Sunday, July 12, 2020

A SHORT QUIZ

What do the following organizations have in common?


  • Alpha Epsilon Pi
  • American Friends of Likud
  • American Sephardi Federation
  • American Zionist Movement
  • Americans for Peace Now
  • Central Conference of American Rabbis
  • Emunah of America
  • Jewish Labor Committee
  • Legacy Community Family
  • NCESJ
  • National Council of Young Israel
  • Religious Zionists of America
  • JINSA
  • Women's International Zionist Organization
  • Women's League for Conservative Judaism
  • Workmen's Circle
  • HIAS
The answer: They are all member organizations of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Now this listing (which I admit is [1] totally subjective; and [2] to which I could have added a number of others) is not designed to deprecate the pro-Israel work of any of these entities nor the commitments and contributions their leaders have made; it is mereely to underscore that the adjective Major may have lost its meaning. Big time.

As one of you commented to an earlier Post: "There is no value to the Jewish people to have the Conference of mostly not major Jewish Organizations." I would resist the conclusion of "mostly," just as I recognize that to the Conference the addition of "non-Major" organizations as full "members" is a funding vehicle that supports the work of the Conference. 

And, it ain't cheap...by any measure.

Rwexler


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

STUFF

1. The Disappearing Lay Leaders. On June 11, the Government of Israel convened a Zoom teleconference with leaders of US organizations. The participants, from entities as diverse as the Conference of Presidents and JFNA to the San Francisco Community Relations Council and the Hasidic Community of Monsey, New Jersey, were each and all characterized by one common denominator -- they were all professionals. Not a single lay leader; not one. The "system" that you helped to construct was premised upon the best "lay-professional partnership" that could be built; and we succeeded in doing so. Now, that foundation, built brick-by-brick has been deconstructed brick-by-brick. The foundation of our communal system is being buried with the lay leaders leading the kaddish in silence. Maybe beyond resurrection. More on this another day...soon.

2. Priorities? Never mind. In recent Posts I've pointed to the dangers when our institutions lack focus/priorities. Wherever I look without a clear articulation of priorities, everything becomes the priority and, thereby, nothing is a priority. During this time of literal financial catastrophe for all of our organizations (yes, even for those which believe that they have some form of entitlement to commmunal dollars; those are in for the rudest of awakenings.) For too many, their's is life in the Land of Shiny Objects where everything looks great and so attractive that they turn to them adding them to an expansive list of priorities that will never be met -- not because they are not noble, because they can never be fully funded . These are illusions.

3. Making Hard Decisions...Harder. Before the birth of what would become JFNA and he its first CEO, Steven Solender served as President and CEO of the New York UJA-Federation of New York. In the late 1980's, America had suffered its worst recession before the one we are in today; and New York UJA was struggling with fewer financial resources as Steve, with his lay leadership, kept the ship afloat as the recession deepened. In one of many quiet conversations during that time, Steve told me how difficult it had become to attract and keep lay leadership "when every decision is so hard...where to cut, how deep the downsize needed to be," and the like. And, today...worse. Over the last 4 decades we have watched as in too many organizations that is all that we have done. I am sure that there are organizations -- like some federations and, certainly, the Jewish National Fund U.S.A. -- where lay leaders are fully engaged, knowledgeable and commited; but, in so many others, the lay leadership are wholly satisfied in viewing their Board and Committee service as an honorarium of some kind -- show up from time-to-time, some camaraderie, read the script and...leave it to the pros ("isn't that why we pay them?")...and never ask the hard questions. That dog won't hunt. Not today; not any more. 

4. Binary Choice? In one of the more preposterous opinion pieces in today's inflamed political environment where slavish support for Donald Trump has become, to some, the seminal litmus test of support for Israel, JNS's Jonathan Tobin has framed one of his latest on the subject as What's More Important in a President: Policy or Character? Posed as a strictly binary choice, Tobin apparently rejects even the possibility that American Jews might answer: we want, we demand, BOTH. (BTW, the column is appended to a full color shot of Bolton, Pompeo, Trump and Pence.)

Rwexler

Thursday, July 2, 2020

"MANN TRACHT, UN GOTT LACHT"

                          Man Planned; and God Laughed (or Cried)

Return with me to the hopeful days before we became a mask-wearing, quarantined People (in the main). JFNA, recognizing the physical threats to Jewish institutions and buildings and the need for more intensive and expensive security in all of its forms, spent a significant amount of time at its January Board Retreat on the explanation and approval of a $214 million Special Campaign to create a fund for a vast Security Plan -- the self-styled New JFNA Security Initiative...that would dramatically enhance the work of the system's Secure Community Network ("SCN")

Referencing the remarkable $1 Billion Operation Exodus Campaign (1990-1995) and the more recent American Jewish communal response to the Second Terrorists' War on Israel in 2006 -- yes, 2006 when a $400 million campaign that, truth be told, was a failure even without a goal which our leaders claimed as a victory -- but without reference to the incredible wealth our communities have amassed, $21.7 Billion in federation/foundation total assets, JFNA appoited one of its most respected leaders, Los Angeles's Julie Platt, to lead this Campaign, appoint a Campaign Cabinet and jumpstart what would be a Continental effort. 

Eric Fingerhut raised the banner:
"...our Federation system was built for moments like this and the time to address it is now, together."
A three year plan was unveiled the end result of which would be a greatly enhanced, well-funded SCN "as the backbone of security infrastructure" for our communities and communal infrastructure

And, then the CONVID-19 was upon us and everything stopped. JFNA apparently thought it was trapped by its own calendar -- being on a fiscal year Budget, leadership determined that it had to approve a July 1, 2020 -2021 Budget or....what exactly? The whole world had changed but for JFNA's Budget, it was to be business as usual. 

Over a succession of "business as usual" JFNA Budgets, the Secure Community Network was created and up and running. Thanks to a small group of federations, there was broad recognition that community security was the seminal issue -- it was our highest priority, all the more so after Tree of Life. At the meeting at which the SCN (as is the norm in Jewish communla life, all things begin or evolve into acronyms) was created and most of its Budget provided by the federations, the exemplary John Ruskay, then the New York-UJA President, demanded that JFNA, after the SCN start-up year, absorb the SCN Budget within its own. JFNA's leaders readily agreed. 

And, then...they didn't.

It didn't take long for JFNA to forget its commitment to this "highest priority." JFNA soon was seeking funding from federations like Chicago, Cleveland and others, full funding would come from...them. JFNA would provide an annual $250,000 to the SCN Budget...and that's been it. Highest priority? Really? So the SCN's budget must have as its main support, security grants from the federal and State governments.

Just so you are aware, JFNA is partners in the SCN with the Conference of Presidents and the American Jewish Committee, the former an organization that raises its own funds for its existence from its own membership dues; the latter raising close to $70 million in 2017-18 and sitting on an $80 million endowment. The AJC may make a grant to the SCN but I did not find any in its IRS 990s.

