Sunday, July 28, 2019


The Secure Community Network has been a real gem. Last week, JFNA Board Chair, Mark Wilf, extolled SCN's value and noted the recognition it has received from, among others, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

At its end, Mark made a plea for individual financial support for the SCN. For those, like the Board Chair, who have the capacity to help fund the SCN, b'hatzlacha

Some history is in order.

The SCN was the brainchild of a few Large Cities, including, I state with pride, Chicago. At the JFNA Board meeting at which it was approved along with a relatively small budget considering the enormity of its charge, questions arose as to how the SCN would be financially supported. Its was John Ruskay, then the UJA-Federation of New York President and CEO, who demanded, in the gentle way in which he stated all things, that given the high, if not highest, priority of institutional and communal security, JFNA commit to include the SCN as an annual Budget obligation. And he received that commitment from Silverman and the then JFNA Board Chair.

And, that commitment lasted, as best I recall, for all of two years. Couldn't afford it any more. (This brought to mind my own experience as the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago's Budget Chair way back when. We had a strategic priorities process in which the local agencies ranked their annual budget requests in priority order. And, one local Yeshiva listed as its lowest priority "fire extinguishers" knowing that Federation would see that need as among the highest priorities.) 

So, the Large Cities, over and above JFNA Dues, began to fund the SCN -- the SCN morphed into a communal financial obligation no longer the highest priority of the Continental system. Though they no longer know what it means, no longer a collective obligation. 

The SCN, like every other national organization, first told by the national organization that "you are our responsibility," found itself with the need to hire a professional fund raiser to raise funds to meet its responsibilities to the system that underfunded it. So early this year the SCN engaged a good one.

If one asked JFNA's leaders to rank the organization's priorities, community and institutional security would be at or near the top of the list -- apparently only so long as JFNA doesn't have to pay for it.

G-d bless Mark and those who have with him written checks to the SCN and may Mark assure that the SCN is the highest priority of the federation system and assure its core support.


Wednesday, July 24, 2019


Things are happening:

  • An interesting article by Haaretz' Judy Maltz -- After Major Falling-out Jewish Agency to Resume Partnership with Evangelical-funded Charity -- revealed that JAFI's Chair of the Executive and Yael Eckstein, who succeeded her father upon his untimely demise as the leader of the organization Yechiel Eckstein, z'l, founded, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, had begun the "healing process." I not only served on the Jewish Agency Executive during the ugly and personal fall-out of the IFCJ withdrawal of its significant general financial support of the Agency but also served under Rabbi Eckstein's Chairmanship of the JAFI Aliya Committee. While it appears that no financial support will be forthcoming, as the saying goes: at least the parties are talking. This to the credit of both Bougie Herzog and Yael Eckstein. Where this goes from here, nobody usual.
  • The recent JCPA CEO's Webinar with Jerry Silverman demonstrated that JFNA is still in Global Planning Table mode (and you readers all know the waste in treasure and human resources of that fiasco) in this case, that all of JFNA will pursue -- three vague things (I don't know what else to call them): 
    • A Marquee Collective Impact Initiative without substance. As in the GPT there will be "coalitions of the willing" (of which during the GPT, there were none) -- the concept of collective responsibility...further reduced if it even exists any longer at 25 Broadway.  After all, who among us will ever forget the GPT Select Core Priorities which morphed into a set of Strategic Initiatives  -- actually who remembers them -- unfunded, unstructured failures. For the same organization to now call for Marquee Collective Impact Initiatives means that the organization that has worked for a decade at least to wipe out institutional memory has no memory of its own last decade;
    • Committing federations to "collect and share their benchmarking data" and Federation performance data -- I guess as they did in the days of UJA and CJF when the communities trusted their national organizations; and
    • Reinvesting in talent -- without a single program to do so.   
    • Israel? Fugggedaboutit -- nowhere to be found.                                       
       At the time of the first CEO "transition," incoming President Steve Hoffman was confronted with a planning document drafted. by the Lay Chairs of JFNA's (then UJC's) lay chairs. Without any announcement, Steve merely indicated he would move the organization forward without reference to that "plan." He did. Perhaps, this would be an excellent path for JFNA's new CEO to relect upon. 

