Monday, December 18, 2017

CORPORATE SILLINESS

Immediately after the GA, new Board Members (at least the language suggested it was for the "new," not for those who have served on the Board for, let's say 19 years) received a "welcome" letter -- so did I. The letter kicked off as follows:
"Mazal Tov on your appointment to JFNA’s Board of Trustees. I look forward to working with you and appreciate your acceptance of the role and the commitment it entails. Our Board has an opportunity to make an impact on the challenges faced by our community. Your experience and counsel, as well as that of our Board guests* will help guide The Jewish Federations of North America in providing value to the Federation movement and the Jewish community at large. As a Board member, you will help our organization determine overall corporate policy and strategy, address programmatic issues, elect officers and vote on the budget. We look forward to your active and thoughtful input."
For purposes of this letter, it is important to understand the asterisk, the * above, inasmuch as the reference is to the following:
*Guests of the Board of Trustees include Federation executives, former Board & Executive Committee chairs, and JAFI & JDC leadership.
JFNA's leaders appear to have convinced themselves that they can, at their whim, ignore the By-Law requirements (the current iteration of which were drafted at the direction of JFNA's current Board Chair) and convert Board Members to "guests." 

This inanity is consistent with these same leaders' decision earlier this year to restrict attendance at and participation in a Board Meeting to "voting members only" because of a self-described "matter of extreme confidentiality." The reality, as disclosed in a newspaper story that preceded the meeting, was that there was to be a discussion of "allowing" missions to visit settlements in Judea and Samaria -- visits which were (a) on-going for decades and (b) JFNA merely authorized representatives of the Israel Action Network to do so. 

So, at the end of the day, JFNA wasted the time of its "voting Board Members" for this exercise in stupidity. Imagine: this organization, supported by Federation Dues to the tune of $30 million a year, and among its "accomplishments" is this narishkeit.

And, its Board Members sit by in silent approbation.

RWEXLER

Friday, December 15, 2017

THE CIRCUS TRAVELS ON

Leave it to JFNA, the organization with the reverse Midas Touch, the gang that couldn't shoot straight, to screw up anything it touches. And, most recently, it's the recommendation of the potential successor to Natan Sharansky as Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency.

As first reported in the Jerusalem Post --http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/US-Jewish-leaders-give-Netanyahu-short-list-for-Jewish-Agency-head-515287 -- the 'short list" of "nominees" consisted of 6 men in various Israeli government positions or those who used to hold them. Commenting on the "candidates" in ejewishphilanthropy, Founder Dan Brown condemned the nominees for their age and their consequent irrelevance to the very communities worldwide that the Chair of the Executive would be called upon to rally in support of JAFI, Jewish Unity and Peoplehood. Dan's excellent piece --http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/old-men-want-an-old-man-to-succeed-sharansky/ -- is a must read as it also emphasized the reality that not a single woman leader appeared on the "list."

No women? The Jerusalem Post posed the question in http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Comment-why-are-no-women-being-tapped-to-lead-the-Jewish-Agency-515329  Therein: "It’s not that they should pick a chairwoman just for the sake of picking a woman. But not to have even one woman under consideration is simply insulting to half of world Jewry."

The Post reported:
"(Jewish) Agency board of governors chairman Michael Siegal, JFNA president Jerry Silverman and JFNA Israel and overseas vice-president Rebecca Caspi approved the names and asked Netanyahu for his nominee for the job."
Who appointed this threesome to act as an unauthorized Nominating Committee? Where was JFNA's, let alone the federations', lay representatives, where were UIA's leaders, in this non-process? Were were federation CEOs? I can think of few other examples of dysfunction that would further distance JAFI from the American Jewish communities than having Siegal, Silverman and Caspi serving as their representatives. 

Add to the list of questions: where did this short list come from? Who prepared it? Who submitted it?

Well, this "really short list" explains so much about how we've ended up with these non-representatives proffered to the Prime Minister. Back in the day I participated in the nomination process that led to the election of three Chairs of the Executive: Avrum Burg, Sallai Meridor and Natan Sharansky. In each of those nomination processes, most directly involved were Federation Executives, UJA and UIA (and, JFNA) lay and professional leaders, and leaders of UIA Canada and Keren Ha'Yesod -- compare and contrast with the three "leaders" who appear to have captured the non-process this time. 

And how serious was this "list" -- if it was vetted at all, wouldn't the serious allegations of corruption with regard to one prominent "candidate" have emerged and disqualified him; wouldn't the fact that another is in the midst of an investigation of those high up in his Ministry? But, no, these names were "sent on" as if fully vetted.

Again, where were the lay leaders of federation, UIA, KH, UIA Canada? Where were the professionals? Who agreed that our representatives would be JAFI's Siegal and the ever-weak Silverman and Caspi? Where was David Butler, the new Chair of JFNA-Israel? Where were Andy Groveman and David Koschitzky, the Chairs, respectively, of UIA and Keren Ha'Yesod? Where was the JFNA/UIA delegation to JAFI? The answer appears to be: nowhere.

