Tuesday, December 31, 2019


In the aftermath of the horrific assault on Orthodox Jews in Monsey, Dov Ben-Shimon, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Metro West New Jersey, spoke out -- I would like to believe that Dov spoke for all of us:
"Every day this last week during Chanukah there’s been an attack on Jews in Every single day during the Festival of Lights, we’ve seen darkness and evil.
We’re horrified by the attack last night on Jews gathered to celebrate the seventh night of Chanukah at a private home in Monsey. This attack is the latest in a string of violence targeting Jews in and around New York and New Jersey.
These attacks don’t fit any one narrative. The perpetrators over the last year have been from different backgrounds and have expressed different politics. But what all these individuals share is their hatred of Jews.
The latest victims have been Orthodox Jews, those who are 'visibly' Jewish to perpetrators of hatred. Make no mistake -- these assaults are attacks on all Jews. We are all under attack. Today and always, we stand wth our Orthodox brothers and sisters, as we stand with all denominations and affiliations.
We are them. And they are us.
No one should feel intimidated to 'hide' their Jewishness. And no one should accept this as 'normal.'
Hating Jews is just the beginning of a rot that sets in to corroding societies. It's not a Jewish problem. It's an American problem.
Let's pray for more light."
As American Jews we are now in the midst of an anti-semitic epidemic. Perhaps, it was our naiveté that dictated our initial responses of disbelief and "that cannot happen here;" perhaps it was a reflection of the total assimilation of sll but the Orthodox among us. But a virulent and violent anti-semitism is upon us -- be it in our communities, at our schools, seemingly growing day-by-day.

In another era, at another time, there would be those among communal leaders who would urge "sha, sha," be silent, this will pass. This, however, is not a time for silence. It is a time for our leaders to rally us. Just as 32 years ago we came from across the United States to The Mall in Washington by the hundreds of thousands for Freedom Sunday to rally for Soviet Jewry, it is time for our leaders and the leaders of all religions to call us together to another Sunday to Rally Against Anti-Semitism; to rally for democratic values...for our values.

There are those among Jewish "pundits" who have suggested the disinterest of mainstream American Jews when our Orthodox mishpacha are the focus of physical assaults -- one blaring the headline: Do U.S. Jews Care About anti-Semitic Violence against the Ultra-Orthodox, creating a false divide, actually arguing without evidence that "anti-semitism has been politicized" by non_orthodox Jews. Dov Ben-Shimon's call to us puts the lie to this ridiculous and insulting claim; one that seeks to divide us at a time that Jewish unity is demanded of us.

Now is the time for all of us to stand tall and mobilize our country against Jew-hatred. We cannot wait...we must not. Let us -- all of us -- stand up for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren and the generations to come. There is no time to wait.

May 2020 be a better year...for all of us. May we bring light out of the darkness.


Thursday, December 26, 2019


One of the best and brightest minds among a generation of communal professional leaders wrote to me with his analysis of what he sees happening to our institutions. One of his observations truly struck a chord:
"My big issues with JFNA, JAFI, JDC and many, many organizations is that our communities and our society are struggling against the monumental changes occurring -- in Jewish life, in the community of Jewish donors -- the list is endless."
 He concluded simply: "If our communal institutions don't change, they won't be around too much longer." Yes, our organizations have failed to address change raising the serious question of whether they are capable of doing so. 

We have witnessed the loss in the aggregate over the last decade alone of close to 2/3rds of the donors to our communities while some organizations -- the Jewish National Fund - USA and the Israeli American Council, to name two with which I am familiar -- have seen dramatic donor number increases over the same decade. JAFI, JDC and so many, too many, of our communities are struggling to meet their annual fund raising goals as never before. These terrible numbers then translate into worse numbers for the beneficiaries of our collective responsibilities. We find ourselves in a deadly spiral downward.

Before there can be answers, my friends, we have to know the questions...and. too often, we don't. We find ourselves awash in complacency, with a sense that G-d will provide...somehow. Some of our institutions have abandoned their central planning responsibilities to serve only as something called "conveners" -- taking a spiff off the top of funds raised for their own purposes -- are they still federations? Or are they something less, far less? 

I sense a crisis of leadership -- one the top professionals and chief volunteer officers must confront together. For the lay leaders, it cannot be just "I'll hold it all together best In can and, then, leave it to my successor" and for the CEO it can't be a call for another strategic plan and then a request for patience. 

