Sunday, July 23, 2017

KOSHER? ... AND OTHER QUESTIONS

1. The Forward recently headlined a dispute arising out of NY's 92nd Street Y promising a "kosher style" dinner at its Gala. This fired up an apparently famous New York Kosher caterer, Rabbi Sholtiel Lebovic. Lebovic, who claims to hold the “world record for Koshering more kitchens than any single individual since the world was created,” demanded that the Y to hire a kosher caterer for the gala. "“A phone call to the right kosher caterer has to be made to set this right and have a truly kosher event,” he stated. If we learn the outcome we will report. 

In the meantime, a FOB sent me a photo of a gorgeous plate of shrimp apparently served at UJA-New York Federation's Gracie Mansion event.

Confused?

2. The Board of Trustees at Northern Illinois University forced the resignation of its President and CEO this month for mismanaging the hiring of consultants. I'm just sayin'.

3. Haaretz published an article a couple of months ago on the work of the indefatigable fund raiser and firm believer in the maxim "I don't care what they publish about me as long as they publish about me," Yechiel Eckstein. The article's title is perfect: Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein Raises Millions for Israel's Poor. And Don't You Forget it. The story deserves to be read in its entirety and you can do so at: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/business/1.783427 I have tremendous respect for Yechiel's prodigious resource development skills, so much so that I asked him to join the now dormant Project HEART (Holocaust Era Asset Restitution Task Force) three years ago with all of the known baggage. Yechiel turned me down.

The Haaretz article and all I know about Yechiel dating back to his days in Chicago right through the fiasco with the Jewish Agency, reminded me of a story:
An older lady was sitting in the window seat in the first class cabin on a plane from New York.  The man who was assigned the aisle seat next to her noticed her diamond solitaire ring – the diamond was the biggest he’d ever seen, more like a rock than a gem, and he knew enough about diamonds to know this one was real and looked flawless.  He couldn’t keep his eyes off of it. 
After the flight was well underway, she noticed his gaze and helped him out, “I see you’re looking at my diamond." 
"Yes,” he admitted, “I couldn’t help myself.  It is the most stunning diamond I’ve ever seen.”
“Young man, this is the Kaplan Diamond." 
He responded, "The Kaplan Diamond?  You mean it has a name?" 
"Oh yes.  And the Kaplan Diamond comes with a curse." 
The man was impressed.  "My goodness, that’s very interesting. A diamond with a name which has a curse attached to it! Please, if you don’t mind telling me, what is the curse?" 
The old lady smiled and said, "Mr. Kaplan."
Now that the International Fellowship (aka "Eckstein") has burned its bridges sequentially with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the United Jewish Appeal, Keren Ha'Yesod, the Jewish Agency and probably a few more, JDC now has the "Kaplan Diamond" in its possession. One word of advice: enjoy it while you can.

4. And then there is the "always good for a laugh (or cry)" FedCentral. What follows is a single paragraph from the June 21 "edition:"
"JFNA and the Israel Action Network work to bring young Jews, and young Americans of all kinds, closer to Israel. As federal and local governments are stepping away from issues, big-name philanthropists are increasingly stepping in to the tune of an estimated $20 trillion over the next 50 years."
Just a couple of issues:

  • NEITHER JFNA nor the IAN is working to "bring young Jews, and young Americans of all kinds (I don't write this stuff folks, I just reprint it) closer to Israel." As I have often written, I love the potential of the IAN underfunded as it is and as it has been by JFNA, but here's what it is committed to doing: "IAN’s mission is to build a strong base of support for Israel and counter delegitimization in the context of two states for two peoples."  III"

 JFNA so constantly engages in "mission inflation;" it just cannot help itself. (Were the IAN actually doing as JFNA states it and IAN are doing, JFNA would still be doing nothing.)

  • Then, there is the total lack of connection between sentence 1 (that "JFNA and the Israel Action Network..." sentence and sentence 2. Maybe JFNA is just checking to see if we are actually reading this thing.
5. And Now...This. If you can count on FedWorld for narishkeit and low comedy, periodically you can rely upon that epic example of JFNA's abdication of relevance, FedCentral, for telling examples of "where did we go wrong." For but one example (names withheld to protect...): 
"Would anyone be willing to share agendas for their board meetings? Specifically for the young adults. I'd like to revise ours to be more strategic. Email me at... "
Rendered speechless.

Rwexler

Thursday, July 20, 2017

"UNFATHOMABLE PINHEADERY"

I think that this title -- copped from Fargo 2017 -- is the best possible descriptor for JFNA 2017.

