Saturday, December 31, 2016


A Happy and healthy New Year to all. As we have reached the calendar year-end, maybe it's an appropriate time to take a careful look at where JFNA needs to go if it is ever to be the success we all once hoped it would be.

The JFNA of today is one hot mess characterized by a somnolent lay leadership and a CEO who just is not up to the job and who proves it every day. As one Commentator recently observed:
 "CEO's are supposed to lead their organizations and to work in partnership with the lay leaders. When the CEO doesn't lead, no one follows. And very few CEO's will have any accomplishments independent of the lay leadership that he/she leads. It's that simple."
It's that simple. Except, in the case of JFNA, the CEO has proved that he just can't lead; he is his eighth year of proving his inability to do so. And the JFNA lay ;leadership just look the other way.

When Silverman's contract was renewed during the last year of the Siegal terms, the only possible justification (and in this writer's view, remember, there was none) was that Siegal and those lay persons with whom he consulted were somehow convinced that Jerry had spent his first five years in office positioning JFNA for a transformational turnaround and, therefore, they must have rationalized, he was the one to lead JFNA through transformational change during an extended contract term. (Oh, yeah, he is also a "nice guy," whatever that has to do with it. So there was that.) That reasoning was as preposterous then as now.

And, now, well into his extended contract, there has been no change from the first five wasted change at all. If Jerry Silverman's promise to Michael Siegal and Richard Sandler was "change," there is not one iota of evidence that he has delivered any or that he is capable of doing so. Anyone who believes otherwise is living in some sort of their own post-truth world.

As the Commentator above suggested, the JFNA CEO doesn't lead -- in my opinion he has proved over 7+ years that he is incapable of leading. In all of my roles in organized Jewish life, from my own community, to CJF, the NCESJ, UJA, the UJA-CJF partnership, to UIA within JFNA, I was blessed with the strongest of professional partners. The successes we experienced together, the successes we led, arose out of a partnership of equals. I learned so much from every one of the professionals with whom I worked, with whom I partnered. No one can say that that is the case today.

And it seems clear that not one lay leader has challenged Silverman to produce...anything. They have, instead, thrown money at him while cutting his organizational responsibilities in half, or more. He has received close to or more than $5 million in aggregate compensation for what exactly, you ask? Well, for continuing programs initiated by UJA and CJF including the great success of JFNA-Washington; he allowed JFNA to almost totally abandon FRD and community Consulting; terminated JFNA professional placement services; initiated the costly, wasteful and unproductive inanities of TribeFests and #ish and FedWorld; he confused repackaging effort after effort adding "Fed" as a prefix to old wine in new bottles such as FedOvation, FedCentral, FedEngagement, FedWorld, FedNarishkeit with actual change; and on and on. And no one says "enough."

Well, we have and we do so again.

Some of you have asked: "Who might succeed Jerry Silverman as CEO." One could look around: there's David Fisher, past Federation President, JFNA leader, a National Campaign Chair of incredible integrity, and, most recently a most successful President and CEO of Birthright. David would be perfect. Or, you might wish to consider an Interim CEO engaging an experienced federation leader for two years -- perhaps a recently retired leader like Max Kleinman, perhaps JFNA's strongest cheerleader during his era as CEO of MetroWest. Max, now a JFNA Consultant (who isn't at this point?), has seen JFNA from the inside; I would intuit that Max would know how to right the ship. I can think of three professionals at WorldORT, each of whom has experienced leading a community with creativity and success. Or a Larry Fine, the recently retired CEO of the Rochester Federation, which he led with distinction for decades. Or John Ruskay, so well known to all of us: could John be lured back for a defined and limited contractual period with a mandate to effect change. Or, perhaps, the full weight of JFNA leadership could be brought to bear to finally induce Miami's Jacob Solomon to take the job -- certainly Jacob has seen the total deterioration of JFNA while cheering for its success.

In other words, there are many potential superb "candidates" (admittedly I have no idea whether any would have any interest in turning the Titanic around) to succeed Silverman and who, if retained, could "hit the ground running." And, beyond my very short list, I have to believe there are many others any one of whom...any one of whom...could embrace this position in the tradition of the merged organization and break the current organizational gloom.

Then again, effecting change would require some heavy lifting by Richard Sandler and as good a man and leader as he may be, I'm not sure he's interested.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016


We've written before about the inexplicable silence from our continental organization with regard to, e.g., the introduction of legislation in the Knesset by the Shas Party that, if enacted, would hammer nails into the coffin that is the egalitarian prayer space at  adjacent  to the Kotel. There is just no explaining it. Not even the usual letter to the Prime Minister. Nothing.

Instead we rely on and "endorse" the eloquence of Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive, in condemning this legislation:

“This bill makes a mockery of all the efforts made by recent governments to ensure that the Western Wall is a place that unites, rather than divides, the Jewish people. This bill's passage would have grave consequences for the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. Based on the Prime Minister’s strong personal commitment to strengthening the Israel-Diaspora relationship, it is my fervent hope that this damaging bill will be summarily dismissed by a majority of the coalition and of the Knesset.”
Could not JFNA have said exactly the same thing? Given us some sense that the organization's leaders actually know what's going on? Is Sharansky wrong when he wrote of the "grave consequences for the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry" or does Aryeh Deri perceive our organization as the toothless tiger it has become? Instead, our JFNA, days after Sharansky's statement "endorsed" it -- oh, the courage.