In an insightful article last February, once again in ejewishphilanthropy, the difficulty of finding a transformational leader to succeed Natan was underscored. http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/who-will-be-the-next-chairman-of-the-jewish-agency-and-when/
There are some excellent names on this list -- MK Nachman Shai and Amb. Ron Prosor are compelling leaders who certainly know the Diaspora -- but, let's be candid here, the list appears to have come straight out of the PM's Office; and Siegal, Silverman and Caspi have proved to be ever so compliant with the Prime Minister's wishes. The process appeared on the surface to be:

   PM list > Silverman/Siegal/Caspi list > Prime Minister selects from his/their list

Through this circular process, Prime Minister Netanyahu will certainly get his "man." Following up ejewishphilanthropy's excellent work on the subject, Dan Brown authored Israel's UN Envoy, Corruption and Our Global Jewish Organizations -- http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/israels-un-envoy-corruption-and-our-global-jewish-organizations/?utm_source=Nov+29,+2017&utm_campaign=Wed+Nov+29&utm_medium=email -- an indictement and a demand for change. Dan challenged our leaders to produce a non-politician -- all evidence suggests that these same leaders are unable to lead us through any change whatsoever.



Rwexler






Tuesday, December 12, 2017

EXPERIENCE...WANTED AND NEEDED

One of you wrote anonymously in response to Comments about the deteriorating circumstances in one of our major communities the following:
"As comments relate to the current complement of C suite executives in the Federation system, let us remember that you get what you develop. Capable professionals must be trained, gain experience and be nurtured by our Federations so that individuals understand just what Federations are sanctioned to do. Parachuting hasn't and will not work. There is no question that "outside" candidates are bright, caring and exceptional, but do they understand the work of Federation? Is it fair to those individuals and our Federations to have on the job learning? Many federations have gone adrift simply because their leaders do not understand the work. Keep hiring academics, attorneys, real estate developers and individuals from United Ways and that is what you'll get. Federations should fill a certain role but if leadership, both volunteer and professional, don't understand the "job" should we be surprised by the results. Volunteer leadership take note. Our collective relevance depends on it." 
I often wish you would attach your names to the Comments --in particular when they are as incisive as was this one.

Back in the day, when Jerry Silverman was hired I wasn't the only one, in 20/20 foresight, predicting the disaster that would soon follow. But we should all remember that this hire offered a cautionary tale. This "outside the box" hire was intended to offer the "new paradigm" not just for JFNA but for the federation system. The same ignorance of the experience that Kathy Manning and her claque first decided to set set aside, JFNA, with Silverman in tow, began to suggest to federation after federation that this was the way to go...the only way to go. When JFNA-Mandel was hired to lead federations in their CEO searches, the direction they would preach was to go the "Jerry way" -- never once considering the disaster that JFNA had become under his leadership. Those qualified by their federation training, CEO aspirants were counseled against applying for positions that ultimately went to those with no (or minimal) federation experience -- some even secretly blackballed because in the exercise of their current federation professional roles, they had questioned some action of JFNA. 

And, the results as they say, speak for themselves.

And position after position were filled by good people who just did not and, as our Commentator pointed out so well, "do not understand the work," just as Jerry didn't and doesn't. I don't have data to support my conclusion, but based on just observation of the comings and goings, the average tenure of these newbies who spoke not a word of the lingua franca of federation is far less than that of those who entered parallel positions with a broad federation experience.

One of my great disappointments over the "Silverman era" was the demonstrable fact that Jerry came into the position without a clue what "collective responsibility" meant and, eight years later, still doesn't. And not a single lay Board Chair over his contract and extension seemed to know or care either. Thus, the Global Planning Table which, if conceived, planned and implemented consistent with federation values, might have had a chance of success, instead disappeared under its Rube Goldberg design, while proposing a series of Signature Initiatives which stood collective responsibility on its head. (You can still get a glimpse of what I mean by taking a peak at I-rep, the sole, surviving coalition of the willing born of the still-born GPT). 

So it has come to pass that the paradigm that the Silverman hiring was to be for the future of federation CEOs has proved to be not a model of excellence but the opposite.

Pitiful. Pitiable.

Rwexler

Saturday, December 9, 2017

BIZZARO-WORLD

To write that we live in strange and unusual times is to vastly overstate the obvious.

Examples abound:

1. JFNA.

2. Bret Stephens described a recent "gala" so perfectly:
"The Zionist Organization of America feted Stephen K. Bannon at a gala dinner in New York on Sunday night. What a disgrace.
What a mistake, too.
It’s a disgrace because no organization that purports to represent the interests of the Jewish people should ever embrace anyone who embraces anti-Semites. Jews have enemies enough. To provide those enemies with moral cover for the sake of political convenience or ideology corroborates the worst anti-Semitic stereotypes and strengthens the hand of those who mean us harm." https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/16/opinion/steve-bannon-israel-anti-semitism.html?em_pos=small&emc=edit_ty_20171116&nl=opinion-today&nl_art=3&nlid=53890580&ref=headline&te=1
 Maybe some would disagree. Perhaps some even believe that the ZOA exists for some purpose beyond the glorification of its "CEO for life." Perhaps, perhaps. 