And here's the deal. There is no lay Board for the SCN. While it had a succession of excellent lay Chairs from the outset, right now the SCN lay Chair is the ubiquitous Harold Gernsbacher, who has built a remarkable list of titles at JFNA with little success to show for any or all of them* unless "success" is measured by a willingness to just swallow the Kool-Aid and demonstrate an absolute willingness to read the scripts. While the SCN has had superb professional leadership, it operates as a more or less professional division of JFNA/AJC/CofP. While I and others urged JFNA to appoint a Board of federation lay and professional leaders if for no other reason than to raise more community funds, we were ignored as were attempts to demand the JFNA live up to its initial promise -- fund the SCN out of its Budget at a level reflective of security as JFNA's and the federations' highest priority. 

Never happened. In fact, the JFNA FY2020-2021 Budget not only continued the quarter-million SCN allocation but identified not a single FTE assigned to the SCN. Compare and contrast that void -- 0 FTE -- with the 25+ JFNA FTE assigned in the Budget to Financial Resource Development at a budgeted expense of almost $3.3 million and try and identify who those 25+ FTE and just what they do. 

So, we ask once again, at this time in the dire circumstances of today, just where are JFNA's priorities; where is its focus?

We are all crying.




Rwexler

*It has been reported to me that Harold now has taken to calling me a "lunatic" when my name may come up in hallway conversations. He isn't the first...and won't be the last. Easier calling names than raising funds.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

JAFI AGONISTES

The Jewish Agency for Israel is facing a financial catastrophe. It's financial resource development arm, the Jewish Agency International Development or JAID, is in ruins, its most recent CEO -- gone, unreplaced. Its partner, the Jewish Agency North America, with an invigorated lay leadership, has an ambitious program of engagement on its emerging agenda...but who will listen let alone embrace? And, while at one time (seems so long ago) it could rely upon the national Jewish organization to be its advocate (with advocacy for the Joint Distribution Committee as well)); that advocacy ended informally years ago and formally last year with JFNA turning that role back to JAFI and JDC, washing its hands, as it were, of responsibility. And the United Israel Appeal, which had dipped its toe into the shallow end of the pool with an embryonic advocacy effort, had all of its functions absorbed within JFNA effectively ending its historic roles beyond vetting federation allocations.

So, at this moment in time, when advocacy, when making the case for funding the Jewish Agency's work was already in crisis as Federation allocations had already collapsed to the lowest levels in history, COVID-19 effectively shut down the federation funding "system." Anyone who does not understand that the impacts of the pandemic will include federations further turn inward in Dystopian ways, just cannot see what is happening in front of their very eyes.

Chevre, these are the worst of times. 

In case you hadn't noticed, these are no longer the times of Max Fisher, z'l, or Marvin Lender, Richie Pearlstone, or of the beloved Rabbi Herb Friedman or Irving Bernstein. This is no longer the era of commanding figures who could or, more important, would rally the communities to a cause greater than themselves supported by the Steve Nasatirs, Steve Hoffmans and John Ruskays, by professionals who understood and could articulate the global needs of the Jewish People. Ain't nobody rallying anybody any more.

These are the times of a collapsed Keren Ha'Yesod, the fund-raising arm for the Jewish Agency around the world other than in the United States -- KH as it is called is a fund-raising arm that raises no funds yet retains its voting privileges for 20% of the Jewish Agency Board. KH's Board includes some wonderful leaders -- men and women who have served on the JAFI Board in some instances for at least 30 years. (Did I mention the funds they raise barely covers the Keren Ha'Yesod organization's overhead leaving almost nothing to allocate to JAFI itself?) Some -- the Koschitzky Family comes to mind -- demonstrate their commitment annually in beautiful ways but KH lay and professional leadership have wholly failed to leverage the signifcant gifts KH has received to broaden the base and increase the pot.

And, lurking always, is the WZO, the World Zionist Organization, surely one of the most bizarre and controlling shadows in organized Jewish life. A decade ago the Jewish Agency leadership determined to reform its organizational structure and eliminate the WZO's particpation in its governance. Placing the negotiation of that reorganization in clearly the wrong hands, JAFI traded millions in annual grants to the WZO in consideration of which the WZO gave up its power to elect JAFI officers -- there was no change in WZO's ownership of the JAFI Board for the WZO continued and continues to appoint 50% of the Board and control 50% of the ownership of JAFI, 50% of the vote and contributes not a dollar to JAFI's Budget. And, in the decade since this a "worst deal of the century," WZO has positioned itself as a direct competitor of the Jewish Agency because: (1) they can; and (2) in Israel "conflict of interest" doesn't appear to exist even as a concept.

This balagan leaves the Jewish Agency facing a most serious financial crisis approaching the catastrophic. Let's review: allocations from the federations through JFNA will approach collapse after year-after-year low point after low point; funding from Keren Ha'Yesod will also reach a nadir; the WZO will continue to fund only its own activities, many of which conflict with the Jewish Agency's own work. This will leave JAFI at the mercy of the Government of Israel and the funds it allocates to the Agency's work on the Goverment's behalf. And, lurking like an immense black cloud over all of this is the JAFI pension debt obligation; the debt about which no one speaks.

Can anything be done to avert the financial catastrophe? I have some thoughts, of course. Ignoring for the moment feasibility:

  • In partnership with the Government of Israel: 
    • Restructure JAFI's ownership
      • Eliminate WZO's ownership, control and appointment power while retaining and assuring JAFI Board membership for Zionist and religious movement constituencies through direct election;
      • The 50% balance of members will be prorated based upon the financial contributions of the federations and KH to the Jewish Agency Budget
    • Restructure JAFI's Pension Obligations:
      • The GOI to assume the current Pension indebtedness
      • Going forward, the Pension offered Agency employees will be consistent with best current business practices
    • Borrow the funds necessary to support a JAFI 3 year Budget
  • In partnership with the JAFI JFNA Board members:
    • Develop a plan for budget advocacy among and within the federations
    • Create and fund the implementation of an annual FRD plan through an invigorated JAID/JAFI NA
    • Led by capacity gifts from the JA Board Chair and Officers, begin an emergency campaign
  • In partnership with the JAFI KH Board members, begin an emergency fund-raising campaign to support JAFI's work and Budget; and
    • Restructure KH governance to create term limits
Ein breira, my friends...ein breira.

Rwexler

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

PLAYING LET'S PRETEND

Here is a JFNA "job description" -- a JFNA "job" that has been budgeted for years:
"Responsible for development and implementation of corporate philanthropy and sponsorship strategy, bringing millions of dollars and resources to national programs, services and departments. Develop and steward relationships that lead to external funding and strategic alliances. Develop papers, articles and speeches concerning critical issues facing the Jewish community. Provide guidance and resources to every department of JFNA with respect to strategic messaging and aligning concepts and strategies with JFNA sponsorship efforts. Travel across the globe bringing leaders and funders to see the work of our system in all places we have impact. Provide value-added to local communities by keeping prices stable, lowering fees, sharing best practices, and making introductions that lead to community resources. Speak in communities to boards, officers and provide guidance and encouragement to professionals. Provide support to campaign missions, community visits, and other direct service activities. Speechwriter and crafter of articles and missives for top professional and lay leadership of JFNA."
These responsibilities have been but a tease, haven't they? I may be wrong but I can't identify a single one of these functions on which JFNA has been the initiator let alone the organization that has followed through...not one. 

