Sunday, May 19, 2019

WHAT, EXACTLY, DOES JFNA DO FOR YOUR DUES?

I, and many of you in your Comments, have speculated that, other than its work in Washington, and in its role as constituency convener, JFNA is in business for itself. No longer is there even a stab at support of the system;'s historic partners -- domestic and overseas -- no longer is there even a pretense of a continental financial resource development effort (no training, no solicitation sweeps, no national campaigns, no Mission fund raising....no nothing); no longer is there a substantive, continuous community consulting effort; no longer a Speakers Bureau; no longer even a failing CEO Search effort...and on and on it goes, where it stops we all know -- at 25 Broadway. JFNA has been allowed to be stripped down to nothingness while its Dues continue....unaffected, unabated...as if JFNA were doing something for the fortune it receives annually...while Silverman cries poor while accepting his outrageous compensation...unashamed.

It's come to this: I look at the JFNA of today and that bloated non-entity conjures up the image in my mind of what a whale committing suicide must look like. This is the post-shame Jewish Federations of North America. Its Board is as Winston Churchill described his foes: "Sheep in sheep's clothing." Friends, the Hall of Fame Alabama football Coach, Nick Saban, challenges his teams: "How good do you want to be?" It's clear that JFNA would not/does not even understand the question.

If, as the management guru, Jimmy Collins, has written: "Good is the evil of great," how bad is the evil of mediocrity of failure baked into JFNA? At JFNA it's as if someone should just order the Code Red. One of my favorite columnists has observed: "You just can't teach failing at failing. You either have the gift or you don't" -- JFNA has "the gift of ailing...in spades."

I despair as never before. The organization has become so feckless, it has run out of "feck." Worthless, useless. In any successful organization you see building on success -- from small successes to great successes; but at JFNA any success (other than the work in Washington and episodes of disaster relief) is a one-off succeeded not by greater success but by folly and failure, Thus a so-called "reorganization" of the Young Leadership Cabinets (it was really nothing) is followed by a Yoga Weekend, great Missions of the past to Israel are eliminated with minor Missions to, e.g., a Leadership Mission to Argentina and Uruguay.

That is all but prologue. In the past months, crises and potential crises have confronted or will soon confront federations -- federations which, in the past, could have turned to the national system for advice and counsel. Today, given the void at 25 Broadway, created and now perpetuated by JFNA, the federations either turn inward, turn to another or are given the worst possible advice.
~ In New Jersey allegations of long-term sexual harassment and abuse by the Director of the communal camping effort were met head on and brilliantly by the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, Dov Ben-Shimon, who demanded, among other things, the immediate resignation of the entire Camp Board;
~ Within the Jewish Federation of St. Paul, a long-standing $3,000,000 account payable to the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee was written off by the community either in consultation with or at the direction of JFNA professional leaders with: (a) no prior consultation with JAFI/JDC whose funds were voided; (b) and no sense of communal responsibility -- the same lay leaders who decided the write-off remained in power. No sense of moral obligation; no outrage.
~ Just weeks ago, the Dallas community was confronted with a lawsuit against its Jewish Community Centers arising out of alleged sexual assault on a minor at a local J. If the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas believes that it is somehow insulated from claims in this instance, they would have to be unaware of what has happened elsewhere. I am certain that JFNA has offered no counsel.
I do have the strong sense that JFNA has cast the federations off; they are on their own. Send us the Dues, ask no questions, and we'll be fine. Do JFNA's officers understand that they serve the communities...or do they believe that federations should send JFNA their Dues...and, that's about it.

If you and your community like this, just keep semding the Dues, and ask no questions.

Perfect. Right?

Rwexler





Friday, May 17, 2019

IT IS FINGERHUT

As many of you were good enough to call and write yesterday, JFNA has annointed Former Congressman and the Hillel Chief Professional Officer, Eric Fingerhut, as its new CEO.

While it saddens me that the federation system apparently produced no viable candidate (and recall with me that no Federation CEO will admit to even interviewing for another position until such time as they might be the chosen one), we wish Fingerhut well.

Rwexler

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

INSTITUTIONAL INSANITY

Groveman, Dweck, Klinghoffer, Kieffer Leonard, Raskas, M. Levy, Bernstein, Rosen Adelman, Arbit, Barish, Braham, Feinberg, Weiss Firestone, Fishbein, Goldstein, Janks, Kleper, J. Levin, Wise Oreck, Pack, Riekes, Sandler, J. Schwartz, Shapira, S. Silverman, Silvers, Sterling, Turkel, Wilf, Zimmerman
I know all of these leaders, most personally; others by reputation -- leaders in their federations, leaders at JFNA; most of them committed to the work of the Jewish Agency -- and almost to a person, each and every one of them engaged in the work and leadership of the United Israel Appeal. 

After the January vote of the JFNA Board, on or about June 1, 2019 most of these communal leaders will receive a letter (if past is prologue, it will be a form letter) from Cindy Shapira, the incoming UIA Chair, telling them their services to UIA have been eliminated and, of course, "thanks" while announcing a "new" Board.

What Jewish communal organization has ever discharged 60% of its lay leadership not for exceeding Term limits set by its governance, but...for no reason whatsoever. Because that is what is happening at JFNA and UIA right now. The rationale for this Draconian action was, what? Efficiency? C'mon now...In the debates leading to this elimination of 60% of the UIA Board seats, JFNA leaders could not/would not respond to direct questions demanding how and how much "efficiency" would be achieved here. And, as you think about this, recall: UIA was fully performing pursuant its charge as this defenstration was imposed upon it. So, of course, fulfilling its operating principle, JFNA decided: if it ain't broke, break it. So JFNA.

