Thursday, March 30, 2017


The crisis in the professional leadership of our federations -- from the Large through the Small -- is upon us. Many of you have written me about the myriad of Federation CEO positions that are already open and the many more expected to open up this year, in 2018 and 2019 at communities from the Large to the Small. There is probably no greater failing on the part of JFNA than its abandonment of institutional responsibility to the Federation professional movement. 

The numbers of open or opening CEO positions in our system seems to grow weekly. Given that JFNA decided to walk away from the CEO placement process -- a "process" it had delegated away, as in so many things, to Mandel for years -- federations are essentially on their own, without guidance or assistance from JFNA. How daunting has this become? One professional leader in our system recently wrote this to me:
"The huge concern is that the new Execs flooding the field as my generation retires, almost universally have no experience with or appreciation of the Collective. There is  a steady drift away from core at all Feds, including Large and Large Intermediates, coupled with, of course, declining campaigns and concomitant reductions in overseas funding.”
Yes, new CEOs who join the federation system in the main are those arriving from experiences at Hillel, Camping, AIPAC -- organizations with their own complexities and foci but none, I submit, as complex as the federations of today. Who will train them; who will prepare them; who will mentor them? Great questions the answer to which appears to be -- not JFNA.

Some had held out hope that the CEO "pipeline" might be filled from the JFNA of over a decade ago when it began it Executive Development Program -- but that hope proved ephemeral. That program lasted two years, produced but a single Federation CEO, and all of the JFNA staff for that Program had left by the time the EDP collapsed. Today there is the Leading Edge effort -- CEO onBoarding. It must have looked good on paper. The Board for the program included four Federation CEOs (one who is leaving [or has left] his position) plus the ubiquitous Jerry Silverman, who seems to find time for so much while accomplishing...what exactly? The senior consultant to CEO onBoarding is a long-time federation CEO. One might have expected a "First Cohort" to be comprised of a strong group of potential federation CEOs. Wrong. Of 11 members of this "First Cohort," 3 are sitting federation CEOs and of the total group from disparate communal organizations, 2 are from Palm Beach entities, 3 from San Francisco -- 45% of this class are from 2 communities -- I don't get it. (I also don't get how two 2 day domestic "convenings," another in Israel and 2 Webinars offers either the necessary training or constitute a "$30,000 value" as represented.) 

We have Schools of Jewish Communal Service educating young, dynamic women and men in serving the communities, graduating them with incredible qualities, most of whom either join the communal system and languish eventually moving on and out, immediately find positions outside of the system, and the few, too few, who flourish in the communal system but never move up to CEO. In decades past, Federation CEOs across the continent grew their "team" and took great pride in those team members moving on to lead one community after another. Today that rarely happens, often because federation after federation look for someone with no or limited knowledge of the lingua franca of federations -- and, if Jerry Silverman is any example for anything, unable to grasp it. This search for those with little connection to federations to become CEOs used to be called "thinking outside the box;" now it is de rigeur and it is now the hiring of a well-trained communal professional as CEO that is "outside that box."

For the years post-Silverman's hiring, the message from JFNA's search agent appeared to be a "federation-trained professionals need not apply," express or implied, for open CEO positions. JFNA actively lobbied for the "Silverman model," refusing to acknowledge that (a) that model had failed in almost every community in which it had been followed; and (b) that this was an insult to all who came up federation trained and proven. It was an attitude that both demeaned the federation professional cohort and diminished the profession badly. 

And, now, the chickens are returning to the roost. Even with communal leaders being urged to engage in executive succession planning, I think I can count the number of federations actually engaged in that planning on the fingers of one hand. I recall an ejewishphilanthropy Post in 2012, from the pen of Spertus College CEO Hal Lewis, Planning for Success(ion), calling for just that, read and, I guess, considered as "something others should be doing." And, this is really where the rubber hits the road. Just think about it: if in every community the lay leadership would insist on a professional succession plan, young communal pros, steeped in federation qua federation and communal values with an understanding of what federation is and could be and in the challenges of professional leadership would rise up. But, for reasons I both understand and don't, that just isn't happening...and the collapse of the federation professional cadre follows like night follows day.

So, where are we? JFNA, the organization that should be raising the hue and cry on behalf of those trained within the federation system, promoting them for the most senior professional positions within our communities, is doing the opposite and has been promoting the "Silverman model" for the past 7+ years. If anyone of you can cite a single example of JFNA urging a single federation, regardless of City-size, to choose one trained in the federations for CEO, please do so. (Maybe JFNA's leaders would state, as in so many other circumstances, "it's not our job." It is.) Among its many, many failures, this failure to promote the federation-trained pros may be, probably is, the most egregious. I, and you, have been taught as we grew within our federations and beyond, that the CEO represents continuity -- what can an untrained, unmentored senior professional parachuted in to the complex organism that are our federations today offer?

That is a rhetorical question.


