Sunday, March 29, 2015

UPDATES

1. AIPAC recently concluded its Policy Conference, which saw its attendance  balloon to an actual 17,000 -- an amazing number. Next year, the conference will move to the Verizon Center, the venue that is the home to the Washington Wizards, the NHL Washington Capitals and numerous concerts and other large events. This year the JFNA GA will be held in a pup tent on the Capital Mall.

2. It is rumored that the dedicated and caring philanthropist who has Chaired JAFI's MASA effort in America for years has tendered her resignation. I think all of you who read this Blog understand at least some of the reasons -- many of which start with the name Alan....How does losing the leadership of one of our greatest philanthropists help JAFI, help our People? Does anything cause leadership to ask "why?"

3. Isn't it about time that CEO Never-Met-A-Consultant-I-Didn't-Like provided the JFNA Board with a list of all of the JFNA consultants and their  compensation? (That's a rhetorical question.) The list would include not just the $308,000 consultant hired by The Alliance, but all consultants paid for their work on the Global Planning Table and, of course, the contract with Debra Smith, including the work (?) she does for CEO Jerry. I would like to see a list year-by-year of all consultants, as I am sure would you. Why not send the list to every JFNA Board member for a little peek behind the black curtain that has been drawn down to shield that which should be, must be transparent.

When I served on the JFNA Executive Committee, I remember well when Joe Kanfer brought in a consulting firm in for what was to be an "interview" in what proved to be a pre-cooked huge deal. (That firm had the chutzpah to bring a token Jew in to the interview who appeared [to me] to not even know why he was there -- ala a Mad Men Season 1 episode.) I asked a few questions as it became more and more obvious that the deal had already been made -- the questions were not appreciated. The Committee did set a limit to that Consultant contract -- a limit that was later totally ignored as JFNA poured $100s of thousands more into the consultant with no process. Today? There is no longer even an Executive Committee in existence but for years since the mess I just described, to my knowledge not one consultant contract had been vetted with the JFNA Executive Committee. The opportunities for abuse and self-dealing are self-evident.

4. I was reflecting on the horrific and threatening language being used in the last weeks by the President of the United States and his Chief of Staff (and unnamed "sources close to the White House") -- what The Wall Street Journal characterized as "Obama's Israel Tantrum" --  in condemnation of the policies and statements of the Israeli Prime Minister (ignoring the reality that the PM has apologized for or backed away from them) -- reflecting back to the moments before Obama's terms began. You remember, it was a time when two critical organizations -- critical to Israel-American relations -- the Conference of Presidents and AIPAC elected Chairs who had significant ties to the new President. And just how'd that work out? These two men had other leadership qualities to be sure, but...really. From the mouths of those now ex-Chairs have you heard a discouraging word about this President's attacks on Netanyahu and Israel -- then or now? I am certain, if you asked, you would be told that the two organizations believed that "quiet diplomacy" works best and that "Obama has Israel's back". The only problem with "quiet diplomacy?" We don't even know whether it's taking place, do we? Where are leaders like Shoshana Cardin today -- those who know they are in office to represent us not to curry favor with the sitting President? And, in the wake of the silence on their watch there came the rise of J-Street. Merely a coincidence that out of the void created by the then silence of two vital leadership organizations emerged a "pro-peace pro-Israel" organization that is, in reality, neither, but to which the Obama White House could begin to tether itself so as to, among other things, weaken the very organizations upon which the organized Jewish community relied. 

Of course, the silence from JFNA could be expected...and that's exactly what we got. More on our, or what was once our, Continental organization's silence in my next Post.

Words have consequences; so does silence.

5. Five days ago, Michael Siegal wrote a passionate summary of the circumstances facing the Jews of the Ukraine. It was a good and brief summary albeit, as friends have pointed out to me, replete with errors, and, as events have continued to cascade, the circumstances facing Jewish communities across Ukraine have grown even more precarious than when Siegal wrote his missive. It spoke to the $2.5 million raised by the Federations to date as if that were (1) a success and (2) the funds were raised by JFNA . Neither is true. (As I recall, $625,000 [or more] of that paltry amount was raised right here in Chicago. JFNA raised nothing...nada...zero.) Michael closed his letter with the following:
"This crisis speaks to the most fundamental reasons that Jewish Federations are so critical. We will not turn away. We are making a difference."
"We are making a difference."  Sorry, Michael, we're not. There should have been a major effort to raise at least $10 million dollars, instead there no effort to raise a thing...JFNA opened a Mailbox, a stinking Mailbox, and sent out some letters, put it on the Website and, apparently, hoped this "problem" would just disappear. The "problem" has just gotten worse and worse and worse. There was no leadership here, there is no leadership here -- not on the professional side, certainly none by the CEO; and, unless Michael believes "letters=leadership," none on the lay side either. Our Board Chair actually believes that if he writes it, it actually happened.

