Monday, June 26, 2017


We find ourselves in the midst of a Diaspora-Government of Israel controversy; one that appears to be growing in intensity. Our organizational leadership, you will not be surprised, in reaction to the news that GOI was about to breach its agreement to provide egalitarian prayer space adjacent to the Kotel, sent a letter, not any letter mind you but "an urgent letter" to the Prime Minister referring not to the breach of an agreement negotiated over years and approved by the Government, but asking for continued support of "the concept." Just pathetic...

Anyway, here is how JFNA notified the system of the events:
"Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to you from the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meetings in Jerusalem about a two very significant and deeply troubling developments that have just occurred at the Israeli government’s weekly Cabinet meeting.

Early this morning, before that Cabinet meeting, Jerry Silverman and I, sent an urgent letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu urging him to continue to support the concept of “one Wall for one people,” but regrettably, the government voted to suspend its previous resolution approving the Kotel compromise.  The government decision did not rescind the original cabinet resolution, but suspended it.

As you know, in January 2016 the Israeli Cabinet voted to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. The decision envisaged an upgraded and permanent prayer area for non-Orthodox services at Robinson’s Arch at the southern end of the Western Wall, along with a redesign of the approach to both this area and the traditional Kotel Plaza and prayer space.

Led by Natan Sharansky, Jewish Federations worked with the religious streams, the Israeli government, Women of the Wall and the Jewish Agency to help reach the agreement.  Implementation of the plan was halted due to political pressures.  Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky issued a statement which appears in full below.  We echo his sentiments.

In addition, a new conversion bill sponsored by the Shas party was approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation earlier today and has been sent to the Knesset for consideration.  This bill changes the status quo of conversion in Israel and would block access to Israel’s courts.  

We urge all Execs to communicate with their local Israel Consul General and share with them the community’s disappointment on the government decision to suspend the Kotel resolution.  At the same time, you should urge the Consuls General to communicate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and let them know how disastrous this new conversion legislation would be for global Jewry.


Richard Sandler
Chair, Board of Trustees, JFNA"

And Natan Sharansky, who negotiated the Hotel Agreement and works indefatigably in effort to implement it issued a Statement:


“As Chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel, and on behalf of our partners, I must express my deep disappointment at today's decision by the Government of Israel to suspend the implementation of its own decision to establish a dignified space for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall. Five years ago, the prime minister asked me to lead a joint effort to bring about a workable formula that would transform the Western Wall into, in his own words, ‘one wall for one people.’

“After four years of intensive negotiations, we reached a solution that was accepted by all major denominations and was then adopted by the government and embraced by the world's Jewish communities.

“Today's decision signifies a retreat from that agreement and will make our work to bring Israel and the Jewish world closer together increasingly more difficult.

“The Jewish Agency nevertheless remains staunchly committed to that work and to the principle of one wall for one people.”

Only Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz voted against the resolution to suspend the 2016 Kotel agreement.

The Prime Minister’s Office announced that the Prime Minister has asked Minister Tzachi Hanegbi to lead efforts to come up with a new plan.

We continue to monitor the situation and discuss next steps, and will of course update you with any news of significance."
So we have a JFNA letter that pleads rather than demands; but, in addition to a promise from the leader of the Jewish Agency of "monitoring the situation" JAFI has cancelled its Board Dinner with Netanyahu at the Knesset tonight and promised to reorient its Board meetings this week to deal with the "ramifications" of the Government's breach. Friends, we are either approaching or are already in an existential crisis in Israel-Diaspora relations precipitated by the Prime Minister's coalition politics. Hard to believe? Not so much.

Perhaps some thought was given to enlisting a group of Diaspora leaders who are in Jerusalem to immediately and respectfully demand a meeting with the Prime Minister to explain the impacts both the Cabinet decision to breach its Kotel Agreement and the Knesset legislation that would impact on conversions in Israel. Yet, if anyone, certainly this Prime Minister understands the implications but the impact of a face-to-face meeting with a group led by Michael Siegal, now the JAFI Board Chair and a friend of Bibi's of long-standing, and Sharansky, with a major contingent of federation executives representing cities of all sizes, would underscore the potential for and the implications of a major schism between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.

Friends, this is not the time for weak letters but for strong actions. The Jewish Agency is showing the way and JFNA is doing its part. Here is the full statement of the Jewish Agency in response to the Government's action as reprinted in The Times of Israel::
The Jewish Agency for Israel
The Board of Governors