A Friend of the Blog sent me the following:
"Iron Law of Institutions. The Iron Law of Institutions is: the people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution "fail" while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to "succeed" if that requires them to lose power within the institution."
And, here we are: Law applied.  I wish there were another explanation for the shit-show of JFNA 2017 where down is up, failure is success and black is white. Now, within the Law as applied and as detailed below I would exclude Board Chair Richard Sandler and past Chair of the Executive Dede Feinberg -- I know they care first and foremost about the institution they were elected to serve, and surely there are others who do so as well. But as an outsider observing an institution I have known well, the "golden ring" of "power for power's" sake has influenced too, too many...and JFNA and the federations are the losers. 

In our communities and at JFNA I watch as in too many places generous women and men have bought their way to organizational power in a wholly transparent manner (they don't hide it) and they have been permitted to do so; for, if power weren't bestowed upon these generous but acquisitive men and women, they will take their charitable dollars and the power of their gifts to another charity that will reward them immediately with no more than a snap of their fingers. For so many of these folks it's just notches on their personal leadership totem poles; their personal agendas become the agendas of the institution they were elected to lead; agendas often hidden from view on their way to "the top," and, in the case of JFNA, too often far, far away from the needs of the members which support it. 

I can think of no other explanation for how, in so many ways including in the past and, potentially in the future, JFNA leaders can possibly demonstrate so little interest in "leading." There is such a leadership void at JFNA that a succession of superbly credentialed federation leaders aspire to high office, and having gained it...nothing. Over the past 8 years, approaching the 9th, these leaders have kept Jerry Silverman at the wheel unfettered by things like, you know, accountability as he continues to steer the ship directly into the abyss. Perhaps the most infelicitous CEO of any Jewish organization, Jerry is propped up by a debased laity and a group of federation CEOs who know better but care not.

As one of you recently observed:
"...it all goes back to Lay Leadership, and they have just walked away.
What gets me is that for some reason these local federation leaders either are clueless to the folly at 25 Broadway, or they are aware, but for some reason they see something good in being involved with an organization so devoid of purpose.
I don't know which is worse.
'
They are not "clueless" -- at least that would be an excuse of sorts.

And so let us end as we began, with a quote from Fargo 2017:“You think the world is something and then it turns out to be something else.” And that is exactly where JFNA is now "something else"...somewhere else...but not the place that those of us who led this merger intended it to be, not close. No, "unfathomable pinheadery" has gotten us to this wretched place -- where an organization with the promise of greatness has sunk into a hole of its own making, devoid of vision or purpose. 

And never is heard a discouraging word; and the skies are not cloudy all day.

Rwexler

Monday, July 17, 2017

HOW NOT TO EFFECT CHANGE

I find myself in kind of a daily jaw-dropping condition -- not jaw-dropping in awe, however --  it's a condition arising out of the daily shock of reality that there is no one in the ever-tightening JFNA lay leadership "circle of trust" willing to confront that change will only occur if and when, well, when change actually occurs.

I, of course, have been instructed for years, really beginning long before this Blog began, to in other words, of course, "just shut up." "Go sit in the corner, be quiet and don't say a word." I have been told by one Board Chair to stop offering my help to the organization. And, the same message has been delivered in other words, of course, to so may lay and professional leaders across the Continent.

I have been told by friends, leaders I respect, to, among other things, "resign from the JFNA Board" (I hold nothing more than a non-voting Honorary Board seat) and that "it's more effective to express any criticism more gently and always privately." And, with a certain regularity, I have been told "stop this Blog." This is the same message, though less direct, that anyone who questions the non-/mal-/misfeasance of the JFNA leadership cabal hears.

Those in JFNA leadership may not understand what their attempts at intimidation breed: not just alienation but disengagement. This is the kind of disengagement that in fully evidenced in the decline of lay leader attendance at Board meetings, Retreats and General Assemblies. But, instead of any introspection, the JFNA pro and lay cabal choose to continuously pat themselves on the back and proceed forward sideways.

And, the lay leader side of the equation is made up of those who, in the largest measure, are exemplars of local federation leaders. (I am amazed [not in a good way] that JFNA would possibly consider for its next Board Chair one who has never chaired a local federation.) Yet, when elevated to the Continental JFNA Board and, especially, that tightly wound "circle of trust," they seem to have left all that they have experienced and led locally behind, becoming but part of the flock of sheep following without question down paths that they know lead nowhere.

