Friday, November 15, 2019


Caroline Glick, right-wing Israeli columnist and, recently, defeated candidate for the Knesset, returned to her role as pundit after that dip in the waters of Israeli politics. Her op-eds are totally supportive of Donald Trump and constantly mine the depths of her hatred for  anything to her left and, in particular, American Jews who fail to share her views.

Most recently Glick published Trump, Israel and the Democratic Crackup in JNS:  https// I recommend reading that screed only because it exemplifies Ms. Glick's habit of building her arguments on false pretenses. 

Any analysis of this screed must start, as Ms. Glick did, with her false premise -- that way back in 2000 "...the Democrats refused to accept the election results in Florida that gave George W, Bush his victory..." Without a scintilla of evidence, without a single fact, the author concludes that that 2000 election marked the beginning of what she describes as the "radicalization" of the Democratic Party.

Building on this misstatement, Glick jumps directly to 2016 concluding that as the Democrats refused to accept the 2000 election results, so they have attempted to overturn the results of Trump's election and, as in the current GOP "talking points," the purpose of  today's impeachment inquiry " to nullify Trump's presidency by, among other things, deligitimizing and dehumanizing Trump, his family, associates and supporters." Not a fact is placed in evidence.

These misstatements continue for pages. Read them for yourself. Perhaps Ms. Glick was using this column is more than a fact-free version of purported "truth;" maybe it was intended as a job application for Fox News. Maybe an Israeli version of Jeanine Pirro or Katrina Pierson. 

Wishing her every success.


Sunday, November 10, 2019


So much that makes one scratch your head. For example...

~ A Friend of the Blog sent me this one: "Did you know that there are 8.5 million cats in Israel -- that's almost one cat for every person! If you're a fan of felines, show your love by sharing your favorite cat photo here. #National Cat Day #Meow."
And, just where did this inanity appear? You probably guessed it: It was a JFNA Facebook Post. There are no words. 
~  I am certain that some of you share what I would describe as my own anger with regard to Bernie Sanders speech to the J Street Conference. The condemnation of Israel from someone who has used the fact of his birth, that being born Jewish, to cloak himself with the right to unconditionally condemn the Jewish State without consequences and, perhaps, some sort of political advantage. Actually, Sanders' outburst at J Street fell in the category of "who can condemn Israel the most?"
While I often find myself in disagreement with Jonathan Tobin's editorial in JNS; I absolutely agree with him that Sanders' diatribe was worthy of only one thing -- scorn.
 No one should be surprised that Sanders has shown his this most anti-Israel way. Nor should anyone be surprised that Bernie's attacks on Israel as "racist," on American military and foreign aid to Israel, and on the Israeli Prime Minister drew huge ovations from the J Street crowd -- it was, after all, the J Street crowd.
Rabbi Amiel Hirsch said it best: “The Democratic Party is increasingly tolerant of voices that are opposed to Israel’s existence.”
~ As we are reminded from time-to-time, JFNA's ersatz GA, this time titled FedLab will soon convene "by Invitation only." While the Lab appears to be dedicated to in-depth exploration of Total Financial Resource Development and "Powering Your Philanthropic Networks," it is hard to see the inherent return on investment from this Lab inasmuch as the the scholars and presenters remain unknown as I write this -- it appears that this is one of those "trust us" things. So I'm guessing that the presenters and speakers -- consultants in the main -- will be the same as those who appear at all JFNA FRD things. 
BTW, JFNA continues to promote the Lab as "by invitation only," and that may be true even as the organization appears to have invited anyone and every one. 
So, won't see you in D.C. but I'm anxious to learn the outcomes from this 3-day event...if any.


Tuesday, November 5, 2019


I hope that JFNA CEO Eric Fingerhut will take a careful look at JFNA -- Israel and Overseas or JFNA -- Global Operations or whatever the hell that black hole is called at the moment. Ineptitude and hyperbole just slap you in the face like wet towels every time you look at the thing. I.m relatively confident that Eric will be able stop the bleeding from this Jerusalem hideaway if he chooses to do so.

And what has caused this outburst this time? In time for the October JFNA Board Meeting, the Desk of Rebecca Caspi produced what is now the monthly I&O Top Five (for October [on the 24th thereof]). And, there, as the number one thing (for October) something called #FedProud in the Negev. 

Here's the thing. JFNA's work in the Negev has been both minimal and fine. The problem: JFNA raised little or no money to support its work in the Negev; yet, the JFNA Negev Now Initiative had $2.5 million to spend -- how does that happen? Just as the organization funded its most recent education initiative with funds effectively stolen from the national agencies, the funding for its Negev activities were taken directly from the 2014 Operation Protective Edge campaign receipts ignoring the fact that those funds were raised to directly benefit the Victims of the Terrorists' War. 

And, now, just weeks ago, JFNA announced:

"Federation's Negev Now Initiative concludes after five years of building and supporting a more vital and attractive Negev."
Really, "concludes?" The needs have been met? Or is this just the reality that the Victims' Fund, raided for Negev Now, has been exhausted and JFNA hasn't the ability to raise any money at all? In the past months I have become engaged in the JNF-USA's vital work in the Negev, committing tens of millions of dollars in the most vital work in the Gaza Envelope, in Aleh Negev, in community building and People building. The leaders of JNF are fully aware that its work in the Negev, so vital to Israel's future and present is not over -- it's just begun. 

