Sunday, September 29, 2019


Friends, a momentary time out for introspection.

On the cusp of 5780, I want to wish you and your loved ones a shana tova u'metukah.


Friday, September 27, 2019


1. On the eaterchicago update a week ago, the headline blared: Chicago First Vegan Jewish Deli Is Coming to Uptown with Bagels and Plant-Based Lox. I don't know which is more oxymoronic -- "Vegan Jewish Deli" or "Plant-Based Lox," the latter striking me as a particularly disgusting idea. And, no doubt, there will be no tongue on the menu. Is nothing sacred? A corned beef sandwich constructed out of some tofu derivative?  I will not tell my daughter or daughter-in-law or, for that matter, my sons of the existence of this place...though I wish the "Deli" well, of course.

2. You may recall that a few years ago HIAS -- then the "Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society" -- withdrew "Hebrew" from everything and became but an acronym. Yes, it morphed into just an acronym -- HIAS. Its leadership determined that henceforth it would offer ecumenical, non-denominational immigrant assistance; one fund-raising mass mailing I received at the time of the chagim, as I recall, asked me to support aid to Syrian refugees.

That was then. Now, HIAS has sought funding for that which it calls HIAS v. Trump. "On behalf of refugees we're taking this fight to court." Donate Now with a link. And a hashtag. Maybe this is just an opportunistic strategy, with some perceived gain short-term. But, long-term? I don't think so.

I recognize our historic responsibility to aid the stranger, the other. HIAS has carried this too far -- best I can tell, it now duplicates the work of so many other refugee assistance organizations. I'll wait to learn from you why HIAS deserves Jewish communal financial support.


Sunday, September 22, 2019


I have kvetched over time with the system's conscious abandonment of Israel as reflected by a series of Missions that never made it to Jerusalem, to Be'er Sheva, to Tel Aviv to Haifa...Israel never.

While I found that the Argentina/Uruguay itinerary to be vexing, one can at least point to Jewish Agency and JDC programming there and, in Argentina, a large, vibrant Jewish community

An interested reader sent me the announcement by the UJA-Federation of New York of a Spring Japan. I'm not making this up. Among the activities on this Federation Mission:
"You'll also meet with leading government officials and figures in the Jewish and figures in the Jewish community as you witness the impact of UJA's global work."
 Yes, as you witness the impact of UJA's global work. 

Now there are still a lot of places where a visitor could witness the impact of UJA's global work...but, in all candor, Japan is not one of them.

And, why would it be?

In the World Jewish Congress' most recent Japan Country Report, the Jewish community of Japan is described as follows:
"According to the estimates of Hebrew University demographer Sergio Della Pergola's 'World Jewish Population, 2016,' Japan is home to between 1,000 and 1,400 Jews. Almost entirely composed of Jewish foreigners and expatriates." (emphasis added)
The Report continues, describing this tiny group as "well organized and vibrant." Uh huh.

I have to admit to confusion when it comes to actions taken by New York UJA over the past few years. The federation discontinued its support of the system's national agencies through the now defunct Jewish Federations-National Agencies Alliance -- ostensibly a reaction to UJA's disproportionate funding of the Alliance. Once New York turned its back, withdrawiing its total support, on the Agencies, other federations followed suit; the Alliance collapsed.

And, this was only the starting point of UJA's deconstruction of its communal support of the collective.

Rumors abound that this year New York UJA will significantly reduce (1) its overseas allocations to the core budgets of the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee and (2) its Dues to JFNA. I hope these remain rumors, false ones, unsubstantiated ones, because, if true, the decades of New York's communal leadership of the collective response that is one of the core values of the federation system and a foundation stone of the merger of UJA and federation decades ago, will be no more.

As a student of our system I have always been wary of communities that applaud the success of their annual financial resource development but, at one and the same time, reduce their allocations to the collective instruments that these communities helped to create. 

I remember back to the Council of Jewish Federations era. I served on the CJF Budget and Finance Committee for a decade or more. The deliberations were always serious and extended, in good faith and spirit. I also remember, as we were about to adjourn one year, New York lay and professional leaders burst into the Committee room to announce that the tentative Budget and, therefor, the Dues were "too high' and we were required to return to the table to reduce the Budget...which we did. Today?

So, now, a Mission to Japan, where you will be able to observe the impact of UJA's global work. How will the Mission participants do that? Maybe a slide show from where UJA's real work is being done. Maybe going to a place where UJA's global work is not being done will remind the communal leadership of what once was the communal n'shama...what once was.


Tuesday, September 17, 2019


A few days ago many of you sent on to me the announcement: Leading Jewish Thinkers and Activists for 6 Continents Convene in Jerusalem to Launch Effort to Achieve United Vision for Global Jewry. ("6 Continents" -- count 'em) This Initiative, not to be confused with any earlier Initiatives, is titled Our Common Destiny. It is designed " connect Jews to each other and to Israel across diverse religious and cultural identities through a shared set of ethics and values."
WOW!!  And, even more, this is an initiative (a "ground-breaking one") of the Genesis Philanthropy Group and the Government of Israel." Quite the challenge that the concerning Genesis Philanthropy Group/GOI have laid out for themselves and those they have engaged in this initiative. And, those engaged convened in Jerusalem September 9-11, apparently to draft a framing document. It should be noted that Xi Xinping, as I recall, announced in 2017 that China was to embark on The Community of Common Destiny -- so watch out for trademark litigation!!