June 2017 
Jerusalem Tamuz 5777Resolution
Whereas the Jewish Agency for Israel, representing world Jewry through its constituent members, the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod, is gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, the liberation of the Western Wall and the founding of the Zionist movement in Basel 120 years ago; and
Whereas the Jewish Agency for Israel throughout its history has been the organization responsible for bringing olim to the State of Israel and connecting Israel and world Jewry; and
Whereas the proposed conversion bill that would cement the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on conversion has the devastating potential to permanently exclude hundreds of thousands of Israelis from being a part of the Jewish people; and
Whereas we deplore yesterday’s decision by Government of Israel which contradicts the agreement reached with the Jewish Agency and other parties to establish the Kotel as a unifying symbol for Jews around the world, as stated: ‘ONE WALL FOR ONE PEOPLE’; and
Whereas the Government of Israel’s decisions have a deep potential to divide the Jewish people and to undermine the Zionist vision and dream of Herzl, Ben-Gurion, and Jabotinsky to establish Israel as a national home for the entire Jewish people; and
Whereas we declare that we cannot and must not allow this to happen and we are committed to mobilizing our constituencies for their continued support of the people and state of Israel;
Therefore, be it resolved that 
• We call upon each Member of the Knesset and all elected public officials to take all necessary action to ensure that these dangerous and damaging steps are halted; and
• We will continue to build a broad coalition of Israelis, together with partners from around the world, who care passionately about keeping our people united and who are committed to the unity of the Jewish people; and
• We call upon the Government of Israel to understand the gravity of its steps and reverse its course of action accordingly."
And no one should be allowed to suggest that somehow this is but a "suspension" (whatever that means) of the Agreement -- as members of the Government reported: (1) to hide the intent, the  Prime Minister did not include the egalitarian prayer space on the Government agenda; and (2) the Prime Minister made clear to his Government that this was a vote on the "cancellation" of the Agreement. In America and in Israel this was a breach of an Agreement negotiated by Natan Sharansky an adopted by the Religious Movements, JAFI and the Government.


Sunday, June 25, 2017


The story was told in a simple sentence today in a Haaretz Breaking News: "The government decided on Sunday to suspend a plan to establish an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall." Former Ambassador Michael Oren reacted in The Jerusalem Post:

"Deputy minister and former US ambassador Michael Oren criticizes Netanyahu’s decision to freeze the government-approved plan for pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall as the 'abandonment of Zionism,' and says it unfairly demonizes non-Orthodox Jews.

'As far as I’m concerned, this is the abandonment of Zionism. The Western Wall belongs to all Jews,' Oren says in a statement, saying the move would only serve the 'the narrow interests' of the ultra-Orthodox parties.

'This despicable decision sends a sharp message of division and alienation to Diaspora Jewry,' he adds. 'The State of Israel defines itself as the nation-state of the Jewish people. It must start behaving like it.'"
I'm certain that the tiny cabal that is JFNA's leadership is crafting its own statement strongly influenced by its need to not rupture relations with the Prime Minister that might result in invitations to meet with the Prime Minister during Jewish Agency meetings be canceled. Maybe they are drafting a letter -- for that is their modus operandi isn't it -- that they can leave behind on a chair in the PM's Cabinet meeting room as they slink out. Or, maybe, just maybe, for once they will stand up and demand as Amb. Oren did that if "...the State of Israel defines itself as the nation-state of the Jewish People, it must start behaving like it."

Friends, the agreement to create an egalitarian prayer space at (actually adjacent to) the Kotel has been in place after four years of negotiations, unimplemented, for two years, celebrated by JFNA (and, truly, no one else, given that "all politics is local") based on periodic assurances from the Prime Minister that it was just a matter of "working out the details." Now that agreement stands breached in whole and in part.

Oh, sure, there will be lip service to the effect that Minister Tzachi Hanegbi has been assigned the task of developing a new "plan" -- but just whom at this point would believe that anything will come of this "effort?" But, just as sure, some will actually believe this fiction and counsel silence and patience. 

In a sharply worded editorial scold,, Haaretz wrote,
"Thirty years of demonstrating, protesting and agitating for egalitarian prayers at the Western Wall went down the drain. Years of lobbying, cajoling, persuading, negotiating and agreeing were all for 2017 it's simply inconceivable that medieval Jewish fundamentalists would continue to dictate terms to the government of the modern state of Israel, all turned out to be nothing more than  smoke and mirrors. Bubkes. Nada. Gornisht mit gornisht, nothing with nothing."
If JFNA has any credibility, its leaders will stand for the Jewish values embodied in our work, in the work of our communities. As it happens, many North American Jewish leaders, as well as leaders from around the Diaspora, are in Jerusalem today for the meetings of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors. What better time to assert publicly and privately that today's decision to breach an agreement to which this Prime Minister was committed publicly and privately will not stand. If our leaders do not do so, then they will have abdicated their leadership obligations.


Friday, June 23, 2017


1. A few weeks ago I read a sad story in the Times of Israel of "man dies in flight after eating a kosher meal" on an Iberian Airlines flight. I know there is a metaphor in there for something, I just haven't found it yet.  But I'm working on it. And we were sorry to read it -- worse than United?

2. Israeli media reported last month that the Archbishop of Canterbury prayed at the Western Wall; and, of course, so did President Trump! No one seemed to notice that Women of the Wall still cannot do so in a free manner. For JFNA..."letter to follow."