Only for JFNA is it "over."

I really don't get it. The JFNA Negev Now Committee is/was populated with a group of terrific lay leaders. The federation professionals are/were first rate. And JFNA-Israel provided four professionals and a consultant. Over the few years of its existence Negev Now engaged in something called "placemaking" --
"Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces...that promote residents' health, happoiness and well-being."
Got it? "Public placemaking." One has to wonder if these programs were desigigned to satisfy local leadership or to truly aid the victims of "Stop the Sirens?"

The apparently in forever...Report on Negev Now wraps the work in a kind of verisimilitude -- and that's a good thing, like qa bandage on a gaping wound is a good thing.

JFNA has declared victory and moved on. "FedProud??"


Friday, November 1, 2019


Friends, every so often I become obsessed with how the "system" selects its lay leaders -- obsessed with the question: should national or international organizations restrict their key lay leadership to those women and men who come from communities which have demonstrated over time their significant financial support of the appointing organizations?  

This is not a new question for me; it's one I've grappled with literally for decades. I don't if it was the first time, but I do remember a call I received from a terrific leader who told me: "Richard, I think you'll be happy to learn that I was just appointed the Chair of Federation Advocacy by UIA." Now, this lay leader is and was one of the most articulate leaders that I have known; a brilliant marketer. I responded: "You know, you would be fantastic except you come from a community that has been cutting its allocation to UIA for the Jewish Agency by huge percentages -- if you came to my community, you would not be considered the best spokesperson." This wasn't the last time I was asked a similar question by brilliant and generous leaders from communities whose allocations to the organizations these leaders had been asked to lead were horrifically low.

Is it appropriate, for example, that a wonderful philanthropist be denied an important leadership role in JAFI or the JDC because the community (in which they also played key roles, often the highest lay positions) are allocating less than 10% to JAFI or JDC? Or. would these national or international organizations be ill-served when represented by folks, their personal philanthropy notwithstanding, whose communities are not true financial partners in the work of the organizations these people would lead?

My point? If Leader A cannot inspire her/his own community to allocate what all of us would call a partnership commitment to, let's say the Jewish Agency, how will Leader A inspire anyone else to do what is right? I think we could all intuit the answer to that narrow question. But, we would not all reach a similar conclusion to the the question of whether generous leaders should be disqualified from leadership positions because they come from underperforming communities?

And, how do I know we would not all agree on an answer? I look around and discover that many national and international organizations' key leadership positions are filled without regard for their communities' organizational support. Some of us are blessed to come from the Chicago's, Cleveland's, Baltimore's and MetroWest's and more; others, not so much. 

As in so much in organized Jewish life, I wish there were easy answers to even the easiest questions.

There aren't.


Monday, October 28, 2019


The JFNA annual Federation overseas cash allocations report has become an annual report of failure -- failure begetting failure. And, like clockwork, the JFNA projection for 2019 cash is the worst...ever.

For 2019, the sad, sad totals are projected as follows:

          JAFI -- $74.3
           JDC -- $30.0
           ORT -- $ 2.1
Friends, these are not misprints -- these totals are the lowest...ever. Reflect on this: if the aggregate federation annual campaigns are at $983 million (+/-) these allocations have fallen to a little over 11%. These percentages and the actual dollars are an insult to these agencies which are our agents and which we really no longer adequately sup[port.

The system, if there still is one, is guilty of criminal neglect. Over the last two years alone, the allocations to JAFI have fallen by close to $15,000,000 -- a percentage drop of 17% -- while JDC's total over the same period -- mirabile dictu -- was flat (and actually increased minimally in 2019 from 2018).

You may recall that, rather than accepting its responsibilities for advocacy on behalf of JAFI/JDC/ORT, JFNA's Board voted, as part of its "reorganization" of UIA, to abjure -- to walk away -- from its sacred obligation for advocacy for the core budgets of the overseas partners, resolving to "let JAFI and JDC advocate for themselves." "Not our problem" has morphed from "never our problem." JFNA fled from its advocacy obligations like rainwater rushung toward a sewer.

Failure is truly an orphan. This is nothing new. Recognizing that JFNA was unwilling to engage in serious advocacy dating back to 2004 (if not earlier), when I was serving as the Chair of the Jewish Agency North America, I met with JDC's lay and professional leaders to propose a serious partnership for overseas advocacy. The Joint's leaders -- terrific women and men totally committed to JDC -- and I had serious conversations that ended with JDC determining that it would continue to hold JFNA responsible for advocacy. As they said in Pretty Woman -- mistake; bad mistake, really big mistake.

I remember well the hope that leadership had at the time of the merger two decades ago -- one of the bedrock assumptions in the merger book was that the emerging organization, now JFNA, would result in more dollars for the core budgets of the overseas partners. An entire evaluation process was designed for determining the priorities...and to support them. And, then, there was nothing./////


Monday, October 21, 2019


I can't tell you how many times I have visited Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry -- for a decade we lived in Hyde Park just blocks from the Museum and were there so often with our children; then later in life, our grandchildren. I remember as a teenager being there when the U-505 German submarine was floated across Lake Michigan, then across South Shore Drive to become a permanent exhibit. And, while in law school, I worked mornings for an urban planning firm whose offices were in the bowels of the Museum. 