3. Is it unfair to question whether the leaders of JFNA have any convictions, let alone the courage of them? Given the opportunity to directly confront Prime Minister Netanyahu as his interlocutor over Face Time at the Closing Plenary of the GA, Board Chair Sandler, first, accepted by silence the P.M.'s false assertion with regard to the deal on egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel and, then, as Uri Blau wrote in Haaretz:

"Sandler’s following questions were equally as fluffy and non-confrontational, and avoided challenging the prime minister on topics of key importance for many of America's Jewish community, such as the issue of pluralism in Israel or the lack of progress in peace talks with the Palestinians. Instead, they discussed Israel’s achievements and future goals."
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.822845
Why? Here was a moment in real time opportune to engage Netanyahu on the issues raised in the just-enacted Resolution on the subject and, instead, bowing and scraping.

Perhaps, Sandler just proved why JFNA operates by letter and Resolution. We're just pals, buddies, BFF's.

4. Many of you have forwarded Kathy Manning's letter announcing her run for U.S. Congress and soliciting a contribution. I think she will make a great Congressperson. 

Bizarro-World.

Rwexler

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

"DEEP DIVING"

This will be the end cap to my commentary on the 2017 GA, may it forever rest in peace. Those of you who have chastised me for my criticism rendered from afar, not having been there myself -- your points are well-taken. This Post, however, is different from those that went before...

I draw your attention to the speeches -- the Prime Minister's, along with the Q & A which followed, and Silverman's -- speeches that began the First Plenary, Jerry's, and closed the last Plenary, Bibi's. These events said so much about the sorry state of JFNA.

Jerry never disappoints -- from the cliche/jargon-driven approach ("deep dive," "longitudinal" and on and on --to a litany of challenges totally unsupported by even one JFNA initiative that would focus JFNA to, in Silverman's words to "...take on the tough issues of the day." When Jerry spoke of "no room for small dreams" he was really pointing to a JFNA where there is apparently plenty of room for no dreams. Jerry's address was all the more disappointing in its reiteration from prior speeches of "goals" like -- reduce the cost of Jewish affiliation, and free Jewish pre-school for all, etc. -- goals never followed up with any plans for implementation whatsoever. I would say that there should have been great disappointment and challenge, but this is Jerry's JFNA after all.

And, as the GA ended, the Prime Minister appeared on the big screen and offered himself as the PM of all Jews everywhere. It was Bibi at his best and,then again, not so much. At the close of the Prime Minister's brief remarks, Richard Sandler had the opportunity to question him. Sandler led off with a "as you know, we passed a Resolution" on the Kotel, asked Bibi what he would tell those in our communities who sense that they are not welcome in Israel. The Prime Minister responded with an almost total distortion of the history related to egalitarian access to the Kotel. Everyone in that audience knew that the Prime Minister had built his response on a false set of "facts."

Sandler's response to Bibi: "Thanks for the clarification." THANKS FOR THE CLARIFICATION!!!! And that was it -- given the chance to respectfully challenge the Prime Minister, Sandler could not, would not bring himself to do so for us...for us. Here was an opportunity for our leader to raise the serious questions about the impact on the Israel-Diaspora relationship raised by the Prime Minister's unilateral breach of the Kotel agreement and he could not/would not bring himself to do so. 

As I watched and listened I had the sense that the puerile questions that Sandler then posed were given Richard by the Prime Minister's Office: Iran, Israel's strengths and the ultimate: "what makes you most proud?"  Uri Blau and Jonathan Liss, writing in Haaretz,  observed: "Sandler's...questions were equally as fluffy and non-confrontational, and avoided challenging the prime minister on topics of key importance...

The "questions" were followed by thanks and a standing ovation and we'll see you in Tel Aviv for GA 2018. What a lost opportunity. Does anyone, including Sandler, believe that the Prime Minister's respect for our system and its leaders was enhanced by Sandler's refusal to raise serious issues?

Look, I would have loved it if for the moment Richard Sandler were Shoshana Cardin who, we all remember, as our Chair spoke truth to power when she challenged President George H. W. Bush for his suggestion that American Jews were a "fifth column." Instead, we stand by our Resolution -- that's all we need to do -- in silence and shame. 

A fitting ending to GA 2017 and to JFNA.

Nice.

Rwexler

Sunday, December 3, 2017

PITIFUL AND PITIABLE

David Butler has now succeeded David Brown and JFNA's Chair of Israeli-Overseas. Perhaps there is now some informal succession plan where first one superb lawyer is appointed Chair of JFNA-Washington, and after success in that role, moves up/sideways/down to Chair of the JFNA Israel/Israel operation.

To David Brown's credit, he attempted to institute an advocacy effort for increasing the core budgets of the overseas partners through the still-born Envoys program. At least he tried...tried hard, in fact. And David Butler moves into a role for which he has had some training -- mainly as the articulate frontman for Kathy Manning's embarrassing and wasteful and, now, dead, Global Planning Table. Hopefully, Butler will have greater success without Manning's demands (or even presence) in leading JFNA-Israel forward than he had with the GPT.

Suffice it to say that David Butler has been dealt a bad hand -- first, as the GPT Chair, and now with an over-staffed under-performing JFNA-Israel office in Jerusalem. He confronts federation core budget allocations to JAFI/JDC/WorldORT estimated to reach the lowest levels yet, surpassing the nadir we thought reached last year; while, perhaps, trying to leverage these sad allocations (down more than $200,000,000 [yes, you read it right] from those in the first years of JFNA) to effect some influence over decisions of the Netanyahu Governmant on the Kotel and Conversion Laws that impact directly on a super-majority of North American Jews.

