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.



Anonymous said...

Richard, one of your best and most important posts yet. Where have all the "giants" (lay and pro) in the field gone? Names like Bernstein, Greenstein, Hiller are not known to most in the field. The current longstanding LCE are enjoying their well-paid gigs with little to in changes within their communities and limited growth in campaigns. and lay leadership is asking the professionals to lead more and more and only want to look at the "good" and forget the challenges. Most communities today struggle to find their next core set of leaders.

I believe that much of the challenge is lack of role modeling. When I entered the field there were those lay and pro leaders I looked up to, aspired to be like, and learned from. I think that barely exists today. Leadership is no longer willing to "step up and step out" and to lead by example. Instead, the mantra seems to be, "Let me just get through my time with no major issues." And that is one reason why so many "hungry to make a difference" lay leaders and professional colleagues walk away.

A loss for our system!!!!

Anonymous said...

Maybe we get the lay and professional leadership we deserve. After all, this JFNA Board is made up of mostly those who, while they may be terrific leaders in their home communities, at JFNA they are absolutely willing to let the other person do it and in Richard Sandler they have that attitude, that willingness to let someone else do it has been raised to JFNA's highest level possible. That attitude is bad in the absolute but when the "someone else" is Jerry Silverman, well, the results speak for themselves don't they?