Thursday, June 8, 2017


There is an ancient Basque saying: "We are because we were." No doubt there is a parallel Yiddish phrase expressing the same mantra. At JFNA, however, the Basque message has been reinterpreted to be: "We are because we are." The organization into which the federations -- that is the donors to our communities -- pour $30 million per year in Dues without any expectation that they will receive anything at all in return exists because...well, just because.

It is hard -- not impossible but damn hard -- to conjure any Jewish organization more shambolic than is our JFNA. And, unless it might be a one person show, like, e.g., the ZOA or the IFCJ, it is almost impossible to find a Jewish public non-profit so in need of hands'-on direction from its officers and Board than JFNA -- and getting none. As the JFNA ship continues to sink, Richard Sandler and his happy band are saying: "What a beautiful day for a swim." 

Friends, it's truly hard to believe. 

I never knew what the bonobo is until Frank Bruni employed it in a recent column -- it is a species, the perfect synonym for JFNA: "endangered, possibly on the way to extinction." JFNA is the institutional bonobo. And that's not a good thing. Not at $30 million a year; not at $10 million a year; 

We have seen interesting kinds of JFNA lay leaders of late --  those like Michael Siegal and Richard Sandler, great, kind guys, embodiments of Jewish values and integrity, warm and often funny; one a wonderful philanthropist perfectly willing to be parachuted into the chairmanship of complex organizations that he then attempts to fully understand; the other, drafted into the position and immediately announcing his intent to "get out of the (chief professional's) way" clearly without regard for that CEO's demonstrated inability to lead. An "intent" apparently fully realized.

And, I admit to being confused. Seriously, what purpose(s) does JFNA now serve other than to sop up like a dry sponge the annual Dues from Federations still willing to pay for almost nothing in return? Critical matters for which the predecessor organizations stood -- professional development and placement, meaningful Financial Resource Development, serious advocacy for the legacy overseas partners, a robust (I know) Missions program with an Israel orientation, meaningful, packed General Assemblies, financial support for the system's national agencies, significant special campaigns, serious community planning and consulting and more -- all gone or "delegated away," or diminished to the point of fading or faded away. 

The core programs that have disappeared haven't been replaced with something better; leadership pretends that they never existed at all. And that has been made easier by leadership's dedication to and success in erasing all institutional memory; if no one can remember, did it even exist? 

So leadership just hates being reminded of what was expected of JFNA at its creation and how far short its leaders have fallen in meeting the goals and purposes expected of it it and them. Oh, they hate it so much that those who might try to remind them of those institutional values are accused of questioning their "integrity" when that has never been the case.  Friends, it is not the lay leadership that lacks "integrity," that leadership, instead, lacks the will to lead because real leadership is tough, and hard decisions have to be made and hard decisions take time and strength and they are unwilling to make them. So they now call meetings with community leaders about mission, program and priorities when the top professional leader is incapable of implementing any of those.

So, it seems to me that it's long, long past time for JFNA lay leaders to sit together and discuss in candor where JFNA is...and where it isn't. And, then, do something about it.

They won't.



Anonymous said...

Richard, of course the lay leadership, each and every board member, will not do a thing.
They just had their most recent board meetings and you can bet that everyone went back to their local federation, beaming at the accomplishments of JFNA, for which they are the stewards.
It is hard to believe that these people can wake up and look themselves in the mirror; but they do, every day of the year.

Anonymous said...

מיר זענען ווייַל מיר זענען געווען

mir zenen vayl mir zenen geven

From the Basquer Rebbe

RWEX said...

To the Basquer Rebbe -- thanks...I think.

Anonymous said...

Everybody is looking for someone else to stand tall while continue to dump millions into the JFNA pit. I remember the day when so many decried the allocations to JAFI as being thrown into a black hole and that may still be true but today there is no hole blacker than JFNA. How many Board members actually read the Budget before they voted on it? How many can really be proud of an organization without lay or professional leadership, without accountability? We keep going from bad to worse,

Anonymous said...

Do the leaders of this horrible wasteful Circus ever even consider anything you've written? I'm guessing they don't even understand how bad things are or, if they do, they are afraid to act at all. That they continue to waste donor $$ is an indication of all of us

Anonymous said...

Isn't it about time that the large city federation leadership - especially New York - just pull out of this morass of wasteful and wasted spending?

How can a Federation like New York remotely defend the $6 million annually it wastes on this ridiculous and bumbling bureacracy?

Why isn't JFNA funding just another increment to the already too large administrative overhead? After all, how can NY with its already large office in Israel possibly justify funding JFNA?

Actually, I think someone should file a friends of the IRS brief that all JFNA funding nationally should be so labeled as wasteful administrative overhead.