"Efficiency" is not/will not be achieved by eliminating dedicated communal lay leaders from the UIA Board -- what was clearly the intent of the authors of these heinous acts was the elimination of the irritants among those who served as UIA Board members and the strange decision to vest much of UIA's work in the ever-failing JFNA_Israel. Just observe the names of those who shall become the next generation of UIA Board members and what their roles have been at JFNA...you will readily understand what the real motivation was for the elimination of 60% of the  UIA Board leadership because these lay leaders just "get in the way."

What communal organization does this kind of thing? What communal organization rationalizes the elimination of dedicated, mature lay leadership? What does this action tell you about JFNA and its leadership -- because this action is really about JFNA's top lay and professional leadership not about UIA's. And that JFNA lay and professional leadership --- those at the very top who engineered this fiasco -- have demonstrated once again how quickly and irrationally they pursue the next shiny objects in their field of vision, picking in this case low hanging fruit while ignoring the rot at the organization's very core.

Shame.

Rwexler



Friday, May 10, 2019

INSTITUTIONAL MEMORY, Z'L

Institutional memory is critical to institutional vitality, to institutional viability. To those who have none, to those who aren't interested; that very memory is an obstacle, a hindrance, to their personal vision of "change." In successful institutions, leaders rise inculcated with those institutional memories, the institutional values of what built the greatness -- the foundation, the building blocks for success. Those leaders -- leaders without either memory or any interest therein or, worst, dedicated to wipe out that memory -- have built their leadership on quicksand...and institutions die.

As Henny Youngman, z'l, might have said: "Take my JFNA...pleae." 

From its birth, JFNA's leaders -- post-merger, and as the institution "matured," for lack of a better term -- set about wilfully and expressly to destroy institutional memory while ignorant of institutional values, wherever and whenever they found them. At first a trickle -- the institution's Chair of the Executive removed his best and closest friend as Chair of Israel-Overseas -- "time for a change" or some such -- that trickle became a flood. Yes, some years later, a Board Chair with a newly-minted CEO who knew neither  the institutional history nor its values not only swept away the remaining leaders with institutional memory replacing them, wherever and whenever she could with "friends," but cared not that JFNA would thereby be significantly weakened. Those who opposed the Draconian removals were characterized as "obstructionist" and, of course, worse. 

Examples abound. Whether the predecessor organization was the Council of Jewish Federations, the United Jewish Appeal or, most recently, the United Israel Appeal, each was the embodiment of collective action, a core value on which our system was built: JFNA, though created to enhance our collective response, has become an actor in its deconstruction. Examples abound, but the most significant was in the construction of the aborted Global Planning Table, the multi-million dollar fiasco that was the GPT.

As drafted, the authors of the GPT realizing that the system qua system had no appetite for what was being proposed for funding, so they just walked away from collective action opting instead for something called "coalitions of the willing." Federations could choose to join together in the funding and operation of a chosen "strategic initiative." JFNA was nothing more than a benign presence, having no substantive FRD function, it was what it had become over the "Silverman decade" -- a financial mailbox awaiting envelopes. And, federation leaders pointed to the potential systemic devastation that might occur -- and, then, they voted for it. 

Of course, the GPT failed -- terribly conceived, impossible of explanation, a paradigm for the wasteland that JFNA had become. And, after unaccounted for millions had been thrown at, wasted by the GPT, then JFNA Board Chair Michael Siegal ordered it collapsed (but not before his poredecessor had appointed herself GPT Chair). The damage had been done -- for not since the Global Planning Table was deep-sixed has JFNA engaged in the collective enterprise on which it was premised in such large measure.

For years now, it seems, I have challenged JFNA's leaders to articulate the organization's purpose, its focus. Recently, on the jewishpalmbeach Mosaic program, this is what we could watch and hear: mosaic: The Future of Jewish Philanthropy - YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z44j8T5-X80  It's worth watching: perhaps you will discern purpose and focus.

Institutional memory has been destroyed. There is no interest in restoring it or even giving it a decent burial.

Rwexler

Monday, May 6, 2019

WHAT RUMORS?

Many of you have asked me what rumors I have heard about the Search for a successor to Gerald Silverman. The answer: many. All rumors. 

I am not comfortable naming names, my friends, for fear that seeing names on these pages could cause the best of those to be eliminated out in a fit of pique by the Search Chair. If you go as far back as the Search that hatched Jerry, I have consistently refrained from premature disclosure hoping against hope that the Search process could produce the best leader. I was wrong then.

So I have, as have many of you, heard the names of three federation chief executives who are/were/will be finalists; each of whom has demonstrated an understanding of the federation system, all of whom have served their communities with creativity and at least two of whom have demonstrable and consistent results. And, let me say this: any one of them would be better, far better, than the sorry situation we have now.

And, as you would expect, senior JFNA professionals appear to be in the mix as well. 

I have also heard that one national agency professional leader has made the finals. Best I can tell, a fine person, a fine leader and one who has no experience with the complexities federations face today or any first hand knowledge of the challenges our communities and our national and international organizations are facing. One thing any of us who have watched JFNA crater over the last decade no for certain: Jerry's almost decade-long example proves absolutely that JFNA is no place for learning on the job. 