3. Quietly, sneakily, JFNA took me off the distribution list for FedWorld. I found that I missed the daily process of "receive, print out, briefly scan, crumble, wrap fish." So  I asked a friend to forward his/her copy to me. And, then, there it was, like an old friend. One featured story told it all: "Prince Philip wished a ‘happy retirement’ by Jewish leaders" Yep, the big news of the Jewish day. So glad we're back together.

4. I don't know why but I found the following real news to be a metaphor for JFNA: an inmate at an Indiana prison attempted to escape. An all-points alert was issued and an ever-expanding, intensive search encompassing multiple counties over 2-1/2 days took place before the inmate was captured...inside the prison!

5. A few weeks ago JTA headlined the following major news item: Justin Bieber concert sends Orthodox woman into labor My interest was heightened by the question: what did the fact that this woman, three weeks overdue as it happened, was Orthodox have to do with either (a) Bieber or (b) going into labor at a performance? Answer: neither other than that the new mother disclosed that many Orthodox women love Bieber.

6. I am not carrying the Jewish National Fund's water here but go to its website, and review the multiple national Missions and Tours -- all of which engage its members and donors with Israel and compare them with the paltry list of JFNA-sponsored Missions and their venues. I would wager than many, most, perhaps even all of you are like me persons who first experienced Israel through a federation or United Jewish Appeal Mission to Israel and, you might wish to ask: what does JFNA see as the purpose(s) of its almost non-existent national Missions program. Then, again, CEO Jerry thinks that JFNA is at the forefront in Missions -- out of touch?

7. And, finally, I had to laugh (between the tears and fears) the day after President Trump fired James Comey. For there is was, in a Times of Israel article that included a photo 
taken at a meeting of a group of Jewish "leaders" at a meeting with the now former FBI Director. And there, smack dab in the middle of the photo was...the back of Jerry Silverman's head. And, surely,  at JFNA, heads will roll because of this slight. He's ubiquitous; apparently, if photos are being taken, CEO Jerry will attend the opening of an envelope. This photo has surely found its place into "Silverman's Scrapbook of Achievements."


Tuesday, June 20, 2017


While preparing for another move, I have done what all of you have done as well -- combing through files, many ancient, many really ancient, determining which to toss and which to save. And though I had already culled out numerous files and documents in prior moves, I never go through this process without thinking back to other times; and this time was no different.

I found myself reflecting on the reality that not one of the United Jewish Appeal National Campaign Chairs whom I got to know so well over the decades left office without a feeling of incredible accomplishment as well as no small degree of frustration at not being able to accomplish even more. And I began to wonder, not for the first time, as to whether JFNA's succession of Chairs feel frustration as well.

I'm certain that Kathy Manning feels frustration today at the demise of her ill-conceived and terribly implemented Global Planning Table -- after all, she appointed herself as the GPT Chair and, then, nothing happened. But, Kathy has moved on to chair the ambitious Prizmah and we wish her and that organization well.

I don't know if Michael Siegal felt any frustration at the end of his Terms as JFNA Chair -- three years of well-run meetings and good will and the extension of Silverman's contract; three years of meh, of almost no positive results. But, Michael has moved on to the role as Chair of the Jewish Agency Board succeeding one of the most passionate and articulate Jewish leaders, Chuck Ratner, and we wish Michael and that organization well.

These Chairs left Richard Sandler to lead an organization without a soul, and with neither vision, mission nor any evidence of core values. He has been left high and dry by his professional "partner," and together they have stood by while too many in lay and professional leadership look like a bunch of clowns piling out of a VW Beetle. A succession of leaders have allowed JFNA to become unhinged, unconnected from the passions and commitments -- to the federations first and foremost, to the legacy Overseas partners, to Zionism -- yes, the passions and commitments that drove our national system and the leadership of a glorious past discarded like so much litter into the dustbin of history.

Under a succession of leaders JFNA has come to resemble one of those Antarctic glaciers that are so far gone they will continue to melt even were global warming somehow reversed. That JFNA has been permitted to reach the sad state of irrelevance that it is in today is the direct result of leaders unwilling (not unable, mind you, unwilling) to confront these circumstances and exercise the leadership responsibilities with which they have been charged. As one of you recently commented:
"Same s**t...different day! JFNA is useless...helpless...and leadership less! My Federation is tired of paying $200k+ in dues for nothing in return. In fact, outside of FedCentral inane questions and FedWorld emails, my Federation Exec says he never hears from JFNA. A waste of $30 million+ and a waste for our hard locally raised philanthropic dollars."
JFNA is in a perpetual "wash, rinse, repeat" cycle. It is an organization defined by its failures; it doesn't hear federation leaders like the commentator above; its leaders choose to believe that because Dues (most) are dutifully paid, all is well, no need to worry and, certainly, no need to need whatsoever. It remains the payment of those Dues that provides cover to a leadership perfectly willing to ignore all that is wrong...and that is how JFNA shall continue until the plug is pulled rather than until the necessary actions are taken to effect change and I know where.