Do the organization's leaders, if that is the best way to characterize them any more, somehow believe a strong statement might mean that their visits to the PM's offices might be curtailed? Or that the Prime Minister won't video his presentations to the GA any longer? Were it I, I would be more fearful about JFNA not be taken seriously arising out of its silence on a matter so important.

In the past, as in the 1990s when the "Who Is a Jew" issue showed its ugly head in the Knesset -- with legislation introduced by the same Party -- our organizations not only issued strong statements but mobilized our leadership to visit Knesset leaders to make it clear, face-to-face, that that legislation "will not pass." Today? Today? We can't even mobilize our leaders to say a damn thing let alone visit Knesset leadership, let alone sit with the Prime Minister. BTW, there's a playbook for our institutional confrontation on "Who Is A Jew?" but Jerry apparently can't find it.

We want an organization in which we can take pride, speaking for us. Richard Sandler wants the same thing. 

Why is JFNA where we find it today? You tell me.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016


As we approach the New Year, I urge all of you who read this Blog to make a contribution of whatever size to honor the work of ejewishphilanthropy that incredible resource for all of us. 

If you will,  just travel to and make your gift on-line.



Sunday, December 25, 2016


A Commentator recently wrote:

"So if JFNA has abandoned the collective and is not really advocating for our partner organizations in Israel anymore (maybe even advocating against them?), maybe the time has come to create an organization or an alliance of organizations that will do the job.
If I am not mistaken, the merger was supposed to further the goals and functions of all three of the organizations that entered into it. If that is not happening then it seems to me that those whose mission is not being addressed should be finding other vehicles to achieve their goals.
Are we really expecting things to get better without drastic measures, by avoiding conflict and "unpleasantness" etc?
"What were we thinking?" is now being replaced by "What are we thinking?"
From everything I read here and from everything I see happening, it seems to be that the time has come to say "enough!" and to act on our principles and beliefs.
This is not what we signed up for - at least not what we intended to sign up for!" 
Back in the day, during the first years of CEO Rieger, while Joe Kanfer Chaired JFNA, and while I served on the Jewish Agency Board, I approached leaders of both JDC and JAFI about nothing more than combining forces in an Overseas Advocacy effort independent of JFNA -- a JFNA which even at that time was doing nothing for its partners other than acting as a collection agency, and doing a damn poor job even at that. JAFI leaders were enthusiastic and the Joint leadership, while interested, ultimately decided, after some excellent discussions, that it had no interest in moving forward together. I had hoped that the common interest in advocacy might lead to more, as suggested by the Anonymous Commentator above, but that was not to be then and, probably not, now. 

This Post will try to focus on the parlous state of JFNA which has become the all talk, do-nothing $53 million/year organization with which its highest level leaders -- lay and professional -- seem perfectly happy. And, as long as the federations (and, in particular, the largest including, yes, my own) continue to "feed the beast," we can expect nothing to continue to be the annual result.

I was reminded of this sorry state by Jerry Silverman's speech at the close of the GA to a more or less half-empty ballroom. Jerry recited a series of achievements -- all of which were those of others: the federations themselves, JAFI, JDC, WorldORT -- and none of which were those of JFNA at all. And the shambolic operation at 25 Broadway exemplifies just another failure among many. Strangely, the singular (at JFNA) achievements of JFNA-Washington earned nothing more than a throwaway line in Silverman's speech.

Let's examine a few of JFNA's failed/failing/flailing efforts:

  • Consulting Services -- there are none. A Search is on-going for a Vice-President (without significant staff) who will report to the Senior Vice-President Marketing and Communications!! In lieu of an effort to consult with the federations, JFNA has concocted FedCentral. That's the mechanism where JFNA steps out of the picture and federation professionals ask questions (my most recent favorites: Do the Board Minutes have to be approved by the Board?; or What needs to be done when a Board Member passes away?*) and hope that other federation professionals answer them -- and answer them correctly. As I recall there was once a community consulting effort of such strength that Silverman's predecessor reorganized functions and placed FRD under the consulting banner; and today, under Silverman (who in his eighth year of service still hasn't a clue) Consulting Services doesn't exist. Conceived as "A Wikipedia of shared Federation knowledge" this has given Wikipedia a very bad name. It is in fact operating proof that JFNA itself has no such "knowledge."
  • FRD --  Under Vicki Agron as a part-time non-exclusive "Senior Consultant," FRD has shown signs of life. The FRD Cabinet has been revived; what the Cabinet is doing is, so far, hidden from view. Agron first hired two excellent albeit part-time non-exclusive consultants and determined which communities they would assist (shhhh, it's a secret -- as were the names of the Consultants) and, then she searched out and saw to it that Brian Abrahams would join the JFNA professional staff as Senior Vice-President FRD. Brian offices in Chicago (?) and reports to...well, unclear, it may be to Vicki Agron as she continues in the role of Senior Part-Time Consultant. How will this all work? Your guess is as good as anyone's. Brian has to fill a number of senior FRD positions -- Planned Giving (the previous department leader was hired by Agron and let go after less than 9 months), Major Gifts, you name it. (BTW, as we have written, only at JFNA could the "Senior Consultant" have an Executive Assistant who in turn has an Executive Assistant.)
  • Israel & Overseas. This bloated entity, operating more or less on its own from 6,000 miles away from JFNA HQ, continues to produce prodigious expense with minimal return on investment. Though the office monitors the Knesset, actions there that impact here -- such as the Shas bill that "...would make it illegal to hold pluralistic prayer services at the Western Wall plaza" -- seem to come as a constant surprise. Recommendations to return Israel & Overseas to 25 Broadway continue to be ignored, not even discussed. We have been advised by well-placed sources in both JAFI and JDC that relations between those two partners and JFNA have never been worse. But, of course, this year the Office did persuade The Jerusalem Post that Jerry Silverman was among the Top 50 Jewish Leaders worldwide -- a true miracle.
  • Consultants. Everyone who reads this Blog with any regularity knows of my disdain for "building" an organization on the backs of consultants. One of you advised me that Richard Sandler had "ended the practice" of loading up on consultants at JFNA -- if so, he missed a few...actually a lot of them JFNA FRD has more consultants in the Department than full-time FRD pros; JFNA HRD still has the extremely well-paid mystery person, Deborah K. Smith, doing what nobody knows, on the payroll; and JFNA is the conduit between a major philanthropist and the SS+K consulting firm on an undisclosed $1 million-plus consulting deal. One way to rid the organization of these consultants -- require disclosure of (a) whom they are, (2) what they are paid, and (3) what they do. Think that is going to happen? Me either. 
So, where do your Dues go? I mean, if there's no Consulting Services, an FRD operation that is but a shadow of once was, a meaningless over-staffed and unmanaged Israel-Overseas operation and a major Consultant force doing what and for whom we are not allowed to know, how is $53 million plus spent for the benefit of the federations?

