Friday, August 4, 2017


No organization is more occupied with digging holes and then continuing to dig deeper ones than is JFNA. Case in point: JFNA-Israel's "Envoys Program."

We recently wrote of the pathetic letter from JFNA-Israel's Becky Caspi abjectly pleading that some select group of federations reach out to JFNA and request that a lay "Envoy" make a set (for one will not do) of visits to educate in consultation with federation leadership and advocating for an increase in core allocations to the legacy overseas partners. The outreach was banal; the response not surprising. See The Daily Tragic-Comedy Continues, June 14, 2017.

Here's where we are and from where we have come...

A few years ago, under then UIA Chair Rich Bernstein, the UIA Board adopted a Futures Report that set forth an ambitious program for the JFNA Subsidiary he chaired, one that included an advocacy effort, the Chaverim Program, among other initiatives. The entire Futures Report was adopted by the JFNA Board. Led by strong UIA lay leadership -- not only within UIA but, also, JFNA -- the Chaverim effort, sending lay leaders into the communities to educate and advocate for the Jewish Agency, went forward. Remember this fact, discussed at a recent UIA Board meeting: 16 communities were visited by UIA's Chaverim in 9 months.

And, then, the Chaverim Program was discontinued. 

Why it was discontinued and who ordered its termination are questions that would be appropriate, even debated. But, of course, there was no debate and no answers offered. What we have pieced together is this: 

  • After a decade of ignoring its moral responsibility to advocate for core budget support for JDC, JAFI and WorldORT, watching in silence as those allocations dropped to the lowest levels in history, some at JFNA wanted advocacy within the federations to be conducted by JFNA and JFNA alone. Among the "some?" I'm guessing, David Brown, the then incoming Chair of JFNA-Israel, Jerry Silverman and Becky Caspi.
  • In a meeting to "sort out" the responsibilities of JFNA Israel-Overseas, UIA leaders were told (and agreed) that JFNA would henceforth be the exclusive lead on that advocacy. And, of course, UIA capitulated.
  • So JFNA, as it always does, started from scratch over 18 months ago to build what it described as an advocacy program, branded (!!) it as "Envoys" and began a recruitment effort and what it described as "training" which included, among other things, materials irrelevant to the three organizations' work (anti-semitism in Europe?) and an in-person training thing that restricted the legacy partners presentations to, as I recall, 5 (maybe it was 10) minutes each.
  • Now, remember, UIA's Chaverim visited 16 communities in the 9 months over which UIA implemented the effort; JFNA's Envoys have visited 5 federations in 18 months. And, as we wrote, now JFNA's Caspi somehow believed that a personal plea from her might interest more federations in allowing the Envoys in. Read the whole pathetic Caspi epistle:
Now, surely there were serious limitations to the UIA advocacy. By its mission, UIA was and is the advocate for JAFI; and JFNA should have been the place where advocacy for all three partners would take place. But rather than employing the methodology used in JFNA's only prior foray into the advocacy effort -- the chair of that effort, Jane Sherman, is still around and in a normal organization might have been consulted -- the "decision" was made to remake the wheel. I assume that that was because as usual there was and is no institutional memory -- not even short-term. Does anybody believe that JFNA could possibly create a viable advocacy program out of whole cloth, even with a troup of dedicated, well-intentioned lay leaders engaged as Envoys, when it has wholly failed its responsibilities to the overseas partners over this administration? Does anybody share Richard Sandler's well-intentioned belief that relations with JAFI and JDC "have never been better?" (Certainly no one in leadership at JAFI/JDC when speaking candidly and in confidence believes that.) So, the Envoys have more visits scheduled; let's see how those work out.

But, here's my suggestion: stop digging. Do an "advocacy reset:" let JAFI/JDC/WorldORT lead the advocacy effort coordinated by JFNA with the federations instead of being bystanders to continuing failure that impacts them, not JFNA. And, if this is truly a serious effort by JFNA, let's have the Envoys start in their home communities before they come to yours.

BUT, I'll just watch the digging. They just can't help themselves.



Anonymous said...

Richard, "start in their home communities"?
I'm only guessing here that the 5 communities that have already been visited in 18 months include Chicago (David Brown's community, right?), and perhaps Detroit (a nod to Jane Sherman?).
That would really leave only 3 in 18 months......impressive.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous 6:55 -- I sense some sarcasm. The last places these "Envoys" want to go is to their own federations and, thereby, risk alienating their communal CEOs. No, they will go elsewhere even though some leader in the communities they visit might ask: "And just what is your federation's allocation to JAFI, etc.?" That will in most cases end any presentation or credibility abruptly. A better question for Richard, for all of us is who exactly training these "Envoys?" Caspi? David Brown? This effort though commendable in theory appears to have been pasted together to show JAFI and JDC and World ORT "Look at us, we're doing something." Nothing more.

Anonymous said...

My community had a visit from an Envoy. The presentation was so embarrassing that my Exec and I felt sorry for the person and for the intended beneficiaries. First, the representative had less knowledge of the work of the beneficiaries than some of our Board members. Second, the Envoy could not answer basic questions raised by our leaders. And, third, the presentation, the lack of basic knowledge of our federation and of the beneficiaries probably set back the allocations more than had there been no Envoy effort whatsoever. We can't believe this person had any training whatsoever; I blameJFNA for the ineptitude.

Anonymous said...

Ridiculous idea to try to run such a program from Israel. It is true that Caspi and her team do nothing of any value but giving them a program like this which is located in North America is an absurd and futile attempt to put them to some use.
The grass roots lay attempt to do something like the UIA Chaverim program waa killed by the professional bureaucrats of Broadway for their own poliitical reasons and it is a pity that the UIA lay leadership didn't have the strength or the courage to stand up to them.
JDC, JAFI and ORT shoild have learned by now that continuing to rely on JFNA and its current Israel & Overseas operations is equivilent to commiting suicide. Not only are they incabable of advocating for them, they don't even want to do so and wouldn't if they could.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that they don't really want to advocate for JAFI, JDC and World ORT. What really interests them is building up and advocating for themselves, for their own Israel and Overseas Global Operations which are in reality nothing more than a pathetic attempt to invent the wheel in Israel philanthropy.
What a wonderful strategy for our People - strive to undermine what works and attempt to replace it with your own inexperienced, unprofessional, amateurish boutiqe brand!
And we, the shareholders, sit by and let them continue to drive our continental
organization and our partners into the ground without even raising an eyebrow, always uttering a cheerful "aye" whenever asked to do so - no questions asked!

Anonymous said...

Why in the world would anyone charge Caspi with the job of advocating for JAFI, JDC or ORT? Anyone that knows what interests her knows that nothing could be farther from her agenda. Her whole empire is built on the premise that only she knows what Israel's real needs are and how to meet them.
Of course that is absurd but since nobody supervises or guides her and our lay leaders seem to be willing to believe anything, this ridiculous ideology has become the de facto JFNA policy in Israel.

Anonymous said...

Clearly JFNA is an organization that on both the lay and professional sides exemplifies the blind leading the blind where the Board chooses to turn a blind eye to the reality that tens of millions of dollars are being wasted year-in and year-out. That Silverman is enabled by the Board's inaction to collect $700,000 a year or more for what exactly? Showing up on Missions? Going to meetings where he contributes absolutely nothing? Photo opportunities to show us either where he's been or how important he believes himself to be? This has to stop -- JFNA is not becoming a laughingstock, it is already a laughingstock. What should be one of our system's strengths has proved to be its greatest weakness and in allowing this to occur, its leaders have weakened the federation system