Saturday, August 19, 2017

WHEN WILL JFNA'S LEADERS STOP THE STUPID?

Bob Hyfler, whose professional leadership has included his many years of service as Planning Director and COO at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and Senior Vice-President Research and Development at what is now JFNA, offered an insightful Comment to a recent Post on this Blog:
"Throughout the Jewish nonprofit world we have seen the withering of the authority of boards and volunteer leadership - a systemic phenomenon hardly unique to JFNA or Federations. The question of course is whether this is a result of coup or abdication and what needs to be done about it."
In the JFNA context this "withering of authority" of the JFNA Board (a) has been self-imposed and (b) with others, as discussed below, has effectively allowed the organization to "wither away." Today, we'll look at the symptoms, the effect, and what can be done about it even as it appears to be too late..and the leadership disinterested..

Friends, failure at Jewish Federations of North America isn't the fault of the structure emerging from the merger now so long ago. but the "[A]lmost two decades of mostly failure have been about the process, the execution." There should be no need to repeat that which is so patently true -- JFNA has failed, it continues to operate because no one gives a tinker's damn about it or is willing to give voice to the need or the time to turning it around. 

The lay leadership of JFNA -- this oligarchy which resists all efforts to penetrate the high walls they have built -- have demonstrated a constant willingness to abandon the basic principles on which we have built our communal institutions. This reality amazes me as it also disappoints me terribly. At some of our communal organizations clearly lay leaders have deferred to a strong professional leader; at JFNA that patent and undeniable deferral has not been to the strong but to the weak and it has wreaked havoc to both the potential and the reality, the very existence, of JFNA.

All of us should be able to see that JFNA is today an institution in such terrible decline that it appears to be in a death spiral from which it will be unable to emerge without intervention. And because we can see, we know this is an objective and undeniable truth even as so many in leadership are in denial. It is almost impossible to believe that a small group of proven communal leaders who have matriculated to JFNA leadership can continue to deny that which is indisputably true; but deny is what they do. And all one can ask is:"WHY?" 

Maybe the answer to "WHY?" can be found in the story of a pollster who asked a respondent what the reasons are for the apparent ignorance and apathy of the American voter. The response: "I don't know and I don't care." Yet, I know that the Board Chair and Board Members of JFNA care and care deeply, and yet...and yet...

We see a laity that humiliates itself every day of their inaction with an abject inability to take the steps necessary to change the paradigm that it has allowed to perpetuate deluding themselves into believing that all is well. And what is most amazing to me is that the collapse -- and there is no other word for it -- of JFNA has taken place in the full view of everyone. And "everyone" (well, almost everyone) has stood by in silence.

The worst of what all of us surely see is the requisite symbiotic relationship between strong professional leadership and strong lay leadership turned upside down. At JFNA we have the worst of that relationship: a weak laity so willing to hand over its responsibilities to a professional, who, in the person of Jerry Silverman, has proved to be incapable in all substantive ways. So it is that a relationship dependent upon coequal partners that would propel JFNA forward and upward is, in fact, destroying it. The effect? Jerry has been protected by a complacent, somnolent, soporific laity.

There has been no demand by JFNA's Board for accountability -- the annual lip service in Budget after Budget for monitoring and some/any form of that accountability has been just one more throw away line -- and where there is no accountability we have a professional kakistocracy, we have rule by the worst, one that is now in an obvious death spiral as lay leadership just runs out the clock until they are succeeded by the next group.

I don't think that there is really much in the way of intentionality to the shambolic JFNA of now; I continue to believe that the best of Federation lay and professional leaders will find their way to make the necessary changes that might rescue the organization from failure. But...but..what that will take is strong direction from a Board Chair and Vice-Chair and the catalyst that the Federation CEOs could and should provide. I know that the comfortable protect  their own; that too many believe their service in JFNA leadership is some form of honorarium; that having achieved that Board membership they can leave it to others to do the heavy lifting. It's evident that committing to and executing a change of CEO is a perceived Sisyphean burden that JFNA's highest level of leadership and the Large City CEOs (or any group of CEOs) appear unable or unwilling to lift -- or feel that such a change is unnecessary and/or unwise because everything is just "swell."

Look, I really wish I could write that Jerry has lived up to the demands of the job; that upon his contract extension he did some form of "pivot" into the professional leader he wants to be and which JFNA needs and requires. But that's not the case. From Jerry's hiring forward he has never demonstrated the skillset for this very complex job -- he demonstrates that sad reality 24/7 -- but he clearly has a singular ability to survive, one that by now rivals the tardigrade. Jerry has become like the rooster who believes his crowing causes the sun to rise. 

So, here is where change must begin. Pay off Jerry's contract; and move forward. Engage an Interim CEO/President on a two year contract; one who can and will work with the lay leadership to right the ship, to turn it around beginning the process that will lead to institutional excellence. During that two year term the lay leadership will conduct a Continental search for a CEO with the vision and skillset once demonstrated by a Marty Kraar or a Stanley Horowitz, the inspiration of an Irving Bernstein and the creativity of a Rabbi Herb Friedman. And, trust me, that person is out there.

Time has been wasting for over a decade while JFNA has slipped into an institutional coma. There is no more time to waste.

Rwexler

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

STAND UP

My grandparents and, perhaps, yours left, even fled, their homes in Eastern Europe for the welcoming arms of America so that they might provide my/our parents and the generations to come with all of the opportunities offered by "the land of the free and the home of the brave." America has been a place where we could worship freely and live in a place of tolerance, a place that promised tolerance and a society that rejected the institutional anti-semitism that characterized the places that they had left. My parents and, perhaps, yours suffered an anti-Jewish discrimination both blatant and latent, but they fought it side-by-side with non-Jews so that our generations would experience none of it -- we are the beneficiaries of the fights our parents and grandparent made on our behalf.