Why don't you start asking.


* Hint: first, you bury him...(drum roll please). And here is the answer actually published on FedCentral: "When this has happened in the past with our boards/committees, we've kept their name where it is for the remainder of their term, added an asterisk, and at the bottom of the column added a note "of blessed memory" in italics. z"l would also work."

Saturday, December 24, 2016


The Obama Administration's decision to abstain rather than veto the UN Resolution condemning Israel was immediately criticized by a number of American Jewish organizations. JFNA is to be commended for being at the forefront, as it should be.

Though we have not yet seen the full JFNA statement, the Times of Israel just reported that JFNA stated in part:
“It is tragic that the Administration chose to mar its legacy of support for the Jewish State and set back the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace,” wrote the Jewish Federations of North America in a rare critique of a US administration, recalling that in the past “President Obama has consistently supported Israel’s right to self-defense and affirmed that America has an “iron clad commitment to make sure Israel is secure.”
The umbrella organization noted that “Jewish Federations across North America are deeply disappointed that the United States abstained from today’s vote on the one-sided, anti-Israel resolution that was passed by the UN Security Council today,” adding that “the Administration’s decision undermined a core principle of American foreign policy that has been embraced by Democratic and Republican Administrations for decades: that the only route to a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is through direct negotiations between the parties.”
ADDENDUM; here is the JFNA Statement in its entirety:

Jewish Federations across North America are deeply disappointed that the United States abstained from today’s vote on the one-sided, anti-Israel resolution that was passed by the UN Security Council today.
The Administration’s decision undermined a core principle of American foreign policy that has been embraced by Democratic and Republican Administrations for decades: that the only route to a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is through direct negotiations between the parties. 
It also upended its own principled stance against UN resolutions that isolate Israel. Just two years ago when the U.S. vetoed a similar resolution, UN Ambassador Samantha Power stated “We voted against it because we know what everyone here knows, as well – peace will come from hard choices and compromises that must be made at the negotiating table.” And the Obama Administration ignored the advice of 88 Members of the U.S. Senate who urged the President in September to reject such resolutions.
President Obama has consistently supported Israel’s right to self-defense and affirmed that America has an “iron clad commitment to make sure Israel is secure.” Several weeks ago the U.S. and Israel signed an unprecedented $38 billion military aid package."
Congratulations to JFNA for rising up and stating it straight, emphatically and well.


Friday, December 23, 2016


I was on a long drive in the rain from Napa to the San Francisco International Airport listening as Secretary of State John Kerry, in the aftermath of Presient Obama's declaration that the Syrian despot had crossed Obama's redline when he used chemical weapons to massacre Syrian civilians, gave a brilliant speech s to the responsibility of the United States to act. As I drove, listening to Kerry's brilliantly organized and logically presented with great emotion, I was so proud of my country, my disillusionment with President Obama, at whose victory celebration in Chicago's Millennium Park in 2008, I cried with hope and joy at the symbolism and potential of his election. Listening to Kerry I had that sense of pride restored...momentarily.

Of course, days later, the President walked away from this moral commitment he had made and surrendered America's historic leadership role in the World leading to the literal destruction of hundreds of thousands more Syrians and the refugee crisis that affects our world and our politics and will for years to come.

Now, in the last 30 days of his Administration, this most lame duck of lame duck Presidents in an act of what can only be described as settling the score with the Prime Minister of Israel, reversing decades of United States Presidents standing up for its ally, our beloved Israel, by vetoing United Nations resolutions that would place Israel in the crosshairs of its enemies while doing nothing to further any efforts at peace, abstained from a UN resolution proferred by the Palestinians in their effort to isolate Israel. There is no other rational justification for the President's mandated abstention and there is no denying the reality that this refusal to veto is wholly inconsistent with the President's own words on an almost identical Resolution as he authorized its veto just a few years ago.

