Thursday, March 28, 2019


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?


Sunday, March 24, 2019


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.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019


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.


Saturday, March 16, 2019


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-Ed, 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>"

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.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019


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.


Friday, March 8, 2019


On these pages I have attempted, among other things, to identify how our communal organizations and JFNA, in particular, meet the challenges of the present and future...or, in too many instances, fail to meet them. Too often -- most recently in the self-immolation in St. Paul, the end of Brian Abrahams time as JFNA's Senior Vice-President FRD, the unnecessary and unreasoned emasculation of the United Isreal Appeal, accusations of multiple instances of sexual harassment at New Jersey Camps or in the continuing precipitous drop in core budget support of JAFI/JDC/WorldORT-- the causes for these failures --each one of which is distinct from each other and, yet, so much the same -- have been readily identifiable. 

And, at the very core of each of them is a very basic truth -- except in the most rare of circumstances we need to have specific term limits for the most senior leadership at both lay and professional levels at JFNA. Over my years in organizational leadership, I was taught and reminded that the professionals in our system represent the continuity in our organizations; we as lay leaders were transitory. No more, if ever.

As Henny Youngman, z'l, might have said: "take JFNA...please." In the instance of St. Paul, while JFNA professional leaders have argued that they never advised the Twin City's CEO to not discuss the write-off of $3,000,000 owed not to JFNA but to the overseas beneficiaries with his lay leaders, that rebuttal has a hollow echo to it, doesn't it? After all, the same CEO engineered the transfer of hundreds of thousands of dollars...up to $900,000 as I recall...funds owed to and owned by the national agencies from the National Agencies Funding Pool without discussion with the national agencies -- transferring those desperately needed funds from the National Agencies to JFNA itself and calling it JFNA "fund raising." It wasn't; it was outright theft. Just as the CEO transferred funds that belonged to the national agencies, the most senior JFNA professionals authorized a federation to write off a $3,000,000 debt owed JDC/JAFI/WorldORT. 

And, the CEO and COO might have done so because the lay leadership, rather than holding them accountable, had determined their fiduciary course to be "just get out of the professionals' way and let them do their jobs" while expressing no interest in what those "jobs" might be. And, so it came to pass, that the revelation that this actually occurred was met with the same "I don't want to know about this" that has met, e.g., the constant failure of JFNA-Israel enabling that pathetic operation to accrete more power instead of being disbanded, reorganized, euthanized after a decade of this "stuff."

At JFNA, unlike at the predecessor organizations, once talented, pliant lay leaders are uncovered, they appear to go into a "rotation." It's not unusual to observe the same lay leaders shuffle among the now-dead Global Planning Table, to head JFNA-Washington and, then, JFNA-Israel; or another, rising through the same track and up to National Campaign Chair as if the prior experiences were "training" or, another, who demonstrated no particular leadership skill other than acquiescence being promoted to lead two Task Forces simultaneously.  Others, keep their positions seemingly in perpetuity, And, still others, who might have questioned JFNA along the way, are rewarded with seats on the sidelines, better to watch in silence as the entrenched do what the entrenched have done. 

And, when a serious lay Board Chair, for whom my respect has grown exponentially since I learned more of his efforts, expressed his determination to non-renew the CEO's original contract, a cabal of these lay leaders came together to "overrule" him...just because they could*. Or, when last month Brian Abrahams' retirement as SVP-FRD at JFNA, the CEO announced he would "for the interim" be running the organization's FRD , laughter was heard throughout the land and at 25 Broadway.

Yes, it's a dangerous wash, rinse, repeat cycle.


* Among those opposing that Board Chair's determination were federation/JFNA leaders who had demanded that I resign from the JFNA Board when I spoke up.

Monday, March 4, 2019


By now anyone who cares about Israel and its enemies has no doubt read the Op-Ed splayed across the pages of the New York Times Week in Review, on Sunday, January 20. It is a piece that must be read to best understand the new anti-semitism. David Harris has responded perfectly for his American Jewish Committee:

"Michelle Alexander’s NY Times column hits new low
The Times of Israel
January 21, 2019

Reading Michelle Alexander’s column, “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” in The New York Times (Jan. 20) isn’t for the faint of heart. So many questions swirl around it that it’s hard to know where to begin.