In the first years post-merger, the continental lay leadership and federation professional leadership came to a common conclusion that JFNA required a new CEO. And those leaders imposed their will on the system to assure both a soft landing for the CEO being succeeded and that one of the best and brightest of federation CEOs would step in in a seamless manner. In that instance the Board Chair and the Chair of the Executive understood what had to be done...and they did it. Today that same consensus has existed for years dating back to the end of Jerry's first contract, yet, the then Board Chair allowed himself to be held captive to the caprice of an even smaller cabal than exists today and an inability to identify a successor who might hit the ground running. And, now, with maybe 18 months left on Silverman's second "term," knowing that JFNA has moved from stasis to catastrophe under this CEO, JFNA's lay leadership are frozen as if in amber.

What has this so-called "leadership" wrought through its non-/mal-/mis-feasance? Here are some real issues for the communities: 

  • the National Agencies -- all of them -- once the beneficiaries of a National Agencies Funding Pool of significant size, are now approaching the federations for direct funding. JFNA, rather than encouraging the participation of more communities and greater funding from the extant members, presided over the "theft" from that Pool of hundreds of thousands of dollars for its own Budget. The Alliance is now collapsing, New York UJA-Federation is pulling its outsized funding and, when it does so in the next Fiscal Year, a funding vehicle that had worked for over three decades will be dead and buried.
  • JAFI/JDC/WorldORT have not sat by while JFNA presided over the diminution of core budget funding to its lowest levels ever. These three legacy "partners" have grown their financial resource development and are in our communities seeking major gifts while JFNA has spent two years "jump-starting" an Envoys program in which the federations seem uninterested.
  • The Israel Action Network -- a "partnership" between JFNA and JCPA -- was originally to be fully funded from the JFNA Budget and stag=ffed by JCPA. The agreement to do so collapsed as JFNA "couldn't afford" to meet its full funding responsibilities. JFNA has now effectively cut the IAN loose to raise its own resources from the communities. So, IAN representatives will soon be visiting your community to raise funds.
  • The Secure Community Network -- likewise; and
  • On and on into the abyss.
JFNA's answer is of course, "it's the Federations fault."

This catastrophe has to end.

Rwexler


Friday, July 14, 2017

PERSPECTIVE

A correspondent with the handle Jproactivists wrote us in response to our recent Post In the Land of the Blind...
"JFNA-UJC had as its public goal in 2000 to raise the campaign levels and thus raise the overseas allocations as well. The efforts toward this goal are an utter failure. It is time ... as others have said for lay leaders to decide to stop funding JFNA until there is ageement on purpose.

The combined UJA/CJF/UIA budgets were $52M. Today UIA has the same budget as (it did in) 2000 more or less which at a cost to JFNA of about half or less than $700,000; UIA still produces millions in real income. The UJA budget was about $30 million...funded not out of dues but from the overseas funding streams; UJA produced or helped produce millions annually in real campaign dollars. CJF had dues for its support as a consulting and convening body for and owned by federations. It did professional placement (gone under JFNA); shared leadership development with UJA (now a weak shadow of what it once was) and provided a great resource in its planning department to federations(gone under JFNA).

UJA will not be resurrected: UIA continues to provide a real service. JFNA needs to recalibrate as a service arm to federations with the Washington office, a...research and planning team, a rabbinic and leadership cabinet worth having, a serious placement effort, the Network and, perhaps, scan. Were JFNA well run the budget would be (far) less and the value of JFNA improved.

P.S., the JFNA-Israel operation is almost entirely unnecessary and a huge drain for no gain." 
"[A] huge drain for no gain" -- let every federation leader reading this Blog understand that truth. And fully understand how far off the path this JFNA has been driven by a tiny cabal, a "circle of trust." As our correspondent has noted, today and for the past few years, JFNA's operating Budget, Dues and other revenue, now exceeds...exceeds...the combined budgets of the legacy organizations at the time of merger. And JFNA qua JFNA, unlike UJA, generates no income...not for the overseas beneficiaries and not for the federations.

So, all we have at 25 Broadway is a shell of once was, today an organization that knows not how to produce revenue, not how to manage the revenues that pour into it and not how to spend the tens of millions that are provided to it according to its own Budget. This JFNA, whose leaders for so long complained that the millions allocated to the federations' overseas partners disappeared into a black hole, has become the ultimate black hole itself.  