Instead of JFNA "making a difference," JFNA made no difference at all, it just turned away.

6. JFNA is now 15 years old and counting. The two main predecessor organizations -- the Council of Jewish Federations and the United Jewish Appeal -- were distinguished over their eras with great achievements. Tell me this, what have the federations done with JFNA other than owning it? Seriously. Can you name a single achievement? In 15 years? (And trying to wipe out all institutional memory is not an achievement.) And over the last decade? Can you name a single Financial Resource Development effort that even met the lowest possible bar that JFNA's leaders have set? Just look at 5. above. This history is catastrophic. And no one in leadership appears to give a damn.

I do. Many of you do.

Rwexler

Thursday, March 26, 2015

BAD, BADDER, BADDEST

One of my great friends, a brilliant critic of this Blog, a most generous philanthropist, and, from years of leadership service, a keen analyst of our system -- local, national and international, recently wrote to me off-line: "The management issues at JAFI are virtually and completely analogous to those of JFNA, i.e. driving away great professionals while co-opting deeply committed lay leadership." So true. 

And, yet, there are major differences between the two: the Jewish Agency still performs functions of incredible importance to our system, even if the Jewish Agency might perform those functions and operate those programs far better and do a far better job as well of prioritizing, managing and selling them. JFNA, on the other hand, is lost, unable to articulate its purpose(s) or goals and unable to execute the responsibilities that have been assigned to it by our federations and donors.

And their leaders share a common rejection of any and all criticism in the smug, self-serving belief that "all is really going well." Yet, using any fair standard, friends, at 25 Broadway, nothing at all is going right except the delusional belief that all's well. You might have read of a mysterious tunnel discovered in a Toronto park last month -- 33 feet long, fully fitted out with lights, walls, etc. -- and no one knew its purpose, who built it or why. For me this was the "perfect" description of JFNA, fully fitted out with neither beginning nor end and with no evident purpose. Quite the accomplishment.

There are a number of examples of effective, creative and successful professional leadership -- past and present -- at JAFI, at JFNA and most certainly, within our federations where successes can be found, in diminishing numbers, across the Continent. From increased annual campaigns to brilliant new programs -- in lay and professional leadership development, fund-raising Missions, Jewish education, synagogue-federation relations, outreach to intermarrieds, and on and on. The list is a long one. But, at the Continental level it appears that absolutely nothing new is going on -- sure there are excellent conference calls on current events, some nice Seminars for, e.g., planned giving and endowments -- all of which were going on 20 years ago under the banners of CJF, UJA or both -- and we might get a travelogue on some event attended  by our Chair and/or CEO without real insight or analysis. 

But there is no one at JFNA who even understands that if a new program is exposed on a City-size group call on, say, CEO succession (I'll explain what that is later off-line as I know it is a new and unheard of concept!!), there is no understanding that maybe...just maybe...the program could be "Continentalized!" It's a sad reality that even federation "best practices" which JFNA publicly announced would be promoted broadly from 25 Broadway -- nothing...nada...zero.

Yep, it's business as usual at our Continental organization, at JAFI. And that's a bad thing. Don't expect it to get any better.

Rwexler


Monday, March 23, 2015

YEP. JUST WHAT WE NEEDED

I read with interest the impassioned defense of a Jewish Education and Engagement Planning Unit  within and of JFNA in ejewishphilanthropy. http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/a-national-catalyst-for-jewish-education/?utm_source=Feb+17+Tues&utm_campaign=Tue+Feb+17&utm_medium=email
This piece of fiction was written over the by-line of Marcie Orley, the current Chair of the National Federation/Agency Alliance, and, somehow, in its arguments for creating such a Unit within JFNA, to be operated by JFNA, the following claims were made:

  1. Federations are clamoring for just what JFNA proposed here
  2. JFNA is perfectly positioned as the organization of and for the federations to go operational in this area and "...provide direction, guidance and resources to local federations..."
  3. It will operate with "...an active lay advisory committee" and
  4. The Alliance has committed three years of funding at $510,000 per year
Nowhere in Marcie Orley's defense of this indefensible "plan" and the financing thereof is there any mention made of JFNA's woeful support of the now liquidated JESNA -- in fact, it's as if JESNA never existed -- which is exactly how JFNA and the Alliance treated JESNA during JESNA's years of existence. Let's examine the reality of numbered paragraphs 1-4, above:
  1. The Orley article ignores the reality that the Alliance paid $308,000* to an unidentified consultant** to "study" and "report" on the need for this endeavor. Does your federation want the Continental system to pay $510,000 per year of your donors' funds for a Unit of such ambiguity? For a paper Unit lacking any relevant detail? Of course not. But neither JFNA nor the Alliance have much else to do (or, apparently, fund);
  2. JFNA, which has never operated anything, and has succeeded at nothing, apparently has been cloaked with magic powers sufficient to convince the Alliance leadership that it is capable of leading both an educational and an "engagement" effort. If you believe in magic, raise your hand. (The only "magic" I have seen JFNA capable of is their leaders ability to make $30 million disappear each year into thin air.);
  3. JESNA could not operate with an esteemed lay Board with a great educator at the helm, now this Unit won't even have that; it will be strictly a professional-driven effort (I know, lay people just get in the way, they always want information and input). JFNA will be furthering the distance between itself and those who fund it;
  4. The Alliance was created to plan and increase funding for National Agencies. Now it will divert funding from the very National Agencies it was created to Fund to provide significant (but inadequate -- look at JESNA's annual funding requirements [which proved inadequate]) funding away from its so-called "partners" to nothing more than a professional group within JFNA itself. 
Being the cynic I am, and looking at this "effort" from experience, I view the creation of a Unit within JFNA as nothing more than another effort by certain federations to "control" continental Jewish education efforts just as they succeeded in gaining "control" of the Continental organization -- and look how well that has gone. JESNA never received the support it needed because of its very independence from the federations. After all the federations are the smartest guys in the room, aren't they...aren't they?

If JFNA -- not the feeble Alliance, the most feeble JFNA  -- were sincere about the need for a continental approach to Jewish education, I would suggest, with all due respect, that it immediately convene a national discussion on the Jewish Future of Jewish Education in North America, bringing together Jewish educators at all levels, leaders of The Foundation for Jewish Camp, the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and leaders of the PJ Library effort, the leaders of the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation (and others), Jonathan Woocher and other thought leaders in Jewish education, and see what recommendations flow from such a conclave -- I seriously doubt that a recommendation will emerge that JFNA operate a Unit. 

Friends, there are ways to do these things; it's just that JFNA always chooses the wrong one.

Rwexler

* That's $308,000 that could/should have been allocated to a National Agency, the supposed and once the "partners" in the "National Agencies Alliance" but which have now become merely witnesses to the kidnapping of the Alliance by JFNA.

** Just who was this Consultant and why won't the Alliance release his/her name?

Friday, March 20, 2015

LAY PEOPLE ARE SUCH A BOTHER

A recent, and I must say, ridiculous, missive from JFNA further demonstrated how little a role lay leaders now play at our continental fiasco. That bulletin came straight from the hands of two pros, one the leader of JFNA's Marketing and Communications efforts, the other the professional leading the GA effort. The subject: 2015 General Assembly: Community Works. The very theme, in light of this announcement, is as oxymoronic as "airplane food." 

Let me explain to these two fine pros and the rest of the so-called "leaders" of JFNA -- Community Works only...only...where the lay-professional partnership is strong. Many have complained to me that one of the failures of the 2014 GA was that the General Assembly had become nothing more than a captive conference by and for professionals in which lay leaders -- beyond a few meaningless speeches -- were almost totally irrelevant. Now, even the pretense of General Assembly Chairs has gone by the boards -- there are none...yet. Surely there will be and their roles will be "made as instructed." Photo ops, shpil nachas and send out some briefings (kind of like leading a Solidarity Mission, I guess). These brilliant marketing and communications mavens seem to still believe that calling the old "new" makes it so. When, if ever, will they ever learn?

This particular GA communication was so filled with jargon (for example:  "GA 2014 was the first step toward a more intentional and  collaborative approach to how we create the GA – a trend we aim to continue in 2015." Really? A "more intentional...approach?" Huh? What? And "collaborative" -- does that mean JFNA pros "collaborating" with each other? Or FEDovation -- "so nice we're doing it twice") and so lacking in everything of substance, all I could think of was that some Large City Executive said: "You have to send out something on the GA right now" -- so staff did -- and this thing was really "something" when one remembers that at JFNA "black" is "white" and "something" is "nothing." 

Think about it: the recently concluded AIPAC Conference -- 16,000; the last GA -- 1,300, if that.  Is this how the federation system wishes to be perceived? I recall hearing the constant argument against making the GA an every-other-year event as: "If the federation system gives up the annual GA, some other organization will step right in..." Sure, "other organizations" are salivating at the very thought of hosting an annual conference that attracts maybe...maybe...1,300 persons a year for maybe a day-and-one-half. Sure there are!!

