Wednesday, February 28, 2018


Which organization is doing what today?

  • "The architect of the Jewish future"
  • "Your voice in Israel"
  •  CEO searches
  • "Touching more lives than any organization in the World"
  • "Representing Jewish communities in 100 countries across 6 continents"
  • The 1st-ever national CEO OnBoarding program
  • "We Are One" (only kidding)

If you responded JCCA, JNF, JCCA, JFNA, WJC, LeadingEdge, you obviously have too much time are your hands and you should join me in Blog-writing. 

But, the point of this exercise is this: while JFNA is lost in cliche, other organizations have filled the void that JFNA has left, leaving our federation-owned entity in the dust. The voids that have been created by JFNA either abandoning the field -- Israel, CEO searches and professional training, representation, future vision -- or not even being aware of its responsibilities.

So, you may ask, what is JFNA doing? Me, too. We know of its work in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and of its Washington grant-making successes in a terrible environment. Yet, a newly announced Leadership Coalition for Jewish Service dedicated, at least at the outset, to additional assistance to, and in partnership with, the Houston Jewish community, appears to not include JFNA. As reported by the brilliant ejewishphilanthropy --,+2018&utm_campaign=Wed+Feb+7&utm_medium=email -- raises the implicit question: is JFNA relegated to a few fly-ins or are its leaders pounding on the door of this new Coalition begging to be admitted?

And, what else -- help me here folks. I am at a loss...and so is JFNA. And, no, just spending $53,000,000 a year, $30,500,000 from Dues, tells us nothing -- other than that there is no accountability at JFNA, no sense of responsibility. But there is lip service...always lip service. 

In one of his last presentations to the JFNA Board as National Campaign Chair, Harold Gernsbacher pleaded with the few federations represented for data, for the federations to trust JFNA with their Campaign data so that JFNA could then responsibly report back to the communities on annual campaign trends and achievements. Harold's plea apparently fell on deaf ears inasmuch as the current National Campaign Chair, Delaware's Suzanne B, Grant, made the same plea in a letter to the communities last month, underscored in her presentation to the Board in January. 

Why do the communities clearly not trust the national organization which they own? I would submit it is because JFNA, with its claims of "confidentiality" about almost everything, its continued annual waste of millions on a series of failed General Assemblies, and the failed JFNA-Israel, its opaque Budget process and more opaque expenditures, its lack of purpose, its egregious over-compensation of its senior professionals, its reliance on a secret group of consultants, its claims of "confidentiality" in all things -- JFNA, remarkably, has demonstrated no trust in its owners, the federations. And all of the while the owners, the federations have demanded nothing...not a thing...of JFNA.

Friends, here is what JFNA defines as its Mission today:
"JFNA’s mission is to SERVE, REPRESENT, and LEAD the 148 Federations and more than 300 independent Jewish communities across North America. Our goal is to strengthen Federations’ abilities to deliver their mission of caring for Jewish in need (chesed), building and deepening connections to Judaism, Jewish life and community (chinuch), and building the cohesiveness among and between Jewish communities, Israel and the Jewish people throughout the world (k’lal yisrael). "
Assume that this is, in fact, the Mission the federations dictated for this entity (it isn't but that's a story for another day), how is JFNA doing? Is the organization really delivering in the areas of chesedchinuch and building cohesiveness among and between Jewish communities? Under this leadership what demonstrable success has JFNA delivered in its self-assigned goals to SERVE, REPRESENT and LEAD the federations

I think, I know, that all of us, every lay leader, every CEO knows the answer -- JFNA has failed us.

Now what are the lay leaders and their CEOs going to do about it?


Sunday, February 25, 2018


As all of us know so well, the United Jewish Appeal in its time was a prodigious fund raising machine -- at its height, the envy of the philanthropic world; even at its end, with the merger that created JFNA, UJA was directly soliciting 10's of millions of dollars a year in the communities and on an incredible array of Missions, and among its own constituencies. Present company excluded, an remarkable succession of lay leaders -- women and men alike -- were matched with an amazing group of professionals. I was blessed to serve with so many lay and professional leaders who demonstrated devotion and passion and a singular commitment. When the brilliant Jonathan Woocher, z'l, wrote his seminal work, Sacred Survival, at is essence, he was chronicling through example after example, the United Jewish Appeal.

