Monday, May 29, 2017


If you agree with me that JFNA has morphed into Bizarro World,  the following will just be further bizarre chapters among so many.

1. In so many roles, JFNA has some wonderful professional leadership -- William Daroff, Marc Gurvis, Renee Rothstein, Brian Abrahams, among many others. So, the question has to arise: if JFNA has so may good pros in place, why is the organization in such a rut, doing so poorly in so may ways it feels compelled to inflate dismal results and hide so many others from review? You probably know the answer I am about to provide -- Jerry Silverman. For JFNA is the institutional embodiment of the tried  and true maxim: fish rot from the head. And, man, is this fish ever rotten.

2. Then there is the continuing bizarre effort by JFNA to have any relevance whatsoever in the Negev -- be it in the absolute or the relative. JFNA has involved some wonderful federation leaders in manufacturing its own relevance in the Negev where it offers so little -- with minor allocations to a strangely named "Initiative." Viz:
"Federations Playing a Critical Role in Developing the Negev
Vitality Initiative... Michele Levin, vice-chair of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Negev Creative... role the Jewish Federations have played in supporting and strengthening the Negev.  ... Federations Playing a Critical Role in Developing the Negev..."
"Critical role" -- yeah, right. There have been examples through JAFI's P2gether with individual and consortia of federations (in which JFNA has played no role) of important accomplishments but the Negev Vitality Initiative? Really? Instead, as we have written before, JFNA and its Negev Task Force should seriously review the success of JNF, which has made a $65 million investment in Be'er Sheva and an aggregate investment of in excess of $100,000,000 in the Negev, and see if there is a collaborative role that the federations could play through JFNA with JNF going forward. 

I know that JFNA likes to give lip service to "partnerships," and doesn't understand collaboration, but maybe, just maybe, a real  effort here with JNF, an organization that is not only about bragging about its accomplishments but actually having them in the Negev, could benefit our Israeli mishpacha in the Negev. Isn't that what we want to do, even in bizarro world?

3. At the recent Milken Global Conference 2017 our Board Chair moderated a panel with the provocative title: Things That Will Blow Your Mind. God I would have loved to have been there because in Bizarro JFNAWorld Richard's leadership is "blowing my mind" every day. If you ask, or even if you don't, Richard would tell you that when it comes to JFNA "I didn't ask for this job." Well, he took it and he knows what his leadership responsibilities are. Yes, he knows...


Friday, May 26, 2017


Is there no end to it? Will there ever be?

Through an accident of history, absent any reason, any rationale, Jerry Silverman continues as JFNA CEO-President. This continued service is one of life's great mysteries -- like the appendix, Adam Sandler movies, Sean Spicer. There's no explaining them; there is no ex-plaining Jerry's service. He continues as CEO because...well, because he is the CEO. It makes no sense. 

JFNA today is at a Kelvin Scale of fail. JFNA lay leaders, top down, are in denial of every observable reality. These well-meaning leaders have engaged in that which can only be termed, as in the brilliant Fargo 2017:  unfathomable pinheadery. JFNA under Jerry is and has been since his unquestioning endorsement of the Global Planning Table right through today , an organization that has sped right through the intersection of indifference and irrelevance without once anyone in power considering how bad it has gotten.

Friends, as a great Cleveland leader, Richard Bogomolny, said in the beautiful documentary, Violins of Hope: we are charged " know what is morally right and the strength to do something about it." There is no one in lay leadership of JFNA who doesn't know that they have a fiduciary responsibility to assure that the organization is led in the best interests of the federations -- not in their own best interests, in the interests of  the communities which they represent -- and, yet, they do nothing. 

Let's say you serve on JFNA from a federation that raises 1/2 what it did 5 years ago but pays (and continues to pay) $495,000 in JFNA Dues. And for that half a million dollar annual payment your community gets almost nothing in return from 25 Broadway. How do you explain that to your community; how do you explain that to yourself? The questions that should be asked seem so simple; yet what questions are you asking? How do you permit this situation to continue? Oh, sure, it's simple and simplistic to look around and see that the leaders of the largest federations, whose Dues are proportionately even more egregious, saying nothing, does that excuse you from sitting silent?

The fact is that these JFNA lay leaders have forgotten or ignored the reality that they serve on JFNA's Board as representatives of their communities. Yet, they ask nothing of the JFNA Chief Professional Officer; and that's exactly what they have  received in return...nothing. 

