Sunday, April 28, 2019


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.


Wednesday, April 24, 2019


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 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.


Saturday, April 20, 2019


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.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019


In early April JFNA and its brand new "partner," the ADL, announced a "joint venture" between the JFNA-Conference of Presidents Secure Community Network " 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.


Friday, April 12, 2019


...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. 


Monday, April 8, 2019


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:

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 -  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.


Thursday, April 4, 2019


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..


Monday, April 1, 2019


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.


* 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.