And that's it for today from Lake Woebegone.


Friday, July 19, 2019


At one time there was a thriving independent Jewish print media led by fearless men and women; like so many things in Jewish life, that was then and this is now.

The Jewish Week's Gary Rosenblatt, The Forward's J.J. Goldberg and Jane Eisner, The Jewish Journal's Rob Eshman, The Chicago Jewish News' Joe Aaron, TC Jewfolk's Lonny Goldsmith, Debra Nussbaum Cohen for so many and ejewishphilanthropy's Dan Brown and so many more. But the list is getting shorter and shorter. These are the women and men who write and edit with courage and independence; men and women with whom I have sometimes disagreed as I respect them for their attempts to shed light often in dark corners and too often with strong resistance from their subjects.

All of this and more was brought to mind by a recent Comment to an earlier Post from a FOB:
"This blog continues to be right on, as it has been for many years - both Richard's posts and many of the reader comments. The only thing wrong with it is that it has only limited exposure. If our Jewish community had more independent journalism, many of the blog's posts and comments would have been reproduced and more people would understand what is going on at JFNA with their financial support. 
Richard, you should follow up on that angle so that the message gets out. That is evidently the only chance we have to force action and change." 
There was a time when the Jewish media was interested, even focused on the communal system; today, like 100s of 1000s of donors, they have lost almost all interest. 

Part of the problem has been that major federations have sought to assure that their unadulterated message appears in their own publications -- some well-produced but, certainly, the pages where never is read a discouraging, yet alone critical word. These newspapers have sucked up advertising dollars. 

And, in so many ways, organizations like JFNA hide behind claimed "confidentiality" to obfuscate and camouflage bad news and, often, any news. (Readers will recall, among other times, the admonition I received for linking you to the Bridgespan "Strategic Plan" -- causing JFNA to take down the link and hide the Report.)

I think we all know the quote from Justice Brandeis: sunlight is the best of disinfectants. It is clear that in too many places, the mere thought of sunlight penetrating the darkness is anathema. The idea of a strong, inquiring, demanding independent Jewish press is to too many a really terrible idea.

This attitude, of course, raises a seminal question: what do they have to hide?

Just asking.


Monday, July 15, 2019


Sports fans are very familiar with those "retirement tours" wherein an aging athlete who is leaving the game is rewarded for his/her years of stardom with a gift (a personalized rocking chair, sometimes a car, a motorcycle, etc.) and bade farewell. The federation system hasn't a substitute but the great ones -- Ruskay, Hoffman, D. Friedman, Nasatir -- get a dinner and, appropriately, a Fund in their names to distribute for noble and/or innovative programs.

Then there is/was our (well, your) Gerald Silverman -- oh, he got a fund for professional development at JFNA almost oxymoronic; and appearances at a number of federation Board meetings; and, most recently, a joint appearance with JCPA's CEO, David Bernstein, in a Webinar on, of all things, Jewish Federations Then and Now. All in 30 minutes (it actually lasted 35) -- one FOB suggested: "...more than enough time for him to communicate all that he learned in ten years." I know, many of you agree that maybe 10 minutes would have been sufficient.

To make the Webinar more meaningful, the invitation listed some (all?) of the questions for Jerry:
"How have Jewish Federations evolved over the last ten years? What direction are they going? Where does Jewish advocacy and community relations fit in?" (Yes, I know, "direction" should be plural and "does" should be "do" but this is Jerry after all.)
So, I tuned in.

As would have been expected, in the thirty-five minutes allocated to this thing, and, given that the interviewee was the Jerry., there was a wide-ranging use of jargon and cliche, and almost no facts. While David Bernstein introduced the session as an "amazing opportunity" to debrief with Jerry, it proved to be nothing more than another "opportunity" lost.