We have reported on these pages ad nauseam the daily inanities of JFNA, under CEO Jerry an organization seemingly leaping from one shiny object to another shiny object without either plan or purpose. At no other time in Jewish organizational life has another institution embodied the maxim: If you don't know where you're going any road will get you there. (Although in JFNA's case it's "no road will get you there.") The latest road taken:  In 9 long pages in Chabad Lubavitch World -- Jewish Federations & Chabad Find a New Way Forward -- the ideal working relationship ships between federations and the Chabad Movement are detailed highlighting the Toledo Jewish community and the JFNA-operated Network among others. 

Having seen its work on the ground in the Republics of the Former Soviet Union, I have developed admiration for Chabad's work, for th3e dedication of their Rabbis on the ground; the JDC has developed a long-term relationship with Chabad country and community leaders there, though one not infrequently fraught with difficulties. If federated communities are now partnering with Chabad, if the JFNA Network is doing so, would it not be fair to expect some guidance from JFNA on best practices, how to do so? Well, of course, were there a JFNA. But in 2017, it's every community for itself. Send an insipid email to FedCentral; work it out on your own.

And continue to pay Dues to JFNA -- though not all are doing so -- as if you are getting back something in return.

And pray no one asks any questions.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017


Our friends at ejewishphilanthropy were the vehicle for the announcement of the demise of JFNA; or what should be the death throes but, of course, will just be treated with another shrug of the shoulders and a "who cares?" On Friday, April 28, ejp published an announcement from the Mandel Foundation:

Yes, therein Mandel announced its Executive Leadership Program for mid-career Federation and JCC professional leaders -- you know, announcing that the Foundation would be doing exactly...precisely...what JFNA should be doing, would be doing in partnership with the federations' Continental vehicle, if it still existed. The fact that the the Mandel announcement didn't even mention JFNA would be a devastating message about JFNA's state of irrelevance were anyone at all paying any attention to the void at 25 Broadway. 

I speak to federation leaders all the time; so do you. And if you mention JFNA, almost to a person, all you get is a wince, eyes roll and the response generally is "...let's talk about something, anything else." Try it. There's no pride in the organization -- none -- where there should be pride and embrace and a "look what the organization is doing for us." If you speak with leaders of JAFI and JDC in private you hear pleas for meaningful advocacy and desperate cries for increased support; and no expectation that anything at all can be expected of JFNA.. Friends, as all of you who read this Blog with regularity realize, there is not one...not a single...area of what all of us intended JFNA to be (other than its efforts in Washington) where JFNA is functioning with excellence, if it is functioning at all.

  • Professional education and support -- nothing
  • Community consulting -- nothing
  • Financial Resource Development and Planned Giving and Endowment -- under construction without budgetary support necessary to hire the best and brightest under a new Senior Vice-President while the FRD COO is leaving at month's end
  • Israel Advocacy -- almost nothing at all
  • Emergency assistance -- Mailboxes...mailboxes
  • Lay leader education and support -- nothing
  • Missions -- no Prime Minister's Mission, no Israel (but we like India and Argentina), communities going their own way -- almost nothing
  • General Assemblies -- abject failures year-after-year
  • Self-promotion -- great work
Passion, engagement -- both gone.

Look, JFNA was created to serve the federations, to strengthen them in every important way -- more donors, more dollars, grow and intensify our communities relationship to and engagement with Israel, increase the level of and opportunities for communal professionals, innovate outreach to the next generation. It has failed in every one of these areas -- in particular over the past 8 years. 

There is a group of excellent professionals at 25 Broadway anxious to serve the federations. Yet, there sits a CEO who still, after 8 years, hasn't a clue. And, where are the lay leaders, where are the men and women who should be the partners in a proud and creative effort in policy-making and accountability? They are nowhere to be found...nowhere...except shrugging off all efforts to inform change as nothing more than assaults on their integrity.

My friends, for another organization the Mandel announcement would be the ultimate wake-up call. It is the announcement that JFNA requires a complete professional restructuring top-to-bottom. That announcement isn't a dog whistle, heard only by the few, it's bugle call, a shot across the bow, a slap in the face. But, if the past is prologue, JFNA's leaders will hear nothing.

If only Richard Sandler and his leaders at the top of the JFNA food chain hear the call and actually exercise their responsibilities.

Probably and sadly...they won't.


Saturday, May 20, 2017


...and failure begets failure.