And JFNA's leaders make no pretense about how meaningless its Budget really is. That document speaks, more than once, to the constant "need" to always be "...sharpening our focus on our core mission and aligning our resources and budget with that mission." And that promise of constant "alignment" is nothing more than a fiction that has been and will be used to rationalize budgetary changes with no further governance action required -- or so these leaders believe.

The conclusions and suggestions from Jproactivists are (or should be) self-evident.The recommendations are not exhaustive but they would be, in the vernacular, "a good start" were they even considered by the cabal running the JFNA shit-show. 

But, they make too much good sense to ever be discussed let alone considered. And that's the pity of it all.

Rwexler


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

NAILS IN THE COFFIN

When I served as National Campaign Chair of the United Jewish Appeal, thanks to a spectacularly creative professional staff, we created the Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission which became a seminal annual achievement of UJA and the federations. It should still be so; it isn't. 

Now, what was then is no more...and no separate General Campaign Chair and professionals, no separate Women's Campaign Chair and professionals and none of them nor the incredible Federation campaign directors who were with us will ever forget the excitement, the passion, the learning and the Caucuses. I still hear from so many of you with whom I shared those experiences. 

Today, some chachams have essentially rebranded the "CC/CD" Mission into something called a "FRD Leadership Mission" (a "come one-come all" thing) to the Ukraine and Israel. Here is how JFNA described the participation and purpose:
"The FRD Leadership Mission brings together the top leaders from across the fundraising ​spectrum—Campaign, Planned Giving, National Women’s Philanthropy and Supplemental Giving. At the core of Federation is a belief in the power of partnership. That’s why this unique mission is only open to Federation leaders willing to come with their volunteer and professional partner."
Then, days later, another Mission leaves, this one the, wait for it, "Campaigners Mission" 
just to Israel. And JFNA describes it thusly:
"Give us six days and we’ll give you a mission you’ll never forget. This is the worker-training mission for lay and professional campaigners and face-to-face solicitors who want to deepen their connection to the Federation story."
I'm betting that at points on these Missions, Senior Consultant Vicki Agron will present and at other points Consultant Rae Ringel will present and, I'm just guessing, Jerry will show up. Should be great.

To further confuse the participants, it appears that these Missions conjoin in Israel. Now, why take something that was working with incredible response and screw with it? It's JFNA, my friends, that's what they do.

So give JFNA credit for doing something, anything.

Now, a contest. That FRD Leadership Mission had, according to the inimitable FedWorld, "[N]early 100 participants" from 32 communities. Assuming each community sent a professional, and that the overseas partners and JFNA, of course, sent a professional contingent and a few consultants and, perhaps, a lay leader or two: send me your estimate, on-line or off-line, of the number of non-JFNA fund raising lay leaders you think participated on this Mission. I will hold your responses (so as not to influence your own estimate) and publish them one week from today. 

One thing is for sure: the turnout was disgraceful -- just like everything JFNA touches

Rwexler

Saturday, July 8, 2017

THE JFNA BUDGET FARCE -- 2017-2018

If you were to closely examine the JFNA 2017-2018 Budget, approved in rubber stamp fashion last month, I think that you would, as did I, find it continuously infuriating. There are many reasons for this some of which you will find below. 


