Monday, August 7, 2017

GA 2017

As I hope all of you know, the 2017 GA will convene in Los Angeles November 12-14. It promises to be at least as good as the last few -- or, as Richard Sandler would put it: "great!" As you read what follows, remember there are right now three months until the Opening Plenary.

Leadership has chosen as the tagline for 2017 the following: Venture Further!  No, I don't know what it means either; appropriate to JFNA inasmuch as no one knows what JFNA stands for. I am sure that the message will come clear; yeah, sure. The GAs under Jerry Silverman have become JFNA in microcosm -- The Seinfeld Show, about nothing.

Perhaps to inspire attendance JFNA has produced video for the GA which I found on YouTubeGA PROMO CUT 2. (One FOB found the thing at I  I will offer my impressions: very well-produced, nice music, nice messaging but having absolutely nothing to do with anything -- just like Venture Further! I'd be interested in your impressions.

Here is how GA '17 was presented to the JFNA Board in June:
"The GA is just around the corner so “register now” was the clarion call of GA Co-Chair Julie Platt (Los Angeles). Organized a bit differently, the three-day experience that will take place in Los Angeles from November 12-14, will begin with four, not-to-be missed, dig-deep sessions (I'm sorry but I could vomit), covering some of the most challenging issues facing our community (what are they?). In addition, the GA will feature conversations between some of our favorite actors and their rabbis, sessions with Jewish writers and producers discussing Jewish Hollywood, Silicon Valley tech mavens’ success stories, and so much more.
There will be unique experiences for Federation PMC and KDS members, including dinner on the lot of a major studio.

So, here they go again -- selling the sizzle, such as it will be. Substance -- oh, we'll find substance....maybe. Probably not. This puffery suggests that whoever is planning and selling this GA doesn't realize that the audience is made up of serious people.

We'll get back to the sizzle later; for now let's just look at substance. Find any? Me either. As of the date of this Post, all anyone apparently knows is that there will be Plenaries -- JFNA cannot articulate just what they will be about. The Program, if there is one as yet, is not in circulation -- someone(s) at 25 Broadway may have a Draft but, if so, it's not being shared with the communities. 

Then there is the venue. For those of you who may recall it, the sessions for the last GA were held in the Los Angeles Convention Center -- a mammoth facility with great rooms for Plenaries, break-outs, etc. This time around, perhaps in recognition of the dismal attendance at a succession of GAs, the Convention Hotel -- the JW Marriott -- just steps away from the Staples Center and the Convention Center, will be the venue where everything takes place. Smaller rooms for everything; perhaps to mask the anticipated low turnout once again.

So here's my suggestion for sizzle to boost attendance: Julie and Marc Platt are the Los Angeles Co-Chairs for the 2017 GA. Julie is the Board Chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Marc Platt is a movie and TV producer who has produced, among other successes, the fabulous La La Land. Their youngest child, Ben, is the incredible star, the Tony Award winner, of the remarkable Dear Evan Hansen. So, the Platts could invite (dragoon) their son Ben to perform at the GA they will Co-Chair -- ask him to (forgive me) Venture Further. Or, as an alternative, Marc Platt could invite (dragoon) Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling to recreate "City of Stars" from the incredible movie in which they co-starred -- they could sing the song to the tune of Hava Negilla!! Pack 'em in.

Sure, Venture Further, a theme so meaningless it could easily have been Better Together from Hillary Clinton's campaign, equally meaningless and, ultimately, a failure. Have the GAs become so irrelevant that they now have no unifying, no understandable theme? Rhetorical question. 

Last year JFNA's Budget allocated an additional $250,000 to the GA. We asked then: how will these funds, added to the "regular" GA funding, be used? We never got an answer. And, of course, we still don't know how this 1/4 Million Dollar infusion was applied -- to what, for what? The results, however, are clear: the 2016 GA was a failure, even lower lay attendance than the prior year. 

It wasn't that long ago that there was an annual GA Committee made up of lay and professional leaders. We did a pretty good job creating a meaningful GA program coupled with an array of takeaways. Then someone/somewhere decided that the GA was too important to be left to the lay leaders -- give 'em some speeches, some face time and they'll be happy seems to be the prevailing view. And just look at the results -- poor, dwindling, embarrassing attendance, fewer vendors at lower costs, all meaning lower revenues -- a GA in disarray. But the tightening small circle of leadership must think everything is just peachy.

So, once again, let's propose a one year hiatus for the General Assembly, a year which will be devoted to GA hard reset. Establish a blue ribbon committee to evaluate the GA and make comprehensive recommendations for its rebirth as an annual (or, better, bi-annual) event with great appeal not just to the professionals but to communal lay leadership as it once was. Because, my friends, what has become an annual failure will soon become an annual embarrassment (if it hasn't already) if a hard reset does not occur.

As the expanded promo for this General Assembly blares:
"At GA 2017,we'll venture further into the future of Jewish education, philanthropy and our community -- taking the Federation Movement farther than ever before."
Footnote: if it isn't already clear, we just don't know how we are going to do it. The tagline for the JW Marriott LA is "LA Live" -- if it continues down the path it is on, the theme for this GA may well be "LA Dead."

Nothing that Jerry Silverman does anymore should shock me/us, but, in the middle of what should be a push to recruit for Los Angeles, Silverman sent out a promo for the 2018 GA in Tel Aviv.  The height of fiduciary irresponsibility at the hands of the CEO. The Silverman Saga continues. It's like Trump tweeting; he just can't help himself.

In the meantime -- Venture Further everybody.



Anonymous said...

More than a GA reset, JFNA needs a CEO reset. Send Silverman (and Caspi too!!!) packing and let's have some serious discussion about what JFNA stands for and the necessary skillsets for a CEO who can propel the organization back from the bottom of the communal hole.

paul jeser said...

I didn't find the video on Youtube, but found one on Vimco:

Anonymous said...

Venture Further!

Anonymous said...

Having attended GA's for nearly 30 years the sizzle has been all cooked out. Sessions on FRD are really about campaign, planned giving is usually an after thought, as is the JFNA planned giving department.

If Jewish conversion, women at the wall, and Palestinian statehood is what the masses want to hear, lets bring these items to the table in a respectful and even handed approach to unite the continental Jewish community.

I remember the day of Soviet Jewry when GA attendance had a cause. If JFNA wants to be the central address of the Jewish Community it must address the issues we want addressed and not spoon feed us what is tasteless parve dessert.

RWEX said...

The perfect "road sign" for JFNA in all things, not just the GA:

That's where leadership has taken us.

Thanks to Anon yesterday @ 1:34