Wednesday, April 27, 2016

HUH?

Readers know that I have come to believe that various of the JFNA silos operate in their own universes, unrelated to the reality of what JFNA was to be and, most often, operating in its own virtual reality world. Examples abound, but none offers a model better/worse than does FEDworld, that daily comic book-like production of the continental organization that has acquired its own tag-line -- The Latest Local-to-Global Federation Update -- when it really should be tagged -- If You Don't Know Where You're Going, Any Road Will Get You There. And the question: how many staff and how much staff-time and, thereby, JFNA overhead are dedicated to this "effort?"

Thus, the following culled from recent issues:

  • Citations to pioneering work in FRD -- Fundraising Is About More Than Money  (an article from ejewishphilanthropy)-- when JFNA does none...
  • A cite to a Jim Joseph Foundation analysis (appearing, where else, in ejewishphilanthropy) on "Measuring outcomes across grantees and over time" when JFNA never offers measurement off "outcomes" of its own "efforts" -- G-d forbid there ever were accountability...
  • News being in short supply, an article is linked about one community's CRC Annual Meeting...
  • Mission to Berlin highlight -- running a half marathon??
  • Instead of really highlighting an excellent op-ed from Kim Heiman, JFNA Chair of its futile IREP on the need for civil marriage in Israel appearing in the Times of Israel, the daily rag just cites it and moves on
  • And, of course, there was the highlight that a JFNA Senior V-P had been named the top Twitterer in the "Jewish Twitterverse." Kind of chokes one up -- but not in a good way. The 25 most influential people in the ‘Jewish Twitterers’ 
  • Here is how our JFNA -- Israel and Overseas distracts itself: "INSTITUTE FOR LAW AND POLICY at Hebrew University in Jerusalem is partnering with Federations to host an immersive summer program for aspiring lawyers on the legal complexities in the Middle East." JFNA is a co-sponsor with a number of the organizations -- it will be an excellent program but does this promote the idea of federation or the purpose of federation? And, why is JFNA involved?
  • Then the absolute best: under a masthead announcement that -- "FEDERATIONS’ DECADES-LONG SUPPORT OF THE NEGEV is reinforced by the Negev Creative Vitality Initiative, which recently gave $50K in grants to Sapir College, Bezalel Art School, and ed-tech company MindCET to run classes for innovators on building more resilient communities through arts and culture." This is called hyperbole built upon hyperbole -- $50,000 when other organizations are investing tens, even hundreds of millions in the Negev and we brag on this? What's wrong with us? Have we no pride? (That was rhetorical.)
Or, more important, what you never read in this JFNA Bugle:
  • You never read (or were never linked to) an article on JFNA changing its auditors 2 years and more after other Jewish organizations began switching from the JFNA's firm. When asked, JFNA told the Forward with its own unique and total disingenuity that it is an “industry standard to change audit firms periodically,” http://forward.com/news/national/335720/auditors-who-crunched-numbers-at-fegs-dropped-by-8-top-not-for-profits/#ixzz43fw1Yigt The Forward continued, noting that JFNA had not changed auditors since 1999. Further, in an article in February 2015, the Forward noted how other non-profits were leaving this firm...it just takes JFNA a little longer to do...anything.
  • And, in a Post last month I cited all of us to JFNA's decision under the Kanfer/Rieger regime that it would lead a stealth effort, with no consultation with JAFI or JDC, to bring 25 Yemeni Jewish families to the United States -- actually as it turned out, to the ultra-Orthodox ghetto that is Monsey, New York. It has been suggested to me that I failed to ask the questions: where are they today? Has JFNA met its obligation to protect these New Americans? And, of course, is the JFNA of Jerry Silverman even aware of whom these people are and of the obligation JFNA has to them? 
  • For the last four years the Ruderman Family Foundation has been bringing very small groups of Knesset members to North America to learn more about us. The Foundation has done a fine job but this was once one of the benchmarks of JFNA's work -- where larger groups of Knesset members were organized by the then outstanding leader of JFNA-Israel, now Knesset member himself, Nachman Shai. JFNA continues those visits thanks to the Jewish Agency and its Secretary General, organizing the trips when they take place. Ms. Caspi comes along...why?
Then there is this: received a "From the Desk of Jerry Silverman" earlier this month. The font deployed for Smilin' Jerry's name was 3/4 of one inch high.  This narcissistic exercise was either an embodiment of Jerry's insecurities…or a form a self-adulation previously unheard of. Either way, it was a display unbecoming of the office he holds. Then, again…