Lest we forget:

  1. The Western Wall Initiative. There was what has turned out to be the ephemeral  commitment to the creation of an equitable prayer space at the  (or better description: "near the") Kotel. Letters (oh, yeah, JFNA has letters, lots of them) to the Prime Minister, even a "March" (a couple of 100 attendees at the last Jerusalem GA with nothing better to do) in support of Women of the Wall and some cheerleading for the real work in the trenches by Natan Sharansky. JFNA, as always, not getting its hands dirty. 
  2. The Government of Israel-Jewish Agency - JFNA "World Jewry Initiative." We sure remember that one. JAFI did a brilliant job of framing a significant Initiative in which the Jewish Agency would partner with the GOI and JFNA would be the implementing entity on North America. Then the Diaspora Ministry pulled the plug after an ugly public and personal battle with JAFI. Of course, JFNA might still have been in the fray as the Government's partner in North America For reasons we will never know -- was Naftali Bennett aware of JFNA's total weakness, total lacking in staff -- JFNA was out and the Government chose as its partner an organization none had ever heard of -- Mosaic United.                                                                                        I think it's a fair question to ask: what the hell is Mosaic United? It appears to have been formed by the former President of Jerusalem University who was also the co-founder of the Party City chain. Its "Steering Committee" includes as its Chair a Vice-President of the Detroit Jewish Federation as well as Pittsburgh philanthropist (and recent GA Co-Chair) David Shapira. And there is also an Advisory Board comprised of an eclectic group of Foundation and communal professionals. How or why Bennett and his political cronies chose to partner with this ambitious but tiny start-up is as fair to ask as why JFNA wasn't even in the mix. At least Mosaic United had an expressed "Vision:" "To galvanize participation in Jewish life and strengthen ties to Israel by fueling, scaling and connecting the most impactful innovators, programs and philanthropists." Of course there is no indication of how that organization might accomplish the Vision with a set of strategies they seem ill-equipped to implement. But we wish them well. 
  3. The failed Global Planing Table and the Abandonment of the Collective. There was so much wrong with the GPT from its onset to its death three+ years and millions wasted that it's hard to pick the worst part of that hot mess. I would point to the reality that because there was no one in a leadership -- lay or, worse, professional -- who even understood what was proposed, JFNA stood at the forefront of the GPT as the spearhead for the total abandonment of collective responsibility. In structuring its so-called "Signature Initiatives" -- doomed to fail only because the JFNA lay leaders actually thought that Jerry Silverman could raise the funds necessary -- as "coalitions of the willing" rather than as a total system effort, there was an intentional walk-away from the collective, from the very system-wide approach that had distinguished federations from every other charity. It astounded me then as much as it does today 6 years later that not one elected lay leader and not one federation chief professional officer stood up and said loudly "NO." 
Friends, there are more examples. A JFNA personified by ineptitude completes nothing and suffers from an institutional attention deficit disorder. Yet its lay leaders continue to let it die the death of a thousand cuts. And the death throes all start at the top.

We all know what must be done. 

And we all know that nothing will.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017


There was a time when our Continental organizations were led and led well, with a passion and commitment we have to strain memory to even recall. Back then, pre-merger, when measured against the faux leaders of today, so many appear to have been and were giants. No more.

Today and for too long we have lay and professional "leaders" whose preference is to do nothing. Way, way back I compared some of our leaders to the characters in "The Emperor Has No Clothes" -- today that would apply to a much broader cross-section: to Officers, Executive Committee and Board members seized with silence, passivity and cowardice, some fearing, apparently, that speaking out will jeopardize their advancement in an organization that  has no relevance and no strength. And it is laughable to suggest that there is a Shoshana Cardin today who would confront a President about anti-Semitic tropes were they to occur today; instead our leaders might worry about losing their invitations to meaningless White House "briefings" or a West Wing Chanukah party or other meaningless photo ops.

You may disagree with me but I challenge anyone to read the definition of "lead" (noun) and  -- "an example for others to follow." Is that what we have today; is that we have had for the past decade? Some might say "Look at Richard Sandler's predecessor; he must have done a lot of things right. Now he's the Board Chair at the Jewish Agency for Israel." And I'd say, "Yes. Look at him. Great guy, like Richard. Rewarded for the wonderful philanthropist he is. Oh, and he knows Bibi." While he was JFNA Board Chair, allocations to JAFI from the federations fell to an all-time low exceeded only in the times since under Sandler -- no doubt Michael was also rewarded for not making a big fuss about that sad reality and for the knowledge that he will not be an obstacle to JAFI's professional staff and the World Zionist Organization doing whatever the hell they wish during his years as JAFI Board Chair. And it's hard to be comforted by the fact that Michael can rely on Steve Hoffman his long-time professional "partner" -- he had that "partnership" when he chaired JFNA -- to what end, exactly?