Then there was Charlottesville, where neo-Nazis, KKK, white supremacists and others marched in the dark of night, torches aflame, screaming in their rage anti-semitic screed -- "Jews shall not succeed us" -- before one of them killed an innocent counter-protestor and injured score of others. Charlottesville wasn't the act of an individual anti-semite defacing a synagogue in the dark of night, this was anti-semitism, anti-Americanism right in our faces, right in the face of America -- this was hatred and violence. It was no different than a Nazi rally in Berlin in the 1930"s. And, then, there was the President of the United States not alone finding some insane moral equivalency between those who espoused violence, anti-semitic and anti-American attacks and those who were the victims. Because of what the President in so doing endorsed, America will now reap the wild wind.

Where are the voices of those Jews so vocal in support of Donald Trump -- where are Sheldon Adelson, Gary Cohn, Jared Kushner and others? Where are the voices demanding that Trump withdraw his strident moral equivalency or at least understand that if he does not he has forfeited the moral authority that we believe is part and parcel of the Presidency -- where are their voices? To its credit, the Republican Jewish Coalition issued a statement after the tragedy of Charlottesville but before the President's raging insanity on Tuesday: "We mourn the loss of life at Charlottesville this weekend, and will continue to pray for all those impacted. Anti-Semitism and all forms of hate are anti-American, anti-Jewish, and antithetical to any sense of decency. We regret that we continue to be faced with these issues, but the RJC will never shy away from our role of standing up to racists, fascists, and Nazis." Where is the RJC now, after Tuesday? (N.B., the RJC issued a strong challenge toTrump in a subsequent statement on Wednesday.)

Ohio Governor John Kasich made it clear when he said that  there is “no moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and the KKK and “anybody else” and says “the president needs to condemn this.” Clearly outraged as he spoke from Ohio, he added, “There is no place for politics here.” And the CEO of Wal-Mart spoke for me as he resigned from a presidential advisory council:
"As wewatched the events and the response from President Trump...we too felt that he missed a critical opportunity to help bring our country together by unequivocally rejecting the appalling actions of white supremacists..."

I have chosen to try to avoid the political on these pages and when I have "strayed," some of you have pointed it out, often stridently. But what the President said yesterday was not politics for me, for us, this was about our America, about our civil society. No organization that purports to represent me/us can now stand silent in the face of the green light that the President of the United States has given to hatred -- Jew hatred, immigrant hatred...hatred -- in America. Silence in the face of this hatred cannot be tolerated. If we stand silent, we are complicit.

As the brilliant historian Jon Meecham said yesterday:
"I think that you have these moments where the extremes — the hate, the people who are giving Nazi salutes after we have spent so much blood and treasure trying to liberate the world from the form of tyranny — ... it's an extreme manifestation of an underlying reality."
This is the moment in which our generations of American Jews will be tested against the "reality" that Meecham described. History will judge us by what we say and what we do...or by our silence.

Rwexler 

THE 2015 990

Well, JFNA's 2015 IRS 990 for the FY 2015-2016 was filed in May and is now linked on the Jewish Federations of North America website. It isn't a pretty picture my friends; not pretty at all. But it never is.

Here's a snapshot:

  1. JFNA is not a functioning organization; JFNA is a functioning ATM: of the 14 highest compensated professionals, 12 were paid in excess of $200,000; Silverman's total compensation was $683,000, Mark Gurvis -- $399,000; Becky Caspi -- $345,000 and so on. Perhaps what is needed at JFNA, inasmuch as never is heard a discouraging word from the Board (and certainly not from the Board Chair or sole Vice Chair) is that a Gordon Gekko rise up, point out the number of Vice-Presidents (I count 9, not including Caspi's exalted position as "Director General") stopping there as JFNA Jerry and associates have already proven that "greed is good." We all know that some these women and men are doing incredible professional work -- William Daroff, Gloria Nilsen, maybe Gurvis. But, Jerry...really? After Gurvis was hired to do at least 50% of Silverman's job why does the organization continue to overpay him as if he were performing with excellence 100% of the functions for which he was hired; especially when it appears that the remainder of Silverman's responsibilities could not possibly be identified by a management consultant were one ever hired.
  2. The Consultant Roster continues to rise unchecked. JFNA continued to go down the consultant path, stating that in 2015-2016 there were 22 consultants -- that's twenty-two, my friends -- "...who received more than $100,000 of compensation." Among the consultants were our "old friends," Shepardson Stern Kaminsky -- SS+K -- in for another $1,000,000 in an undisclosed "secret" conduit agreement whereby JFNA accepted the $1million "grant" from a secret donor and passed the funds through to a for-profit "consultant" for an undisclosed purpose. This is a  prohibited "conduit" transaction about which JFNA has claimed -- as it does for all of its consultant contracts -- a false "confidentiality." Shame on them? Yes, and shame on us.
Where is accountability? Diogenes himself couldn't find it? Where is the JFNA Board? Ignorance is truly bliss.

Rwexler

Sunday, August 13, 2017

JFNA AND THE COLLAPSE OF THE COLLECTIVE


I can't put my finger on the exact moment in time when the commitment of JFNA and the federations to the core, foundational principle of "collective responsibility" collapsed in the organization that was created in part, at the least, to strengthen it. It might have been at any of these points:


  1. In the second year of the merger when a single federation breached the agreement all federations had committed to maintain core allocations at their merger level for two years and not a single protest was sounded; within months these allocations commitments had toppled like dominoes;
  2. In the 4th year of the merger when neither unanimity nor even consensus could be reached on binding federations to a minimal level of core allocations support as part of a reform of the JFNA Dues formula;
  3. Over more than a decade the Jewish Federations-National Agencies Alliance weakened, collective support for the legacy national agencies slowly (and now rapidly) evaporated;
  4. When a JFNA Board Chair was elected from a community that owed JFNA over $1 million in unpaid allocations;
  5. In the basic premise of the failed "Signature Initiatives" promoted by JFNA as the "singular achievement" of the disastrous Global Planning Table which subscribed to the concept of "coalitions of the willing" -- small numbers of federations engaging in small numbers of projects, effectively standing the very definition of "collective response" on its head. Even today, 2+ years after the total demise of the GPT, the remaining "Initiative," the I-rep while operational, remains millions of dollars from its funding goals, and engages but a small percentage of the total federation population;
  6. When federation and JFNA leaders set a "red line"which would not be crossed without consequences while debating the setting  a minimum Overseas allocation requirement as a condition of JFNA membership over and above Dues and, then, agreed to a "best efforts" minuscule level of commitment without consequences that has never been applied in practice since its adoption -- the "red line" evaporated as if never articulated; 
  7. And at other points, large and small, contributing to the basic conclusion that...
...the leadership of JFNA does not even comprehend the meaning of "collective responsibility." Here is the JFNA Young Leadership Cabinet's application of the term:
"We believe in the collective -- the ideas that our Federation movement is stronger when we work together, and everyone is invited to play a role in fashioning and imagining the Jewish future. 
We experience the profound sense of 'the collective' full-on here at the Retreat, where more than 200 young leaders feed off each other's ideas, energy and curiosity."
JFNA has rebranded "collective responsibility" by simply removing the word "responsibility" from the brand.  And, this walkaway has been led by the organization created to protect and enhance that very "responsibility." For the CEO's Session at the Cabinet Retreat, Silverman would speak to: "Federation believes in a collective responsibility to embrace every member of the Jewish community as part of our extended family." Silverman didn't understand "collective responsibility" when he was engaged by JFNA; he doesn't understand it now; so, instead, he has led in the rebranding/redefinition effort reducing "responsibility" to cliche, to pablum, to the nothingness that it and JFNA have become.

How can Federation leaders look to an organization that clearly doesn't understand its own responsibilities to advocate and lead the communities in fulfillment of theirs? Some of you have suggested that the path to be taken would require the mass resignation of JFNA's lay and professional leaders and their succession by women and men who would move the organization forward in a recommitment to the original goals of the merger. And that would be great but for the pre-condition to such actions of a self-awareness that the laity has never before demonstrated. 

The condition of JFNA today, its abandonment of principle and purpose, reminds me of the
cruel joke circulating in 1998:
"...two aging US diplomats are shown sitting on a park bench in Washington, studying a newspaper filled with news of the war in Lebanon. One of the State Department veterans shakes his head sadly and says: 'It wouldn't have happened if Warren Christopher was alive.'"
The "joke" --Warren Christopher at the time was "still alive." It would be great today if Richard Sandler along with the federation professionals who clearly understand how badly drastic surgery is needed showed some life, proved that as to JFNA they are "still alive."

Without their taking responsibility there is no responsibility.

Rwexler 


Thursday, August 10, 2017

JFNA -- THE WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN

In ejewishphilanthropy a headline a while back announced a report on goal-setting evidenced so much that is at the heart of JFNA's failures under the Silverman "administration." The authors concluded: "In the healthiest of organizations, the board, the staff, and other key stakeholders share a unified vision of the organization's mission, objectives, and priorities. When hiring, the board of trustees hopefully looks for an executive whose vision and skill set highly align with the organization's ."aspirations".http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/setting-goals-with-your-new-executive-not-for-your-new-executive/?utm_source=7/11/2017&utm_campaign=Tue+July+11&utm_medium=email

But in the bizarro-World that is JFNA goals just aren't set at all -- not "with" and certainly not "for." And if there ever were any 'goals," they were as opaque, as impenetrable as is all else at JFNA. Here are some of the "goals" established in a succession of Budgets under Jerry Silverman that ended in failure or, at best, abandoned with no consequences:

  1. Greater lay registration at GA's: in fact, lay registration has fallen year-after-year-year.
  2. Enhance professional growth for the field: in fact, JFNA, except for the excellent I-LEAD, has left the field where so many other organizations and foundations have filled the void left by JFNA's ridiculous walk away from one of its core responsibilities. See for example, the latest:http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/jcc-association-of-north-america-and-jtss-davidson-school-develop-leadership-training-collaboration/?utm_source=July+12%2C+2017&utm_campaign=Wed+July+12&utm_medium=email
  3. Community consulting: JFNA determined in 2016-2017 that it would reenter this critical area with a serious consulting effort. Then, in a ridiculous "pivot," because the Financial Resource Development Department in 2016 created a two-person community consulting effort staffed by two part-time consultants (selected by and under the leadership of a part-time "Senior Consultant) which was expanding with two more part-time consultants in 2017-2018, this would now be the consulting arm of JFNA and every JFNA professional would be expected to be part of the effort. (And, never forget that federation professionals have been left to find their own way through the often juvenile FedCentral. To her credit, JFNA's Beverly Woznica, one of the top FRD pros, has now attempted to organize a collective effort using FedCentral.)
  4. Internal Fundraising was to create additional financial resources to support the JFNA Budget. This effort, led by Silverman himself (with one of his top pros) has fallen woefully short year-by-year even as these specific FRD  "goals" have been substantially reduced year-by-year.
  5. Staff development. Rather than grow the professional cadre at 25 Broadway, Silverman has grown the organization with a consultant corps that had grown to 22 consultants -- yes, that's right, TWENTY-TWO as revealed in the 2015 990 (G-d knows what that number is for 2016-2017 --I'm guessing 26-30) -- all operating with secret contracts cloaked with self-determined claims of "confidentiality." 
  6. Enhanced relations with JAFI/JDC/WorldORT. In private leaders of these organizations will tell you that relations have never been worse. Advocacy for the overseas partners through a JFNA-Israel driven "Envoys" program has been met with almost total disinterest if not disdain by the federations -- 5 communities visited in 18 months -- but, more visits are planned.
  7. Missions. National missions -- including the most important, the Prime Minister's Mission -- canceled; others, like the recent FRD Leadership Mission, with significantly reduced lay attendance and more-and-more federations going their own way -- a shambles.
  8. The National Agencies-Federation Alliance was intended to be the vehicle which would assure that the legacy national agencies created by the federation system would be funded to meet their budgetary needs; it has collapsed. And the collapse is the direct result of (a) JFNA's total lack of leadership and guidance; and (b) JFNA using the Alliance National Agencies Funding Pool as an ATM to fund its own Planning and Education Unit. Federations, led by New York, have fled or are fleeing the Alliance almost en masse. The Alliance is a dead man walking abandoned by JFNA.
  9. The Network. When Network leaders began to question the Network's treatment by JFNA leaders, the then Board Chair and Silverman engineered what can best be described as a "coup" replacing indigenous Network communal leadership with those whom JFNA could "trust." (The Network Chairs since that coup have been a succession of leaders -- fine people all -- none from a Network community.) JFNA now pulls an unconscionable 35% of the funds raised within the Network (which fell woefully short of its own goals) for its own Budget -- without a peep from the Network leadership or, certainly, JFNA leadership. I guess JFNA would call this a victory.
I would welcome any of you who read this advising me that I am wrong; that all is as well as Sandler/Silverman seem to think that it is.