A recollection: in 1999 I was among those asked to interview and prepare those that the then Newco (now JFNA) leaders wished to consider as the merged organization's first CEO. Dan Shapiro, the incredible Council of Jewish Federations lay leader, and I sat for over two hours with the brilliant CEO of one of the national agencies. We explained the place of federations in the communal system and the complexities of the organization that would emerge in a matter of months. As we had with other interviewees, we explored the umbrella leadership that would be expected of the new entity. It appeared to Dan and I that this terrific pro was evaluating the complexities of a system with which he was barely familiar when the "candidate" said: "Guys, thank you so much for this. This is overwhelming. I would only want a position like this if I could hit the ground running and I see no way to do so." We hugged and moved on. 

Almost 10 years ago, that parallel process resulted in...Jerry Silverman.

This is just those one of those times to reflect and act upon Santayana's reminder that: who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Sadly, the leaders of JFNA have over the years tried, with perhaps their only "success," to erase institutional memory -- as recently as in the fiasco of the deconstruction of the United Israel Appeal. Now, the obvious question is: have these leaders learned anything at all from the errors of the past? A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G?

I suppose it is past time for me to admit that any hope for organizational transformational change in the best interests of the federation system has passed. Even the slim hopes for incremental change appear to have passed as well as the baked-in leadership have proved to have no appetite for standing up for principle or progress in any meaningful way. 

As they say: #sad.

Rwexler

Thursday, May 2, 2019

STANDING TALL? STANDING AT ALL?

On April 10, JTA published an article, https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/liberal-streams-adl-not-on-white-house-list-for-pertinent-meeting-with-jewish-leaders, disclosing that, among other things, while neither the mainstream religious movements in the United States -- Reform, Reconstruction or Conservative -- were invited to a White House meeting with President Trump and his advisers, JFNA was among the organizations  invited. Compounding the exclusions, JFNA's newest "partner" in the Secure Community Network, the ADL, was also uninvited.

After the conclave, JNS reported:
"The meeting was a 'feel good thing where the administration's support for Israel' was celebrated, an attendee told JNS."
How nice that JFNA was there!! 

I was sitting at my computer trying to determine how best to approach this thing when I heard from a wonderful friend, a great and dedicated professional, a mentor. Here is what he wrote:
"I had just noted your comments about some kind of special new relationship between ADL and JFNA....then I saw this story about the White House convening a meeting without ADL and, more significantly, without representation of the Reform, Conservative and Reconstruction movements, which reflect the affiliations and practices of most American Jews. Am I  correct that this is a missed opportunity for an organization like JFNA to assert real national leadership?"
" One alternative would be to lead a boycott of such a meeting and just leave it to the three invited Orthodox organizations and Mort Klein to attend. Another, less militant, alternative would be to take the lead in a strong statement on behalf of all the others (with the likely exception of those just mentioned) expressing concern and dismay that the leadership of our country has made a decision to exclude the most prominent and heavily supported Jewish defense organization and, on the eve of Passover, the most representative religious streams in the American Jewish community. Shouldn't we all hate it that folks are passive in the face of such behavior? Where is the outrage?"
Of course we know that no one at JFNA thought about any of these options because that's not what they do. What they do is jump at an invitation to the White House -- it's all about the photo ops, the "I was there." To these leaders, invitations like these are some form of faux "validation" -- "see how important we are?" 

Yes, as to JFNA, as we say about others: "they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."

My friends, there is never any outrage.

Never.

Rwexler



Sunday, April 28, 2019

RENDERED SPEECHLESS

I had thought that one of the primary functions and responsibilities of JPRO, the Jewish Professionals own organization, was to protect and enhance the cadre of Jewish professionals at every level. Apparently I was wrong.

Friends in the profession sent me this amazing (not in a good way) announcement:
"The Mandelkorn Award for Distinguished Service recognizes individuals who have made significant and enduring contributions in the field of Jewish community organization practice. This year's recipients are Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson, President of the Wexner Foundation, and Gerald ("Jerry") Silverman..."
JPRO could not have chosen a more distinguished recipient than Rabbi Abrahamson. 

Here is what one fantastic community professional wrote me about the other recipient: "No words." Others expressed how "flabbergasted" they were; another: 
"Can you believe that Silverman was given this award? Ben Mandelkorn must be rolling over in his grave."
 Another said he was considering returning the Mandelkorn Award that he had received years earlier. And another wrote of his "anger, frustration and betrayal," while one FOB wrote that "this would be the equivalent of handing The National Enquirer the Pulitzer."

To a person, the professionals who have written or called me to express their disgust and disbelief to a person have identified Jerry Silverman as undeserving of this honor as one has done more to debase the profession than anyone in their memory. Many of those who communicated with me were past Mandelkorn Award winners.

Perhaps the "Award Committee" was unaware that after Silverman's hiring as JFNA CEO, JFNA's designated in-house Search functionaries were telling federation CEO applicants that they were "prioritizing" those from outside the system over those with federation experience. Why? Because the "Jerry model" was to become primary...until failure became self-evident. The point: the profession was being systematically diminished, from the inside. Now?

This Award to this recipient is as inexplicable as was Silverman's hiring compounded by the extension granted him at the end of his first term. I assume that the Mandelkorn Award Committee was under tremendous pressure to grant Jerry the Award. There can be no other explanation. In tract, not even that is an explanation.

Because There Is None.

Rwexler

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

THE INMATES

If anyone thought that with Jerry Silverman's announced "retirement," we would somehow see real change at JFNA, we were kidding ourselves. No, it's business...bad business...at 25 Broadway with now the reality that the inmates are running the institution...running it further into the ground.