Monday, March 27, 2017


At my favorite organization there are, as all of you know, at least one matter that is consistent: secrecy. We have learned what happens to opaque organizations -- say FEGS, or the 92nd Street Y, or Yeshiva University, or.... -- scandals emerge, trust, that most critical element upon which successful organizations are built, is lost and a death spiral begins. Sometimes Board members step forward and demand change from the top down; most times we just blame others for our own malfeasance or nonfeasance and go on, diminished  and diminishing.

At JFNA secrets -- secret consultant contracts, secret conduit deals, the secret application of budgeted dollars to unintended unapproved matters, secret after secret -- are the stock in trade. I've written about them but apparently not often enough. So let's examine some information I find interesting; hoe you do as well;

  • There's the office of JFNA - Israel, apparently a silo so impenetrable that it cannot be managed from 7,000 miles away. Are you aware that from the Dues your federations pay $10,000,000 is budgeted to the work of Israel-Overseas? And, what's the return on that investment? Seriously, what return? Any return? Well, Missions are going well -- underpopulated but good substance, great ruach. And a couple of staff members monitor the Knesset; to what end? An 8 figure "investment" on which the return is negligible. Did I mention Missions? $10,000,000.
  • Then there is one of Jerry's most important senior professionals. She was promoted about seven years ago, morphing into a new role as Vice-President for (something called) "Institutional Advancement." I never understood the title or purpose or, for that matter, the "advancement." Was is TribeFest? Something else. Anything? Is this really a job? And, then, I learned that the title had changed; now its rebranded to Vice-President, Institutional Leadership/Thought Leadership. (I guess "advancement" is out the window; maybe JFNA was successful at it.) Seeing as we never knew what the hell this was, we certainly couldn't possible know what "advanced"...or didn't. Anyone seen the job description? Where the position is located in the JFNA Budget? Anyway, this professional is among the 10 highest paid on the JFNA staff. Does anyone...any one...know what the position requires, what it does?
  • There are so many consultants feeding at the JFNA trough that I picture them running into each other in hallways at 25 Broadway while figuring out new ways to wring dollars from the JFNA ATM. There's one Department -- the reviving FRD -- where the number or consultants on the payroll far outnumber the few excellent professionals (and there would be one more were Max Kleinman, who appears only to be raising money for the match of Fed Funds for aid to the Survivor community, counted within FRD. On second thought, he probably is.) This should be an embarrassment to one and isn't. And the number of consultants keeps growing. One thing about this is not a mystery: JFNA is totally mismanaged if managed at al.
  • There remains the mystery, hidden behind JFNA's leaders' claims of "confidentiality," of the $1,000,000 Klarman Family Foundation's "gift" funneled through the JFNA conduit to a public relations firm. We are not to know the purpose; we are to take it on faith that it's kosher. JFNA's relationship to this -- we don't know; we aren't to know. The secrecy underlying this thing raises a further question: how many more of these are out there. This is a dangerous game with the truth, with transparency, that JFNA is playing.
Now, we can't solve these mysteries; they can only be solved through transparency and a laity willing to demand answers. To date, however, all the lay leadership has done is to assure that the curtains remain shut.

No light is shining in. And today JFNA  is another FEGS waiting to explode.


Friday, March 24, 2017


Those of you are regular readers may remember the Post Israel Is So Last Decade which I published on these pages on January 28 -- highlighting, or something, a JFNA King David Society Mission with no Israel component, and for which JFNA was clearly selling the "sizzle" of winery visits and traif restaurants to attract participants. 

Well, the facts of thatMission are pretty stark:
Total number of participants = 41 
# of different families they represent = 25 
# of communities they represent = US – 14, Canada – 1 
# Large Cities represented – 7  
# Large Intermediate Cities represented – 3
         # Intermediate Cities represented – 5*

I would guess that even the mavens at 25 Broadway would agree that this is not good -- awful even. Even worse, only one community west of the Mississippi was represented (well, 2, but the second person was outgoing Campaign Chair, Harold Gernsbacher, and Harold hasn't missed a Mission in years). As I know from the experience of leading some 30 successful National Missions over the years, and participation on some 25 led by others, the same staff that would partner on a Mission of 41 could service another 35.

I don't know why this Mission failed to attract greater numbers just as I haven't a clue as to why this year's Prime Minister's Mission has been canceled -- the first time that has happened in decades. 

What I do know is the following:

  • For decades of successful Missions UJA and, then, JFNA had a lay-professional Missions Committee. There has not been one for at least the last 11 years;
  • No one -- not a professional, not a lay leader -- has convened those of us who led successful National Missions over the years to pick our brains for what might be the keys to success;
  • There is (or should be) a Missions Playbook that was developed at UJA and would still offer the steps to be taken for great missions. JFNA appears to wish, in all things, to remake the wheel each and every time; and
  • First, the federations themselves in driving community missions with no input from JFNA and, now, JNF have begun to eat the federations lunch when it comes to Missions; and, soon, the Jewish Agency International Development will be doing the same. I can't even begin to count up the number of federation Missions on the calendar for 2017 -- missions in which JFNA plays no role -- but I would guess that the number exceeds 25 and far exceeds the number in which JFNA is actually playing the major role.
All of us know what a great Mission experience can offer in fundraising, in leadership building, in community building. JFNA has sent underpopulated Mission after underpopulated Mission off never engaging in the kind of detached introspection as to why. 