Saturday, June 17, 2017


I wasn't familiar with the military slogan that provided the title to this Post until the Manager of the Chicago Cubs slapped it on team T-shirts and adopted it for the 2017 Season. The saying intrigued me for reasons you can probably assume. Here's what I have learned it means:
"The Armed Forces have no other choice. If they’re out in the Iraqi desert or in the mountains of Afghanistan, the only way they’re going to get through those challenging experiences is by embracing (rather than denying or ignoring) them."

Read more:
Relevant to JFNA? I think so.

For no group of lay leaders actually has rejected the underlying rationale embodied in "embrace the suck" more than the acolytes at the top of the JFNA food chain. Faced with the challenges of an organization mired in the muck of mediocrity and waste and worse, they deny the reality -- often responding to critics with claims that their "integrity" has been sullied rather than face the facts that they are doing nothing to halt the organization's slide -- ignore the realities, and wait for someone, anyone else to do something about them. In other words, JFNA's leaders have decided to "ignore the suck" that they themselves have created.

Yes, it sucks that JFNA has come to resemble one of those prehistoric dinosaurs that are so far gone they will continue to twitch even after their demise. Hope is fading as this Titanic sinks and leaders like Richard Sandler, otherwise a wonderful philanthropist and in his life outside JFNA no doubt a realist, continues to play the piano and chime "all's well."

A dear friend, one of the nation's most prominent leaders in critical areas of K-8 non-profit education, and I engaged in a discussion about non-profits about which we are concerned. She stated: "I am a firm believer that an effective and enduring organization needs to identify its non-negotiable core values- not just mission and vision." Speaking of JFNA and the merger, forgotten/discarded by a succession of JFNA leaders, I could state without fear of contradiction: (1) that JFNA has no longer any "non-negotiable core values" and has rejected those that the legacy organizations -- UJA, CJF and UIA -- brought to the merger; and (2) in addition, incredibly, it is not driven by any sense of "mission and vision." Of course, my friend was aghast: "How can that be," she asked, and concluded: "then there's no hope."

"No hope." 

Keep on sucking.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017


A few weeks ago Federation CEOs received a modified generic letter from Rebecca Caspi, the head of the futile JFNA-Israel, which a lay person in one of our best and largest communities sent on to me with a terse comment that read "!!!!":
"As you may have heard, JFNA’s Israel and Overseas Committee recently launched a new targeted advocacy effort for Federations called the Envoy Program. Through this program, national lay leaders including Chicago Federation’s David Brown, Chair of the I&O Committee, and other volunteers visit local communities, engaging on a peer-to-peer level to educate, empower, and inspire ongoing support for the Israel and Overseas agenda.
Depending on your interests and needs, an Envoy visit could include meeting with members of your I&O and Allocation Committees, representatives from Young Leadership and Women’s Philanthropy, key members of your board and senior professionals. We could also invite leaders from the Jewish Agency for Israel, JDC, and World ORT to join the gathering, working with them in advance to ensure a smooth and synergized* presentation. Envoy visits are typically implemented at a Board meeting or through several smaller meetings.   This helps communities avoid incurring extra costs as a result of the visit.  Note that our amazing volunteers fully cover the costs of their own travel!
To prepare the Envoy to effectively engage with your community, we would provide them with background information on your Federation’s overseas allocations and specific interests. But we know well that numbers don’t tell the whole story and it would be helpful to hear from you about critical I&O issues in your community and any history or information that would be relevant to a discussion about your Federation’s overseas allocation.
Looking back as we look forward, I believe you must feel as I do that  the decline of I&O allocations across the system has come at a time when Jews around the world are less economically or politically secure then they were a decade ago. And we know from experience that it is Federation that provides a safety net and the ability to respond to crises as they occur.
I hope that together we can find a way to customize and leverage this opportunity in support of all your efforts to strengthen and build your community and perhaps, give one more booster shot to help all you built endure!
I have copied Rina Goldberg, the lead staff for JFNA on this effort, and we welcome any questions you may have.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
I have written more than once encouraging JFNA to enter into a serious Overseas Advocacy program bringing an educated laity to the communities side-by-side with representatives of the Overseas partners to dialogue for an increase in core allocations. I applaud this effort (which, contrary to the suggestion in Caspi's letter, began over one year ago) but at the same time I, along with others, know this to be way too little and way, way too late. I commend the intent but have come to understand that almost none of the federations contacted in this way (why is it always a letter??) have responded enthusiastically, if at all.

Federations have reduced their overseas allocations to core to the lowest annual levels EVER. And the momentum that has led to this sorry state has developed over the life of JFNA while that organization, charged with responsibility for advocacy with the federations, had remained silent; or worse. (In his first months on the job, knowing even less than he does today, Jerry spoke to a major federation's Board and offered, without being asked, that JFNA "...will never ask you to raise your overseas allocations" --or words to that effect.  Good work.