An unmatched continuum of professionals drove the UJA financial resource development effort: from the pioneers, the incredible, inspirational Rabbi Herb Friedman, z'l, Ernie Michel, z'l, Al Hutler, z'l, who then passed the leadership mantle to Bobby Pearlman and Mel Bloom, Irving Bernstein and the next generations of preeminent fund raising pros Russell Robinson, Mo Sherman, Shimon Pepper and Harold Cohen, Brian Lurie, Vicki Agron and Gail Reiss, among other passionate, committed, driven professional leaders. This was truly a Movement matched where great professionals matched with remarkable lay leaders too numerous to cite by name here. I venerated all of them; all of them are heroes.

There is no doubt that the zenith for UJA, and, from all of the accumulated evidence, the federation system was in the genesis and execution of Operation Exodus. Instead of that billion dollar campaign being the building block for greater systemic achievement, the Exodus special campaign appeared to have exhausted the system; an exhaustion from which the system in most of its component parts seemed unable to recover. From this incredible chapter in modern Jewish history, in American Jewish history, we have ended up exactly where we are today.

And, here's how we got to today...

THE MERGER. With 20/20 hindsight the federation system would have been better served -- far, far better served -- if those of us in leadership of UJA/CJF in the mid- to late-90's had determined to maintain the "UJA-CJF Partnership." We had achieved great savings through a physical consolidation, we had reassigned functions to assure that there would no longer be duplication and overlap, UIA would have continued as an independent entity and the Partnership, even with Co-CEO's, was operating more or less smoothly. But the Large City federations would have none of it; their leaders wanted ownership and the budget control that was part and parcel of ownership. Most important, as it turned out, was the Large City Federations implicit demand that there would never be another Operation Exodus unless they initiated it. (BTW, since the merger, not one Special Campaign run by JFNA achieved its goals -- not in wartime and not in peacetime.)

In the first days of what was then Newco, Charles Bronfman, the first Board Chair, engineered a rejection of the UJA Brand at an extra-governmental meeting. The handwriting was on the wall.

A Campaign/Financial Resource Development "Pillar" did some excellent work under Vicki Agron's professional leadership. Initially, this writer was named then dumped as the Pillar Co-Chair, restored only through Steve Nasatir's intervention. (Sadly, Agron didn't lift a finger in support, already insecure in her new professional leadership role -- a position secured for her in the new entity by the lobbying of Carole Solomon, Bob Schrayer, z'l, and...I.) The Pillar worked hard under a troika of Co-Chairs, Chattanooga's Michael Lebovitz (who would later serve as National Campaign Chair), Cleveland's brilliant endowment professional, Berinthia  LeVine (who would leave the system for a senior position at Cleveland DState University) and I (who would later be relegated to...Blog-writing)-- among its achievements, the emergence of the concept that would later be branded Total FRD, integrating annual and planned giving campaigns; and the decision to provide hands-on lay-professional assistance to high potential communities (a decision, the catalyst for which was Tauber's urging).

THE COLLAPSE BEGINS. Initially, within the Annual Campaign/FRD Task Force (which followed the Pillar episode) of the merged entity, there was continuity in both professional and lay leadership. The brilliant and passionate Carole Solomon was one of the great National Campaign Chairs, followed by Chicago's dedicated and indefatigable Bob Schrayer, z'l -- and  that continuity continued through the years of Steve Hoffman's service as then UJC CEO/President. (In the first years of what would be UJC [prior to its rebranding as JFNA], continuity wasn't so easy. For example, CEO Steve Solender, without any discussion with lay leadership attempted to recruit Bob Aronson, Detroit's dynamic CEO, to professionally lead both Campaign and the relationship with "Israel." I learned of this when Bob called me seeking my advice. Again I stepped up to support Agron; and, again, a one-way street as it turned out). Bob declined the position, Solender was soon retired and Steve Hoffman stepped in to lead JFNA with his usual distinction.

And, then, FRD hit a wall in the person of Howard Rieger, Hoffman's successor. Rieger, in the guise of a "Strategic Plan" (with no input from the FRD Department), drafted by him behind closed doors, evidenced in part Howard's distrust of Agron's and the FRD Department's work. Howard's continuing attacks on Agron -- some directed at me when I privately communicated to Howard my strong objections to the substance and lack of "due process" in his treatment of Agron and the FRD work that she led. While she was aware of my support and encouraged it, Vicki at one and the same time tried to curry favor with Howard by supporting whatever wholesale changes he demanded while he demeaned her quite openly -- among other things, even as I and other dinosaurs were kicked to the curb, Vicki asked me to review FRD plans ("in secret...pinky swear") and she assumed, correctly, I would be fine when I was removed from the FRD Campaign Cabinet -- offered as a human sacrifice I suppose. None of these actions preserved Agron's position or, more important, the role of FRD within JFNA.