  • After a decade of Budgets under the Silverman "regime," if there is accountability and measurement, I challenge you, or anybody, to find it;
  • For this fiscal year there is something called "Budget by Priority" and, yet, "[I]n order to make this process manageable within our accounting system we did not break every program budget into all of the priority areas that they touch." In other words WHAT???
  • So, "Budget by Priority" is expressed as something "new" even though it can't be presented to you as to what it means. Last year we wrote: "Last year the Budget was expressed in terms of Priority Program Goals ostensibly to answer the questions: 'where can JFNA have the greatest impact for Federations and which programs can only a national system deliver?'" In other words, in this year's Budget old is presented as new and both old and new are presented in such a way as to be beyond measurement or accountability.
  • This year, as last, we are to be assured that "[T]hroughout the year JFNA will continue to evaluate its programs to adjust or shed those that aren't being utilized utilized adequately, or which don't represent areas where the national system can add unique or significant value to the federations." In other words, "trust us" from an organization that has yet to earn our trust. This is Budget as Farce.
  • Speaking of farce: JFNA's revenues still presume 100% payment of Dues and, among other things, revenue from the Network of $1,765,000 or 35% of its funds raised. Egregious? You think so?
  • Further, the Israel Action Network is considered one of JFNA's highest priorities by both JFNA's lip service to it and by the IAN leadership. Yet, JFNA is increasing its grants from the IAN this year of $889,000 and apparently expects the IAN to fund raise hard within the federations for the increased support it deserves while cutting JFNA's financial support of the IAN. 
  • And, while the still start-up JFNA Jewish Education and Engagement Unit which JFNA has "funded" by stealing hundreds of thousands from the National Agencies-Federations Alliance Funding Pool -- $819,000 last year alone -- with that Funding Pool significantly depleted, JFNA will only be able to glom onto $603,000 this fiscal year. And....not a word of protest from the Alliance leadership. It's no wonder that the Alliance has experienced more and more federations dropping out.
  • Internal fund raising at JFNA, a responsibility of CEO Silverman (although there is the possibility that that has been the responsibility of the Sr. Vice-President for Institutional Advancement, Beth Mann), has been an annual debacle. It's secreted away under the rubric "Institutional Advancement." Last year that failed FRD in 2015-2016 caused the Budget for this thing to be reduced by, as I  recall $450,000 for 2016-2017. Well, friends, whoever was responsible failed again, failing to come close to this reduced Budgeted amount by $250,000 and, so, the budget for this fiscal year has been reduced to reflect that diminished amount. Now, I understand that JFNA has hired a full-time FRD professional just to raise money for JFNA's Budget. So, Jerry Silverman, whose job was halved by the hiring of a COO, now, apparently, unless the failing is Beth Mann's (see above) has failed so badly in one of his few remaining responsibilities that the organization will hire a full time staffer to fulfill that one. (This at a time when the FRD Department is operating with a group of part-time consultants, in part because JFNA cannot "afford" full-time FRD professionals.) How does JFNA's leadership cabal tolerate this? I guess by cutting the GA Budget; it's always fail and declare victory. 
Perhaps, this was the goal all along: the leaders of JFNA have constructed a Budget that is impenetrable. Congratulations to one and all. I guess that's an accomplishment.

Isn't it?

Rwexler

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

CHALLENGES

The CEO of the Columbus Ohio federation recently announced his decision to leave the position and that community's lay leadership extolled a small number of accomplishments. 

Those Columbus lay leaders described the challenges the communal leadership now faced:
"...we recognize that change can be hard. But, it can be exciting, too.  We believe the Federation is at a crossroads and a leadership change presents the opportunity for bold action. We are concerned about our current model and recognize that in today's climate, collaboration with our partner agencies and the Columbus Jewish Foundation is critical. It is our goal to explore all options to position Federation for decades to come. As always, we welcome your input and feedback. Your support has sustained the Jewish Federation of Columbus for years, and we are counting on it now."
Here were communal leaders stepping up to the challenges and opportunities offered by professional "leadership change." They hadn't shied away from hard choices; and, now, they were unafraid of confronting the future and embracing the challenges. Yes, in this case the professional leader appears to have left behind some progress and accomplishments but compare this excellent description of what can be achieved through a galvanized leadership commitment to build something better to the stasis JFNA's leaders have endorsed by their total refusal to face facts; their refusal to even consider that, in the midst of an almost total (JFNA-Washington excluded) organizational collapse, change at the most senior professional level is the basic starting point for change.

Compare and contrast...

Yes, please, compare and contrast the difference between a local federation leadership demanding of themselves change and facing up to the challenges while the JFNA leadership is refusing and has refused to even acknowledge the reality that drastic change is needed and has been needed while they blind themselves to that reality 24/7.

And, why is that? As Columbus' leaders know, change is hard but also vital; at JFNA leaders just cannot stand the thought of "hard." Proof, debate is stifled and those lay leaders who raise questions well know that they risk a shunning (a stealth shunning to be sure, unaccompanied by written blacklist but a shunning nonetheless). One has to be strong to be willing to be shunned by the group he/she so desires to be part of; but, trust me, as Groucho Marx almost said: "sometimes it's best not to join with leadership of an organization without purpose or mission even if they would have me."

And, while I congratulate Columbus' leaders for their willingness to take on the challenges of change in Columbus, where are those same leaders and those of my federation and yours -- those leaders who are willing to leave it to others when it comes to the $52 million waste that is JFNA. And, what we have determined is simple: there are no"others" at all.

...none at all.