Friends, a real organization has purpose, mission and vision and policies, strategies and tactics to implement them; our faux thing has none, all of its "actions" are ad hoc, nothing sticks. There's no sense of purpose at JFNA, just a bunch of silos doing their own thing -- their "own thing" often nothing. Yes, "their own thing" is, but for JFNA-Washington, really...nothing, nada, all words, no meaning; all words, no substance.

And, here is what happens at a faux organization wandering aimlessly, circling the drain -- good even great people leave. There are so many cases in the Silverman "regime" alone: from Joanne Moore, hired to run the DOA Global Planning Table and the GAs, left within weeks of her arrival when, we presume, she realized that she would not be permitted to actually do her job; to just a few weeks ago when Elissa Maier, treasured by her colleagues, at one point thought to be "turning around the Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence" (she was the Vice President of both that Mandel Center and JFNA at one and the same time [no I don't know how that worked]) at another, the sole remaining person at JFNA FRD, the pro who was the driving force for I-LEAD and the so-called "flagship" Fundraising University, yep, gone just weeks ago leaving for the Prizmah start-up where she will be COO joining what appears to be a top-heavy staff; or Matt Freedman, hired out of Baltimore with great FRD credentials, never allowed to do the job for which he was hired, gone; to just this week, Gail Zucker, who actually engaged with communal professionals, and was the "Director" of the Social Venture Fund for Jewish-Arab Equality and Shared Society (no, I don't even understand the subsidiary's title); and on and on and on. And they were among those who chose to leave, joining those forced out from Agron (who has made her semi-triumphant return as consultant) to Danny Allen and so many in between. 

When a faux CEO has no vision and no talent for leading a complex federation-owned organization, and no accountability to the faux lay leadership that should be his partners but are, instead, nothing more than enablers, great professionals are not going to stay, few are going to be attracted...and more and more they are not.

All of us want a real organization, with real lay and professional leadership; at least I think all of us do. That desire just isn't evident in any way at the faux organization with the faux leadership that we...all of our silence, by our acquiescence, by our "let someone else do it not me" attitude, have allowed JFNA to become. We have, in silence, betrayed our values, betrayed our fiduciary responsibilities and let JFNA to rot in its continuing failure.

Shame on us. Shame on them. Enough shame to go around. And that ain't faux; it's real.


Sunday, May 14, 2017


~ Hard work is preparing for and testifying before a Congressional Committee; no work is preparing for and appearing in a photo op in Washington. Contrast and compare: William Daroff vs. Jerry Silverman -- hard work vs. no work. 

~ "This November, get ready to venture further --in mind, body and spirit..." Yep, attend the LA GA and JFNA will apparently improve your mind, your body and your spirit. Duh. Oh, promises, promises. As the PR material asserts: "This is your chance to venture further." (P.S., with thanks to a faithful reader, on the date JFNA sent out this promo -- March 28 -- the GA did not appear on the Calendar of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles whose Board Chair is also the GA co-Chair (with her spouse) and with Richard Sandler, a past LA Board Chair is the JFNA Board Chair.)

~ I have printed some of the more incredible questions for which professionals seek answers from their peers through that important JFNA-created vehicle...ta da...FedCentral.
Here's a recent question:
"Can anyone share an example of birthday greetings to donors? We have received tremendous feedback to this year's card, so the pressure is on to deliver another 'wow' next year." 
"Wow;" I'd say "Wowee!!!" I don't question the sincerity of the professional asking the question -- but that's about all I don't question. Forgive me but maybe they ought to name this thing FedLazy.

~ The most recent JFNA IRS 990 filing covering the fiscal year July 1, 2015 ending June 30, 2016 has yet to make an appearance -- JFNA still displays the 990 for the prior fiscal year ending June 30, 2015. Some of you may have noticed that we are rapidly approaching the June 30, 2017 fiscal year-end. This may be a revelation to those at 25 Broadway. In other words, by the time the next 990 appears, its revelations will be those of the prior two years. This is not to suggest that JFNA is in violation of the IRS filing date requirements; it is to suggest that JFNA would just as soon not file anything that would disclose to we, the public, even the camouflaged facts of JFNA's annual operation.

You're sure not going to find this "facts" in JFNA's Annual Reports filled as those have been with beautiful pictures and descriptions of what others are doing. You know: business as usual.

