Friday, May 31, 2019


On May 29, the Chicago Jewish community gave a party in celebration of Steve Nasatir's Over 1200 celebrated together with Steve and his family joined by his colleagues from across the country, Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor, Chicago's new Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Governor J.B. Pritzker, Steve's wife, Carolyn, the remarfkable philanthropist Lester Crown, and so many more. It was a night to remember Steve's incredible career; forty years of unheard of accomplishments. I and so many more had the opportunity to be aboard for part or all of Steve's ride...but, at the end of the day, this was Steve's ride...and we were and are so grateful for it.

Not to be too hyperbolic, but to define Steve Nasatir as a remarkable communal professional is like calling Picasso a painter, Pavarotti a singer, Chopin a pianist. Steve Nasatir has been without question the quintessential professional leader of the Jewish Federation Movement in the 20th and 21st centuries -- he has not been a mere observer of Modern Jewish history, he has been too busy writing that history. 

In our lives as Chicagoans, we have been privileged to have lived in the eras of Gale Sayers and Michael Jordan and Frank Thomas (there were probably some Cubs in there too but not in a Post about Steve, the ultimate White Sox fan) -- players who, when they grabbed the football or basketball or stepped into the batter's box, everything seemed to stop so we could watch greatness. And, I/we lived in Steve Nasatir's leadership era, blessed to be part of it; not as observers but as participants.

Steve lived and breathed the cornerstone of federation qua federation: collective responsibility. He built upon Chicago's historic commitment to the collective in incredible ways -- in our communal support of JFNA's Budget, of Chicago's role in leadership of every great Campaign; in our annual allocations to the core budgets of JAFI and JDC. Steve drove our local leadership to greater resource development year-after-year-after year. 

It was Nasatir and Nasatir alone whose creativity led to the conceptualization of the Trust for Jewish Philanthropy, ONAD, Right Start, our own incredible Operation Exodus Campaign (wherein Chicago assured that local agency allocations were protected and, at the end, Exodus gifts were folded into the annual campaigns going forward). Steve literally led generations of donors who contributed in excess of $8 billion to the Chicago Jewish United Fund over his years in leadership -- to continue the sports analogy, the equivalent of Barry Bonds record of 762 career home runs (and with no allegations of steroids!). Sure, there were failures -- but those were not in Steve's ideas but in their execution by others. I, like so many, believe that had Nasatir chosen to accept the offer of CEO of the newly merged entity two decades ago, the Federation Movement would be as strong as it is in Chicago, Cleveland, Baltimore...

And, as Steve passes the mantle of leadership he leaves behind a legacy, the highest bar possible for his successor. He also will steward a $52 Million Fund for the Future created by Chicago philanthropists as they honored Steve for his decades of service. We hear rumors that the first project to be funded will focus on in-depth Israel experiences for young Jews. in the eighth grade -- further the pioneering work embodied in Chicago's in Steve Nasatir's JUF Right Start, already adopted by 6 communities beyond Chicago.

Steve Nasatir always has looked to the future as does this new and important Fund. Chicago's lay and professional leaders of today are his legacy. His work continues.

Thanks Steve.


Monday, May 27, 2019


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. 

I strongly recommend and fully endorse The Maimonides Fund's Doron Kenter's brilliant analysis of fiduciary duty in his post in ejewishphilanthropy “Rich or King” Redux: What Are Our Obligations to Our Jewish Communal Institutions? Defining fiduciary responsibility as "our obligation" is vital.

Mark Wilf understands fiduciary responsibility as a personal obligation to the institution he was elected to Chair. I would merely point out that others in leadership do not. What I've observed is that there are those who have facilely rationalized that " self-interest and JFNA's interests are one." To these folks there is nothing beyond the rationalization. This is what led to the Global Planning Table, to #ish, to TribeFest, to hundreds of thousands of dollars just taken from the heritage National Agencies, to advising St. Paul they can write-off $3,000,000 owed to JAFI/JDC, to the elimination of FRD, to the deconstruction of UIA, all the way and inevitably right through a recent travesty -- allowing the deployment of the Young Leadership Cabinet lists to promote a "Yoga weekend." 