Since its creation with the historic support of President Harry Truman, no matter the infrequent policy or personal issues that a succession of Presidents may have had with leaders of Israel from time-to-time, no President...not one...ever abandoned  the State of Israel, the People of Israel, as this President did in one abstention. This is not to argue with those who have already asserted, correctly, that no President has supported Israel's defense as did President Obama -- the Iron Dome, the largest defense authorization in history, the delivery of the F-35s -- it is to state that no President in history had offered more succor to Israel's enemies than did this one in a single abstention.

Every student of history is aware that, no matter one's cynicism about whether or not this Israeli Government will negotiate peace, there can be no argument that, unlike Egypt or Jordan, those in leadership of the Palestinians have slapped away Israel's outreaching hand  every time it has been offered -- most recently when the Netanyahu government halted any and all settlement construction for months and Abbas and his henchmen refused to even enter negotiations during the suspension. And the Obama administration...silent. And few should doubt that Israel has no "partner for peace"...period.

In Dennis Ross's brilliant 2016 history, Doomed to Succeed, he made the case that in fact, over the decades since the first development was constructed in Judea and Samaria, contrary to the mantra, settlements have not been "an obstacle to peace;" not even a major point in negotiations with Arab Governments and the United States. This President is certainly smart enough and enough of a student of history to know that to be true. Yet, in retrospect, one can draw an almost straight line from Obama's Cairo Speech in June 2009 through this UN abstention -- a line that might have been scored in bold thanks to the obvious friction and personal animus between the President and the Prime Minister -- an animus well-earned in the Iran Deal and the Trump outreach, if not at other times over the past 8 years. 

But we Americans expect our President to act in a manner at all times consistent with American values, not out of pique or personal frustration. And we have reason to expect our President to act consistent with his own words. In abstaining on this Resolution, President Obama has abandoned the high moral position he, in his arrogance, constantly claims to be his, America's friends around the world be damned. 

Friends, in this writer's view, it is not alone that President Obama abandoned Israel in this single act of abstention, it is that he as well abandoned America's historic support of the only democracy in the Middle East and in doing so, abandoned the moral imperative that has been our country's. Senator Schumer has certainly said it well:
"Extremely frustrating, disappointing & confounding that the Administration has failed to veto the UN resolution."
"Confounding" indeed.

A sad, sad moment. 



In an Op-Ed in JTA, Aleppo Needs Action, Not Words,, Chicago's
Steven Nasatir, used those very words to review the historic tragedy that
has been and is Aleppo 
and our sacred responsibility to act, to assist. 
It was great that Steve spoke eloquently of Chicago's 
interaction with the Syrian community and the 
Fund created to assist the victims of the horrific
violence in Syria.

I know from speaking with friends around the Continent
that Chicago is not alone. Kal ha'kavod to 
every community that has engaged,

Of course we could have 155 federations acting alone 
but we do have, or we think we have, we pay to have,  
Continentalan umbrella that should be speaking for all of us. 
Instead, Steve Nasatir has.


Thursday, December 22, 2016


Way back in 2013, a Washington Post investigation disclosed that fraud and embezzlement were rampant at 1,000 non-profit organizations of those it had studied. The reporter's conclusion was that this was but the tip of an ugly iceberg,  One might have expected greater diligence within the world of non-profits inasmuch as these disclosures might have caused more intensive lay leader monitoring, greater scrutiny, less secrecy.

But...that was not to be. In fact, within a year after the Washington Post revelations, one New York Jewish organization after another was disclosed to have been victimized by a combination of criminal fraud and lax oversight, the damages not just in the 10's of millions but in the breakdown of the trust so critical to the charitable enterprise. And, the question: have we learned anything from these disasters? Because if you accept my thesis -- that the single-most failing leading to these episodes of corruption and to the breakdown in trust that followed was secrecy coupled to lay leadership's failure to demand accountability -- then the evidence demands that we answer: we have learned nothing. There is not one publication -- be it Guidestar, the National Council of NonProfits or the Trustees of the Indiana University Foundation, to name just three -- that doesn't mandate greater transparency and greater accountability, the opposites of secrecy. One has to wonder what the State of New York Attorney General would require and when.
Friends, the reality is as it has always been: secrecy is the flip side of transparency. A failure on the part of lay leadership to demand accountability, to ignore their fiduciary responsibility to monitor the expenditure of dollars -- that is how the organization's Budget is really expended -- leads inexorably to a breakdown in the trust necessary to success. And, secrecy ultimately leads to organizational failure.

Our Continental organization, the Jewish Federations of North America (you may remember that one), has demonstrated an opacity in its disclosures and in its operations that is incomprehensible. You know the litany of secret deals, among them: million dollar consultant contracts, General Assemblies accounting, naming of new "partners," Dues defaults, conduit deals, and the like. Now, perhaps, in every area the members of the Transactions Committee (chaired by the Board Chair), the Treasurer (also the Budget & Finance Committee Chair) and the CEO know exactly where the money is being spent and for what. But a Board member can't perform the Board Member's fiduciary responsibility if he/she can't "follow the money." And I would submit to you that no voting Board Member of JFNA can "follow the money" if he/she wanted to do so -- for JFNA truly operates in the darkness and claims "confidentiality" in matters that in any other public charity would be transparent and accessible.

The great Rabbinic leader, Rabbi Haskell Lookstein recalled as he looked on as a horrific fire destroyed his treasured Kehilath Jeshrun, it was not the fire or the destruction, it was the future: "When tragedy happens -- and this was a catastrophe, not a tragedy, no one was hurt -- it doesn't help to ask why did it happen, it helps to ask what we're supposed to do next." That's the opportunity available to Richard Sandler and the JFNA Board -- to state once and for all that JFNA will operate in a transparent manner appropriate to its position as a public charity; not to continue to hide its actions behind claims of alleged "confidentiality." It's long past time to open the "books" to the JFNA Board; to disclose: the consultant contracts, which communities are paying less than or none of the Dues that others are paying and the losses suffered on the GA, among other things.

