Friday, September 29, 2017


Friends, I have written frequently of my objection to JFNA's stream of self-congratulations; today I write to offer my congratulations for the incredible work by JFNA's professionals in response to Hurricane Harvey and their work with the Houston Jewish community, the broader Houston community and their leadership -- for demonstrating the power of the collective JFNA was created to lead.

I have nothing really to add other than this kal ha'kavod, because Suzanne Jacobson, Houston's brilliant, dedicated long-serving Senior Vice-President for Development, said it perfectly in this morning's ejewishphilanthropy

"By Suzanne Jacobson
Saturday night in Houston, Texas. As we ushered out the Shabbat and recited the havdallah prayer, I pulled back the shades and peered out onto our cul-de-sac. Harvery’s relentless flood-rains had begun in earnest – soon, the waters would march right up to the very threshold of our home, stopping just short of the doorway. Inside, my children and grandchildren slept peacefully and out of harm’s way, a blessing that I did not take for granted.

And yet, though my own family had escaped the worst, my mind was not at ease – with forty years of experience working for the Jewish community, I was restless at the knowledge that so many would not emerge similarly unscathed. Houston has born the brunt of more than a few storms – but by every accounting, this would be worse. What was to come for this city? For the Jewish community? For its thousands of families, for its many storied and sacred institutions? How would we possibly meet this challenge?

When the flood waters finally receded, my Federation colleagues and I did the only thing that we could do: we got to work. The extent of the destruction soon came into startling focus: more than 2,500 homes (including Federation staff homes), three synagogues, the Jewish Community Center, Seven Acres Jewish Senior Care Service, TORCH Outreach Center, the Beth Yeshurun Day School and more – all with significant damage. Overwhelmed, our staff converged on our offices at the Jewish Federation of Houston. We were unsure of precisely how we would meet the impossibly complicated challenge of providing for the sudden and mounting needs of this community, but we were determined to help. In addition, members of our staff were dealing with severe flooding in their homes.

Here’s the truth that we learned quickly: we couldn’t possibly do it alone. But here’s the other truth that we learned just as quickly: we didn’t have to. Almost at once, we bore witness to a veritable deluge of support. Donations streamed in from across the city, across the country, and across the world. Many national organizations reached out to help; individuals simply showed up in town, ready to get to work. Local listserves were formed so that volunteers could sign up to help out however they could – to clean houses, do laundry, provide transportation, babysit.

Perhaps the most significant support that came our way was from the Jewish Federations of North America. In support of Harvey relief, we collectively raised $14,000,000 from our own community, Federations throughout the United States and Canada, national foundations and thousands of individual donors (as well as $1,000,000 from the State of Israel). We quite simply could not have done this without our national system, which helped spearhead that effort and provide access to various foundations.

Further, JFNA deployed nine incredible staff members from JFNA, UJA-Federation of New York, the Kansas City Federation and more to assist us in organizing, planning and dealing with the tremendous work that needed to be done. With their help, our staff learned how to process more donations in three weeks than we normally do in three years! They helped us to stay “nimble” and get the first $1.6 million dollars out the door within 10 days, a much faster rate than what we were used to.

For several years now, I have heard a similar refrain echoing in the Jewish organizational blogger-sphere: the “collective” is dead. Federations specifically, the argument goes, are obsolete. They don’t speak to the individualistic proclivities of this generation. Young community members and philanthropists want to pick and choose the causes that speak specifically to them.

I understand that perspective, I really do. In fact, I think it’s critically important for Federations and other long-established institutions to be nimble enough to shift in order to resonate with a younger generation. As a member of the “old school,” I’ve made a concerted effort to step out of my comfort zone and have seen the advantages of this innovative approach, and the way it activates some of our young people in incredible ways.

But I refuse to believe that these two models are mutually exclusive. No matter how “tailor-made” the experience of Jewish philanthropy becomes, the importance of fostering a strong sense of collective identity will forever remain a hallmark of the Jewish people, and our first line of defense in moments of need.

It’s those moments that the unity of the Jewish people is put on glorious display, from the Soviet Jewry movement, to the Aliyah from Ethiopia; from wars and Intifadas in Israel, to our very own Houston community welcoming 5000 members of the New Orleans Jewish community who arrived in Houston in the aftermath of Katrina. I am sure there will be more moments to come, more hurdles to jump, more needs to be met.

This is a fractious world that we live in. That which divides us has never been more pronounced. This is true on a global scale, and it’s unfortunately true within the Jewish community as well. And that’s why it’s critically important to be even more persistent in our pursuit of common ground, and to come together at these critical moments. For it is in these moments that we remember we are am echad, b’lev echad. One People. One Heart. One strong, beautiful collective."

Beautiful. And the work is not done; not in Houston, not for the victims of Irma and not to those suffering so badly the devastation on Puerto Rico and wherever Maria hit land. 

Shana Tovah Tikateivu.



A reprint:


I love our religious services -- their rhythms, their nigunimand their meaning -- I always have. I especially love the services on the yomim noraim. This year, as the Shofar was about to be blown, in my synagogue, we read a Meditation that resonated with me -- I wish our leaders had read it as well:
"The shofar exclaims: Wake up from your slumber!  Examine your deeds and turn in repentance, remembering your Creator.. You sleepers who forget the truth while caught up in the fads and follies of the time, frittering away your years in vanity and emptiness which cannot help: take a good look at yourselves. Improve your ways..."
I took the message of this Meditation personally -- all of it, even the passages I have not reprinted here; but I fear this call is lost on too many of those in power. I know them to be good women and men, yet I find them "frittering away (their) years in vanity and emptiness." We see expediency where there should be principle. And our organizations suffer, wither and wane.