IMPLEMENTATION. While in the midst of Howard Rieger's constructive termination of Vicki Agron, the CEO sprung a "reorganization" on FRD. Henceforth, Howard declared, with the acquiescence of Board Chair Joe Kanfer, FRD would be merged into (not "with," "into") the organization's Consulting Services Department, Barry Swartz, the head of Consulting Services would now absorb FRD into his work (Barry had almost no significant FRD experience), and Agron would second him. It was Rieger's passive aggressive way to rid himself of Agron -- clearly a goal more important to him than FRD services to the communities-- services that in the last survey conducted with the federations was their highest ranked need.

By late 2007, even Agron had had enough. She left to join the consulting world; leaving her "dream job," forced out by Howard Rieger. Then Gail Reiss, an incredible fundraiser and superbprofessional was passed over in succession to Agron and left first to New York-UJA and then (and now) as CEO of American Friends of Tel Aviv University. A great young leader, David Fisher, resigned as National Campaign Chair, disgusted with the treatment of the JFNA professional staff and the marginalization of FRD within the entity, among other things. (For his candor, he received an excoriating letter from the then Board Chair, Joe Kanfer.)

Eric Levine, a master researcher and data interpreter at UJA and, then, JFNA, succeeded Gail Reiss. JFNA FRD became but an after-thought.

COLLAPSE. And, then, Eric Levine was gone. Only a few excellent professionals remained. And Jerry Silverman and Kathy Manning arrived; neither had any apparent interest in JFNA's FRD. Both were absorbed with the so-called "Global Planning Table;" they left FRD to flounder under a succession of National Campaign Chairs who showed neither interest in pushing back against the leaders' disinterest nor in advocating for the revivification of the FRD senior staff. (The GPT, as all of you know, was DOA.)

Silverman and I met briefly for a chat at the bar of the Ritz-Carlton Battery Park one evening. Jerry left me speechless when he told me with great pride and glee that he had "just hired Paul Kane from New York-UJA." I had known Paul since his fine work in Chicago's Campaign and knew that he had done good work for New York but, at a time that JFNA needed new energy and new FRD professional leadership, as I told Silverman, Paul wasn't the right guy to meet either need. I needn't have worried: while Jerry saw Paul as his FRD guy, Paul saw himself as some kind of corporate cheerleader, a COO without the title and responsibilities; and, probably at Kane's suggestion, JFNA hired Reuben Romirofsky, a mid-level New York-UJA FRD professional. So, while Paul, as a full-time consultant, seemed to spend significant time promoting Jerry, continental  FRD continued to sink -- seemingly its professionals were relegated to raising money (but never enough) for either JFNA's budget or a series of failed special campaigns. 

Under Silverman, FRD had morphed into less than an after-thought.

AGRON REDUX. There was a growing clamor, mainly from Small and Intermediate and Large Intermediate Federations, for campaign assistance. To respond, Board Chair Michael Siegal and Silverman seduced a wonderful lay person, Harold Gernsbacher, with promises of "the earth, the wind and the stars," to the National Campaign Chairmanship. With little professional staff to fall back on, Gernsbacher drafted his own Campaign Plan and Silverman agreed to retain Vicki Agron, who, since leaving JFNA, had built a solid reputation as a consultant, as a JFNA part-time "Senior Consultant" to work with Harold. Agron jumped at the chance to make a triumphant return to FRD at JFNA albeit in a part-time role.

Gernsbacher was a throwback as Campaign Chair -- he was everywhere. He led every National Mission, spoke wherever and whenever asked (although not asked often through no fault of his own) with great heart and great enthusiasm. He was the "outside person;" Vicki was working the inside with her usual incredible energy. The Campaign Cabinet was restored (including a few past Chairs -- no, I wasn't asked) along with several forgotten functions. Another Campaign Plan emerged (though, as I told Agron in the confidence she had demanded, it was mainly a rehash of the old and a bunch of cliches. This was the last time that Agron asked for my help.). But there was a recognition that little help would be provided the federations that paid the Dues without full-time FRD professionals in place. 

