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...


Friday, August 16, 2019


I have always assumed that those professionals who have been the recipients of the Wexner Foundation Fellowships have been among the best and brightest. So it was painful, even horrifying, to read the title to a recent piece in The Jewish Week/Times of Israel incorporating a quote from one of these people: Do I Want to Walk Through the World With the Wexner Name Attached to Mine?

As the body of the article discloses:
"Wexner has not been accused of any wrongdoing but his close relationship with (Jeffrey) Epstein has raised suspicion." (Emphasis added.)
Should the Jewish Week and Times of Israel be peddling a story premised on unsupported guilt by association? A story that goes even further suggesting that this "guilt" associates the entire philanthropic community in Epstein's perversion. Thus, an anonymous "current (Wexner ) fellow" is quoted as follows:
"I think for some people, this issue has been about recognizing that there are systems at play that make scandals like this possible....There's something wrong in the world of philanthropy if this is possible in the first place.."
Just what "this" is the anonymous current Fellow talking about?

Then a former student at a Wexner-funded yeshiva, Mechon Hadar, was heard from:
"I would like to propose that our community take the lead in disassociating ourselves from Wexner and taking a stand against him being able to buy his way into a good name."
Les Wexner's good name was earned long, long ago. His good works date back decades. His contributions to Jewish life and leadership should not be tainted when he has not been charged with "wrongdoing" beyond his association with Epstein.  And, about that association, Wexner wrote only last month:
"...My heart goes out to each and every person who has been hurt. I severed all ties with Mr. Epstein nearly 12 years ago. I would not have continued to work with any individual capable of such egregious sickening behavior as has been reported about him. As you can imagine, this past week, I have searched my should...reflected...and regretted that my path ever crossed his. When Mr.. Epstein was my personal money manager, he was involved in many aspects of my financial life. But let me assure you that I was NEVER aware of the illegal activity charged in the indictment."
Leslie Wexner must certainly be numbered among the great Jewish philanthropists of our times. I can think of no other whose contributions to Jewish lay and professional leadership has been greater or more long term than his -- dating back to 1986, as I recall. I visited him in Columbus in my United Jewish Appeal Chair role and he freely gave his counsel and time -- so much so that I missed my flight to Chicago. 15 years later I and other leaders of the merger looked to Wexner for his insights. I remember so well the admiration that Rabbi Herb Friedman, z'l, one of our most important Jewish professional leaders, had for Wexner as Herb was the founding professional of the Wexner Heritage Foundation.

To now read of a sudden disdain and calumny based on innuendo that shadows Mr. Wexner since the reporting of Epstein's perversions, elevates guilt by association to an ugly art form. Let us not turn our backs to this great philanthropist.

Let the facts dictate our positions.


Monday, August 12, 2019


Dan Brown, the brilliant and insightful Founder and CEO of ejewishphilanthropy, and one of the great reporters and editors on the Jewish communal condition, in a Comment to a recent Post on the Blog, observed
"The non-American members of JAFI's board see this change (the vivisection of UIA and a reorganization that placed UIA and its functions under the thumb of the failed JFNA-Israel) , among others, as a positive. In fact, most are upbeat about the various changes currently taking place in JAFI and are convinced they will bring more American dollars to the table. Perhaps I'm the lone man out not drinking the Kool Aid."
No, Dan, there are many who have yet to swallow the Kool-Aid and the bullshit that comes with it.

Anyone....anyone at all...who believes that the American Jewish polity will provide greater financial support to JAFI's core budget because of the deconstruction of UIA, the transfer of greater functions to JFNA-Israel, the hire of Gail Reiss as CEO of JAID, the JAFI expensive FRD operation or the commendable openness of Bougie Herzog, the Chair of th4e Executive -- or for any other reason whatsoever -- is smoking something powerful and/or in total denial of reality. 

For a decade and longer, the federations' cash allocations to JAFI and JDC core budgets have been in free-fall. The allocation to the Jewish Agency alone has dropped beyond its own red line by $10 million to less than $85 million, falling year-by-year-by year. It has been losing market share to JDC and its own stated and restated purposes -- the primary ones seem today  to be "Jewish unity" and battling the World-wide plague of growing anti-semitism -- are confused with those of other, more focused organizations.

Is the UJA-Federation of New York not considering Draconian cuts to its core allocation? Will other Large City federations increase theirs to make up the resultant cuts? Rhetorical question.

Visits by Herzog or the misbegotten assignment by JAID of its fund-raising professionals (without prior communal engagement) to communities to engage in, what, allocations advocacy (who thought that one up?), are not going to make up the shortfall or staunch the tide. JFNA, in its attempted whitewash of its own failings as the putative allocations advocacy agent for JAFI.JDC/ORT, shifted the advocacy back to JAFI/JDC/ORT without guidance or management -- just walking away...."not our problem." 

In treating any addiction, the first steps for the addict is to acknowledge that the/she has the addiction. In the allocations process, there first must be an institutional admission that there is and has been a failure...and those responsible for that failure (and I include the federations, JFNA lay and professional leadership and a succession of leaders at JAFI and JDC who misplaced their confidence long ago that they could rely upon JFNA) have to immediately take responsibility -- all of them.

Who will be the first to step forward? And how will they effect positive change? I have my own ideas....

What are yours?


Monday, August 5, 2019


Back in the day, the United Jewish Appeal's Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission was the seminal Israel experience on the national Mission Agenda. Begun under Richie Pearlstone's last year as National Campaign Chair, I was privileged to inherit it when I succeeded Richie. We used the Mission as the vehicle for leaders other than the National Campaign Chair to lead and co-lead the Mission with Richie, I and our successors participating in a support role, cheerleading as it were. The initial staff leader was Vicki Agron and staff support was limited to a critical few. We always went to Israel even after a pre-Mission `(typically in the FSU); with a contingent that had a minimum of 75 federations and a maximum of 100 communities sending their Campaign Chairs and Directors. 

Each Mission exemplified the ruach and commitment of the participants.

That was then; and this is now: the National Campaign Chair led this Mission; 35 communities were represented; Israel? Not a chance, so 1990's -- this year the Mission travelled to Argentina and Uruguay (yes, Uruguay!!!). I assume Israel was mentioned. Staffing? Oh, there are at least 15 JFNA staffers -- and, mirabile dictu, one of those is Vickli Agron. For over a decade participation was limited to actual Campaign Chair, Directors and always a number of CEOs; today, the more the merrier.

Friends of the Blog sent on the Mission participant "materials." Setting aside the fact that the Mission is in South America, the Itinerary is certainly full -- along with end of ther day opportunities for fireside chats with the lay and professional leaders. There are appropriate FRD sessions led by pros who have rarely if ever solicited a major gift from a lay donor: it would have been far better had the leaders asked Gail Reiss, now the CEO of the Jewish Agency's development arm, to conduct the solicitation training.

Yes. this is now.

And, now, as you know, is a time when there is no JFNA SVP Financial Resource Development and hasn't been since Brian Abrahams left. Worse, if the roster of speakers and trainers is complete, the JFNA fund-raising professional staff may be near extinction -- check the number of JFNA pros in comparison with the number of FRD community consultants -- a large number. 

Eric Fingerhut is on his way. Assuming he has at least a five-year contract, his first act should be to hire the best and brightest to lead a revivified JFNA FRD effort at 25 Broadway because what has been allowed to happen is tragic.



Thursday, August 1, 2019


A FOB sent me this inquiry that appeared on FedCentral:

"Does anyone have experience running an investment/stock club?"

There's nothing more to say.