If you are asble to identify where/when/how JFNA has implemented what it has called "institutional advancement," let me know and I will faithfully correct this otherwise sad record.

Why do I write about this now inasmuch as this "function" has been a fixture of the JFNA Budget for at least a decade? Well: (1) it has been a fixture of the JFNA Budget for at least a decade and (2) reading the JFNA FY 2020/2021 Budget document "Institutional Advancement" is still there. 

Not that these well-stated "purposes" wouldn't be very important to the communities but one would have thought that somewhere at JFNA -- in the Executive Offices, in the Budget and Finance Department, at the JFNA Board level, anywhere -- someone would have said: "we can't afford the things we have not done during this emergency" and set the budget for this thing to the side along with the muiltitude of other unexplained, unnecessary Budget lines until JFNA has actually met the emergency...if ever.

And, if ever there was to be a time when JFNA's leaders would not merely acknowledge the financial crisis that the federations face but actually face it squarely, wouldn't this be that time? Wouldn't this be the time where, instead of the annual leadership kvetch that the JFNA Dues Budget has been flat for years while rent and other costs have annually increased, JFNA cuts its expenses to the bone as so many federations have been forced to do?

There are so many places where JFNA could/should cut costs to the bone. Let's start with that meaningless exercise in "Institutional Advancement."

Rwexler





Friday, June 19, 2020

BUDGET...REALLY?

Back in the day -- that is way back -- pre-merger, federations expressed concern with the national United Jewish Appeal budget. Vague concerns, usually expressed in hallways and back rooms. With UJA's brilliant Chief Financial Officer, Lee Twersky, we decided to convene a public discussion and review -- and what better place than what was the GA, then truly the annual gathering of 2,500 lay and professional leaders. Those leaders filled a ballroom on a late afternoon. We distributed a 50 page or so Budget in advance and distributed copies to those in attendance. We offered a brief analysis of where UJA invested its resources and the return to the system on that investment. We opened the floor for questions and, as I recall, there were none. The communal leaders there learned that the UJA Budget was premised on full disclosure and the Budget was developed throughout a long annual  process with full lay participation -- and UJA's lay leaders were also federation leaders, almost to a person.

A few years later: (1) UJA was done, merged into what would become JFNA and made to disappear; and (2) the legitimate Budget process that was, was no longer, it, too, has disappeared. And, now, a budget Fugazi is upon us.

I have served on Budget Committees from my first service on a local Chicago Agency Board through the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago the UJA, the CJF, JFNA, UIA, JAFI and a few more. Even Chaired a bunch of them, and, at all levels, always...always...with the best of professional partners at every level. Yes, I was often in the room where it happened. I have been proud of the changes that Budget Chairs at the Jewish Agency like Richie Pearlstone and Jay Sarver implemented to move those Budgets from the opaque to the transparent,  changes that I'm certain current JAFI Budget Chair Beth Leonard, a superstar accountant in her real job, has perpetuated, even further enhanced. 

At my own federation, and, most probably yours, we have had that transparency from long before my time in leadership through the present day and into the future. Great professional leadership and a dedicated and demanding laity require no less. No national or international non-profit that I have seen at work spent/spends as much of its time on budget.

All of the above is but prologue...and leads me to the JFNA Budget just approved. 

First, the Expense and Revenue Budget was presented on 4-1/2 pages --a $48.1 million Budget on 4-1/2 pages. Oh, there was also an accompanying brief Memo from the CEO on the Budget. Nowhere, other than in a $3.1 Million "Provision for Contingency" is there even a suggestion that the federations, the system, are in extremis as a result of the shutdowns dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Budget as presented, as approved, is so opaque that were it presented by another non-profit, it would have been rejected, marked "return to sender." I ask, in all sincerity, how could this Budget in this form and with its lack of substance been submitted to the federations let alone approved with undue haste in the extreme circumstances that confront every community today? How could the JFNA Budget & Finance Committee and, then, the JFNA Board and members proceed as if it's "business as usual" when business is not and may never be "usual" ever again and certainly not in FY 2020/2021.

At the merger and for the first years thereafter, under a succession of Budget and Finance Chairs and two strong Chief Financial Officers and 3 CEOs who came with exceptional federation CEO experiences, the JFNA Budget process was the equal of those cited above. Then, JFNA's Budget was coopted by a CEO with no federation Budget experience, who, with Budget Chairs, if the evidence is to be believed, demonstrated a "leave it to the JFNA professionals" attitude and, as explored on so many of these pages over the years, allowed the annual Budget to be treated as but a "framework;" not one that bound the organization to operate within it -- the organization's revenues began to be treated as an ATM -- just insert your CEO cash card and withdraw funds for whatever purpose, no Board action necessary. Hopefully Board Chair Mark Wilf and CEO Eric Fingerhut have assured that this malpractice will not happen again...emphasis on "hopefully."

And, yet...

At a time of the worst financial calamity to impact on the Jewish communal system -- locally, nationally and worldwide -- with JFNA taking on some distribution of allocated funds, the Budget fails woefully to set forth how JFNA plans to meet the crisis in any substantive manner. As one of my mentors wrote me after reviewing this "budget:"
"No mention of a US Jewish community rescue 'package' to enable federations to provide real value to JCCs, synagogues, etc. What a great national campaign opportunity..."
Someone out there write me, please, and explain to me JFNA's plans for meeting the catastrophic circumstances our institutions now face.

Smart people, lay and professional, worked on this Budget; yet, this thing fails to reflect those smarts. I would suggest that JFNA immediately convene the totality of federation leadership by Zoom or, if safe to do so, in person to develop and approve a Continental Special Campaign. I would even go so far as to suggest that Joel Tauber, who chaired UJA during a significant part of the historic Operation Exodus Campaign, be appointed the Special Campaign Chair. and get on with ther task.

The hour is already late.

