conservative movements and against gays and others. Why don't you spend two minutes on google and find out?

Anonymous said...

He's "chief" rabbi of a small sector of the orthodox movement. And his actions have been a disgrace. Let me help you out--type in "Rabbi Sacks Gryn" for a start.

Anonymous said...

Anon from the last post here. I posted a comment in the last post about what I saw at the GA being inspiring. I didn't say that the speakers were strong and inspiring. I said that the new generation of young Cabinet leaders, new Execs coming into their roles, new ideas about engagement and philanthropy were all inspiring.

(And no, not from a small community. But thanks for the patronizing attitude. Good luck with that in your outreach efforts to the next generation. I'm sure it will serve you well).

Anonymous said...

How can you claim that Sacks loved all Jews? A man who describes Reform Jews as 'destroyers of the faith' and 'false groupings'? That kind of love?

Anonymous said...

Why did several federations, including at least two large cities, vote against the proposed letter to the Prime Minister?

RWEX said...

OK. There will be no more Comments on Sacks. I just rejected one. Those who are regular readers recall that early on I wrote of Sacks' expressed negative attitudes toward non-Orthodox in Great Britain. Enough.