Bottom line, I love the Museum as does anyone who has ever visited there. I assume that includes a large number of you.

So, I was struck by a Chicago Tribune article Museum of Science and Industry to get new name...It seems that Kenneth Griffin, co-founder of the amazingly successful hedge-fund Citadel, and one of the great philanthropists, whose Charitable Fund had already distributed over $1 billion to charities, had pledged $125 million to the Museum which change its name to the Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry.

One correspondent to Crain's Chicago Business put it succinctly:
"Leave museum's name alone Kudos to Ken Griffin for donating so generously to such a worthy and important institution...But the name change is just wrong. Name a wing after him. Heck, put a bug statue of him out front, but the museum name should be unchanged.
If Julius Rosenwald -- whose name should be plastered all over this city for the great public work he did -- didn't need his name on it when he helped create it, Griffin doesn't need his for helping to keep it going for another 100 years." (italics added)
The original Museum structure was the Palace of Fine Arts from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. The Museum was initially endowed by the father of Chicago Jewish philanthropy, Julius Rosenwald who who pledged $3 million and also recruited the Commercial Club of Chicago for further financial support supplementing municipal bond funds. Rosenwald refused offers to have the Museum named for him even as the public often called it the Rosenwald Industrial Museum.

Of interest, the Apollo 8 spacecraft is housed in Henry Crown Space Center, named for the patriarch of the Crown Family, models of generosity and philanthropy worldwide. And, there is now a Rosenwald Room, which would no doubt infuriate Julius Rosenwald were he still with us.

Griffin's incredible gift may have been conditioned on the Museum's renaming. For a $135 million gift, certainly Ken Griffin purchased the naming rights -- if he didn't ask for them, the Museum was wise to offer the honor. 

Rosenwald continues to inspire Jewish and secular philanthropy in Chicago. Griffin's modern philanthropy likewise. When I next visit the Museum with my grandchildren, I will remember Julius Rosenwald no matter the naming.


Thursday, October 17, 2019


Chag Sukkot Sameach.

A curious Forward Op-Ed has been circulating recently -- -- in certain circles this thing has gained a certain enthusiastic support. It seems that the author has also written such drivel as Give Trump the Benefit of the Doubt, You Give It to Democrats All the Time and No, Orthodox Jews Are Not White Supremacists -- and Neither is Trump. I think you can pretty much deduce this guy's political leanings. In fact, uf I might speculate for a moment, I'm guessing that those who endorse the "stop preaching politics" plea would not object to preaching politics if the message was supportive of President Trump -- just a guess.

You can link to the Op-Ed if you wish but you can probably also deduce the author's slant, can't you? He wants all Rabbis who might espouse positions that he opposes should just stop it. You see, the author has identified these...these Reform Rabbis.  If you follow his "reasoning," you have to conclude, as did this guy "that anyone who doesn't share their politics has no place in their congregation." This, of course, is specious. 

I love it when my Rabbis challenge me with their opinions; I would hope that most congregational Jews do, Reformed, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstruction, it should make no difference. The topics may range from religious practice to social justice even what some might characterize as "political." 

But the opinions expressed in the Op-Ed are those of the Managing Director, the Coalition for Jewish Values, Rabbi Yaakov Menken. If you visit this Coalition's website you will find that the CJV (yes, so important that it can self-identify as an acronym):
"... begins from the premise that something can be called an authentic Jewish value only if it is rooted in Biblical and Rabbinic teachings through millennia of Jewish history. Neither spurious references to “Tikkun Olam” nor the use of Biblical verses plucked out of context transform personal views into Jewish tenets."
Wow!! If this be a statement of "Jewish values," I have wholly failed to practice them my whole life. And if you read the position statements of the CJV you will find their version of "values" to be anything done or articulated by President Trump...anything and everything.

And, you should know that Rabbi Menken, who appears to not be a pulpit, congregational Rabbi, has done some important work in Jewish outreach and Torah teaching. I will leave it to you whether to include the CJV in any list of the esteemed Rabbi's achievements.

Now I think that the "over 1,000 Rabbis" (unnamed) whom CJV claims that it represents are entitled to their opinions and they should be free to express them through the organization or from their pulpits (if they have them).

Yes, these unidentified Rabbis should express their opinions freely, just don't try to shut up Rabbis with whom they disagree.


Thursday, October 10, 2019


Just a few years ago, the Jewish Agency for Israel amended its governance documents to, among so many other things, enacted term limits for the first time in its history. A year or so later, one prominent philanthropist among many Board members received a letter from the Board Chair advising him/her that his/her service on the Board (and, as it happened, on the JAFI Executive). That leader accepted that he/she would no longer serve on the Board but demanded that his/her service on the JAFI Executive continue -- apparently forever. So it came to pass, that, a few weeks later, the Secretary General sent this leader a letter confirming that his/her service on JAFI's most important deliberative body would continue -- the letter expressly stated, without any legal basis, that service on the Executive was in personam.

