Tuesday, July 31, 2018


On July 15, some of you may have received the following report from Jerry Silverman:

"Dear Colleagues,

As you may know, I am currently in Israel, where the country has just emerged from an extremely tense Shabbat in the South. Our Israel office has prepared this update on what has taken place.

Since the early hours of Saturday morning, some 200 mortars and rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israeli territory, triggering 173 separate Red Alert sirens. Tens of thousands of residents spent much of the Sabbath in shelters. Approximately 30 projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system and some 73 projectiles landed in open areas.

In the most serious event, three people were injured when a rocket hit a home in Sderot. One 17 year-old girl was wounded with shrapnel wounds to her face, a 20 year-old girl with injuries to her limbs and a 52 year-old man with a chest injury. In a separate incident, a rocket hit a synagogue, also in Sderot, but there were no injuries there. Another rocket landed near homes on a kibbutz in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. Video of some of the damage can be seen here. Chilling footage from a security camera showing a rocket hitting a public area in Sderot just in front of a passerby can be seen here.

During the afternoon, the IDF instructed residents in Gaza border communities to remain within 15-seconds of bomb shelters or safe rooms, closed the local Zikim Beach, and restricted gatherings of more than 100 people in open spaces and more than 500 people in closed spaces across the Gaza border communities. As of early this morning, those restrictions have been lifted. See here for a video report from the IDF at the scene of Sderot rocket attacks.

In response to the rocket fire, Israel’s air force carried out its largest daytime operation against Hamas since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. Israeli jets reportedly hit some 40 Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip in four separate military compounds. As part of the operation, the IDF hit a Hamas high-rise urban training facility and a terror tunnel that had been dug underneath, two additional terror tunnels, a Hamas Battalion HQ in Beit Lahia and dozens of other terror targets in several military compounds. Video of the attack on Beit Lahia can be seen here. According to Israeli military spokesman Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis, “The battalion command’s entire infrastructure has been destroyed.”

The IDF spokesperson issued the following statement: “The IDF holds Hamas accountable for everything happening in the Gaza Strip. The IDF is prepared for a wide variety of scenarios and is ready to take necessary steps, which will intensify according to the situation assessment and the operational need. The IDF is determined to continue to implement its mission to defend Israeli civilians.”

The IDF also released a statement in Arabic on social media, addressing Palestinian in Gaza. The message read: “This is a special announcement for Gaza's residents. You are requested to immediately remove yourselves from every facility or infrastructure that are used by terror organizations, to stay away from every person that is known as a terrorist and from every space in which terror organizations operate….Beware, you have been warned.”

At 11pm last night, Hamas announced that a ceasefire agreement had been reached, but this has not been confirmed by Israel. Since the announcement, two additional rockets were fired at southern Israel. At the time of writing, Israel’s security cabinet is meeting to discuss the current situation.

At this point, we are monitoring the situation closely and reviewing all contingencies. As of today, Sunday morning Israel time, the violence does not appear to be escalating further. Nonetheless, the situation remains sensitive and tense. We will continue to observe closely and will keep you informed if the situation changes."
This was informative, of course, but all of us get better on the scene information from actual reporters for The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, The Times of Israel. I can only hope that Jerry's successor appreciates that his/her service to the Federations is not as our "war correspondent."

I, for one, would have appreciated learning of JFNA's impacts on serious issues that impact on Diaspora-Israel relations. You know, like those reported in https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-u-s-jewish-chiefs-warn-against-passage-of-racist-nation-state-bill-1.6270788. After all, Silverman is reported in that article as having traveled to Israel to lobby against this legislation. 

And, then, voila -- Richard Sandler sent out Jerry's letter the day following the one above. to his Federation colleagues. It's both excellent and informative:
"Never a dull moment in Israel - especially in summer.  The Gaza border was quiet all day yesterday, and let’s hope the unofficial ceasefire holds.  At the same time we spent the day with our partners at the Jewish Agency in the Knesset giving our passionate and direct input on the Nation-State bill.  We have been working to drive home Federations’ concerns about this proposed legislation. This bill has challenges and some positive elements.   Our voice needs to be heard and we are ensuring that it is. 