Rwexler

Monday, July 3, 2017

WHERE TO TURN

Debate is raging about the best approach, if any, to the Prime Minister's actions or failure to act with regard to the breach of agreement implementing an egalitarian prayer space at (or near) the Kotel and the Cabinet's approval of an Ultra-Orthodox move to amend the Law Of Return. Do we take the position of Minister of the Diaspora Naftali Bennett or in the screed of Caroline Glick asking "what's all the fuss about? Nothing's changed." Or do we react as did a Miami Federation leader and "major contributor" who "suspended" his purchase of Israel Bonds and contributions to Federation in reaction to Netanyahu's actions; or as the new Chair of the Jewish Agency Board who called for a reevaluation of the JAFI/GOI "relationship;" or as the dean of federation execs who asserted that any Knesset members voting for the Conversion Bill would no longer be welcome in his community? 

I would suggest that the analysis provided by commentator Jonathan Tobin,https://www.algemeiner.com/2017/07/03/why-netanyahu-did-it-the-brutal-truth-on-israel-and-the-diaspora/, represents the most incisive. But of all of the observations, I found most relevant that of Nachman Shai, Knesset member, former Director General of the JFNA Israel Office, when it actual provided a service to our federation, who wrote in The Jerusalem Post:


SAY IT IN HEBREW, SAY IT IN ‘POLITICAL SPEAK’

BY

 JUNE 29, 2017 22:25

In politics, everyone talks in “political speak.” I expect that a storm will erupt if future discourse is carried out in this tone.





American Jews
An American Jew wearing a kippa embroidered with the US and Israeli flags attends a Hanukka reception at the White House last year. (photo credit:REUTERS)
There is no more accurate barometer with which to measure Israel-US relations than AIPAC. This veteran pro-Israel lobby, which is so skilled and influential in American politics, immediately felt that the Israeli cabinet decisions taken earlier this week were tantamount to an earthquake, and could upend the Israel-US Jewish community/US Congress relationship.

AIPAC leaders rushed to Israel on Wednesday night for a round of meetings in an effort to put an end to the avalanche.
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On Tuesday night, the members of the Jewish Agency for Israel's Board of Governors all left Israel. They dispersed quietly following 48 hours of stormy deliberations – perhaps the stormiest the veteran organization has ever experienced, since they touched on the most sensitive topic: the relationship between Israel and world Jewry.

The drama that developed following the government decisions regarding the Kotel and conversions came to a head at the board meeting, and pushed this conflict, which poses a real challenge for this relationship, up out of the shadows and into the sunlight. We cannot run away from these issues any longer.


The government's decisions, which had been taken two days earlier and had come as a strange and ill timed surprise, were shocking news for Jewish Agency officials, most of whom live outside of Israel. World Jewry is very sensitive about both the Kotel and conversion issues, and has been heavily involved in negotiations with the government. In fact, some of the matters have already reached the Supreme Court.

It's inconceivable that these decisions were made quickly and secretly without first informing the Jewish Agency or the Jewish world at large. The Board of Governors’ angry reaction, the cancellation of the dinner with the prime minister, and the public campaign in the media in protest of these decisions, were the last thing the prime minister needed these days.

All the parties in the government coalition are squeezing Benjamin Netanyahu in an effort to extract as much juice as they can, and the volume keeps growing. Coalition crises are a daily occurrence, but this time Diaspora Jews were the ones who ended up paying the price for the coalition to remain intact and survive. Generally, the leaders of world Jewry ignore internal Knesset squabbles. They usually say – and justifiably so – that any democratically elected Israeli government is acceptable to them. But it is okay, and even desirable, that world Jewry be invited to voice its disagreement with certain decisions.

The sentiments that were expressed by world Jewry leaders, by the way, were unprecedented in their intensity. One suggested that they reevaluate their relationship with the government, while another proposed a full boycott and the cutting off all monetary contributions to Israel. Israeli consulates in the US were inundated with angry reactions, and the Foreign Ministry tried, in vain, to minimize the damage. From meetings I held with Jewish leaders – especially the fascinating discussion with the Knesset Caucus for US-Israeli Relations, which I head, and which 25 MKs from a number of political parties attended, it became clear just how disastrous the cabinet decisions had been.

Even the MKs from the coalition were having a hard time accepting the government decisions. The guests from abroad, including the heads of the Reform and Conservative movements, did not try to hide their anger and frustration. Regarding the Kotel controversy, for example, they had already compromised by agreeing to the earlier cabinet decision, and then Israel threw the agreement away. Regarding the conversion controversy, a compromise had finally been reached that was acceptable to world Jewry, but then the government reneged on that promise, too.