And, finally, a question. From communities across the Continent, Federation after Federation, regardless of City-size, including my own, have changed what was once Mitzvah Day to Good Deed Day?. We have become so pareve. 

Huh?

Rwexler

Sunday, April 24, 2016

THE SELF-CONGRATULATORY SPIN CYCLE

Well, there's pandering...and, then, there's this...

When the non-Orthodox Movements and the Women of the Wall were "awarded" a section beyond the Western Wall as "their own," JFNA was among the first to congratulate itself for what was really the work of the Women of the Wall, the Reform Movement in Israel and Natan Sharansky who negotiated a "settlement" that seemed to be a first step toward a more civil Israeli society. JFNA's leaders were warned that this "done deal" was hardly that but that didn't stop the Smilin' One from accompanying one self-congratulatory piece with a picture of himself on a Jerusalem March for "justice" two years earlier. And, sure enough, the deal has been undone.

Knesset Member Nachman Shai, wonderful friend to so many in North America from his years of successful and insightful service as the director of JFNA's Israel Office, just published a piece in The Jerusalem Post that is worth reading in full.  http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/The-Western-Wall-battle-round-two-450607 In Nachman's op-ed, --"The Western Wall Battle, Round Two,"  we learn that which some of you knew from the get-go -- in Israel, "it's not over until it's over and, even then, it's not over." 

It seems that while everyone was busy congratulating each other (and in JFNA's case, itself), the forces of intolerance were already at work undermining the compromise and treating it (and its sponsors) as if it never existed. When follow-up -- by JFNA, the Reform and Conservative Movements, among others -- was vital, there was silence from JFNA. Friends, this is how it has gone and how it goes in an era of institutional mediocrity. At JFNA HQ this outcome seems to have come as a complete surprise -- maybe JFNA-Israel, that bloated silo in the heart of Jerusalem, was still working on the Global Planning Table while all this was on-going.

Here is what Nachman Shai observed, as an Israeli:
"The question is, is Israel ready to accept the changes that are going on in the Jewish world today and can it adapt to them. Everyone knows that the government and its representatives in the US have no problems working in full cooperation with the Reform and Conservative communities.

It is obvious that in every diplomatic issue, Israel is assisted by the US Jewish community, with all the different circles it encompasses. And is this way the government accepts all the different denominations. It’s hard to talk about Israel’s greatest accomplishments in Congress or vis-à-vis the American government, without mentioning the hard work, effort and dedication the Jewish community there has put in. This is the strong and broad bridge the upon which US-Israel relations are built."
And, here is what JFNA has said and done since the deal fell apart...NOTHING!!

I think back and ask you to do so as well, to the time when the "Who Is a Jew?" issue reared its ugly head in Israel and enflamed North American Jewry. Think about how we, through CJF and UJA, mounted trips to the Knesset and the Prime Minister's Office by our lay and professional leaders around the Continent to bring the message directly to Jerusalem that their actions then contemplated to change the Law of Return in a manner that would disenfranchise our children and grandchildren and ourselves, in so many instances, would jeopardize North American Jewish support for the Government responsible. And the contemplated changes quietly, quietly, quietly disappeared. Now, we send letters, if that.