There has been significant maneuvering by a number of different factions to shift wording and to address these concerns.  It’s too early to say what the final form of the legislation will be. This memo will provide insight into some of the specific issues on which we have focused.

The Nation-State bill is a proposed “basic law” that would enshrine in legislation Israel’s status as the nation state of the Jewish People. Various bills of this kind have been proposed and shelved over the years but this one is close to being enacted. While the aim seems worthwhile enough, there are at least three provisions in the draft that are highly problematic, with potential ramifications for Jews across the world.

First, the bill would make Hebrew the only official language of Israel.  Historically, under the King’s orders during the British rule of Palestine there were three official languages:  Hebrew, English and Arabic.  When the British Mandate ended, English lost its status and Israel was left with two official languages.  In Israel, Hebrew is the de facto primary language and this bill would reaffirm that reality on the ground.  Out of respect for the Arab population in Israel, this new bill includes wording to the effect that Arabic will have a “special status” to be determined by a separate law and that its standing shall not be prejudiced.  However, no matter what intention, the effect of such a change will appear to be a demotion of the Arabic language to second class status, because it alters a previous and long-standing status quo. 

Second, a provision was included in the bill that would allow Israelis to establish closed communities, in which members of other religions or nationalities would not be allowed to live. This was by far the most controversial section of the bill, prompting the President of Israel and the Attorney General and many others to object. Thousands protested in Tel Aviv and complaints about this sectionreportedly reached Congress as well. At a meeting earlier today, it appeared that the coalition agreed to change this language.

Finally, the bill contains a provision which tries to define the obligation of the State of Israel to Diaspora Jewry. Israel-Diaspora relations are a two-way street – a point I tried to drive home in many meetings and consultations about this bill. Together with the Jewish Agency we strongly objected to the recently revised wording of this section, apparently aimed at limiting the influence of Diaspora Jewry over religious pluralism issues in Israel. Through a series of meetings and consultations with decision-makers, we voiced our concerns about this section loud and clear.
This proposed Nation-State bill will most likely come to a final vote within the next day or two, before the Knesset breaks for its summer recess.   It has potential ramifications for all who work to defend Israel’s character or who are associated with Israel simply by virtue of being Jewish.  As I sat in the Knesset listening to Israeli leaders vigorously discuss this bill, I had the opportunity to reflect once again on the challenges Israel faces in balancing its democratic and Jewish character. Passions run high on these issues and there are no easy answers. 

JFNA is on the ground making sure the concerns and perspective of North American Jewry are heard.  We will continue to keep you updates as consideration of the bill continues."
Kal ha'kavod

Hopefully, while Silverman our CEO might have reported on how he has led an effort to combat the ultra-Orthodox onslaught against the Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox Movements and their leaders; or how JFNA is meeting the challenge created by the Prime Minister's negation of the Kotel Agreement -- that Agreement which Silverman touted as a JFNA "success" (it wasn't, it was Natan Sharansky's, and now it is no more) when it was agreed to in 2016. 

Here is how one Large City CEO, South Palm Beach County's CEO Matt Levin, described the situation in Israel v'kol ram to his community over one year ago:

"I am writing from the Jewish Agency meetings in Israel, where the Prime Minister and his cabinet have made a pair of decisions that together could threaten the unity of the Jewish people and diaspora-Israel relations. First, the Israeli government suspended the historic 2016 "one wall for one people" Kotel Agreement for cynical political reasons. Second, the government introduced a bill that, if passed, would return a full monopoly to Israel’s Chief Rabbinate regarding conversions. South Palm Beach County has been a national leader in understanding that pluralism is crucial for Jewish unity, and our voices are needed now."
The situation has only deteriorated since even as the Prime Minister announces that he "hears" our concerns.

C'mon, Jerry, we're rooting for you.


