Sunday, August 2, 2015

A PLEA

Three days ago I wrote a Post about the absurd futility of Financial Resource Development at JFNA and many, many of you turned the discussion to an often angry, often vituperative tirade about respective positions on the Iran Deal. It was not nearly the intelligent discussion we often have on these pages.

Friends, we find ourselves, individually and collectively, in the midst of a damaging firefight, as American Jews are gathered in a circular firing squad ready to fire...and firing...at each other. In my memory, which as you know goes back a long, long way, never have I seen our Jewish mishpacha so divided; so divided against ourselves. Too many of us, way too many, have come to view the Iran Deal "debate" as a zero sum game and we, as a Jewish polity, are being badly, badly damaged.

Setting aside your opinions on Ambassador Michael Oren's book, Ally, today's circumstances and internal bickering remind me of Oren's retelling of a visit to Washington by Prime Minister Netanyahu, where Oren brought the leadership of the Republican Jewish Coalition and the National Jewish Democratic Council together with the PM. As Oren described it, this so-called "leadership," ignored the Prime Minister, and just began screaming at and over each other until Oren intervened at the top of his voice. The bi-partisanship that used to characterize American Jewish political engagement has been sacrificed at the alter of partisanship -- "you are either with us or we're against you." Yes, we can thank the Obama Administration for part of this conversion; but, at the end of the day, we truly have ourselves to blame. Those of us on the far right within the Jewish polity, mainly Republicans but not all, think nothing about characterizing those of us who are progressive, liberal Jews, mainly Democrats but not all, as abandoning Israel, fearing characterization as "Fifth Columnists," and similar. Aipac is being weakened not by the histrionics of John Kerry, but by us...by us, and stands accused by some of you of embracing this dispute with our government as a cynical fund raising ploy while "pressuring federations." Meanwhile the leaders of JFNA are in their usual position -- cowering in a corner for fear someone will demand to know the organization's position when, as always, it has none. And, many consider having no position to be the best place to be and condemn all those on either side.

The partisanship doesn't end there. When one of those Congressmen who has historically been a strong, strong supporter of Israel, vote-after-vote, Sander Levin, indicated early-on that he would vote in favor of the "Iran Deal," friends of mine sent out vile and vituperative e-mails and texts stating, in effect, "we will get him" in the next election. This is what we are doing toward our friends. Favor the Deal? You're "J-Street;" you're "anti-Israel." Oppose the Deal? You're "pro-War." There is no middle ground; there is only the screeching of the Carolyn Glicks on one hand and the screed of the Jeremy Ben-Amis on the other. Pick a side or you're with the enemy; pick a side and you are the enemy. It's all shrill; it's all shameful.

Friends, it's going to be nigh impossible for the Jewish polity to pull back together when the current issue subsides, as it will, into history. Things might be different if anyone at all had sufficient respect at our communal and national institutions to be listened to and if those self-same leaders had the courage to speak out, to demand that we find unifying principles around which we...all of us...could coalesce and go forward. But, of course, all of this is happening at a time that our organizational leadership apparently command no respect whatsoever.

In a rational world each of us and all of us might examine the Iran Deal and understand that there are arguments both pro and con (yes, I wrote that); perhaps stronger on one side than the other, but certainly pro and con. That kind of understanding should lead to a civil discussion among intelligent Jewish men and women but it doesn't and it hasn't -- not in the media and not in so many of your Anonymous Comments on this subject on the pages of this Blog and elsewhere. We need leaders today who will urge us to first reject the extremists on both the left and the right so that we can have serious, reasoned discussion and debate. The time for pointing fingers at each other in our communities must come to an end.

Yes, I long for that day when our leaders were men and women of such strength that they would and could move us toward tolerance and civility in our public (and private) statements. On these pages I have often longed for the leadership of a Shoshana Cardin...but, instead we are afflicted with human weakness, men and women who believe that placing their heads in the sand rather than standing tall is leadership; men and women who have done nothing to merit the respect that would obligate us to listen. So...they...do...nothing. They are waiting for someone else.

Sigh.

Rwexler

Thursday, July 30, 2015

SERIOUSLY...DOES ANYONE KNOW (OR CARE) WHAT'S GOING ON?

It just gets worse.

You may recall that when Jerry-being-Jerry was still unaware of what JFNA would be, his predecessor, demanding absolute fealty, began constructively terminating the entire Financial Resource Development professional staff. One after another, superb professionals were forced out -- each of whom landed on her/his feet, thank G-d, and each has proved their professional brilliance in other venues. To demonstrate how totally removed JFNA distanced itself from its  core responsibilities to "raise more dollars/more donors," that CEO, before his contract was not renewed, placed FRD in the hands of the professional leader of what was then "UJC Consulting."

And...then came Silverman.

