Wednesday, December 17, 2014


One guy believes he is omniscient, the other thinks he should succeed the current CEO of the Conference of Presidents and believes he doesn't need to understand organizational history, another believes that she should control all things in Jewish communal life and rejects all institutional memory, another believes that he alone can solve the failures of JFNA and JAFI and the GOI, and a group believe that nothing good can happen in Jewish communal life without their imprimatur...and then there's this guy who writes a Blog. We are a conglomeration of outsize egos unworthy of their aspirations...but none of us...them...get it.

The result is the mess we are in. Those who should be in charge...aren't. We have Chairs and Co-Chairs of an umbrella organization who fail to exercise the power they have to shape the organizations they lead. They are satisfied with naming Committee Chairs, smiling and speaking into microphones unachievable grand visions while nothing gets done. They apparently believe that to lead our organizations is to follow others, raise questions but either never wait for the answers or inquire into whether the answers they are getting are factually correct. The results: a mass of misinformation spewed out day-by-day, the Chair of the subsidiary with both limited purposes and limited abilities trying to step into the void, the Chair of a self-created chaotic process arrogating to herself/it the powers of the JFNA -- and the appearance of no one being in charge.

From the maws of those ego-driven, the entire purposes of Jewish organizational life have been truly lost. It's a circus and the clowns are in charge.


Sunday, December 14, 2014


JFNA -- the fun never stops:

1. Kal ha'kavod to  ejewishphilanthropy for attempting to encourage positive change at JFNA, our failed continental organization where "change" is a term with which its leaders are unfamiliar. Link to;utm_campaign=Mon+Nov+24&utm_medium=email and provide Dan Brown and his colleagues with your thoughts for change. This could do what JFNA leaders can't bring themselves to do; then again, probably not.

Unbelievably, the UIA Chair devoted an entire UIA Officers Meeting to rant against this ejp initiative. Why, you might ask? Ostensibly because Dan Brown, ejp Founder has written some pieces that this Chair (and other job aspirants at JFNA) found "negative" without citation.

But the first submission, published last Wednesday, sadly anonymously, was a brilliant "United Jewish America (UJA) Press Conference Report." The author, a federation professional, offered some superb insights and excellent suggestions. Keep them coming; those who believe "everything is just fine" and "I just want to be JFNA Chair" be ignored.

2. Then there is this: while the failed Global Planning Table flounders, it's "voluntary funded Initiative" branded "I-REP" will focus on issues related and, I guess, unrelated to civil marriage in Israel, the New York Jewish Week reported on December 3 that a new Coalition had been formed, led by the American Jewish Committee that is already at work on this issue and others coordinating with Israeli counterparts. Numerous American Jewish organizations are engaged with the newly-formed Jewish Religious Equality Coalition; and guess which organization isn't...that's right, JFNA and its GPT. As an article in Haaretz on the Coalition disclosed:
"There was no representative of the Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella body for the federation movement, at the AJC-hosted meeting, though months ago there had been discussion of their participation. Instead, JFNA has started it’s own effort.
“We have only recently launched iRep (The Israel Religious Expression Platform), which will focus on enhancing religious pluralism in Israel,” said Rebecca Dinar, a JFNA spokesperson, by email. “With regard to promoting freedom of choice in marriage in Israel, we are currently exploring how we might collaborate with other organizations that share our goals. AJC’s J-REC program presents one such potential opportunity and we will continue to have discussions with them, and others, as the iRep initiative develops.”
You read it correctly -- JFNA chose to go it alone in an effort that will only duplicate and confuse North American Jewry's positions on the civil society. In another universe -- you know, the one most non-profits work in -- the sane universe, someone would say to those who espouse going it alone: "forget about it." But in the universe that JFNA occupies -- the universe of the failed -- we only join coalitions that we form, thank you and best of luck. Really, shouldn't heads be rolling here before we waste more money in a duplicative effort?

And what is the acronym of the new AJC-led coalition? J-REC. It almost makes Susie Gellman, the Chair of the GPT's I-REP, almost totally underfunded to date by the Gellmans, want to cry. All of this is consistent, of course, with JFNA and the GPT operating in their own minuscule bubble of self-congratulatory ephemera, sowing confusion and failure in their wake. 