Rich Bernstein. the dedicated Chair of United Israel Appeal recently included the following in his Yom Kippur message, a message that resonated with me as it did Rich:
                 "Avinu Sh'bashamayim, O God in Heaven
As we approach another year, we ask Your blessings upon us and upon our loved ones. Grant us the courage to peer into our lives, the wisdom and discernment to evaluate what we see, and the strength to act with resolve to change whatever needs improvement."

Certainly our leaders know what their offices demand of them. If they cannot bring themselves to act, it is not because they know not what must be done; it is because they lack the will to do what is right. 

All we can ask is that the call of the Shofar wakes them from their slumber. 

As for me, I know that I have hurt any number of you with what I have written (and thought but not written) over this past year and wish that I could apologize to each of you for anything that I have written that has been hurtful. I, too, will try to heed the call of the Shofar in the New Year. 

G'mar hatima tovah to you and your families.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017


At the NewYear, we are called upon for introspection...serious introspection...

There were many paths available to the leaders of JFNA that might have propelled the organization forward. Yet, for the past decade, at the east, every choice those leaders made, every path down which they have driven this Klown Kar, has been the wrong one.

If those who believe that the federations are dying or dead were looking for a host body into which to inject their virus, they found it in Jerry. I don’t believe that was then Board Chair Kathy Manning’s intent — she merely arose from the larvae of a small Federation city,   (though she never failed to remind any and all within earshot that she was raised within culture of the Detroit Federation), and by dint of very hard work, diligence and self-promotion had risen to the position of Chair with only the most modest of experience in federation life or governance — she just wanted to appoint someone “outside the box;” viz., someone with less federation knowledge than she and one who would know that he owed his job to her and her alone. Manning insured Jerry’s engagement by appointing a Search Committee made up, in the main, with those who felt it was more important to unquestioningly follow her lead than to even think about let alone dare to question the fitness of her choice for the position; sadly, their loyalty was personal not to the institution.

As JFNA morphed into the ether of its nothingness, the dictate of management guru James Collins in his seminal work Good to Great that mergers will fail if core values are discarded, was more and more and more ignored -- ignored until those core values on which our incredible system was built were forgotten because no one was left who either recalled them or wanted to be reminded of them. What was left? Jerry.

JFNA would perpetuate the fiction that Silverman, from a "corporate executive background" would bring for-profit business skills to his new role. The evidence is that those skills were so lacking, so demonstrably lacking, that the Board Chair who succeeded Kathy Manning, who had dictated Jerry's hiring, Michael Siegal, took away all of Silverman's management responsibilities a little over one year after taking office. If there were transferable skills from either Jerry's work at Sketchers or his professional leadership of the small but successful Foundation for Jewish Camp, they, too, weren't evident in an organization of the complexity of JFNA any one of whose constituencies overwhelmed by size and sophistication any environment in which would have overwhelmed any and all of Jerry's prior experiences by a factor of infinitesimal.

The comparison of Silverman's expertise and experience to the Search Critera that defined the CEO position at JFNA is impossible -- because applying those Criteria to Jerry would have led to his rejection as a candidate, let alone a finalist, let alone his emergence as the chosen CEO. Thus, we can only conclude that Jerry Silverman became CEO because...

  • There was no viable candidate from among the Federation CEO cadre;
  • The Board Chair from the outset was demanding a candidate from "outside the box"
  • Silverman made a passionate and persuasive presentation to the Search leaders and Board Chair
  • No one carefully examined Jerry's educational or professional background and experience
Unexpressed, but obviously compelling, was Manning's clear preference for Silverman, the one "candidate, " whom she knew (a) knew less about the federation system than she; and (b) having been personally curated by her, would never stand in the way of her grandiose and outrageous schemes to create a Global Planning Table and diminish the place and influence of JAFI and JAFI's leaders in communal allocations. She knew Silverman well although she knew him very little.

While Kathy Manning apparently couldn't or wouldn't see it, Michael Siegal quickly saw that Jerry had "no bench" on his staff. It was Michael and his leadership that assured that Mark Gurvis and Renee Rothstein were added to the staff. It remains my belief that Michael made these moves in anticipation of Jerry's termination. What happened? Nothing.Those within Michael's lay leadership "team" led by Manning insisted that Jerry should not be replaced; the LCE offered not a single potential successor (as they had done with Hoffman and Rieger) -- and neither Siegal nor the Chair of the Executive, Dede Feinberg, were willing to fight, to insist that change was required.

So, here was Silverman, who had stated quite clearly that "if the Global Planning Table fails, JFNA is done," not only remaining in place but given a new contract. No successes whatsoever in the years of Jerry's first contract Term have since been followed with more years without success. There have been only failure and a total lack of accountability under Manning, under Siegal and, now, under Sandler. The perfect storm of lay leadership matched with the lack of professional leadership and no one cares.

So that is how JFNA "got here." A nice place to be isn't it?

This is a cautionary tale for every organization from which to learn what will forever be known as the sad story of the Jewish Federations of North America.