Rwexler




Sunday, June 14, 2020

GROW UP

Following the eruption of anger at the Conference of Presidents over the nomination process that resulted in a new Chair-elect who (1) had not spent much time working in CofP governance and (2) was the immediate past Chair of a once great Jewish organization -- HIAS -- that today appears to have abandoned its Jewish roots, even after Conference leaders amended their governance to delay the election for a year of "orientation" for this incoming Chair, one might have thought the matter had been put to rest. But, anyone who thought so doesn't know Morton Klein, the lifetime (apparently, in perpetuity), well-compensated President of the Zionist Organization of America,

Klein, as anyone whose organization has found itself subject to his subjective determination that it has engaged in "anti-Israel" activities has learned, has converted his organization into a missile aimed at the heart of those organizations who, in Klein's mind, have earned his wrath. Already "censured" (or whatever the Conference calls it) for at least one very personal attack on a fellow member organization (things got so bad that cross-claims of physical attacks were made), the ZOA (and, please understand, "ZOA" and "Morton Klein" are one and the same), it has been alleged, continued its attacks on HIAS even after the vote above; although, to be perfectly fair, HIAS appeared to give as good as it got (at least up to a point). For an in-depth analysis, see Ron Kampeas's lengthy article in the Times of Israel, At Time of Racial Strife, US Jewish Groups Call to Expel ZOA from Umbrella Org, https://www.timesofisrael.com/at-time-of-racial-strife-us-jewish-groups-call-to-expel-zoa-from-umbrella-org/

Now, things have gotten more ugly. The Union of Reform Judaism's long-time CEO, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, seized on what he apparently sees as the opportunity to  vote the ZOA out of the CofP  arising out of Mort Klein's angry, vituperative attack on Black Lives Matter in the midst of the protests following the police murder of George Floyd embodied in this brief Tweet: "(BLM is) a Jew-hating, White hating, Israel hating, conservative Black hating, violence promoting, dangerous Soros fund group of haters." As reported in Jonathan Tobin's analytical opinion piece, Cancel Culture comes to the Conference of Presidents,
https://www.jns.org/opinion/cancel-culture-comes-to-the-conference-of-presidents/ the Klein assault on Black Lives Matter is but pretext for a ZOA eviction from the Conference arising out of the Klein attack on HIAS and the new Chair-elect and Mort Klein's propensity to go for the jugular at all times.

The Conference lay and professional leadership, wonderful leaders to a person, must be looking at this with an "oh no, not again; we don't need this" sense of deja vu only worse. Others will view it, as Tobin did in his JNS opinion piece, as a battle between the liberal Conference members and the Conservative -- but, it is not that (though, in a Tweet on the day this was written, Klein attacked the...ACLU). It is a simple question of how much Sturm und Drang any organization can endure from one member -- in this case ZOA. In a brilliant Tweet Thread, Shai Franklin tracks the record that led him to conclude (as did Abe Silberstein in an Editorial in The Forward on June 8, forward.com/opinion/448321) that the time has come for the ZOA to be expelled from the Conference of Presidents.

One might encourage the parties here to "just grow up," but that probably won't be possible. What will? We await the answer.

Rwexler

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

OPTICAL ILLUSION

Has there actually been change at JFNA? Given the financial realities of the emrgency created by the COVID-19 pandemic, one might have expected real, substantive changes at the 25 Broadway JFNA HQ; or, at the least, an acknowledgment that the 2020-2021 fiscal year Budget will reflect the circumstances that the members -- our communities -- are facing. 

But...no.

Let's examine what has actually occurred:

1. Layoffs and salary cuts: At the outset of the pandemic JFNA's leaders announced "major" staff cuts -- yet, reading between the lines of CEO Eric Fingerhut's announcement ("between the lines" only because there are no real lines to read), these cuts appear to have impacted only on mid- and lower-level professionals in NYC and those at the bloated JFNA-Israel who were not under the protekcia of Caspi/Gurvis. The "magnanimity" of "voluntary" salary reductions by top JFNA pros are offset by what appear to be their temporary nature. Please note: New York UJA-Federation, JFNA's largest Dues supporter, just announced lay-offs or furloughs of 54 staff members, a 12% staff reduction, while JFNA temporized. And, NB, New York-UJA's CEO and President, Eric Goldstein, has voluntarily given up his salary for the coming year. I'm just sayin'.

2. The JFNA Budget: The JFNA Federation Members -- the actual owners of JFNA -- are themselves confronting a financial crisis of epic proportions. Yet, these leaders chose to ignore the realities impacting their own communities when they approved a 2020-2021 fiscal year Budget that assumed the full payment of Dues with a 10% contingency for failure/inability to pay ($3 million of a $30,290,000 Dues income). I will be taking a deep (or, perhaps, a shallow) dive into the JFNA Budget in an upcoming Post

3. Unfilled Senior Positions: You may recall that upon assuming the position CEO Eric Fingerhut announced that he would leave the position of SVP-Financial Resource Development open -- he would serve in that role in the interim. Well, it appears that "interim" has taken on new meaning: viz, "more or less permanent." Yet, JFNA has reallocated $850,000 in the Budget for what appear to be TBD "on-line events," etc., to support communal campaigns under the leadership of two consulting professionals. 

Shortly after his on-boarding, Eric terminated the position of SVP-Marketing and has now determined not to recreate it. Historically, the Marketing professional leadership was sequentially: assigned campaign-related marketing leadership; then, promotion of JFNA itself; then operational responsibilities for, e.g., the GA. Suggestions from lay leaders that Marketing be redeployed to promote the federation concept and federations themselves were uniformly ignored.

______________

Bottom line: it is hard to see positive change in the midst of the impacts of the pandemic on JFNA's financial resources especially at a time that those who supply the funding -- the communities -- are facing the dramatic contraction on their own resources. A $3 million Dues contingency appears to be a pipe dream.

I am reminded by all of this of the old fund-raising story: A federation solicitor approaches a donor with a plea for an increased gift. The donor: "I have had a terrible year. I can't even match last year's gift." The solicitor: "Just because you had a bad year, why should federation suffer?" 

Rwexler

Thursday, June 4, 2020

LEADERSHIP?

Very recently I opened an email to find the punim of the Chair of one of our international organizations smiling back at me. Once I recovered from the shock, I thought I would reflect on the evaporation of the most critical criteria for the ultimate leadership roles in our communal organizations: commitment and "commitment" means three things: time, the ability to inspire and, yes, money. Or, make that money, time and the ability to inspire. If any of these three are missing, find yourself another to lead.

And, what does "money" mean in the context of Jewish organizational leadership  It means one's personal capacity gift -- and that gift must inspire others to give to their capacity. Every organization with which I have been privileged to serve has been successful because its leaders have committed -- some even over-committed. I have participated in solicitations where gifts were driven by the solicitors' passion which, in turn, ignited passion in the solicited -- yes, a passion ignited by the solicitors' gift.

Let me offer an overly simplistic rule of successful organizations: you must assure that your Board Chairs/lay Presidents are giving to their capacity and that those gifts will motivate others to give. (Thus, one whose "capacity" might be a $5,000 annual gift, would only qualify for the Board Chair/President position of the organization to which that contribution flowed if leadership believed that a $5,000 gift would inspire others to give to their capacity; and, a $100,000 annual gift from one that organizational leadership knows is far below capacity would be a disqualifier.)