I liked that rationale very much and, so, inasmuch as I, too, had been cast off because of Term limits from the JAFI  Board and Executive, I wrote the Secretary General asserting that I, too, would continue to sit on the Executive. No, the Secretary General wrote back essentially stating: that this other leader was special, you're not. I couldn't disagree with that excellent legal argument.

I merely note that Term Limits at JAFI appear to apply only to North American Board members -- my friends from Keren Ha'Yesod, among them so many exceptional leaders,  continue to serve on the JAFI Board in perpetuity it appears. (I could also note that KH is raising/allocating almost no significant funds for JAFI but given the dismal state of federation allocations to the Agency, that probably wouldn't be fair -- accurate, yes, but unfair.) 

I suppose that were Board service to include a sense of obligation to the organization rather than to personal aspiration or to fealty to those lay and professional leaders in power, I might feel differently about Term limits. But, what we have seen, in too many places, is the opposite -- those who know better doing their worst in pursuit of ingratiation with the powers that be or in pursuit of higher office or in the desire to be seen as a "team player." "Team player" in this context means responding to a leadership demand to "jump" with a "how high?" response.

For an exc ellent discussion of Term Limits, see:

And, it's not just lay leaders who ought to debate their own Term Limits; they should be debating chief professional term limits as well. From 45 years of practicing zoning law, I came to the conclusions that municipal professionals should be limited to five years of consecutive service after which they should be required to take a one year hiatus to work for those who require municipal approvals. What they would learn!! (Of course these musings were going on only in my head.) 

I, as you, recognize that non-profit professionals represent organizational continuity, as they should, But this reality should not restrict constant evaluation at the very least, and annual Board-adopted goal statements against which that continuity must be measured.

My great respect for non-profit professionals notwithstanding, I have seen what can happen when some -- a relative handful to be sure -- have been in place for what turned out to be too long. I remember way back when visiting a community with a long, long serving CEO. I met with the lay leadership and when I told them of $100s of thousands in unpaid allocations, they were shocked, knew nothing about it. Then, just last year the St. Paul federation board members were unaware of a similar unpaid debt to JAFI and JDC hidden from the laity by a CEO who had recently retired. Over the last decade, some local communal agencies in New York City -- most notoriously, FEGS -- discovered huge losses were likewise occasioned by long-time professional "leaders" and Boards failing in their agency oversight responsibilities.

in this season of introspection, Term Limits should be a discussion among all non-profits. 

It won't be.


Sunday, October 6, 2019


On September 23, Chicago's Crain's Chicago Business headlined Rabbi accused of defrauding Holocaust survivor, other investors, settles Ponzi scheme charges. This Rabbi settled claims that he and a business partner has "...operated a Ponzi scheme that triggered a $145 million default. It turns out, as Crain's reported, this Rabbi and his associates were still negotiating the amount of their restitution and civil penalties.

The fact that this Ponzi scheme blew up, that at least one Holocaust survivor was among the victims along with countless others, is reprehensible. More so was this quote attributable to the Rabbi's attorney with regard to the settlement of two civil suits:
"It was the right thing to do. In the Jewish Orthodox community, that's what we aim for...There's a higher authority that needs to be answered."
Leave one speechless, doesn't it?


Wednesday, October 2, 2019


Sometimes one has to just scratch one's head (or bang it against wall or tabletop) in wonder, amazement and shame. Our Post on New York UJA's choice of Japan as a Mission venue -- HUH? -- where participants can experience "the impact of (New York) UJA's global work" inspired a number of incisive Comments that, if you haven't, are must reading. 

One of you, under what I assumed was a nom de plume, shared a Shmuely Botech op-ed questioning why Keren Ha'Yesod was honoring Vladimir Putin. An excellent question. Boteach apparently did not realize that this Mission was, in fact, the historic ILR -- the International Leadership Reunion -- a "joint effort" of KH and the Jewish Federations of North America to bring together the mega-donors to our communal efforts world-wide. See, The ILR was originated decades ago under the sponsorship of the United Jewish Appeal and KH and held every few years. 

Honoring Putin, the Russian "President"/dictator who supports Iran and Syria among other outlaw nations and undeniably doirected interference in not just the 2016 election here and in countless other countries as well, is understandable only if the Jewish leadership of Russia let it be known that "this will help us." Better yet, the ILR needed to be in Israel where these most major donors might have had a positive and direct impact on Israel-Diaspora relations.

Honoring Putin at a major Jewish event reminded me of an almost catastrophic mistake shortly after the merger that created what is now JFNA. (I cannot remember the exact event, but it might have been planned for an ILR as well.) The first JFNA Chair of the Executive, with no other lay input, Joel Tauber decided it would put JFNA "on the map" if it presented -- wait for it...Yasser Arafat -- with some kind of international award. So it came to pass that Arafat would receive the Isaiah Award -- an award either created for this event or one given before to Ben Gurion and Rabin. There was no process, no consultation. The JFNA Executive Chair was ready to head to Europe with speech and award in hand. But, before the hand-off could occur, someone leaked the planned event to, as I recall, the Boston Free Beacon -- contemporaneous discussions suggested that the leak was from the PLO or a JFNA professional. The resulting hew and cry was too much -- the event was canceled.

