Friday, October 6, 2017


The JFNA General Assembly is the institutional embodiment of that tree falling in the forest and not making a sound.

Perhaps the best/worst evidence of the abysmal failure of JFNA under a leadership embedded in the depths of failure is the GA 2017 which, a little over one month away, is reflecting the worst attendance...ever. The venue is a downtown hotel (yes, an LA hotel, not the LA Convention Center that was the central venue for the last General Assembly in that great City) is the smallest venue for a GA...ever; the number of vendors renting exhibition space the fewest...ever; and many rooms available if you wish to register. We all know the drill by now: fill the seats with day school and Hillel students, offer freebies to locals, proclaim there are 3,000 (always 3,000!!!) "in attendance."  This bogus number is really nothing less than proof of failure. 

JFNA has secreted away $100,000s of thousand ($250,000 in this year's [or was itlast year's] Budget alone) to protect against the annual abject failure of GA after GA, but, it appears, beyond "marketing" a theme -- Venture Further -- that only Jerry Silverman could believe means anything, that no creative thought was given to how make the GA the success that it once was -- mirroring the inability by JFNA's leaders to give any thought to making JFNA what it once was. (Yes, I do mean, UJA and CJF.) 

There will  be speakers and presenters -- many, many of them, most yet to be identified on the Program, but they will include philanthropists like Michael Milken and Peter Lowy, Jerry Silverman (who will offer a Plenary "Words of Wisdom" -- OMG!!), a "veteran cause marketer," "Richard Sandler will share his views on the Jewish future" and Steven M. Cohen, Arnie Eisen, Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell will return once again. There is also a whole bunch of Hollywood-related stuff on the Program that may be of interest...or not:
"You may know them from the big screen, but their rabbis know them from shul. Get to know the Jewish side of Hollywood as notable television and film celebrities engage in conversation, live, with their rabbis."
As Richard Sandler pointed out in a Memo this week: "The GA program is filled with many unique speakers and discussion topics at the top of our communal agenda. We will have several opportunities to venture further into the future of Jewish education, philanthropy, and our community — taking The Federation Movement farther than ever before." So, there's that.

There are some ponies in there; you just have to dig them out.

Travel back with me to the last Los Angeles GA. On the cusp of its kick-off, an excellent program under an excellent, dedicated  Chair, was literally kidnapped by the Large City Executives and totally reoriented to an Israel focus. The Chair, a wonderful philanthropist and leader, resigned, forced out in reality, and, in this writer's opinion, any number of GA "regulars" were so turned off that they have never returned -- and JFNA has never asked a simple survey question of the now annual missing -- "what would it take to bring you back to the General Assembly?"

For now, the construct of an annual GA is dead, with JFNA's lay and professional leaders performing the last rites. We just do it because we've always done it; with the annual counter: if we cancel we will lose our hotel deposit (which has been proved false by the actual cancellation of a GA scheduled for Houston). Lay leadership have voted with their feet. Your federation and mine draw more to a single fund raising dinner, with more excitement, than JFNA can attract to a GA. How can that be; how inept are the current leadership? Yes, rhetorical questions all. 

Friends, I am absolutely convinced that our leaders have been hiding the financial catastrophe that the GA is by playing Budget games to which none of us are privy. I would guess the accumulated losses could be in the millions. 

I'm certain that the information to disprove my these here is deemed "confidential" by the Board Chair, if he knows and I know he cares.



Anonymous said...

If the Board Chair really cares he has a pretty strange way of showing it.

Anonymous said...

"Dead on" (sorry for the pun). I have been the head of a Federation for over 15 years and have not been to a GA for at least five years (I really don't remember the last one) value, no takeaways, no reason to go.

Anonymous said...

This GA is truly a farce. We can onlyspeak for ourselves so I'll make it clear -- the "Hollywood GA" offers nothing substantive to me or any communal lay leader. Whoever planned this thin must think we are children; that we need to be "entertained." The Program dumbs down the federation enterprise worse than any of its predecessors. There appear to have been no adults in the room where the planning for this thing took place.

Anonymous said...

But if you don't attend, you might miss Billy Crystal and his rabbi.

Anonymous said...

Richard, your Post is spot on. Never has a GA so insulted federation leaders intelligence or wasted our time in such obvious and public ways. We have serious issues and JFNA chooses HOLLYWOOD. These clowns have no shame. I’ve spoken to multiple members of my community about this farce, regular GA attendees and, to a person, none will be attending. The response: “why bother?”

Anonymous said...

Is Sandler awake? Does he breathe? Does he realize how he now owns the disaster that was bequeathed to him? It is absolutely clear that JFNA is comatose and that excellent work in D.C. or in disaster response isn't going to mean athing if the organization and its so-called leaders are oblivious to what federations need let alon what federations do. I think what everyone needs to demand is that Sandler rise up and act like the leader he was elected to be; instead of acting the fool, a tool to Silvermanand nothing more.

Anonymous said...

The lack of seriousness at this dreadful GA is also expressed in the framing of Sessions that might have value but are hidden behind "cutesy" and meaningless titles like: "A River (of Giving) Runs Through it: Beyond the Annual Campaign" or "Tactics that Tackle: Shutting Down BDS" or "Stuck in the Middle of the Middle East" or "Playing it Safe: Community Security for Today’s New Normal." The people who planned this don't deserve our attendance.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:47 just nailed it: Who did plan this GA?
A little digging will reveal that, as it was for the last few, Marketing and Communications has owned the GA in its entirety.
And they basically do it without input from the different departments at 25 Broadway.

Anonymous said...

The fools are now advertising the GA on Tablet. Their attitude is clearly that "we will waste as much money as we can on every GA" -- this is a joke masquerading as recruitment one month before the event. Brilliant.

Anonymous said...

I attended 25 GAs consecutively. The last three i attended were so utterly worthless,I gave up. I have not been in 3 years. I have better ways to spend my money. It was Nasatir who insisted that they continue every year stating among other things, that if they went to biennial, others would fill in the vacuum and that this was the place for ongoing Federation national committees to meet.

News Flash: the vacuum has long since been filled,even JNF draws more real participants. There are no more ongoing national committees since the death of CJF.

A Biennial event is the only chance, if there even is one, to raise the dead.

I declare the GA dead.