First, I wish I could say I was surprised to see such a flawed and polemical piece in the paper, but then again the Times isn’t exactly new to such pieces, at least when it comes to Israel-related matters.
Second, outrageously, Ms. Alexander tried to link her column to the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., though she presents no convincing evidence that he would have agreed with her premise. To the contrary, the Dr. King that AJC leaders worked with on civil rights and other pressing issues, in the 1960s, was a staunch friend of Israel (and the mainstream Jewish community). And, of course, the paper played along by featuring the column prominently on the eve of the national holiday honoring his legacy.

Third, as the title suggests, Ms. Alexander sees herself as heroically “breaking the silence” and taking on those dark (Jewish?) forces trying to stifle any discussion of Israeli-Palestinian issues.

Ms. Alexander, what silence are you breaking? The paper you wrote your column for, and countless others, have been publishing such pieces for decades. Fortunately, they’ve had little resonance with the American people, who instinctively understand the Israel story and its importance to us as Americans.

And fourth, there are countless outrages in the column itself.

She unabashedly applauds boycotts of Israel; falsely accuses the Jewish state of apartheid; approvingly cites extremist voices like the misnamed Jewish Voice for Peace; endorses the Palestinian “right of return,” which would mean the end of Israel; veers dangerously close to anti-Semitism with references to Jewish money; and charges the country with endless acts of oppression against both its Arab citizens (who, in reality, are fully active in just about every aspect of Israeli life, including the Supreme Court) and Palestinians.

Nowhere does she show any understanding of Israel, much less even an ounce of sympathy for its unenviable situation in a rough-and-tumble region where the weak don’t last long and, tragically, peace has proved elusive.

For her, Israel was settled by European Jews, suggesting outsiders, but there is no reference to the nearly one million Jews expelled from Arab countries, most of whom thankfully found refuge in Israel and today comprise the majority of the Jewish population, much less to the historical links of the Jewish people to the land.

Nowhere does she reference Israel’s multiple and well-documented efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians, beginning the year before the state was reborn in 1948 and continuing into the 21st century. Israel is blamed nonstop for the current situation, while the Palestinians are blameless. Does Ms. Alexander have a clue about the actual history and its endless layers of complexity, or does she live in a sanitized world of simplistic narratives that perhaps feed a larger world view?

Nor is there any explanation of how Israel came into possession of the West Bank in 1967 or how it sought a land-for-peace deal immediately afterward, only to be rejected by the Arab League in September 1967.

Of course, there’s not even a hint that, absent a peace partner to achieve a two-state accord, Israel tried at the very least to minimize the impact of occupation, as evidenced by a growing Palestinian population, rising life expectancy, improving standard of living, substantial self-government, and the founding of several universities in the West Bank.

Gaza is described as occupied by Israel, even as it withdrew lock, stock, and barrel in 2005. Hamas is mentioned in passing, but not as a terrorist organization determined to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamist state. What exactly is Hamas in Ms. Alexander’s mind? Is it a liberal, democratic, non-violent, and peace-seeking group? I can’t imagine that Dr. King would have thought so.

A reader of Ms. Alexander’s column would have no hint at all about terrorism from Gaza and the West Bank; the thousands of missiles fired indiscriminately by Hamas and Hezbollah; the many Israeli families that have buried their relatives because of such attacks; or, for that matter, Israel’s full-throttled pluralism and its age-old yearning for enduring peace and coexistence.

And, last but not least, I can’t help but wonder how Dr. King would have reacted to such a piece that seeks to shamelessly exploit his memory —and hijack his legacy — by turning an outspoken friend of Israel into a would-be moral cudgel against the world’s only Jewish-majority country. My guess is he would have been appalled.

David Harris is the CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC)."