Thursday, June 29, 2017


Shmuel Rosner, columnist in the Jewish Journal, has offered consistent advice to the North American Jewish communities upon Prime Minister Netanyahu's determination to breach the Agreement he entered into to create an egalitarian prayer space at/near the Kotel -- and that advice can be restated in two words: "shut up." His latest Op-Ed stated:
"For Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, the story of the Kotel compromise – the agreement that was buried by the government on Sunday – was a story of arithmetical probabilities. He had no joy in canceling the arrangement that would have given non-Orthodox Jews, the majority of the Jewish people, a small piece of real-estate near the place most holy for all Jews. He drew no satisfaction from feeling that he had to cave under Charedi pressure. And yet, his cold calculation of probabilities made him break his promise to many Jewish leaders, especially from the US. It made him pass a government decision that he does not like."
I guess that's one point of view: I reject that argument out of hand. We should all understand that the PM breached his own agreement because coalition politics trump the unity of the Jewish People and always will it appears; and, in doing so, threatened a rupture in our long held belief that Israel is the central address of the Jewish People -- all of the Jewish People.

The loud and public reaction to the Government decision to breach the Agreement to create a significant egalitarian prayer space adjacent to the Western Wall and to the very threatening first reading of Knesset legislation that would obviate the GOI's recognition of conversions by Rabbis other than the Israeli Chief Rabbinate has been wholly appropriate -- be it Jerry Silverman's general condemnation while praising the PM's "incredibly respectful..." posture at a meeting with federation leaders, Steve Nasatir's public blast at those Knesset members who would vote to overturn the established conversion process ("The Federation in Chicago will not be hosting any member of Knesset that votes for this bill..."), and Natan Sharansky's very direct criticism of both the Prime Minister's pulling the rug of support for the Kotel deal right out from under Sharanky's and the Jewish People's feet, among other critics.

But, as all of us know, most, if not all, of the Haredi Knesset and Cabinet members and, certainly, the Chief Rabbinate, could care not a whit about visits to federations or the reactions or pressure from Diaspora Jewry...they just don't and never have and, clearly, never will. World Jewry had come to rely upon a succession of Prime Ministers to assure continued respect for and support of the unity of the Jewish People. In the past, and most evident in the parallel crisis to the present one (and it is a crisis) were the 1988 and mid-90's explosions over "Who Is a Jew?," reason prevailed over division, Prime Ministers stepped up and backed the minorities in their coalitions down from the precipice they would have created. Today? That's a different story.

In a brilliant op-ed in The Forward, J.J. Goldberg explores the issues and their implications today. Simply stated, the religious political parties want a theocracy in Israel and coalition-building has given them and their patrons in the Israeli  Chief Rabbinate total hegemony in matters that bear on non-secular matters and the only way forward, a new coalition built upon the Likud, Israel Beiteinu, Labor and its adjuncts and Yesh Atid, seems to be but a dream (or nightmare) of getting politicians with competing dreams and aspirations into a working government. And the Prime Minister seems perfectly happy with his current political partners...until he isn't.

In an interview on the subject in JTA, a source within the Prime Minister's office defends the cancellation"suspension" as nothing more than a strategy to allow the prayer space to be completed, the "only change" being the elimination of a multi-party governance vehicle that would have included Conservative and Reform representatives. As if to reassure World Jewry, the unnamed source concluded: “The prime minister takes Israel’s relations with Diaspora Jewry very seriously.” Sure. 

At the same time Minister of the Diaspora, Naftali Bennett, who had already kidnapped the World Jewry-State of Israel Initiative into a captive of his vision of Israel-Diaspora relations excluding JAFI and JFNA, sent out a You Tube video explaining how everything is just great, the egalitarian prayer space will be built out (at least in the same location more or less) as he, Bennett, originally envisioned it.