Saturday, July 28, 2018


The immediate past Chair of the Jewish Agency Executive, Natan Sharansky, and the journalist, Gil Troy, have penned a provocative analysis of the relationship, or lack thereof, between Diaspora Jewry and our extended mishpacha in Israel in Mosaic Magazine. I highly recommend it to each of you. https://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2018/07/can-american-and-israeli-jews-stay-together-as-one-people/ Even the title reflects the authors' environmental scan of the current condition: Can American and Israel Jews Stay Together as One People? 

These are two very perceptive people; Natan shall forever be my/our hero of Modern Jewish History. They both know far more than I, but, really?

One of my friends sent the article to me with the question: "What do you think?" I offer the same question to all of you. 

But, responding to my chaver...

"Thanks for sharing this article with me. I thought it well-written, if terribly slanted as I discuss below.

The article contained “red herrings” almost too numerous to count: for example, referencing a single Boston Jew’s overstatement, as representing American Jewish opinion creates a false narrative so as to set up the authors’ thesis. There is too much of that in the article. Further, there is no acknowledgement by the authors that a major, contributing factor in the current “distancing” are the policies of the Netanyahu Government. (Remarkable to me was the authors’ rationalization [justification??] of Netanyahu’s breach of the Kotel Agreement.)

I consider the proposed Jewish Peoples Council to be a preposterous suggestion, especially when the co-author just moments ago stepped down from his 9 year Chairmanship of the Jewish Agency — the organization that characterized itself during Sharansky’s terms (and, historically) as “the Parliament of the Jewish People.” I can’t conceive of Diaspora financial support for this Council let alone Knesset members agreement to some sort of co-equal debating society."
What's going on here?

Rhetorical question.


Wednesday, July 25, 2018


This may come as a surprise to you -- the Zionist Organization of America a/k/a Morton Klein has a foreign policy, at least according to Tablet. https://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/265711/mort-kleins-fish-tale?utm_source=tabletmagazinelist&utm_campaign=908f0210b1-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_07_04_10_28&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c308bf8edb-908f0210b1-206560494  

Yes, as the article -- Mort Klein's Fish Tale -- discloses, the ZOA's harsh criticism of the Qatari government appeared to have eased considerably after two $50,000 donations form one who later registered as a Qatari lobbyist in the United States and a visit to Doha (paid for by...whom exactly?) Then, The Jewish Week reported: "ZOA’s president, Morton Klein, appeared to have dramatically changed his views on Qatar, the oil-rich emirate that has been a major supporter of the terror group, Hamas, and is home to several of the group’s leaders."http://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/the-100k-qatar-donation-no-ones-talking-about/ 

And, who paid for Klein's visit to Doha in pursuit of ZOA's foreign policy? 

Will this end well for Qatar, Israel, the ZOA, Mort Klein? Is this a cynical sell-out? Well, Klein told The Jewish Week that the organization has refunded the two $50,000 donations to their source. 


Thursday, July 19, 2018


For American Diaspora Jews, one needs a great sense of humor when engaging with Israel today. So much is going on and so much is going wrong. After all we can either laugh or cry when...

  • The Prime Minister can assert that Israel's "strongest allies" in America are Evangelical Christians. Not American Jews, not the organized Jewish Community...Evangelical Christians!!!
  • A Member of Knesset from Shas who, after asserting that Reform Jews "are not Jews," alleged that those who lobby for the egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel (as agreed to by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet before Bibi breached that agreement) were to blame for earthquakes that struck the Galilee on June 27!! (The same chacham went on to assert that if Reform Jews want an egalitarian prayer space, they should "take the money (they) invest in Israel and build a Kotel in the U.S.") 
I don't wish to suggest that rampant stupidity is strictly an Israeli-American Jewish community phenomenon. It isn't. Take for example the obviously 100% true allegation of the Head of the Iran Civil Defense Organization, citing "scientific studies" that allegedly prove that Iran's drought has been caused by "[J]oint  teams from Israel and one of the neighboring countries are deseeding the clouds entering Iran." As one article headlined: "Iranian General Blames Drought on Israel Cloud Thieves."http://www.jewishpress.com/news/middle-east/iran-news/iranian-general-blames-drought-on-israeli-cloud-thieves/2018/07/03/  Yes, "cloud and snow theft." Felonies.