There is, of course, somewhere in the dustbin of history that is the present JFNA, a playbook for just what we accomplished then, and how we did it. But, today, we so clearly  lack the institutional will and the leadership to mount the effort. Or, perhaps, we don't appreciate any longer the centrality of Israel in our lives.

We can continue a process that sees others accomplish what are our goals, congratulating ourselves for their work, then learning that because we did nothing, accomplishment was lost. It's the old JFNA two-step...and it never fails to amaze even as JFNA more closely circles the drain.

Rwexler

Friday, April 22, 2016

DA'YENU, INDEED

Well, it was probably only a coincidence when the JFNA CEO chose his topic for a Pesach message. You know the one: Dayenu -- Would It Have Been Enough? It struck a chord in me; my memory is still pretty good. Sure enough: "How could an observant Jew say, let alone sing, that -'it would have been enough'- even had God not given us the Torah?" Yep, read it before.

Yes, right there in the work of an organization named the Tanach Study Center. Read it for yourself, if you wish, at http://www.tanach.org/special/dayenu.htm

As one FOB wrote me: "It’s one thing to quote/borrow/steal.  But at least show some comprehension." Were that only possible.

We've known for quite a while that Silverman is the master of "rebranding" so here it is for
Pesach. Sad. Or, maybe, Jerry just came up with it himself. Sure.

Da'yenu, indeed.

Chag sumach to one and  all.

Rwexler






Thursday, April 21, 2016

WHERE HELP IS NEEDED THERE IS NONE

Please join me in looking at a hypothetical federation. Let's take an environmental scan of what we will call "Community A":

  • It's Annual Campaign used to be $20,000,000; last year it was $12,500,000
  • It now has 3,200 donors; it once had 17,000, a decline of 82% over a number of years
  • It is the guarantor of hundreds of millions in debt
  • It pays JFNA Dues in excess of $500,000 (yes, that's not a misprint...more than $500,000)
There are probably a whole bunch more statistics I could make up in furtherance of the hypothetical but this Post is not about that hypothetical Federation (except as representative of 10s of others) where it has reinvigorated the highest levels of its professional staff and that of its Endowment with great professionals whom I find inspiring; this is about how our system's deconstruction over the past decade and its cascading deconstruction affects so many communities similarly situated. Because today there is a Jewish Federations of North America incapable of assisting "Community A" (and so many similarly situated) in any of the areas in which it needs aid and comfort.

Here is what might have happened were JFNA a functioning organization with the capacity to assist the communities. There would have been an "early warning system" in place through JFNA Regional staff who would have been in constant touch with "Community A" and who would have alerted JFNA to a federation still reeling from whatever external and internal influences had devastated its donor base and its ability to respond to communal needs, locally and globally. The community's CEO, recognizing that he/she would benefit from experienced assistance, would know that he could call 25 Broadway for that assistance. The JFNA CEO would convene his Cabinet and direct them to work with the communal CEO to create a plan for the community. The Senior FRD Professional and National Campaign Chair would convene a meeting of the Campaign Cabinet to coordinate a campaign strategy including a hands-on series of solicitations in the community by the members of the Campaign Cabinet in partnership with local solicitors; the JFNA Senior Marketing professional would coordinate a marketing plan with communal leaders; the Senior Director of JFNA Consulting would work with the federation in developing a leadership enhancement effort; the Young Leadership Cabinet members from the community and nationally would work to assure the integration of Cabinet members in communal leadership.

Here is what will happen today. The Community "A" Federation CEO has to call some of his/her City-size colleagues to ask for advice, guidance and assistance; or he/she will engage a consultant or two. JFNA would express its sympathy with the challenges to community is facing -- in other words...nothing. There is no JFNA Campaign Cabinet just as there is no CEO of FRD; there is no senior professional at JFNA Consulting; the JFNA Senior Marketing professional is busy promoting the JFNA "brand" -- promoting the facade behind which there is no building -- and the GA. 