Certainly those who currently lead our institutions have the responsibility to determine their purposes, their goals. And, equally certain is the reality that purposes and goals have to be realistic, easily explicable, relevant and focused. Too often today we hear leadership speak in obscure generalities when articulating goals -- "Jewish unity," "the next generation," "rebuilding the Israel-Diaspora relationship" -- you've heard them all and more. Unfocused cliche-driven talking points that may appeal only to the leaders who then try to build a "campaign" around them.

It's so easy to see exactly why organizations which we care (or cared) about have lost and are losing market share. They have lost focus; they can't articulate their own purpose(s). They are in deep trouble. Deep. deep trouble. Unable to articulate their own purposes or formulate their own goals, they turn to planning consultants to do so: and, often, those consultants have no experience with the organizational culture of those they are "studying." 

The results speak for themselves...and the results are not good. 


Sunday, December 22, 2019


Like many of you I read Tablet Magazine's expose of anti-semitism and anti-Zionism at the Fieldston School in Riverdale with a sense of such tremendous pain and sorrow. If you haven't read the article (or wish to read it again) here is the Link: https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/295595/pride-and-prejudice-at-fieldston?utm_source=tabletmagazinelist&utm_campaign=2ffd1fc6ee-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_12_18_09_53&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c308bf8edb-2ffd1fc6ee-207183989

To this writer, the anti-semitism often masked as anti-Zionism as practiced at Riverdale's Fieldston School is no different, and, in fact worse than the latest out-break of anti-semitic defacing of Jewish cemeteries or scrawling Nazi graffiti on the walls of our institutions. For those at Fieldston weren't skinheads; they weren't white supremacists; they were, the perpetrators here are what are termed "progressives," they are "intellectuals," they are academics, they are the ones teaching our children

When I Chaired the Chicago Jewish Community Relations Council 30 years ago, we experienced a single ugly defacing of a Synagogue in two years -- I will never forget that our JCRC pro only had to make a single phone call and the leaders of every faith gathered to condemn that heinous act. I was so proud of my community -- and it happened that way in every federated community way back then. Today? Today?

It's as if the hate spewed out as if it were rational thought today had laid dormant to the extent that we, as a community, grew complacent thinking that that hate was a vestige of the past and buried with it. We were so wrong. 

Read Sean Cooper's Tablet article, Pride and Prejudice at Fieldston, read it and weep.I applaud the Jewish parents at Fieldston are fighting for their children, for fighting against hate. But, where are the communal leaders? Do they somehow think that this isn't their fight, that this isn't the fight that all of us must wage, that these courageous parents must fight this alone? 

I have read the articles that have followed on the Tablet piece -- maybe I've missed something, but I neither read nor heard communal leadersdhip support for these children, for the parents who have been demanding action from the school itself. I hope I am wrong; that communal leadership has spoken out and demanded answers, called out for change.

The silence is deafening, my friends, and the shame of our organizational silence, our shame, is screaming at us.


Wednesday, December 18, 2019


Michael Siegal, who has sequentially led Israel Bonds, the Jewish Federations of North America and, now, the Jewish Agency, read my Post, The Jewish Agency and All of Us, in ejewishphilanthropy. It angered him. I had hoped that my opinion piece would inspire dialogue (see the Comments to the article) and introspection; instead it inspired Michael's anger and a fatuous extrospection that made clear that, in the view of the Agency's leadership. the organization is beyond criticism while claiming to welcome it.

Siegel's attempt at rejoinder, At 90 Years, The Jewish Agency Is As Relevant As It's Ever Been,https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/at-90-years-the-jewish-agency-for-israel-is-as-relevant-today-as-its-ever-been/?utm_source=Dec+13,+2019&utm_campaign=Fri+Dec+13&utm_medium=emailwas as preposterous as his article's headline. Can anyone really believe that the JAFI of today "...is as relevant as it's ever been." I mean...really? As relevant as, say: when it was the pre-State State, or when it led the post-Independence aliyah from across the world, or when it was World Jewry's partner in Operation Exodus, in the rescue of the Ethiopian Jewish community...really?

It did not take my brief article to expose the reality of how the Jewish Agency's "mission" is  viewed by its funders today. One needed only to have looked at the allocations to JAFI's core budget from the federations and from Keren Ha'Yesod -- allocations that year-by-year-by-year, time and again, have reached their lowest points in 20 years. But looking at those numbers and asking "why?" and, then, confronting the answers, are harder, apparently, than attacking the "messenger." 