3. Finally, JFNA-Israel posted the following two weeks ago: "Due to planned maintenance in our offices in Jerusalem, we anticipate having limited e-mail access and no telephone service Thursday and Friday -- December 4th and December 5th." No one noticed...or cared.


Thursday, December 11, 2014


A Commentator to this Blog asked:

"As someone has stated recently, why all the guess-work?
Why doesn't JFNA simply poll all the member federations, asking them for the 5 (or pay a consultant to determine the correct number....just kidding) Top Priorities that will drive their local federation's mission statements for the next 10-15 years (mission statements do change from time to time, particularly when Strategic Plans are adopted)?
And, most importantly, make the results public so everyone can see the results.
Then JFNA can use those results as a guide for their relevance to their stakeholders.
Everyone will see what the system wants/ guesswork, finger-pointing, etc.
Then based on the results, JFNA will be forced to 1) Keep the status quo, 2) Restructure (at either a lower or maybe even higher annual budget), 3) Shut the doors."

These are, of course, excellent and seemingly simple suggestions. But they presume that JFNA leaders have any interest whatsoever in asking the federations for these kinds of input. What we have seen the past 9 years is a JFNA wholly in the thrall of itself; it has been and continues to be about itself and only about itself -- not about the federations, not about the donors. And, in being about itself, JFNA believes in is own itself...even though it isn't even that.

When the merger went forward, this excellent suggestion of federation prioritization was exactly what many of us believed would happen, what the federations would demand and to which JFNA would be responsive. But, no. Instead, distracted by shiny objects -- personal vendettas, the so-called "Global Planning Table," TribeFests, "Strategic Initiatives" and others -- JFNA , its leaders without a clue as to what federations wanted or needed -- turned inward and became more and more about itself and nothing else. 

The JFNA Budget which could tell federations about JFNA's priorities is but a farcical fiction -- 50% for FRD!!?? Does anyone -- even those inside JFNA, even the CFO, really believe that? Expand Consulting Services? Where is the staffing that would be respected by the communities who are themselves hiring expert consultants, most of whom worked at one time for either JFNA or the federations?

I endorse the Commentator's ideas as set forth above. Do you think JFNA would even understand them?


Monday, December 8, 2014


Shame, shame, shame...on us. When a terrific communal leader, and Past Chair of both her federation and of the termination of two top Wellesley Hillel professionals -- the Director and Jewish Chaplain -- by the College after their protest of strident anti-Israel/anti-Zionist attacks on campus, she asked the logical questions:  "Why doesn't the Boston Federation get involved? Or the national Hillel movement.  Are they going to leave these (young people and Hillel former leaders) to deal with this themselves." 

My sister might have included in the list of the silent: JFNA, the Israel Action Network and JCPA. You might not be aware that immediately prior to the GA, Chair Siegal and CEO Jerry If-There's-Trouble-It's-Somebody-Else's-Fault, let us know in a lengthy Leadership Briefing of JFNA's critical role in bringing together all of the "campus players" which would now coordinate campus efforts to combat the campus onslaught against Israel and against Jewish students. Turned out this meant nothing more than that JFNA joined with others in the critical act of calling a meeting. That was enough as, apparently exhausted, JFNA has had nothing to  say when Wellesley Jewish students cry out that they have "lost our support system"  at a time that a small group of anti-Israel pro-Palestinians attack Israel and them. To the date of this Post, all we have seen or heard from JFNA is...not a damn thing. (It should be noted that three days after the event, JFNA, apparently awakened from its Thanksgiving tryptophan-induced slumber, was able to issue a December 2 Leadership Briefing condemning arson and vandalism at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Bilingual School in Jerusalem in the strongest terms. But, on Wellesley...nothing.) 

The terminations were first described in Haaretz and, then, in all of the decision's venality -- no notice to the Hillel laity, the campus Jewish Chaplain terminated by e-mail -- in the Boston Globe wherein one Wellesley official, identified as Jewish, actually stated that the terminations represented a "restructuring" that would somehow "anchor Jewish life on campus" for the Wellesley Jewish student community. Meanwhile, Barry Shrage, the oracle of CJP, the Boston Jewish Federation, had nothing to say. Still, this could just be nothing more than insensitivity and a lack of process; yet...