You know I believe that the truth will set JFNA free; why should the federations trust their umbrella organization when that organization doesn't trust them with the truth embodied in the concepts of transparency and full disclosure? Susan Solomon, a lawyer by training, the co-founder of the New York Stem Cell Foundation was recently quoted in The Wall Street Journal: "I'm really comfortable asking dumb questions." Class, please compare and contrast with JFNA where leaders are comfortable asking no questions at all. It's also past time for questions. Isn't it time for secrecy to end once and for all?

JFNA has chosen to operate in its own self-imposed darkness -- that's the same dark curtain that cloaked numerous agencies in New York City, the darkness that produced the corruption at FEGS, at the 92nd Street Y, at the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, at the New York Legal Assistance Group. It was Justice Louis Brandeis who observed: "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." JFNA is in need of a whole lot of sunlight.

It's up to JFNA's Board to demand accountability. Do you think they will do so?

Just askin'.


Friday, December 16, 2016


Nothing that happens at 25 Broadway should ever surprise...and never does. So it was nothing unusual when the "new" FRD Department send out this missive one month ago:

"From: From the Desk of Brian Abrahams []
Sent: Tuesday, November 08, 2016 3:57 PM
Cc: Maier, Elissa; Gordon, Gail; Gross, Steve
Subject: JFNA Staff Transition

We want you to be aware that Joshua Karlin has left his position as Associate Vice President of Planned Giving and Endowments.  During his tenure, Joshua began ground-breaking work on an “e-prospecting” model which identifies and tracks prospective planned giving donors as a means of developing the pool of potential donors.  We appreciate the leadership he provided and wish him well in his future.

The department continues with Gail Gordon and Steve Gross as Senior Directors, supported by Cheryl Phillip as Associate Director and Anna Allen as Manager.  During this period of transition, the department and its direction will be supervised by Elissa Maier.  Extra support to this area will be provided through the consulting services of Stephen E Rose, who has spent a career in Jewish Foundation work and will assist with the overall strategic direction of P.G.&E.   Stephen will be in the office today and will participate in the GA.

If you have any questions about this change or work that might currently be in progress, please feel free to reach out to either of us.

Thank you,

Brian Abrahams and Elissa Maier"
(I didn't receive this directly from JFNA; I did receive it from 18 of my friends in Jewish communal life.) Some of you may recall my comment on these pages in March 2016 at about the time of this professional's engagement -- his placement of a lengthy ad when working in Rhode Island identifying himself as "the best fund raiser in Rhode Island" and his lawsuit following his very short-term engagement by another employer. After that, I heard from those at JFNA who might know his work there that he was "great." less eight months?

I've also heard from many what a great job Elissa Maier is doing. Her title -- "Vice President, FRD Operations and Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence, Jewish Federations of North America" -- confuses me -- does she work for both? Has she any FRD/Endowment-Planned Giving experience? "...[T]he department and its direction will be supervised by Elissa Maier." How does that work? And, with Joshua Karlin clearly already gone, another consultant is brought on? 

C'mon man...I guess we will find out whether FRD can be rebuilt upon a foundation of a Senior Consultant, two excellent part-time community consultants and, now, a  part-time PG & E Consultant -- all great pros but...really? And, Brian Abrahams, as good as might be, working out of Chicago? Does Smilin' Jerry even understand this? Does anyone care?

I mean, really folks, is this any way to run a circus? Or, not run it? 


* March 7, 2016 -- The Best Fund Raiser in Rhode Island -- Uh Huh.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


You may recall that not long ago I wrote of the deafening silence from 25 Broadway where "silence is golden" and where there is silence all of the time even on issues about which there is no controversy -- and that includes sticking its institutional head in the sand when it comes to a formal objection to hate speech and acts of hatred.

When I wrote that Post, The Silent Void, there had already been 867 acts of hate in the United States since the election, and still JFNA stands silent cringing at even the possibility of speaking out against hate. Federations across the country have cried out in protest from communities as disparate as Chicago to Colorado, communities of all sizes; but, from our umbrella organization, silence...and, friends, the silence is both deafening and inexplicable. 

And, it is not alone in the USA that the forces of hate have been unleashed, not at all. For in Israel, Minister of the Interior, Aryeh Deri, condemned Reform Jews for their pursuit of the implementation of a Resolution of the Israeli Cabinet authorizing the creation of a non-orthodox prayer area adjacent to the Kotel. Ultra-Orthodox Knesset Member, Israel Eichler, likened prayer of the non-Orthodox in that space to ":..Shiites going to Mecca or Protestants to the Vatican, to create provocations..." And, Deri? He just said simply "I can pass on this kind of Judaism." And those "leaders" have filed legislation in the Knesset that would reverse the Cabinet decision which remains unimplemented one year after its adoption.