We'd suggest...again...some adult supervision. 

But we know that's asking the impossible for this leadership.


Thursday, May 11, 2017


I am grateful to all of you who read these pages; and, in particular, those of you who write, even anonymously. What follows is a letter I received from one of our preeminent professional communal and thought leaders. I won't offer his/her name; it is his/her thoughts that should count:

"Hi Richard!
Hope you and your family had a wonderful Passover.   Just wanted to say hello and thank you for your having the opportunity to read your regular blog.  There are so few voices out there publicly analyzing the state of our global Jewish community and I’m thankful yours is still there and still loud and clear.
Reading what you write each week one thought come to the forefront over and over again:  with all the huge investments and focus on leadership development and next generation funding we have witnessed over the last three decades at least, why is there such a dearth of leadership, both lay and professional, across the Jewish world?
Where are all the graduates of those very expensive initiatives that focused on building a new generation of leaders and creating an elite cadre of Jewish global thinkers to lead us out of the wilderness?  Something is basically wrong when we keep pouring our energies and efforts into expensive programs that don’t deliver what they promise.   Private foundations have stepped in to fill that gaps left by Federations  yet the more these initiatives fail at really creating strong Jewish leaders, the more our community feels we need those same failed initiatives.  One need not have to look beyond efforts in the field of Jewish education, synagogue movements, Federation young leadership, Jewish social services etc to realize that not only is the needle not moving forward it’s going in the wrong direction. 
I can only conclude that the strategy of focusing on the elite to lead has failed us miserably."
Here is my response:
"Thanks for your “thought,” sad as it certainly is. These have truly become “the worst of times” in Jewish communal life and there appears to be no bottoming out. It is inexplicable to me that your former...colleagues have been willing to sit on the sidelines witnessing the debacle that the organization they demanded has become and the profession that has given them so much has been allowed to implode."
And, then, my friend's incisive response in part:
"I think the LCE communities have been facing huge challenges over the last number of years and the lack of leadership and concrete acts of collective action is often seen as a welcomed relief from the pressures of just dealing with the day to day of trying to keep their heads above water.    

The last thing many of them want is a call to action and as a result you jettison lay leaders who tire of this inaction and attract those who are at home with it.   Visionary leadership has stepped off the bus and the wrong people are driving it in community after community.  Left to their own resources each community determines its own benchmark for success, it’s own measure of what an “Annual” Campaign is and what is their commitment to Israel.  When there is no sense of collective direction you get a lot of bravado but nothing really to show."

Friends, lamentations aside, it didn't have to be this way; it doesn't have to be this way. It just is.  If every Federation Board member, every JFNA Board member and every communal professional leader would stand up, slam their hands on the table and shout "ENOUGH," and then act on their will and their fiduciary responsibility, perhaps...perhaps... things would change. 

Or not.


Monday, May 8, 2017



1. I just learned that long after the Second Lebanese War, JFNA-Israel/Becky Caspi (they are one and the same aren't they?) was directed to prepare a report on the application of special campaign funds. Even though there were/are over 25 persons on the payroll in the offices of JFNA-Israel, Caspi, I am told, had/chose to hire two consultants (!!??) to do that work. And, then, for reasons never stated, that Report never saw the light of day. It just disappeared. Surprised?

2. Remember the "secret consultant/secret donor/secret purpose" $1 million conduit agreement? Well, it's still secret, confidential in all ways. So what if only a very small cabal know anything about this deal and I have been assured by the Board Chair that "everything's fine." Sorry, nothing about this secrecy is fine and, though I trust the Board Chair totally, his attestation of propriety doesn't override the fiduciary duty of disclosure. Surprised?

3. Then there are a myriad of other consultant agreements all of which are held in confidence, and none of which will be disclosed to Board members. There are the agreements with D. K. Smith, V. Agron, two more FRD consultants, one Planned Giving consultant, etc. etc., etc. Those have all been deemed so "confidential" that they will not be revealed even to JFNA Board Members. Surprised?

4. For the first time in the history of JFNA, for that matter for the first time in the history of the UJA and the CJF, a special fund raising effort, a Special Campaign, was never processed through the JFNA Board for approval -- this one an $18 million...that's $18,000,000...campaign to aid the Ethiopian National Project. Even though there was no emergency that required this to be "approved" by the JFNA Executive Committee, that's what was done -- with no plan (that was "to come"). Surprised?