If this "alert" is the beginning of what one would hope would be a GA with take home value (other than the value of the schmooze), you can forget it...again. Trust that this mailing from two professionals -- essentially a bulked-up "Save the Date" -- will attract no one to this same old-same old act in the now permanent venue of Washington D.C. (even though the hotel this time is actually in the District). I am a firm believer in "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" -- but there has been vast consensus that the GA has been broken for at least a decade, it needs to be "fixed"...right now...yesterday. 16,000:1,300....16,000:1,300. 

If the GA were the only example of the exclusion of lay persons from their proper role in setting policies side-by-side with the professional partners who will execute them, one might say it's nothing more than an aberration. But, of course, it is not. For example, the recent decision by JFNA to create an Education Unit within the futile National Agencies Alliance -- a recommendation flowing from an unknown consultant's study (at a reported cost of $300,000+) -- the Unit as designed would have no lay oversight, just a lay "advisory committee." I guess the initial $510,000 budget will be reviewed by Jerry (!). Or the elimination of all Vice-Chairs as well as the Chair of the Executive. More and more lay leaders have been pushed to the curb -- you would almost think that JFNA's professionals had proved themselves capable at all in running the organization. They haven't.

At a time that cries out for greater lay involvement, the current crop of lay leaders have agreed themselves to less engagement by the fewer. Does this make any sense to you?

This is exactly how Jewish non-profits get into trouble. Not a problem for JFNA...it is already in trouble...and the GA is JFNA in microcosm.

Rwexler

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

CHICKENS ROOSTING

OK, let's talk tachlis, shall we; let's talk about allocations. JFNA/UIA has decided to embark on a program called Chaverim: engaged a terrific and energetic Chair  for this effort and is ready to send lay people, ostensibly trained albeit hurriedly, into those federations which will have them to advocate for increased core (and, I presume, designated) allocations for the Jewish Agency.  There is great enthusiasm at JFNA/UIA for Chaverim and most of the JFNA/UIA JAFI Board members have signed on -- and therein lies the rub. More about that program and the "rub" in a moment.

First, let's review where we are:

  1. As anyone who reads this Blog regularly knows, core allocations and allocations/designated in the aggregate have hit an all-time low;
  2. JFNA has managed the "allocations process"  by doing absolutely no allocations advocacy for the past decade  -- not since the short-lived effort led by Jane Sherman and Doron Krakow so many, many years ago;
  3. For the past two years, the Global Planning Table has arrogated to itself the advocacy function for the overseas partners -- and has done absolutely nothing beyond reporting the annual dystopian failures;
  4. The GPT Partnership Committee (the equivalent of Kathy Manning acting unilaterally) determined that the allocations division between JDC and JAFI would no longer be a 75/25% division JAFI/JDC but would instead be a dollar division which...drum roll please...would equal a 75/25% split(??); and
  5. JDC, having finally tired of the fiction of advocacy as written by JFNA, the GPT or both, has unilaterally acted, sending its professionals into the communities and making its pitch for communities one-by-one to determine their own allocations, even giving federations instructions on how to go about the process concluding with communities directing JFNA as to how communal funds be distributed without offset.
Into this mess steps JFNA/UIA with its Chaverim. And, here's the problem, that "rub," beyond 1-5, above (and beyond the threshold question of how can JFNA engage in advocacy for only one of the historic partners to the exclusion of the other): the members of Chaverim, all well-meaning lay leaders and all passionate supporters of the Jewish Agency, in the main come from communities whose allocations support of the Jewish Agency is below the national/continental average for communities of like size. This is a big problem, it is an example of the law of unintended consequences: if you are from Community A, and come to my Community B, to urge us to allocate more to JAFI, you damn well better assure that your Community A can rationalize its own terrible allocation and it had better be higher, a lot higher, than mine. 

I recall when, during the pre-merger era, I got a call from one of my best friends in Jewish communal life, a terrific leader, who told me: "Richard, this is so great. I was just asked by UIA (yep, even back then) to Chair an Advocacy Committee for JAFI."  Taken aback, but thrilled for my friend, I responded: "That's great; UIA could not have chosen better. But your own federation has been reducing its allocation precipitously. How could you come to Chicago, for example, and ask us to increase our allocation when the first question you would get is how much does your own federation allocate?" And, there's the "rub." That UIA effort came to naught; I fear for this one. But, at least one organization has taken the bit in its teeth and appears to be doing something...anything...anxious to do everything and anything that it can.

So, here's what I would suggest: it's a simple "physician, heal thyself." Each "chaver" would need to do one session and one session only for starters: advocate for an increased allocation to JAFI core from his or her own federation. Nothing more, nothing less. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that "an expert is someone from out-of-town," but if a chaver can't be the best advocate in his/her own community, how effective can he/she be one outside that community? 