Thus, with all of my criticism on these pages of JFNA leaders over the years for positions taken/not taken, one that you have never heard or read would have been of their financial commitments to their home communities and to the Jewish People. From Charles Bronfman right through Mark Wilf, JFNA has elected leaders who are also incredible philanthropists. I have seen these wonderful examples across the best and most forward-driving organizations -- most recently at JNF where Ambassador Ronald Lauder, as Chair, and President Sol Lizerbram lead by the examples of their time, their ability to inspire and their financial commitment.

We are living through the worst of times for organizations dependent on the voluntary commitment of philanthropic dollars -- COVID-19 and, at best, a pandemic-driven recession. More than ever our organizations need to reexamine their leadership, the criteria to be employed, and the length of terms. Reading that one President of one of our important organizations, had been re-elected to a "second four-year term" shocked me. This means that no one within that entity's leadership rose to the level of electability for 8 years? 

Institutional introspection is long overdue. I'll be writing more about this in the weeks ahead,

Rwexler

Monday, May 18, 2020

ORGANIZATIONAL FOCUS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC...OR NOT

Our agencies -- international, national and local -- are in the midst of the greatest threat to their financial survival as a consequence of the global pandemic. (I know, "thanks, Captain Obvious.") This has required almost all of them, along with their major funders, to tighten their belts and their foci; this should have been all of them.

Like many of you, I received an evite to a Jewish Council for Public Affairs Webinar that caught my attention (but not my interest) the topic of which surprised and saddened me. It is a Webinar that is part of a series: Jewish Advocacy During the Coronavirus. That would be a good thing, a positive contribution because, after all, we need Jewish Advocacy during these terrible times,. now more than ever. Then consider this Webinar topic: Front End Justice: Exploring Why Pretrial Reform is Needed. 

Friends, JCPA has clearly lost its way. Here are a selection of JCPA-sponsored Webinars in this "Series":

  • Building Bridges: Israeli and Palestinian Health Care Cooperation
  • Over 6 Million Americans are on Community Supervision: Reforming Pre-Trial, Parole and Probation
  • Coronavirus in Prisons, Jails: An Emergency We Need to Confront NOW
This commentary isn't to suggest that these topics aren't important, just asking where these "topics" fit within the priorities of the JCPA or the priroties of the communities which support local community relations councils. Just a guess -- nowhere. Maybe, somewhere, there is an important pilpul that would explain the connection; probably not.

The JCPA used to be an organization that focused on matters directly connecting communities to its agenda. And, that was at a time when funding was not under the kind of pressures being faced today and into the future. I sat on the JCPA Board and Executive than and, while I admit to real frustration with some of the Plenary debates back then, the subject matter was directly relevant to the Jewish community's social justice agenda.

Now? I have no more a clue than JCPA's leaders apparently have. And, worse, two factors:


  1. As the communities which support JCPA have moved, at the least, to the center if not center-right, JCPA has made some determination that it will find its support further to the left; and
  2. As the pandemic has rapidly eroded communal resources, JCPA's "message" and its "priorities" appear to have less and less relevance. Thus, on it merry way, JCPA devotes time, effort and resources to, e.g., Palestinian Health Care Cooperation and Reforming Pre-Trial, Parole and Probation...
Most organizations have strived under the horrific conditions of today to focus, to make themselves more relevant -- e.g., JCCA and its JCCs, the federations themselves. To fail to do so is an unconscionable expression of unearned organizational arrogance...

Leading inevitably to irrelevance.

Rwexler

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

PAST TIME FOR REFORM

Way, way back, 20 years ago, actually, in the course of the Merger that would produce what is now JFNA, the federations created a set of Task Forces to address the structure and issues that would propel the new organization post-Merger. One on Total FRD, another on Dues and Revenue and a third on Federation-Israel Relations. It is that last Task Force that is at the heart of this discussion.

Chaired by the inestimable Marvin Lender, one of the great United Jewish Appeal National Campaign Chairs (later in the process to be succeeded by Pittsburgh's Karen Shapira, z'l, another of the great leaders with whom I had the privilege to work) and "staffed" by Bob Aronson, then the Detroit Federation CEO. It was Bob's genius to propose a structure for the federations' Israel Office in a manner that would be cost-effective, influential in Israel's civil society and wholly responsive to federations' needs. 

And, of course, the reforms necessary to create this new model were never adopted. And that inaction took place at a time, at the turn of the century, when we as a continental polity could have, should have embraced change. What was proposed: among other matters:

  • Relocating the venue for JFNA Israel-Overseas to the New York HQ
  • Engaging a strong professional with a federation-centric approach as the Director: Israel & Overseas
  • Assuring that the organization's Israel-based Director General of the quality of Menachem Revivi and  Nachman Shai -- leaders with great access within the Government of Israel who would report to the NY-based Director of Israel & Overseas
  • Mobilizing the federation Israel representatives in aid of JFNA-Israel
  • Expanding the work of United Israel Appeal's Israel professionals within JFNA-Israel
And...none of these steps were implemented...not then and not now. Instead, for at least the last decade, as one of you wrote last week, JFNA-Israel has been "...outrageously inflated, unneeded and wasteful." Its lay leaders have been an echo chamber for the vast overstatement of "achievement" (the Negev Now Coalition), the creation and maintenance of a bloated staff (continuing) and the accretion of powers (the UIA fiasco).

No one has articulated a single reason...not one...to continue to support JFNA-Israel as currently structured or led. There has been no return on the federations' investment, not in 2020, just as there was none in 2010. Under the Silverman "administration," there was an inexplicable willingness to ignore this constant failure year-after-year. Ignorance must have been bliss.

In a year in which available financial resources be drastically reduced, the federations can no longer support failure, if they ever could.

Rwexler

Friday, May 1, 2020

OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN

It was a rare moment in the Chicago Jewish community. In 2007 the new, architecturally significant Spertus Institute Building opened within its magnificent glass facade on South Michigan Avenue -- housing classrooms, faculty offices, conference and Museum facilities. It was going to be the seminal achievement for the then Spertus Board and its former CEO who had driven the project.  And, then it wasn't.

Neither that Board nor that CEO had raised sufficient funds for the construction of the Institute's new home nor had they raised any endowment funds to cover income shortfalls, maintenance and the like; instead, they borrowed heavily. And they did all of this over the strong objections of the Jewish Federation which advised Spertus's leaders that Spertus leadership, having raised inadequate funds to support it: (1)  the project was not financially feasible and (2) the Federation should not, in the future, be expected to underwrite it or rescue it.

Spertus's leaders ignored the warnings and proceeded. The reviews of the building were ecstatic; nonetheless, the project soon went into default. Spertus's lender, asserting a multi-million dollar default, threatened foreclosure; and was tragically unwilling to negotiate. The CEO who spearheaded the development and who urged the Spertus Board on in the face of the Federation's warnings, was soon replaced as were a significant membership of the Board. The new leadership, with a dynamic duo in the persons of its new Board Chair and CEO, approached Federation which listened sympathetically to the successor leaders, commited as they were to rescue this visible communal/national institution. (I was asked to be Federation's liaison to the new Spertus Board working with the Spertus team.) During my time, candidly, little progress was made in meeting the lender's ever more Draconian demands. Portions of the building were put up for rent while Spertus sensed that it was staring down the barrell of a loaded gun.