Here is how the Agency Board Chair described JAFI's current priorities:
"Today, our main areas of impact are connecting Jews worldwide, bringing world Jewry’s voice and impact to Israeli society, enabling Aliyah of both choice and rescue, and ensuring the safety of Jewish communities."
Inspired? Are these purposes which the Jewish Agency is best positioned to lead?

And, Michael attacked me.

I was accused of writing out of "personal animus and frustration" toward and with the Jewish Agency. That is not and has never been the case. Any fair reading of my columns over the past decade(+) knows that I have been a public, constant and fervid advocate for JAFI -- most often criticized for my support. To now accuse me of "personal animus and frustration" is just a sad example of a thin-skinned leadership that "doth protest too much." 

So, I was wrong. I had hoped that my Post might create dialogue; instead I received a diatribe that, in so many ways, made my case for me.

More's the pity.


Tuesday, December 3, 2019



When I was elected Chairman of my Federation in 1985 (!), I was starting at a new law firm and playing father of a young family. I met with my predecessor, one of the greatest of Chicago's leaders and someone I revered, Corky Goodman. I asked Corky where my time would be best spent. In light of later events (see below), it was ironic that he told me: "Whatever you do, Richard, don't get involved in the Jewish Agency." 

The "irony," of course, was that Corky would become one of the most important Board Chairs of the Agency's now 90 years, and he would later call me to join the JAFI Board, Co-Chair the JAFI Israel Committee and help Corky and the other Diaspora leaders in a concerted effort to professionalize and depoliticize the Agency. For the next quarter-century I was honored to work side-by-side with great lay leaders -- Corky, Alex Grass, z'l, Richie Pearlstone, Carole Solomon, Chuck Ratner and Jay Sarver, among them -- and superb professionals, like Moshe Vigdor, as Directors General, and superb political leaders in the persons of Sallai Meridor and Ze'ev Bielski. Service on the JAFI Executive was then exciting and challenging; it is all the more so today. Having left that Board in 2012, I have remained as cheerleader for the Jewish Agency on these pages and elsewhere.

I served on JAFI Board and Executive for too long but I watched as the organization's Budget became transparent, its operations professionalized and the political influence on its work significantly diminished. I was proud to have played a very small part in those positive developments that should have taken place years earlier. All of you faithful readers know that I have been outspoken in my support of the Agency's work.

But, many of you have challenged my apparent uncritical support. You have influenced my thinking.

I regret that I am not present to see the leadership in action of a Board led by Bougie Herzog and JAFI's current Director General, Amira Ahronoviz, as they confront the greatest challenge facing JAFI -- the challenge to its relevance today and going forward. But I, like all of you, can read -- and what I have read of JAFI's latest strategic plan suggests to me that at 90 years old, the Jewish Agency is in a desperate search for purpose, for a role that will inspire and stir the blood of its leadership and of amcha. 

And...it hasn't found one. And, that's a problem. A big problem.

One of you recently offered an extremely critical and anonymous Comment on JAFI. I have edited it for content:
"The Jewish Agency for Israel is imprisoned in a governance trap of its own making, bereft of the ability to make meaningful strategic decisions amongst competing owners. JAFI is blessed with a uniquely talented Director General, but...with a (Chair of the Executive) whose compass points only to self promotion, daily photo ops and a path to the (Israel) Presidency. Hence the choice of Antisemitism as the new organizational focus. Tragically there are always new headlines to chase. JAFI can no longer make a credible case for massive unrestricted Federation funds in an environment requiring measurable impact in a free marketplace. JAFI's only unique and value-added options are fee for service -- P2P and Shlichut. Project TEN - puh-lease - there are several better and more successful avenues for meaningful interaction. Youth Futures? Like JDC's PACT, a solid program whose time for reliance on Diasporas funding is way past the expiration date. But wait, isn't JAFI the only global table for Israeli-Diaspora conversation? The three legs -- WZO, Keren HaYesod and JFNA - are unstable, wobbly and beyond repair. It is true that the JAFI Board of Governors is a comfortable playground for well-meaning leaders..."
Or, as previously cited in Worse:

"Richard, have you given any thought to the proposition that JAFI no longer merits even the projected $74 million allpocated to it in 2019? What Jewish Agency programs (beyond the basic blocking and tackling of drastically diminished Aliya and Klitah) are worthy of even the funding that JAFI will receive from the Federations at the end of this year -- "Jewish unity?" "The only venue where the great issues confronting the Jewish People are debated?" "Fighting global anti-semitism?" I would respectfully suggest that the Agency deserves less, not more..."
These are representative of growing disaffection of those who have given the issue serious thought and have shared those thoughts with us.