Jerry Silverman continued the emasculation of continental fund raising, rebranding it as "Philanthropic Resources," assuring that the organization was only in charge of cheer leading, and leaving the professional void to fester and grow. Then, as if there had been some message from on high, JFNA announced the hiring of, first, Matt Freedman, an experienced campaigner from the Baltimore federation, and Dr. Rueben Romirowsky, from the New York UJA-Federation. Yet, these two pros had to make it up as they went along -- there was no leadership to offer them guidance or support their efforts. Last year, Freedman left and, now...

...on two weeks notice, after professionally leading the JFNA 2015 Campaign Chairs/Campaign Directors Mission, Dr. Rueben Romirowsky, Senior Vice-President, Philanthropic Resources, appeared to have been summarily terminated, told to vacate his office two weeks later. Now, I don't know if Rueben was doing a great or competent or terrible job -- I do know that he never had a chance with a CEO who viewed FRD as an after-thought in a system that desperately needs a vital continental FRD effort. And, then, two weeks to vacate his office? How about two weeks for "Jerry-being-Jerry" vacating his?

Silverman, in announcing Romirowsky's departure,* endorsed the engagement of Vicki Agron, once the Continental system's professional leader of Financial Resource Development, to ostensibly lead a consulting effort to try to make sense out of the moribund JFNA FRD effort:
"A consultant to or having advised scores of local, national and international Jewish non-profits, Vicki comes well prepared for this consulting assignment.  We look forward to her help in building a top notch team and aligning JFNA’s fundraising support services to meet Federation needs that will serve us well into the future.  She will begin on August 3."**
I wish Vicki every success just as I predicted on these pages the disaster her departure from JFNA in 2008 meant for FRD in the organization. But will she be able to "...help in building a top notch team and aligning JFNA's fundraising support services to meet federation needs" when those she may try to attract realize that they will be reporting, ultimately, to Jerry "We-Don't-Raise-No-Money-and-Never-Will" Silverman?

Upon discovering this latest example of dysfunction at 25 Broadway, one clever Blog Commentator wrote:
"FedWorld July 28 2015 NewsFlash

"JFNA's roadmap to fundraising has been paved. Agron is Back! Yes, Vicki Agron is back on the team and disco is en vogue. Agron will be flanked by Max Kleinman, retired CEO of MetroWest and Bob Aronson, the same from Detroit. What a team!! Jerry, you got vision! It's been heard that Jeronamoe is in the process of bringing back Elton Kerness and David Agronin. Stanley Horowitz was unavailable. What's old is new. Now that's a Fedovation! Hashem help us."
These names brought back many memories. Then...I thought, how cynical it is that Silverman, knowing that now that there is no one populating FRD at JFNA, reaches out to Vicki Agron so that he can claim that he has "a plan;" when, of course, he, as always, has none. Absolutely none. And, you, Michael Siegal, do you have even a clue at how you continue to be played? Do you read what's on the Memos/Briefings you sign?

 When JFNA reached out to Fort Worth's Harold Gernsbacher, a truly good man, as National Campaign Chair, I don't know what Harold was promised, but, whatever it was, here's what he's got -- a totally defenestrated FRD/Philanthropic Resources Department with, allegedly, a huge budget...and no staff. The JFNA 2015-2016 Budget allocated $17,718,000 to "FRD Impact Program Expenses." With no staff. "Inspiring Major Gifts" alone would double under that Budget to $7,000,000. With no staff.*** A joke. It appeared to this writer that all JFNA did was take a Financial Resource Development "Business Plan" drafted by a National Campaign Chair with no evident engagement in National Campaign planning or execution (he was not even on the JFNA Campaign Cabinet) and incorporated it into the JFNA Budget as if it were real...that may have made the National Campaign Chair feel great; but it...meant...nothing.

And...here is where JFNA stands: it has no senior professionals in Financial Resource Development; the Senior professional at the Network...gone; the long-serving Senior professional of Planned Giving and Endowment...gone -- there is nobody home...nobody. It is as if Rieger and Silverman (the latter with the connivance of Paul Kane -- finally we know what Kane was doing there) decided to destroy the Continental FRD effort -- one, Rieger, with intent; the other, Silverman, through willful negligence. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall....Never have so few done so so much damage to so many.

Based on the evidence that the worse Jerry Silverman does, the more he deserves, let's give "Jerry-being-Jerry" another contract extension.

Rwexler

* For reasons unclear, both Silverman and Michael Siegal sent out the identical letter over their respective signatures to apparently different constituencies. 
** It is unbelievable but Silverman/Siegal announced that Vicki Agron will begin her consulting role on August 3 -- Reuben Romirowsky vacates his office on August 2. I guess to the master mismanager this is "continuity."
*** There is one senior campaign staffer remaining at 25 Broadway -- Beverly Woznica, who leads the "Recognition Societies" effort, a superb professional,

Monday, July 27, 2015

JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED...POTENTIAL CHAOS?