There are many examples; allow me to focus on just a few as they tie together failures across the board -- Missions, the Tel Aviv GA, and JFNA FRD -- and present these failures in their stark realities. The saddest failure is like an alcoholic who refuses AA, JFNA leadership cannot come to understand its own self-created defenestration.

There has been no acknowledgement that somethings tectonic has occurred: the decay, the rot that appear inexorable at 25 Broadway. At JFNA, fiduciary duty is ignored on every possible occasion -- ignored by the most senior lay and professional leaders, by the JFNA Executive Committee and by the JFNA Board. In fact, based upon all of the evidence, there is a lack of any understanding of what fiduciary means, what it is and what it is supposed to be.

As we have been aware, JFNA leaders engaged a Consultant. with no evident experience in FederationLand to conduct an outrageously expensive study of JFNA. (we speculated on these pages that what was really needed was to engage a Management Consultant to examine JFNA's mismanagement and make recommendations, not some predictably open-ended consultancy...but never mind). 

I have been, as disclosed on these pages, appropriately admonished for revealing some of the Consultant's findings that reflected especially badly on the JFNA of today and of the past decade, at least. No doubt The Bridgespan Group has been retained for further study. At this point, my friends, the real question must be, as it has been: does JFNA's leadership have the will, the interest, the real courage to face the realities disclosed by its own consultants and the will, the interest and the courage to do something about it.

These questions must be answered by Mark Wilf --  who came to his Board Chair position unencumbered with the burden of JFNA's failures that weigh down all of the other lay leaders who have been "promoted" from position to position without regard for the disasters that they wilfully ignored as they worked their way up the JFNA leadership ladder.  

Meanwhile, Silverman sits, the lamest of lame ducks, drawing his egregious salary; now including JFNA FRD under his broken wing -- since Brian Abrahams left, what has anyone seen of JFNA FRD? You know, that on which JFNA allegedly expends 1/2 of its Budget? FRD, like JFNA-Global Operations, like JFNA itself, rendered irrelevant.

If Mark Wilf, now into the six month of his first term, doesn't step up and  step forward now, his time in leadership will echo that of his predecessor's three years. What a terrible waste that would be.

Rwexler

Saturday, April 20, 2019

I WAS BLIND, BUT NOW I SEE

The headline in Haaretz blared: Jewish Agency Announces Biggest Cutbacks in its 90-yeaHistory. Judy Maltz reported:
"An ongoing decline in donations from major Jewish philanthropies overseas made the cutbacks necessary, according to senior sources at the Agency. The Jewish Federations of North America, its single largest donor, has reduced its annual allocations to the Agency dramatically in recent years." (Italics added)
Of course, we have been reporting on the Draconian cuts in Federation allocations through JFNA for years while decrying JFNA's lack of effort to stabilize, if not increase, the allocations to JAFI, JDC and WorldORT. Today, JAFI has a leader who is willing to call it for  what it is -- our failure.

One must applaud the JAFI Chair of the Executive, Bougie Herzog, for facing the realities created by JFNA's and the  Federations' essential abandonment of their historic overseas responsibilities. Now, what will he and Jewish Agency leadership do about this? Isn't it time to substitute the phony and constant public mantra of "thank you" to JFNA and Keren Ha'Yesod with a frank discussion of the continuing failures of federation responsibilities to its overseas partners. 

Readers may recall that but a few years ago, the United Israel Appeal initiated a new and vigorous advocacy effort which met with some unexpected initial success.  So it came to pass that JFNA demanded that UIA cease and desist -- and without a peep, without pushback, UIA's Board Chair, apparently wishing not to resist, acquiesced. JFNA-Israel then began its own advocacy "effort" which, the results being the best evidence of JFNA's lack of any commitment to overseas advocacy, died of disinterest -- the only forays into advocacy being then JFNA-Israel's lay chair's visit to a few, very few, federations. There was to be no commitment and no results. David Brown's successor (David has moved on to the position of JFNA National Campaign Chair) appears to have no interest in even carryiong on this minimal effort.

At one and the same time as failure built upon failure, the JDC was engaged in its own efforts, advocating for itself to increase its share of the overseas allocation (the infamous "split") rather than advocating with JAFI for an overall larger share of federation campaign funds raised. (In the early 2000's I met with JAFI and JDC leadership to urge a joint allocations advocacy effort for just such a hoped-for increase in the overseas allocation. JAFI leadership quickly agreed; the Joint leaders expressed the sense, not unwarranted, that allocations advocacy remained JFNA's responsibility and that that futile organization should be accountable.)

And, here we are: JAFI cutting program and reducing its workforce by close to 10% is but the tip of the iceberg. JFNA and the federations continue to believe that they are entitled to absolute influence in JAFI's work, in its programs and in its budget for no other reason than the sense of entitlement that they always have. 

There is no acknowledgement that allocations to the core budget of the Jewish Agency have been cut by $100,000,000 -- that's $100 MILLION -- since the formation of JFNA. It is true that over these two decades Federation annual campaigns have been in stasis (while at the same time Federation endowments have increased by billions) -- and that stasis has not seen a renewed effort to boost the annual campaigns; rather that stasis has been the catalyst for communities to treat the overseas allocations like a large ATM.

Now, JFNA, having abandoned even the pretext of commitment to overseas needs has recommended that JAFI and the Joint lead any advocacy effort. (DUH?!)  Thereby, JFNA has walked away from any and all efforts to exercise any moral responsibility.