Yes, today, as we all know, JFNA is incapable of undertaking any of these communal assistance initiatives. In other words, the JFNA of today a $30 million per year organization unable to assist its members as it was supposed to be able to do with excellence -- and it's not that it would undertake its responsibilities and execute them poorly; it's that it is absolutely incapable of doing so at all.

Most federations, if not all, believe and can express the reality that their Dues are paid out of their sense of collective responsibility. I sincerely believe that that is what they are supposed to be. The assumption, once irrefutable now rebuttable, is that if our Dues payments exceed the value of services our community receives from the continental organization, other communities in  greater need than our own are receiving services because of the Dues we pay. That, my friends, is no longer true -- hasn't been true for maybe a decade and, certainly, for the past 5+ years.

Yes, where help is needed, there is none. Community "A" and every other federation that could  and would benefit from a strong and capable and focused JFNA is on its own, paying its Dues and getting back exactly...what?

And the circus moves on.

Rwexler

Monday, April 18, 2016

PANDERER IN CHIEF

On this one you can't really blame him. Without the continuing unquestioning support of a bunch of Federation CEOs, Jerry Silverman would have hit the bricks years ago. So when Jerry publishes a lengthy piece o'pandering to CEOs for his Pesach "message" (at least I think it was for Pesach*), that might be OK. "Might be" except in doing so, the Smilin' one forgot something, something that used to be important -- but, apparently, not no more, not for Jerry. 

First, read part of this message:
"Rabbi Elazar taught us that one who causes others to do is greater than one who does. For it is said, the work of righteousness shall be peace and the effect of righteousness shall be calm and confidence forever (Bava Batra, 9a). 
His idea is fairly straightforward: There are people who do good, and there are people who cause others to do good. The former are praiseworthy, but the latter are exemplary. 

Each professional in our Jewish communal world brings to life this beautiful teaching from the Babylonian Talmud by encouraging others to support programs that provide so much sustenance, whether literal or spiritual."
It's pretty evident that Jerry sees the role of the Federation CEO as that of "inspirer" -- as he sees himself. The one whose responsibility is to inspire others as that's the higher calling. Of course, in his pandering, Jerry seems to have ignored the fact that the CEO today has become the focal point of the "doing" not just the inspiring. But inasmuch as Jerry doesn't do either, he apparently can't give credit to those CEOs for what they doIt's really both pathetic and bathetic.

But there is something worse, a lot worse, in this pandering and prattling of he who continues to be absolutely incapable of understanding what our system must be if it is to succeed. At the core of this message is Jerry's relegation of lay people to the role of order takers. You see, in Jerry's construct of roles, the CEO is executing "the role of righteousness," the lay leaders are those "who do good," the CEOs those "who cause others to do good." Rather than equals...well, you can see where laypersons fit in this equation.

After 5+ years, and a few before that at a minor Jewish agency, Jerry Silverman continues to have no understanding...none at all...of the lay-professional partnership let alone the respective roles of lay leaders and communal professionals. Of the need for balance in the relationship. Sure, the occasion of the JFNA Professionals Institute inspired Jerry; I have no doubt others as well. But look at the "faculty" and see how many JFNA professionals led any session; see how many lay leaders presented. I think you know the answers.

Friends, there seems to be no understanding, at least none at the most senior level of JFNA, that a Federation CEO today, of any City-size, has to seek out mentoring and counsel among his/her colleagues and they are doing so. All JFNA has to offer these CEOs, beyond a one- or two-day "event," is an annual pedestrian, more and more irrelevant GA, it's FEDCentral, essentially a JFNA "vehicle" for federation professionals to interact with each other (I guess we used to call that a "Conference Call," and...nothing. 

It's past time for a change at the top of JFNA, and every time that Smilin' Jerry puts pen to paper, he proves it.

Rwexler

* On further review Silverman (and all of us) would have been better served on the cusp of Passover, if he had written a Pesach message instead of this attempted, failed paean to "professionals."