The IAN, the Israel Action Network, prides itself on issuing statements praising Scarlett Johansson's courage, publicizing a group of Presbyterian clergy's resistance to the organization's resolution for a boycott of Israel and publishing books and countless papers. Good for them...but, then, this happens and the IAN's futility becomes too evident.

In 1984, writing in Sh'ma Jerold Auerbach penned an article "Fighting anti-semitism at Wellesley" in which he concluded: 
"Anti-Semitism is always repugnant, even in an institution as benign and genteel as Wellesley College. No glaring episode, or ugly incident disrupted the normal security of college life. Instead, there was abundant evidence of a persistent pattern: a history of discrimination, a legacy of insensitivity."
And, now, three decades after Auerbach wrote those words, we have Wellesley officials not only engaged in "insensitivity" but in a "glaring episode"...and our institutions sit by in silence. While I have no reason to believe that anti-semitism played any role in these terminations, the dictat way in which the College went about them was unworthy of the institution and the apparent complicity of Hillel International in this non-process beneath contempt. Here is what Hillel said as reported in a Haaretz follow-up article:
 "On Monday, Eric Fingerhut, the president of Hillel International, defended the decision by Wellesley College to oust two representatives of the Jewish student organization, stressing that the move was meant to enable the hiring of a full-time rabbi on campus.
“I believe that the college is wanting to strengthen Jewish life on campus by moving to a model based on the full-time professional support of a rabbi on campus, which other schools have,” he told Haaretz.
 Fingerhut said, however, that the replacement of the Hillel representatives on campus “certainly wasn’t handled as well as it could’ve been.”*
The latest Haaretz article seemed to suggest that with no notice to the Wellesley Hillel laity or professional staff, Hillel International was busily "planning" with Wellesley College officials the professional Hillel campus leadership. Shameful.

 So, my sister -- you remember her from the first paragraph -- had a suggestion:
"Someone from one of our great agencies should notify the admissions office at Wellesley College that parents will be informed through Jewish news outlets, etc., that the Wellesley College environment is not conducive to a safe or appropriate Jewish life. Since so many Jewish families pay full tuition, perhaps the pocket book can change the attitudes of the administration."
The withholding of support is happening, the "change of attitudes" so much.  All around us, as always, is silence.

I so love my sister.


* Reporter Debra Nussbaum Cohen, as is always the case in my experience, has done a superb job of reporting the facts and just letting them speak for themselves.

Friday, December 5, 2014


Like many at JFNA, reading this Blog on a regular basis is like being flogged three times a week -- who wants your faults, your failures spelled out in italics for all to see? I wouldn't...but I might admit to peeking at it once in a while. If you ask one of these so-called "leaders" if they read this, they would tell you that they don't and try to get you to stop reading it as well -- better their lies than my truths any time.

Lou Feldstein has had a terrific career that included productive stints at JFNA and the Atlanta Jewish Federation. He now is a change consultant. Here is his most recent publication -- how wonderful it would be if those leading our Continental institution could read it and comprehend it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


Yes, her fingerprints remain on everything that has gone wrong at JFNA. I won't go through the litany of failures once again -- you know them as well as I. Like the President she holds in such awe, the promise of home runs for Obama in foreign policy has given way at the White House to the fiction that there have been singles and doubles, at JFNA they can't even been able to get to first base...on anything. 

And the 2014 Terrorists' War on Israel -- oh, that one interfered with her plans for the takeover of JFNA by her treasured Global Planning Table; fund-raising for the hallowed "Initiatives," if any was swallowed up in Federations' commitment to emergency funding our work in Israel. She lives in what must be a hall of mirrors, each one reflecting only her visage holding the framing documents of the GPT. That's how she came to her Chair-ship at JFNA; that's how she conducted her Chair-ship; and that's how she elected herself the critical person at her disastrous creation, the Global Planning Table. In those fun-house mirrors that distort the real image so badly she sees herself, and we see her, as the indispensable person in an organization she has made dispensable.