5. And how about the failures of a succession of GA's? There's never been an accounting of the financial consequences on attendance underachievement provided to the JFNA Board (and that's true of the failures dating back to the first days of Silverman -- 3 TribeFests and a #ish, among other flops). Surprised?

I know that you can provide other examples.

And, yet, Jerry keeps his job (whatever its been reduced to in this his 8th year) and lay leadership is silent. Surprised?


Friday, May 5, 2017


Well, it has come to this...

With continuing disregard flowing top down from 25 Broadway to the federations Continent-wide; with so many questioning JFNA's top-down demands in almost every area; JFNA's constant asks culminating in an $18 million "campaign" for the Ethiopian National Project never approved by the JFNA Board; with secrecy the JFNA coin of the realm; and on and on it should be no surprise that we have now heard that a growing number of federations are either not paying their allocated Dues or are demanding a renegotiation of those Dues or are paying less than full Dues. And, of course, JFNA isn't talking about this budding crisis that is upon it, hoping, as the organizations' leaders usually do, that it just goes away...

Trust me, this would be an even bigger calamity, if it is one already, and one that would have begun much earlier, were it not for the fact that many federations, including a significant number within the Large Cities bury the JFNA Dues within their "overseas allocation," not only hiding the Dues from the inquiring eyes, if there are any, of curious Federation Board members, and, at one and the same time, falsely inflating the amount of their annual allocations to the core budgets of JAFI, JDC and WorldORT. Thus, if Community A claims an allocation to those core budgets of, say, $5 million, and its "buried" Dues amount is $500,000, then....well, you know the hypocrisy. And, in too many places, the community is told that the gross number is allocated to "Overseas" or whatever word(s) the community uses when, in fact, that amount is substantially less, far less.

And, the crisis, if it is not upon JFNA already, would be escalating exponentially if Federations cared. Examples? Let's look at the issue in context  (according to their most recent 990s):

  1. Our largest federation handed over in excess of $5.2 million (that's not a typo) for JFNA. What demands have been made, if any, for any accountability. Does that federation's donors just not give a tinkers' damn how this incredible amount benefits federation's beneficiaries?
  2. There are multiple communities for which JFNA Dues if not the largest allocation to any agency, is in the top five. Does this make any sense if the return on that "investment" to those communities -- yours, or mine -- can't be articulated beyond the grants achieved by JFNA- Washington?
Yes, the same question could be asked of your federation and mine.

I have written before of my strong belief that JFNA Dues -- as with CJF's and UJA's overhead before it -- were paid in an expression of our collective responsibility. Sure, my community, no community, did not receive a direct quid pro quo for our Dues, but I was always comfortable that whatever funds the organization received from us would be of benefit to others, or would help to meet a crisis or a great collective need. That is no longer the case...not the case at all. You tell me what needs are being met beyond the perpetuation of JFNA for its own ends. Just keep on feeding the beast.

As one of you told me: "The only time that I hear from 25 Broadway is when I tell them we are considering not paying our Dues." Another: "When I told them we can't pay the Dues demand, suddenly my lay people are asked to speak at the GA, Co-Chair or serve on a Committee. You know, buy us off with gornisht." The root causes of the unrest are never addressed...never.

One of you recently wrote, in response to our Post S.N.A.F.U.:

"Change will come when federations look at their limited financial resources and tell JFNA that going forward, they will only pay, let's say for example, 75% of their current dues; using the 25% for their local and Israel & Overseas needs.
That is the federations' new-normal' in 2017; why should JFNA get a pass and be allowed to have a budget of $30 million?

Imaging a JFNA with a $20 million budget: What critical services would the federations really lose if $10 million disappeared from the budget (I'm using $10 million as an example....personally I'd look at $15 million)?  

Someone needs to start that ball rolling, and once started, it will gather the momentum that will force the change that is needed.
It will not come from a Board Chair or the CEO, whether it is Silverman or someone else when his current contract expires"
I understand, with all of you, those communities' and their leaders' concerns. It cannot be denied that if the majority of Board members in a given community that is hiding its JFNA Dues in the overseas allocation knew the amount of Dues their federation pays, they might ask the seminal question: "what are we getting for this outrageous amount?" It is a question for which the answer is both all too obvious and all too embarrassing to contemplate. 