Sunday, September 24, 2017


Were one to have been anointed JFNA's CEO -- one without basic knowledge of the federation system, of collective responsibility, of the great hstory that had led UJA, CJF and UIA into the merger that created the organization you have been selected to lead -- under those circumstances perhaps the first thing to do would have been to declare war on memory. The most threatening things to one who knew, who knows, almost nothing are memory and those who possess it.

Oh, the deconstruction of institutional memory at JFNA did not begin with Jerry Silverman or the lay Chairs who selected him or perpetuated his engagement. No, that destruction began in the first days of the new organization when the first Board Chair unilaterally determined from a few negative comments at a poorly attended open meeting in D.C. that the name United Jewish Appeal, literally the most valuable brand in philanthropy, was to be wiped from the face of what would ultimately be Jewish Federations of North America. This was quickly followed with the dismissal of one of the system's most cherished lay leaders from his post as Chair of Israel-Overseas -- dismissed by the new Chair of the Executive, his closest friend and ally in national and overseas Jewish communal life. Why? Because that Board Chair and the Chair of the Executive could do so. And because these men viewed memory as their enemy.

And, so began the erasure of institutional memory. A succession of insecure lay officers, unrestrained by common sense or wise professional counsel, destroyed that memory so vital to building the new upon the best of the old. Only during the brief period of Steve Hoffman's service as CEO and President, was there a brief hiatus to the onslaught against memory. When Hoffman retired back to Cleveland, if the elimination of those with memory had theretofore been a trickle, it would now become a flood.

Post-Hoffman, the Chairs of the Center for Jewish Philanthropy (a wonderful leader from New York UJA-Federation), Planned Giving and Endowment and the National Campaign Chair, all leaders of great integrity, all resigned -- some, in their resignation, were attacked by the JFNA Board Chair. Brilliant professionals -- Vicki Agron, Gail Hyman, Gail Reiss and so many more -- left JFNA in the face of what can only be described as constructive terminations, leaving voids that have yet to be well-filled over a decade later. 

Only at the United Israel Appeal was memory "allowed" to survive. Yitzchak Shavit, z'l, and, then, Danny Allen, professional leaders who embodied "memory" and protected it and a succession of lay Chairs, likewise even as JFNA's Chairs demanded personal loyalty to them as opposed to loyalty to the institution and its values. But, there too, the war against memory continues.

And, then arrived Jerry Silverman who, unburdened with any institutional memory whatsoever viewed all those, lay and professional, who still possessed even a modicum of it with suspicion, viewing them as some form of potential "Fifth Column" to be eradicated along with the memory they brought to their roles. And with Silverman's arrival JFNA morphed from acts of stupidity into the idiocracy that we confront today.

Understand that on the cusp of this wayward choice I received a call from a great friend and revered lay leader who served on the Search Committee. She told me that she and other members of the Search Committee Executive (!?) were calling past leaders to ask our thoughts about the Committee recommending that a COO be hired simultaneous with the new CEO. (The world of JFNA inside baseball knew that a total outsider was being nominated as CEO.) I said "no, I believe that the CEO needs to make that hire...and quickly." After his hiring Jerry visited with a lay group in Chicago. Knowing the voids on his resume, I suggested to him that he hire a COO with federation experience; he demurred: "I want to wrap my arms around this job first." It was almost three years later that Board Chair Michael Siegal, noting that Silverman had failed to create a "bench," forced Mark Gurvis, an experienced federation professional, on the CEO as his new COO and relieved Jerry of his management responsibilities.

That action by Siegal came too late for JFNA. In early 2010 Jerry, with no plan, abruptly terminated three Senior V-P's -- Rob Hyman, Eric Levine and Barry Swartz, each a respected professional, each performing important work and each with significant federation experience. Jerry was eliminating payroll and eliminating institutional memory at the same time. He would not replace Levine, the professional leader of FRD, or Swartz, the respected leader of community consulting for 7 years. In a JTA story on the it was clear that the writer's source, though unnamed, was Jerry Silverman himself, in what would become his typical response, patting himself on his back for doing his worst.

And, the worst would continue through today -- no Consulting Services arm, replaced by a group of part-time consultants, not a single department led by anyone with federation experience (although a Research arm was very recently populated by a former federation planning professional who will work from her Philadelphia home base). And, thanks to a single demand by the immediate past Board Chair, a COO with federation experience whose impact on the organization has yet to be seen. Memory has been obliterated. 

Institutional memory has been obliterated intentionally and wilfully or negligently, it matters not. And JFNA has not substituted a single success on which to build memories of its own...not one. Its leaders appear to not have a clue how to build programmatic or operational excellence; its tagline Touching More Jewish Lives Than Any Other Organization in the World may have been true under CJF and UJA -- but it is a cruel mockery when applied to JFNA.

Friends, we are led by those who have chosen to walk away, to forget our history, our movement, our cause. But for us "...the cause endures and the dreams we have will never die."

I will let you, dear readers, judge whether JFNA has been well-served by these decisions.


Thursday, September 21, 2017


Maybe it's just apparent to a few of us on the outside looking in although it should be clear to even the most inside of insiders...JFNA is so deep in failure that one can only conclude that it is in the midst of an existential crisis. Sadly, no one in the ever more restricted JFNA "circle of trust" believes anything at all is wrong. Nothing at all; all unicorns and rainbows. Just swell.