As we all know, I am talking about Kathy Manning. This is a tribute to the brilliance of her use of her leadership roles to promote herself and those who would be totally supportive of her without question, and she, whose brilliant manipulation of JFNA's governance positioned herself, even after her years as the failed Chair of the JFNA Executive and then Board Chair, to be at the top of a food chain that she and she alone created while others merely sat by and let her do so...and they are still doing so. Quite frankly, while I and a few others had seen through this manipulation, this charade, from the beginning, I am in awe of Kathy. As they say: "if only she had dedicated herself to doing good."

The two (and as she left her Board Chair position she could name only two, by the way) seminal "events" of her many -- too many -- years in leadership of JFNA were: (1) the hiring of Jerry Silverman; and (2) the creation of the Global Planning Table. In reality, these "triumphs" have tolled the death knell for JFNA as an institution in service to the federations. I hear the bells ringing as I write this. 

In demanding the hire of Jerry  Silverman, she broke the hegemony of the Large City Executives, which arguably might have been a good thing for the system; but she hired someone so lacking in understanding federations and so unable to gain that knowledge after five years, as to turn the continental organization on its head, serving only its own interests. Oh, and, of course, hiring as CEO and President one who would be her foil in her tunnel-visioned approach to the GPT, the federations and our historic partners (with which neither Kathy nor Jerry were the least bit familiar) be damned.

Those who challenged or raised questions about the abuses of governance and process and/or the black hole that the Global Planning Table would and has become, were "off the team," relegated to outsider status or, for some of us, a walk in azazel (not that it's such a horrible place to be). Those who wanted to find a new CEO were disabused of the notion by those who remained in Kathy's thrall even after she no longer occupied the JFNA Chair. (One of my favorite observations was at a Jewish Agency Board meeting, shortly after the installation of Michael Siegal and Dede Feinberg, where the bima was set with seats for JFNA's Co-Chairs and the Keren Ha'Yesod Chair along with JAFI leaders and Kathy merely preempted one of the JFNA Co-Chair's seats because she could. [I am certain that Ms. Manning has no recollection of the preemption].) Follow this now: If Silverman were gone and, then, the GPT failed, as it has, then she had no "accomplishments" (not that Jerry's retention is much if any of an accomplishment, if any) whatsoever.

Now, return to the Global Planning Table. At every Regional Meeting called to discuss JFNA's so-called "options" for the GPT...there was really just one...the "plan" that was put on the table by the consultant and Silverman, was actively and vigorously rejected -- as an abandonment of the core value of collective responsibility, an abandonment of the system's historic partners and as nothing more than a gilded ONAD, the failure of JFNA's first five years. This rejection came not from the mouths of the naysayers; it was a global rejection from federation lay and professional leaders of every City-size and across the Continent. So, what happened? You know. Absolutely nothing -- it was as if the Regional Meetings were but a speed bump to be run over at mach speed (as was the qualified professional hired to shepherd and reframe the "plan," quitting within 6 months of her hire.) 

This universal rejection, this talk of "red lines that cannot be crossed" was ignored with total impunity and the total silent acquiescence  of all. And once it became evident that the federations were but toothless, the GPT moved inexorably forward until it came up against the stark reality that not even the minimum funding could be reached by JFNA, an organization driven so far from where it was supposed to be that it no longer could raise money for anything, nor could it inspire the federations to goals set by a small elite. In the "process," the GPT has been the institutional equivalent of water-boarding -- torturing a willing system with insufferable pain but ultimately failure.

And that takes us to today. Here is what the Global Planning Table now plans to become:
The Global Planning Table
        Recommended Next Steps for Phase Two

Guiding Rational(e)

We envision the GPT’s work being cyclical, including planning (discussion of pressing needs and promising prospects which the Federation collective could positively affect), program development, program implementation, and impact assessment. During its first three years, the GPT successfully facilitated planning and program development processes; in its second phase, the GPT will focus primarily on implementing the initiatives it shaped, and on assessing the impact of collective funds invested in Israel and overseas. The GPT will also continue to serve as a planning arm for the Federation system, facilitating a next round of planning.

GPT Primary Goals for Phase Two

 Raise funds for and launch implementation of GPT-developed Signature Initiatives (the Israel Children’s Zone and JQuest) and Voluntary Project (iRep).
 Convene and dialogue with local Federations regarding challenges and opportunities around the world.