Some of you who are old enough will remember that until 6+ years ago and, as I recall, for a few years before that, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles refused to pay the full Dues allocated to that community. Upon Silverman's engagement as JFNA CEO and Jay Sanderson's selection as LA's chief professional, in a secret "negotiation," JFNA caved, LA's Dues were reduced and past due unpaid Dues "settled," and Los Angeles was restored to what passes for a federation in "good standing" at JFNA, but just a few years later, its past Federation Chair, Richard Sandler, was elected JFNA Board Chair. Now, Sandler is facing an apparent Dues revolt -- what does Richard tell those federations that are seeking Dues relief or just refusing to pay: "ignore what we in LA did, we need you to pay full Dues?" Yeah, that should be compelling. (NB, the LA Federation CEO, who negotiated the settlement, has demanded that I "get my facts straight" and has clarified the nature of the settlement that LA entered into -- "I negotiated a 100% pay off over 8 years and we have honored that agreement." In addition Los Angeles has responded to JFNA requests for additional funds over Dues in payments of "hundreds of thousands additional each year." I have not been able to clarify whether that settlement also provided that Los Angeles pay a lesser annual Dues than the $2 million Dues the full amount of which LA had refused to pay until the settlement. Obviously, there are other issues as well.)

Then there is another Large City, one held in high regard by many, which looked at its increased Dues after the Dues formula was revised by JFNA's Board passage of its Dues resolution. That federation merely went to JFNA's then leaders, advised them that the Annual Campaign data on which Dues were based were "wrong," deducted the aggregate of designated gifts from the community's annual campaign statistics submitted to JFNA for the determination of annual Dues, and demanded its Dues be decreased. They were. (It should be noted that that community from that time forward had two annual campaign figures -- the annual campaign totals it submitted to JFNA and those which it proudly announced to its own community.)

For many years -- from the merger up to the Los Angeles "settlement" --  federation Dues issues, when they occurred, were a matter of discussion and negotiation between the communities and the JFNA Financial Relations Committee. I chaired that Committee for many years and was succeeded by Jacksonville's Steve Silverman. The Committee was blessed with an incredibly dedicated professional, Cheryl Lefland, and, for many years, a very committed CFO, Sam Astrof, and an active lay group.  Then, those negotiations, almost always successful, were coopted by JFNA's lay Chair, first Kathy Manning, then her successors and, I presume, by Silverman (Jerry, not Steve). Soon, Cheryl was no longer on the staff -- there is no longer a Financial Relations Committee, there is no longer a designated Federation Relations staff. This has "accomplished" two important goals of JFNA leadership -- secrecy and the continued elimination of lay leadership from the work of JFNA. 

Look, if what I have been told is true, this is a growing albeit undisclosed crisis for JFNA. If federations in number are told they are no longer "members in good standing," JFNA will fall apart. If JFNA is being asked by more and more federations the seminal question: "what is my community receiving in consideration of our Dues payments?" the jig is up; JFNA will be over. In so many instances to date, "membership" has held together for one or two (or both) simple reasons: 

  1. The community has been able to hide its JFNA Dues within the overseas allocation and no federation Board members have perforce raised a question about them; and/or
  2. The negative impact of a failure to pay Dues (no participation in National Women's Philanthropy or the Young Leadership Cabinet, no GA attendance [?!]), loss of membership, has been the compelling factor to continuing full Dues payments.
So, JFNA has not had to produce benefits to the federations to justify/rationalize the continuing Dues payments -- and it hasn't. Beyond the federal grants generated by the exceptional work of JFNA-Washington, what exactly are the "benefits" of membership?  To me and a number of others, JFNA should have been at work over the past decade working damn hard to increase those benefits; instead it has been hard at work building silos, overpaying those at the highest levels of its professional staff with no accountability while it had almost no community FRD function, abandoned the CEO search function and created an almost total void in its Community Consulting area, feathered the nest of its non-performing Israel office, among other areas of non-performance.

Friends, the chickens are coming home to roost and it continues to appear that JFNA's leaders. their heads perpetually in the sand, don't know or don't care or fail to understand the implications of non- or partial-payment of Dues. Because, as sure as I can possibly be, it is lay leadership's failure to demand accountability from the CEO, its failure to exercise its fiduciary responsibilities that include, to use a currently popular phrase, emptying "the swamp" at 25 Broadway, bringing in an interim CEO to serve while a rational search process in undertaken that will assure that the next JFNA CEO at least offers the hope to the federations that an effective and responsive JFNA will emerge.

But, no. For JFNA to have any chance of success, its leaders must take the responsibility for the organization's success. As Bret Stephens pointed out: ""....recognizing failure is the first step on the road to wisdom;" JFNA's Board Chair and its lay leadership can't possibly turn the organization in a successful direction unless they first acknowledges the desperate circumstances they have perpetuated by their refusal to take responsibility.