Now, David will be assisted by a small core group of excellent federation leaders appointed by Richard Sandler. My suggestion: starting with Butler himself, each of these leaders should ask themselves: what is my own Federation's allocation to overseas needs and how will I work to influence a dramatic increase -- and if they can't (or won't) do so, each will resign from this JFNA-Israel effort. 

In addition, perhaps Butler will take a serious look at the work of JFNA's Israel Office -- if "work" is really the right word for that feckless operation. (It isn't.) I would urge David, as I urged his predecessor, to read the Israel and Overseas Task Force Report authored by Bob Aronson, then the terrific professional leader of the Detroit Federation. (If JFNA can't provide David with a copy, I may still have one. Give me a call.) Its recommendations if followed would have enhanced the role of JFNA, and included, as its most salient direction that JFNA locate its Israel operation in the New York HQ with a senior, Federation-experienced professional at its helm. 

Let's leave this chapter on a very sad note. In his transmission of the sorry Calendar Year allocations results, the Board Chair offered a note:

"JFNA/Federations will pursue all possible avenues to increase the available amount."
Of course it will...as it always does.

Rwexler


Thursday, November 30, 2017

THE HAARETZ INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS -- A PERSPECTIVE

                This Post was first published in ejewishphilanthropy on November 6, 2017


I have read and reread the set of Haaretz articles --https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/federation-files --over investigative reporter Uri Blau's byline. I know the literal fear among JFNA's leaders when, almost one year ago, Uri's questionnaires were already on federation leaders' desk around the Continent -- a fear exemplified in the bizarre Memorandum sent to the federations from 25 Broadway; a fear driven by the reality that no one at 25 Broadway understood Blau and his colleagues' questions, so how might they offer any answers.

Luckily, federation lay and professional leaders took their jobs and the questions that Uri Blau framed more seriously. And that seriousness of purpose -- both Blau's and the federation leaders -- is reflected in the articles. Yes, there are criticisms that should cause our communal leaders to engage in serious reflection, discussion and debate: some nepotism and self-dealing*, the appearance of excess compensation, federation grants in settlements across the "Green Line," high risk investments, and apparent duplication and overlap. Some federations, including my own Chicago's, invested hour after hour responding at length to the questions; just as Blau and his associates spent hour after hour examining in depth the 990's of 100's of federations.

I know that federation leaders wish that the investigation never took place -- they really hate being "investigated" and the publicity, good or bad, that might result. Yet, most should feel gratified: (1) that the authors faithfully accompanied their findings and conclusions in most instances with federation leaders explanations; and (2) that the system was so often represented in the articles by such articulate lay and professional leaders -- whether Chicago's Board Chair, Michael Zaransky, Cleveland's Director of Marketing and Communications, or Jay Sanderson, Los Angeles CEO, or others.

Not everyone, of course, was as forthcoming. While examples were rare, one sticks in the craw: a Miami senior professional asked about the propriety of a loan granted him by the federation, responded "So What?" Remarkable...and sad. So, too, the infrequent (apparently) claims of "confidentiality."

Uri Blau and his colleagues faced the same challenge that anyone seeking information on federations' financial activities does: having to penetrate Form 990s which are basically opaque and always...always...stale by the time they are filed -- two years stale, in fact. But the questions Haaretz asked, though I can only deduce what they were from the articles, were not stale.

The larger the federation, the greater the complexity. That Uri Blau was able to produce a set of articles with cogent analysis of a number of important issues is to his credit. Even more so as JFNA in its directives to the federations -- directives as I've noted the federations ignored -- expressed the fear, among others, that Haaretz was "out to get us" (or words to that effect). I would hope that having read the articles and the source materials that our communal lay and professional leaders would conclude that the Blau articles were fair and balanced. To the federations credit is their willingness -- reluctant as they may have been -- to respond in a proactive way. 

I don't know how federation Boards and professional leaders will use the set of articles. My guess is that there will be a sense of relief and that they will deem this chapter closed. And that would be a shame, a real shame. There is much to be learned if we are willing to look at ourselves with a critical eye in a transparent manner. 

I recall back in the mid-90's visiting an Intermediate Federation. In meeting with the Federation CEO and Chair, it became evident that the lay leader had no idea that the federation had years of unpaid allocations. He was shocked. And we quickly negotiated the timetable for repayment. Perhaps in a different way, federation leaders reading the Blau articles and examining the data links to their own communities will become more aware of issues that should be discussed in an open and transparent way.

In this day and age I guess a finding of "nothing illegal here, just some questions" is a good thing. Could be better...but a good thing, all in all.

Rwexler

* In the interest of full disclosure, my wonderful and brilliant wife, a pre-school director in our community for a quarter-century before her retirement, was engaged by the Jewish Federation as the part-time Coordinator of what would become Chicago's pioneering JUF-Right Start pre-school grant program; and I was retained by the JUF as its land use lawyer in a number of important JUF Facilities Corporation zoning matters. Both of these matters were identified in my annual Conflict of Interest filings and I recused myself from all relevant votes.



Monday, November 27, 2017

ISRAEL AND OVERSEAS -- DAZED AND CONFUSED

I think it is great that the JFNA Israel and Overseas Department convened an I & O Institute in conjunction with the LA GA. It must have been great -- multiple topics, some of great complexity, jam-packed into one three hour "Institute." And raising all sorts of questions.