Friday, April 15, 2016

ANOTHER CAUTIONARY TALE

I was reminded by a recent article in the Forward authored by Josh Nathan-Kazis -- Troubled JCC Association in Fresh Disarray with Surprise Departure of CEO  http://forward.com/news/336406/troubled-jcc-association-in-fresh-disarray-with-surprise-departure-of-ceo/ -- of a moment in time back in the 1990s at my own Federation. We had just adopted a new budgeting format that imposed on our local agencies the need to prioritize their annual budget requests of the community, listing their funding priorities from highest to lowest. This process lasted for a while and each and every year our Jewish Community Centers local agency listed its annual membership dues to the JCC Association as among its lowest priorities. Nathan-Kazis' article now, decades later, helped me to understand just why.

For years the JCCA has appeared to this writer to have been an agency without real purpose, and though an umbrella organization for them it was perceived as such by its local JCC Chapter leaders. The national organization's leaders would plot to substitute the organization for the inept JFNA and its lay leaders would use their position as a springboard to loftier positions at, e.g., the Conference of Presidents, and, at all times, its most senior professionals were supping at its financial trough for the highest possible salaries without apparent lay concern, let alone oversight. As the author pointed out in the Forward article: Allan Finkelstein, the immediate past senior professional for two decades, earned $536,000 in 2014 while 11 other employees earned in excess of $196,000 each. It leaves one scratching one's head as to whether the lay leadership was paying any attention whatsoever.

And, perhaps, it left the new JCC Association CEO, Stephen Hazan Arnoff, scratching his head as he resigned in mid-March after only 14 months on the job "...raising questions about the future of the troubled group." Of course, one might ask the shriveled body that is the JFNA Federation Agency Alliance how it has vetted this organization year-in and year-out and approved large allocations to it. What questions has The Alliance lay and professional leadership raised about, well, compensation patterns, maybe? Or, maybe, what the hell the organization is doing with its $13 million budget for the JCCs -- it's pretty evident what it's doing for the JCC Association, isn't it? But, then again, expecting anything responsible from The Alliance leadership would be expecting way too much...and, if it started raising questions about National Agency professionals' compensation, well, by G-d, someone might start asking questions about JFNA's staff compensation...and we wouldn't want that, would we? Wouldn't we?

Putting the gross nature of the JCC Association's compensation pattern in context, the author compared it with the parallel compensation pattern at JFNA itself where "...nearly a dozen executives earned in excess of $196,000." In better times, comparing JFNA with JCC Association would be odious in the extreme. Today, they are both sclerotic organizations who have confused mere existence with purpose; where the member organizations are pulling away from organizations controlled by insiders, where even constructive dissent is deemed out of order.

Out of order is the order of the day.

Rwexler


 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

SILENCE? THE NEW JEWISH VALUE?


This appeared today over the signature of JFNA JNF:

"Take Action—NOW

Last week, groups at San Francisco State University silenced Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat from speaking at a planned event. 
Their disruption was a clear attempt to silence opposing views. And that runs counter to the inherent values of any academic environment and open, honest debate. Sadly, their aggressive tactics were successful. And because this was not an isolated event, it makes it all the more dangerous.
The BDS movement in California and across the globe does not seek peace, justice, or equality. It is a movement against our democratic principles supported by people who frequently and publicly shout that we must “drive the Jews into the sea.” At San Francisco State University, students repeatedly shouted “Intifada” at Mayor Barkat until he left the stage. You can read the account of Aaron Parker, Jewish National Fund’s former Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest here
Once you do, please contact Governor Jerry Brown and tell him that intimidation and fear are NOT acceptable. Send him this letter today.
Rather than adopt their strategies of intimidation, we should act as Mayor Barkat did and encourage dialogue and, yes, even disagreement. College campuses should be a place where students can debate issues of national and international importance in a way that is open, honest, and fair. A place where students enjoy the right to hear all views and respect all people who express them. A place where all sides can search for—and hopefully find—common ground. But if they cannot, they should disagree respectfully and civilly.
Because we all—each and every one of us—fundamentally agree that both Palestinians and Jews deserve a future in their respective homeland.
But we must oppose those who focus solely on making Israel the enemy. Just as we must reject those who make every Palestinian the enemy. We must reject those on both sides who demand an all-or-nothing solution.
Let us be clear: boycotts do not unite, they divide. BDS is not about a path to peace. It is about isolation and continued conflict. 
That’s why JNF has committed considerable time and resources to college campuses, including: 
  • Our Campus Fellows program that consists of passionate people representing JNF on campus and promoting Positively Israel and JNF college programming
  • An academic program for full-time university and college faculty members to participate in a two-week Faculty Fellowship Summer Institute in Israel with their Israeli counterparts
  • Alternative Spring and Winter Breaks: Week-long community service trips for young adults ages 18-24 to give back to the land and people of Israel 
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel: 10-day trip for college students or young professionals in partnership with Shorashim with Israelis their own age
  • Caravan for Democracy, a student leadership mission for non-Jewish students that allows participants to experience a 10-day, all-expenses paid educational program to Israel and explore its distinctive democracy 
  • The $100 million JNF Boruchin Israel Education and Advocacy Center that is funding new innovative, positive Zionist educational and advocacy programming in conjunction with foundations and non-profit and non-governmental organizations
  • The Alexander Muss High School in Israel, an accredited academic high school program in Israel that offers an experiential study of Israel and Jewish History
With your support, we can find more cooperation, more conversation, and ultimately real solutions toward a lasting peace. With your support, we can let the State of California know that we must work together to create understanding, respect, and peace. 
Send a letter to Governor Brown today. Let him know that we must embrace all opinions ... AND reject those on both sides who demand an all-or-nothing solution."
No, our continental organization, our JFNA, cowers in silence. Does anyone in a leadership role in our system, at our federations, comprehend what the role of federation, what the role of JFNA must be -- what Charles Bronfman called "community with a capital 'C'" even means? Why do we continue to permit others to do what we have been created to do?

Richard Sandler, in his first message to us, talked about an organization that embodies Jewish values; for how long has "silence" been one of them?

Rwexler

CAN IT GET ANY WORSE?

                 "It's always darkest before...it becomes completely black"

Each time I believe that JFNA has reached as low a point as possible, it always just gets worse. Today the hallways at 25 Broadway are silent, the vacant offices multiply; the vacancies at the senior management level have never been greater; the services to the communities have never been less. And the band plays on.

We all remember the incredible history as related by Doris Kearns Goodwin in Team of Rivals;  at JFNA under Admiral Jerry, there is No Team At All. And it's only gotten worse year-by-year and month-by-month.

Even now, I remember back to my freshman year at the University of Michigan where the football program reached such a low state that we used to go the games just to watch the marching band at half-time. And, today, JFNA has become the Jewish organizational equivalent of that year at Michigan, instead of waiting for the band to take the field, we wait for the daily dose of disasters that emanate from the hallowed halls at 25 Broadway. I have written before of JFNA as a Potemkin Village; never has the analogy been more true. And, yet, and, yet, those Federations with the highest annual Dues continue to pay as they are getting any return on the annual "investment." 