As I came to understand, Silverman, always sure to take care of himself, refused to offer sufficient compensation to attract a cadre of high level FRD professionals to JFNA. (Those were apparently not within the "earth, wind and stars" promised Gernsbacher!!) Instead, Agron created a "secret" (the names were not released to the system) Consulting Team of four top FRD professionals from federations around the country, all part-time, assigned to communities determined by Agron (it's possible she told Harold Gernsbacher). In addition, as Paul Kane phased out, Max Kleinman, recently retired as MetroWest's long-serving CEO, joined Silverman's "secret" consulting team, and assigned to raise millions to satisfy JFNA's commitment to Holocaust survivor relief. Max was one of the best of his generation of federation CEOs.

When Silverman, or, perhaps, COO Mark Gurvis, was pressured by communities to provide broader Consulting Services, someone made the decision to convert the part-time FRD Campaign Consulting Team expanding their services away from FRD and four additional part-time Consultants were hired. In the midst of all of this, Agron recommended that Silverman hire Brian Abrahams, a bright and personable senior Aipac professional who decades earlier had worked for UJA, as Senior V-P Financial Resource Development. Brian  had no Federation Campaign experience.

I greeted Brian's hire with enthusiasm believing him to have the potential to be a Russell Robinson not realizing that Agron would continue to control this Consulting Team (and Abrahams would have his own community consulting assignments). Brian, within weeks of his hiring (I was going to write "arrival" but Brian officed in Chicago out of the Chicago federation offices), fired the woeful Planned Giving professional whom Agron (the part-time consultant) had hired but months earlier. There have still been no high level full time professional hires leaving Brian, Beverly Woznica (in Los Angeles) and Arlene Berland and some Mission professionals and the 8 part-time Consultants and one Senior part-time Consultant as today's JFNA FRD. 

And that FRD Campaign Plan of which Agron was so proud? Your guess is as good as mine.

Financial Resource Development was/is still eating up 50% of JFNA's budgeted dollars but I challenge any of you to try to connect the dots between budget and activity. From all evidence that FRD Budget is just another ATM for Silverman's application as he and Gurvis determine.


The future for FRD at JFNA remains unclear; what is certain is that without a full-time FRD professional staff, there will be none. Perhaps it's time to...

  • Retain the original 4 members of the Consulting Team, apply the compensation paid the most recent Consulting Team hires and Agron's Compensation and enable Brian Abrahams to add two high level FRD professionals to his team. It would be a start. 
  • Deploy the FRD Campaign Cabinet to key high potential federations which agree to partner with JFNA in enhancing their campaigns -- back in the day (more than a decade ago), JFNA FRD did partner with Las Vegas and Phoenix (until that program was killed off by Rieger [as I recall]). 
  • Revitalize the national Missions Program by appointing Mission Chairs who are committed to personally recruiting a group of Co-Chairs across the country and potential fellow travellers in each instance -- all of whom would then be expected to personally recruit participation.
  • And, focus, on the reality that the federation system is bleeding donors at an ever-increasing pace, find some best practices for rebuilding the donor base and implement a new approach.
And move forward from there building on successes...

What will happen? Fill in the ___________________________________________________


Thursday, February 22, 2018


Friends, a Federation CEO whom I hold in high regard, recently included this in his Shabbat message to his community: "Change and the unknown are hard. There is definitely risk involved....Will our community...and our Federation have the strength to be able to look at the facts and determine changes that are necessary to move our community forward?" 

And, just so, a confident professional challenged his community to confront the need for change. Where, my friends, is the same challenge to the leadership of JFNA? When and from whom will that parallel challenge come?

Ponder the challenges as you read on:

1. The following Comment says so much; it is The Emperor's New Clothes 2018:

"Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "CHICKENS ROOSTING -- AGAIN AND AGAIN": 

The education unit is a classic “short con” in which a shill pretends to conspire with the mark to cheat the dealer, while in fact conspiring with the dealer to cheat the mark. The mark has no chance whatsoever of winning, at any point in the game. In fact, anyone who is observed winning anything in the game can be presumed to be a shill.

Think of three-card monte. A confidence game in which the victim, or "mark", is tricked into betting a sum of money, on the assumption that they can find the "money card" or “Lady” among three face-down playing cards. It is the same as the shell game just cards instead of shells.

When you think about Education, you think about classrooms, youth groups, summer camps and the like. But don’t bet on it. The Con Artist in-chief Jerry knows where the lady card is. 