Many of us would be glad to help. I'll wait at by the phone.


Thursday, March 23, 2017


One area of JFNA's work has exemplified what the rest of the organization should (and could) be -- JFNA-Washington. On March 21, that Office issued a fact-driven statement on the potential disaster of the Trump Budget proposal on the safety net woven by our communities and our agencies. The Statement is so important it is published here in full:

TO: JFNA Domestic Policy and Government Affairs Committee, Federation Executive Directors, State Government and CRC Directors, Planners, and other interested parties
FROM: William C. Daroff, Senior Vice President for Public Policy & Director Washington Office Stephan O. Kline, Associate Vice President for Public Policy
DATE: March 20, 2017
RE: Administration Budget for FY 2018 and Action Steps

President Trump submitted his America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again to Congress on March 16, 2017. Referred to by the Administration as a “skinny” budget with more detail to be released later this spring, this proposal for FY 2018 provides information only on discretionary spending funded through the appropriations process. Unlike the budget proposals submitted by every Administration since the modern Congressional budget process was created in 1974, this budget includes few specific details that shed light on how specific programs would be affected if the Administration’s proposal were enacted.

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While the budget is lean on details and we do not know the exact impact of its proposed cuts, we do know that if enacted this budget would have a devastating impact on the most vulnerable in our communities who receive publicly-funded services provided by Jewish federation partner agencies. Whether the clients are older adults, people with disabilities, immigrants or refugees, pregnant women, victims of domestic violence, or adults seeking to adopt a child, if this budget is adopted and those clients receive publicly-funded services at Jewish nursing homes, Jewish FamilyServices, JVS, Jewish Community Centers, kosher food pantries, domestic violence shelters, group homes, assisted living centers or hospitals, those services will be significantly diminished.
The concerns expressed in this memo relating to the Administration’s proposal are in addition to the significant potential risks to Medicaid funding that are included in the American Health Care Reform Act (AHCA). AHCA is expected to be voted on in the House of Representatives this week. If enacted, the cuts to Medicaid included in AHCA would seriously undermine Jewish agencies funded through Medicaid. This memorandum, however, focuses on federal discretionary spending. Unfortunately, this budget submission contains virtually no supplemental tables and none of the appendices that typically provide explanatory information. For the most part, what is revealed are top line numbers and statements that summarize the Administration’s position, such as: “To keep Americans safe, we have made tough choices that have been put off for too long...The defense and public safety spending increases in this Budget Blueprint are offset and paid for by finding greater savings and efficiencies across the Federal Government.”
Based on this document, the Administration intends to stick with the budget caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which have already decreased the non-defense discretionary budget by more than $150 billion. Accordingly, the President would add $54 billion to the defense side of the ledger (increasing defense from $549 billion to $603 billion) while simultaneously reducing that amount from non-defense spending (from $516 billion to $462 billion).Under this Budget Blueprint, every agency and department is cut other than the Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs Departments.

Based on the limited detail provided, we do not knowexactly how most specific programs would fare, but the budget submission notes that “consistent withthe President’s approach to move the Nation towards fiscal responsibility, the Budget eliminates and reduces hundreds of programs.”
Here are the overall cuts that would be applied to the departments that provide significant funding to Jewish human service agencies.

Agriculture ($4.7 billion reduction or 20.7%). The Department of Agriculture funds congregate meal programs for seniors, school lunch programs for poor students, and food commodity programs utilized by kosher food pantries.
Health and Human Services ($12.6 billion reduction or 16.2%). HHS funds a multitude of programs utilized by all publicly-funded Jewish human service agencies covering everything from adoption and child care to senior services and hospice at the end of life. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Community Services Block Grant would both be eliminated.
Housing and Urban Development ($6.2 billion reduction or 13.2%). HUD funds Section 202 independent living for seniors and Section 811 group homes for persons with disabilities. The $3 billion Community Development Block Grant, which is a very flexible funding stream paying for a wide variety of human services including Meals on Wheels, would be eliminated.
Justice ($1.1 billion reduction or 3.8%). DOJ funds domestic violence programs through the Violence Against Women’s Act and recreational programs for troubled teens.
Labor ($2.5 billion reduction or 20.7%). The Department of Labor funds workforce development for people with disabilities. The Senior Community Service Employment Program would be eliminated.

State ($10.9 billion reduction or 28.7%). While the State Department budget would sharply reduce most foreign aid and eliminate a number of offices including the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, the budget would provide $3.1 billion “to meet the security assistance commitment to Israel, currently at an all-time high; ensuring that Israel has the ability to defend itself from threats and maintain its Quality Military Edge.”
Transportation ($2.4 billion reduction or 12.7%) DOT funds transportation programs for seniors and persons with disabilities).