Here is how low JFNA has fallen:

  • There is not now nor has there been, for months a senior professional leader of financial resource development, Philanthropic Resources, the silo at JFNA that eats more than 50% of the Budget;
  • For over six months JFNA's Consulting Services Department has had no chief professional;
  • JFNA Global Services: Israel and Overseas ("IO" according to JFNA "jargon") employs over 25 in Jerusalem and has since Rebecca Caspi built her impenetrable silo, been without a single accomplishment;
  • The Young Leadership Cabinet has been a revolving door for its professional leaders as has been...
  • The Network;
  • The National Agencies Alliance is allocating less to the National Agencies it was created to nurture and sustain than at any point since it was created; and
  • ...worse and worse
The federations are getting no service worth near the $30 million dollars annually thrown at JFNA in the hopes something will happen each year that might justify the expense. More and more federations are following the lead of many of our largest communities, hiding JFNA Dues within their annual overseas allocations numbers because they are ashamed/embarrassed at the annual waste those Dues represent. It is an absolute certainty that if and when the Jewish polity saw the Dues number in federation annual budgets, first there would be shock, then serious questions, then, without doubt, either a demand for evidence of return on investment or/and significantly reduced Dues and/or a withdrawal from JFNA. In fact, that's happening all over; hidden from public view, of course.

Rather than anticipating the ultimate catastrophe for our continental organization -- one that it has brought upon itself -- and effecting change from within, starting with the absolutely necessary change at the top, our lay leaders elect to do...nothing. And "nothing" is the new normal for failing Jewish organizations. It's not the blind leading the blind, my friends, it's the impotent leading the impotent.

JFNA's main failing -- the failing of too many Jewish organizations -- is that it is a top-down organization. An organization where change only occurs when the "top" determines it must. However, when the "top" neither listens nor sees, there has been/will be no action. Can/will the "bottom" rise up? There were moment last year when CEOs at various City-sizes began to seriously questions the top heavy flailing and failing bloated organization they were funding. 

Those questions were only the beginning.

Rwexler


Saturday, April 9, 2016

JFNA IN ITS BENIGHTED STATE

Only those who have overdosed on the JFNA Kool-Aid could possibly believe that anything at all is well at 25 Broadway. They are the ones fiddling while JFNA burns -- Dues unpaid and that reality undisclosed to the JFNA Board; Philanthropic Resources FRD without a Senior professional leader and without a professional staff for over what, a year?; the Israel and Overseas silo running amok without apparently any adult supervision; allocations to the legacy partners for which JFNA was bequeathed moral responsibility at an all-time low for the sixth consecutive year.* Beyond JFNA-Washington where exactly is the sun shining through? Please tell me/us.

And just where is the accountability? Maureen Dowd recently described a flame out in another context as: "...utterly unqualified and unintelligible, spouting (his) own special Yoda-like language..." She wasn't, but she could have been describing the Smilin' One. Maybe the JFNA lay leaders' mantra is "we won't find anyone better;" if so there is the reciprocal, "well we won't find anyone worse." Give it a try, folks. If this were the circumstance in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami...anywhere, Large, Intermediate or Small...there would be change, no doubt about it. But...not at our JFNA. 

When I finally received the JFNA 2016 Board of Trustees' Reference Guide (a valuable tool, BTW), I read it with interest and growing frustration. Forget for a moment that there's the let's pretend section on financial resource development, and similar; in fact, there isn't even a mention of the work of JFNA-Consulting Services. Does Consulting Services no longer exist? I know its long-time professional leader left (without any mention in any JFNA publication, no recognition...nothing) in 2015 for the greener pastures of the Jewish Federation of Greater LA, but there is still an excellent Chair and a Committee/Council/Work Group isn't there -- isn't there? -- even if they have nothing to do?

If you're into totaling stuff up, ponder this: two of your most major Departments -- FRD and Consulting Services -- have no senior professional leader, a void at both for over six months. The Young Leadership Cabinets lost their senior professional within a year of hiring who has just been replaced. Global Services: Israel and Overseas, with the most bloated staff of any area of JFNA, still hasn't a single measurable accomplishment (and, duh, the yet to be implemented, may never be implemented Wall space for the Reform/Conservative/Women of the Wall, if an "achievement" at all, certainly was not JFNA's); the Global Planning Table, after wasting a yet-to-be-revealed millions in staff and consulting costs, is no more; and Jumping' Jerry has farmed out more and more JFNA responsibilities to the Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence with no apparent accountability.

