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.



Anonymous said...

Now that you are looking at this you'll have to give credit where credit is due (and no this is not the CEO!) to date over $8.5 million has been raised. It could reach $10 million early next week. Most of these dollars were raised by the leadership of Jerry Silverman. NY, Chicago as well as LA and other cities have already raised significant dollars and there has been incredible in kind support.

There already are plans in place for Florida.

Anonymous said...

Is this what the Harvey assistance effort boils down to at 25 Broadway -- someone claiming to be "not the CEO" (but obviously someone "close" to the CEO) wants you and your readers to know that Jerry Silverman is somehow responsible for raising "most of
" $8.5 million. No credit to the 1000's of volunteers within the Houston community or from the may non-profits you have cited, nothing about the 1,000s of victims of Harvey -- only about Jerry. Whoever wrote this should identify himself/herself and the position he or she holds at JFNA and (b) why he or she, if not Silverman, has aready sent this Comment to him to score points.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about either point made by the two anon comments, but I live and donate to two federations and remain on the Houston mailing list, a third federation where I used to live. I received requests from all three federations for donations not from JFNA. I also received a request from ORT America and I assume other organizations also sent requests. Nothing came from JFNA and I am on their mailing list for other things. Perhaps I missed it or perhaps I sas on the correct list.

Anonymous said...

It is clear from the first Comment to this Post that there is a belief somewhere at 25 Broadway (hey there Jerry) that every federation allocation to the JFNA Mailbox was attributable to Jerry Silverman; every pledge to the Mailbox was attributable to Jerry Silverman, etc. -- instead of focusing on people served, communal institutions aided, someone at JFNA was obsessed with giving Silverman "credit" for funds he didn't raise.

Shameful stuff.

Anonymous said...

To be fair (and consistent): if we blame the CEO for every fault in the organization, shouldn't he receive credit for when the organization does well? Or is this just a hatefest?

Anonymous said...

Better the JFNA pro, or Jerry, should tell us how they're spending the money!

RWEX said...

Whomever sent the first Comment -- whether it was Jerry himself, some acolyte, or just an ambitious staff member -- has done an incredible disservice to JFNA and to Silverman himself. In this Post I celebrated JFNA for doing its job in the face of the Houston floods, and doing it with excellence. For some perverse reason, the writer seemed to state that we had neglected Jerry's personal contribution to this effort, embellished it beyond believability and attempted to change the narrative from what is important to what is irrelevant.

Let's get back to what is critical as so many communities across Florida are facing the catastrophic consequences of Hurricane Irma, so many without the resources, human and financial, of Houston.

Anonymous said...
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