GPT Functions for Phase Two

The Global Planning Table will (continue to) serve as JFNA’s planning body. As such, it will:

1. Identify opportunities and challenges facing the global Jewish community and develop and implement responses as needed. GPT will remain available to focus on new projects and opportunities, as they are referred to it by the JFNA Board or Executive Committee.
2. Inasmuch as the Israel and Overseas portion of GPT’s work is already moving forward, GPT will develop and implement a process to analyze and assess the impact of collective funds invested in Israel and Overseas through unrestricted and designated allocations, emergency response, and applicable signature initiatives and voluntary projects, working in cooperation with our Partners.
3. Track and analyze Federation allocation trends, needs assessments and other planning-related information, and provide data and analysis to local Federations. Where possible, GPT will convene coalitions to share knowledge and explore opportunities to maximize and leverage investments (e.g., partnerships).
4. GPT’s Partnership Committee will continue its mandate to develop recommendations for an annual allocation of unrestricted funds to our Partners.

These recommendations will be shared with the GPT Committee, which will advance them to JFNA’s Board of Trustees for ratification.


The Global Planning Table will continue to be a freestanding Committee within JFNA, reporting to JFNA’s Board of Trustees."

Now, at its meeting on November 24, there was widespread pushback to this transparent plot to usurp the functions of JFNA, UIA and the federations. One GPT member sent a strong letter of objection. The response from Chair Butler, who was no more present at the meeting (which was run in reported inept fashion by Silverman) than I, was that a strong majority supported the "plan." That was untrue.

Some might believe that this "plan" is the GPT version of the end of the Vietnam War (in more ways than one) -- declaring victory and getting out of Saigon as quickly as possible. You know this -- "Phase 1" was a failure; so let's build on that failure in a Phase 2 -- this is so JFNA. Others, knowing Kathy, Jerry and the claque (as well as the evident weakness of the current Board Chair), see this set of "Next Steps" as the framing document for the Global Planning Table arrogation to itself of the most critical functions that we expected to be those of JFNA itself -- planning (overseas and domestic), fund raising, allocations, advocacy, Israel and Overseas, "new projects and opportunities." To all of this there was strong objection.

Never mind that JFNA's Siegal just named Chicago's David Brown to Chair the Israel and Overseas Department Committee; or that David Butler, the erstwhile GPT Chair after three years of parroting Ms. Manning and fronting the failed, has accepted the role as Chair of JFNA Washington while (currently) continuing to Chair the GPT Committee. The questions now include: will Michael Siegal take charge, bring the GPT into JFNA as what it should be: a subcommittee of Israel/Overseas; name David Brown as the Chair of both; and dissolve the GPT Partnership Committee (that decision-making elite of elites now chaired by Manning) transferring its functions and decision-making to JFNA's Israel Overseas; and thank Kathy Manning for her creativity, tenacity and her leadership. Buh-bye. This would have the effect of JFNA doing what the organization of and for the federations should be doing; and it would retake the powers of JFNA from the clutches of a small group of federations and an even smaller group of leaders. And Chair Siegal would have asserted his leadership before it is too late, if it isn't already.

One can dream, can't one?


Saturday, November 29, 2014


Straight from one Tower of Babel, or maybe two...or three. Forgive my skepticism, but...

You surely recall the Government of Israel/World Jewry Initiative that descended into chaos two months ago when a dispute broke out between the leaders of the Jewish Agency and the Israel Diaspora Ministry over, what else, who is in charge. The dispute in the press grew ugly and as the control issues were not resolved, the parties appeared not to be speaking to each other,  unnamed but highly aspirational UIA  and JAFI lay leaders (none named "Rube Goldberg" but THEY appeared to be in the same gene pool from the work product) stepped up and the results...well, they speak for themselves -- here they are:

  1. There will be something that will be called a "Public Benefit Company" ...
  2. The shares of which will be held in Trust for a Steering Committee...
  3. Which will consist of 12 seats -- 4 for the Government, 4 for the "Principal Funders" (undefined what that means) and 4 for JAFI whose...
  4. JAFI seats on the Steering Committee will be selected by the JA Chair of the Executive (subject to approval by the JA Executive Committee), 3 lay leaders -- one each from the World Zionist Organization, Keren Ha-Yesod and UIA/JFNA...
  5. This Steering Committee will "steer" the Public Benefit Company "Oversight Committee" which will have 3 members -- one each from the Government, JA and the Principal (sic) Funders...who will "control everything by "consensus" and...
  6. Create a "New Project approval process" (undefined)...and
  7. Oh, there is that Public Benefit Company that will have Project Boards (undefined) directing "projects" approved by that Oversight Committee subject to a "Delegation of Authority" by its "Independent Trustees and Directors" to that "Steering Committee." HUH?
Now, if this is something your federation/major donors would like to invest in, have confidence in, or believe this balagan will work, please send millions of dollars to "Boy We Sure F----d This One Up, Inc." -- a "Public Benefit Company." This could be from the folks who brought you the Global Planning Table...but it isn't. If you believe that any deal is a good deal, then this is good; if you believe that no deal is better than a bad deal, well...

Remember, if you will -- the Government of Israel/World Jewry Initiative began as a Jewish Agency/Government effort. The Prime Minister and Jewish Agency, with JFNA jumping on the then bandwagon agreed that a Company would be formed, managed by the Jewish Agency, folding in the unfunded Global Planning Table "immersive Israel experience" Signature Initiative. On the cusp of the roll-out, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry asserted that it would be running the company, JAFI was relegated by the Government to a participant with the WZO, etc., and a public spat erupted in the press. Then, these two JAFI and UIA lay leaders (JFNA was once again relegated to no role) embarked on a compromise effort. What resulted, you may judge for yourself -- but it appears to this trained eye to now be a process with no one in charge, a compromise for compromise's sake and an "agreement to agree." Oy vey.

Most amazing, this is the work product of hundreds of hours invested in good faith by truly committed volunteers. That part of this is to be applauded and remembered. They prevailed where, frankly, in the political thicket in Israel, I never thought they could. More amazing, as reported in ejewishphilanthropy two weeks ago, this structure is the basis of a "non-binding Memorandum of Understanding" on tentative programming between the Jewish Agency and the Government, et al., whatever that means. The focus of that MOU is spelled out in detail in an official JAFI statement detailed in the ejp article. If this works, these volunteers are to be congratulated; even if it doesn't work, their efforts were truly prodigious. A more optimistic note was struck in an article in The Jerusalem Post
Who will be the funders? Don't know. How will the money be raised and by whom? Don't know. How much money? Will anyone really be able to explain how this will all work? Don't know. But...we have a "structure," now, don't we? Don't we? 

You must see the "flow chart" on a piece of paper -- as in the ejp -- it makes even less sense than my description. Such is compromise.  Two volunteer lawyers had been running around Jerusalem selling as a "compromise." I have a strong sense, having spoken with friends in Jerusalem, that leadership there, listened, rolled their eyes, said "sure," initialed the thing and went back to their business. Sure, these fine gentlemen who drew up this structure convinced themselves this will work. I just do not think so; time will tell. 

And, as an anonymous "senior leader at JFNA" observed: "So, we have an agreement but no money." A fair comment that ignores the reality that it is JFNA that committed to raise the money in a pro rata match with the Government. 

Oh, that. Never mind.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014


My parents were the proudest of Jews, proud Jewish Americans, proud and liberal Jews. I have inherited my own liberalism from them and from my many aunts and uncles. No one would ever have questioned my parents', my aunts' or uncles', or my own embrace and support of Israel -- from pre-state through today. But, today, the general characterization by way too many, among them close friends, equating "liberal Jews" with anti-Israel attitudes and positions has become an intolerable and thoughtless canard. Being a "liberal" or "progressive" Jew today is to be cast aside by normally thoughtful people as being on the "same side" as J-Street, the NIF or whatever other organization is being castigated on the right and by the right as "anti-Israel."