This afternoon, after the publication of this Post, more than 48 hours after Natan Sharansky's strong condemnation of the Shas legislation, JFNA roused itself to issue a strong endorsement  of Sharansky's Statement. Here is how reporters learned of JFNA's statement: "Wanted to get you this statement from The Jewish Federations of North America, wholeheartedly suppoting the strong statement issued by Natan Sharansky regarding the bill being advanced at the Knesset which aims to ban non-Orthodox services at the Kotel." That transmittal came from another of JFNA's consultants -- Bluelight Strategies. Here's the JFNA Statement in its entirety:
"JFNA Supports Natan Sharansky Statement on Kotel Bill
Jewish Federations wholeheartedly endorse the strong statement issued earlier [Monday] by Natan Sharansky regarding the outrageous bill being advanced at the Knesset which aims to ban non-Orthodox services at the Kotel. This bill completely undermines the resolution that was negotiated in good faith and was resoundingly approved by the Government of Israel. Given Prime Minister Netanyahu's personal commitment to strengthening relations with Diaspora Jewry, we are also hopeful that that this damaging bill will be swiftly dismissed by a majority of the coalition and of the Knesset preventing irreparable damage to Israel's relationship with Diaspora Jewry."
Let's applaud JFNA for saying something, anything.

And, JFNA...our JFNA (or so we thought)...remains silent in the face of domestic hate. I doubt that this Post had anything to do with the "support" immediately above. Sure. 

Now, those who really don't care about the federations or JFNA, have been demanding that leadership condemn individuals, from Steve Bannon to the President-Elect.* The Jewish Week highlighted the demands of, among others, the ugly anti-Israel group, Jewish Voice for Peace, in an article titled JFNA Dragged Into Bannon Debate And, to these demands, rather than responding with the messages delivered by their federation owners against hate, not against Bannon or Trump...against hate...JFNA told JTA that "Trump needs to be given an opportunity to lead." 

Friends, here was another chance for JFNA to speak out against hate...but it just can't. Yet, 
with no process, somehow 25 Broadway was able to preserve that which is most critical 
to it -- invites to the White House to sit there and do nothing, invitations to the President's 
Chanukah party, ratification, in the mind of our so-called "leaders," that we remain import-
ant, indispensable. If our leaders cannot bring themselves to aggressively reject hate speech
-- not individuals, hate speech and acts of hate -- where is their spine, where is principle?

We know the answer. The ultimate question: How long are we...not me...we...going to put up 
with this?


* Somehow, the Chicago Chapter of the venal organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, was
able to publish in our Crain's Chicago Business an ugly piece attacking Steve Nasatir: 
Why is Chicago's Influential Jewish United Fund still silent on Bannon? This "op-ed," un-
deserving of that title, was not just filled with the misstatements of the uninformed --
JUF, not Jewish Federation, JFNA characterized as the federations' "parent organization,"
misrepresents the intent of HR-6112, among others -- its worst offense to this writer was
its total failure to acknowledge the Chicago Federation's express condemnation of hate 

Saturday, December 10, 2016


I know better than most that the federations' lay and professional leaders who should (and even do) know better, should be doing something/anything about the real crises in our organizational lives. Instead they are hiding behind narishkeit, or doing absolutely nothing when bold actions are called for. Case in point: the Jewish Agency for Israel and its continued control by a competitor, the World Zionist Organization.

A few weeks ago I wrote:
"You are such perceptive followers of this Blog. In response to the Post on WZO, one of you (G-d, I wish it hadn't been anonymously) pointed out the reality that as the WZO has decided to go into direct competition with the Jewish Agency, its continuing control (through its own voting rights and the voting control it maintains over Keren Ha'Yesod) of JAFI'S ultimate governance is a blatant conflict of interest that can only be resolved, in this writer's opinion, by the withdrawal by WZO from the governance and affairs of the Jewish Agency. 

And, where, if anywhere, might the impetus for such a movement arise? From JFNA? Maybe in another lifetime. From KH? Maybe in another lifetime (although KH leaders have, over time, demonstrated periodic evidence of thought and action that suggest that they might stand tall. Unfortunately, KH, even more so than JFNA/federations, has almost ceased, on a relative basis, its "free dollar" funding (undesignated) of the Jewish Agency.

All of this suggests a stasis that plays directly into the hands of the apparachniks at WZO. Exactly what they expected."
Then one of you wrote: 
"You are absolutely correct about the conflict of interest in WZO involvement in the Jewish Agency governance (which, by the way, we brought upon ourselves).
It is going to get worse and worse and it will end badly unless we reorganize the Agency's governance structure as soon as possible.
Those who contribute should be in control - certainly not those that contribute nothing and attempt to undercut and compete with the organization.
This should be an urgent action item for JFNA and KH - for all who want to build the Jewish Agency rather than allow it to be destroyed by political manipulators.
And who might lead this effort? Is there anyone....anyone at all? (The Sandler/Silverman duo once again exercised their leadership by writing WZO about its malfeasance in refusing to fund Holocaust survivor efforts. Not only did they not receive a response; they weren't even aware that they had not received a response when asked.) One might expect that someone might have the courage to resist the temptation to continue to do nothing; but there is nothing on the record as I write this today that suggests that anyone would want to be "bothered." So, I will..

Charles Bronfman, whom I am certain, had he not grown disenchanted with JFNA and our system while he served as the inaugural Board Chair, would have led this effort. It was Charles who wrote: "“this might sound like the rumination of an old geezer, there is something to be said for having a few wrinkles and battle scars.” I think I qualify, at least by age, personality and battle scars, if nothing else.