JFNA fails to understand that decades ago, first JDC and, then, JAFI and WorldORT have been in the communities developing contingents of major donors in support of their efforts. I can tell you from personal experiences how daunting it was to visit San Francisco and Boston, as examples, to advocate for all of the Overseas partners only to be confronted with passionate support for one organization and literal, visceral hatred for the others -- that hasn't changed; in fact, it's worse today., baked in over decades. So JFNA sets out to remake the wheel once again -- forget the history of a decade ago when JFNA embarked on a short-lived advocacy effort under superb lay and professional leadership and forget the long history of UJA's successful advocacy efforts -- because JFNA-Israel apparently has so little to do (!!), ignore the history, ignore the playbook sitting at 25 Broadway; start from scratch with no base knowledge of (a) how to do so; (b) how it has been implemented in the past; and (3) whether the path JFNA has chosen is the best one to follow. 

This is exactly how JFNA goes about its business in all things.

You cannot train a group of "Envoys," "Ambassadors," "troubadours" or whatever you might call them when the organization has wiped out the institutional memory that would inform the lay leaders of what to anticipate and how to respond. And, as all of you who read these Posts with any regularity know, there is not a single professional leader at 25 Broadway and, even more certainly, none at JFNA-Israel where a lack of federation experience appears to be a pre-condition to service, with the necessary federation background and experience to support this effort. Who will train/prepare the "envoys" to visit communities where the understanding of overseas needs is often bi-polar -- ranging from none to an intensive exposure to the reality or myth of a single overseas partner's work and, in those cases, far more knowledge than any "envoy" will bring to the effort. What happens then? Further embarrassment and a "we'll get back to you," one of JFNA's favorite misrepresentations.

Then, there was this in Caspi's letter:
"We could also invite leaders from the Jewish Agency for Israel, JDC, and World ORT to join the gathering, working with them in advance to ensure a smooth and synergized presentation. Envoy visits are typically implemented at a Board meeting or through several smaller meetings.   This helps communities avoid incurring extra costs as a result of the visit" (emphasis added)
This boils down, of course, to this "JFNA ain't paying the costs of any representative from JAFI, JDC, WorldORT -- you will if you want them. So the "envoys" will be on their own and they will pay their own way. And, who is training/educating the "envoys:" Caspi? JAFI? JDC? If you take a look at the original schedule for the first "envoy" training, you will see that the partners' representatives were given almost no time whatsoever to educate these well-meaning volunteers.

So,what can be done? First, JFNA could (as UJA did) absorb the expense of bringing the experts -- the top pros and lay leaders from WorldORT, JDC and JAFI -- to the communities and also let them lead the JFNA lay volunteers' training. Second, if this is really to be a serious effort, outreach to the communities must be a serious effort -- doing it the "JFNA way" -- writing a letter and suggesting that the CEO recipient call JFNA "if interested" is about as stupid and unrealistic and JFNA as any. 

Finally, and most important, if the "Envoys" are truly committed and want to demonstrate their impact, start their advocacy in their home communities. For example, leading the way, David Brown might start in Chicago and other leaders in their own federations. Let's see how that would work.

Like that's going to happen.


Sunday, June 11, 2017


I first wrote about the "stealth $18 million special campaign" to aid an important Ethiopian Nation Project SPACE Program for children a few months ago. 

I had discovered it here...
"A supplemental $18M campaign for ENP (not envisioned when the budget was written) is underway. There is a Chair, an initial plan is being drafted, and almost $600,000 has been committed to date." (JFNA Mid-Year Report on Implementation of Budget Objectives)
And, then, in the 2016-2017 Year-End Report:
"An $18M multi-year effort to support the Ethiopian National Project, approved by the Executive Committee in the fall, is now underway. To date a total of $1.8M in gifts and allocations has been raised." (No breakdown of gifts/allocations was provided)
Now, this Campaign, if it can be called that, which in its first eightmonths has raised only 10% of its stated "goal," has been reduced to a generic letter -- well, here's what federations -- mainly Campaign Directors rather than CEOs or Board Chairs -- received mid-May:

If you believe that this is how to run a multi-million dollar Special Campaign (referenced by JFNA as a "supplemental $18M campaign" as if this is nothing more than another Mailbox) STOP reading this Post right now.

This ENP Campaign now has a name -- Project 1460  -- it has a tag line -- Let's Shape a Generation --it has an energetic and generous Chair in Detroit's Jane Sherman; and it has the full attention, apparently, of the JFNA Senior VP-Campaign, Brian Abrahams (whom, I presume, had this Campaign dumped on him as soon as he assumed the position [!!] much as, under CEO "The Buck Stops There" Jerry Silverman, prior failed FRD efforts were dumped on the departed Matt Freedman and Reuben Romirowsky). My own experience with Special Campaigns informs me that "Campaign by Letter" is not going to work, has never worked, is no way to conduct a major (and that's what an "$18M" effort is) fund raising effort. Oh, and, there is also a 3 minute Campaign video. (And, to assure success, pulling out all of JFNA's cap pistol explosions, the "campaign" has now surfaced on FedWorld. So, obviously, this is serious.)