The answer to that question seems pretty damn clear. Otherwise this well-meaning initiative will be nothing more than another illusory time-waster. For all involved.

Rwexler

Saturday, March 14, 2015

SHOOT THE MESSENGER

Behind the cloak of anonymity, a Commentator to our Post on the Jewish Agency and MASA, offered the following:
"so what's wrong with the decision to get a full report for oversight review and take it from there? don't you think we should have the facts before us to evaluate before coming to conclusions and acting one way or another.
in your zealousness to correct some bad things you are ending up attacking and destroying the reputations of some good programs and organizations and causing damage to the good along with the bad.
maybe it's time to stop the shotgun approach and become a bit more directed to specific targets - this chemotherapy is damaging not only the bad elements but the whole collective system (what's left of it)!" 
This got me to thinking, as I have heard these accusations before:

Yes, it's true, if it hadn't been for the last National Jewish Population Study, we would have no inter-marriage crisis in the United States. And, if it weren't for this G-d forsaken Blog and real reporters in the independent Jewish media, just think:
  • JFNA would be the Garden of Eden some of its leaders actually believe it is;
  • Jerry Silverman would be considered to be a competent CEO;
  • The Global Planning Table would be transformational in changing Jewish life across the Globe;
  • MASA would be doing just fine, thank you, with no perceptible oversight;
  • Federation allocations to JAFI/JDC/World ORT would be as great as Federation CEOs believe them to be;
  • None of the New York non-profits that have been at the center of news of corruption and a lack of oversight would have any difficulties;
  • Etc., etc., etc.

Yep, think how great things would be if you and I knew just what our leaders want us to know -- almost nothing -- and nothing more...great for them that is. 

My Anonymous friend points to a flaw he/she has identified in the reporting on these pages -- that I use a blunderbuss when a rifle would be more productive. I am not certain that I fully understand the charge inasmuch as I believe that these Posts have been pretty damn specific as to those I hold responsible for the damage done and being done to our communities and to the "whole collective system (what's left of it)."

And, so it is, that as long as abuses continue to threaten the very existence of some of my/our treasured institutions, I will highlight them even as the leaders of these institutions turn away and refuse even to acknowledge the possibility that their nonfeasance threatens the institutions they have been elected/chosen to lead. And I will do so until these leaders stand up, confess error and lead.

Sorry.

Rwexler

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

MASA AND THE NEED FOR OVERSIGHT

This is bad...

A not-so-funny thing happened on the way out of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meetings last month. Appropriately, lay leadership, after revelations about the reality of how MASA millions were being spent in ejewishphilanthropy and on the pages of this Blog and their own suspicions -- millions spent on...exactly what?? -- Board members developed a resolution calling for an Oversight Committee for MASA.

Sounds like a good idea to me and, probably, you. (Of course, there is a serious question why JFNA/UIA hasn't been exercising oversight all along -- that's UIA's obligation under a series of IRS Revenue Rulings...but we will get back to that.) Yet, in an open meeting, after apparent support across a broad section of the Board for the Resolution, the beleaguered JAFI Director General, yes Alan Hoffmann, offered an epic diatribe opposing "further" oversight. Here is his argument as I have come to understand it: MASA is operated through a "Public Benefit Company;" that Company does oversight; the JAFI "Companies Committee"  does oversight of the financials; and as the Government of Israel is the lead funder, it must be doing oversight -- therefore, this "logic" went, it would be inappropriate for JAFI (or presumably JFNA/UIA) to "oversee the existing oversight." Of course, the totality of this outburst was totally specious -- Hoffmann just doesn't want anyone or anything doing real oversight that he does not control. 

But...why? Well, friends, here is one possible reason. It's painful to report that as I have learned from sources within JAFI, of 11,500 students enrolled in MASA, almost 4,000 (3,950) are from Orthodox Yeshivot -- 35% -- not including Orthodox Bnai Akiva program participants. But this is neither a criticism of the disproportionate enrollment of Yeshiva students in MASA nor is it a criticism of the subsidies provided Orthodox student s through many other MASA program; what has been brought to my attention is that many of these Yeshivot did not apply the JAFI MASA funding to lower the cost of tuition -- they either maintained tuition at the prior levels or raised it and thereby absorbed the MASA funding directly into their operating budgets. The participants, the intended beneficiaries of the MASA subsidies, in those cases did not receive the subsidy.

MASA has been the single largest annual JAFI programmatic expenditure. $25 million from the Jewish Agency budget matches by $25 million from the Government of Israel. Yet, there is resistance to greater oversight from JAFI's Director General?