This grows more pitiful with every passing day.

Rwexler

Monday, August 7, 2017

GA 2017

As I hope all of you know, the 2017 GA will convene in Los Angeles November 12-14. It promises to be at least as good as the last few -- or, as Richard Sandler would put it: "great!" As you read what follows, remember there are right now three months until the Opening Plenary.

Leadership has chosen as the tagline for 2017 the following: Venture Further!  No, I don't know what it means either; appropriate to JFNA inasmuch as no one knows what JFNA stands for. I am sure that the message will come clear; yeah, sure. The GAs under Jerry Silverman have become JFNA in microcosm -- The Seinfeld Show, about nothing.

Perhaps to inspire attendance JFNA has produced video for the GA which I found on YouTubeGA PROMO CUT 2. (One FOB found the thing at https://vimeo.com/218035339 I  I will offer my impressions: very well-produced, nice music, nice messaging but having absolutely nothing to do with anything -- just like Venture Further! I'd be interested in your impressions.

Here is how GA '17 was presented to the JFNA Board in June:
"The GA is just around the corner so “register now” was the clarion call of GA Co-Chair Julie Platt (Los Angeles). Organized a bit differently, the three-day experience that will take place in Los Angeles from November 12-14, will begin with four, not-to-be missed, dig-deep sessions (I'm sorry but I could vomit), covering some of the most challenging issues facing our community (what are they?). In addition, the GA will feature conversations between some of our favorite actors and their rabbis, sessions with Jewish writers and producers discussing Jewish Hollywood, Silicon Valley tech mavens’ success stories, and so much more.
There will be unique experiences for Federation PMC and KDS members, including dinner on the lot of a major studio.

So, here they go again -- selling the sizzle, such as it will be. Substance -- oh, we'll find substance....maybe. Probably not. This puffery suggests that whoever is planning and selling this GA doesn't realize that the audience is made up of serious people.

We'll get back to the sizzle later; for now let's just look at substance. Find any? Me either. As of the date of this Post, all anyone apparently knows is that there will be Plenaries -- JFNA cannot articulate just what they will be about. The Program, if there is one as yet, is not in circulation -- someone(s) at 25 Broadway may have a Draft but, if so, it's not being shared with the communities. 

Then there is the venue. For those of you who may recall it, the sessions for the last GA were held in the Los Angeles Convention Center -- a mammoth facility with great rooms for Plenaries, break-outs, etc. This time around, perhaps in recognition of the dismal attendance at a succession of GAs, the Convention Hotel -- the JW Marriott -- just steps away from the Staples Center and the Convention Center, will be the venue where everything takes place. Smaller rooms for everything; perhaps to mask the anticipated low turnout once again.

So here's my suggestion for sizzle to boost attendance: Julie and Marc Platt are the Los Angeles Co-Chairs for the 2017 GA. Julie is the Board Chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Marc Platt is a movie and TV producer who has produced, among other successes, the fabulous La La Land. Their youngest child, Ben, is the incredible star, the Tony Award winner, of the remarkable Dear Evan Hansen. So, the Platts could invite (dragoon) their son Ben to perform at the GA they will Co-Chair -- ask him to (forgive me) Venture Further. Or, as an alternative, Marc Platt could invite (dragoon) Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling to recreate "City of Stars" from the incredible movie in which they co-starred -- they could sing the song to the tune of Hava Negilla!! Pack 'em in.

Sure, Venture Further, a theme so meaningless it could easily have been Better Together from Hillary Clinton's campaign, equally meaningless and, ultimately, a failure. Have the GAs become so irrelevant that they now have no unifying, no understandable theme? Rhetorical question. 

Last year JFNA's Budget allocated an additional $250,000 to the GA. We asked then: how will these funds, added to the "regular" GA funding, be used? We never got an answer. And, of course, we still don't know how this 1/4 Million Dollar infusion was applied -- to what, for what? The results, however, are clear: the 2016 GA was a failure, even lower lay attendance than the prior year. 

It wasn't that long ago that there was an annual GA Committee made up of lay and professional leaders. We did a pretty good job creating a meaningful GA program coupled with an array of takeaways. Then someone/somewhere decided that the GA was too important to be left to the lay leaders -- give 'em some speeches, some face time and they'll be happy seems to be the prevailing view. And just look at the results -- poor, dwindling, embarrassing attendance, fewer vendors at lower costs, all meaning lower revenues -- a GA in disarray. But the tightening small circle of leadership must think everything is just peachy.

So, once again, let's propose a one year hiatus for the General Assembly, a year which will be devoted to GA hard reset. Establish a blue ribbon committee to evaluate the GA and make comprehensive recommendations for its rebirth as an annual (or, better, bi-annual) event with great appeal not just to the professionals but to communal lay leadership as it once was. Because, my friends, what has become an annual failure will soon become an annual embarrassment (if it hasn't already) if a hard reset does not occur.