First, here are the topics outlined in a pre-GA mailing to the registrants:
  Religious Pluralism in Israel and Federations: Responding to the Challenge and Educating our Communities (and ourselves), facilitated by I&O Chair, David Brown
ü  Free Mengistu Committee Report
ü  Collaboration is Key: Emergency and Preparedness and Response, including speakers from JFNA, Israel Trauma Coalition, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and JDC.
ü  Update on ENP Project 1460
ü  Transformations: How our Overseas Partners are Adapting to New Realities and Challenges, a moderated dialogue with Avi Ganon, World ORT, Alan Hoffman, Jewish Agency for Israel, and David Schizer, JDC
ü  Federation Impact in a Changing Negev, Heschel Raskas
ü  Closing thoughts"
I would almost...almost...have wanted to be there just to learn what the "Free Mengistu Committee" is and why it is a focus of JFNA. If, dear Readers, you know what this Committee it, what it does and why it's work is on the JFNA agenda, please let me know ASAP.

And, while you are at it, help me to understand:

1. Why was World ORT not included in the discussion of "Collaboration is Key"?
2. Did the "Religious Pluralism" agenda item include the "intensive "work by JFNA-Israel on the Kotel and the Conversion legislation and where is the under-funded I-Rep?
3. Did the Update on the ENP include data on JFNA's fund raising failures? BTW, on the JFNA effort to fund SPACE, a truly important program, who at 25 Broadway wrote the "ask" suggesting that foregoing two lattes a week would deliver the goods -- we are our own worst enemies.
4. Did anyone ask whether the Federations might have a real impact in the Negev were they to partner with the Jewish National Fund and/or Ben Gurion University of the Negev whose investments in the Negev exceed hundreds of millions?
5. And, finally, where exactly is a presentation on the JFNA Envoys allocation advocacy effort -- or has that effort gone the way of all JFNA efforts? We know that 2017 cash allocations to WorldORT, JAFI and JDC will reach the lowest levels in history -- not a mention. 
6. And what the hell is this: ü ?
Just asking...

Rwexler 
  

Friday, November 24, 2017

THE DISGRACE THAT IS TZIPI HOTOVELY

Tzipi Hotovey if the Deputy Foreign Minister of the State of Israel. She is described thusly in Wickepedia:
"Hotovely is a doctorate student at the Faculty of Law in Tel Aviv University. Hotovely practises Orthodox Judaism, and is a self-described "religious right-winger".[In 2009, she was the 18th Knesset's youngest member. She is described as the "ideological voice" of the Likud Party."
This description is inadequate; after her recent anti-semitic screed directed toward American Jewry in particular, and all Jews everywhere who disagree with her, she can better be called "Israel's Ann Coulter." And, that's not meant to be a compliment. The brilliant Haaretz columnist, Chemi Shalev, captured her latest ugly outburst perfectly in https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.824624, Netanyahu Owns Hotovely's anti-Semitic Attack on U.S. Jews

Here we sit, the most Israel-supportive of Diaspora Jewry, partners in the building of the State of Israel, attacked in the tropes of right-wing anti-Semites by an officer of the Government of Israel. And, while Hotovely's screed was condemned by her boss, he is the person who could and must remove her from high office ... now. Not tomorrow...now. As Shalev pointed out, it is Netanyahu who appointed her; it is he who must remove her. 

True, the Prime Minister denounced Hotovely's attack on us but that is not enough; neither was Hotovely's pathetic "apology." The Prime Minister must immediately remove her from her Foreign Ministry position and, in doing so, make it 100% clear that neither he nor his government will permit any attack on Diaspora Jewry. Like so many in the Government of Israel, Hotovely doesn't understand us nor makes any attempt to do so. Thus, it is easy, so easy, for her to characterize our fulsome support for an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall as embodied in the agreement of her Government  calling for its creation as breached by her Government as a political exercise, among other attacks. Hotovely's screed was more becoming of a Richard Spencer or other American white alt-right nationalists than of an Israeli diplomat Government official.

As Shalev wrote:
"The only people who (share these opinions and) denigrate American Jews are dedicated anti-Semites and, it seems, the person in charge of Israel's diplomatic corps and its relations with American Jews."
Like you I have dedicated myself to the partnership of the Jewish People. My philanthropy and my advocacy have been in support of that partnership. To see our common cause rejected in such a vile manner by "the ideological voice of the Likud Party," unleashed by a Prime Minister who as recent as a week before expressed to a small General Assembly audience his and his government's dedication to Jewish Unity, is beyond dispiriting, beyond divisive. 

If we could only rely upon our organization, the Jewish Federations of North America's leadership to be our voice, to respond; but we know, and Netanyahu knows, based on our Board Chair's refusal/inability/unwillingness to challenge the Prime Minster after that GA presentation for Netanyahu leading the breach of an agreement that actually reflected Jewish unity, that the most he need expect from JFNA on our collective behalf is a generic letter of protest ("in the strongest possible terms...") as Bibi has received so many letters in the past. Richard Sandler might wish to consider Ron Lauder's emphatic rejection of Hotovely's ugly attack for the World Jewish Congress if he can't find his own way.