And, then, Steve Nasatir identified a major donor who anonymously stepped forward with the funds necessary for a financial rescue, and further. funds tp support an endowment that would help to assure that the Institute could proceed without further financial threats to its existence were made available. 

That was a real rescue.

And, then, there is this...

The tragedy that is the National Museum of American Jewish History.

If Spertus Institute is the micro; this Museum is the macro. It's financial failure is the realization in real time of Santayana's warning -- you know the one about not learning from the mistakes of the past being doomed to repeat them. You know the one. 

The Museum's founders commited all of those errors that Chicago's Spertus leaders had fumbled only to the tune of 10s of millions more in debt -- and there was no Chicago federation to which to turn to be saved. These Museum Founders must have believed that "God will provide." Their edifice complex produced an architecturally significant White Elephant with a $150 million mortgage in default and no ability to pay it. Annual operating deficits compounded the debt. And, today, in the midst of the pandemic with attendant closures, there are no visitors, no revenue. As Robin Pogrebin, writing in The New York Times of the travails of the Tenement Museum and other cultural institutions, observed:
"They do not have large endowments or deep-pocketed donors, and have...depended on admission fees to keep the lights on...lW]ithout more suppoprt for rent, payroll, utilities, insurance and other costs...it's likely that many will be unable to reopen even once the worst is over." 
To his great credit, Dr. Misha Galperin -- who appears to enjoy the challenges of lost causes (after all Misha had served as CEO of JAID, the Jewish Agency International Development) -- agreed to step in as a CEO on a rescue mission -- he did so when only the Trump Administration had been told that the World was about to be devastated by the coronavirus. The Museum filed for bankruptcy on March 2 and, with no natural constituency, its attendance choked off by quarantine and a dismal total failed initial fund raising effort at a time of the stock markets in dramatic increase, there is every likelihood that this failure will be a national embarrassment on the National Independence Mall, Misha's cheerleading and FRD prowess notwithstanding.

Books will no doubt be written about this terrible failure. If the NMAJH leaders attempt to point to the virus as the proximate cause of this collapse, the record will show that that would be wrong...very wrong. In point of fact, the Museum's bankruptcy was baked into the reality that the fund-raising to support this project failed from Day One and those who "birthed" this Museum failed to act when the first indicia of failure were staring them in the face. 

And that is the real shame. I fear that in the face of the worldwide economic collapse, the Museum's failure will be but a footnote among many. 

Rwexler


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

INEXPLICABLE COMPOUNDED

So, the "leadership" of the Conference of Presidents, upon further review of its decision to nominate as its next Chair the immediate past Chair of HIAS, once an important Jewish organization and today neither important nor Jewish, decided to double down. As if its Nominating process wasn't sufficiently screwed up, that CoP "leadership" determined to (a) extend the term of its sitting Chair and (b) create the position of "Chair-elect" so that the Conference members might "get comfortable with" the nominee.

That not being enough, the same "leadership" decided that it would characterize the opposition to the nominee as being part of a "right wing" conspiracy, the easier to brush off legitimate concerns with the Chair nominee having led HIAS at a time of some incredibly bad institutional and political choices. And, of course, the outspoken opposition by the Zionist Organization of America and that entity's voice, Morton Klein, made it easier for the CoP to engage in sophism to divert attention from the sad choices it had made in process and substance. Regrettably, some reporters have bought into the sophistry lock, stock and barrel. See, e.g., Melissa Weiss writing of "...an uproar from right-wing groups" in JewishInsider -- even going so far as to accept the HIAS CEO's self-characterization  of HIAS as a "Jewish organization" which it once was but is no longer and hasn't been for a long time.

Bottom line, HIAS, once among the most critical Jewish organizations of any when it was the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, decided to eliminate Hebrew from its name and its work and evolved into just plain old HIAS, an acronym without meaning, and thereupon ceased being a Jewish organization with a non-Jewish refugee client base -- it had ceased being a major organization years earlier. 

Some day there will be some analysis of how an organization, with great professional leadership and some important lay leaders, could have put the organization in the position it finds itself, followed by the decision to mischaracterize all of those opposed to this nomination as being of "right wing groups." 

Whatever the end of this chapter may be; there is little chance that it will end well.

Rwexler




Sunday, April 26, 2020

INEXPLICABLE

As those of you who are long-time readers of this Blog will remember, your author holds no brief for the Zionist Organization of America, even as I appreciate that organization's unequivocal support of Israel and its political acumen under its President for Life, Morton Klein. I now find myself in agreement with the ZOA in its shock and in its opposition to the nomination of the immediate past Chair of HIAS to succeed Art Stark as Chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. I am, with ZOA's and many Conference leaders, in total disbelief, although my reasons may be different. And, while Jonathan Tobin, the prolific editor-in-chief of the Jewish News Syndicate, has framed his own question raised by the Conference's nomination -- Do the Jews really need a Conference of Presidents? -- there seems to this writer to be little reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

There are multiple reasons to oppose Dianne Lob's nomination, let alone her election, all of them compelling. None of those reasons suggest that she lacks great leadership skills: some of those reasons are more compelling than others. For example:
  1. HIAS is neither a "Major" Jewish Organization nor, for that matter, any longer a "Jewish" one. It was once one of the great Jewish entities; no longer. ( I served oin its Board and Executive back in my youth.)While the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society once was responsible for bringing Jewish immigants to America by the 10's of 1000's, the organization has eliminated Hebrew from its name and, in fact, now operates as an "acronym" supporting a general refugee population and, for reasons unclear, has joined with organizations whose raisons d'ĂȘtre are to oppose Israel. I have written before of the HIAS fund-raising letter I received at Pesach 2019 pleading for financial assistance for a Muslim refugee; a noble effort, one about which we were reminded in a strong JTA editorial supporting Lob's nomination (Conference of Presidents Names the Right Chair) but one which ignores HIAS' current stance that has disassociated itself from those same Jewish roots. Caring for the "stranger" has always been and should always remain part of the Jewish communal n'shama but is hardly a reason for HIAS' continuing membership on the CofP or for its past-Chair to be elected to lead it.
  2. Under Ms. Lob's leadership, HIAS made common cause with radical organizations and individuals which/who have stood opposed to the State of Israel. If the Conference quite properly opposed membership for JStreet, it is hard to conjure the arguments for Dianne Lob's Conference leadership. And, then, HIAS made a conscious politicasl decision to position itself as the Jewish Organization which not only opposed the Trump Administration's immigration policies but Trump himself. An ad featuring a HIAS v. Trump banner featured a fund raisng message built on that confrontation. Many of us oppose these policies ands the Administration's slavish devotion to them, but HIAS has made of its opposition a political act as well as a principled one.
  3. Since its inception, the Conference has been Chaired by men and women of incredible distinction, recognized American opinion leaders and influencers with total dedication to the State of Israel. Among them: Cardin, Lauder, Tisch, Abram, Stone, Zuckerman, Klutznick and Greenberg. The organizations which they led stood in support of Israel. I have no doubt that Dianne Lob is a wonderful person and strong leader but one would have to engage in real sophistry to argue that for purposes of election to the CoP Chair, one ahould ignore that but for her leadership service to HIAS she would not be considered for the new position. There are some at the Conference who in their support of Lob's candidacy who have argued that the CoP membership should divorce Lob from her HIAS leadership service -- sorry, it doesn't work that way.
I have reflected on these pages my personal hopes for William Daroff's success as the newly "ordained" Conference CEO while reflecting on how much more difficult that success is to achieve so long as the inestimable Malcolm Hoenlein remains in a very visible, public position as the organization's "Executive Vice-Chair" (even commenting to the press on the CoP professionals' hands'-off non-role in its Nominating process -- a comment that appears to be untrue). Now...this. If Hoenlein wants to be of real support to Daroff, he should have been/should be quietly urging CofP lay leaders to go back to the Nominating Committee drawing board and start over.