This thing had two impacts: (1) JFNA developed criteria for honorees and a process for selecting them (I know because I was tasked with drafting both) and (2) Kroll & Associates was hired by JFNA to identify the whistle blower, assuming that it was someone inside JFNA.

19 years later and nothing has changed...nothing at all.


Sunday, September 29, 2019


Friends, a momentary time out for introspection.

On the cusp of 5780, I want to wish you and your loved ones a shana tova u'metukah.


Friday, September 27, 2019


1. On the eaterchicago update a week ago, the headline blared: Chicago First Vegan Jewish Deli Is Coming to Uptown with Bagels and Plant-Based Lox. I don't know which is more oxymoronic -- "Vegan Jewish Deli" or "Plant-Based Lox," the latter striking me as a particularly disgusting idea. And, no doubt, there will be no tongue on the menu. Is nothing sacred? A corned beef sandwich constructed out of some tofu derivative?  I will not tell my daughter or daughter-in-law or, for that matter, my sons of the existence of this place...though I wish the "Deli" well, of course.

2. You may recall that a few years ago HIAS -- then the "Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society" -- withdrew "Hebrew" from everything and became but an acronym. Yes, it morphed into just an acronym -- HIAS. Its leadership determined that henceforth it would offer ecumenical, non-denominational immigrant assistance; one fund-raising mass mailing I received at the time of the chagim, as I recall, asked me to support aid to Syrian refugees.

That was then. Now, HIAS has sought funding for that which it calls HIAS v. Trump. "On behalf of refugees we're taking this fight to court." Donate Now with a link. And a hashtag. Maybe this is just an opportunistic strategy, with some perceived gain short-term. But, long-term? I don't think so.

I recognize our historic responsibility to aid the stranger, the other. HIAS has carried this too far -- best I can tell, it now duplicates the work of so many other refugee assistance organizations. I'll wait to learn from you why HIAS deserves Jewish communal financial support.


Sunday, September 22, 2019


I have kvetched over time with the system's conscious abandonment of Israel as reflected by a series of Missions that never made it to Jerusalem, to Be'er Sheva, to Tel Aviv to Haifa...Israel never.

While I found that the Argentina/Uruguay itinerary to be vexing, one can at least point to Jewish Agency and JDC programming there and, in Argentina, a large, vibrant Jewish community

An interested reader sent me the announcement by the UJA-Federation of New York of a Spring Japan. I'm not making this up. Among the activities on this Federation Mission:
"You'll also meet with leading government officials and figures in the Jewish and figures in the Jewish community as you witness the impact of UJA's global work."
 Yes, as you witness the impact of UJA's global work. 

Now there are still a lot of places where a visitor could witness the impact of UJA's global work...but, in all candor, Japan is not one of them.

And, why would it be?

In the World Jewish Congress' most recent Japan Country Report, the Jewish community of Japan is described as follows:
"According to the estimates of Hebrew University demographer Sergio Della Pergola's 'World Jewish Population, 2016,' Japan is home to between 1,000 and 1,400 Jews. Almost entirely composed of Jewish foreigners and expatriates." (emphasis added)
The Report continues, describing this tiny group as "well organized and vibrant." Uh huh.

I have to admit to confusion when it comes to actions taken by New York UJA over the past few years. The federation discontinued its support of the system's national agencies through the now defunct Jewish Federations-National Agencies Alliance -- ostensibly a reaction to UJA's disproportionate funding of the Alliance. Once New York turned its back, withdrawiing its total support, on the Agencies, other federations followed suit; the Alliance collapsed.

And, this was only the starting point of UJA's deconstruction of its communal support of the collective.

Rumors abound that this year New York UJA will significantly reduce (1) its overseas allocations to the core budgets of the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee and (2) its Dues to JFNA. I hope these remain rumors, false ones, unsubstantiated ones, because, if true, the decades of New York's communal leadership of the collective response that is one of the core values of the federation system and a foundation stone of the merger of UJA and federation decades ago, will be no more.

As a student of our system I have always been wary of communities that applaud the success of their annual financial resource development but, at one and the same time, reduce their allocations to the collective instruments that these communities helped to create. 

I remember back to the Council of Jewish Federations era. I served on the CJF Budget and Finance Committee for a decade or more. The deliberations were always serious and extended, in good faith and spirit. I also remember, as we were about to adjourn one year, New York lay and professional leaders burst into the Committee room to announce that the tentative Budget and, therefor, the Dues were "too high' and we were required to return to the table to reduce the Budget...which we did. Today?

So, now, a Mission to Japan, where you will be able to observe the impact of UJA's global work. How will the Mission participants do that? Maybe a slide show from where UJA's real work is being done. Maybe going to a place where UJA's global work is not being done will remind the communal leadership of what once was the communal n'shama...what once was.


Tuesday, September 17, 2019


A few days ago many of you sent on to me the announcement: Leading Jewish Thinkers and Activists for 6 Continents Convene in Jerusalem to Launch Effort to Achieve United Vision for Global Jewry. ("6 Continents" -- count 'em) This Initiative, not to be confused with any earlier Initiatives, is titled Our Common Destiny. It is designed " connect Jews to each other and to Israel across diverse religious and cultural identities through a shared set of ethics and values."
WOW!!  And, even more, this is an initiative (a "ground-breaking one") of the Genesis Philanthropy Group and the Government of Israel." Quite the challenge that the concerning Genesis Philanthropy Group/GOI have laid out for themselves and those they have engaged in this initiative. And, those engaged convened in Jerusalem September 9-11, apparently to draft a framing document. It should be noted that Xi Xinping, as I recall, announced in 2017 that China was to embark on The Community of Common Destiny -- so watch out for trademark litigation!!