As we have noted before: if they were capable of shame, they would be ashamed.

Rwexler

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

BUSINESS AS USUAL

In early April JFNA and its brand new "partner," the ADL, announced a "joint venture" between the JFNA-Conference of Presidents Secure Community Network "...to enhance the safety, security and resiliency of religious communities." This sounds like an excellent idea with the announced leadership of two former Secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security as Co-Chairs.

What went unmentioned (of course) in the accolades and self-congratulatory messages was the financial history of the Secure Community Network (the "SCN") since 2004. For at its birth, the federations which voted to establish this critical entity sought one certain commitment. I remember the JFNA Board meeting discussion as if it were yesterday.

The federations agreed to fund the SCN through JFNA on the express condition that JFNA would fold the SCN Budget into its own after two years. This demand was made by John Ruskay, then the CEO of the New York UJA-Federation. The response -- "of course, we will." And, then, as baked into JFNA's culture as you would expect, after JFNA absorbed the small Budget, it suddenly could no longer do so. The Conference of Presidents certainly wasn't going to find the funds to do so, so the SCN was, like all of the National Agencies, cast off to go search for funds itself.

The SCN, among the highest priorities of the federation system was and has remained underfunded. JFNA was happy to grab the kavod, but that was it.

Now, the SCN has named these two renowned lay leaders as Co-Chairs, it has retained a superb and aggressive chief development officers (where will funds come to pay him?), and an expert staff. Sadly, JFNA once again dropped the ball, distracted by shiny objects...all objects.

If you return with me to 2006, just two years after JFNA commited to absorb the SCN Budget into its own, no one rose to challenge JFNA's refusal to do so. Security, one of the highest priorities of the system, became a budget irritant to JFNA which perpetuated its faux ownership while walking away fro its funding obligations. 

And, now, JFNA enters into a partnership with ADL. Good luck to ADL. And, what happened to that "partnership" with the Conference of Presidents? Who the hell knows?

Just another negative paradigm for JFNA, which never looks back as it never looks forward.

Rwexler


Friday, April 12, 2019

WHO WILL MAKE IT WORK?

...and the mess is so big, so deep and so tall,                                                                we can't pick it up, there's no way at all
No, Dr. Seuss wasn't referencing JFNA, but the good doctor could have been.

I keep hoping against hope that change would at least be in the air at 25 Broadway, but that has become nothing more than waiting for monkeys to start typing Shakespeare. In fact, there is not even a dead cat bounce in JFNA as it continues to be distracted by shiny objects like the recent evisceration of UIA embraced blindly and passionately by its leaders.

JFNA, as we know, is the gift that keeps on taking. So long as federations are willing to just send on Dues for which the return is minimal approaching non-existent, doing so either unquestioning or hiding the Dues from its donors behind the camouflage of the overseas allocation, change will never happen. Yes, JFNA, conceived with great hope approaching expectation now appears to be less a continental umbrella of the Federation system than it does a House of Cards. JFNA is the organizational equivalent of the Japanese finger trap (think about it!!)

In my own leadership time, a group of young leaders -- the "Young Turks" -- demanded a seat at the national table; they demanded change. And they succeeded. They offered a model of what could happen; JFNA is a place designed to assure that real change will not happen. Those Young Turks proved that a group of leaders can withstand and overcome the forces of conformity. Eem tirtzu ein zu agada. Instead -- a spa weekend.

JFNA Board meetings have become (always were?) nothing more than Kabuki Theater. There is an implicit, an unspoken, demand for unanimity -- vote with us, support our demands, never question -- otherwise one runs the risk of being cast out to the wilderness. I am reminded of the description of the great leader, Daniel Patrick Moynihan:
"In unanimity one often finds a lack of rigorous thinking."
 Yet we have an organization that demands unanimity, appears always to be offended by dissent. And, those who do not question, like cream, rise to the top. Just look at those in leadership roles at JFNA today; other than Mark Wilf, who rose to Board Chair because of his unique generosity and his leadership bio, the rest, fine people all to be sure, rose by the quality and depth of their obsequity and their undeniable willingness to accept any and every assignment.

And, what does this continuing wash, rinse, repeat leadership cycle do? It effectively freezes out young aspiring leaders from their own leadership roles. It's really shameful that leaders cannot be found who, after their own service, will step aside and open doors for the next generation. I guess they are not asked to move aside, instead only: "What job would you want next?" Success in their prior position? Not required. Just make no waves for the pros and continuously kiss up to those who will determine that next position. 

This is a formula for mediocrity my friends...and it is baked into the JFNA cake. 

Rwexler


Monday, April 8, 2019

HAS TRIBE FESTIVUS RETURNED?

As this arrived on my email on March 20, I first assumed in was a brilliant Purim shpiel. It wasn't.

This speaks for itself...or, perhaps, it doesn't:



"Chevre,
Its official…Cabinet Calm is coming to Estancia La Jolla!!!!  Join us for a weekend of mindfulness and wellness in Southern California!!! Spouses and alumni are encouraged to attend.
Dates - Thursday, May 30-Sunday, June 2.
Registration Cost - $600/person (not including the hotel room) payable to Lindsay Sasha David via Venmo or PayPal (email - wiwizzy18@gmail.com).  Registration includes – breakfast all three mornings, two lunches, cocktail hours all three evenings and Shabbat Dinner.  The program will include fitness/wellness activities as well as group meditations.
Please contact the hotel directly to book a room in the block.  We have a discounted room rate with a discounted resort fee. Hotel rooms must be booked by April 29, 2019 to get into the room block.
RSVP directly to Lindsay Sasha David to confirm your interest or if you’d like to learn more about the program.
See you in La Jolla! #lsdproduction
I am so old that I remember the days when the Young Leadership Cabinet was engaged in substance; when it stood for something...oh, the hell with it.