Israel takes Diaspora Jews for granted. They are expected to be supportive at all times and during every crisis. They are involved in our decisions every single day of the year, and Israelis are confident that Diaspora Jews will always have our back and be at the ready to offer Israel political, economic and cultural assistance. There will always be influential Jews around the world who wield power in their local communities.

And what about the generous contributions – billions of dollars every year – these Jews make to Israel, both communally and individually? I have yet to hear of them being given something in return.

The portentous events that took place this week are a clear reminder of the imbalance between the two largest Jewish communities in the world: Israel and the US. It was the prime minister who once said, “You don’t give without receiving in return.” Another time he said, “If they want it, they’ll get it. If they don’t want it, they won’t get it.” It’s clear that the prime minister understands the situation, and the time has come for world Jewry to understand it, too. The State of Israel wants and needs their help – all the time.

Therefore, they are entitled to express their views and be involved in Israeli affairs. Granted, regarding questions of war and peace, the Israeli public should have exclusive control over decisions, since they involve the life and death of citizens, but when it comes to issues that affect the Jewish people as a whole, the opinion of world Jewry needs to be heard. It is also legitimate for them to direct their activities in accordance with the extent that Israel respects them, consults with them, and integrates them into the decision-making process.

Israel is not the boss of world Jewry or of the Jewish religion.

In politics, everyone talks in “political speak.” It’s true there is no “Diaspora Jews Party” in the Knesset, and the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel have extremely limited power, but this doesn’t mean that we can exclude them from the conversation and ignore their concerns. I expect that a storm will erupt if future discourse is carried out in this tone.

This, at least, is my understanding gleaned from this week’s events.

World Jewry is not Israel’s servant, but neither is the opposite true, of course. Consequently, the government must internalize that the strength of all the Jewish communities worldwide is at its disposal, provided that world Jewry’s concerns, interests and status are taken into consideration and become an integral part of the Israeli government’s decision-making process on issues that concern both partners.

Say it in Hebrew, say it in “political speak.”

Thanks, Nachman.

Rwexler

Sunday, July 2, 2017

CONDITION "NORMAL" -- IGNORING REALITY

The "new normal" (and it's not so "new," is it?) at JFNA is dysfunction morphing into total dysfunction while its top lay and professional leaders ignore it, pretend all is well while the tiny cabal of lay sycophants refuse to acknowledge that the Emperors wears no clothes. And in the midst of the June JFNA Board meeting, the Board Chair and the one Vice Chair jumped into the mess with both feet summoning Large City Federation leadership to ask them what JFNA's priorities, mission and programs should be while the JFNA Board approved a $30+ million Budget that was allegedly built upon priorities and mission incorporated in vital programs...clearly, it was not.

All you can do is scream WTF as loudly as possible. Institutional insanity reigns.

Look, I know that Richard Sandler didn't seek the position of Board Chair (as so many others did/are) but he did accept it. The fact that he did accept it imposed upon him the responsibility to actually lead. He is a smart person infused with Jewish and communal values. It's passed time for him to acknowledge JFNA's dysfunction and take the actions necessary to effect change or he, like his predecessors, will just suffer failure in silence for the balance of his terms and then leave the mess for the next Board Chair -- this "wash, rinse" cycle of shame has begun to remind me of the Vietnam War: you know, "declare victory and walk away." This is not leadership; it is the exact opposite.

A few months ago, we Posted  "A Mid Year (Lack Of) Progress Report" in which we observed:
"The most often asked question on these pages has been and is: how long will the leaders and Board at JFNA continue to endure an organization in stasis...or worse? The answer appears to remain: until the first to occur of JFNA's dissolution or perpetuity."
I wrote those words in March; now JFNA has published its Year-End Progress Report -- one that would best be titled "2016-2017 JFNA Kicks the Can Down the Road Report" and, sad to report, that document is but a sad recitation of another year wasted. In fact, reading between the lines of this work of fiction, one can only read "failure" on page after page. I hardly know where to begin but let's start with the sloppiness of the "cut and paste" approach in the document that produced this intro:
"The Statement of Goals and specific performance objectives below were approved as part of JFNA’s annual budget in June 2016. Following is a restatement of the goals and objectives with reporting on mid-year progress by JFNA and a reflection on changes and learnings* from the past 6 months that affect how we may look at budget and program priorities for the coming year." (emphasis added)
If you understand this gibberish, please explain it to me. 

But I digress.