He moves the cards so you just can’t tell where the lady is.

Nobody is paying close enough attention.

Everything he has described in the so called Education Unit — replace the word Education with Campaign and voila - you lost your bet.

He didn’t “lie”in the con artist world of telling the truth. He only lied in our more common vernacular of telling the truth as practiced by most of us.

So, the shills play along, and money is added to the regular budget of JFNA.  

So JFNA can at least pay out more money and do nothing. 

A great way to cover inflationary costs and wasted money on consultants.

A con game instead of FRD.

A con artist instead of a CEO

And a short con instead of a National Organization.

Rabbi P. T. Barnum taught us two lessons:

Clowns are the pegs on which the circus is hung.


A sucker is born every minute"

I have nothing to add. 

2. Some of you have asked offline why I haven't offered what you've callled my "two cents" in response to the ejewishphilanthropy piece "Board Chairs Behaving Badly." I commend the article to you -- -- you can reach your own conclusions. 

But, I would love to ask the authors: have you ever identified Board Chairs who behave badly in multiple categories?


Monday, February 19, 2018


From the DESK of Richard Wexler....

Back in the day -- the UJA "day" that is -- one of my great mentors, East Bay's remarkable philanthropist, Mort Friedkin, was asked by UJA's then National Campaign Chair Joel Tauber to Chair the first UJA Marketing & Communications Committee. No more than a month later, Mort called me. "I just quit." "What?" I asked. "I told Tauber if he is going to try to do my job when he should be doing his, he can do it without me."

I was reminded of this episode by a recent "From the Desk of..." missive from JFNA Vice-Chair Cindy Shapira. (And what's with JFNA, an inifinite number of Desks, a miniscule number of successes?) At its essence, Vice Chair Shapira was providing an in-depth domestic Fly-In Report on her visit to Houston with one of that community's preeminent leaders, Denis Braham, as Co-Chair. 5 unnamed Communities were also represented onthe Fly-In.

We all recall that Hurricane Harvey was the costliest tropical cyclone ever, causing approximately  $125 billion in damage, primarily from widespread flooding in the Houston metro area. The Houston Jewish community was severely impacted. The Hurricane hit Houston on August 17 and did not let up until September 3 -- the Hurricane ended 4 months before that first JFNA Braham-Shapira "Fly-In" while impacts continue to be felt.

The Houston Community is truly "Houston Strong" as it has proved in the face of weather disasters time and again; none as devastating as Harvey. There is still so much work to be done, JFNA is to be congratulated for offering a series of "Fly-Ins." (The unasked question, of course, is why these didn't begin months ago.) 

Best I can tell this is a 24 hour in and out; some important site visits; and a chance for a hands'-on experience in the community. And, for reasons totally unclear, the Shapira invite includes the important inducement that "[P]articipants are not being asked personally to make a gift." JFNA appears to wish to just put more nails in the coffin of FRD. Is that promise really going to attract more leaders to future "Fly-ins?" Is this the only way JFNA can recruit today? This is a terrible message from our Continental organization to our communities', 

Oh, yeah, thanks for reminding me: what's this got to do with my Mort Friedkin story? It's this: Gail Norry, a fantastic leader from Philadelphia who has held many important positions from UJA Young Leadership onward, had recently been appointed the JFNA Chair of Disaster Relief (or whatever title responding to emergencies by opening a Mailbox and deciding allocations may be). Gail is to leadership of Disaster Relief today as Mort Friedkin was to UJA Marketing back in the day. I'm not suggesting that Gail resign; I am suggesting that she might want to remind the Vice Chair that a great leader knows how to share the spotlight.

In all events, if you can afford it, a Houston Fly-In would be an important 24 hours spent.

Now, I don't know about you, but I'm heading to my office, where I have a real Desk (not upright, no treadmill) to do some work.


Friday, February 16, 2018


1. I am certain that every one of you has heard the following joke:

"In Jerusalem, an American female journalist heard about an old Rabbi who visited the Kotel, the Western Wall, to pray twice a day every day for over five decades.
In an effort to check out the story, she goes to the holy site and there he is. She watches the old man at prayer and after about 45 minutes, when he turns to leave, she approaches him for an interview.
“I’m Rebecca Smith from CNN, sir, how long have you been coming to the Wailing Wall and praying?”“For about 50 years,” he informs her. “That’s amazing! What do you pray for?”
“I pray for peace between the Jews and Arabs. I pray for all the hatred to stop and I pray for all of our children to grow up in safety and friendship.”
“And how do you feel, sir, after doing this for 50 years?”*
“Like I’m talking to a brick wall!”
As all of you know, that "Rabbi" is me. Writing this Blog is the closest thing to "talking to a brick wall." 