As Ilia Salita, Genesis' President and CEO, stated:
"We are inviting Jews living in Israel and elsewhere to join in the crafting and completion of a document and ambitious as the Declaration of our Common Destiny* because we believe doing so has the potential to excite and engage Jews of all backgrounds and worldview. We know the initial draft of the Declaration will be vastly improved by the input it receives from the world Jewish community. This is Jewish crowdsourcing on a whole new level."
Nice. A whole paragraph of noblesse oblige. 

Though I admit I do not know all of the "thought leaders" engaged by Genesis in this project, there  are some great names and, as if intentional, not a single North American communal leader serves on either the Advisory Board (chaired by Sandy Cardin) or among the Scholars. This latter reality is no longer surprising but it is extremely disappointing. I know no one with a greater vision for the Jewish People than John Ruskay, Steve Nasatir, Steve Hoffman, Jeff Solomon and others from within (or nearby) the organized Jewish communities...and, yet, no one from among those entities which might, if part of the process, bring the diasp[ora communities together to engage.

These choices made by Genesis (and, perhaps, by Cardin) are clear --we are going to put out a nice, exciting academic Declaration and leave it to us peons to do the difficult work while not having been involved in framing this "Common Destiny.". And, as has been demonstrated before (in the failed implementation of the last Jewish Agency "strategic plan" -- it is now working on another; in the Government of Israel/Naftali Bennett's World Jewry Initiative, etc.), without engagement from the beginning, nothing much is going to happen at the grassroots level. Yet, with all of this, one has to wonder, do the organized Jewish communal leadership worldwide even realize how they have been dissed here; or, if not dissed....clearly ignored. And, if they do realize it, do they care that they are perceived by their omission to be pedestrian and, worse, irrelevant.

In addition, friends, worldwide Jewish organizational leadership -- of JAFI, of the Joint Distribution Committee, among others -- are not represented. 

These insults are manifest and, no doubt, well-earned

And, then, it emerged  the end result of this ambitious intellectual exercise after as few days and a charge from President Rivlin, The Declaration of Our Common Destiny For the Unity of the Jewish People. (Ahh, the presumption.)  Thanks to our friends at ejewishphilanthropy you can read this at:,+2019&utm_campaign=Sept+11&utm_medium=email 

So good luck and great success to these "leading Jewish thinkers and activists." Can't wait for the discussions we have been mandated to comment.

So, it is on to a "generation-defining event in modern Judaism." The pool, though, is getting a little crowded.


* N.B. apparently such a Declaration exists...somewhere

Friday, September 13, 2019


There probably should be some form of celebration that JFNA's execrable decade, one JFNA barely survived (or, perhaps, didn't) has come to an end. With Jerry's long-delayed exit and Eric Fingerhut's arrival, indeed, "a new day is dawning" for JFNA. 

I for one regret that I had become a recalcitrant -- yet I am not sure I had any choice. After all, as Mayor Bill de Blasio was described in The New York Times, so was Jerry Silverman "performatively hapless." Jerry from Day 1. And, the lay leadership, unwilling to effect change, instead encouraged the pathetic rather than reining it in. So things went from bad to worse and then to worse compounded.

Sadly, across the broad horizon JFNA leaders shrunk from their responsibilities. They became apostates -- and, in this metamorphosis, they rejected our communal values by failing to insist upon them. (I would hate to think they unaware of them.) And, compounding their apostasy, they hired consultants who only knew of those values as they were described to them by the apostates. 

And, then I read, as, apparently, did many of you (given the number of you who sent me the link), a most ridiculous article, a hagiographic one to be sure, in which Jerry Silverman, upon his long-awaited retirement, reflected on the "accomplishments" of his decade as CEO. I was not LMAO at what one correspondent suggested I wear hip boots while wading through the bulls#+t.  Those "accomplishments" boiled down to these:
1. The Kotel Agreement. According to Jerry he was sweating side-by-side with Natan Sharansky in creating the deal which, at the first political challenge, the Prime Minister walked, breached the Agreement. Of course, the reality of the Agreement was solely Sharansky's. Jerry was a cheerleader, bending into each photo op and story as if he had done anything. We all recall that at the GA subsequent to the deal's collapse, the JFNA Board Chair profusely thanked Bibi for his specious excuses for breach of contract. What exactly was the "accomplishment" here?
2. Being There. Never missed a meeting with the PM or a succession of Presidents. That was it...being there. Never thought to invite a federation klay leader in his place.
Here is my "List of Silverman's Singular Accomplishments" over a decade:

1. This List (with thanks to Seth Myers)
2. Ten years of paychecks 
3. Being There 
To put anything else on this "list" would be like crediting a rooster for the sunrise.

Read the Jerusalem Post article here: Then weep.