As the expanded promo for this General Assembly blares:
"At GA 2017,we'll venture further into the future of Jewish education, philanthropy and our community -- taking the Federation Movement farther than ever before."
Footnote: if it isn't already clear, we just don't know how we are going to do it. The tagline for the JW Marriott LA is "LA Live" -- if it continues down the path it is on, the theme for this GA may well be "LA Dead."

Nothing that Jerry Silverman does anymore should shock me/us, but, in the middle of what should be a push to recruit for Los Angeles, Silverman sent out a promo for the 2018 GA in Tel Aviv. http://community.jewishfederation.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=5402.0&s_AffiliateSecCatId=1022&dlv_id=8583&pw_id=1902  The height of fiduciary irresponsibility at the hands of the CEO. The Silverman Saga continues. It's like Trump tweeting; he just can't help himself.

In the meantime -- Venture Further everybody.

Rwexler

Friday, August 4, 2017

THE FIRST LAW OF HOLES: WHEN IN ONE STOP DIGGING!!

No organization is more occupied with digging holes and then continuing to dig deeper ones than is JFNA. Case in point: JFNA-Israel's "Envoys Program."

We recently wrote of the pathetic letter from JFNA-Israel's Becky Caspi abjectly pleading that some select group of federations reach out to JFNA and request that a lay "Envoy" make a set (for one will not do) of visits to educate in consultation with federation leadership and advocating for an increase in core allocations to the legacy overseas partners. The outreach was banal; the response not surprising. See The Daily Tragic-Comedy Continues, June 14, 2017.

Here's where we are and from where we have come...

A few years ago, under then UIA Chair Rich Bernstein, the UIA Board adopted a Futures Report that set forth an ambitious program for the JFNA Subsidiary he chaired, one that included an advocacy effort, the Chaverim Program, among other initiatives. The entire Futures Report was adopted by the JFNA Board. Led by strong UIA lay leadership -- not only within UIA but, also, JFNA -- the Chaverim effort, sending lay leaders into the communities to educate and advocate for the Jewish Agency, went forward. Remember this fact, discussed at a recent UIA Board meeting: 16 communities were visited by UIA's Chaverim in 9 months.

And, then, the Chaverim Program was discontinued. 

Why it was discontinued and who ordered its termination are questions that would be appropriate, even debated. But, of course, there was no debate and no answers offered. What we have pieced together is this: 

  • After a decade of ignoring its moral responsibility to advocate for core budget support for JDC, JAFI and WorldORT, watching in silence as those allocations dropped to the lowest levels in history, some at JFNA wanted advocacy within the federations to be conducted by JFNA and JFNA alone. Among the "some?" I'm guessing, David Brown, the then incoming Chair of JFNA-Israel, Jerry Silverman and Becky Caspi.
  • In a meeting to "sort out" the responsibilities of JFNA Israel-Overseas, UIA leaders were told (and agreed) that JFNA would henceforth be the exclusive lead on that advocacy. And, of course, UIA capitulated.
  • So JFNA, as it always does, started from scratch over 18 months ago to build what it described as an advocacy program, branded (!!) it as "Envoys" and began a recruitment effort and what it described as "training" which included, among other things, materials irrelevant to the three organizations' work (anti-semitism in Europe?) and an in-person training thing that restricted the legacy partners presentations to, as I recall, 5 (maybe it was 10) minutes each.
  • Now, remember, UIA's Chaverim visited 16 communities in the 9 months over which UIA implemented the effort; JFNA's Envoys have visited 5 federations in 18 months. And, as we wrote, now JFNA's Caspi somehow believed that a personal plea from her might interest more federations in allowing the Envoys in. Read the whole pathetic Caspi epistle: http://ujtheeandme.blogspot.com/2017/06/the-daily-tragi-comedy-continues.html
Now, surely there were serious limitations to the UIA advocacy. By its mission, UIA was and is the advocate for JAFI; and JFNA should have been the place where advocacy for all three partners would take place. But rather than employing the methodology used in JFNA's only prior foray into the advocacy effort -- the chair of that effort, Jane Sherman, is still around and in a normal organization might have been consulted -- the "decision" was made to remake the wheel. I assume that that was because as usual there was and is no institutional memory -- not even short-term. Does anybody believe that JFNA could possibly create a viable advocacy program out of whole cloth, even with a troup of dedicated, well-intentioned lay leaders engaged as Envoys, when it has wholly failed its responsibilities to the overseas partners over this administration? Does anybody share Richard Sandler's well-intentioned belief that relations with JAFI and JDC "have never been better?" (Certainly no one in leadership at JAFI/JDC when speaking candidly and in confidence believes that.) So, the Envoys have more visits scheduled; let's see how those work out.

But, here's my suggestion: stop digging. Do an "advocacy reset:" let JAFI/JDC/WorldORT lead the advocacy effort coordinated by JFNA with the federations instead of being bystanders to continuing failure that impacts them, not JFNA. And, if this is truly a serious effort by JFNA, let's have the Envoys start in their home communities before they come to yours.

BUT, I'll just watch the digging. They just can't help themselves.

Rwexler

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

LIP SERVICE

JFNA held an important Board meeting in New York City in June. "Important" mainly to those in attendance.

