Sunday, March 18, 2018


With apologies to The Washington Post, "organizations die in darkness." And, as we have pointed out on these pages too often, nowhere is the darkness deeper than at the Jewish Federations of North America.

On a snowy winter's night in February 2018 at Chicago's Midway Airport, Southwest Airlines had to cancel all of its flights when it ran out of deicer. When I heard about this on the news, my immediate thought was: "when did Jerry Silverman become CEO of an airline?" How does something like this happen to a major corporation; how does darkness fall on what was a major North American non-profit? At Southwest actions were taken; at JFNA no one gives a damn.

We are in the post-shame JFNA. There is no longer any evidence that anyone within JFNA leadership -- and I include its Board, the federation CEOs, and, of course, its Board Chair and Vice Chair. What they do care about is unclear. JFNA has been allowed to become the institutional equivalent of the witness protection program. 

JFNA is the place where the degeneration, the entropy have become constants. The greatest college Coach of All Time, the GOAT of college coaches, Alabama's Nick Saban, has a mantra, a challenge to his teams year-after-year: "How good do you want to be?" At JFNA there appears to be no one who would even understand the question. There are some great professionals at JFNA -- as well as the many superb professionals who have left the organization -- who lack direction, who feel they lack professional leadership. For JFNA is in the depth of Tartarus and can't/won't emerge, if ever, until...the 12th of Never.

If there are those who suggest that JFNA under Silverman is anything but the grossest of failures, that suggestion is, quite obviously, risible. As Michelle Goldberg observed in a different context, those at JFNA who think "all's well" have "a photo-negative version of reality." JFNA's failure is not that of its CEO alone; the JFNA Board members and federation CEOs are themselves passively engaged in the deconstruction of JFNA...and, ultimately, of the federation system itself.

Friends, we all know that in any successful organization -- for-profit or non-profit -- we see building on success; at JFNA, other than in the brilliant work in Washington, each success is a one-off (e.g., disaster relief during and post-Harvey) succeeded not by further success but by folly and repeated failure (e.g., JFNA-Israel, the GAs). And no accountability...ever.

Yes, I despair. The only hope I see is in the Anonymous Comments to my Posts from those of you who see what others do not. I try to keep optimism alive in my heart even as optimism is on life support in my brain. But for you, my dear readers, I feel like Al Gore were he at CPAC talking about global warming.

Who ultimately will call a Code Red?


* "Dreckitude" -- that perfect decriptive term is derived from the works of Maureen Dowd writing of something else.


Anonymous said...

Richard, why bring Johnny Mathis into this conversation? His reputation and influence on a generation is unimpeachable.
Regarding the deconstruction of JFNA, perhaps that is the idea of the Large City CEOs. But if so, I would suggest to them to get on with it already, start with New York and dramatically cut their dues, and let all the other city size federations do the same and free up well needed funds for their local agencies and overseas partners/projects.
Every day wastes so much money.

BOB HYFLER said...

Too much of what I keep hearing from leadership quarters (and not just in Federations) is "it's complicated" - long on sophisticated analysis, short on bold solutions...whether on topics such as inclusivity, communal transparency, Israel and Palestine and engagement (whatever that one has come to mean).

Nevertheless, at the Jewish grass roots I hear tell of audacious and beautiful things happening.

Perhaps it is time that those who aspire to leadership, good and generous folks all, to get off the dinner and lecture circuit, open the windows and listen,invite the young and old in with no preconditions; adopt the radical optimism of RFK:

“There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

Anonymous said...

What a perfect description in the title of this Post of an organization that has wasted and continues to waste millions on the failure that has been andis Jerry Silverman, on the proven failed so-called leadership of a Becky Caspi, on the reality that the Senior VP FRD is required to report to Vicki Agron, a part-time Consultant who, like Abrahams, never led a federation annual campaign.It's dreckitude all the way.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:39
Abrahams reports to Agron? Impossible!
But if so, it speaks to the heart of the problem at 25 Broadway: JFNA leadership just doesn't care.