Rwexler


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

THE RISE AND FALL AND FALL AND FALL

Well, friends, it's time to get back to Blogging even as I pray that all of you are socially distancing, safe and protected.

All of us are experiencing the horrific impacts of this COVID-19 plague that has afflicted the World. The impacts on our families, ourselves, our People, our businesses are and will be devastating. While some optimists see the "day after" as one of opportunity, the realist in me strongly suggests that many of the Jewish organizations that we have helped to build will not survive -- at least not as they one were. 

And, that's where I would like to focus today and further as we move forward.

I read the brilliant plea from Doron Krakow, the Jewish Community Centers Association President, to the JCCA members, partners and funders seeking $1 billion in loans and grants as the Jewish Community Centers, revenue dependent at a time that the virus has eliminated the Centers' revenues. I hope JCCA is successful but our experience suggests that individual JCC Boards nationwide are built of wonderful leaders who have never been significant fund-raisers. In fact, after JFNA collapsed the Federation-National Agency Alliance two and 1/2 years ago, immediately costing the JCCs 100's of millions in allocations, the Movement was unable to recapture those dollars -- and those were better times. 

JCCs are but an example of agencies in dire need -- they all are.  Look at any National or local agency and understand that the safety net that we have helped to build is threatened with collapse. Is saving them beyond our capacity? Will/can community endowments -- created for those "rainy days" -- be allocated immediately becuase the "rainiest of days" are upon us? This is not 207-2008, this is so much worse.

Then, there is JFNA itself. After a decade of stasis and worse, JFNA, under Board Chair Mark Wilf and CEO Eric Fingerhut, appeared to this critic to be moving the Titanic off the iceberg, plugging the holes in the hull and moving albeit slowly toward some open water. Sure, the organization had completely abandoned its historic fund-raising responsibilities to  such an extent that Fingerhut was professionally leading the organization while also assuming the mantle of its FRD leadership with no depth of staff support. And, sure, the organization for at least a decade had abandoned its historic advocacy for funding overseas needs -- abandoned to the extent that last year the organization threw in the towel, telling the Jewish Agency, the Joint Distribution Committee and ORT "you want advocacy, do it yourselves" and "restructuring" the United Israel Appeal out of its former existence relegating that organization to meeting the bare minima of IRS Revenue Rulings. 

Now, with federations facing unheard of financial challenges to just keep the doors open and the social safety net they have built over the dcades literally threatened with collapse, there should be, there must be a national conclave dedicated to the restructuring of JFNA reflecting the new reality that no longer can the federations afford a $30 million JFNA Dues Budget, let alone a $50 million Budget in the aggregate. There must be an immediate Continental planning meeting to restructure JFNA as the trade organization it has become over its two decades of existence --  with financial support at an appropriate and severely reduced level. Yes, I am talking about a truly Draconian Budget...dictated by the circumstances of today.

Where to begin? The long ignored staffing bloat in JFNA-Israel would be an excellent starting point for significant cuts, with staffing everywhere truly and finally reflecting the organization's priorities -- security, Washington and Federation support services. As it appears that this iteration of JFNA has neither the capacity nor the interest in financial resource development (even as surveys of the federations had always identified FRD as the highest priority need of the system -- probably one of the reasons for no more surveys of community "needs") which, as recently as the last JFNA Budget was where 50%...50%...of your Federation's Dues were being spent, a 50% Dues reduction would not appear to be an unreasonable expectation.

It is now time for a dramatic JFNA "right-sizing." Anything less would be unacceptable in today's horrible economic environment. JFNA's Executive Committee have determined that an emergency exists. Earlier this month that Executive Committee convened and authorized the "Officers Team...to take such actions as they deem appropriate to to operate, manage and oversee all of JFNA's operational activities..."

Get on with it.

Rwexler








Friday, March 27, 2020

COMEDY IN A TRAGEDY

American Airlines sent its fliers an alert during this time of pandemic and quarantine. We needed a good laugh.
Airplane
"For the safety of our customers and flight attendants, we're temporarily suspending food and beverage service on flights under 2,200 miles (typically less than 4½ hours). Limited beverages will be available upon request. On flights over 2,200 miles (typically longer than 4½ hours), we will continue to offer a streamlined food and beverage service."



If I read this correctly, no domestic flights from O'Hare will offer any meal or beverage service -- and, presently, there are no international flights -- as no domestic flight from Chicago exceeds 2,200 miles (OK, maybe there is a flight to Hawaii that would get you "streamlined food and. beverage service.")

Apparently, it is safe to provide "food and beverage service" on flights over 2,200 miles but it is unsafe on any flights of fewer miles. More germs on shorter flights?

And, what are "limited beverages?" And, inasmuch as "airline food" is often referenced as an oxymoron, should I really care?

Who writes this stuff? (Strong suspicion that the policy was developed in concert with Stephen Miller.) Who runs AA?

Rwexler



Monday, March 16, 2020

PRAYERS

Friends, many of you have asked me off-line why the recent silence on these pages. 

I want to ask you for your prayers for our son, Josh.

Josh is a 53 year-old father of three, an entrepreneur in New York City -- healthy and fit. An athlete -- a 4-year starter as Cornell's point guard and a starter on three United States Maccabiah Games basketball team. He continued to play actively until last week...and last week now seems so long, long ago. 

Two weeks ago, Josh tripped over a computer cord in hius office, fell and hit his head on the concrete floor. Josh began to experience some vision and memory issues to the point that on Monday of last week he was rushed to NYU-Langone where the doctors discovered some "minor blood leakage" on the brain. 

The next day, Josh reached me while I was traveling for JNF-USA and delivered the most devastating news possible: an MRI and further tests had disclosed that he has Glioblastoma -- the cancer that has taken the lives of among others, Senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain. This horrific brain cancer was totally unrelated to that fall the week earlier.