When I first wrote about what I characterized then as a "stealth campaign," back on October 25, 2016, I recalled how the federations historically had failed to embrace the ENP when challenged to do so and how critical to a successful campaign of this size are the initial major gifts, gifts from the JFNA leadership, which would be the foundation for a major campaign effort. In January, when this "campaign" was first exposed to the JFNA Board in the paragraph quoted above, it appeared that there were some individual gifts (not all of them what you and I would consider "major") and some federation grants but there was no leadership at all on building a Special Campaign as all other special campaigns (even those like Operation Promise, which built its early success, in part, upon the commitments of the JFNA Board made at a caucus) had been built. The tool kit for a successful campaign such as this is right there at 25 Broadway -- maybe...perhaps...JFNA's leaders who agreed to this effort should have consulted with JFNA Senior Consultant Vicki Agron at the time they took on this Special Campaign.

No, this will be a different kind of "campaign." JFNA created a website -- -- a video, a generic letter to campaign directors, a Campaign Chair in Jane Sherman, a lead pro, the Sr. V-P, Campaign (who had no apparent input into planning for this major effort or in the determination to go forward with this -- but, then again, who did?), and some individual gifts (we'd like to see the list of gifts including those of the Board Chair, the Executive Committee [they approved this Campaign with no input or follow-up from the Board of Trustees you will remember] and the CEO), and a constant reiteration that this will be a "best efforts": meaning no one is committed to anything.

Now, this letter...from Becky inspire the federations. And, to underscore the importance of this "campaign," a sidebar reference in the daily FedWorld for what could emphasize importance more than that? Seriously, is this what passes for a Special Campaign at 2017? And, remember -- always remember -- this "thing." this "campaign" was conceived without any input from a JFNA FRD Department, if one existed at that time -- this appears to have been a Sandler-Silverman Special. As the Pottery Barn Rule states: "You break it; you own it" -- and, boy, do these guys own this one.

This is all so sad. As we concluded in our April Post: 
"And, most likely, this will become just another JFNA "ask" that will be added to the pile...and forgotten like so many others. The ENP will be left with hopes dashed; the Government of Israel abashed. At this point, my friends, JFNA and its leaders are truly beyond embarrassment.

Beyond embarrassment. Haven't we had enough?"


Thursday, June 8, 2017


There is an ancient Basque saying: "We are because we were." No doubt there is a parallel Yiddish phrase expressing the same mantra. At JFNA, however, the Basque message has been reinterpreted to be: "We are because we are." The organization into which the federations -- that is the donors to our communities -- pour $30 million per year in Dues without any expectation that they will receive anything at all in return exists because...well, just because.

It is hard -- not impossible but damn hard -- to conjure any Jewish organization more shambolic than is our JFNA. And, unless it might be a one person show, like, e.g., the ZOA or the IFCJ, it is almost impossible to find a Jewish public non-profit so in need of hands'-on direction from its officers and Board than JFNA -- and getting none. As the JFNA ship continues to sink, Richard Sandler and his happy band are saying: "What a beautiful day for a swim." 

Friends, it's truly hard to believe. 

I never knew what the bonobo is until Frank Bruni employed it in a recent column -- it is a species, the perfect synonym for JFNA: "endangered, possibly on the way to extinction." JFNA is the institutional bonobo. And that's not a good thing. Not at $30 million a year; not at $10 million a year; 

We have seen interesting kinds of JFNA lay leaders of late --  those like Michael Siegal and Richard Sandler, great, kind guys, embodiments of Jewish values and integrity, warm and often funny; one a wonderful philanthropist perfectly willing to be parachuted into the chairmanship of complex organizations that he then attempts to fully understand; the other, drafted into the position and immediately announcing his intent to "get out of the (chief professional's) way" clearly without regard for that CEO's demonstrated inability to lead. An "intent" apparently fully realized.

And, I admit to being confused. Seriously, what purpose(s) does JFNA now serve other than to sop up like a dry sponge the annual Dues from Federations still willing to pay for almost nothing in return? Critical matters for which the predecessor organizations stood -- professional development and placement, meaningful Financial Resource Development, serious advocacy for the legacy overseas partners, a robust (I know) Missions program with an Israel orientation, meaningful, packed General Assemblies, financial support for the system's national agencies, significant special campaigns, serious community planning and consulting and more -- all gone or "delegated away," or diminished to the point of fading or faded away. 

The core programs that have disappeared haven't been replaced with something better; leadership pretends that they never existed at all. And that has been made easier by leadership's dedication to and success in erasing all institutional memory; if no one can remember, did it even exist? 