Meanwhile JFNA's institutional relevance fades like an old photograph; it has now reached the "yellowing" stage, the corners curling up, the captions faded. Kind of makes the days of UJA and CJF shine probably more brightly than the reality of what once was, doesn't it?
Sure, JFNA-Washington is a lonely outlier of success shining on this dismal landscape but nowhere has JFNA under this leadership been able to build upon the successes that William Daroff and his staff and lay partners have achieved. In fact, because of those successes the failures of JFNA everywhere else stick out even further.

Who could have envisioned the Continental organization arising out of the merger 18 years ago would have us longing all these years post-merger for the things that UJA and CJF brought to the table and left there -- a passion among not just their leaders but their lay leadership, their constituencies; the sense among all that we were as one in pursuit of collective purpose, mission and vision; the common dedication to the highest needs of the federations, federation professionals and lay leadership and to those they support All things that have faded into memory by a JFNA that for the past decade appears to be only about itself and even pursuing its self-adulation poorly. For JFNA does nothing well...nothing...nothing at all.

Think back to a time at CJF with professional leaders of the stature of Phil Bernstein to Marty Kraar, with great professionals like CFO Harold Cohen, Director of Research and Planning Norbert Fruehauf, Planned Giving pro Don Kent; Israel Department leaders of the excellence and brilliance of Menachem Revivi; wonderful communal consulting pros like Howard Feinberg and Barry Swartz and so many more; think back to UJA with leaders like CEOs Rabbi Herb Friedman and Irving Bernstein and Stanley Horowitz; the best of Campaign/FRD pros Bob Pearlman, Mel Bloom, Russell Robinson, Harold Cohen, Mo Sherman, Shimon Pepper, Vicki Agron, Gail Reiss -- a list that goes on and on, these men and women set the gold standard; great allocation advocates from David Agronin to Cheryl Lefland; and the pros pro of CFOs, Lee Twersky and the great Communications and Marketing professional, Gail Hyman...And, at the United Israel Appeal -- Danny Allen, Jay Yoskowitz and Yitzchak Shavit. A roster of tremendous leaders, too, too many now deceased, whose service to Jewish communities and People inspired them and inspired their lay partners and continue to inspire those of us who worked with them even today/. 

At the outset, JFNA succeeded to so many great professionals from the UJA and CJF staffs adding to them with great professionals Doron Krakow, Israel & Overseas, MK Nachman Shai, Director General of JFNA-Israel; the leader of JFNA's incredibly successful Washington grant effort, William Daroff; and a CFO of impeccable integrity and commitment, Sam Astrof.

These were and are selfless professionals of a unique dedication who contributed so much (and so many of them still do but almost all of them...elsewhere) to our communities, to Israel, to the Jewish People. I was so fortunate, so blessed to have served with almost all of them, I was inspired by them, I fought with them l'shem shamayim and venerated those whom I knew only by reputation. 

And, today, other than Daroff and Agron, the latter a part-time consultant, all are gone. Those who conceived of and implemented programs and campaigns ranging from Project Renewal to Operation Exodus, who actually raised millions and inspired millions more, succeeded by those who proffered TribeFest and #ish and the Global Planning Table and raised no money.

So, why this atrophy, this fading into nothingness from past glory? Because lay leaders who should know better are oblivious to the disaster that is JFNA today; because the coterie of federation CEOs fail to implement that which they know to be true -- that with ownership came/comes responsibility. Because there is an epidemic of laziness, of "we'll leave this to someone else" when there is no "someone else."

And the end result of decade of disinterest, of leaving it to others, of neglect, of disdain is...Jerry Silverman...for 8+ years. 


Wednesday, September 20, 2017


I wanted to take a moment to wish all of you and your families a shana tova u'metukah -- a sweet and beautiful year. 

Monday, September 18, 2017


What follows is not an indictment of any national agency that finds itself required by the realities discussed below to engage in direct fund-raising. Instead, what follows is an indictment of a Continental system that has failed both its federation members and the national agencies which it had expressly commited to support.

It required no genius to understand that with the imminent collapse of the National Agencies-Jewish Federations Alliance the once-funded national agencies would be forced to engage in serious direct fund raising. I thought that that FRD would take place with federations or within the Board members of the formerly funded -- at least funded in part -- legacy national agencies. So, imagine my surprise, one that many if not all of you shared, when I received a fund raising letter* from Cheryl Fishbein, Chair, and David Bernstein, Executive Director, of the JCPA seeking funding for one of their core purposes -- one presumably already funded out of its budget.

The suggested minimum gift in the JCPA direct mail campaign is $250, ramping up to... $5000!! I don't know of a single federation which would not require the names of such an individual solicitation to be cleared through it and, further, would limit the amount of the direct mail donation sought. One might even have an expectation that a viable national/continental umbrella organization would manage such a solicitation effort -- but, as is the norm, there is no JFNA anywhere to be found. One might also have expected that Cheryl Fishbein, JCPA President, a leader in her Federation, a leader in JFNA...oh, never mind.