"Accountability" -- it seems to be a word the meaning of which is unknown within the lay and professional leadership of JFNA. Were it included in the Lingo Guide (yes, that's what they call it) section of the Handbook, it would read something like this:
A        Accountability -- Huh?
Each and every year, the Budget and Finance Committee and Board have been promised documented accountability and have neither demanded any nor received any. Ya' know, they just can't be bothered. This year the Budget actually created measurable goals for the FRD Department. We'll look at how well that's going in a future Post. And FRD at jana appears to be being "run" (if that's what it can be called right now) by a consultant -- an excellent one, but, still, a consultant with a contract no one has ever seen.

Meanwhile, the circus moves on.

Rwexler

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

JFNA AND..."DISSENT"

On April 4, CEO Silverman, in an otherwise excellent riposte to those in the Government of Israel, Knesset members and some Ministers, who have attacked the Conservative and Reform Movements, chose to espouse a new position for JFNA (one having nothing to do with the balance of the Silverman column of the day) under a mailing titled "Dissent Shouldn't Mean Incivility":
"Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, suggests in a recent blog that, rather than being fearful of taking a stand on an important political situation, Jewish leaders and organizations should instead take a position and — just as in the Mishnah — also present an opposing view. “Very simply,” Kurtzer writes, “Publish the dissent. Make the decision, make the case for it, and then publish the dissenting viewpoint or viewpoints.”

Publishing the dissent, he explains, “gives voice to the losing arguments and to those articulating them, and signals confidence, humility, and a wholesale embrace of the dissenters, even in light of the failure of their dissent to become policy.”
Perhaps this was the first outburst of the "Jerry being Jerry" epoch. But, let's remember that just a few months ago, then Smilin' Jerry was applauding JFNA (really applauding himself) for JFNA's restraint during the "Iran deal" debate in taking no position. If I read Silverman's position today -- that was then; this is now. Yes, "rather than being fearful of taking a stand on an important political situation, Jewish leaders and organizations should instead take a position and -- just as in the Mishnah -- also present an opposing view." I admit it's damn hard to discern without Rashi  whether JFNA Jerry now believes JFNA should have taken a position on the Iran Deal or not -- maybe he doesn't know himself. Maybe he has merely conflated an argument against those attacking the non-Orthodox Movements with dissent -- or, most likely, Jerry is irretrievably confused.

And maybe, even probably, the Smilin' One thinks that this is exactly what JFNA has been doing. Yet, the reality has been something quite different -- JFNA has been a place where dissent is not only unwelcome, when offered it has been treated like treason; with the offeror treated with the utmost contempt the organization and its lay and professional leaders could muster. And, of course, the dismissal from JFNA of critics seems to me to have been the ultimate in incivility isn't it?

Nonetheless, you recall a few months ago Silverman went on a rant about the unfortunate and outrageous attack by one of Israel's Chief Rabbi's on an Israeli Minister for attending a class at a Schechter School; and, then, Jerry did as Jerry does, he congratulated himself -- frequently. JFNA Jerry then and now took an easy target, attacked it and, this time, emphasized that this version of "dissent" should not only be tolerated, it should be applauded. And, in his April message quoted above, JFNA Jerry fails to make clear -- does he view the venal statements by Israeli parliamentarians and Ministers as "dissent" or does he wish to characterize his own statements as such? Does he even know?

A suggestion: just as some of the candidates for President require a "minder" assigned to explain what they "really meant;" JFNA Jerry also requires one. I would suggest that Renee Rothstein add to her portfolio the role of interpreter -- each time Jerry adds to his "manifesto" with another confused/confusing public statement, Renee would help us all by saying: "Jerry meant to say..."

And what happens when a more complicated issue arises -- e.g., an Iran Deal --where will JFNA be? I have a sneaking suspicion it won't be "taking a position." Just don't remind them.

Rwexler