We all know that these Posts are read within the brick walls at 25 Broadway; that a succession of JFNA Board Chairs, constantly claiming they "never read it," read, if not obsess over, these Posts -- Kathy Manning admitted to the morning pain she experienced the mere anticipation of another of these caused her. We know that the more accusatory of Posts are downloaded by one -- usually some sycophant who then sends it on -- and then forwarded on with the verbal equivalent of a "tsk, tsk."

But I also know that to many I am the Blogger equivalent of the old man shouting "get off my lawn" at everyone even near my property line. "Like I'm talking to a brick wall."

2. The Knesset, clearly a legislative body with time on its hands, as reported in the Jerusalem Post, was busy "...putting off action on bill to prevent camel crashes." The legislation is designed " protect vehicles from cross intercity roads." The Israel "Transport Ministry spokesman said camels crashing into cars are not its responsibility." Suffice it to say that camels are dangerous, there have been deaths, especially at night. We will endeavor to keep you posted unless this is a matter for JFNA-Israel.

3. I want to strongly suggest that all of us read the brilliant piece in ejewishphilanthropy,  Board Chairs Behaving Badly The article offered both the characteristics of bad behavior and corrective measures. It should be required reading for all current Board Chairs, and those who aspire to succeed them. 


* I was reminded of this ancient joke by its retelling in various forms on the current season of Someone Feed Phil, Phil Rpsenthal's brilliant food anthology now streaming on Netflix. The joke is told and retold while Phil is traveling in Tel Aviv and north. Please ignore the treif.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Do you remember Johnny Carson's great character, Carnac the Magnificent? For those who don't, Carnac, in elaborate feathered tiara  and flowing robes, would appear to provide the questions and then the answers. Example: "What is Sis Boom Bah?" Answer: "What is the sound when a sheep explodes." Here is my own version: "What organization totally lacks self-awareness?" Answer:  "What is JFNA?" Indeed, what is JFNA?

The question arose this time from of all places, the unmatched waste that is FedWorld. (Some of you may recall that I was dropped from the mailing list and now must rely upon the generosity of friends to have a shot at reading the thing.) It was back on January 11, when the headline to this mindless thing was "How do great organizations know they're great?" Then, as the preface to the link to the article: "Why measuring your impact is key, and how you can up your grant making game."

I mean, WTF?? I know that there is no one at JFNA who read the article before it appeared in FedWorld; and I know that whoever is responsible for the fish wrap didn't appreciate the irony; and no one at 25 Broadway is into self-deprecation -- but this? If anything, the article, reprinted from the brilliant ejewishphilanthropy, should be read as if it were written as a direct criticism of JFNA itself. Read the article for yourselves at

I wrote one of the FOBs that this whole thing evidence "a basic lack of self-awareness." My FOB responded:
"This is not a basic lack of self awareness 

This is advanced and a Post doctorate level of lack of self awareness"
OK. So I was wrong again.


Saturday, February 10, 2018




I won't offer a critique of these "direct mail" solicitations, if JTA or JCPA or the countless others pursuing us this past Chanukah think this an effective financial resource development approach -- b'hatzlacha. To those who responded to these appeals, great. Direct Mail FRD has proved to be an effective tool for low-end giving. Nothing wrong with it.

Yet, some of our organizations appear to believe that FRD begins and ends with the Internet and Direct Mail. And some believe that after the collapse of the National Agencies Alliance, Direct Mail will more than make up for the coming Draconian revenue shortfalls these agencies will experience. As one of you wrote, it is timely that the National Agencies compete in the federation marketplace like all others from JAFI/JDC to every other right down the food chain -- national agencies, Israeli NGOs, local agencies, synagogues. I find it to be a formula for fund raising chaos

Reading these Direct Mail solicitations I have been amazed that some of these Agencies seem to believe that a significant body of donors will just check a box, enter a Credit Card and send the donation on, never doing any due diligence, never demanding "truth in advertising." Agency after agency, many led by terrific professionals and lay leaders, suggesting achievements and areas of activity in which the organizations play no (or just a minor) role as if they are the leaders in the field seems to be the common approach. And, you know exactly whom you are.