It would take a tectonic explosion to dislodge the Haredi parties from their influence within this Government...and that's just not going to happen. Many friends have pointed out in the press and in dialogue that Jews in the Diaspora should be marching in lockstep with whatever government is in power in Israel, that debate or challenge even on matters impacting on the relationship of Israel to the Diaspora, we, Diaspora Jews, should be silent or supportive. Why? As Steve Flatow wrote:
"Jerry Silverman does not live on the Golan Heights, and Rick Jacobs does not reside in Sha'ar Hanegev, and the American leaders of Conservative Judaism do not live in towns along the Israel-Lebanon border."
It appears that Flatow and others conflate legitimate concerns about the impact of theocratic decisions by the GOI to the level of questioning, even undermining, or failing to support Israel's security. And those condemnations are just wrong. All of us want Israel to be secure and we believe that a united World Jewish polity supports that security in so many ways. It is not JFNA, nor the Reform or Conservative Movements that have threatened world Jewish unity, it is the Prime Minister of Israel and the ultra-Orthodox Rabbis and politicians who have conspired to do so and continue to.

Yet, North American, all of Diaspora Jewry confront the Government's decision on the Kotel issue and the Conversion legislation at a time of our great weakness. American federation Campaigns, for example, that in 1988 raised $720 million
 from over 1,000,000 donors,
challenged.html?and sent almost 50% of those campaigns
 to the Jewish Agency and JDC, today we send a a little over 10% 
of the net raised from less than 200,000 to
JAFI/JDC, still the best evidence of our collective support for "Israel."
And over the same period,
while there have been important gains, the Reform Movement in Israel 
has really just begun to gain traction, the Conservative Movement
almost none.  Aipac, whose leaders rushed to Bibi's side as the 
threatening nature of the fire he ignited became clear,
has seen its influence weakened. 

And the data and anecdotal information suggest that the generations
of American Jews who have followed ours have grown less 
and less attached to Israel's centrality and decisions like those of the 
Israel Cabinet on Sunday and the conversion legislation now supported 
by that Cabinet threaten that vital attachment even more.

Those who care, and the leadership of our institutions and federations 
clearly do so with passion, need to come together with those
in Israel who share that caring and passion, and create a "New Zionism," 
one that ties us together and spreads our passion to our generation
and to the generations to come. All those who know
"It is better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness" 
must come together now.

Who can take us there?



Yes, like these ancient clowns the so-called "leadership" of JFNA is so, so busy, it is impossible for them to see the forest for the trees. While JFNA circles the drain, they continue to applaud each other while federation lay and professional leaders outside the
oligarchy look on in horror and disengage.

The small, small cabal is willing, often even anxious to humiliate themselves, to abase themselves in order to further ingratiate themselves to a leadership that appears to revel in this worship as much as they reject all criticism and those who deliver it..

Yet I cannot yet believe that this group of JFNA pro and lay leader insiders is delusional and totally divorced from the reality of what JFNA has become...what they have allowed JFNA to become; what they continue to allow JFNA to be.

So, all I can think is that they are just "too damn busy" to take note let alone to act. And yet...and yet...

The vast majority of federations (some of the Large Cities excluded) continue to look to JFNA for leadership and support in so many areas...and JFNA just is not there. For example: after speaking to expanding community consulting in 2016-2017, JFNA made a drastic reverse delegating that comprehensive consulting to an embryonic, part-time consultant-staffed FRD consulting and nothing more: or look how JFNA now provides only lip service to the critical task of professional development, training and recruitment.

For $30+ million in annual Dues, with an Annual Budget of $52+ million, the Federations are getting such a minimal return on investment that in its Budget 2017-2018, JFNA hardly cites any. This is now an organization that not only can't hit water from a boat, it can't even find the boat...or the water. And the finger of responsibility for the wreck that JFNA is points to the CEO, to the tiny cabal of lay leaders who see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, and to federation lay and professional leaders likewise. For it's JFNA and federation leaders who have kept Jerry Silverman at the wheel unfettered by things like, um, accountability as Jerry continues to steer the ship directly into the abyss while the cabal applauds his fine misdirection.