Since its creation in the last decade of the 20th Century, JAFI North America ("JAFINA") was, first, to better connect North American Jewry with Israel through the Jewish Agency. During his service as the Jewish Agency's Board Chair, Alex Grass, z'l, asked me to serve as JAFINA's first lay Chair to work with David Sarnat, JAFINA's initial CEO, to create a group of lay advocates for JAFI. We worked hard to do just that, but were often frustrated by the JAFI Jerusalem bureaucracy. Ultimately David resigned in frustration. As we searched for a professional successor, JAFI's great Israel-based fundraiser, Jeff Kaye, filled the CEO role on an interim basis admirably. We retained the fantastic professional, Maxyne Finkelstein, as CEO and I was succeeded by one of JAFI's greatest advocates and leaders, Carole Solomon. 

We had engaged Maxyne to help build JAFI's federation relationships and allocations. But, with Natan Sharansky assuming JAFI's Chair of the Executive, a decision was made somewhere, to reorient JAFINA's work to fund-raising. And, the Agency leaders recruited Misha Galperin as CEO and the Jewish Agency International Development ("JAID") was created to work side-by-side with JAFINA (and independent of it). The Agency leaders had agreed to a contract with Misha that mirrored his with the D.C. Federation he would now leave and reflect appropriate adjustments for his relocation to the New York City area. And, even as Misha produced significant revenue results for JAFI, his independence and "rich" contract stuck in Jerusalem's craw -- even though Misha enjoyed a strong relationship with Richie Pearlstone who would serve as Misha's main contact within JAFI, forces were constantly at work that would undermine and understate his success. Misha left at the end of his contract.

Josh Fogelson, who had enjoyed great success as CEO of the Minneapolis federation and then at JDC, succeeded Misha. Bright and engaging, with strong leadership skills, Josh reorganized JAID and appeared on the cusp of success when, as Jerusalem continued its practice of undermining those in leadership in North America, he abruptly resigned. 

In December 2018, at the urging of close friends in or near Agency leadership, Gail Reiss, in her 10th year as the CEO and President of American Friends of Tel Aviv University, one of the best and most indefatigable fund-raisers with whom I ever worked, became the JAFINA/JAID CEO. In her months since she has staffed up and revitalized the lay side of JAFI NA. But, she has a mountain to climb and, based on both JAFI's newest "Strategic Plan" and the lack of patience demonstrated by Agency leaders with regard to the North American operation, not a whole lot of time.

As many of you have read, in advance of its October Board Meetings in Jerusalem, the Agency rolled out that new "Strategic Plan" "...that includes emphasis on connecting between Diaspora communities and increased education against anti-semitism" -- "as hub for entire Jewish world." https://www.timesofisrael.com/at-90-jewish-agency-for-israel-to-rebrand-as-hub-for-entire-jewish-world/  Really? Are these the Agency's purposes, and have, e.g., the Federations in North America ratified these "purposes?" The Agency did convene a "by invitation only" conference in New Jersey earlier in the Fall -- with whom, what results...this? "The Hub"...really? Or, as another interview with Bougie Herzog stated, JAFI may emerge as some form of "special Foundation" in service to the Jewish People, whatever that might be.

(Recently, at a conference, Herzog announced that we should expect another massive anti-semitic terrorist attack.)

In the past -- and its attempts at catching up with modern themes notwithstanding -- the JAFI lay leaders were a strong body of federation lay leaders. From Max Fisher, z'l, through Marvin Lender and Joel Tauber and Corky Goodman and Richie Pearlstone and Carole Solomon and Chuck Ratner right up to Michael Siegel, these Board Chairs represented their own unrivaled philanthropy and were men and woman deeply caring about and for Israel. And, up to a certain point in time, these leaders knew that they had a strong cadre of leaders with great influence in their communities. Today, not so much. And while I root for the ultimate success of a revived Jewish Agency North America Board effort today, those participating leaders need to have far more advocacy ammunition than another JAFI "rebrand as (the) hub."

It took decades to assure the Jewish Agency's budget transparency...but it happened. Now the Agency must assure its relevancy as an organization deserving of even the pathetic core allocation it now receives. Another "new strategic plan" hasn't helped.