I recognize that in this Blog, I write without position or constituency; I write in the hope that our elected and appointed leaders finally LEAD. That appears to much too ask too often.

Nonetheless, here is what I would suggest: that our leaders demand Hotovely's immediate resignation; and if not (1) that the Tel Aviv GA be canceled; and (2) the colloquium suggested by Ruvi Rivlin at the GA at the Presidential Residence be scheduled immediately with a simple theme "Restoring the Israel-Diaspora Partnership." 

The time for letters and Sandler's "thanks for your clarifications" are over; the time for action is here. Are our leaders up to the challenge? Rhetorical question.

Rwexler






Tuesday, November 21, 2017

CONFLATION AND INFLATION -- DEUX

1. The incredible (not in a good way) FedWorld reported:
"A grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation will enable Federation Young Leadership staff to receive intensive Jewish education and leadership development training from the world-renowned Center for Creative Leadership* and M2 Institute for Experiential Jewish EducationClick here for more information and read more."
So I "clicked" and "read more."

First, understand that one should only applaud the Jim Joseph Foundation for its incredible, impactful support of quality Jewish education. It has been and is a Foundation that is focused and consistently following its mission. Then understand that JFNA is once again engaged in creative writing. The JFNA headline is just plain misleading: Jim Joseph Fdn Invests $23M+ in Jewish Professional/Leadership Development." The grants, as I have read them, are for Jewish education and Jewish educators. You can read the details in, where else, ejewishphilanthropyhttp://ejewishphilanthropy.com/jim-joseph-foundation-invests-over-23m-in-jewish-educator-professional-and-leadership-development/. Yes, friends, a series of large and meaningful grants for "Jewish educator professional and leadership development." Note to FedWorld: what's so hard to understand?

2. Richard Sandler transmitted the JFNA Resolution on Religious Diversity in Israel with some very strange "highlights" --

  • First, it's the "revised resolution based on (the Board's feedback" -- yes, a single Preamble clause with a minor revision apparently the sole fruit of an "engaged conversation" at the Board meeting**; and
  • Then, Richard closed his transmittal with "[W]e look forward to the enactment of the Resolution." Huh?? Reading the stories on this Resolution in, among others, JTA and Haaretz, it is clear that the media were told that this Resolution was "enacted."
Sigh.



So, ask yourself the  eternal question: why does JFNA do this time and time again? Embellishment, inflation, hyperbole, hiding facts behind claims of confidentiality -- under this administration, these have become the organization's stock in trade. Maybe it's a function of the lack of accountability, the lack of transparency contributing to a sense of absolute comfort in just writing and saying whatever they think they can away with.

It's silly, really. Except for the multitude of consultant contracts deemed "confidential" and hidden away from view, the truth always outs. And the result is always embarrassment. Some of you might remember a Board meeting a little over one year ago, attendance "limited" by an ad hoc, never explained, decision to include only "voting Board members" for fear that we, the non-voting ones (or maybe it was just I) would spill the beans. In the end the purpose of the meeting was to authorize mission visits to Judea and Samaria without anyone "outside" knowing about it even though, as an exclusive expose of the entire mess was revealed by the wonderful reporter, Debra Nussbaum Cohen. Such idiots producing such idiocy -- all the more so because leadership was apparently totally unaware that Missions had been visiting settlements and development towns since at least 1975, my first Mission. 

Friends, the JFNA of today continues to get caught up in its own fabrications and fabulations  compounded by its then cover-ups. Someday they will learn...

...or not.

Rwexler




* I am convinced that the Center for Creative Leadership is an inspired organization but its incredibly large faculty and professionals might include a few more Jewish leaders than they do, don't you think?

** I would probably have a better understanding of the debate and outcome on the Resolution had I been able to remain on the call into the Board meeting. Unfortunately, the breakfast meeting, called for 7-9:30 a.m. didn't begin until 7:30 a.m. and the business portion didn't begin until 7:50 when I had to leave the meeting for a client issue. My loss.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

"LEAVE A MARK"

A recent column in Chicago's Sun-Times reminded me of Polemarchus' challenge to Socrates in Plato's "Republic": "Could you persuade men who do not listen?" My conclusion: it's impossible today to persuade the women and men in leadership and on the Board of JFNA that transformational change is demanded -- not just needed, demanded -- to right the sinking ship of JFNA. Change cannot happen so long as Richard Sandler and his lay leadership team neither listen nor see.

Immediately after the demise of the New York Yankees to the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series a few weeks ago, Yankees management began to examine whether to retain the team's highly successful manager, Joe Girardi, who had enjoyed a ten year tenure. While successful, Girardi had not led the Yankees to a World Championship since 2009 -- but, NB, he had led the Yankees to that one World Series win.

In discussing the evaluation that the lay leader of the Yankees would make in determining whether to bring Girardi back, Hal Steinbrenner observed:
"It's not money. It's performance, and I look from 10,000 feet and from the last two, three, four years. It is the same for all the employees."
How refreshing. A Board Chair (in this instance, the Managing General Partner) who will look at his CEO's (in this instance, his team's Manager's) performance. This is what's done in all of our businesses, what's done in all of the non-profits on whose Boards we sit. But this is exactly the measure that is not applied to the JFNA CEO; for if it were, if the Board Chair were to measure the CEO's performance, he would find nothing but failure writ large...nothing more.