Back a little over 14 years ago Steve Hoffman, then the UJC CEO, tasked me to chair an effort, with Yitzchak Shavit, z'l, the UIA Executive Vice-Chair, to create a Resource Development Task Force and determine if we could devise a plan to manage fund raising in our communities by overseas and national agencies. Our Committee, composed of federation CEOs and Chairs was extremely supportive. Itzik and I met in Jerusalem with the professional and lay leaders of JDC and JAFI as well as the leaders of the Government effort to register the exponentially multiplying number of Israeli NGOs. The Agency and Joint generously agreed to a plan that would have enabled JFNA to manage direct communal (and, thereby individual) solicitations: we proposed no regulatory control, merely a process of notification and clearance through what would become JFNA. It was simple; it was clean; it created neither bureaucracy nor bureaucratic burdens.

Steve Hoffman went back to Cleveland as we sought approval from what today would be the JFNA (then the UJC) Board. Itzik and I believed we would have the support of Hoffman's successor and the new Board Chair. Never assume. At the meeting, at one of those Board Retreats, several JFNA leaders, also leaders of major/minor agencies objected (never citing their clear conflicts) and the vote was tabled -- a few months later the process passed the Board. When I called Itzik a few months later to move the implementation forward, he told me that JFNA's leaders were "shelving" this management process. "Were they planning to tell me?" Tasked. "Not these chamors," was Shavit's reply. That Plan still sits on a shelf somewhere at 25 Broadway.

Forgive my digression.

From the start, the Federations-National Agencies Alliance was the abandoned stepchild of JFNA. JFNA wanted nothing to do with it from the start evidenced by the elimination of the dedicated professional to the effort, substituting a fine JFNA-Washington pro but one who had a myriad of other responsibilities. In addition, the Chair of the eponymous Commission which designed the Alliance, Louise Greilsheimer, moved from her lay role to that of a senior New York UJA professional where, it appeared, one of her responsibilities was to lead the effort to destabilize and deconstruct the Alliance; no effort was put into gaining further federation members of the Alliance or to increase allocations to it. Allocations dwindled over time to the point that some national agencies saw their Alliance funding shrink from 80% of budget to 20% and, further, to the point that two national agencies -- the National Foundation for Jewish Culture and the beloved JESNA -- went out of business for lack of financial resources. And, never was a voice of support arguing for greater resources for the national agencies heard from the leaders of JFNA.

Then, in 2015-2016, JFNA showed a sudden interest, not in the National agencies, but in the National Agencies Funding Pool of the Alliance. Silverman demanded that the Alliance agree to transfer, as I recall, $900,000 designated to the Agencies -- their funds, really -- to the JFNA Budget to fund a new JFNA Education and Planning Unit to make up for Silverman's own failed internal FRD effort. Then $600,000 more reduced to $400,000 was snatched for 2017-2018. (It goes without saying that had funds in those amounts been allocated to JESNA, that organization, providing vital services at the time it was forced out of business would still be doing so and JFNA would not have found it "necessary" to create a Planning Unit out of whole cloth.)

And, now, it has come to this. Every national agency has hired a Development Director of FRD Consultant; every National Agency will soon be at your federation doorstep or in your mailbox; and all of this courtesy of your JFNA -- doing nothing and doing nothing well. The Alliance is on its way out of business.

Doing nothing and doing nothing very, very well.


* This letter was also cited (for other reasons) in

Friday, September 15, 2017


Image result for alfred e neuman images

If you are, as am I, of a vintage that remembers Mad Magazine, z'l, with the same affection and reverence as I remember the United Jewish Appeal, you will recall the strange grinning face of the immortal Alfred E. Neuman, and his signature phrase "What, Me Worry?" That likeness and that phrase capture Jerry Silverman to a "T" (although Jerry certainly doesn't look anything like the fictional Alfred.) For it has been clear that with a laity who should all be wearing "Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil" tee-shirts, even a non-performing CEO has nothing to "worry" about.

As I mused about Alfred E. Neuman Jerry Silverman's great good fortune to be unaccountable to anyone, I saw a full page magazine ad for "Hunger Action Month." Perhaps, you saw it as well; the tagline: "Nothing runs on empty." And, that line is so wrong as JFNA proves that at least one thing "runs on empty." Nothing runs on empty more that JFNA. 

One of my personal philosophy gurus, Casey Stengel, watching the earliest version of the  New York Mets was heard to utter the immortal question: "Doesn't anyone here know how to play this thing?" It appears more and more that this question has become seminal when asked of those at 25 Broadway. Casey ultimately proved that the right leader can turn a disaster around; JFNA's CEO has proved that he can no more do that for our continental organization than could Alfred E. Neuman (and Alfred was a a fiction; Jerry appears to be real.)

We have catalogued on these pages the pathetic history of a leaderless JFNA but it's not necessary to have read it here (after all JFNA leaders disbelieve anything written on these pages to the same extent as President Trump disbelieves polls -- FAKE NEWS anyone?); Richard Sandler and his claque can read it all on JFNA's own Year End Progress Report. For JFNA leaders to claim "process" on any front, demonstrates what a recent Newsweek article termed "...the perils of faking it." And JFNA's fakery only works when its leadership is willing to ignore the failure that is right in front of their eyes.

Before Richard Sandler took his seat as JFNA's Board Chair, he made it abundantly clear that his vision of his role was to "let the professionals do their job," and just "get out of the way." It appeared to me that this vision didn't accommodate the lay leader's proper role in a co-equal partnership with the professional leader but Sandler's accommodation might still have worked had JFNA had as its CEO a professional leader of even minimal competence. It didn't; it doesn't. Had Sandler any interest in assuring accountability by the CEO to the organization; change would have already happened...years ago. 