So leadership just hates being reminded of what was expected of JFNA at its creation and how far short its leaders have fallen in meeting the goals and purposes expected of it it and them. Oh, they hate it so much that those who might try to remind them of those institutional values are accused of questioning their "integrity" when that has never been the case.  Friends, it is not the lay leadership that lacks "integrity," that leadership, instead, lacks the will to lead because real leadership is tough, and hard decisions have to be made and hard decisions take time and strength and they are unwilling to make them. So they now call meetings with community leaders about mission, program and priorities when the top professional leader is incapable of implementing any of those.

So, it seems to me that it's long, long past time for JFNA lay leaders to sit together and discuss in candor where JFNA is...and where it isn't. And, then, do something about it.

They won't.


Monday, June 5, 2017


I received the following over the transom from a Large City Federation leader:

Dear Friends, 

We look forward to seeing you at the June Board Meeting of JFNA and in particular at our meeting for Large City Size Presidents and Trustees, taking place on Sunday, June 4, 2017, at 4 pm at the offices of UJA Federation of New York. Per a suggestion we received, we will focus our discussion on this topic: 

"With no dues increase or other revenue enhancements in sight, and continuing cost increases every year, resulting in an inevitable need to make choices, what do the large city leaders view as JFNA's key businesses?  For example, should we try to move more towards being a membership organization focusing on the needs of our members, or should we focus more on being a national/international voice?"

In a parallel effort, you should know that Richard Sandler and Cindy Shapira, chair and vice-chair of the Board, are in the process of conducting interviews in a very similar vein with the Large City Executives group. Based on the questions Richard and Cindy are asking the LCEs, we thought it would be helpful to focus our conversation using the following questions and wanted you to have them in advance of our meeting:

1. What do you consider the purpose and goals of JFNA?
2.  How effective do you think JFNA is in performing its activities and achieving its goals?

3.  What is your understanding of the most important activities performed by JFNA staff?

4.  Are there specific activities that JFNA engages in that you believe it should discontinue? 

Please come prepared for our conversation; if you have any questions or comments, as always, please don’t hesitate to reach out for any of us. We look forward to seeing you on Sunday June 4, and wish you all a chag Shavuot sameach.

Tom, Leslie, Cindy"
When I read this, quite frankly, I did not know whether to laugh or cry, ultimately opting for a primal scream. For JFNA and Federation lay leaders to find themselves asking these questions 17+ years after the merger, tells one all one needs to know about the futility of this organization under this leadership at this time. These discussions, at this time, border on the cynical and cross the line into the irresponsible.

And the timing couldn't be more exquisite (or grossly negligent) could it? This meeting took place last night literally on the cusp of the approval of another $30+ million Budget, a Budget that in a normal organization would express the means of implementation of the vision, mission and business purposes of the organization. And, while the FY 2017-2018 Budget does present, at some length, a set of priorities and goals, these must be fictional inasmuch as at JFNA the leadership is attempting to find out just what its purposes, goals, priorities and the means of implementing them should be, the Budget be damned.* Once again, JFNA leadership works at cross-purposes, taking actions that totally conflict with one another, its Board and the vast number of federations totally in the dark.

And, the audience -- just the Large City Federation representatives -- 19 communities -- not the Large Intermediate, not the Intermediate, not the Small and certainly not the Network. You can take it for what it's worth that 70% of the federations have been excluded and ignored...again.

But, I digress. The glaringly obvious presumptions of this "conversation" seem to include:

  1. We cannot be both an organization focused on the federations and a "national/international voice for the federation" at one and the same time because of budget constraints;
  2. That JFNA has  "purpose(s)"
  3. That JFNA has "goals;" 
  4. That JFNA has "key businesses" that have to be curtailed due to limits imposed by its annual Dues budget.
Sadly, each presumption in this secret communication is wholly rebuttable. I mean, really, have some in leadership honestly suggested that JFNA has been unable to perform the roles assigned to it 17 years ago because of its own budget limitations? Does anyone, other than CEO Jerry, believe this to be the case?

All of us know, from our business experiences and our non-profit roles that leadership is all about making "choices." If the exercise described in the announcement of the meeting above is to help this leadership make real choices -- the choices that this leadership should have made years ago and as recently as the date on which Silverman's contract was renewed -- that might be a good thing. If it is merely destined as other JFNA "conversations" have been -- one that just makes everybody feel warm and fuzzy with no real changes in the offing -- then the response should be: "Please don't waste our time."

Were I asked I would first challenge JFNA's leaders, lay and professional, to answer these threshold questions: 

  1. What do you believe to be JFNA's "purposes, goals and 'key businesses'"?
  2. Why can't JFNA perform with excellence under a $30 Million annual Dues Budget?
  3. What is needed to enable JFNA to both serve the federation members and act as their national/international voice?
For if the lay and professional leaders of JFNA can't answer these essential questions, and clearly they cannot, then the answer is clear -- it's past time, long past time, to clean house. For we are 17+ years into an entity that still doesn't know its way; it is lost.