How can anyone continue to allow their Federations to support this bloated, useless and inefficient organization after the litany of issues you describe week after week?

Anonymous said...

Kudos to anon 7:34

This is the key issue that everyone should bring up at the June 13 UJA-Federation Board Meeting when we are asked to rubber stamp the new $140 mill Fiscal 2018 budget.

There are so many wasteful projects that we support. Shouldn't we start with JFNA?

Eric Goldstein, I know you didn't ask for this task, but either reform JFNA or abandon it entirely!

Why is Judy Samuels execution squad going after JAFI and JDC in light of our many local scandals. Why isn't she starting with JFNA as the number one priority?

And, then, you can go after the other massively wasteful agencies in the network.

Who says that JFNA won't go the way of FEGS, Met Council and NYLAG?

Anonymous said...

I join my NY-UJA colleagues in questioning why we continue to support JFNA at unconscionable levels. Has our federation been coopted by Jodi Schwartz's service as that organization's Budget Chair? Has Dr. Judith Samuels, the Managing Director for the Impact and Performance Assessment department at Federation, been directed to "lay-off" JFNA for some reason? Because, Richard, for all of the reasons you have iterated so often, JFNA has had neither "Impact" nor "Performance" while we continue to pour $5-$6 million a year into this black hole.

Anonymous said...

To my colleague at 8:55:

I thought JFNA has been protected by Suzy and Jeffrey Stern, and their pal and new Pres Jeff Schoenfeld, who absolutely hates international allocations and loves the domestic kind. And what could be more domestic than putting $6 million into a sink hole in lower Broadway.

Meanwhile, we await the IPAD hatchet job breathlessly as some functionary will undoubtedly leak it in pursuit of another ridiculous UJA goal, the promotion of JAFI and denegration of JDC.

Maybe Richard should start focusing his work on UJA-Federation as well as JFNA?

Anonymous said...

It seems that Richard should repeat his four key points from a prior blog entry in each new one;

"The glaringly obvious presumptions of this "conversation" seem to include:

We cannot be both an organization focused on the federations and a "national/international voice for the federation" at one and the same time because of budget constraints;
That JFNA has "purpose(s)"
That JFNA has "goals;"
That JFNA has "key businesses" that have to be curtailed due to limits imposed by its annual Dues budget."

Given all this, and given the limited set of value derived, why should any Federation fund JFNA?

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Anon 9:57 for the ultimate question: "...why should any Federation fund JFNA?" Eric Goldstein is too smart not to recognize that JFNA offers NY-UJA almost nothing of value. Clearly there are those Large City Execs whispering in his ear that if NYC demands a return on investment and pulls all of its JFNA Dues or a significant portion thereof "you will be responsible for JFNA's death" or something like that. What they are really saying is: "If NY-UJA reduces its Dues or refuses to pay," these same Large City Execs will come under pressure from their own communal leadership -- God forbids that they take the first steps toward reform.

It is equally likely that a Jodi Schwartz is telling Eric: "It will embarrass me." This possibility is chilling.

It's time for the Large Cities to join together and demand change from the top down or we will withdraw.

RWEX said...

I am reminded of as moment in time...I was serving with a group of Council of Jewish Federation leaders on the CJF Budget Committee. We had deliberated long and hard, for hours longer than JFNA has the past decade, to come up with a flat budget of, as I recall, $7 Million....$7,000,000. We were just diminished congratulating each other (!!) when Steve Solender, then NY-UJA CEO, marched into the room with three or four of his lay leaders. "This Budget is unacceptable; our Donors won't accept it," he said. "If it's not cut by $1 million, we won't pay Dues." There was no debating with NY-UJA; we cut the Budget. At the time NY-UJA's Dues were about $650,000.

Would that happen today? Apparently not. Not because NY-UJA leaders shouldn't assert themselves.

Anonymous said...

I am quite impressed by what I have read above.

Is there someone (or collection of readers) who will make sure that the entire UJA-Federation of New York Board reads the exchange above and be served with a representative collection of Richard's blog entries before their board meeting to approve their annual budget on June 13?

Shouldn't we suggest that Eric Goldstein provide such a service so that there can be true informed consent and strong corporate governance observed when discussing the JFNA allocation?

Perhaps interested readers should reach out to all their friends on the UJA board and ask them to review these pages before they vote (rubber stamp) their budget.

And perhaps they can write to Eric Goldstein ( and urge him to bring these conversations to the attention of his board members. Or perhaps Anna Rachmansky who runs board relations and ask her to disseminate all of these blog entries.

Shouldn't the UJA board, and not it's appointed elite, decide on the impact, performance and benefit of JFNA?