Here are some highlights:


  • Shhhhh.  The Board Chair kicked off the meeting with a statement designed "...to remind the Board of its fiduciary obligation to raise board issues within the board structure and to model our values including refraining from indulging in Lashon Hara." In other words, although it's pretty clear: "say nothing critical at any time." As I've written often "criticism of any kind is considered to be lashon hara to the leaders of JFNA." (BTW, if you don't catch it, Spell-Check will automatically convert "lashon" into "lasagna" -- which does change the meaning after all.)  It is of interest to this writer that the only mention of "fiduciary obligation" at this meeting was in the demand for "silence." So, out of respect for the Board Chair's admonition, I will only write and comment today about matters in the Minutes of JFNA, a public charity.
  • Change. The draftsperson of those Minutes evidenced an excellent sense of humor when the Minutes stated that at this meeting "[C]hange was in the air..." Sure, but only in the turnover of various chairs. Otherwise...business as usual. The Budget about which I have reflected on these pages as structured by its express language to be nothing more than "a suggestion," inspired a unanimous approval. When reading this my thoughts returned to the Board Chair's admonition about "fiduciary obligation" and my own sense, sadly, that that obligation is observed in form (everything's confidential), rather than substance. 
  • Jerry Silverman. Oy. Here is what Jerry had to say:
"JFNA President and CEO Jerry Silverman reported on JFNA’s activities to date. “I am more optimistic than ever,” he said, and then listed a series of impressive initiatives and accomplishments; including:
  • A series of incredible national missions and events taking place over the next few months (see full list below);
  • National Young Leadership Cabinet, Federations’ hallmark leadership development program, has been completely reimagined and reengineered;
  • A team of very seasoned consultants have spent the past nine months working with individual Federations in an effort to develop targeted engagement plans to strengthen the health of each one; and
  • Since inception, our National Jewish Federation Bond Pool has helped facilitate $1.4 billion in financing for capital projects of Federations and their agencies."
         Join me in looking carefully at the causes of Jerry's "optimism:"

      • "Incredible national missions" -- unmentioned are the national Missions canceled in 2017 because of lack of interest/attendance. Perhaps Richard and Jerry (or Jerry and Richard) should have considered just why JFNA didn't think it appropriate or necessary, or both, to convene a leadership Mission to Jerusalem celebrating both the 50th Anniversary of Six Day War and the Reunification of Jerusalem. Inconvenient? Didn't think of it? Indifferent? This omission is what's really "incredible."
      • The YLC's "completely reimagined and reengineered" plan is being rolled out -- please get your hands on it; you will find, as I have, that this product, the result of a two+ year long consultant study, is nothing more than old wine in new bottles -- old wine from a bad vintage at that. Once again, as is the rule at JFNA, with no institutional memory and no interest in the successful models from the past, there is no "there there"
      • That "team of very seasoned consultants" that have worked the past year? Two part-time consultants plus part-time consultant Vicki Agron -- that was it. The "team." Definitely "seasoned," great professionals. How many? Few. Very few. How many community consultations? 22...that's twenty-two...that's "robust?" Now Agron (not the Sr. V-P FRD, the consultant, Agron) has hired two more part-time consultants, also "seasoned," like the first two, probably great. BTW, those consultants were engaged to assist Federations with FRD; now, with nothing else going, they will be asked to provide more comprehensive consulting services to the communities. This only makes sense from a JFNA Budget standpoint; not at all from a federation service standpoint.
      • The National Jewish Federation Bond Fund has been great. So glad that I thought of it years ago. Seriously, a terrific spin-off of my original plan to market a team of bond experts to the federations. The Bond Fund leadership has has done a great job with it. 
      • If you find cause for "optimism" from this litany, I have a Bridge to sell you, The fact that this is the list that Jerry provided the Board indicates to me how much he takes the Board's approbation for granted. "Is this all there is, my friends, is that all there is?"
  • The Annual Campaign. Outgoing National Campaign Chair Harold Gernsbacher, who did an incredible, indefatigable job in the face of incredible odds and institutional obstacles (like "why are we doing FRD?"), in his final message stated a fact: "While the average gift per donor is up, he said, the number of donors is down." Harold has never struck me before as a master of understatement, he has now. Here's the reality: the merger promised a cutting edge organization dedicated to "more donors and more dollars." It has produced neither; it has helped not a single federation to date to produce either.  Annual campaigns in the aggregate are in stasis and the number of donors has literally collapsed. In a New York Times article from November 28, 1988, U.J.A., at 50, Is Thriving but Also Being Challenged, the author noted that the then national organization "[L]ast year...collected $720 million, from about a million donors, roughly a third of all Jewish households in the United States." Today, the aggregate annual campaign is, adjusted for inflation, far below that $720 million and the number of donors has fallen to somewhere around 200,000...and JFNA appears incapable of doing anything about it.
How does the JFNA laity, each and every one of them a leader in at least their own community, continue to support the institutional fecklessness that the organization exhibits 24/6? Is there some By-Law that dictates fealty to this JFNA imperium?

Rwexler


Saturday, July 29, 2017

AN OFFER OF HELP

On Friday April 28 (that's almost 4 months ago) I sent the following letter to Richard Sandler:


"Dear Richard,

I am so sorry that we missed one another by phone these last couple of days. I am certain you had something you wanted to talk to me about; I have things to speak to you about…always it seems. I know you are neither a “friend” of my Blog nor even a reader unless some one brings it to your attention; so I am sending you this Draft Post which I will soon publish; I hope you will read it:

I know you will disagree but I believe JFNA is in deep, deep crisis and I also strongly believe that you are the leader who can do something about that crisis. I have learned from friends around the country that JFNA Dues payments are being partially withheld in a number of communities (just as your federation, Los Angeles, withheld Dues payments a few years ago until a deal was reached); leaders of JAFI and JDC are complaining (in private at present) about the lack of support they are receiving even as your message is that “relations have never been better;” if Trump Administration priorities are implemented, the social service safety net that federations have created with JFNA’s important help will be devastated, and there will be a federation crisis of proportions never before experienced and JFNA is unprepared give guidance; and, among other things, JFNA not only no longer supports the growth and education of communal professionals, even the Mandel Foundation has announced it is filling the void totally independent of JFNA. (see, http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/who-will-you-nominate/?utm_source=April+28%2C+2017&utm_campaign=Fri+Apr+28&utm_medium=email) Though there is so much more, Richard, you are aware, certainly, that the Community Consulting Services function, once JFNA’s strength, is a void but for FRD’s sending two part-time consultants, both superb, out into the field where they work with two or three communities each at any one time.