In addition to the major cuts in departmental budgets, 16 independent agencies including the Corporation for National and Community Services which funds AmeriCorps VISTAs supporting Holocaust Survivor programs and SeniorCorps would be eliminated. While the Department of Homeland Security budget would be increased by $2.8 billion or 6.8%, the Federal Emergency Management Agency would see its grant funding reduced by $667 million and this likely would significantly affect the Emergency Food and Shelter Program.
In most cases, we do not know which specific programs will be cut within the departments listed above. We are not suggesting that all will be cut in part or totally, but that is possible. If $54 billion is cut from non-defense discretionary appropriations next year, there is no ambiguity: dollars flowing to Jewish agencies will be reduced significantly. Accordingly, we urge you to raise the following
points with your Senators and Representatives:
  1. 1)  End sequestration! These are the automatic spending caps established by the 2011 Budget Control Act. This process was never intended to go into effect and it has already reduced discretionary spending by hundreds of billions of dollars.
  2. 2)  If sequestration continues, maintain relative parity between the defense and non-defense components of the appropriation bills.
3) Don’t cut valuable social service programs that protect the most vulnerable in our
communities. Discuss programs that are utilized by your partner agencies and are at particular risk of cuts like the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, congregate food and Meals on Wheels within the Older Americans Act, and the HUD Section 202 (senior) and 811 (people with disabilities) housing programs.

We will share more information about the federal budget process as we learn it. When you and others in
your community speak to members of Congress, please let us know their reactions. If you have questions, feel free to contact Stephan Kline, Associate Vice President, at

Friends, this factual presentation about the devastation that will befall those of our People most in need in the United States is not a political document, it is not about liberals and conservatives, it is a cry of pain about a Budget proposal that will cripple every social service agency -- be they Jewish, Catholic, Protestant or secular across the country.

We cannot be silent. 

Great thanks to JFNA-Washington for its advocacy.


ADDENDUM: JFNA-Washington added to its statement above with a strong letter from William Daroff to Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi on the implications of the then proposed
Health Care Act. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Recently, two senior professionals, one, that of the national JCPA, the other, of a local JCRC, issued their own prescription for institutional silence in a piece in ejewishphilanthropy. If you wish, you can read it in its entirety at:

While the co-authors speak to "reasons" for "fewer public statements," what they are really calling for is none. And it's easy for them to offer their prescription for almost, if not total, silence given that the onerous requirements for public positions within the Community Relations system -- locally and, even more so, nationally -- in today's fractious environment
assures their self-censorship. So, given that, why not offer advice to all other organizations? "We can't issue statements on anything, so you shouldn't either." 

Here are the headlines for the 9 "reasons" stated by the authors for "issuing fewer public statements:"

1. They don’t always make an impact

2. They are a huge time suck (the authors' words, remember)
3. Statements can be a substitute for action and effectively moving the needle 
4. They can preclude behind the scenes action
5. They might breathe oxygen into that which we oppose
6. We can drown ourselves out with them
7. They create a cascade of demands
8. They can damage organizations
9. Statements can be a form of “virtue signaling” (OMG!!)

Much as I appreciate these leaders stepping forward with this statement, with all due respect, I consider these reasons for "making fewer organizational statements" to be (a) specious and (b) really articulate a false argument for issuing not fewer but no public statements whatsoever. And that saddens me; but it doesn't surprise me.

It's very clear that the argument the article's authors make is just what JFNA'S leaders had been hoping for: cover for their own aversion to public statements of any kind (other than the ones they themselves make, of course). The co-authors missed the two arguments made by Sandler/Silverman: (a) that statements, even on matters of communal values, are not part of the organization's mission (as the two of them subjectively define "mission;") and (b) that they are a distraction no matter their subject. 

One piece of evidence that JFNA's leaders embrace the "cover" offered by the two CRC pros: in a rare reference to anything appearing in ejewishphilanthropy, this article "merited" citation in the JFNA daily fish-wrapping FedWorld. To their credit, the co-authors of "9 Reasons..." cite the communal statements with regard to the expression of our values in embracing refugees as at least one statement they find appropriate; that same expression that JFNA has refused to make.

Forget for a moment the co-authors' of the ejewishphilanthropy piece false premise -- no one I know of who has expressed themselves on the subject has urged serial "organizational statements," only that there are circumstances that cry out to be confronted
publicly -- something that these authors endorse almost as a quiet sidebar. It strikes that the system would have been better served by these two esteemed leaders offering their insights and direction as to how best to organize for and frame the communal responses under unique circumstances. All of us can speculate as to why they chose the path they took.