Seemingly, it has become so simple for too many commentators to point a constant finger at "liberal Jews" for all of the ills that impact our Peoplehood. Thus, an otherwise incisive columnist, Jonathan Tobin, writing in Commentary concluded in a column on the idiocy of a Jewish Federation opposing students erecting a Sukkah at their public school:
"The problem here is that liberal Jews fear conservative Christians far more than they do ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Taliban (as Tablet points out, it is unlikely that the federation would have opposed accommodations of Muslim practices). And they are so paranoid about it that they are ready to restrict examples of Jewish faith in the public square in order to forestall any manifestation of Christian faith there."
Yep, it's those damn "liberal Jews" -- to Tobin and his ilk, it's my and your parents and aunts and uncles...and, me. To others it's anyone who voted for Obama -- "liberal Jews" all. Norman Podhoretz, writing in the Wall Street Journal asked "Why Are Jews Liberal?" And, on and on. The deconstruction of Jewish unity -- "Jewish liberals." The support of J-Street -- "Jewish liberals." All of the Jewish People's woes the fault of "Jewish liberals." As one of my mentors, a relatively newly-minted conservative, admitted to me: "we need every liberal pro-Israel voice we can find" to offset the wave of left-wing anti-Israel ones. 

We have a tendency today to sloganeer, to paint all with an ugly brush -- facts don't get in the way. I and many of you continue to thrive in an environment that embraces all Jews -- liberal, conservative, even neoconservative. But let those who believe that they can condemn all those whose views they oppose -- the Tobins and Podhoretzes and too many others -- remember, in doing so you are attacking my parents and yours. Shame on them.


Sunday, November 23, 2014


In a prior Post I linked you, my friends, to an absolutely idiotic interview that CEO Jerry I-Just-Can't-Help-Myself gave to the JTA's Uriel Hellman. All Hellman did was ask Silverman to provide an update -- a status report, if you will -- on each of the programs Silverman set forth in speeches, interviews and article over the past year. Hellman just let Jerry bloviate on-and-on without comment self-destructing in his jargon, cliches and "never minds." Is there any question of why and how JFNA has become the laughingstock of Jewish organizations? In case you missed it, in one of the most stupefying moves in human resources history, Jerry's contract was renewed.

On the cusp of every GA from my first in 1975 to the present, I would await eagerly the arrival of The Forward, to see who from the federation system, from UJA and CJF, would be named to that year's Forward 50 -- The Forward's  annual list of those it perceived were the most important figures in Jewish life worldwide. And that anticipation was always rewarded with the annual lists that always included our friends in leadership of federation and our system; those among our friends who inspired us. Take a look at the 50 the last few years; no, just look at this year's list on which the only...only...representative of what was our system, our Movement, were John Ruskay, recently retired from his leadership of New York UJA-Federation and Doug Seserman, the CEO of what was the Colorado Federation now a federation no longer, just JEWISHColorado, another "rebranding" without meaning to anyone other than Seserman and The Forward. Doug Seserman is someone who has proved his ability as a marketer, in marketing...himself, especially to The Forward -- to which doing the "bucket challenge" appears to have been a thing of genius.* The "system" is now not just a joke, but a footnote, an after-thought, if that.

Dan Brown, whose contributions to Jewish communal life, thought leadership and Jewish education through his ejewishphilanthropy have been incredible offered another commentary, when he wrote us in evident disgust: "Not one person - professional or lay - has the courage to write a serious article on the Jewish communal system as it exists today. I know - I've invited submissions from some of the most visible." JFNA has no voice, the federation system has lost whatever voice it once had. I believe that Federation CEOs have written papers time and again for each others edification but they apparently fear exposing their thoughts to a broader public. 

And, that's just part of the problem. JFNA cannot offer mentoring to Federation CEOs at any city-size level -- there is no one at 25 Broadway with sufficient federation background or experience to mentor, teach or, G-d forbid, learn. There is no one there with sufficient background or experience to even know what questions to ask let alone provide answers. Thus, these CEOs on the ground struggling with new demographics, a declining donor base, mobility, the need to engage not just the "next" generation but the generations of today, have no place to turn but to their fellows, directly or in their chat rooms and, too often, they are turning to those whose experience is even less than their own.

We have seen a succession of JFNA CEOs who have contributed to this strong perception of failure that racks the organization and the system today: Steve Solender, who was essentially "rewarded" upon his retirement from New York UJA with the professional leadership of JFNA (opening the door to the "reign of Ruskay") but who never had the confidence of his own leadership; Steve Hoffman, who did some good things, but began the exclusion of lay leadership from the decision-making process; Howard Rieger, another of the LCE post-retirement, who spent his four (+) years mainly behind his closed office door, drawing up enemies lists, and beginning the isolation of JFNA from its owners; and, now, Silverman, who, to his credit, has visited maybe every federation and, to his and the organization's everlasting detriment appears not to have understood a word of what he heard on any of those visits. 