The Year-End "Progress Report" proved to be no better and in many ways worse than the Mid-Year. Let me just touch on a few:

  • Consulting. An ambitious plan to infuse a severely diminished federation Consulting effort under the Marketing and Communications Department has been abandoned, delegated to the FRD silo which itself implemented a consulting effort this past year with modest success -- "modest" only because the effort was led by a small team of excellent, superb even, part-time consultants. Only 22 "community visits" were reported for last year (which does not mean 22 communities were "visited -- worse, only 18 federations received "research support"). Now the Senior FRD Consultant (who seems to be the show runner for this effort, not the JFNA Senior Vice-President FRD) has hired two more part-time consultants beefing up the effort but still inadequate to the need to service so many communities with needs. Further, while the initial consultant hires -- Chicago's Rachel Weiss and Metro West's David Saginaw -- both have a broad federation leadership background beyond FRD, neither the Senior FRD Consultant nor the Sr. V-P FRD have any direct federation experience: so who at JFNA will be guiding a broader federation consulting effort beyond FRD? That's a rhetorical question. And if one examines the 2017-2018 JFNA Budget, the increased resources for a more comprehensive and intensive Consulting effort are just not there. It's all just words; kick the can down the road and hope no one remembers.
  • The Network. The Year End Progress Report suggests that the Network had a successful year. It did not. While $4.97 Million was raised from the Network "...in annual, supplemental and special/emergency campaigns in 2016," the 2017-2018 JFNA Budget revealed that this amount represented a drop from $5.2 Million in the prior Fiscal Year and $1 Million less than the $6 million goal -- a shortfall of 17%.Remarkably this is: (1) less than the Network raised when it was created in the 1990s with a staff of 1 (the incredible fund raiser and creative force, Russell Robinson) and his lay partner, Marty Stein, z'l, our great friends.  Unmentioned is the shocking amount that JFNA steals from the Network for its own Budget -- $1,765,000 -- or 35.5% of funds raised (and dramatically, shockingly, higher if one only measures the $1.765M against actual Network annual campaign numbers [as is the computation for JFNA Federation Dues]). The Network has a fine Chair, perhaps she would want to look into this egregious overcharge. Finally, has anyone examined how much of the "funds raised" were actually raised by JAFI, JDC and WorldORT for which the Network is taking "credit"? This is truly a disgraceful failure and has been ever since the Network's homegrown leadership were cast away in a JFNA-engineered co option.
  • The IAN. Typical of JFNA's method of dealing with failure is embodied in the following remarkable quote:  "JFNA’s place at the highest echelons of the policy debate/discussion/decision-making table is essential to ensuring that Federations’ interests and positions are represented in Washington, Jerusalem, within the Jewish beltway, and in discussions with our partner agencies. IAN will continue its focus on combating the BDS movement through proactive outreach to specific target audiences and community training. With slight staffing reductions reflecting the emergence of other priorities, this area remains basically unchanged." I think we would all conclude from this gibberish that JFNA is reducing its commitment to the IAN which was already woefully underfunded, and picking the IAN's pocket while conflating the IAN's critical work with being at various "decision-making tables" where, in fact, JFNA appears for photo-ops and little else. There is just no explanation for this; and no debate as to priorities. And, now, the IAN will engage in direct fund raising in the communities.
  • "Executive turnover". One thing JFNA has, beyond presenting fiction as fact, is the ability to ignore the sad reality it has created. Thus, in this Year-End thing, it can state: "Executive turnover continues to accelerate, highlighting the issue of the Federation professional talent pipeline, especially at the executive level. 58% of executives are in their positions less than 5 years; 76% among the Large Intermediate Federations. 9 Federations are operating with Interim CEOs and we have 7 known transitions in the next 12 months." Was this presented as a "tsk, tsk, tsk, how sad"? Because JFNA is doing nothing about this professional crisis having abandoned the CEO recruitment process.
  • The GA. Last year, although unmentioned in the Report, the Budget appropriated a $250,000 infusion into the GA, for purposes unknown. We still are not provided with any...any...accounting of how those funds were spent but we do know this: lay attendance at the 2016 GA was down and the GA continued down its well-paved road toward being a subsidized convention for insiders and the professional cadre and a bunch of vendors selling their wares to, well, almost nobody.
Look, there's more of this b.s. The Report is full of it. But to JFNA's small leadership cabal "where never is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day."

At this iteration of JFNA, criticism is intolerable and every day is Groundhog Day. 

Rwexler

* "Learnings" is a noun that does not exist