What the two exemplars of all that is the community relations field wholly fail to articulate is this: sometimes the true risk to our communal values and our Jewish values is to say nothing.*


* I urge all of us to read the ejewishphilanthropy reprint of the Jewish Funders Network's brilliant CEO, Anders Spokoiny's address to the JFN International Conference --

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


The most often asked question on these pages has been and is: how long will the leaders and Board at JFNA continue to endure an organization in stasis...or worse? The answer appears to remain: until the first to occur of JFNA's dissolution or perpetuity.

This seminal question arose once again as I reviewed the JFNA "Mid-Year Progress Report." If nothing else, JFNA should be commended for the candor one associates with the reality of unrealized promises. Time and time and time again, the message is, as it always seems to have been, "we're almost there; give us just a little more time." And the answer should be: "No more. Your time is up."

Just a few highlowlights:

~ JFNA had planned " ensure monthly contact with each of our federations."  The organization has done nothing other than to announce a reconsideration of its approach based upon "[T]he development and implementation of a team of FRD Consultants assigned to each federation." Unfortunately, FRD has but two "consultants," both part-time, both excellent, assigned to federations and those are assigned as, apparently, part-time Consultant Vicki Agron determines in her unilateral discretion. 

~ "Reinstitute JFNA Planning resource..." The "reinstitution" was in limbo until a recent Associate VP Research and Planning hire. G-d knows what she will do alone. That vacancy in the JFNA "Planning resource," by the way -- had been vacant since Bob Hyfler left the organization over a decade ago. Maybe Silverman, et al., hadn't noticed. Compare and contrast the brilliant and deep CJF Planning and Research staffing with the current void.

~ The effort to "[B]uild a systemwide TECH (training, education, coaching and help*) Team...of top campaign leadership trainers and speakers" was to reach 15 Federations and 50 visits. The "Team" was formed but "fewer than expected speaking/training requests" have come in -- 10 communities have been visited. You'd think the message to JFNA would have led to an intense introspection with the seminal question being: WHY? But the circus moves on.

~ Special Campaign results are confused, at best: the Holocaust Fund has done quite well; but, then, IRep, the "Israeli civil society" effort has had a $2 million goal for over 2 (maybe 4?) years, as I recall, and has raised less than $1 million; and, then, there's a surprise -- an $18 million "campaign for ENP" which has a Chair (who, one might ask) and a draft Plan with a "commitment" of $600,000 to date. Was the inclusion of this "Campaign" in the mid-year Summary intended to raise some mid-year questions like: WHAT? Where did this come from? Who decided that this would become an obligation of JFNA? Where was it approved? Is this any way to run a business?

~ The GA continues to disintegrate (while the Board Chair thinks/thought all is going great) -- lay leadership registration/"participation" was down 10% in 2016. Does anyone think this is a problem?

Friends, there is so much more but OMG!! This Report is a cry for help; and no one seems to care.


* Vayezmir.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


Because our leaders don't talk about it, most of us don't know that in the past year the number of Jewish Federations has reduced from 155 to 148 across the Continent. In fact, since the formation of what has become JFNA, there has been a more or less steady erosion in the number of federated communities -- not even counting those like San Diego which still carry the name "Federation" but are no longer so. Sure, there have been a few mergers -- there should be more (the Minneapolis and St. Paul federations come to mind), but more and more communities, in the face of declining campaigns and a lack of JFNA support or counsel, have come to the conclusion that they can no longer support a CEO let alone a staff let alone JFNA Dues, and have opted out -- becoming members of  the ineffective, unrepresentative Network of Independent Communities.

We remember the days when JFNA's Consulting Services Department was held in high regard within many communities for its intervention and counsel. As a holdover from one of the most critical functions of the Council of Jewish Federations, when terrific, creative professionals out of CJF headquarters and a small number of regional offices, were offering counsel daily to the federations, into this JFNA where a diminished Department was held in such esteem internally that Howard Rieger at one time chose to subsume FRD under its wings,* Consulting Services had so cratered under JFNA Jerry as to have no Director and no staff. This void has meant that senior JFNA professional leaders -- e.g., Mark Gurvis and Brian Abrahams -- are serving a community consulting function in addition to the jobs they were hired to perform and the organization's search for a new Director of Community Consulting promises that that hire will report to Renee Rothstein, the estimable Senior Vice President, Marketing and Communications, exactly the wrong round hole for this square peg.

Yes, once again, JFNA gives every evidence that its leaders neither know what the organization is doing, what it is not doing, nor what it is supposed to be doing. Inasmuch as its professional leadership appear to be wandering aimlessly in a wilderness of its own making, one would hope that its laity would step in and create a change environment. But...of course not; they just can't be bothered. Instead JFNA is like the pinball in one of that ancient arcade games, ricocheting off every wall, bouncing from one thing to another while bells ring and whistles blow...eventually landing in the gutter.

Perhaps the best/worst of JFNA is captured in two very recent moments in time: in one Richard Sandler...that's JFNA Board Chair Richard Sandler...said: "Federations really should not get involved in making statements one way or another, because they need not get distracted from the work Federations are supposed to do;” and then there's Richard Sandler...that's JFNA Board Chair Richard Sandler...quoted in his official capacity in support of the President's controversial nominee for Ambassador to Israel. This is our leader and these might explain JFNA's continuing confusion and its irrelevance.