I'm speechless.

Rwexler


Thursday, April 4, 2019

#THE SADDEST

A wonderful friend who has achieved great things as a communal professional in our system, recently wrote me:
"I had an idea I wanted to share with JFNA but realized that there is no one there to share it with and also that it wouldn't matter anyway. So sad!!"
 The saddest commentary.

Nothing more need be said about an organization needing the prompt burial it has well earned with your money..

Rwexler


Monday, April 1, 2019

VISITING ISRAEL? NOT US...

JFNA-Israel and Overseas now is in continuous self-promotion...of nothing. One of its efforts is a monthly "Top 5" in something called I & O News. This month, the Number 1 thing, ahead of the Israeli election, was:

1. Mission to India, happening now.
The PMC /KDS mission to India is just wrapping up, after months of planning  and preparation – early reports confirm that it’s proving to be a once in a lifetime adventure for all those participating.  This backgrounder on the Jewish Community in India gives a snapshot into India’s Jewish history and community, including the Kolkuta community’s Magen David synagogue.
This used to be the Mission annually when under the auspices of the United Jewish Appeal, z'l, always with an Israel component. That self-created requirement ended in 2007, a Mission which David Fisher, JFNA's Campaign Chair, and I led to Paris and Israel. Now, we head to places like New Delhi and Mumbai without a thought to going to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The invitation to the travel experience suggests just what was expected:
"Join us and truly experience India by turning your Jewish values into action and healing the world."
Huh? How? What?

The first four days of this thing don't even bother to reference a single Jewish or Jewish-related activity -- but plenty of time for shopping, "(getting) ready to bargain at the famed Palika Bazaar," and travel to Agra and Mumbai. Anyway, the final day (that's Day 8 in India, BTW), is titled "Life in a Slum."

To JFNA, Israel has become "played out" for its most major donors. And, yet: for JNF-USA*
10s of Missions are traveling to Israel, experiencing the land and the people and JNF's projects in which their Mission participants are directly invested...or will be. How is that possible? It's because JNF-USA is focused on its work and its Mission. JFNA, not. Not at all.

Perhaps one or two of the participants on this JFNA most major gifts Mission actually asked: "What the hell are we doing here?"

Hate as I do to hearken back to the days of yore, as you know, during my time in Israel there was always a core group of wonderful leaders from across the country who formed the core group for the Prime Minister's Missions -- they just enjoyed being together in Israel. Each year we would recruit a willing crowd; often Chicago leaders were in the forefront. Mark Wilf will remember those days when his Dad, Joe, z'l, would join other UJA leaders time and time again; emotional, joyful, ending each Mission at the Prime Minister's Residence (that's the Prime Minister of Israel, not India) to proudly announce the results of our Caucus.

Obviously...not any more. Maybe that should be JFNA's tagline...Not any more.


Rwexler

* For those of you, my readers, who have been paying attention, JNF-USA has engaged me as a Major Gifts Consultant for its incredible Beer Sheva Campus project.






Thursday, March 28, 2019

DISTRACTED

Perhaps one of you has an answer to the simple and almost daily question: Where's JFNA?  We have all seen how easily distracted they've become what with the Israeli elections, an important Mission to...India, and, well, everything else.

But let me take you back just a few years, to the last Jerusalem General Assembly, the annual soporific event even when transferred to the streets of Yerushalayim. Oh, yes, to the streets. In an expression of "total solidarity" with "Women of the Wall," CEO Silverman called for a major walk/parade/march on those very streets, apparently expecting the entirety of sorry crew of attendees to hit the pavement and walk to the Kotel. Attendance was so poor, Jerry and his staff were pleading with folks along the way to join the parade; few did. The point of that faux March was simple -- JFNA wrapped itself in the tallitot of the Women of the Wall, promised eternal fealty to them and pledged, if not in words in deeds, to be at the forefront in the quest for equal access to the Kotel as part of its civil society commitment.

The next step? The Egalitarian Prayer Space at the Kotel. Of course, JFNA did nothing but offer its unequivocal support to Natan Sharansky's efforts to bring all parties together -- and no organization could match JFNA's when it came (1) to taking credit for the Prime Minister's and his Cabinet's agreement to support the space, the egalitarian management of the space; and (2) leading the shrei when the PM breached the same agreement...and, that was all. If the Women of the Wall expected continued support for their efforts from JFNA and its leaders, it was looking at a different organization than the one with which we have become so familiar; you know, the one that cannot concentrate, cannot achieve (unless one passes off failure as success) and is immediately distracted by the next shiny object.

Just weeks ago, the Women of the Wall were savagely attacked as they went forward with a planned demonstration at the Kotel; savagely attacked by hundreds and more ultra-orthodox students, mainly women and girls, organized with malice aforethought. No police intervention, just a criminal assault. The outcry from the Women of the Wall, the RAC, the Conservative and Reform Movements was loud, clear and to the point -- this was the most intolerable demonstration of intolerance in a history of same. (Kal ha'kavod o Judy Maltz for her superb reporting in Haaretz on this matter.)