Look, my sense for a decade was, as Mayor Bill de Blasio was recently described in the New York Times, that Jerry Silverman was "performatively hapless." To suggest anything more positive is a denial of every observable reality.

If Jerry chooses to remain blinded by his own illusions -- deny failure, deny waste, deny that which has been and is right in front of our eyes -- so be it. That doesn't mean that we have to as well.

Yet, even I have to agree with the few who understand that Jerry's selection as JFNA CEO ten years ago was epoch-making -- but... in the worst way. That the "epoch" was not ended earlier lies at the feet of JFNA lay leadership and the Federation CEOs. As to the ladder, my amazement that those who have built the Federation Movement in so many incredible and beautiful ways would stand aside for the decade and watch it and their profession being deconstructed in the face of their silence.

As you read The Jerusalem Post hagiography, please recall Dr. Seuss:
...and the mess is so big, so deep and so tall, we can't pick it up
There's no way at all.


Monday, September 9, 2019


Yes, I think a new day may be dawning at JFNA under the Wilf-Fingerhut administration. Change is in the air...kal ha'kavod. 

What took so damn long?

I'm talking about the organization's long-overdue quest for relevance -- well for the last decade, JFNA really didn't even "quest," it just sat silence.

Now, in just weeks of Eric Fingerhut going live as JFNA's new CEO, the organization issued press releases on two subjects that for a decade JFNA would have chosen silence: the most recent a response to the Israeli Government's decision to bar entry to two Congresspersons; the first on our shared pains with the communities impacted by domestic terrorists' atrocities. 

For those who don't recall (and who would), for a decade I have urged a succession of JFNA leaders to speak out on our collective behalf. I am so grateful that that is happening now.

For JFNA to be relevant, it must speak for the federations. I admit it's not easy in a consensus-driven organization, but perhaps Eric has figured it out -- and quickly.

Now, may JFNA achieve a few successes driving the system forward.


Friday, September 6, 2019


One of you recently wrote the following Comment:
"Richard and fellow readers of this blog, I am a long time reader, and it dawned on me that this is probably a tough time for you, Richard because the problems at JFNA are indeed plentiful, as you have articulated so well over the years.
Jerry Silverman's performance notwithstanding, I think you need to tone it down a bit while Eric Fingerhut is getting his feet wet.
Give him a chance to get a sense of the organization that he was hired to fix.
Allow him 6 months to acquire some intel on his own.
See if he reaches out to people that don't work at 25 Broadway; who knows, he may even reach out to you.
My point is, give Eric a fighting chance, and then challenge him appropriately.
You might even start by making a list of observations and send it to him, as a prologue to a face to face meeting."
Friends, no one welcomes Eric Fingerhut's service as JFNA's CEO and President more than I. He will be the breath of fresh air that JFNA, the federations and donors have needed for a long, long time..for way too long.

Eric's many accomplishments culminating in his successful reconstruction of Hillel are well known. There is an absolute need for all of his skills as he enters 25 Broadway at its lowest point.

When Jerry was hired, I confess I had little optimism; nonetheless, I declared a self-imposed hiatus returning to these pages when it quickly became evident that a bad, bad mistake had been made. (Even before Silverman took office, he went on a "listening tour,"  visiting federations. In Chicago, we discussed the role of federation in our community, the values we shared and it was obvious Jerry hadn't a clue what we were talking about. In a private session with a small group of us, we responded to a question Silverman posed, by recommending he immediately hire a COO with broad federation experience. Jerry's response: "I think I'd like to wait." He waited...and waited...and waited. Ultimately, a COO hire was imposed on him. Too little and too late. We knew we were in trouble.)

So, as my FOB suggested, I am calling a time out on this Blog as it pertains to JFNA. I hope to G-d it's permanent. 

I want so badly to write of JFNA's successes. And, those I will.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019


1. The ad that popped up on one of the digital newspapers I read daily. It offered a link to (drums roll): "Compare statistics for all hot dog eating contests." Do people do that -- not the hot dog volume eating but the comparative stats? Is there, like, the hot dog equivalent of ERA or WAR? I didn't go there. But I have learned that there is, in fact, a Professional League of Eating Contests -- I am not making this up.

2. And, is Hummus that popular? A few weeks ago JTA reported "Thief tries to steal half a ton of chickpeas from kibbutz in southern Israel. After police discovered found an abandoned car "loaded with chickpeas," they arrested a 30 year-old Bedouin man. Now I too love hummus as much as the next guy -- and in Chicago we have had an outbreak of high end restaurants focused on Israeli cuisine that may soon exceed our Chicago hot dog joints (well, not really, we have over 1500 hot dog stores here -- all selling the same thing) -- but is there a market for contraband chickpeas? Guess one Bedouin man thinks/thought so.

3. On a federation-related note -- the collapse of the East Bay Federation reached its climax in May with, as ejewishphilanthropy reported, the decision "East Bay Federation to Close, S.F. Federation to Take Over." I hope that the leaders, lay and professional, in both communities can figure out how one struggling federation can affirmatively absorb a failed federation and a community of strength can emerge. While such an aggregation rarely if ever works in the for-profit sector let alone in the complex Jewish organizational world, both of these communities have great, engaged business persons who can make this work if they give the time and leadership. A very...big...IF.