To me, chevre, Sandler has faced/faces a true Hobson's Choice: "...a situation in which it seems that you can choose between different things or actions, but there is really only one thing that you can take or do." There is no real alternative to replacing Silverman; the only choice is whether to seek out an interim CEO to right the ship and position it for a permanent replacement with the promise of institutional excellence or leave the position open while engaging in a lengthy CEO search process.

Some will argue "leave it be, there remain less than 18 months for Silverman's contract to expire." The obvious response: "JFNA cannot afford even one month more of the now baked-in failure of the Silverman regime." If any of you can offer a single reason for retaining Jerry as CEO at this time, please write us, give us that reason(s). 

In the meantime, all of us can understand why Jerry Silverman is smiling...all the way to the bank.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017


1. The JFNA Third International Negev Summit is being, September 12. What were the JFNA-cited "highlights," you ask:
  • "Keynote from Jamie Bennett, executive director of ArtPlace America, a U.S.-based partnership among 16 foundations, eight federal agencies, and six financial institutions working to position art and culture as a core sector of community planning and development by investing in, researching, and supporting those who lead and execute creative placemaking projects.
  • Tour Philadelphia, an award-winning city in placemaking and urban innovation, and share an interactive experience hosted by the Drexel University Innovation Hub, which connects academic excellence to community engagement."
I don't make this stuff up; only JFNA does; only JFNA possibly can. I remember a day about a decade ago when a JFNA leader suggested that "virtual Missions" take the place of Missions to Israel; this Negev in Philadelphia thing is of the same ilk. Brilliant stuff.

2. Someone -- I think we can guess who (yes -- at JFNA) -- released its mailing list to The Israel Trauma Coalition (the latest overseas "partner" apparently added by JFNA-Israel) which sent out its fully transparent report to the entire JFNA Board. Does any federation release its Board list to a beneficiary? I can think of no one who does not admire the work of the ITC but...really? Then how about releasing the same list to JAFI, JDC, WorldORT. Or how about to the national agencies JFNA has abandoned?

3. I rarely do this but the following screed from ZOA's Morton Klein must be read in full to be believed. I found what follows to be hysterical and frightening. Seeing as we all need a good laugh, read this and weep (the underscoring is exactly at it appears in the original):

ZOA's Klein Agrees to Amb. Friedman's Request- Listen to Concerns About ZOA Opposition to McMaster/Tillerson Policies and Actions

For more information contact Morton A. Klein 212-481-1500 
Follow @mortonaklein7 on Twitter 
NEW YORK, August 14, 2017

Supporters of McMaster include the radical Islamic anti-Israel group CAIR, left wing, Trump-hating, Soros-funded anti Israel group Media Matters, anti-Israel TV commentator Van Jones and others. CAIR was formally an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land  Foundation trial and Hamas financing case that resulted in the FBI discontinuing working with CAIR. CAIR has tried to end any discussion by calling those opposed to McMaster  “Islamophobes and White Supremacists,” while stating nothing of substance. Van Jones has been harshly critical of Israel. He signed a letter calling on Pres. Obama to “impose a final settlement” on Israel backed by sanctions. Van Jones supports the “right of return of the Palestinian people” which would destroy Israel as a Jewish State. And he  clearly opposes Israel’s very existence by condemning in 2002 its “occupation for 54 years,” meaning since Israel’s reestablishment in 1948! Moreover, Jones also, on CNN, tried to end any discussion of criticism of McMaster by calling his critics “the dirty right” without offering any substantive issues. And Democrat Dan Shapiro, far left wing Obama appointment as Ambassador to Israel, has defended Trump appointee McMaster by going on a name calling rampage of McMaster critics with virtually no facts. Yet, he never defended David Friedman when his nomination was bitterly attacked by extremists. One should recall that Shapiro, as a top Aide to Senator Feinstein strongly urged and supported including a security waiver in the 1995 Jerusalem Bill to move the Embassy there- thereby making it possible to stop this most appropriate relocation even when passed by overwhelming numbers in the House and Senate. (In terms of full disclosure I must state that because Dan Shapiro, with whom I had many long respectful debates on Obama’s harsh policies on Israel, pleaded with me to endorse him for US Ambassador, I reluctantly agreed with the qualification in a strong public statement that I disagreed with most of his Israel positions.)
OMG!! This was not a Purim spiel -- but it could have been.

4. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington announced that the EVP of  Boston's CJP has been hired as its new CEO. This was an Executive Search come full circle inasmuch as D.C. had offered this position to this same professional (And, we are advised he had accepted until CJP promised him that he would succeed Barry Shrage upon Shrage's retirement and he chose to remain there> Guess that didn't work out.) before hiring Steve Rakitt. We wish Gil Preuss well.

5. Finally, last month JTA reported that "Marijuana may Revive the Kibbutz Movement." Someone should send some to 25 Broadway...immediately."


Saturday, September 9, 2017


Before we begin...make a donation for Hurrican Harvey Relief. Go to and make your gift directly or to your local Jewish federation.