Start-Up Nation, indeed.

And, not wanting to be outdone, a lower level spokesman for the White House, concluded that the wonderful relationship between President Trump and Bibi proved that the United States is now "beloved" around the world as compared to the eight years of the Obama Administration. Must be watching Fox News.


Monday, July 16, 2018


On the occasion of the brilliant conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer's passing, I was reminded of these words of wisdom and insight:
"You're betraying your whole life if you don't say what you think, and you don't say it honestly and bluntly." 
This concept of "betrayal" vs. responsibility has been stated and restated on these pages with a certain amount of repitition. 


Friday, July 13, 2018


This will not surprise anyone, especially not readers of this Blog -- often times, when a new (or interim) CEO steps into federation leadership, things hidden under the rocks or behind the misrepresentations for years and years are discovered.

This has recently occurred in two communities (which shall remain nameless) with dire consequences for the communities themselves and for the overseas "partners," if not JFNA as well:

~ In one of these federations, the CEO and his minions preached that they were at the cutting edge of transformational change as they moved the community from a traditional annual umbrella campaign to the "ultimate" in designated giving. Yep, "Total Choice FRD," or whatever it was called, was destined to fail. (In fact, within the first weeks of this "innovative" CEO taking the communal reins, I visited with him and, hearing the bare-bones outline of this then embryonic plan, I explained that this approach would (a) had undermined the centrality of federation in the communities where it had been applied under various names; and (b) had failed in every federation where it had been attempted. This new CEO responded by saying he was quitting on the spot. He didn't.)
So the "transformational change" went forward. Donors sent their funds, designating them as they saw fit, with a small amount generally available for federation's sacred work. The result -- the campaign appeared to dramatically increase; when, in fact, the only aspect that increased was in the conduit that federation had become. (A review of the 990s discloses the futility of it all.)
Often, in the midst of what was represented to be campaign growth, the CEO and other senior professionals in the community, offered themselves for available positions in other communities generally without success --other than one, hired by a larger federation for a brief period, before reality struck.
Then came "discovery." The CEO finally found a landing spot -- not with another community but with a national agency. It did not take very long for his successor to discover that the claimed "transformation" was really change for the worse. The federation was in dire financial circumstances unable to fulfill its current (and past) allocations commitments to the overseas partners (and, no doubt, some local ones as well). 
A mess. 
~ In another federation, years, and millions, of unpaid allocations were discovered by the new CEO to have been built up without the ability to pay. (Way, way back in the day, I was visiting communities as UJA's Regional Chair to talk about allocations and service. I went to visit a community in the Midwest. On my way there I saw that the community had unpaid allocations dating back several years and over $1 million. Sitting with the CEO and lay leadership, I pointed to the account receivable on UJA's books and learned that the lay leadership knew nothing of the arreaage. Working together, we developed a reasonable payment plan.) 
What happened to those millions will be a matter for a future Post
And, what are the common factors in both of these unnamed federations beyond hubris and mismanagement? 

1. An abject failure of lay oversight within the community. Lay leaders willing to ignore what was right in front of their eyes believing that the CEO "will take care of it;" and
2. A failure by the continental organization to monitor continuing communal failures. Where was the Financial Relations effort? Is there one anymore? Where was the staff -- the JFNA COO and CFO and those assigned to dealing wit the communities? Is there still a Cash Collections effort? What were the JFNA professionals doing? What, if anything, were/are they telling the communal leadership? What are they telling JAFI/JDC/WorldORT?
Two communities -- certainly the tip of the organizational iceberg. This is a disaster.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Subsidiary questions: why does it continue to exist? Does anyone care?