Thursday, August 29, 2019


Not to be critical, but...

  • In an otherwise excellent article on the new leadership at numerous legacy Jewish organizations, author Shalom Lipner, writing in Tablet, observed:
"JFNA, which represents 147 Jewish Federations and over 300 auxiliary communities across North America, is charged to 'raise and distribute more than $3 billion annually,' and is active in 'the fields of caregiving, aging, philanthropy, disability, foreign policy, homeland security and health care.'"
Well, if only it were so. The quote is merely further JFNA conflation of the epic fund raising done in the communities with the non-existent FRD done at JFNA (although $3 billion in annual distributions is a hyperbolic number itself. Inasmuch as the federations don't provide JFNA with the totality of their annual allocations, where that number even comes from!!) Certainly the federations are all engaged in the "fields" recited -- JFNA not so much.
JFNA has been living off this kind of confusion to elevate itself for at least the last decade. A few successes of its own might justify JFNA's continued existence...might.

  • Meanwhile, a photo on Facebook revealed that, on the very cusp of his retirement, Jerry Silverman somehow showed up for the JFNA FRD Mission to Argentina and Uruguay. Eric Fingerhut, JFNA's new CEO was also in that photo. So, was this Mission participation a "going away gift" to Jerry? Wasn't a fully paid year as a lame duck CEO enough?
Rhetorical question.

  • Speaking of the FRD Mission...JFNA released excellent fund raising results, sort of. $3,000,000 plus. But, then, $1 million in designated gifts. So was $2 million the amount raised for the annual campaign? And where were the $1 million designated to? We will never know.

  • And, finally, my friends, a number of you sent me the video that accompanied Silverman's receipt of the highest honor a community professional might receive:
          No shame right up to the end.

Plus c'est la change...


Sunday, August 25, 2019


Over the course of our friend Jerry Silverman's (and, truth be told, Mark Gurvis') tenure, nothing better indicated the lack of internal controls and the violation of basic non-profit management principles than did something called Cabinet Calm.  

And, what is Cabinet Calm, you might ask? It is a weekend in sunny Southern California (at Estancia La Jolla, of course) of blissful zen, meditation, massage and "mindfulness" to which JFNA Young Leadership Cabinet members and alumni, spouses and, I guess, children of all ages were invited, As the invitation states:
"Cabinet Calm is planned and self-organized by National Young Leadership Cabinet Chevre."
The cost of this weekend -- $800 per person not including hotel costs (the least expensive room at the Estancia La Jolla  will set you back at least $1,000 for the three nights). There is no Cabinet "purpose" served by this weekend. It is purely a private event, organized and paid for as such.

Who authorized the use of the Young Leadership Cabinet Mailing List for a purely private activity? What organization permits this? Federations hold these lists in trust. Schemes that would have allowed their use (e.g., magazine subscriptions) beyond the federation have been rejected outright. Yet, in this circumstance, for no reason whatsoever, the Cabinet mailing list is released.

All I can think of is that my...our...great friend, Rabbi Herb Friedman, z'l, the creator of the Cabinets when he served with such distinction as the UJA CEO, would have reserved the scorn he had for the fools who have allowed this to take place.

No, I'm not calm at all. How about you?


Tuesday, August 20, 2019


G-d, I wish we all could return to the days when we would argue rationally and b'shem shamayim about substantive things. But, as of right now, with Jerry on his way out, and Eric on the cusp of being in, JFNA, as always, reverts to form. With the announcement of FEDlab (yep, that's how they want it but lab is encased in a faux light bulb) JFNA's leaders are presenting a "by invitation only" (no I did not receive one, maybe someone will take me as their plus one) off-year (or maybe it's "on year) substitute for the forlorn Genral Assemblies which, of late, have barely attracted flies. 

As faithful readers know, I believe there is a full-time professional at 25 Broadway charged with creating names for all things JFNA with the prefix Fed -- as in FedCentral, FedWorld, FedNothing and so many, now, Fedlab. Old wine in a brand new bottle and a brand new wrapper -- and an "invitation" to make you feel special. The GA will be chaired by the ubiquitous (and, aren't all true leaders of JFNA, ubiquitous, really?) New York leader, Jodi Schwartz.

How will this thing be different from that thing? Let JFNA explain:
"Today we are calling -- across generations and discipline -- upon the thought leaders, change maker and most forward-thinking communal leaders in our community to engage in a three-day laboratory. To reexamine our approach to traditional challenges. And to shape a plan for the ones over the horizon.
FedLab will engage you with expert facilitators in deep conversation and interactive, problem-solving experiments to test assumptions, find real solutions and bring us to the next level.
FedLab is about taking a leap in order to land on new ground for our shared Jewish future."
(I have to admit that as I read this thing, I flashed back to Animal House when the brothers all mumbled "Bullshit, Bullshit, Bullshit" at their suspension "trial." But, I digress.)

The foci:

  • "Defeating the 'Anti' Agenda" 
  • "#EngageJewish"
  • "Action for Good in the 21st Century."
A select group of 200 has been invited: "Come ready to utilize all your powers of innovation , strategy and partnership in the lab."

I am not making this up.

Cannot wait to learn the results...