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.



Anonymous said...

Richard, while I generally agree with you, Ruskay as a choice is a bad joke. It was under his watch that FEGS imploded, Met Council's CEO went to jail and a host of other very problematic items because he, as CEO, decided to ABANDON any governance of UJA's beneficiary agencies.

To use a political comparison, like Obama or not, his actions at the UN last week are what will be remembered by most in the Jewish community. The same with Ruskay - an advocate of conducting business behind closed doors - FEGS' failure is forever part of his legacy to NY.

Anonymous said...

What we have right now is the "total embarrassment" about which you recently wrote. That embarrassment can only be confronted with change starting at the very top whether on a long-term or interim basis; to do nothing is the ultimate breach of fiduciary duty. But, this has been going on for many years; why has no lay leader shown the leadership that their titles and positions demand? I am from an Intermediate federation and I know that if our CEO demonstrated the lack of leadership that Mr. Silverman has shown he would have been gone, gone in weeks, not months and not years. I join you in your frustration.

Anonymous said...

a poor list of "change agents" unless you just want to bring back they very embellished past!

RWEX said...

...and your suggestion is??

Paul Jeser said...

One last try in 2016. It seems that the challenges are well understood. So, who is going to take the lead that will develop a process leading to the much needed changes?

Anonymous said...

In the search process for Hoffman's replacement there was a candidate: a sitting CEO recognized as one of the most talented fundraisers of the day. I seem to recall that his candidacy was strongly opposed by remnants (lay and professional) of the UJA wing of the movement and some behind the scenes lobbying of the then UJC exec. An opportunity lost.

Anonymous said...

Rotate LC Execs through for 2 year commitments. This will create succession in their Feds and provide leadership.

Anonymous said...

While I salute the work of this ad hoc JFNA CEO search committee, could we try and be serious? Just about any successful exec of a large or large intermediate community could outshine our version of Larry the Cable Guy.

Having replaced his desk with a standing treadmill, he took away the meeting space in his office. We now have a Jerry on a gerbil wheel. You just can't make this stuff up.

When he is gone and the employees no longer have to fear his reading their emails or listening in on their phone calls, there will be enough material to supplement the stories of Chelm. Just without the values.

To understand JFNA inside I recommend that Sandler read: "The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't is a book by Stanford professor Robert I. Sutton, based on a popular essay he wrote for the Harvard Business Review.

And please, please do not invite Kathy Manning to this as hoc search committee or we may have another global,planning fiasco.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone think of a greater hiring and retention mistake anywhere in Jewish organizational history? A group of federation leaders actually just acquiescing in the pre-cooked terrible judgment of a dictatorial, manipulative Board Chair? So anxious to please Manning those "leaders" ignored the CEO-to-be's educational background, federation background or knowledge of the purposes and mission of JFNA. And, when this terrible choice had proved himself totally inadequate to the task over five years, the same group that hired hm demanded he be retained. These mopes made a farce of what should have been a legitimate search process and they did it TWICE. Now is the time for SANDLER to act or the last two years of his Chair-ship will be as dismal as his first.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone ask if Jerry was a Federation donor before he came to work at JFNA?

Did anyone ask if he is a current donor to a Federation Campaign?

In the post UJA era, there is no one to ask these questions.

And that, folks, says it all....

RWEX said...

To yesterday's 8:40 P.M. Commentator: I was part of that remnant UJA leadership at the time of the selection of Steve Hoffman's successor. I wasn't;t on the Search Committee (if there was one) but I don't recall any name considered other than Rieger's. And, it was clear at the time of his nomination that the Large City Executives were totally supportive of Howard's candidacy -- as a "reward," if you will, for his years of service in Pittsburgh and his great friendship among those LCE.

I neither heard of another Large City Executive with interest in the post nor of any effort whatsoever among others of the UJA alumni, most of whom had dropped out or been forced out of UJC involvement, to support or oppose a leader of the kind of excellence you indicate would have been available.

Can you tell us more, please -- on-line or off-line?

Anonymous said...

Gee Richard, I guess memories can be a funny think. But if you are watching tonight's NFL think of a guy who might be torn between his home state team and adopted state team. The rest might easily fall into place. Shana tova!

RWEX said...

Got it!! Makes perfect sense, inasmuch as the pro in question had turned down the CEO position at the time of the merger that the then Chair of the Executive, a UJA stalwart who would have served on the Search Committee that produced Rieger, would have used his positions to both oppose the terrific CEO in question.

Thanks for the memories!?!

Anonymous said...

While you want JFNA to get out of the hole it's in, sorry to say, Richard Sandler appears to be interested in nothing more (and maybe just nothing at all) than digging the hole deeper. What's the mantra? When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Well Sandler should look around, he/JFNA in the hole