Meanwhile the most painful part of all of this this is that the Agency has cut crucial program after crucial program to maintain zero cuts to MASA (until this year, where it took a modest cut to accommodate a lower number of participants); no Hebrew Ulpanim in the former Soviet Union; cuts to youth villages in Israel; cuts to Jewish identity education in the former Soviet Union; absorption centers, aliyah and education emissaries, kids in Summer Camps in the FSU and Youth Futures -- all cut. Were all or a substantial portion of these cuts made to fund Yeshivot.  MASA is and has been run by JAFI's Zionist Education Department and has been under Alan Hoffmann's "oversight" since Day 1. This fiasco, if true, goes right up the JAFI food chain. What did Natan know and when did he know it? This is the best/worst evidence of the need for oversight -- perhaps for an audit independent of the Jewish Agency itself.

So, Hoffmann fought any "additional" oversight but, under the circumstances above, one might question the credibility of what is claimed to be the current oversight. And, then there was this...JFNA's Jerry Silverman, perhaps worrying that someone might recommend oversight of JFNA itself -- something the JFNA lay leadership just hasn't been doing at all -- at least initially embarrassed himself (and, thereby JFNA, as always) by supporting Hoffmann in opposition to further oversight at the JA Board meetings. I guess he forgot that almost the totality of Diaspora funding of MASA comes from the federations which, if they knew what the hell was really going on at MASA, would demand not just oversight but also a forensic accounting. Silverman's objection to intensive...some might say "any"... oversight might be astonishing given his organization's fiduciary obligations but, look, it's Jerry. He so badly needs to have this explained to him -- but by whom exactly? Michael Siegal? Steve Hoffman? Puhleez. 

Maybe Jerry JFNA-Will-Die-If-the-GPT-Fails had forgotten that the GPT's J-Quest, the "Signature Initiative" that remains (and given JFNA's track record will forever remain) unfunded, is expected to tie into the GOI "Initiative" and is, in large measure, a MASA funding "Initiative" -- you would think that Silverman would recognize the value in the "selling" of MASA to be able to assure complete oversight; you would think Hoffmann would want the same thing...but, after all, it's Jerry and Alan. One probably doesn't understand it; the other just doesn't want it.

After the debate on the floor of the Board of Governors, here is what we ended up with:
"Statement...
"Whereas MASA is a premier program which the Jewish Agency operates in partnership with the Government of Israel;
Whereas MASA represents an important partnership with participants, federations, donors and the State of Israel;
Whereas the Board of Governors has a fiduciary responsibility for MASA;
Therefore MASA will submit a full report to the Committee including criteria for programs and financial expenditures and any further information requested by the committee. The Committee will convene to discuss the report and determine next steps."
In other words...nothing. Now, let's get back to JFNA/UIA. Here is the one organization that, while its leaders have some ambitious and expansive plans for UIA, knows what its responsibilities and obligations are by law -- to approve the application of American contributions to JAFI and to provide direct and continuing oversight of the expenditure of those funds as well as the advocacy for and the monitoring of the US Refugee Grant, and project implementation and oversight. UIA's Executive Vice-Chair, its Executive Director as it were, Danny Allen, has known, through his prior experience in the position and now, that UIA must monitor and oversee JAFI's budget and programs, including MASA -- UIA does not need a special resolution to do so. Rich Bernstein, UIA Chair and an esteemed lawyer, would know this as well and argue for it were he not so absorbed in his self-selected role as advocate for the Government of Israel Special Initiative (even though the drafting and negotiation of the "definitive agreement" are in the hands of outside counsel hired for those purposes). 

So, I would suggest that UIA immediately if not sooner assure the Federation system that it is engaged in total and intensive oversight of all Jewish Agency programs including MASA. And, if Alan Hoffmann objects, or if UIA's oversight is impeded, that American federation funds for MASA be frozen until UIA has done its work and released its findings.

It's time for this interference with oversight to stop...period. We have to be able to have full confidence in our institutions. If Hoffmann and/or Silverman don't get it, they should go.

Rwexler


Sunday, March 8, 2015

CAN'T WE ALL JUST BE FRIENDS?

In an Anonymous Comment to the recent JAFI CIRCLES THE DRAIN Posts, a well-meaning correspondent suggested the title to this Post when he/she wrote:
"Please, everybody! While we can all agree that those calling the shots are not in every case the right folks, we need to also agree that there are institutional and structural issues that lead us to serial boo-boos and disasters. A little less focus on dishing complicit colleagues and more appreciation of our institutional cultural failings would, IMHO, be a more productive and, yes, civil way to proceed."
While I object to the sense that speaking truths can be called "dishing" or dissing, and I would applaud a broad and civil dialogue, could I convene such I would do so -- readers know that I and those within our system, such as it is, having been asking for just that for years to no avail. And, of course, the world would be such a better place, wouldn't it if we all could "just be friends." And, in fact, that desire may be the very reason that our organizations -- international, continental and local -- are in such horrible, horrible condition today. We are so ready to ignore the "serial boo-boos (seriously, who writes like this) and disasters" that we perpetuate, even encourage, them. 