There was also the mail solicitation from HIAS -- once a giant among the smalls. The organization at least/most offered candor in suggesting a basis for your gift would be providing assistance to HIAS (which has deleted the basis for its acronym -- "Hebrew" -- from its name) so it can continue to provide immigration services to a named Syrian refugee. Another organization asserted that a contribution to it be based in part on its leadership of a 29 person Mission to Israel (and, I assume this was a Mission of its own leadership). 

Look, I am all for raising funds for real needs in the most direct and efficient manner possible. Sometimes, Direct Mail is that vehicle -- although in responsible organizations which understand FRD, Direct Mail is a secondary or, even better, a tertiary fund raising vehicle. When Direct Mail is elevated to the status of the primary fund raising methodology, you often have a sponsoring organization that is orsoon will be in serious financial difficulty.

With the imminent collapse of the JFNA/Federations-National Agencies Alliance, created to support the national agencies now nearly done without having done so, the pressure on the National Agencies to raise funds directly from the federations will have grown exponentially.  beyond their means and, in most instances, beyond their capacity. The Boards of most of the National Agencies were not recruited as either major donors or fund raisers -- they were recruited because of their incredible passion for the cause of each of the agencies. These are terrific leaders; they would probably admit that, in most instances, they are not great fund raisers. 

Some of the National Agencies are well-situated by their purposes and actions to raise significant dollars -- JTA by reason of its reporting, the NCESJ in its dealing with the governments and Jewish communities in Russia and the countries of Eastern Europe come to mind. Others are umbrella organizations, servicing their members -- JCPA, serving community relations councils across the country in addition to its advocacy functions, and JCCA, serving local community centers (and now, stepping into the void left by JFNA and the Mandel Center, engaging in Executive searches) -- and facing  difficult fund raising challenges inasmuch as the local agencies they support are themselves struggling for sufficient budgeted funds. 

The National Agencies gained the support of CJF, then JFNA, through entities like the Large Cities Budgeting Conference and the National Alliance. Until JFNA decided to just abandon them. Now these Agencies -- those that the federations have charged with executing programs that benefit the federations themselves -- will soon be visiting your federation pleading for critical budgetary support. 

And, then, there are agencies like the Israel Action Network, created by JFNA in a partnership with JCPA with a mandate that its budget be paid solely by JFNA. Pleading poverty a few years ago, JFNA passed the buck (literally the buck); and, now, IAN leaders are raising, or trying to raise, significant dollars.

And all of this is happening at a time when the federation annual campaigns in the aggregate are themselves under great pressure, perhaps the greatest pressure since 2008. And, JFNA demonstrated its version of "leadership" and fund raising when it made off with almost $1.3 million of moneys allocated to the National Agencies -- their money -- for an Education Unit that, as many of you have pointed out, does not exist.



Wednesday, February 7, 2018


To be "complicit" in terrible things -- turning a blind eye, keeping your head down, shrugging it off -- is starting to look almost as bad as doing them yourself. The New York Times Magazine, January 21, 2018

Today's topic, my friends, is "complicity," if you hadn't guessed from the title, the quote and this. Because everywhere one looks...complicity in the deconstruction of the federation system. As The New York Times Magazine piece continued: Complicity often calls for pretending not to know what you know, not to see what you see. 

I don't have an answer as to "why complicity?" But I do know that the result of this readily observable complicity is the aid and comfort it gives and has given to the JFNA CEO and Board Chair in what can only be characterized as the feckless, constant deconstruction of the Jewish Federations of North America. This cannot be allowed to continue.

And, who are the complicit? The JFNA Board Chair and Vice Chair, the Budget & Finance Chair, the JFNA Executive Committee, the JFNA Board members, and every Federation CEO (that's every one of them). Each and every one of them, of you, who sits in silence ignoring the observable reality of failure at every turn is complicit.

Is complicity permissible? Is it OK to turn the blind eye for some undefined "greater good" or for sh'lom bayit? As I have recalled on these pages, long before this Blog began I privately challenged a JFNA Officers' decision; I was castigated by a friend, challenged to either "go along or resign." That friend believed that one's complicity is required even demanded of all of us -- "go along or resign." My friend was one of the unwitting catalysts for what became this Blog. I didn't "go along or resign." I was, as were others, ignored and cast aside; yet, that demand is exactly the one to be ignored.