As I write this, our son is being prepped for brain surgery at Columbia University Medical Center. He could not be in better hands but the present and the future are beyond daunting.

Our son has an incredible support system -- his siblings and their spouses, his children, ex-wife and his significant other, our extended family and Josh's great, life-long friends and, of course, his parents.

Please include Josh in your prayers.

With great appreciation,

Richard

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

CAVEATS AND CONFLICTING PREDICTIONS

The inestimable Chronicle of Philanthropy has recently offered some conflicting messages: (1) that non-profit fund-raising will increase this year by close to 5%; and (2) the real subject of today's Post -- that non-profits in the main fail to prepare for recession.

With the stock markets at best exhibiting schizophrenia -- huge losses followed by gains day-after-day -- and with the coronavirus, at this moment, metastasizing in America's cities one-by-one, it certainly appears as if the Chronicle prediction of an annualized 5% increase was, at best, premature. (The underlying study was clearly completed at a time †hat no one was predicting a global pandemic.)

On the darker horizon, the possibility of recession has reared its ugly head. Recession has always been the dreaded, not to be mentioned "R" word in †he non-profit communities wi†hin which I have worked. Many leaders over the decades have either warned me or chastised me for any, what they described as "negative talk," somehoe thinking that by ignoring even the possibility of an economic downturn, one would be forestalled. 

Thus, I was surprised that the Chronicle study found that even 33% of non-profits were engaged in "recession planning." And, when one couples the possibility of a recession with the reality that the 2019 Tax "Reform" limited the charitable deduction, one can see the possibility of a perfect albeit terrible storm.

Maybe those who were "old school" who most believed in denial of the realities of the potential impacts on annual campaigns of a negative economy -- so not even a mention of the possibility was to be permitted and, certainly, no planning for it. There was the apparent belief that using the word itself could exacerbate what might (and did and will) come. And, maybe, our leaders believed that using our political clout to oppose the limitation on the charitable deduction would be used against the Jewish community in some way (or that the forces demanding the significant reduction of the deduction were somehow irresistible).

So, once again we find ourselves citing Santayana's maxim and worrying that history will again repeat itself. 

Don't let it happen.

Rwexler4


Friday, March 6, 2020

HOW, EXACTLY?

Friends, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported a few weeksd ago the results of a study by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy that chariable giving in 2020 is projected to incrase by 4.8%. So I ask for our communal system: How, Exactly might that come to pass?

And, the reason I ask is that for most of our communities, our agencies, local and national, and our historic overseas beneficiaries, the Jewish Agency and the Joint, annual campaigns have been in serious stasis, if not worse than that. There are, of course, exceptions -- the Jewish National Fund - U.S.A., the Chicago Jewish United Fund, Baltimore and a few others come to mind -- but the rule has been...stasis if not worse.

And, where are we? 

  • At the Jewish Agency, as I've written ad nauseam, a great professional fund raiser has left, her staff remains but financial resource development leadership is now in the hands of the JAFI CEO, not a fund raiser (not that she couldn't be), the head of campus shlichim, not a fund raiser, a. former American federation professional, not a fund raiser, etc. JAFI is receiving less core budget support from the federation system than at any time in its 90 year history. Hire a fund raising professional, one who will demand that the lay leadership -- from North America and, yes, from Keren Ha'Yesod and the WZO (!) -- step up and make financial commitments to the organization reflecting their financial capacity.
  • At the JDC, with a number of superb professionals, proven successful fund raisers on its Israel staff, FRD suffered a major blow when its last CEO (who has now returned to academia), proved to be a major fund raising disappointment. Like JAFI, JDC is receiving less core budget support from the federations than at any time in its history; unlike JAFI, JDC has a strong lay leadership cadre of philanthropists willing to advocate for the organization within their federations, but are they "able?"
  • FRD at JFNA confuses me. CEO Eric Fingerhut, so bright and inspirational, determined shortly after he was hired that, with no federation fund raising experience, he would take on the vacant senior FRD leadership position at the organization. As someone once said: "mistake, big, big mistake." The JFNA CEO should engage in financial resource development, certainly; he shouldn't lead that effort. Hire a senior campaigner -- BTW, Gail Reiss appears to be available and knows our system as well as any campaigner. The JFNA Campaign Consulting Team has experienced a great deal of turnover -- turnover it can hardly afford -- at the top, losing two of its best (one from Chicago, another from New Jersey). Financial Resource Development at JFNA had already collapsed. Eric and Chair Mark Wilf need to totally reorganize this effort -- bring your best and brightest professionals from the communities, forget about the usual cookie-cutter consultants and get it done.
The line between real success and continuing failure is incredibly thin.

Rwexler



Sunday, March 1, 2020

MYTH-MAKING

Natan Sharansky has been our hero since we first heard his name -- Refusenik, Prisoner of Zion, oleh, political leader, Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, author, freedom advocate, and more. He has been the friend of Presidents and a living bridge between Israeli political leadership. Israeli religious leadership and Diaspora Jewry. And I am not even doing him justice with this litany of his incredible life and leadership.

One thing is absolutely certain: Natan's history needs no embellishment.

So I was really surprised to hear the JAFI Board Chair, who presented the Agency's Telling Our Story and included this:
"Sharansky: no greater fighter for justice and freedom, standing up to the Soviet Union, and as the head of The Jewish Agency creating the solution for egalitarian prayer for Jews at the Western Wall." (emphasis added)
Oh, were it only so.

Sharansky's efforts to create that "egalitarian prayer space," appointed to do so by Prime Minister Netanyahu were heroic. All of us, especially those in Jewish Agency leadership, know that an historic agreement was reached among all of the parties -- religious leadership, Women of the Wall, and the PM --  only to see the Prime Minister renege, the agreement collapse and "the solution" disappear out of the fog of Israeli politics.

Are there those in JAFI leadership wo believe that the matter of egalitarian prayer space was somehow resolved? Was Michael Siegel's conclusion as expressed above based on some empirical evidence that I somehow missed? Or was this some form of wishful thinking? Yet, later in his presentation the Board Chair observed:
"Western Wall policies are (sic) an example of world Jewry needing a voice in Israel. While the Western Wall agreement wasn't a perfect solution, we're continuing to fight for better outcomes."
Huh? As noted above there is no Western Wall agreement!! The Prime Minister of Israel, fighting for his Coalition, walked away from it as if it never existed at all. And our silence in response was deafening. (In fact, you will recall, when the "agreement" was reached JFNA and JAFI leaders were guilty of premature celebration and, thereafter, not just quiet condemnation but a public embrace of Mr. Netanyahu's lame excuses delivered to a GA that should haveexpressed active disbelief.)

No, Natan Sharansky's life needs no embellishment -- he will always be a light to the nations and a Hero of the Jewish People. Aren't those enough?

Rwexler