After the Comment above, there flowed a literal torrent of Comments strongly weighted toward criticism of alleged secret, politicized actions of JAFI, points and counter-points with regard to the Jewish Agency's viability. When I was elected the Chair of the Chicago Federation, I explained to my predecessor, the inestimable Corky Goodman, that as I was still fully employed as a land use lawyer, I needed guidance as to where I should focus my efforts and time. I will never forget when Corky replied: "Whatever you do, just don't get involved with the Jewish Agency; it is too complex and impenetrable." I remembered that somewhat ironically a little over a decade later when Corky, who had assumed the Chairmanship of JAFI, asked me to join him in his effort to move the Jewish Agency through a series of critical reforms. 

I joined that effort. At leadership's urging I served for years as the "Diaspora Co-Chair" of the JAFI Israel Department Committee. I had a wonderful partner, named by WZO, who, until the implementation of reforms, was a full-time "Co-Chair;" spending long days at the Sachnut, working on Israel Department matters. I found it impossible, from 7,000 miles away, to be an effective "partner" -- in fact, I was not a "partner" at all. Committee agendas were set without my input (except after the fact); meetings scheduled without my input. At one and the same time, thanks to fine pros within the reformed Department, we effected financial reforms, gained budget transparency and gave Committee members a sense that they were engaged on substance. This was true in other areas of JAFI's work -- thanks to a succession of professional Director Generals -- serious men (they were all men) of integrity, indefatigable and often frustrated by the Chairs of the Executive whom they served, all of whom, other than Natan Sharansky, serving simultaneously  as the Chairs of the World Zionist Organization.

I recall three moments in time, during my service on the JAFI Board and Executive Committee, when we in Diaspora Jewry had the opportunity to effect real change within the Jewish Agency that would have eliminated the WZO from its direct control of the Agency. This first came in the late 90's at a meeting in New York City attended by JAFI, WZO and American Jewish leadership. Our demands for reform were on the table -- the WZO would be paid to go away, relinquishing its roles in JAFI governance. Ambassador Sallai Meridor, beloved to so many of us, passionate Zionist leader, asked that before the ultimate vote if he could meet with the American leadership in private. There Sallai pled with us on a very personal basis that any vote to divest WZO be delayed until after the upcoming Zionist Assembly  -- that Assembly was still six months or more away. And we agreed. The meeting broke up and we never met again on this subject.

About five years later, when my friend, Richie Pearlstone was JAFI Chair, that Richie and Jay Sarver, then the JAFI Budget & Finance Chair, entered into discussions with Joe Kanfer and Kathy Manning on ridding the Agency of the WZO. Joe was particularly interested. A plan developed -- we would present WZO constituencies -- Rabbinic, Zionist Movement, Hadassah -- with a plan that would preserve their perquisites while eliminating the WZO "ownership" role. Everyone was on board, enthusiastically as I recall. We scheduled our first meeting with the Rabbinic Movement leadership. Meeting in one of this sub-sub basement conference rooms at the Inbal, the room was packed with the rabbinic leadership. Before we could explain the embryonic plan, and without knowing any of the particulars, the Rabbis, many our close friends, attacked us with a zeal they rarely displayed at JAFI meetings. Joe Kanfer quickly turned tail (he may have ended up arguing against the plan as well). This plan was never discussed again.

And, then, not much later, Pearlstone appointed Jane Sherman to lead a "negotiation" with WZO. Jane, an incredible philanthropist in her own right, joined with Cleveland's Steve Hoffman, in some form of "negotiations" with WZO, the results of which, to oversimplify, set JAFI and WZO up for where they are today -- WZO still controls close to 70% of the voting members on the JAFI Board, received millions in cash and stock (the "golden shares" of which have paid WZO millions in dividends, and allowed it to ignore pleas to assist Holocaust survivors) and gave up -- that was all -- the Chair of the JAFI Executive. WZO now not only continues to control a super-majority of seats on the JAFI Board but directly competes with the Jewish Agency...everywhere. It should be noted that when Sherman and Hoffman first presented this "settlement" to the Jewish Agency, Jane demanded it be approved "without amendment or the deal will fail." So much for "negotiation." (At first, even resisting correcting typos for fear of killing the "deal.")

And, so, here is where we are today. WZO in undeniable direct conflict of interest with the Jewish Agency yet still controlling the votes within JAFI. And no one doing anything at all about it. 

Great leadership.


Thursday, December 8, 2016


1. Well, you can't say that this isn't cynically opportunistic. JTA reported yesterday that the Conference of Presidents planned to hold its annual (is it really "annual"?) Chanukah party at the Washington D.C. Trump International Hotel.

For some reason the festivities would be co-hosted by The Embassy of Azerbaijan and Malcolm Hoenlein stated that the room had been let by the Azerbaijanis (apparently with neither the knowledge of or protest from Hoenlein -- remember, the CPMAJO is a Co-Host). By December 7, 8 members of the Conference had announced they would not attend and protested that the venue was inappropriate. My favorite quote from the JTA article was attributed to Malcolm: “You think that Trump knows who rents a room in his hotel and that influences how we represent to him?” Well, duh...yes.

And, will JFNA representatives attend? HaHaHa.

2. Laughable attribution. In the immediate aftermath of the horrific fires that struck Israel at the end of November the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston stepped forward to provide direct aid to victims in their Partnership City of Haifa, the Chicago Federation immediately advanced $500,000 in aid through JAFI and JDC. Here's how The Jerusalem Post reported it:
 "The grants were made possible by special contributions from the Jewish Federations of North America, led by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston, as well from Keren Hayesod-UIA and other donors. Grantees are being identified via local municipalities in coordination with the National Emergency Authority."
If one just read the story, one would conclude that JFNA actually did something...anything. And, I guess it did -- if you consider opening a Mailbox Fund and serving as a conduit of federation-raised dollars. Those are, of course, exactly what JFNA always does -- almost nothing. But it is absolutely excellent at grabbing credit for the work of others. In the words of its leaders -- "great job." 