So, Richard Sandler, it's past time to just sit back and let this group of professionals under this CEO continue to drive JFNA over the precipice. Here are the questions:

  1. How many federations have not paid all or part of their Dues over the past 5 years;
  2. What is the amount of unpaid Dues; and
  3. What steps are being taken to collect the unpaid amounts?
There is also the existential question: does anyone at JFNA understand that, except in instances of "extreme hardship" (as was once the jurisdiction of the now non-existent Financial Relations Committee), under the extant Dues Resolution, a federation that has not paid its full Dues is automatically, without the need for further action, no longer a member of JFNA.



Tuesday, May 2, 2017


"Is It Time for Your CEO to Step Down?" was the question posed in an instructive article in ejewishphilanthropy pre-Chanukah last year.,+2016&utm_campaign=Mon+Dec+19&utm_medium=email Of course, I'm pleased that the question was asked inasmuch as we have been asking the identical question about JFNA's CEO for...well, for a long, long, long time. I believe we know that there is only one answer...only one. But, at JFNA the heads remain deeply buried in thousand...or somewhere.

For in the context of JFNA and Jerry Silverman, the question isn't "Is It Time...?" as it has been "time" almost from Day One; the questions morph instead into: (a)"why hasn't it happened already?" and (b) how can we effect change? While the answers are seemingly simple, at the end of the day one can only conclude that we will see unicorns and pigs flying before we see any changes. 

But we persevere...

In approaching JFNA FY 2017-2018 we see polar extremes -- there are honesty and integrity and the values of our community on the one side -- and then there are self-preservation and self-promotion pulling on the other. And, to date, self-preservation and self-promotion have won this tug-of-war and the federations, JFNA and our values are the losers. Of course, what did a succession of Board Chairs from Kanfer forward to Sandler expect in return for the "rewards" they could and in many instances did dole out? Humiliating deference, fawning respect and constant sucking up -- for which one would receive appointments, higher office aspirations, and, from time-to-time you could join in personal vendettas and blackballing. And, these are/were our organizational superstars.

Yes, when all of these superstars should have been as Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel put it "putting points on the board," they, instead, sopping up the adulation that comes from well-run meetings and reading well-written reports and leaving the mess that JFNA has/had become to "others" -- all "others." These are the JFNA leaders who came into office and quickly moved into and occupied an alternative universe where the skies are azure blue and JFNA is a success. These folks have created an "alternative culture" where even Jerry Silverman has led us with distinction, black is white and down is up.

These lay leaders have asked and ask for nothing of their Chief Executive Officer; and that's exactly what they and we have received. If there has been one constant, it has been that the narrative is always...always...bigger, grossly bigger, than the reality; so there is nowhere to go but to continue on the down, down, down. The only sounds that this leadership hear are those of their own hands clapping while the failures build and build and build in lock step with growing disengagement.

Friends, I and many of you can shout "Rise Up" as loud and as constant as we do with no affect. It is not the fact that JFNA under its current leadership, lay and professional, haven't the courage of their convictions; it is instead that it is an organization and a leadership with no convictions whatsoever. The next generation of leaders will look back and ask why the lay leadership of today did not hold its professional leadership  and themselves accountable in any way. And we will have no answer.

So it is that here in mid-2017 JFNA lay leadership faces a binary choice -- between continued failure and any chance for success. JFNA can only get the wind at its back by putting in place a new Interim CEO for a defined and limited term to begin the process of reconstruction in a true lay-professional partnership while a search for a new CEO takes place. Change can't happen in any other way. Friends, there is no risk in doing so: the true risk is in saying nothing and doing nothing.

Michelangelo is credited with writing: "The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it; but that it is too low and we reach it." In the JFNA of today we have achieved the lowest of lows; our aim in neither high nor low, it is a place without any aim at all.

I despair that this leadership will ever find its voice. I recall at a very precarious time in the merger process, when UIA was strongly resisting the very concept, I convened a meeting of federation lay leaders. There was a presentation of the status and a relatively long discussion at the end of which the Board Chair of New York UJA-Federation stood up and asked: "Look, Richard, tell us what we need to do to move forward." It is my belief that the lesson of that meeting almost 20 years ago is equally persuasive today: the best of leaders are looking for leadership; and today's leaders can provide it If they are willing to do so.

The biggest "if" of all.