And JFNA...where was JFNA? Where was its impotent JFNA-Israel? Where was the lamest of ducks, its CEO? I'm guessing "monitoring the situation." (If past is prologue, I expect that by the time this is published, wewill have received a summary of Israeli newspaper articles on the "situation" over Becky Caspi's signature.) Where are those donors to JFNA's I-Rep, the surviving remnant of the now-buried Global Planning Table, urging, demanding that JFNA take a public stand?

Once again, JFNA cannot bring itself to utter even a word of condemnation of the physical violence to which the Women of the Wall and their supporters were subjected; to the GOI's and the Prime Minister's apparent total indifference (yeah, yeah, yeah, there's an election, yada yada yada). Intolerable. 

And yet...and, yet...when the Israeli Culture Minister announced that Diaspora Jews would not be lighting a torch at the national Yom Ha'Atzmaut celebration, Federation leaders joined Bougie Herzog and the Jewish Agency in an "angry letter"...and that decision was reversed. What should JFNA learn from this? Anything? Anything at all?

Isn't it time to pull the curtain and just say...enough?

Rwexler


Sunday, March 24, 2019

COULD WE JUST THROW A PARTY AND SAY "BUH-BYE?"

On Monday, March 4, 2019, the New York Times published an article about one Chris Grayling, Britain's beleaguered and totally inept Minister of Transportation. One observer of Grayling's flops -- his nickname is "Failing Grayling" -- commented:
"If anyone was to read the most rudimentary audit about the effects of his time in office on the things he is supposed to be running, he'd have been out years ago."
To which I would add -- Jerry Silverman.

I will not repeat -- for the umpteenth time at least -- a recitation of JFNA's failures under its faux CEO over what is now approaching a decade of ineptitude other than to remind all of us of one critical event: after 4 years on the job, finding he lacked lay leader support to replace Jerry, then Board Chair Michael Siegal did that which he could do: he relieved Jerry of his management responsibilities, foisted Mark Gurvis on him (and us) as COO -- while Silverman's compensation remained the same, later to be increased when his contract was extended for a second term.

Remember: one of the CEO's most major job responsibilities was management -- at least 1/2 of the job if not more -- were taken from him, given to another while his compensation remained the same or increased. And this decision was followed by a five year contract extension. 

Un-f'ing believable.

So, Jerry became nothing more that the "face of JFNA" -- a position that redefined and severely delimited the CEO job. A default position because the lay leadership realized he could not do the job for which he was hired; something that should have been evident from the first #ish, from the first failed TribeFest (of three!!!), from the beginning.

But, no. Instead, the organization has lavished/wasted, by my count, over $6,000,000 in compensation on this CEO; with the most de minimis return on investment. And, other than  Michael Siegal's courageous attempts, the laity played "let's pretend" -- yes, pretending that Jerry was actually adding value to JFNA's work. In fact, when Siegal announced the extension of his contract, Michael was unable to list a single substantive accomplishment, suggesting only that the next five years would somehow yield results unachieved in the first five. A pipe dream.

And, here we are. We have known for six months that Jerry's contract has not been extended. A fine Search firm has been hired, a Search Committee formed (Chaired by JFNA's immediate Past Chair, Richard Sandler, a fine man but whose vision of the role of the lay leader in the sacred lay-professional partnership is that of cheerleader) and populated with experienced lay leadership; a Job Description broadcast far and wide. And, that's all fine; yet, Silverman still sits on his throne, apparently the lamest of lame ducks.

Meanwhile, JFNA is in stasis; as it has been. Isn't it time to just celebrate Jerry's version of leadership and send him home with a check and a gold watch? Enough of this.

Rwexler




Wednesday, March 20, 2019

IN THE LAND OF AD HOCDOM....

In no organization I know, other than JFNA, is every decision...I mean every single one...made on an ad hoc basis. But, then there is JFNA.

One of you wrote, before the Prime Minister was on the cusp of indictment for breach of trust and bribery:
"Apparently, JFNA will be silent when it comes to racism from the PM. What does it say about the Jewish world when AIPAC is openly critical of the deal between Bibi and the Kahanists and JFNA is silent? Jerry has said that the JFNA will not be making a comment on this.

Continuing to be silent on this will not play well for the JFNA. Silence here is a shameful response! This is not about the elections. It is about racism pure and simple. The AJC, URJ Rabbi Benny Lau (whose father is a rabbi and a survivor) and even AIPAC made statements concerning this. This is a total embarrassment for JFNA. There are things in this world more important ultra right wing donors and their money! Saying no the the fascism and racism of Kahanists is one of them." 
With neither rhyme nor reason, and with neither deliberation nor process, JFNA has stood silent as this fine albeit anonymous correspondent wrote, chose silence on a matter having clear consensual support. There are no criteria in place, really, for anything JFNA does or doesn't do.

Take a look:

  • Confidentiality 1 -- no criteria, "confidentiality" can be (and often is, [after the fact]) demanded as to any transmittal from JFNA;
  • Confidentiality 2 -- with no standards, no criteria, JFNA professionals, sometimes with the connivance of lay leadership, deem, e.g., consulting agreements, conduit agreements, consultant reports (you know, like The Bridgespan Group's) them cloaked with confidentiality;
  • Allocations write-offs -- no criteria, no conditions, no process for writing off funds owned by the Jewish Agency, the Joint, WorldORT;
  • Theft -- you know, demanding the transfer of hundreds of 1000's owed to and owned by the National Agencies, to JFNA itself -- no criteria, no governance approval
...and those are but some of JFNA actions deemed "confidential." Each without criteria or standards for doing so.