Complicity in the context of JFNA is now totally baked in: 

  • Complicit in the egregious amounts paid Silverman, Caspi and, now, Gurvis, for "services unrendered"
  • Complicit in the continuation of a bloated JFNA-Israel accomplishing nothing without even the hope of accomplishing something
  • Complicit in the theft of over $1,000,000 allegedly applied to an Education and Planning Unit which some of you characterized as "a con job"
  • Complicit in the collapse of core allocations to the system's overseas partners -- year-after-year of record lows in cash to JAFI/JDC/WorldORT
  • Complicit in hiding consultant contracts from scrutiny by Board members under a false claim of "confidentiality"
  • Complicit in the total lack of transparency at every level of JFNA activity, including but not limited to the reallocation of approved Budget line items to other activities without  governance approval; and
  • On and on and on
Yes...and on and on and on. Complicity everywhere one looks.


Sunday, February 4, 2018


Another set of critical insights from one of YOU:
"Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "WE AND THEY HAVE REACHED ROCK BOTTOM": 

Your last few weeks of comments have been quite trenchant, disturbing and distressing.

How can any Federation, especially a big city Federation, defend the tens of millions of dollars wasted by this organization?

Heck, they can't even provide financials within six months.

If they were a public company, they would be sued by the SEC and delisted from trading!

Don't the Large Federations have an obligation to fix it now or forever renounce any claim to being a true and faithful fiduciary of their donor's funds?

Why should I give another dime to my Federation unless they stand at the front of the line to demand accountability and change?

Otherwise, another 5% of my donor funds are completely wasted on top of whatever admin and fundraising costs my donations cover.

And shouldn't New York - with $8 million wasted on JFNA annually - lead the way? They can no longer keep their head in the sand or look in another direction."
If any of you, chevre, believe that New York UJA "...can no longer keep their head in the sand or look in another direction" -- just watch them do exactly that.


Thursday, February 1, 2018


I believe that you, my readers, whether you "like" this Blog or "hate" the very idea of it, you are, by a super-majority, an exceptional group of concerned Jewish citizens. Not infrequently, you challenge the very premises underlying the positions I've taken, causing me to seriously reexamine them. For instance:
"The strongest Federations make decisions for the good of their communities and the Jewish people based on a host of local and communal factors. The world has changed and local donors and Federations don't believe they exist to feed the international partners -- that change would have happened with or without a merger. 
Measuring JFNA based on international funding as a primary criteria is silly in 2017/18. Similarly, Federations don't think they should be funding a handful of national orgs because they used to get funding -- if they're adding true value to a Federation's mission they can get local money just like the now hundreds of other orgs operating across the country. 
Richard, we all love you, but you and your readers are too smart to keep pretending that the world hasn't changed with massive disruption in every sector, including Jewish life. All of this said, there is of course room for a real critique of the Silverman regime based on its weakness in meeting today's Federation challenges. Perhaps in the New Year you can focus there?" 
I hate it when I may be wrong even as I am more than willing to have my assumptions challenged. I have admitted to being the dinosaur I have been accused of being; and I readily admit that if, as I have articulated on these pages as t others, "you are what the scoreboard says you are," our Anonymous friend's critique is telling.

I really don't "(measure) JFNA based on international funding as a primary criteria" -- however, I do "measure JFNA" by the organization's understanding that it has an absolute and undeniable moral obligation to passionately advocate for its partners -- for the overseas beneficiaries -- as part and parcel of its institutional n'shama. And it does not do so. To JFNA's leaders, lip service to its moral responsibilities is all that can be hoped for -- and even lip service is in short supply from this group. More's the pity.

At least annually I publicly admit on these pages that I do still believe that JFNA and the federations can recapture their critical, central planning role by dint of hard (extremely hard) work built upon a recognition that certain communal values are sacrosanct -- among them: the centrality of the annual campaign, the historic partnership of American and Israeli Jewry, the exercise of collective responsibility, building the Jewish professional corps, Jewish education, care for our elderly and our dedication to those of our People most in need. In each of these areas, JFNA has fallen down on the job or done absolutely.nothing. And the "see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil" leadership asks nothing of the organization they arguably govern but don't (unless one believes that acting as a rubber stamp is governing).

I look forward to learning from you, chevre, what you believe are "today's federation challenges" and what you perceive to be just how JFNA is meeting them.