In the interest of sh'lom bayit we are constantly told to shut up and "join the team" and, if not, lech l'azazel. At the very core of the corrupt practices that we see splayed across the pages of JTA, The Forward and The Jewish Week, is this attitude of "hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil." We are in the era in which a tyranny of silence reigns supreme. Speaking out, dissenting, seeking debate, uh uh. The mere thought of a leadership comprised of a "Team of Rivals" out of the creative tension of which might flow great ideas, are you kidding? 

Friends, those publications which have delved into the truths about the rot that has eroded the trust in our institutions have actually been responsible in a perverse way for the growth of the Federation-owned press in so many of our communities, those "papers" dedicated only to self-promotion and sunshine, never letting truth-telling get in the way if the news might be considered, G-d forbid, "bad" (i.e., "negative"). These sanitized publications, often employing excellent writers, may make the communal or national or continental lay leadership feel great about themselves, but like the green grass in the film Blue Velvet, that thin veneer only hides the vermin and worms eating away underneath -- and, then, only hides that reality for the shortest of times.

I think we all have seen what I would define as dissent putschism -- the often subtle, often less than subtle, removal from leadership ranks of those who fail to stick to the script, raise questions, stray from the "righteous path," go "off message." You can answer as well as I, perhaps better, whether our institutions, absent any and all dissent, are the better off. I think you know what I think.

What my Anonymous friend quoted above misses is that, in the main, in the vast majority of instances, "our institutional cultural failings" are the direct and clear result of "complicit colleagues" stifling that very dissent that might -- just might -- make our institutions stronger. When dissent is stifled inside the tent, it has no place to go but outside. For some, many of them my friends, the "right path" has been the one of no dissent, no separation of truth from the bulls..t being served daily by those who pass for "leaders" today. And those "leaders" truly believe in the practice of obscurantism to the nth degree, and their "success" in that area is neither to their credit nor to that of JFNA or whatever institution they serve.

Some have convinced themselves that what they are hearing is true and that has served their ambitions well; others know what the truth is but "going along" is just so much easier.

When Dan Brown, the terrific thought leader, sought submissions to his creation ejewishphilanthropy in the hopes of creating a civil dialogue that might lead to transformational change, JFNA and UIA leaders were said to have urged, publicly in some instances, but mainly in the usual silent places, that no one submit a paper. While one brilliant paper emerged from leaders in Houston, even in the public arena of the ejp there was silence, the ever-gaping void. The tyranny of silence reigned; the obscurantists prevailed. When I think of JFNA leadership, I do despair; yes, when I think about Michael Siegal, I think of the words of Gov. Mario Cuomo citing President Bill Clinton: "My job is to get to yes. If I don't get a deal, I get nothing done. If I get nothing done, I am a failure. If the objective is to make a nice speech, it means nothing." Michael, you are the master of the "nice speech," the frequent impassioned Briefing -- you've proved that leadership can equate to nothing.

The incredible philanthropist, Michael Steinhardt, probably known as the most creative and most cantankerous of the mega-donors, often the most generous among all, always willing and able to speak his mind, recently addressed a number of issues to an audience of over 3,000 (a real 3,000, not the JFNA kind), of BBYO/BBG -NFTY and other teen organization reps in convention in Atlanta. Michael addressed many of the issues we have tried to point to -- organizations and leaders who are long past their "use by" dates, leaders who are likewise. He urged these future leaders, including my granddaughter, to act not like so many of the tired, vacuous Jewish leadership of today but instead to act boldly and to "challenge the status quo." He admonished these young people to ignore the criticism which will surely follow the new ideas and initiatives they can create. Oh, were it only to be.

What if Michael Steinhardt challenged his fellow philanthropist Michael Siegal, JFNA Chair, to actually lead; to actually be the agent for transformational change at JFNA. Would Siegal listen? Could Michael Siegal be stirred to lead us through real change after two plus years of just watching the world go by? Of mouthing speeches and attaching his name to Briefings and thinking that those are real accomplishments? But change is what is needed -- Siegal knows it, you know it. Just can't be bothered.