A recent Anonymous Comment read:
"Why not write something positive like how NY and LA immediately sent their top program pros to Houston and they are leading the way.? LA's stepped into to help run their JFS and NY's is moving mountains to get help in. A real sign that the collective is stronger than you think."
I thought that the anonymous author had identified a strength of the federations and how, in the midst of and in the aftermath of Harvey, individual federations responded to crisis, especially the devastating disaster that was and remains Harvey, as well as a total misunderstanding of the very nature of collective response. All of us applaud those who stand tall with the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, its JFS and JCC, the local agencies whose leaders acted with immediacy and heroically -- those of us who know those professional and lay leaders are not surprised by their actions.

I think it appropriate, as the floodwaters continue to recede revealing the extent of the tragedy that Harvey inflicted on the Houston Metroplex, to see if there is anything we can learn from the federation and JFNA's response to this natural disaster. Here is what we learned:

  • JFNA responded quickly by opening a Mailbox -- some federations, like Chicago and New York, each of which immediately allocated and transmitted $100,000, a portion of which was designated to the Mailbox, stepped up. The Los Angeles Federation should be commended for lending Becky Sobelman Stern, once the leader of JFNA's Community Consultant work, to the relief effort. (Houston's JFS did not require Becky "to help run" it; let alone "to help run" this critical local agency.) New York UJA sent one of its senior professionals whose expertise extends to the kind of logistical issues Houston's Jewish community faces.
  • As we know, today, JFNA's response to disaster emergencies is (1) to open a Mailbox and invite -- not solicit, invite -- contributions; and then to use its Emergency Committee to allocate the funds raised; and (2) to mobilize two excellent JFNA-Washington professionals-- one whose focus is on Tax Policy, the other on Grant making, each with nothing more than a part-time assignment to disaster relief -- to consult with affected communities -- this time, Houston, a federation and its agencies with an experience unmatched in dealing with the impacts of flooding on community institutions and the damages to community institutions and members from prior disasters. Next time?
  • Given the severity of Harvey's impacts on the Houston Jewish community, the JFNA Emergency Committee, in consultation with JFNA leaders, determined to immediately transmit the first funds received directly to the Houston federation. All those involved in that decision should be applauded --in fact, all funds received by JFNA for Harvey relief should betransmitted directly to Houston. Yesterday JFNA's daily broadsheet asserted That "Jewish Federations" had "allocated $1.6 million" for Harvey relief -- have those funds been received by Houston? That we don't know.
  • Some thought must be given as to why JFNA's Committee should determine how Mailbox funds should be applied when the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston and its JFS are uniquely qualified, by past experience, to identify the needs and where best funds be applied? It appears that JFNA, which eliminated its own internal expertise immediately after Katrina, should do nothing more than continuously empty its Mailbox and transmit the funds to the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston. JFNA Leaders: Interposing yourselves through an allocations "process" merely would  delay the application of funds to meet desperate needs. That is not help.
  • Yes, in the aftermath of Katrina, JFNA, which had one of its best, most experienced professionals dedicated to coordinating and managing the continental response to that Hurricane's devastation, decided, for reasons known only to those who made the decision, to eliminate that full-time position, leaving the organization to scramble with part-timers in an attempt to frame an ad hoc response to each devastation.To his credit, the former full-time JFNA professional has been actively sought out and engaged with the Houston communal response to prior Houston flood emergencies. 
The JFNA Mailbox is the collective Continental response to the devastation that Harvey has wrought. The individual actions of the LA Federation in deploying its Chief Program Officer to assist Houston or those of the New York UJA (whatever they may be) beyond its $100,000 transmittal of emergency funds will no doubt be of great assistance.

On September 4, JFNA COO, Mark Gurvis, posted a message on Facebook:
"This morning I head down to Houston as part of our second team of Federation movement professionals assisting the Houston Jewish Federation and community address their many challenges in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Our team this week includes planners, operations staff and an IT specialist. We are working with local leadership and colleagues from our national partners in human services, education, synagogue movements and more to build a comprehensive picture of needs and priority responses. The financial needs are enormous. Please give generously and share this post."
Many communities across the country have mobilized volunteers and professionals in addition to raiing dollars. For example, Chicagoans have respoonded with over $300,000 in pledges and:
"In addition to the financial support Chicago's Jewish community is providing through Federation, JUF's TOV Volunteer Network is coordinating the first of several missions of volunteers that will head to Texas in the next few weeks to provide hands-on help with the cleanup and rebuilding.
And 11 JCFS and J-CERT clinicians are staffing the Houston Jewish Family Service's "warmline" from Chicago. The phone line provides counseling and support to residents dealing with the emotional impact of the crisis."
There is so much good being done it is a real omission that JFNA is not reporting daily if not more frequently to highlight the facts on the ground and "the need to support (the responders) and the victims." That constant messaging was exactly what was done during Katrina when Gail Hyman, then the senior JFNA (f/k/a UJC) marketing and communications professional, was assigned to the team on the ground to help "build a comprehensive picture of needs and priority responses." Maybe Renee Rothstein is doing so but I, like all of you, sense that we remain in the dark -- a social media post from time-to-time doesn't compensate and neither does a letter from Silverman. Daily information at the least is required; as Comments to an unrelated Post on this Blog evidenced, there is too much, an overwhelming amount of misinformation out there.