I'd like to think that there are among the lemmings a few (two, one?) leaders who see what is/is not going on, the lack of any established purpose(s) -- that the Emperor has no clothes. For those, try to remember that the truth will not only set you free, it will set the organization free. It would be nice if Richard Sandler were that leader but, frankly, he can't be bothered with the one action that might -- it's "might" I admit, not "will" -- turn the organization around or, at least, at last point it in the right direction. I speak with many JFNA Board members who all -- not just one or two, all -- recognize that the return on their community's "investment" in JFNA (and for some that investment is in the millions) has not been and will not be commensurate with that investment... any way.


* Rieger's motivation appeared to be two-fold: to eliminate the holdover FRD "silo" from the UJA era and to force Vicki Agron, then FRD's lead professional, out of the organization. In the end, while he eventually accomplished the latter, he effectively so diminished FRD within JFNA that it became totally ineffective. The consolidation in any event totally failed. My own objection to it, in a private letter to Rieger, ultimately resulted in the beginning of my ostracization. So there's that.

Thursday, March 9, 2017


When this was first sent to me, I thought it was hysterical; then I thought, "this has to be a Purim spiel;" then I thought OMG!! Both. 

Judge for yourselves:

Calls their views "unrepresentative of the Orthodox rabbinate or Jewish values."

The Coalition for Jewish Values today rejected the so-called "Orthodox Statement on Spiritual Resistance," issued yesterday by 22 people who self-identify as Orthodox clergy, as "unrepresentative of the Orthodox rabbinate or Jewish values."

Yesterday's statement was organized by Shmuly Yanklowitz, and presents itself as representing an "Orthodox" viewpoint. It called the current Presidency "an administration that poses a grave threat to our democracy" and exhorted readers to "pursue righteousness" and "challenge oppressive and dangerous policies."

"The Uri L'Tzedek statement is alarmist -- unfairly and inaccurately conjuring up grave and baseless imagery of oppression and persecution, in order to scare readers into concurrence," commented CJV Senior Rabbinic Fellow Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer.   

CJV Senior Rabbinic Fellow Rabbi Aryeh Spero elaborated: "Judaism places profound emphasis on self-defense and protecting those whom we, as leaders, are assigned to protect. It is the duty of the President and those in leadership roles to protect the citizens of their country. The innocent citizens of Western countries have been repeatedly victimized by countless attacks, in both Europe and the United States. Jihadists took full advantage of our penchant for moral compassion, and unrestrained good will and noble intentions has led to atrocities. Those calling for open borders are acting irresponsibly, and seem indifferent or blind to the previous results of the 'open borders' they are demanding."

In this context, it is relevant to note that Shmuly Yanklowitz, director of Uri L'Tzedek -- and the majority of signatories to yesterday's statement -- are not recognized as Orthodox rabbis by any mainstream Orthodox organization. They are, instead, part of "Open Orthodoxy," a fringe group whose leading figures routinely express views markedly at odds with basic Jewish tenets and traditional practice. Yanklowitz in particular has called parts of the Torah "evil" and recently expressed his opposition to the reading of the Book of Esther on Purim, which falls this year on Saturday night and Sunday. Press coverage calling their words an "Orthodox statement" does a disservice to Judaism and factual accuracy.

The Coalition for Jewish Values (CJV), a national organization directed by prominent rabbinic leaders, articulates an authentic Jewish perspective on current events, and promotes Jewish values through writing and teaching derived from traditional Jewish thought."
We are a very complicated People.

Chag Purim sameach.



The question about this Blog that I am asked the most is a simple one: "Why bother?" It's a fair question given that after almost a decade of Posts, it should be clear that those in leadership of JFNA and those in leadership of the federations all of whom one might fairly expect to care about the diminishment of our communal and continental organizations don't appear to care enough to even identify how bad things have become let alone take the steps necessary to effect change. 

Friends, apparently there is no one in power willing to ask the questions: "Who are we? What are we? What can we be? What should we be?" In a front page article in the New York Times on the decline of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, a past Chair of a Met Department lamented: 
"It's a tragedy to see a great institution in decline. To have inherited a museum as strong as the Met was 10 years ago -- with a great...staff -- and to have it be what it is today is unimaginable."
This "tragedy" at the Met is not so different from the tragedy, often the farce, that is JFNA and too many federations today.

I find this situation at 25 Broadway and in the board rooms of many federations too ugly to ignore. I cannot look away much as I have been counseled to do so. I have lost friendships over these publications but I have always believed that sometimes it's better to die on your feet than it is to live on your knees. Others...many...disagree.

Sometimes I conclude that JFNA leaders aren't tone deaf. They hear us; they see the abject mediocrity that has become baked in to the JFNA cake. They simply don't care enough to do anything about the mess that they have either (a) created or (b) perpetuated. To do the hard work necessary to clean up this mess would require the kind of hard work for which they didn't volunteer.