The reality is that Jerry The-Brand-Is-Me has invested almost everything in "building the JFNA brand." But...and this is the biggest "but"...Jerry clearly never understood what the "Brand" stands for. The end result is a brand that stands for nothing. It is not about the federations, which it should be of course, but the brand "managers," if you will, don't have a clue what the federations are all about; the brand is, therefore, about itself. 

And "itself" is nothing but a joke.


* When The Forward first promoted this guy in April, we responded with When Insipidity Reigns, April 24, 2014. Suffice it to say insipidity still reigns.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


One astute Commentator raised an important question:
"A lot of time has been spent discussing the drop in core allocations to JAFI, JDC, and World ORT.
For all we know, JAFI, JDC, and World ORT may, in fact, be receiving more total dollars annually from the federation system than at any time in history....or maybe not.
Doesn't JFNA have the data on not only how much each federation sends JFNA for allocations to the core, but also in addition to the core allocation, how much each federation allocates directly to JAFI, JDC, and World ORT?
That, it would seem to me, would lay all the cards on the table for a transparent analysis of the situation.
And it would seem that this information should, in fact, be public information for the members of the JFNA System."
 In fact, JFNA has a lot of data which it parses out only to those it deems "worthy." The Global Planning Table has seen the same data as I -- allocations to core and total Supplemental (designated) giving. There is no breakdown as to where those dollars were allocated to in supplemental/designated fashion, but "Total Supplemental Giving 2013-2014" was $40.3 million (+/-) --  again, there has been no breakdown of the recipients. This total is not insignificant, but it nowhere approaches "more total dollars from the federation system than at any time in history" for JDC/JAFI/ORT. Far from it when one merely considers that the drop in core to JAFI since the merger now is approaching $100,000,000 annually.

I agree wholeheartedly with one recent correspondent who wrote:
"The conversation on advocacy needs to shift and focus on three basic truths:
1. The indivisible nature of local and overseas needs- hence a single Jewish agenda built around peoplehood and community
2. The unique set of deliverables provided by global partners (what we once described as "the franchise")
3. The acknowledgment that for 3/4 of our Federations or more local needs alone cannot maintain the loyalty of their biggest donors"
If JFNA could lead us here, what a change in systemic attitude might occur. But the leaders of JFNA seem to be so involved in brand and self-promotion, they appear to have no time or interest in promoting the critical work of those with which we have charged with our responsibilities.

But, far too often, there are federation professional leaders who, when challenged about the deconstruction of the overseas allocation engage in pathetic sophistry. Here's how it works -- a donor sees the JFNA data. It shows your federation with an overseas allocation of 12.3% including Supplemental Giving. He asks the CEO how can that be? The CEO responds: "Well, JFNA's number is just wrong. You have to deduct our cost of raising the money, our overhead, from our campaign numbers first. Then you compute our percentage -- it's really...40%." Thus, you have a community whose overhead is 50% -- and there are those that even exceed that percentage -- which allocate almost nothing but under this perverse logic that community's CEO could argue that its allocates 50, 60, 70% to overseas. Sophistry, pure and simple.

JFNA's numbers, which are the same as those used by UJA before it, compare true federation-to-federation figures -- annual campaign and allocation  -- applicable across the board. The results may not look good -- in fact, they look horrible -- but this data enable a fair evaluation of each federation's allocation in the absolute and relative one to every other.

You will recall that JFNA abdicated its advocacy and allocations responsibilities to the ineptitude of the Global Planning Table; and what did that leadership do? Nothing. It collected data that disclosed that over ten federations are allocating directly to overseas beneficiaries; it "eliminated" the "split" by converting it to cash; they acquiesced to the "repayment" this year of not only allocations "advances" by a few federations but of an allocations loan by JFNA. In other words, in the shadows in which JFNA and the GPT work best, these two Potemkin Villages just did what they do best...nothing. And, in doing nothing, damaged the credibility of our system even more than they did before. And, just who have been the continuity in this deconstruction over the past five years? Kathy Manning and Jerry Silverman. 

Let's have transparency and let's have some honesty -- two excellent places to start.