Every year, year-after-year, JFNA publishes its Israel Policy Priorities for the coming year. I just compared those for 2017 with those for 2018. They are almost identical. I can only assume that these "Priorities" have become an inside joke among the rest of the staff at 25 Broadway -- "Look at what JFNA-Israel won't be doing this year...again."

On the lay side JFNA-Israel's most recent Chairs -- David Brown and, then, David Butler, must have seen and see what is right in front of them -- an Israel unit that at best ca be described as under-performing, at worst, non-performing, repeatedly accomplishing near-to nothing. In the best tradition of "make no waves," the "Davids" just watched while the Israel Office continued down its path of failure. As I've written, JFNA-israel is JFNA in microcosm.

Here is what JFNA's Israel Policy Priorities were for 2017:

  • Strengthening the Relationship between Israel and the North American Jewish Community -- repeated in the Israel Policy Priorities for 2018 almost en haec verba
  • Encouraging open, constructive (sic) and respectful dialogue -- again...repeated
  • Opposing the Delegitiization of Israel -- incorporates the work of the Israel Action Network as if it were the work of JFNA-Israel
  • Providing Transformative Israel Experiences for Young Adults -- in other words, great work by Birthright, MASA and Onward Israel
  • There are more but you get the point
The fact that the Priorities for 2018 are almost identical just makes me shake my head in bewilderment as to what this expensive Jerusalem-based Office does. (I won't even get into the mysterious attribution of these Priorities to the JFNA Government Relations Staff other than to ask -- WTF?

You can ask until you are blue in the face -- where is accountability...where is accountability  ? -- and the answer is self-evident. THERE IS NONE.

And, I guess that's my question -- WTF? Is anyone paying attention?


Saturday, July 7, 2018


Back in the dying embers of the United Jewish Appeal, one of my successors as National Campaign Chair brilliantly organized a national Mission dedicated to allocations to the core budgets of JAFI and JDC. I remember the complaints about whom the communities were sending on this Mission which was to be restricted to Federation CEOs, sitting lay Chairs and their successors. All of us pitched in to assure, to the best of our ability, that the participant criteria were met. We had great participation...and, sadly, almost no impact.

I was reminded of this by a review of what JFNA 2018 calls its "FRD Mission" -- the Campaign Chairs and Campaign Directors Mission, once among the two or three most important and most successful national Missions, has been quietlly abandoned. That CC/CD Mission was a critical annual event bringing together, first, UJA professionals, and, then JFNA's, with the communal campaign (General and Women's) leadership. This Mission begun anew during my terms as UJA National Campaign Chair, UJA leaders having initiated the Mission a decade and more earlier, only to discontinue it for a brief period -- I participated in two of them (always careful to appoint great women and men as the Mission Co-Chairs) and they were spectacular. Relationships were built, ruach was remarkable, the Mission-culminating caucuses were incredible. We had broad federation representation from Campaign leaders of all City-sizes. 

Well, that was then and this is now. This FRD Mission doesn't even pretend to replicate the CC/CD Mission. Of 112 participants, 54 are community professionals(12, count 'em, 12 of them from JFNA); Israel is not the destination and only 20% of the total number of federations are participating. (Since the 2007 Prime Minister's Mission, the concept of personal recruitment has been forgotten -- much as Mailboxes now substitute for real fundraising.) One community -- a Large City -- sent three pros, no lay leaders. Others sent Board Chairs and CEOs. 

Look, there are great people, great lay and professional leaders participating, as always. And, it's good that a number of young leaders will be on Mission. (N.B., when UJA had the responsibility for the CC/CD Mission, Young Leadership Cabinet leaders were critical members of our Mission leadership team.)

One had hoped that over the years were the CC/CD Mission to evolve, it would have evolved into something better. But, like JFNA itself, it has evolved into nothingness. Instead of making that great Mission better, more meaningful; it has disappeared.