There has been an incredible outpouring of both human and financial support from Jewish organizations and individuals during and after Harvey -- from Michael Dell's incredible $36,000,000 gift and huge commitments from the Wilf and Arison families, to the possible $1 million that may be granted through the Government of Israel's Diaspora Affairs Ministry, as JAFI prepares a financial aid package and federations have joined or are potentially joining Chicago and New York in allocating significant funds. Then there are the charities like Hands on Tzedaka, Chabad, ZAKA, JVOAD and so many others engaged in holy work confronting this disaster in sacred ways joining with NECHAMA - Jewish Response to Disaster, ZAKA, the Israel Trauma Coalition and IsraAid, along with shlichim from the Jewish Agency, among others. Charity Navigator published its list this week of the highly rated charitable organizations engaged in Hurrican Harvey relief naming Chicago's JUF and New Yrok UJA -- absent...JFNA. (I would guess someone is intensively working on that.)

Lee Wunsch, the brilliant Houston Federation CEO, who has led the local federation response to prior flooding has characterized Harvey as "Houston's Katrina." All of us must join hands in applauding JFNA's continental responses -- the Mailbox, the convening of JVOAD, dispatching staff to the scene and, surely, recognizing that the Houston agencies' -- Federation, JFS, JCC, synagogues -- responses that need to be better communicated to all of us, not just to "Dear Colleagues" or just to "JFNA Board" every one. As one friend has written me:
"JFNA doesn't need to manage Houston and isn't going to.It does need to manage everyone else out there and give Houston the space to operate. Again, it's still pretty chaotic right now, and those who are primed to criticize need to keep this in mind: JFNA does know its strengths and weaknesses here. Handling money and information is the main value brought to bear, and by doing so gives the people on the ground the time and space to do what they need to do. If Houston needs more resources, whether financial or human, (Houston will) ask...Better we should all be ready with the cash before it happens..."
We join with all others in thanks for the heroic efforts of all those on the scene and all those everywhere who are responding in such beautiful, Jewish, sacred ways. Kal ha'kavod.

And, with wind speeds of 150-185 miles per hour, there is the horrific prospect of devastation from Hurricane Irma. We pray for the safety of all those in Irma's ultimate path.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Just when you think that JFNA has hit bottom under Sandler/Silverman, it just gets worse. And all of it the result of incompetence and a lack of accountability visible to all. A few examples:

  • While the Envoys Program of JFNA-Israel continues to flounder, it operates in some sort of bubble without regard for the new reality -- New York UJA-Federation plans to/is planning to cut its overseas allocations to the core budgets of JFNA's historical partners while JFNA fiddles. Not only will New York's abandonment of its historic collective responsibilities be catastrophic in the absolute; that unilateral act will set the dominoes tumbling as federation after federation will be stating "if New York did it, so will we." I am reminded that a decade ago the Detroit Federation stated that JFNA's Dues being unconscionable, that federation would no longer pay them. JFNA under its then lay and professional leaders organized a meeting with Detroit's leaders face-to-face and, while contentious, the end result was that Detroit remained a member in good standing, a leadership community. And, today? There are few if any Continental leaders of stature to sit with New York-UJA's leaders; no doubt, there will be letters and tearful pleas.
  • Then, there is the Young Leadership Cabinet, once a diamond now a zircon; a mere shadow of what it once was and what it was intended to be. Two years ago the line of leaders objecting to a Cabinet restructuring plan preferred by, what else, consultants, stretched out the door of the room in which the draft document was discussed. No one stood in support. The articulated "we are going back to the drawing board" offered hope. And, then, two years later, with the blessing of JFNA leadership (actually it was far more than a blessing, it was kumbaya and hosannas as if the Cabinet had delivered Torah), the plan that emerged was, but for word-smithing, the same plan so strongly rejected when first presented. (NB, the exact same thing happened in the development of the ultimately failed Global Planning Table -- an almost unanimous rejection of a draft GPT "Plan" reappeared at the end of the "planning process" essentially unchanged...and the disaster that some of us predicted would be.)
  • Consulting Services, once the  JFNA "hub" from which all spokes emanated, is now a consultant-driven FRD effort thoughtlessly expanded to be the system's outreach to all communities because...well because it was "there." FRD consultants, even the talented part-timers JFNA is now deploying, can't offer comprehensive advice and counsel to the federations beyond FRD any more than superb litigators can offer real estate law advice. So federation professionals will still be force-fed into FedCentral for advice from each other while JFNA will term this failure as "victory."
  • JFNA-Israel continues to be totally ineffective -- whether it be as the failed canary in the mineshaft when it came to Netanyahu's abandonment of the Diaspora, the struggle to fund and to make of I-Rep a meaningful effort on the ground in the hope to have a meaningful impact on Israel's civil society let alone to dramatically increase the resources available from a small group of participating federations -- the so-called "coalition of the willing" -- and a small, ambitious group of philanthropists who wish to control the entire "Initiative." 
And, we could go on in detail with the failure that The Network became after Silverman and a Board Chair dismissed the indigenous leadership from these small communities and substituted their "judgment;" FRD where an ambitious "Senior Consultant" (who is now identified at FRD events as the "Philanthropic Scholar") appears to be dictating all FRD activities; where national Missions have fallen on such hard times that even those most effective in the past have been canceled; the General Assemblies where, if trend lines continue, may soon be held for professionals only or in a phone booth; and on and on.

In Casey Stengel's immortal words: "Doesn't anyone here know how to play this game?"

We all know the answer.