As Ilia Salita, Genesis' President and CEO, stated:
"We are inviting Jews living in Israel and elsewhere to join in the crafting and completion of a document and ambitious as the Declaration of our Common Destiny* because we believe doing so has the potential to excite and engage Jews of all backgrounds and worldview. We know the initial draft of the Declaration will be vastly improved by the input it receives from the world Jewish community. This is Jewish crowdsourcing on a whole new level."
Nice. A whole paragraph of noblesse oblige. 

Though I admit I do not know all of the "thought leaders" engaged by Genesis in this project, there  are some great names and, as if intentional, not a single North American communal leader serves on either the Advisory Board (chaired by Sandy Cardin) or among the Scholars. This latter reality is no longer surprising but it is extremely disappointing. I know no one with a greater vision for the Jewish People than John Ruskay, Steve Nasatir, Steve Hoffman, Jeff Solomon and others from within (or nearby) the organized Jewish communities...and, yet, no one from among those entities which might, if part of the process, bring the diasp[ora communities together to engage.

These choices made by Genesis (and, perhaps, by Cardin) are clear --we are going to put out a nice, exciting academic Declaration and leave it to us peons to do the difficult work while not having been involved in framing this "Common Destiny.". And, as has been demonstrated before (in the failed implementation of the last Jewish Agency "strategic plan" -- it is now working on another; in the Government of Israel/Naftali Bennett's World Jewry Initiative, etc.), without engagement from the beginning, nothing much is going to happen at the grassroots level. Yet, with all of this, one has to wonder, do the organized Jewish communal leadership worldwide even realize how they have been dissed here; or, if not dissed....clearly ignored. And, if they do realize it, do they care that they are perceived by their omission to be pedestrian and, worse, irrelevant.

In addition, friends, worldwide Jewish organizational leadership -- of JAFI, of the Joint Distribution Committee, among others -- are not represented. 

These insults are manifest and, no doubt, well-earned

And, then, it emerged  the end result of this ambitious intellectual exercise after as few days and a charge from President Rivlin, The Declaration of Our Common Destiny For the Unity of the Jewish People. (Ahh, the presumption.)  Thanks to our friends at ejewishphilanthropy you can read this at:,+2019&utm_campaign=Sept+11&utm_medium=email 

So good luck and great success to these "leading Jewish thinkers and activists." Can't wait for the discussions we have been mandated to comment.

So, it is on to a "generation-defining event in modern Judaism." The pool, though, is getting a little crowded.


* N.B. apparently such a Declaration exists...somewhere

Friday, September 13, 2019


There probably should be some form of celebration that JFNA's execrable decade, one JFNA barely survived (or, perhaps, didn't) has come to an end. With Jerry's long-delayed exit and Eric Fingerhut's arrival, indeed, "a new day is dawning" for JFNA. 

I for one regret that I had become a recalcitrant -- yet I am not sure I had any choice. After all, as Mayor Bill de Blasio was described in The New York Times, so was Jerry Silverman "performatively hapless." Jerry from Day 1. And, the lay leadership, unwilling to effect change, instead encouraged the pathetic rather than reining it in. So things went from bad to worse and then to worse compounded.

Sadly, across the broad horizon JFNA leaders shrunk from their responsibilities. They became apostates -- and, in this metamorphosis, they rejected our communal values by failing to insist upon them. (I would hate to think they unaware of them.) And, compounding their apostasy, they hired consultants who only knew of those values as they were described to them by the apostates. 

And, then I read, as, apparently, did many of you (given the number of you who sent me the link), a most ridiculous article, a hagiographic one to be sure, in which Jerry Silverman, upon his long-awaited retirement, reflected on the "accomplishments" of his decade as CEO. I was not LMAO at what one correspondent suggested I wear hip boots while wading through the bulls#+t.  Those "accomplishments" boiled down to these:
1. The Kotel Agreement. According to Jerry he was sweating side-by-side with Natan Sharansky in creating the deal which, at the first political challenge, the Prime Minister walked, breached the Agreement. Of course, the reality of the Agreement was solely Sharansky's. Jerry was a cheerleader, bending into each photo op and story as if he had done anything. We all recall that at the GA subsequent to the deal's collapse, the JFNA Board Chair profusely thanked Bibi for his specious excuses for breach of contract. What exactly was the "accomplishment" here?
2. Being There. Never missed a meeting with the PM or a succession of Presidents. That was it...being there. Never thought to invite a federation klay leader in his place.
Here is my "List of Silverman's Singular Accomplishments" over a decade:

1. This List (with thanks to Seth Myers)
2. Ten years of paychecks 
3. Being There 
To put anything else on this "list" would be like crediting a rooster for the sunrise.

Read the Jerusalem Post article here: Then weep.

Look, my sense for a decade was, as Mayor Bill de Blasio was recently described in the New York Times, that Jerry Silverman was "performatively hapless." To suggest anything more positive is a denial of every observable reality.