And, I'm just speculating here, but I'll bet there's some bonus money here for JFNA-Israel for getting JFNA into the press (after deductions for not getting Silverman's name in there).

3. Grand Theft. At JFNA Budget time this year we reported of JFNA's outright thievery of $400,000 from the National Agencies Funding Pool to support JFNA creation of a Planning and Education Unit -- in other words, funds allocated by federation members of the Federation-National Agency Alliance were diverted to the JFNA Budget and away from the intended recipients, the system's National Agencies. At the end of this fiscal year, New York-UJA will finally act on its threats to withdraw from the Alliance -- pulling its 40% of the National Agencies Funding Pool for New York's redistribution. Now, watch and see if JFNA diverts another $400,000 out of the Funding Pool for its own purposes. And, please remember that Jerry Silverman is to fund-raise millions to support JFNA's budget -- he couldn't meet the Budget goal last fiscal year...and, this fiscal year? More theft?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


Yesterday I published a Post before it was finished and edited. I published it in error at 1 p.m. and went out to a movie (Manchester By the Sea -- do not miss it -- a film of profound beauty, sadness and incredible acting). By the time I returned to my computer at 6 p.m. hundreds of you who have signed up to receive these Posts by email had read it (and, in some instances, I'm sure, shared it with others).

The Post -- The Sad, Sad State of Now -- will now be edited and expanded and published in its final form in a few weeks.

My apologies and thanks for understanding.



In a riff on their GA speeches, under the ironic title Let's Not Lose Our Focus, when the organization has absolutely no focus, Richard Sandler and Jerry Silverman issued a joint Statement from their Desk* which read, in pertinent part:
"Yes, it is possible to be at odds on some matters yet still work together on others.

That’s precisely what we do at Jewish Federations. We are the community square, where we work together to find common ground in the name of tikkun olam, making the world a better place.

Our primary mission is and will remain to care for the most vulnerable around us—senior citizens, persons with disabilities, children and at-risk youth, and immigrants and refugees—and to perpetuate a value system that has sustained us and greatly contributed to the world at large for more than 3,000 years.

At the same time, we have to fight hate at home, in Israel and worldwide. Doing so entails opening our doors to varying perspectives and having difficult discussions, not only in our Jewish community, but also in the broader community.

None of us has a monopoly on knowing the answers to complex questions. All of us have a responsibility to discuss issues civilly, intelligently and factually. The world is complicated. Those who agree with us are not always perfect, and those who disagree with us are not always wrong and certainly not evil. When we allow ourselves to talk with someone whose voice differs from our own—not superficially, but to have a true dialogue—we learn and grow and strengthen our community." 
Now, don't get me wrong, this was an excellent Statement of what Federations are already doing, issued as if the Federations needed to be reminded of what they are doing.  The question of course is what is JFNA doing in any of these any of them? And, sadly, the answer is, as Don't "lose our focus," indeed.

I think I have discovered a basic truth in this Statement -- JFNA's leaders, its two highest level lay and professional leaders, actually believe that JFNA is doing something in the areas discussed. These two can't seem to come to terms with the reality that while the Jewish Federations are acting, JFNA is just talking; it is doing nothing but talking. And it is talking about nothing...nothing at all. Our JFNA leaders have confused talk with action. Maybe they believe: "Boy, we're great, look how the federations are doing. And it's all because of our leadership." If they believe that they are impacting in any of the areas discussed, friends, we know how wrong they very, very wrong.

My expectation was that Richard Sandler, a leader possessed of true communal values and an understanding of the absolute necessity and importance of real professional leadership (after all, before he even took the JFNA Chair, he expressed his absolute willingness to delegate to his JFNA professionals, presuming their competency), would have concluded by now that all he wished JFNA to accomplish couldn't be, will not be realized under the current CEO. He has now begun the second year of his Chairmanship and there is not a single new accomplishment to point to...not one...other than that Federations still pay their Dues and Richard, himself, and his appointed lay leadership demand nothing more.

Just one example of the failure of JFNA to be our voice on anything: the Southern Poverty Law Center had counted 867 acts of hate-inspired violence and hate speech since the election. Many, many federations have condemned acts of hate and hate speech in the strongest terms. But from silence. They neither speak for us nor do they even speak for themselves. In its silence JFNA makes a mockery of the very values that Richard Sandler has set forth so well, as recently as that GA just concluded. In a very strong and well-documented plea in ejewishphilanthropy, "An Open Letter to Richard Sandler...," a Jewish educator, Russel Neiss, called upon Richard Sandler demanding JFNA to find its voice.  He asks JFNA for more than could reasonably be expected of it but his passionate open letter exposes the crisis of confidence that JFNA has created by not speaking out against not speaking out about anything at all.

I have questioned whether JFNA leadership can really articulate the purposes JFNA serves. Looking at Jerry's 7+ years and Richard's first, I still don't know and, worse, neither do they. Right now JFNA endures in spite of itself; in point of fact, JFNA is doing less today than it was 8 years ago pure and simple -- and its lay leadership just doesn't care or just can't see it. 

Which is worse?


* Yes, "Desk," not "Desks" -- like "brain" not "brains"