Friends, we are what we repeatedly do and at JFNA what our leaders have done over and over is to ignore the reality of where JFNA is and who has led it there. Winston Churchill once said of the United States: "...bear with us, once we have exhausted all possible alternatives, we will do the right thing." Well, applied to JFNA's leadership, Churchill was wrong, very, very wrong -- to them, to us, we don't even bother to examine alternatives at all. Everything's just great.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017


In response to my Post on a possible JFNA Dues uprising one of you wrote:
"Richard, is the recommended action for Federations to act by saying "enough" and cutting back on dues support in an expression of discontent/dissatisfaction or complying and muddling through? It seems as if you are advocating both.....which is it? And, do your follow community leaders in Chicago feel satisfied with JFNA? Is your own community the problem or the answer? If what you say is correct (and I think it is) that change will not come from JFNA ranks, how do you propose our system moves beyond this point? Interested in your thoughts."  
These are questions filled with implications; questions which, of course, I have asked myself more than once. Thanks for asking; I am inadequate to the task of answering them. But I will try...

Many of you have written to assert that non-payment of Dues is today the only means by which federations can express objection to the manner in which JFNA is being run into the ground. Others of you have told me that quiet, private and direct discussions with JFNA's Board Chair are far more effective in achieving change than my continuing public "shaming" and screed -- though they will admit that they cannot point to a single change they have accomplished in their polite, quiet ways. 

Friends, so long as the negative "leverage" that JFNA has for Dues non- or partial payment remains in place -- the denial of participation in JFNA constituencies, training, etc. -- there appears to be no path that a federation can travel to both object to JFNA's policies (or lack thereof), to JFNA's waste, etc. It's just too difficult to contemplate. Of course there are no positive benefits that JFNA in its current configuration can point to to retain engagement and generate any passion whatsoever. The result is the growing resentment and disengagement between JFNA and its owners, the latter stuck in stasis with nowhere to turn.

And, sure, my own community and yours are "stuck." But, "stuck" for reasons beyond the negative implications of a failure or refusal to pay Dues in whole or in part. I'm proud that leaders from Chicago have played and play important roles in JFNA -- today Past Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago Chairs serve as the Chair of the JFNA-Israel and Overseas Department, the Chair of the Israel Action Network and as titular JFNA corporate officers and, of course, Steve Nasatir, is the Dean of Federation CEOs. That leadership scenario plays out as well across a spectrum of federations -- New York, Cleveland and Los Angeles, to name just three -- whose leaders know exactly how dramatically JFNA has failed and continues to do so, but are unwilling to demand change, publicly or privately. (I believe that they are able to do so; just unwilling.)

Those among the JFNA lay leadership who should (and do) know better must fear that their criticism might cast them out to the farthest points on the Sandler/Silverman "circle of trust" and cost them both access and, for those who aspire to it, the chance of gaining higher office. Under this "leadership," JFNA has become about "them," not about fiduciary duty or the federations. But outside this tiny sample, this small cabal, are the many who see failure and waste for what they are -- I know that's the case because you have told me so, on these pages and offline. 

For what has evolved at JFNA is a very strange symbiosis between CEO and the chief lay officer -- one that has served the CEO so well and the organization so poorly. Rather than an objective evaluation, measuring performance by goals and objectives, any evaluation of this CEO is wholly subjective. (And this is the case because Silverman has wisely not set forth any annual goals capable of measurement and accountability [and, "visited 50 federations" doesn't count]). But, given a Board Chair who has made clear that his vision of the lay-professional partnership is "get out of the professionals way and let them do their job," one should be able to assume that even a subjective evaluation would be based on how the CEO actually "does his job." Doesn't it? OK, you're right, probably not.

The evidence of JFNA failure is so rife one has to believe that even the most reluctant organizational leader would say "Enough. This has to stop. Now." That just hasn't happened. Now it's time for that ephemeral silent majority to stand up and demand change...not lip service, change.

Anyone expecting Jerry Silverman to, in the jargon of the day, "pivot" into a leader capable not only of changing himself but of leading JFNA through change, is barking up the wrong tree. That moment has passed, if it ever existed. If that was the compelling argument for extending Jerry's contract after the first 5 years of abysmal failure, it doesn't work any longer.

Past time.


Monday, June 26, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Richard Sandler
Chair, Board of Trustees, JFNA"

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, June 25, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, June 23, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, June 20, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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



Saturday, June 17, 2017


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

Read more:
Relevant to JFNA? I think so.

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

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

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

"No hope." 

Keep on sucking.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like that's going to happen.


Sunday, June 11, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond embarrassment. Haven't we had enough?"