Very lost.


* We will have more to say abut this "Budget" in an upcoming Post. It is an astonishing and exasperating document, this year more than ever.

Friday, June 2, 2017


Yes, we decried on these pages JFNA's failure to issue public Statements on matters directly related to Jewish values and communal values while JFNA's leaders were busy issuing their own statements on the need for civility in public discourse and warning of the potential pitfalls of any communal organization issuing any public statements on anything. Then, without warning, the JFNA Board Chair was issuing statements in his titular capacity on the potential of the Trump presidency and that of the then nominee, now the U.S. Ambassador to Israel. 

And, then, as we reported, William Daroff, as head of JFNA-Washington gave a comprehensive deconstruction of the devastation that would potentially be wrought were Congress to pass the so-called American Health Care Act and presented it to a Congressional Committee. While I and, perhaps, you would have endorsed the Daroff presentation, and the JFNA leaders' public statements (including one over the Board Chair's title published in The Hill) we strongly suggested that the authorization for such statements be enabled by a JFNA Board, or at least Executive Committee, Resolution -- and there was.

Many of you will recall that in the CJF era and into the first decade of JFNA, GA Plenaries annually considered a series of Public Policy resolutions that were designed to set forth the communities annual positions on a series of domestic and overseas issues. These public policies were typically hammered out over weeks with often intense federation participation (often led by my own community's JCRC chief pro, the brilliant Michael Kotzin, z'l) and rigorous floor debate (sometimes [ok, many times] characterized by the often soporific picking of nits over a comma here, a semi-colon there). Public statements could then be issued arising out of the positions adopted. 

And, in this instance, a set of 2017 Public Policy Priorities were processed right up through the JFNA Board in January 2017. These are a continuing set of Policies that will  drive the organization's public positions and have driven those public positions since their adoption. This is exactly the path JFNA should follow in all things.

We were reminded of all of this when a FOB forwarded to me a letter, once again over Daroff's signature as JFNA Senior Vice-President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington Office, decrying what was now the U.S. House of Representative's passage on to the Senate of its bill "killing" ObamaCare. William's letter was an abbreviated version his earlier far more lengthy presentation to Congress on the potential  devastating impact of the legislation. It was an excellent letter; but, once again, one issued by a senior professional on behalf of the organization without any known governance process (and, no, "approval," if any, by the Domestic Policy and Public Affairs Committee just doesn't cut it; not at all...not a whit.

The JTA picked up on all of this in an article titled Jewish Groups decry House Approval of Republican health care bill (emphasis added). One of the "groups" -- JFNA. And, in the body of the article as well, quotes for our Group from...William Daroff, "Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington Office -- including the following in summation: "For these reasons, we must oppose the legislation as currently written..." Intuitively correct? Yes. Authorized by any action of JFNA's governance bodies? Presumably and probably; and, as we noted above, the statement is excellent and on substance consistent with communal values.

If only this could be so in every aspect of JFNA's work.


Thursday, June 1, 2017


Carmi Schwartz, was an esteemed professional leader of the Council of Jewish Federations. To honor Carmi, CJF established the Carmi Schwartz Fund, and hundreds of lay leaders contributed, I among them. As Mark Gurvis, JFNA's Executive Vice President, explained in a letter to donors last month:
"The purpose of the Fund was to establish a fellowship that would enable a veteran CJF staff member to spend two months studying contemporaneous issues in Israel"
This fellowship was intended to help fulfill Carmi's "commitment to staff development and to the Federations' Israel and overseas agenda."

Without explanation as to "why," Mark's letter went on to explain:
"Unfortunately, the fund has been dormant for many years because it has proven impractical to send seasoned JFNA staff on two-month sabbaticals."
I'm pretty sure that all of us can offer reasons why the "impracticality."

And JFNA's "solution:"
"JFNA, as successor to CJF, would like to continue to use the Fund to support professional development opportunities for JFNA staff in Israel or otherwise related to its Israel and overseas activities, without requiring that the recipients be veteran staff members or spend two months studying in Israel." (emphasis added)
By the time the donors received this "proposal," it had already received rubber stamp approved by JFNA's Endowment Committee and Board. It had also been blessed with Carmi's approval.

I hate to see this Fund unexpended while at the same time I would have been interested to learn, as a donor, what JFNA offered in answer to the "why?" "Why" was there no longer a process for honoring the original intent? "Why" were no options offered other than to convert the stipend to "JFNA staff in Israel (and what would they use it for?) or otherwise?" For example, why was no consideration given to offering the stipend to seasoned Federation Israeli and overseas professionals for a two month study period? What other alternatives were considered by and offered to the Endowment Committee and Carmi Schwartz?

Friends, we have lamented time and again the deconstruction of the communal profession by JFNA itself. The inability to identify eligible Fund recipients is just further evidence of this deconstruction; further evidence of constant failure.

Constant failure.