There is a l'etat, c'est moi ethos permeating JFNA -- it emanates from the senior management and too many in the senior lay leadership. And I know those lay leaders, many of them took their talents from communities where they were taught fiduciary responsibility well to the continental organization where they seemed to forget all in the quest of the next office, the next rung up the leadership ladder. 

Here's one person's prescription of some of what is needed:

  1. Some tough love -- the only person who can administer this medicine is the Board Chair -- perhaps with Michael Siegal. There needs to be a serious discussion of what must be done to apply a fix to the organization where failure has become metastasized. 
  2. A public acknowledgement that all is not well at JFNA, at 25 Broadway. If nothing else, the Bridgespan Group found so much that is wrong. Stop the pretense that all is well. AA has taught us that alcoholism cannot be beaten until one acknowledges that one is an alcoholic; JFNA cannot change until it faces its failure.
  3. Among the changes: broaden the leadership roles (those who have already served in one JFNA leadership position need to be immediately succeeded (like tomorrow) by a new set, broadly diverse and well-mentored.
  4. Speaking of mentoring: assure that the new CEO (who should have been engaged last year if not 5 years ago) has a set of mentors who understand the fiduciary culture so vital to the creation of trust.
But, of course, if past is prologue, nothing will change. Fiduciary responsibility will remain just a memory of some old codgers.


Thursday, May 23, 2019


I hope you read, as did I, the superb piece in ejewishphilanthropy, A Love Letter to the Business I Truly Love, authored by the Executive Director of the Jack and Goldie Wolfe Miller Fund, Alicia Oberman.,+2017&utm_campaign=Wed+Oct+18+&utm_medium=email

I hope that all of you have or will read this cri de coeur. It's worthy exactly because it is a statement of commitment to a movement that once was -- not just a paycheck but subscription to a higher cause, a sacred calling. I, like so many of you, have been blessed to work side-by-side with an array of incredible professionals every step along my lay "career." In Chicago -- with the incomparable Joel Shinsky, and Jim Rice, Hal Rosen, Peggy Norton  and Michael Kotzin, each of whom passed on too young with so much more to offer, and Joel Carp, Beth Cherner, David Rosen and Peter Friedman. And,the very best of the best, Steven Nasatir, who supported me, and who taught me and so many others so much and continues to (and who, from Day 1 right through this moment, has demanded that I cease and desist from this Blog); and nationally -- where Mark Levin at the NCESJ,  David Sarnat, Jeff Kaye and Maxyne Finkelstein at JAFI NA, and  Marty Kraar, z'l, Harold Adler and Howard Feinberg at CJF, Danny Allen, z'l, at UIA, and my great professional partners at the United Jewish Appeal, Rabbi Herb Friedman, z'l, Irving Bernstein, z'l, Stanley Horowitz, z'l, Rabbi Brian Lurie, Morris Sherman, Shimon Pepper, Harold Cohen and Lee Twersky and Gail Reiss; and, today, leading the incredible work of the Jewish National Fund-USA: Russell Robinson, Rick Krosnick and Mitch Rosenzweig and great professional teams around the country. 

Each, to a person, was a partner, a friend and a teacher. Each helped to build and was committed to the profession and to the institutions they represented with such ferocity and, so very often, genius. I look at that list of men and women and I see embodied the creative survival of the Jewish People and the institutions that they built with their lay partners, and, other than JNF, too often institutions either gone, deteriorating or at risk. 

Where are the keepers of that flame of professionalism that once burned so brightly?


Sunday, May 19, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfect. Right?


Friday, May 17, 2019


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

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


Tuesday, May 14, 2019


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

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

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

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

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



Friday, May 10, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, May 6, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As they say: #sad.


Thursday, May 2, 2019


On April 10, JTA published an article,, disclosing that, among other things, while neither the mainstream religious movements in the United States -- Reform, Reconstruction or Conservative -- were invited to a White House meeting with President Trump and his advisers, JFNA was among the organizations  invited. Compounding the exclusions, JFNA's newest "partner" in the Secure Community Network, the ADL, was also uninvited.

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

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

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

My friends, there is never any outrage.