If you believe that I am wrong about any of these, then I would tell you to consider your source(s). If you (or any one) believes that I enjoy being a constant critic, then neither you nor they know me at all. As I told you when we met in Santa Monica so long ago now, I wanted you to succeed in your leadership and, in so leading, I want JFNA to succeed. As you wrote before you took office, your leadership style is to identify the right professionals and give them the tools to succeed; and that might work if you had the right professional leader in place — at 25 Broadway it has all gone wrong and the chief professional officer has failed…and nothing happens…nothing at all. Now is the time for you to intercede. (I haven’t a clue how Jay Sanderson feels about Jerry Silverman’s professional leadership but Jay has tried, I know, to work with Jerry. Ask Jay for a candid appraisal.)

Richard, if asked I will do everything that I can out of my experience to make of JFNA a success from the inside. All I can do is offer to help from far outside.

Warm regards and Shabbat shalom,

Richard"

_________________________________________________________________________

I think that Richard  Sandler would agree that he hasn't really responded to my letter -- although he did take the time during an extremely busy time for him to accuse me of questioning his "integrity," something that I have never done unless Richard was confusing my criticism of "leadership" with "integrity." Some in leadership over time have been clear -- they have believed that my offers to helping any way that I might to be disingenuous at best. These who have done so want/wanted to ignore the years of my life contributed to the success of a merger that has since gone bad...very bad.

To me, the most amazing aspect of the failure that is the JFNA of today is that this lay leadership has been willing, even anxious, since Michael Siegal assumed the Chair through today, to hand Jerry Silverman a tabula rasa, a literal blank slate, one that any other chief professional officer would have attempted to fill with excellence, with creativity, with substance. And how has Jerry Silverman filled this blank slate? It's still empty, 8 years into two contract terms, filled with failure and bullshit. Three years into Silverman's first Contract term, all of his management responsibilities were turned over to Mark Gurvis, while Jerry received ever-escalating compensation; now 8 years in, Jerry is available to speak almost anywhere, for a photo op almost anywhere -- as someway wrote me, "Jerry would show up for the opening of an envelope." For Jerry Silverman these 8 years have been treasure trove, found money; for JFNA an egregious waste of precious resources and time neither of which will ever be recaptured.

Friends, any one who really knows me and knows what motivates me knows that if Richard Sandler called me today and said "Richard, we want you to come to 25 Broadway and help straighten out the mess that we have there," I would be there the next day. I would hit the ground running. And, I wouldn't be the only one. Do I expect that to happen? Sure, when pigs (sorry) fly.

Now there are less than 18 months left in Silverman's second contract Term. The temptation to just let this Term run out and say good-bye or to further renewal must be great given that 8 years of organizational ineptitude and back-sliding have not pushed a succession of Board Chairs to do anything about this leadership void. But a guy can hope...

Can't he?

Rwexler

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

THE PATHETIC PURSUIT OF SHINY OBJECTS

JFNA has raised failure to unheard levels of almost absurdity. Someone in JFNA leadership should realize the mockery that the organization's professional and lay leadership make of The Strength of a People/The Power of Community, the words with which JFNA describes itself -- words that JFNA by its non/mal/mis-feasance assure have no meaning whatsoever...none...when applied to JFNA itself.

Examples abound -- from the insipidity of a succession of TribeFests, to one failed GA after another, to the shitstorm of the Global Planning Table, to the futility so evident by a lack of follow through on the egalitarian Kotel Plaza, the Knesset Conversion legislation and so many others. Maybe JFNA's tagline ought to be Leaving the Strength of a People to Others. Yet, of all of the failures, JFNA leadership's lack of any plan, any strategy or any tactics in light of the assault on Conservative and Reform Jewry in the the Prime Minister's Office and in the halls of the Knesset is both inexcusable and without precedent. In fact this sad state is unforgivable...unforgivable.

We all should be aware that but for the serendipity of Prime Minister Netanyahu's decision to support both the breach of his agreement with regard to egalitarian prayer access near the Kotel and the codification of Ultra-Orthodox control of conversions at the time that Diaspora leaders -- lay, professional and Rabbinic -- were in Jerusalem for meetings of the Jewish Agency, the strong probability based upon precedent is that JFNA leaders would have done nothing more than send a letter kvetching while fawning, give interviews and think their job is done. But, instead there were concrete actions taken by JAFI leadership with JFNA and Federation leaders in tow -- cancellation of a Gala Dinner at the Knesset, direct confrontation with the Prime Minister and photo ops, the latest two events in which federation and JFNA leaders participated. It was not coincidence, however, that the PM's decision to "suspend" consideration of the Conversion Bill took place only after the Conference of Presidents flew in to Jerusalem and the Prime Minister's Office to register the concern of Diaspora Jewry. And that suspension was but a tactical retreat not an act about which our leaders should be in their normal state of hyperbolic self-congratulations.

You may ask: Isn't JFNA demonstrating its strength in opposition to the actions of the Government of Israel that directly impact on World Jewry and the vast majority of Jews in our communities and their/our relationship to Israel? And, I would suggest the answer is: No. You then ask how could you write that? Think about this: the JFNA sponsored and heavily hyped/poorly attended FRD Leadership Mission brought its cadre to Israel just a week ago. Jerry Silverman, for reasons even he might struggle to explain, was on that Mission (although he may have left it before it arrived in Jerusalem), which arrived in Israel just weeks after the Prime Minister's decisions on the egalitarian prayer space and the Conversion Bill. This was a great opportunity to demonstrate American Jewry's concerns directly with the PM and with members of the Knesset. And, not only did this not happen; it appeared not to even have been considered. No change in the published itinerary, no meetings with Knesset members or the Prime Minister...on this issue: silence.