Examples? We have many. Consider:

  • JS spoke of "running the business" and "generating revenue" -- neither of which he did;
  • Talked of "our campaigns" raising $910-$920 million -- should have been, should always be "the federations' campaigns" of course;
  • When asked what the "mission of JFNA is today," Jerry responded that it is "timeless;"
  • Silverman cited the importance of the JFNA Strategic "Process" but failed to mention that (1) the document itself has been suppressed, unless you have a copy, you can't see it; (2) it was drafted by a Consultant; and (3) its "big ideas" have no meat on the bones;
  • Jerry embraced the idea of "Kennedyesque" goals to be led by JFNA -- he loved the idea so much, that he repeated "Kennedyesque" ad nauseam. on and on and on (it was at this point that I realized that David Bernstein deserved a special award for maintaining a straight face!!);
  • After his restatement for the umpteenth time the three "goals" flowing from the consultant's work, no one could be surprised that JFNA has not a single strategy for implementing any of these goals -- perhaps The Bridgespan Group could be retained to develop strategies. (Oh, they have been -- never mind.)
To his credit, Jerry cited pioneering programs in Chicago and Los Angeles -- as we all know, JFNA itself after the 10 years of Jerry has no programs of its own.

I got exactly what I expected.



Wednesday, July 10, 2019


Yes. I'm the guy who railed long and hard against the egregious compensation paid to the JFNA CEO over his terms -- egregious in the absolute and, perhaps worse, in the relative sense when placed in the context of failure. And readers of this Blog know the main reason for my screed -- JFNA's lay leaders determined -- and quickly -- that Jerry could not manage the operation, took those management responsibilities from him, yet paid him as if he were still performing all of the roles for which he was hired, not half of them...or even fewer.

Then one of you sent me a massive non-profit Salaries Review -- and I found something worse -- if JFNA's CEO's  salary has been egregious; there is another that is EGREGIOUS.

Understand, please, I know how hard communal CEOs work. They are on the job 24/6; always on call. Over the decades I have watched so many of them holding their communities together at the most difficult of times. I have been privileges to work with so many that I hold in the highest regard and others whom I have visited in good times and bad. Most are, in reality, under-compensated. Then, there is this...

Yes, there was that now "retired" JDC CEO who was paid close to $1 million and the $800,000 (+) paid his colleague at JDC-Brookdale, lower case egregious, but then there it was, in 2017 (I believe, maybe 2018, it matters not) the CEO of the ADL was paid $994,800.

Now, it is possible that the Survey got it wrong but comparing the ADL number to others in the survey we know are correct, probably not. Trying to find a current ADL 990 proved impossible; it's most "current" and available IRS filing dates back to 2016 (the most recent JFNA 990, as an example, reports through June 30, 2017). 

I have been an advocate for compensation appropriate to accomplishment, to the complexity of the position and to the market. The ADL CEO's compensation is disproportionate to any and all of those criteria. 

$994,800. Oh, my.


Saturday, July 6, 2019


I hope that all of you read the passionate defense of Jerry Silverman's sorry tenure on these pages in a Comment from a Large City Executive whom I believe represents among the best and brightest of his generation of professional leaders. So, even the best of us can't be right 100% of the time. 

As one of the FOB wrote: "Sure, he raised billions of dollars, built the Kotel and unified the Jewish people." Sure he did. He also delivered the Ten Commandments at Sinai. In fact, Jerry's greatest achievement was that his paycheck was never reduced even after he was told that his management responsibilities were being transferred to Mark Gurvis.

Friends, I am sorry, but giving Jerry any credit whatsoever is like crediting a rooster for the sunrise. I guess there is a reward somewhere for Silverman's model of constant upward-failing. 

But, it is hard to criticize Jerry for, well, accepting his annual compensation from what appear to have been a fawning laity unable to come to grips with their responsibilities to evaluate their CEO's performance. They, instead, just looked the other way, rubber-stamped failure and moved on. 