Back at the World Series in Los Angeles, there was an illuminated sign board with a brief mandate: Leave a Mark. Wouldn't that be a great thing for the JFNA Board Chair and Board to do? Think they will? Other than a black mark that is.

So the question is as always: why does the JFNA Board, why do the leaders of our Federations, continue to abide a circumstance where there has been neither growth nor progress, neither vision nor express purpose -- year after year after year? A circumstance where 10s of millions have been wasted while the CEO has pocketed millions -- for what, exactly?

There are no satisfactory answers to these questions, no answers at all. There is no accountability anywhere within the JFNA organization. Compounding the lack of accountability is that it is/has been hidden behind a dark cloak of secrecy. Everything at JFNA is a secret and its lay leaders have made an implicit agreement never to question, never to object, never to shine a light on all that is hidden.

It's shameful. Pure and simple.

Rwexler

P.S. The Yankees fired Manager Joe Girardi even after a decade of success.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

LIKE A PHOENIX -- L.A. RISING

I hope that those of you who attended the now completed GA 2017 had an opportunity to look around and think about the incredible strides that the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has taken since the last General Assembly in that great City. Under a succession of excellent Board Chairs there has been one constant, the terrific professional leadership of Jay Sanderson.

I think back to my first visit on behalf of UJA, to that Community, in the 90's -- at a time the Federation was millions of dollars in arrears on its allocations payments; a significant part of the historic communal leadership alienated from the Federation; so lacking in lay leader succession planning that a Campaign Chair was plucked from literally out of nowhere; at a time that the number of six figure gifts to the campaign could be counted on the fingers of two hands. 

And, today, under Jay's great professional-lay partnership: the development of a series of creative and pioneering young leadership efforts exemplified by YALA -- Young Adults of  Los Angeles; page after page in the Federation's Annual Report of major gifts and the contributors; a community revisioning in Federation 20/20 to increase engagement and resources; one terrific lay Board and Campaign Chair after another.; and a rededication to communal values.

To me, the JFGLA is a Phoenix  not just rising (not the Phoenix, mind you); the community has risen. And, with all on his plate, Jay Sanderson has taken the time to offer mentoring -- the mentoring he never received when he became LA's President and CEO -- to new colleagues. He has also taken the time to criticize -- often in the strongest terms -- this Blogger for my errors; for Jay does not suffer fools...and from my first meeting with him has always...always...let anyone within earshot know how he feels and what he believes.

Bottom line, Los Angeles is a remarkable example of the product of the best in lay-professional partnerships and what a strong partnership with visionary leadership can produce.

I wish we saw this in many more places.

Rwexler


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A STALE BREATH OF HOT AIR

We have heard and read so much over the past months about Trump "playing to his base." If you think about it, that's the same game that JFNA's leaders have been playing -- a shrinking "base" of insiders along with a few LCE -- and nobody else matters, nobody else is engaged, no one else's voice is sought or, G-d forbid, considered. In fact, in a New York Times report (on October 23, 2017) on the Soviet-style show trial of the once powerful Russian Economics Minister, quoting a keen observer of the Putin era: “We have a tsarist system. You cannot (in the sense of "you are not allowed to...") upset (leadership) by saying ‘Your plans are leading to disaster.'” I know, comparing JFNA to "a tsarist system" is odious but...there you are. 

John McCain's recent observations could easily be applied to JFNA as well. For example:

“To abandon the ideals we have advanced to build the federation system, to refuse the obligations of leadership for the sake of some half-baked, spurious support of the unsupportable cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems,”
Those of us (and, trust me, friends, I am not and have not been alone in criticism) who have raised issues of substance and issues of process (and substance and process are often the same at JFNA) have not just been ignored, we have been chastised and, ultimately, sent to azazel never to return. Surely I have earned my banishment and ostracism; others have not but  they, too, no matter how quietly they have raised their concerns, they have faced the "evil decree." On the other side of this equation are those who have demonstrated the value of sha sha, of playing the game, the kissing up, the tuches leckers as we called them in the old country -- they have been rewarded as they had hoped. (I have observed some even back to the CJF days and they have stayed true to form.) Congratulations to them.

Friends, a succession of JFNA leaders have been avatars of the Know-Nothings -- or, perhaps, it's the "Refuse to Know" or the "Don't Tell Me What I Don't Want to Know" crowd. It makes these leaders lives so much easier to know nothing and, thus, do nothing even as right in front of them is the stark reality that the organization they have been elected or selected to lead is going right down the drain. This leadership has been treating JFNA as if it were the Jenga game — removing the building blocks one at a time but clearly not realizing or ignoring the fact that at some point the entire building collapses.

This is the "hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil" leadership redefining "evil" to mean "criticism of any kind." Sure, if we ignore it, it doesn't exist does it? The millions wasted on the Global Planning Table? Ignore it. The collapse of the GA as the compelling annual event on the Jewish calendar? Ignore it. The disconnect from the federation owners? Forget it, ignore it, it doesn't exist.

Today's reality is that the connective tissue between the national organization — a strong fibre with CJF and, to the surprise of some back in the day, a strong sinew between UJA and the federations — that connective tissue just doesn’t exist any more. I would wager that no one in leadership of today's JFNA even knows what the hell I am talking about (or, in the unlikely event that they do know, they don't give a damn).