What a terrible message. Federation leaders in Jerusalem and the opportunity to directly express our concerns to those in the Government...an opportunity totally lost. Plus, what must Israeli lawmakers think of us; do we really care about this issue? I know this: in an environment in which JFNA had the strength of purpose of the United Jewish Appeal in its best days or the strength of leadership of a Council of Jewish Federations under Shoshana Cardin, all of us can envision our continental leaders implementing a strategy that would have exercised our collective strength in pursuit of our goals -- but not this JFNA, not now and apparently not ever. And we can envision strong action because it actually happened under UJA and CJF.

One Israeli reporter observed:
"Heads of the Jewish Federations of North America said during their recent visit to Israel that they plan on creating a campaign in Israel so that “Israelis know what we’re about,” they explained. My answer to this is: It’s about time, but also a bit too late. Hundreds of millions have been invested in promoting the connection of young Diaspora Jews to Israel, but how much has been invested in getting Israelis to learn about Diaspora Jews? Not very much."
Friends in Israel have called to tell me of a set of billboards erected around Israel bearing language so outrageous that I have told them that not even JFNA would be stupid enough to have funded them. Would it? But that brings us back: is JFNA doing anything

Is it too much to ask that our Continental organization have a strategy and the tactics to implement that strategy on our behalf? I know: rhetorical question. Think about it, friends: federation lay and campaign leaders were in Jerusalem and no thought was given as to how to educate the Mission lay and professional participants and deploy them to the Knesset. I can't think of a greater missed opportunity; a missed opportunity that speaks volumes about the pathetic state JFNA is in during what should be the final moments of its CEO's tenure. This is the equivalent of Aipac bringing a leadership group to D.C. but failing to meet with Congressional leadership. 

Inexcusable. Unforgivable.

As always.

Rwexler


Sunday, July 23, 2017

KOSHER? ... AND OTHER QUESTIONS

1. The Forward recently headlined a dispute arising out of NY's 92nd Street Y promising a "kosher style" dinner at its Gala. This fired up an apparently famous New York Kosher caterer, Rabbi Sholtiel Lebovic. Lebovic, who claims to hold the “world record for Koshering more kitchens than any single individual since the world was created,” demanded that the Y to hire a kosher caterer for the gala. "“A phone call to the right kosher caterer has to be made to set this right and have a truly kosher event,” he stated. If we learn the outcome we will report. 

In the meantime, a FOB sent me a photo of a gorgeous plate of shrimp apparently served at UJA-New York Federation's Gracie Mansion event.

Confused?

2. The Board of Trustees at Northern Illinois University forced the resignation of its President and CEO this month for mismanaging the hiring of consultants. I'm just sayin'.

3. Haaretz published an article a couple of months ago on the work of the indefatigable fund raiser and firm believer in the maxim "I don't care what they publish about me as long as they publish about me," Yechiel Eckstein. The article's title is perfect: Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein Raises Millions for Israel's Poor. And Don't You Forget it. The story deserves to be read in its entirety and you can do so at: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/business/1.783427 I have tremendous respect for Yechiel's prodigious resource development skills, so much so that I asked him to join the now dormant Project HEART (Holocaust Era Asset Restitution Task Force) three years ago with all of the known baggage. Yechiel turned me down.

The Haaretz article and all I know about Yechiel dating back to his days in Chicago right through the fiasco with the Jewish Agency, reminded me of a story:
An older lady was sitting in the window seat in the first class cabin on a plane from New York.  The man who was assigned the aisle seat next to her noticed her diamond solitaire ring – the diamond was the biggest he’d ever seen, more like a rock than a gem, and he knew enough about diamonds to know this one was real and looked flawless.  He couldn’t keep his eyes off of it. 
After the flight was well underway, she noticed his gaze and helped him out, “I see you’re looking at my diamond." 
"Yes,” he admitted, “I couldn’t help myself.  It is the most stunning diamond I’ve ever seen.”
“Young man, this is the Kaplan Diamond." 
He responded, "The Kaplan Diamond?  You mean it has a name?" 
"Oh yes.  And the Kaplan Diamond comes with a curse." 
The man was impressed.  "My goodness, that’s very interesting. A diamond with a name which has a curse attached to it! Please, if you don’t mind telling me, what is the curse?" 
The old lady smiled and said, "Mr. Kaplan."
Now that the International Fellowship (aka "Eckstein") has burned its bridges sequentially with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the United Jewish Appeal, Keren Ha'Yesod, the Jewish Agency and probably a few more, JDC now has the "Kaplan Diamond" in its possession. One word of advice: enjoy it while you can.

4. And then there is the "always good for a laugh (or cry)" FedCentral. What follows is a single paragraph from the June 21 "edition:"
"JFNA and the Israel Action Network work to bring young Jews, and young Americans of all kinds, closer to Israel. As federal and local governments are stepping away from issues, big-name philanthropists are increasingly stepping in to the tune of an estimated $20 trillion over the next 50 years."
Just a couple of issues:

  • NEITHER JFNA nor the IAN is working to "bring young Jews, and young Americans of all kinds (I don't write this stuff folks, I just reprint it) closer to Israel." As I have often written, I love the potential of the IAN underfunded as it is and as it has been by JFNA, but here's what it is committed to doing: "IAN’s mission is to build a strong base of support for Israel and counter delegitimization in the context of two states for two peoples."  III"

 JFNA so constantly engages in "mission inflation;" it just cannot help itself. (Were the IAN actually doing as JFNA states it and IAN are doing, JFNA would still be doing nothing.)

  • Then, there is the total lack of connection between sentence 1 (that "JFNA and the Israel Action Network..." sentence and sentence 2. Maybe JFNA is just checking to see if we are actually reading this thing.
5. And Now...This. If you can count on FedWorld for narishkeit and low comedy, periodically you can rely upon that epic example of JFNA's abdication of relevance, FedCentral, for telling examples of "where did we go wrong." For but one example (names withheld to protect...): 
"Would anyone be willing to share agendas for their board meetings? Specifically for the young adults. I'd like to revise ours to be more strategic. Email me at... "
Rendered speechless.

Rwexler