Sunday, November 13, 2016


I often find myself revisiting the merger that created what is now JFNA. I probably should stop beating myself up over my role in it; but...not so easy, not easy at all. For the leadership of UJA the turning point toward commitment to the merger took place very late one night and early morning in Max Fisher's, z'l, suite at the King David Hotel where UJA's and the Jewish Agency's top lay leadership gathered to weigh the implications of a potential merger with the Council of Jewish Federations on those matters to which the United Jewish Appeal was historically committed and for which we felt great responsibility.

Our discussion was respectful and impassioned, many expressed the conflict they felt; it went on for hours. Finally, Chicago's Corky Goodman said, simply: "We have to trust the federations." These are words I will never forget. Never. In what and whom did we trust?

  1. Obviously we trusted that the federations (and, specifically, the Large City Executives and their lay leadership) were committed to the two foundational principles of the merger critical to the UJA: the commitment to raise "more donors and more dollars" and to allocate from those increased dollars greater funding for the work of the Jewish Agency and the JDC.
  2. We trusted that the federations (and, specifically, the LCE) were committed to the principle embodied in the mantra: "With ownership comes responsibility."
And, what did we learn?
  1. That the federations (and, specifically, the LCE) were only interested in the "control" that came with ownership and not at all with the "responsibilities" that were thought to be concomitant with ownership. 
  2. Examples abound: when the federations could not control the "Trust" created within the FRD function of the new entity, they abandoned it; when the ONAD "process" ranged beyond the federations' control, it was abandoned; when the Global Planning Table grew out of control, the federations walked away. 
  3. That the federations (and, specifically, the LCE) were never committed to increasing the annual campaign or the number of donors with a reciprocal increase in resources to JAFI/JDC or, for that matter, World ORT. In fact, allocations to those "partners" from the aggregate annual campaigns have dropped by in excess of $200,000,000 since the merger, an unbelievable, even horrific amount..
  4. The federations (and, specifically, the LCE) were interested in assuring through their ownership of the merged entity that never would there be another Operation Exodus -- the ultimate expression of collective responsibility in our lifetimes; one created by a group of lay leaders (UJA) and implemented by them, would never ever take place again absent their creation and control. The end result: since the merger, not one special campaign for which JFNA had leadership responsibility met either the goals or the needs...that's not a single one.
There are clearly many at fault here: those of us in leadership of UJA who placed our trust that those who would lead the merged entity would share our values; those who would lead JFNA from the merger forward without regard for the mission and purpose ascribed to the merged entity by both UJA and CJF (to its credit, the leaders of UIA presciently saw the potential for the disaster that JFNA has become; they were the only ones other than Jerry Bubis, z'l, and Steve Windmueller who, after exhaustive research, post-merger, determined, inter alia, that JFNA's leaders did not share a common commitment that promised any success).

So what? Exactly. Can this patient be saved? While any fair prognosis would suggest not, I remain with a constant albeit fading optimism that federation and JFNA leaders will recognize that drastic surgery is required and fast. Change will have to originate from inside JFNA's senior leadership and from within the Federations themselves -- and that will only happen if New York UJA, in its evaluation of how its millions in JFNA Dues are being misspent annually says, in the words of a great philanthropist -- "Enough."




Anonymous said...

You are barking up the wrong tree if you expect to be saved by New York City. Perhaps you should try Central Jersey or some other well run Federation.

The moral bankruptcy you continually write about on lower Broadway is mirrored by the rudderlessness on East 59th Street.

While the fundraising seems unscathed by the three concurrent scandals of Met Council, NYLAG and FEGS, there hasn't been a single operational change to insure that UJA staff shows more responsibility in its audit and oversight requirements or that the UJA-installed boards at the agencies actually adhere their legal fiduciary obligations.

They new management follows its members, whether to a non-kosher restaurant or meaningless petitions about yet another UN resolution. Meanwhile, its weekly kumbaya messages on Friday afternoon mirror Jerry's meaningless missives.

Their relatively newly installed quality assessment executive was trained by Jerry and will never evaluate JFNA. She will only run hatchet jobs on organizations that are politically targeted.