It's just business as usual for JFNA...bad business.

Rwexler

Saturday, March 16, 2019

MORE STUFF

And so it continues in Lake Woebegone:

1. The Jewish Agency Board considered and then adopted a resolution that will reduce the number of Board meetings to two per year. I don't think there was any pretense here -- the faux lay involvement that is built-in to the JAFI Board's stated purposes will now become more non-existent. Congratulations!! (I'm syrprised that JFNA didn't pioneer this reductio ad absurdum but they have eliminated lay engagement in practice....never fear.)


2. In a recent self-promoting Op-Edhttps://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/zoa-will-never-be-the-jews-of-silence/, the Zionist Organization of America's CEO and Chair announced that the ZOA (viz, Morton Klein) will "never be the Jews of silence." Surprise. Surprise. Having been found guilty of violating the rules of conduct by an impressive array of Conference of Presidents leaders (none of them among those vilified), Klein used the occasion to (a) again attack members of the Conference and (b), no surprise, attack the Conference of Presidents. As George M. Cohan said: "
I don't care what you say about me as long as you say something about me, and as long as you get my name right."


3. You've been the incredibly successful CEO of American Friends of Tel Aviv University, increasing its annual fund raising exponentially, bringing in more dollars and more donors. Friends of yours implore you to leave AFTAU and succeed Josh Fogelson as CEO of JAID (the Jewish Agency International Development, JAFI'S fund raising arm). You've been promised the sun, the stars and the sky -- just as Josh and all of his predecessors were promised the same. They may not have mentioned that all of those who would be your predecessors -- each and every one of the five -- were effectively frustrated in the accomplishment of their goals (even those who were successful)...frustrated by those at the top of the organization. But, of course, you knew that.


4. Did you read JFNA's strong statement, echoing AIPAC's and the AJC's condemning Netanyahu's coalition building with the surviving remnant of Meir Kahane's racist party? If you did that's miraculous because JFNA has said NOTHING...nothing at all. Circling the drain, JFNA remains in its shell. We have come to expect nothing more.

5. In the category of "Wishful Thinking 1.01," there was this from the JFNA waste of print, FedWorld, on Januray 24:
"Charitable giving is expected to grow over the next two years, but a variety of factors, including the overall economic climate and recent changes to federal tax laws, could affect this prediction>"
 Duh.

6. One of my friends, a long-time successful Federation CEO in a number of communities observed: "They paid Bridgespan Consulting Group hundreds of thousands and all JFNA got was a 'Dashboard.' You'd think that with all they paid they would have gotten the whole car?"

7. Then there is New York UJA-Federation which raised the following critical question to the millions of Jews in the New York area:
 "Sweet, salty. Even a bit dry. You could say New Yorkers are a flavorful bunch. And that's what makes our community unique. So what's your bagel personality?"
How do you respond to this? Will NY-UJA soon be pursuing #ish?

So, best of luck.

Rwexler




Tuesday, March 12, 2019

CONFIDENTIALITY

A couple of weeks after I published DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN, I received a call from Mark Wilf who wanted me to have a heads' up that a letter was going out to advise me that I had breached the confidentiality of The Bridgespan Group's Report to JFNA. I had linked the Report in the body of the Post and at least one of you found when you hit the link that the Report had been taken down by JFNA. As if it no longer exists; as if it never existed.

I went back and read the Bridgespan document and found no "Confidential" label on it though I should have recognized that JFNA would not want TBG's "findings," quoted in the Post, to be public -- and for good reason. I should have been more sensitive. And, asI promised Mark, I will be.

Of course, this episode raises once again the entire ad hoc nature of JFNA's determination of "confidentiality." On these pages we have highlighted/lowlighted the continuing determinations -- seemingly seriatim -- that: consulting agreements...confidential; acting as a conduit...confidential; allocations write-offs...confidential: non-payment or partial payments of JFNA Dues...confidential; communities receiving FRD consultants...confidential; White House invitations...confidential; now, The Bridgespan Group Report...confidential; and on and on it goes, where it stops nobody knows.

And, nobody knows what the criteria are for declaring any JFNA matter confidential -- because there are none...none. I've asked for them -- I've received none, I have jokingly suggested that's because the criteria for confidentiality themselves are "confidential." But, obviously, there are no such criteria. This makes it all the easier to just assert "confidentiality" and walk away.

There seems to be no understanding at 25 Broadway that JFNA is a public charity -- its "public" is, at the very least, its members and its Board and, in the broadest sense, those who support it -- the federation donors. Too often JFNA leaders act like they are running a "mom and pop store" -- the lay and professional leaders of the organization act as if they have no responsibility to any others than themselves. The laws and best practices say they are just plain wrong.

The lack of any criteria for determining what matters might be deemed properly confidential has played into the hands of professionals at 25 Broadway -- the CEO, the COO, the CFO -- who, if the past is prologue, would deem all things confidential hiding themselves behind an all too eager lay leadership strangely anxious to please the professionals in all things.

For many of us, most of us  Justice Louis Brandeis is a hero for so many reasons. We also remember him for his suspicion of the "confidential label." Here is what he wrote:
"Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman." 
JFNA has been able to turn off the lights and keep the sunshine out for too long, far too long on too many matters, far too many matters.

The Board Chair has assured me that he is committed to transparency. I have great faith in Mark Wilf's leadership. 

Time will tell.

Rwexler