Then, at other times, I conclude that JFNA's leaders are tone deaf -- that they have emerged as unresponsive to the needs of the federations they should be serving. At those times I sense that the federations have notice.

As I have chronicled the daily farce of our leaders who have made an obsession out of claiming it's sunny when we are inundated with rains...with floods...I admit to literally grasping at straws of hope when to others it has become obvious there is none...none at all. In advance, on these pages we have observed the collapse of the historic partnership bequeathed to JFNA that cried out for greater support for our overseas partners; the collapse of community consulting; the abandonment of Financial Resource Development; the futility that would be the Global Planning Table; the abandonment, as well, of collective  
responsibility; the pile of consultants unheard of in Jewish organizational life, their contracts held in secrecy under a false claim of confidentiality; the organization which should be their champion abandoning the cadre of communal professionals almost totally; and the need for a total...complete...overhaul of the annual General Assembly which has been abandoned by lay leadership which have voted by their lack of interest for something new, important and different; among so much else.

I have identified two critical foci of failure: (1) a CEO who was asked to lead the JFNA professional effort with neither the background nor the experience to do so and who, after 7+ years, is no better equipped intellectually or practically to do so; and (2) a laity too distracted by bright shiny objects of no value, to effect change in any way. Together they have made of JFNA the "kingdom of douchedom" a sad circus. Under this lack of leadership at every level JFNA has been permitted to take heterodoxy into the secular realm with neither a plan nor a clue.

So, let's get back to that framing question: "why bother?" The answer comes from a sense of representations to all of those to whom I, and others, induced the acceptance of the merger now closing in on two decades ago -- representations incorporated into the merger documents themselves -- that I and others have seen abandoned. The answer for me flows from the values that have inspired me in decades of Jewish leadership -- that I and others have seen abandoned

A great American once said: "[O]ur lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Against rational judgment, I have chosen not to"...become silent about things that matter."



Monday, March 6, 2017


1. Richard Sandler and Jerry Silverman published their thoughts on hate speech and civility (again), the need to both respond and be vigilant (again). Of course, this has become a theme -- tell us what to do but do nothing themselves -- as when JFNA's leaders issue their sermonette and in doing nothing more make it clear that they got it out of their system. Once again, JFNA tells us what to do while it does nothing. Then, the Board Chair goes totally off the reservation. Gevalt.

2. Speaking of doing nothing, have you heard or read a Statement from JFNA condemning the threats numbering close to 100 JCC's nationwide? Not even an expression outrage about the desecration of a Chicago synagogue or a St. Louis Cemetery? Too controversial? Not part of our Mission? And, what exactly is that Mission? Can anyone tell? #pitiful

3. When UJA's leaders determined to opt in to the merger that created JFNA, they did so with the admonition of Corky Goodman resonating with them. Corky had told us: "We have to trust the federations." We did so. Now in its 17th year, we heard a plea from the Campaign Chair for federations to "trust" JFNA with campaign data. Curious isn't it that the federations, which own the entity, don't trust it with information basic to that organization's functioning; you wonder why? Couple that with JFNA's leadership refusal to trust these federation owners with basic information about how JFNA conducts its business and you have a formula for exactly the dysfunction that JFNA evidences every single day.

4. For an organization that should be encouraging inclusion in all that it does, and probably thinks it is doing so, there is ample evidence (again) that it doesn't know what it's doing. Take, for example, the roster of the JFNA Board Committees: setting aside our Board Chair, who serves as Chair of three Committees, in addition to chairing the Board itself; there are multiple Trustees who serve two Committees; one who serves on three; and one who sits on four. And there are only five Board Committees. This insularity, this inbreeding, not only demonstrates leadership's trust in only the few, the special; it excludes from participation many who would be both willing and more than able -- or at least equally able to those who are repetitively appointed and reappointed and reappointed again to positions others could (and would ) fill. An Illinois State Representative commented on the mess that is Illinois' legislative body: "The state is not really a representative democracy anymore. You have too few people making too many big decisions.” Could have been speaking about our JFNA.

5. The Young Leadership Cabinet took 110 members on its Study India. That's a great India. They could have gone to Israel but, instead they India. They went to study by India. Our dear friend and mentor, Rabbi Herb Friedman, z'l, is crying once again.

And that's it for now from Lake Woebegone.


Friday, March 3, 2017


All of us...every one of us...have been touched in some terrible way by the bomb threats against over 100 Jewish Community Centers around the Continent, the continuing desecration of Jewish cemeteries, the anti-semitic vandalism -- all of these evident hate crimes and, worse, the deterioration of the historic tolerance that is such a vital part of our democracy. Our daughter, a senior JCC professional has been vacated with her fellow pros, parents, children and babies in the face of one threat; your children have been evacuated in others; your grandchildren in even more; the headstones of family and friends knocked down; your synagogue defaced with swastikas and feces.