So, unfortunately, your optimism may be misplaced.

RWEX said...

"Barking up the wrong tree?" My specialty.

Anonymous said...

What evaluation of JFNA at UJA?

If there is one, it was never disclosed to the board.

Judy Samuels is working on JAFI and JDC right now, and that is quite controversial enough

Dan Brown said...

JAFI evaluation should be quite simple: they've lost their way and lost respect. It's doubtful their board realizes this; senior management - lay and professional - certainly does not.

Anonymous said...

Echoing Anon 8:32, it will never happen in NY.

John Ruskay ignored JFNA will mouthing fealty

The current generation just doesn't care about JFNA. They are irrelevant in a large community like NYC.

NY even has its own well staffed office in Israel, not allowing any of the important funds to flow through JFNA.

Anonymous said...

Do our donors in New York City realize that our JFNA Dues are between $5 million and $6 million PER YEAR? Do our leaders from NYC care as long as they are rewarded with JFNA leadership positions? Where is JFNA's accountability to New York UJA and where is New York UJA accountability to its donors?

Anonymous said...

We trusted them and we have been betrayed.
We have allowed the great collective UJA culture to be dismantled and destroyed.
We have allowed a noble and important movement to be replaced by a disappointing and destructive bureaucracy.
Isn't it now about time for us to break away and create a powerful alternative - a better way?
We have allowed them to steal our organization and throw away our culture and everything we once believed in.
If there is no way to change the empty shell of an organization that is left then we should leave it and at least try a new way - a better way.
You have been leading us in talking the talk for what seems to have been forever.
Now we need to walk the walk and change the paradigm - leave the swamp and create a new movement for Israel and for our People.
Even if we fail, at least we will be able to say that we put up a fight for what we believe in.

Anonymous said...

NYC stopped being accountable to donors years ago when they realized that the donors were "muppets" (the term used for clients of big banks before the 2008 crash)

The donors don't pay attention. UJA professional and lay leadership didnt pay attention to the malfeasance at FEGS that was going on for years and got a complete pass. It was so bad, that NYC created a major commission of NGO's ranging from Catholic Charities to VNS to examine how not to get caught with your pants down like UJA.

Donors didn't demand any changes when FEGS blew up. So, why would anyone care about a tiny mickey mouse outfit like JFNA that UJA mostly ignores?

The only New Yorkers that care about JFNA are the women that always don their Lion's pins and bewail the selling of pins on eBay.

Anonymous said...

Revival Word of the day:

(kak-i-STOK-ruh-see, kah-ki-)

noun: Government by the least qualified or worst persons.

From Greek kakistos (worst), superlative of kakos (bad) + -cracy (rule). Ultimately from the Indo-European root kakka-/kaka- (to defecate), which also gave us poppycock, cacophony, cacology, and cacography. Earliest documented use: 1829.

JFNA is a kakistocracy. If you go to the GA you will see it in action. Vaucus, empty, pretend substance. Nothing relevant to the world of an actual Jewish Community. Pure Kaki.

Robin Boehler said...

Richard: what's your take on jfna's refusal to make a statement on the Bannon appointment? Seems an abdication of responsibility to condemn the hatred of the alt right that enables white supremacy and anti-Semitism. I'd love to know your views on this.

RWEX said...


It is not surprising that JFNA refuses " make a statement on the Bannon appointment." It has been a long-established "policy" of JFNA to refuse to take public positions on any issue that might "divide" the community, particularly on any issue with "political" overtones. One could certainly argue that the particular issue you have raised should at the very least be a matter of discussion and debate by th JFNA Board; but, as you know, JFNA doesn't "do that" either. This institutional posture of "sticking its institutional head in the sand" has contributed to JFNA's growing irrelevance.

See the Comment immediately preceding yours.

Anonymous said...

If JFNA took a stand on Bannon, Silverman wouldn't get invited to the Trump Hanukah party. He'd probably miss some other photo-ops too.

Photos of Silverman with Presidents and Prime Ministers is his major legacy.

Anonymous said...

Those pictures plus total ineptitude