Saturday, March 3, 2018


Well, friends, you have to give Jerry Silverman some credit. In his Dvar Torah to the assembled few for the JFNA Board Retreat the last week of January, he asserted a truth: we are to be "judged by our actions not our mottos." Jerry is the master of lack of self-awareness.

That brings me to the January 29 JFNA Mid-year Progress Report. OMG!! I appreciate the candor in the Report, but all one can conclude is there has been almost no "progress" in almost every area...almost none...and, yet, nothing ever changes. 

The Report begins:
"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)." 
I honestly don't believe that anyone who has been paying attention (that appears to exclude the JFNA Board, Officers and, in particular, the Budget and Finance Committee and its brilliant Chair) needs a bullet point by bullet point recitation of JFNA's sad state --
the lack of progress, but another 23 pages were found necessary to do so. You'd think the document might wake the dead (or, at least, be a wake-up call),

So, let's take a look:

  • Federation Relations. Best I can tell, the 8 person JFNA FRD CCT (that's JFNA acronym-world for the FRD Community Consulting Team) has been busily consulting with federations as JFNA "(C)ontinue(s) to shift our business model and organizational culture from a program-centric one to a customer-centric approach." (BTW: Who writes this crap?) There's more about "leveraging," "points of contact," "a living 360-profile of each Federation," "levers" -- well, you get the point. There is little to report other than "mottos," cliche and jargon.
    • Remember, the CCT Team is made up of 8 part-time consultants (plus another to be added), the Senior part-time Consultant, and the FRD professional staff
    • It appears that the entire professional staff will have to be mobilized and trained (by whom?) to meet JFNA's goal that all 148 federations be offered Consulting Services -- this will sound familiar to Barry Swartz and Becky Sobelman-Stern. It's back to the future.
  • Financial Resource Development. See Federation Relations above. It's all about Consulting -- how many times, with whom at the federations, yada yada yada, we're not to know. There is the good old idea of partnering federation Campaign Chairs with JFNA FRD Campaign Cabinet members presented assomething "new."
    • Missions -- the JFNA role can best be described by the following: "JFNA's Mission Director has been out of the office on medical leave and much activity in this area has been placed on hold." There is Fisher Flight which took five...count 'em, 5...couples on its latest flight. They should hang their heads in shame.
    • Major Gifts efforts are focused on Missions -- an excellent Civil Rights Mission and a Mission to Cuba -- and on PMC Receptions. 
    • Supplemental Giving -- high marks for honesty, low marks for fund raising. On the plus side, the dramatic success of the National Holocaust Survivor Fund; on the other hand, as predicted on these pages, the four year goal of $18 million for the ENP SHAPE Program is dithering at $1.18 Million (and the desperate reach to federations has only resulted in another $2 Million).
    • Let's sum up -- some FRD positive results in the Network (question: is the Network reporting as its success project giving to JAFI (through its JAID efforts), JDC and WorldORT? Just askin'. The Cabinet continues: presented as if it were 1970 and successful.
    • And, how the hell do you have a "Progress Report" on FRD with no reference to the federations, no reference whatsoever to the Draconian erosion (as one Large City Executive called it, a "hemorrhage") of donors. JFNA FRD has been diverted to a consulting function to such an extent that it has lost sight of its own purposes. And, I believe I know why; so do all of you.
  • Planning. There seems to be a " Planning and Research Department" which -- just reading between the lines -- may be one or two people inasmuch as the "Department" is going to "leverage" all other JFNA Departments " support local planning needs." Got it? 
    • That Jewish Education Unit that Silverman took over $1 million away from the National Agencies to fund? That's now the Jewish Education and Engagement Office relegated to "working with and supporting 'community of practice groups.'" Your guess is as good as mine.
  • Talent Development. Best I can deduce from the narrative, if anything is happening on this front, Mandel is doing it. Though JFNA no longer engages in CEO searches, there appears to be some real (as opposed to the faux) CEO mentoring and "onboarding" efforts and "skills and knowledge acquisition." 
  • The GA. Going nowhere, attracting no one. And at a great annual cost. 
There are also objectives in the area of policy agenda building and "representing Federations on policy issues of high concern in both Washington and Jerusalem."  And it is this latter "" to which I would like to draw your attention. 

JFNA clearly is striving for relevance; just as clearly it doesn't really know how to do so. At the table discussions at the JFNA Board Retreat in Atlanta last month one conclusion was that "we don't know what we want JFNA to be" -- and whose fault is that. 

Double that concern when it comes to JFNA-Israel. It was illustrative to me that JFNA-Israel is so irrelevant, even within JFNA itself, that there is no specific "Mid-Year Progress Report" for JFNA-Israel. But, there is this:
  •   The Israel office maintains close and discreet relationships with Government of Israel officials on issues of concern to North America Jewry, including participation in key meetings and behind the scenes activity with a particular emphasis on the Kotel and other pluralism- related topics.
  •   A mission of senior Knesset members and party faction leaders was held in September in partnership with the Jewish Agency, visiting Atlanta, New York and Greater MetroWest.
  •   The Israel office represents Federations at the Knesset and in caucus meetings, such as Peoplehood, Religion and State, Diaspora Affairs, and Aliyah and Absorption.
  •   Also with the Jewish Agency, JFNA Israel took a group of seven chiefs of staff and senior advisors of government ministers and senior MKs to the GA with a pre-program with the LA and Orange County Federations.
  •   JFNA provided a program for newly elected Labor Chair Avi Gabbay to get to know the North American Jewish community.
  •   Following GOI actions on Kotel and Conversion legislation in June JFNA drafted and distributed fact sheets on the Kotel and conversion issues, as well as an overview of all religion/state issues and a document that reported on Federation’s investments in pluralism issues in Israel, through core, supplemental and designated giving.
JFNA Mid-Year Progress Report January 2018
And, allow me to sum up the pathetic excuses JFNA has deployed for doing nothing with this one:
“The 10 month effort to mitigate the impact of a Haaretz investigative report positioned JFNA Marketing and Communications Department as a primary source for navigating PR and media on specific issues. Due to the Haaretz process we have not begun providing training and regular briefings on events." (emphasis added)
Laughable. Only JFNA could bootstrap as its excuse for not doing something (in this case "Training and regular briefings") on something it never did (provide guidance and mitigation to the Haaretz investigation). 


That's about it!!

And, anyone who reads these Posts knows that that is because JFNA-Israel is a black hoile within the black hole that is JFNA itself. Over the past decade-+ what has JFNA-Israel accomplished? Just as an example of failure, if JFNA-Israel is responsible for the JFNA "Envoys" Program, we see classic failure. In the first 6 months of the fiscal year, 4 communities -- that's FOUR -- received JFNA Envoys -- 2 more visits -- that's TWO -- are confirmed for 2018. Envoys is an effort with NO support; JFNA-Israel is what then? One thing is for sure -- there is no there there.

I want you to draw your own conclusions. Here's mine: JFNA, even more than a GA, needs to be totally rethought -- from its Mission to its Vision, from its lack of Purposes to Purposes. It is going nowhere in its present iteration...and it hasn't for a long, long time.


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