And what is being done? At the national level, the Secure Community Network, a woefully underfunded creation of JFNA, has responded with excellent defensive advice as to how to evacuate, who to contact when threats are delivered and is working, as I have been told, "...with the highest levels at the FBI and Homeland Security." And, I guess, that's fine; it is what it is. We were all gratified today when the FBI announced the arrest of one criminal who appeared to be both a copycat and one pursuing a very personal vendetta.* 

At the end of the day if we as a community can't rely on local law enforcement, the FBI and Homeland Security, that would be an American tragedy. And Senator Schumer has demanded that the FCC issue a waiver to enable the escalating threatening calls to the JCCs to be more easily traced, assuring greater scrutiny on the actions or inactions of that agency.

And, while JFNA has remained silent, the JCPA answered the call with not just a "Statement" but with specific action recommendations:
"Washington DC – The ongoing bomb threats aimed at Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) have sown fear in more than 100 Jewish communities and institutions across the country. “We call upon our public officials, in both word and deed, to do everything in their power to put a stop to these threats and incidents,” stated David Bernstein, President and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA). 

“We are heartened and appreciative that President Trump gave this issue top billing in his speech before Congress last night,” stated Cheryl Fishbein, Chair of the JCPA. “We urge the President to continue to speak out against these threats against the Jewish community and other minority groups in a timely and decisive manner.”

“Our public officials can create an environment in which such incidents are more or less likely to occur,” stated Bernstein. “The more our officials declare a commitment to an inclusive, bigotry-free society, the more likely radical elements will be kept in check.”

On Monday alone more than 30 JCCs received bomb threats, a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia was desecrated and swastikas were found on playgrouds and sprayed on cars in several cities.  For some of these JCCs, this was the fourth or fifth threat received by these institutions in the past couple of months. Since January, there have been 101 threats to the Jewish community, including bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers, day schools, and communal organizations.

Shockingly, hate crimes against African Americans, Muslims, minorities, and immigrants topped 1,000 during the same period.

In addition to issuing clear public statements, there is much more work to be done.  We urge the President, the Attorney General, and the FBI to spare no resources to investigate these new threats and bring the culprits to justice.

We also call for implementation of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) anti-hate recommendations:
  • Convene a federal inter-agency task force on Fighting Hate that brings together all the relevant agencies
  • Appoint a White House coordinator for Fighting Hate
  • Support federal and state-level legislation to protect students from increasing religious harassment and discrimination on college campuses
  • Train state and local law enforcement agencies led by the Department of Justice on how to handle hate crimes, including detection and response
We urge Jewish community institutions to reinforce a sense of safety and not allow these highly disruptive threats to deter participation in Jewish life." 
Thanks to the efforts of JFNA-Washington, our communities and our institutions have received millions, tens of millions, in security grants, grants that are deployed to protect our families and buildings. Yet, the hate crimes of the past months have been designed to instill fear in a community that has been exempt from hatred and fear for decade after decade. 

And, yet, other than the security grants, what we as a Jewish community have been doing has been reactive not proactive. It is as if we are helpless, we are victims. One of the Friends of the Blog had a suggestion:
"If the Federation system wants to do something that will capture the attention of the community it should offer a $100,000 reward for the capture and successful prosecution of those involved in making the JCC bomb threats (and other hate attacks on our communal institutions).”
This strikes me as both proactive and doable; and, yet, this suggestion has fallen upon deaf ears. Perhaps one of you could explain why this idea has been rejected. There does seem to be debate about the efficacy of rewards but the evidence certainly suggests that, as we say, at worst "it couldn't hurt" and in a significant percentage of instances, such a reward offering has helped tremendously in the pursuit of criminals. See, e.g., 

An Anonymous Commentator went even further with the idea proactivity, suggesting JFNA show some leadership, recognizing that the vandalism and desecration of our cemeteries and synagogues is a disaster and helping fund the curative and restorative efforts on-going. 
Has anyone at JFNA even thought about doing something positive and impactful?

The Federations/JFNA may be disinterested in offering a reward in pursuit of the criminals/terrorists who have assaulted our institutions. These are the same leaders who won't give up the annual GA for fear that "others" would step into the claimed "void" that would thereby be created; the ones who trumpet our communal centrality; but back away from an affirmative act that would assert, in one small but critical way, that centrality. And, of course, other organizations will step into this void and more will ask "why should we trust our own organizations?" That's sad, very sad.

The attacks on our communal and religious system have exposed us to an unreasoned hatred we thought was behind us as Americans and American Jews. If we are as strong as we believe our communal institutions to be, it is not enough to sit back and let others protect us without joining in the effort in some proactive way is it? Isn't that what our constituents want? 


* There was a meeting of Jewish organizations today at which (1) the organizations expressed gratitude and appreciation for the FBI's work in this matter and (2) JFNA Jerry was in the room where it happened and the photo-op. I'll leave it to you to judge if JFNA-Washington could have been there while Silverman did...oh, never mind.