CC/CD Mission: JFNA in microcosm.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018


At the end of May continuing into early June, that most important daily journal, ejewishphilanthropy, entertained a point-counterpoint, counter-counterpoint, discussion between the CEO of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, Andrew Rehfeld, and Misha Galperin, once the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and, then, the President of the Jewish Agency for Israel-North America, on the subject of "Who are Federation's Customers.?" 

Allow me to over-simplify: What set off Misha was Rehfeld's conclusion that the community's "customers" are not the donors, seemingly dismissive (though that was not his intent) of the donor community as somehow less important than the community's "clients." 

Much ado about....I know of no successful federation that has ever described its donors, at whatever the giving level, as "customers;" I don't think that his community had ever done so. Rehfeld seemed to so characterize in order to have a false premise on which he built an elaborate response. Those federations -- and they are fewer and fewer as we all know -- which have built successful fundraising efforts year-after-year have never lost sight of the reality that those fundraising successes are based upon reaching out to donors to support the most critical needs of the communal clients --as Misha wrote: "mission-driven but market sensitive;" those communities which have proved unable to articulate their mission, have no or, at best, a shrinking, market.

The St. Louis CEO, coming to federation with a fresh outlook from academia, perhaps has built new success in the St. Louis federation without realizing that he has been doing so based on an old, even retro, methodology and  awareness. His writing suggests that he has happened on a revelation, when, in fact, he has merely discovered the best communal practices and applied those in new and creative ways or in what has already proved successful elsewhere -- it's hard to tell which.

So, yasher koach to these professional leaders for placing old wine in new bottles.


Sunday, July 1, 2018


In a sad, brilliant and illuminating article in the May 21 edition of The New Yorker, reporter Evan Osnos, cites the current Presidential administration as one engaged in the equivalent of a hostile takeover:
"In the anatomy of a hostile takeover and occupation, there are textbook elements -- you decapitate the leadership, you compartmentalize the power centers, you engender fear and suspicion."
In the continuity of JFNA over the close to two decades post-merger, we have every evidence of a hostile takeover gone bad -- not a "takeover" by the old CJF or UJA, but a hostile takeover by those new to and incapable of leading the organization that merged, evolved and failed time and time again.

The indicia of failures need not be repeated in this Post -- I'm as sick of writing about the failures as most of you who regularly read the Blog are tired of reading about them. Instead I wanted to focus today on what JFNA has decided to do about it.

  • JFNA leadership decided to create two task forces -- one of which we've been told will evaluate the work of JFNA - Israel ( a totally unnecessary evaluation, as we have had decade-long failure, bloat and worse to merely publish) and the other to take a fresh look at the United Israel Appeal (I would assume that the creation of this Task Force is another attempt by a leadership so distant from UIA's work, Revenue Rulings, and project ownership, et al., to try to figure out how to collapse this subsidiary company.) Those looking into the work of UIA should understand that it is the one JFNA overseas function actually doing its assigned tasks with excellence thanks entirely to the work of its professionals in Israel.
  • Curiously, Sandler appointed the ever-eager Harold Gernsbacher to Chair both Task Forces -- "curious" because (1) these are not Harold's areas of expertise or experience or knowledge and (2) the Task Forces' work may be in conflict each with the other; and (3) Gernsbacher is the purported chair of the Secure Community Network, an important position.
  • And who will be staffing these Task Forces? Mark Gurvis? Or another senior professional whose JFNA work has been divorced from the organization's connection to Israel, let alone one whose actions may have been antithetical to the organization's expressed support for its beneficiaries and work in Israel?
Then there is the assignment of the Bridgespan consulting firm. If that $450,000 Consultancy excludes the "value proposition" of JFNA-Israel within its charge, then Bridgespan's ultimate work product will have ignored a significant part of JFNA's budget and a significant chapter in its story of failure. If Bridgespan will, as it must in my opinion, include JFNA-Israel within its study parameters, then what is the purpose of the Gernsbacher-led Task Forces?

I'd like to think that somebody at JFNA has been thinking about these things; experience teaches me that no one has.