If Jerry chooses to remain blinded by his own illusions -- deny failure, deny waste, deny that which has been and is right in front of our eyes -- so be it. That doesn't mean that we have to as well.

Yet, even I have to agree with the few who understand that Jerry's selection as JFNA CEO ten years ago was epoch-making -- but... in the worst way. That the "epoch" was not ended earlier lies at the feet of JFNA lay leadership and the Federation CEOs. As to the ladder, my amazement that those who have built the Federation Movement in so many incredible and beautiful ways would stand aside for the decade and watch it and their profession being deconstructed in the face of their silence.

As you read The Jerusalem Post hagiography, please recall Dr. Seuss:
...and the mess is so big, so deep and so tall, we can't pick it up
There's no way at all.


Monday, September 9, 2019


Yes, I think a new day may be dawning at JFNA under the Wilf-Fingerhut administration. Change is in the air...kal ha'kavod. 

What took so damn long?

I'm talking about the organization's long-overdue quest for relevance -- well for the last decade, JFNA really didn't even "quest," it just sat silence.

Now, in just weeks of Eric Fingerhut going live as JFNA's new CEO, the organization issued press releases on two subjects that for a decade JFNA would have chosen silence: the most recent a response to the Israeli Government's decision to bar entry to two Congresspersons; the first on our shared pains with the communities impacted by domestic terrorists' atrocities. 

For those who don't recall (and who would), for a decade I have urged a succession of JFNA leaders to speak out on our collective behalf. I am so grateful that that is happening now.

For JFNA to be relevant, it must speak for the federations. I admit it's not easy in a consensus-driven organization, but perhaps Eric has figured it out -- and quickly.

Now, may JFNA achieve a few successes driving the system forward.


Friday, September 6, 2019


One of you recently wrote the following Comment:
"Richard and fellow readers of this blog, I am a long time reader, and it dawned on me that this is probably a tough time for you, Richard because the problems at JFNA are indeed plentiful, as you have articulated so well over the years.
Jerry Silverman's performance notwithstanding, I think you need to tone it down a bit while Eric Fingerhut is getting his feet wet.
Give him a chance to get a sense of the organization that he was hired to fix.
Allow him 6 months to acquire some intel on his own.
See if he reaches out to people that don't work at 25 Broadway; who knows, he may even reach out to you.
My point is, give Eric a fighting chance, and then challenge him appropriately.
You might even start by making a list of observations and send it to him, as a prologue to a face to face meeting."
Friends, no one welcomes Eric Fingerhut's service as JFNA's CEO and President more than I. He will be the breath of fresh air that JFNA, the federations and donors have needed for a long, long time..for way too long.

Eric's many accomplishments culminating in his successful reconstruction of Hillel are well known. There is an absolute need for all of his skills as he enters 25 Broadway at its lowest point.

When Jerry was hired, I confess I had little optimism; nonetheless, I declared a self-imposed hiatus returning to these pages when it quickly became evident that a bad, bad mistake had been made. (Even before Silverman took office, he went on a "listening tour,"  visiting federations. In Chicago, we discussed the role of federation in our community, the values we shared and it was obvious Jerry hadn't a clue what we were talking about. In a private session with a small group of us, we responded to a question Silverman posed, by recommending he immediately hire a COO with broad federation experience. Jerry's response: "I think I'd like to wait." He waited...and waited...and waited. Ultimately, a COO hire was imposed on him. Too little and too late. We knew we were in trouble.)

So, as my FOB suggested, I am calling a time out on this Blog as it pertains to JFNA. I hope to G-d it's permanent. 

I want so badly to write of JFNA's successes. And, those I will.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019


1. The ad that popped up on one of the digital newspapers I read daily. It offered a link to (drums roll): "Compare statistics for all hot dog eating contests." Do people do that -- not the hot dog volume eating but the comparative stats? Is there, like, the hot dog equivalent of ERA or WAR? I didn't go there. But I have learned that there is, in fact, a Professional League of Eating Contests -- I am not making this up.

2. And, is Hummus that popular? A few weeks ago JTA reported "Thief tries to steal half a ton of chickpeas from kibbutz in southern Israel. After police discovered found an abandoned car "loaded with chickpeas," they arrested a 30 year-old Bedouin man. Now I too love hummus as much as the next guy -- and in Chicago we have had an outbreak of high end restaurants focused on Israeli cuisine that may soon exceed our Chicago hot dog joints (well, not really, we have over 1500 hot dog stores here -- all selling the same thing) -- but is there a market for contraband chickpeas? Guess one Bedouin man thinks/thought so.

3. On a federation-related note -- the collapse of the East Bay Federation reached its climax in May with, as ejewishphilanthropy reported, the decision "East Bay Federation to Close, S.F. Federation to Take Over." I hope that the leaders, lay and professional, in both communities can figure out how one struggling federation can affirmatively absorb a failed federation and a community of strength can emerge. While such an aggregation rarely if ever works in the for-profit sector let alone in the complex Jewish organizational world, both of these communities have great, engaged business persons who can make this work if they give the time and leadership. A very...big...IF.