Sunday, June 28, 2020


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.


Tuesday, June 23, 2020


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."


Friday, June 19, 2020


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.


Sunday, June 14, 2020


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,

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, 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, 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.


Tuesday, June 9, 2020


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.

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?" 


Thursday, June 4, 2020


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,