Rwexler


Thursday, March 5, 2015

THE SILLY SEASON

As we celebrate Purim, it is critical that I preface the clickbait below with a caution: these brief "shpiels" are all true:

1. When communal leaders speak of the "tension" between federations and their agencies, they might wish to ponder a recent event in Los Angeles. As reported in the LA Jewish Journal, last fall the LA Federation CEO, Jay Sanderson, attended a Board meeting with a JCC -- called Hillel 818 -- with a $300,000 budget of which Federation provided $215,000. Jay reportedly told the assembled leadership:
"Fire yourselves and allow Federation and Hillel International to help select new board members and a new director or Federation won't fund Hillel 818 for the upcoming...year."
Earlier last year, when the LA Federation "disapproved" of the promotion of a Hillel 818 professional, it withheld all funds until that leader, elected by the JCC Board, was gone.

Ultimately, this change of leadership at a Hillel serving 8,000 students may turn out to be for the best. Short term, it is clear that the broader community anywhere is ill-served where Federation plays the heavy, the Goliath to the agency David. In this case, Federation leverage trumped Federation judgment. Was there a better way? We'll never know.

2. Speaking of "judgment" (or the lack thereof)...It was recently reported that the Milwaukee Jewish Federation's CEO, who seems bound and determined to turn that Federation from its core purposes, joined a "...group of US activists offering to take 100 lashes each in place of a Saudi blogger punished for criticizing his country's clerics..." as reported in The Algeminer. That federation's fund raising is down the tubes, its allocations for Israel and overseas needs reduced in a Draconian matter (as I have written about before) -- the community needs a professional leader committed to the communal values inherent in federation qua federation. Maybe this CEO, so dedicated to liberal values could better serve Milwaukee by switching roles and becoming the Milwaukee Community Relations Council Director. (Perhaps it was in that guise that this person found the time to travel to Paris on the recent JFNA Solidarity Mission.)

3. In a Post a few weeks ago, on the sad, sad state of JFNA/federation cash efforts in 2014, I footnoted that JFNA itself footnoted its own data: 'Unrestricted for (JAFI/JDC included in electives" and asked for some help in understanding this JFNA-speak. Here is how this was explained to me:
"Many federations are fed up with the lack of (JFNA) willingness to adjust the split. Instead of sending the organizations 'designated' elective funds they are sending portions of their reduced core funds as 'designated' to the agencies of their choice and calling (those) elective funds."
Strange, isn't it, that one of the basic themes of federation ownership of the totality of the continental system was "trust" -- that with ownership would come trust. Now, we are finding that with this leadership, trust has so eroded that federations are finding their own way -- with allocations, with cash, with everything.

4. In its Search for a new CEO in Buffalo, JFNA cited the benefits, among them: "Known for more than just its wings, Buffalo today is at the center of innovation and entrepreneurship." The promotion piece concluded "And here in Buffalo, traffic simply doesn't exist." Yep, come to Buffalo...no traffic/great wings.

5. While raising no money for Jews most in need, JFNA has time to fiddle. A FOB sent me a JFNA Facebook entry:
A lively moment in the halls of Jewish Federations of North America; today, a small film crew has descended on our area to set up for a Passover video. Rumor has it that there will lots of cute kids in the video, and riffs on the Passover Four Questions to highlight the flavor of the holiday and the importance of generosity, both of spirit and in supporting Federation so it can support Jewish needs around the world."
[update] Adorable kids are here. And you know it's been a long time since last Passover, since they're genuinely excited to nibble on matzah."
I am not making this stuff up. Wish I were.

6. ... and, also, not so "silly." If you were at or on the phone for the recent JFNA Board meeting, you heard serious questions being raised about the implications of reducing the number of Vice Chairs  to one -- the implications for leadership engagement, representation, etc. As it became clear that this move to further delimit leadership had not been fully thought through, JFNA's leaders essentially told the Board to cease its questioning because. and this was dumb, not silly, the JFNA Executive Committee had approved this change. This is how this leadership thinks. This is why federations, even those paying their full Dues, are going their own way more and more and more.

7. And, in closing...according to the Chinese calendar, 700 million Chinese have caught up with the JFNA Board... for on the Chinese Calendar, the Year of the Sheep has just begun. At JFNA that's this and every Year.

Stay tuned.


Rwexler

To those of you who have asked offline and on the phone whether you have ever heard back from either Siegal or Silverman after my open invitations to each, the answer on this Purim holiday is...nope.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

PURIM SHPIEL

Friends, late yesterday we received one of the most ridiculous in a history of the ridiculous: a letter from Michael and Jerry letting us know that they attended Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to Congress. Then they summarized the speech all of us had seen along with a brief mention of Samantha Powers' speech at the AIPAC Assembly. The letter closed with an expression of their hopes for any final deal with Iran.

I got the same letter from my Senator.

It's all true.

That was it. I am so glad Michael and Jerry were there; I am always pleased to know where they are. This is what they do. This is almost all they do. I live vicariously through them. And I hope they will let us know where they will be tomorrow, the next day and the day after that. 

That's all.

Happy Purim.

Rwexler