It wasn't the initial employment contract per se: Jerry was untested as an organizational leader but for a few successful years with the Foundation for Camp. Jerry gave what was described as a "brilliant" and, obviously, compelling presentation to the JFNA Search Committee -- you know, those JFNA leaders who were convinced by the incoming JFNA Board Chair that you must judge this book by its cover. There was, quite apparently, little due diligence; there couldn't have been. But....5 years later to have extended that contract...five years of organizational failure during which Silverman had his management responsibilities transferred to another new hire; while Jerry's compensation wasn't halved, it was increased.

No, those lay leaders who extended the Silverman contract are the ones who should be unable to look themselves in the mirror. (BTW, very reliable sources have told me that at the time of Mark Gurvis' hire as COO the then Board Chair has wanted to terminate Jerry's contract; just as other sources have told me that JFNA actually offered Silverman a further extension which Jerry turned down as being too brief a renewal!!)

Friends, these are your leaders. Only in the most dysfunctional of organizations would this pattern be tolerated; at JFNA it is behavior that is (1) applauded and (2) rewarded with a Fund in your name.

And, so it goes at Lake Woebegone.


Tuesday, July 2, 2019


Yes, Eric Fingerhut will have his hands full.

Two  and one-half years ago, when JFNA announced that Brian Abrahams had been hired as Senior Vice-President for Financial Resource Development, I kvelled. I extolled Brian's perceived "virtues" and the hope his engagement created for a revived FRD effort at the Continental level. Over two years later, I had to confess error. Brian, truly a nice guy, with a great professional background, had proved to be not much more than another professional at 25 Broadway (well, not exactly, inasmuch as he had continued in residence in Chicago, his home) who was never given the chance to lead, adding to the string of disappointments at JFNA over the past decade.

When Brian was hired -- essentially "hired" by JFNA Senior Consultant, Vicki Agron -- I doubt that he anticipated that he would end up reporting to her month-after-month while she "led" an FRD Consulting effort that morphed into the totality of JFNA's community consulting effort with FRD fading further into the void that is JFNA. Meanwhile, for Brian's first 18 months ostensibly leading JFNA FRD, he was rarely seen or heard -- his office in Chicago was some 733 miles from 25 Broadway, where it remained. 

If you were to ask those at 25 Broadway, they will tell you that Brian was rarely seen at HQ -- he may have been there from time-to-time, but not with any regularity. Vicki was running the FRD Consulting team she had hired. I have no doubt that the communities with which JFNA FRD consulted were well-served by this original group of superb, experienced FRD professionals, but this was all that JFNA FRD was doing beyond fewer and fewer Missions and serving the two major JFNA constituencies inherited from UJA -- National Women's Philanthropy and the Young Leadership Cabinet, the former thriving under a succession of strong, passionate lay Chairs; the latter, a mere shadow of its original self, but striving to find purpose and relevancy.

Special Campaigns at JFNA had become nothing more than the opening of "Mailboxes," the dollars deposited by federations and donors then withdrawn by JFNA like a JFNA ATM, the organization reduced to cheerleading from the sidelines as opposed to what once was, and allocating as if the organization had played some role in raising the dollars. (I/We had always learned and preached the message that those who raised the dollars proved to be the best and most responsible allocators of the dollars raised. Not at JFNA.)

Sure, JFNA believes that it raised the millions in the Annual Campaign and the Federation endowment funds. If you like fiction, just examine the 990 "Revenue" entries year after year. But, really, ask someone at JFNA how much they raise directly. 

And, when Brian Abrahams resigned, Jerry Silverman announced that he would be taking on the professional FRD leadership, and all amcha could do was laugh. If you have noticed any JFNA-led resource development since Jerr y took on this assignment, let me know. FRD at JFNA todsay is not even a shadow of once was -- because nothing doesn't cast a shadow.