Bad...and getting worse day-by-day-by-day. That's JFNA.

Rwexler


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

THE GA -- OH, FOR THE UNEXPECTED

On the cusp of the GA, Haaretz's Uri Blau published an anticipatory article:  Jewish Federations annual conference: What to expect. https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-1.822132?utm_source=smartfocus&utm_medium=email&utm_content=www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-1.822132&utm_campaign=Uri+Blau&utm_term=20171111-00:43&writerAlerts=true
I would guess that by now Uri has his answer: Expect Nothing. And that's a shame...but under promise and over deliver...for once.

The Prime Minister's Council Event used to be a GA highlight. I remember the days when the Event packed a ballroom wall-to-wall: 250-400 of the system's major donors and their communal professionals. And here was this year's: a little over 100 participants, maybe half from Los Angeles. Hosted by Peter Lowy's Westfield Mall in an outdoor setting. At no time during the evening was there a word about the system's overseas partners -- nothing about JAFI/JDC/WorldORT -- and the lay and pro leaders of those partners were not even introduced. These major donors, good sports all, listened with rapt (ok, not so "rapt") attention as the temperatures dropped into the 50s, and a local reporter interviewed Michael Milken and Peter Lowy -- for the first 50 minutes it was about these two philanthropists' life stories and their business genius. The last 10 minutes were about their philanthropy, with a few minutes for questions -- three of them, one about the role of federation.

And, at the end of the evening, the piece de resistance, the maraschino cherry on top of the sundae, as it were. Before these major donors left, Peter Lowy announced that each person present would receive a $50 gift certificate good at any Westfield Mall. So there's that...very unexpected. Just what $25,000-and above, way above, donors needed, but unexpected and, certainly, appreciated.

If the Westfield Mall gift was a pleasant surprise, the security lines before President Rivlin's Plenary address was an unexpected disaster. Friends advised of 45 minute and longer delays at the magnetometers apparently caused by JFNA's decision to have just two of those ever-present scanners in use for the one Plenary that attracted a crowd. Whether it was a lack of preparedness, sloppy planning (!!) or an effort to save some money we will never know.

Whether the wait was worth it, I'll leave to others to judge. Ruvi is a caring person who clearly values Israel-Diaspora Relations but in asking North American Jewry to understand the reality that in Israel, like Chicago I guess, "all politics is local," I would assume that our leaders were not comforted...and will say so directly. HaHaHaHaHa. They will leave a response to the Rabbis or to Natan Sharansky.

President Rivlin's keynote followed Richard Sandler's. Our Board Chair demonstrated once again that he is both a caring Jew and a caring leader in his address. He and Jerry will no doubt take advantage, as they should, of Rivlin's invite to a dialogue in the President's residence at some time in the vague future with an even more vague agenda.

On to Bibi on Video.

Rwexler

JFNA -- DESPERATE FOR RELEVANCE

Many of you have written me off-line (and some on-line) to lament the sorry, sorry state of JFNA evidenced by the lack of an, any, audience for the 2017 LA GA. One of you wrote: "THERE IS NO ONE HERE" (Caps courtesy of the Commentator.) Apparently hoping that smaller meeting rooms would create the illusion of a packed house; Jerry Silverman and Richard Sandler fooled no one. 

Then, JFNA did what it does best, it drafted a Resolution ostensibly condemning the Prime Minister's actions vis-a-vis the egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel and support for a Conversion Bill the effect of which, among many things, would be to further disenfranchise the non-Orthodox religious movements and their rabbinic leadership. One could tell from the language that this Resolution itself, the weakest of possible responses, was further weakened in the drafting and approval. Yes, instead of an action plan deploying federation leaders from across the Continent to the Prime Minister's Office and the Knesset in large numbers, JFNA approved a Resolution that indicated not our collective strength but our weakness -- and will be treated as such and sent it on. JFNA is the only organization I know that under this leadership is unwilling or unable to do the hard work in the trenches: to organize, to reach out, to advocate in person. Maybe JFNA leaders will pin their milquetost resolution (to be fair both JTA and Haaretz articles considered the Resolution as"slamming" the GOI) to the Prime Minister's Office door, then disappearing into the night like the organization they lead.

Meanwhile, those of you at the GA have reported that announcing 3,000 GA attendees, another of JFNA's annual exercises in hyperbole, just won't work this time if it ever did. Friends counted the house at the Opening Plenary and advised that "maybe 700, 800" were there -- and this after JFNA attempted to stock the venue -- and most of those there, professionals. Hell, the GA website identified 150 Speakers, which would seem to have offered a good start; many of those apparently chose to show up only for their sessions. If this is the new normal for GAs, the message ought to be received loud and clear: "stop wasting precious resources on an annual GA, make it biennial and make it exciting." 

I couldn't help but notice that JNF North America convened its annual conclave across the country as the same time as the GA. You could watch every Plenary gavel-to-gavel and see and sense to excitement, the large audience, the constant focus on JNF's mission, the shared passion, the inspiration, the tens of break-outs, the lay leadership featured throughout. Inasmuch as it is obvious that the GA leadership has ignored input from those of us who led prior, successful GAs, perhaps they will learn from the JNF model; probably not.

More to follow....

Rwexler