Sheldon Adelson with the ubiquitous, as described by The Forward "celebrity Rabbi" Shmuely Boteach at his side, and Adam Milstein, a co-founder of the Israel-American Council, gathered a bunch of organization leaders to Las Vegas a some weeks ago with the promise of a rain of tens of millions to lead the fight against BDS on campus "if they are unified." A number of organizations did not rush to Vegas to hear how Boteach would lead such an effort through a newly-formed Campus Maccabees. Pretty soon the number of anti-BDS on-campus efforts will be running into one another on campuses around the Continent -- maybe the agents of the Campus Maccabees will outnumber the students they seek to aid. 

The question must be asked, are these the right people, are these right groups to lead possibly the most important effort, combating the most invidious attack on Israel's economic existence and Israel's position among the family of nations? And, while among the organizations that did not attend the Adelson-Boteach Vegas "Summit" -- the system's own Israel Action Network, the system's Hillel, and the always silent JFNA (if any possible controversy might attach to any position it might take, it stands mute, as you may have observed), among others -- will the federation system, if it even exists anymore, have any role? And, if not, why not?

Of course, any activity in which mega-donor Sheldon Adelson decides to put his substantial economic weight behind is shadowed by his political views -- domestic or with regard to Israel -- right or wrong (or more right), whether one agrees with them or not. I can think of no "contribution" that Adelson has made -- political or charitable -- in which he has not demanded "control." This has been true with his annual Republican "summit" demanding fealty to his positions on Israel; true with his incredible contributions to Taglit-Israel, he demanded the termination of the then CEO and installed his "man" (a terrific leader); true in his home community where the community has sacrificed two excellent federation CEOs to Adelson's demands -- and probably true elsewhere as well. Or will Adelson use the BDS issue to further strengthen the involvement of his (yes, I chose the possessive intentionally) Israeli American Council in domestic Jewish affairs? The announcement last week that the professional leader of the Campus Maccabees will be the head of Christians United for Israel seems to answer the question of whether this campus effort will somehow reflect its founder's/funder's political views -- not in a good way, no matter this chosen professional's leadership skills.

Who knows who attended this Adelson "summit?" What we do know is that the recipe for on-campus chaos has been brewed while our central organizations...who knows where the hell they are. Then there's the Jewish National Fund chewing up yardage on the federations' side of the field wherever one looks. As The Jewish Week reported:
"The Jewish National Fund (JNF), better known for planting trees in Israel, announced Monday the creation of a $100 million Israel advocacy center intended to help Jewish high school and college students advocate for Israel and fight BDS. The center was launched through an estate gift by the late John and Dora Boruchin, California real-estate developers and Holocaust survivors."
JNF will not be standing on the sidelines...but how will they coordinate their $100 million program with the Adelson effort, if at all? Don't know do we?

And, JFNA. You remember as I do that late last Summer, Jerry "We-Are-All-Over-This-BDS-Thing" Silverman was patting himself on the back once again (does his arm ever tire??) this time as JFNA, we were told, was the convener of all of the players in the campus anti-BDS effort. Then, as usual, as the applause died out, it turned out that JFNA actually did and was doing nothing. Maybe they meant that the IAN was doing so but the IAN is woefully underfunded given the challenges it faces 24/7. And the Jewish Agency is dispatching twice the number of its Israel Fellows to campuses across the country. Soon, I can picture a campus scenario where the Adelson Maccabees are recruiting JAFI Fellows who are recruiting JNF staffers to join the anti-BDS efforts while Jewish students watch in amazement at the confusion these efforts can create.

Meanwhile, once again, and as usual, our organization (which is hardly ours) is caught with its head in the sand while others fall all over each other funding and doing what we should be. Oh, that Adelson-Boteach Campus Maccabee "Initiative" by invitation only event? IAN and the Israel on Campus Coalition "decided not to attend." 

Will anyone at JFNA's IAN even attempt to coordinate with JNF's new incredibly well-funded effort or the Adelson Initiative the funding for which is far less, for example, than the tens of millions Sheldon and Miriam Adelson contributed to keep Newt Gingrich in the Presidential race in 2011? Or will our system's efforts,  so woefully underfunded as to be potentially meaningless, become just another non-event for the federation system? It's chaos.

Our shame never stops.

Rwexler





Friday, July 24, 2015

READING COMPREHENSION

When I wrote the immediately preceding Post -- Our Own Court Jews -- I thought I was pretty careful. In the first paragraph, I wrote the following:
"(Lee) Smith's definition was then applied to the Jews in the Obama Administration. In Jewish communal life, we have got our own...and we all know whom they are, don't we?"
Thus, I distinguished between my criticism of the Court Jews in Jewish communal life -- about whom I was writing -- and any criticism of those Jews in Obama's realm. Apparently I wasn't clear enough. For I received the following screed...Anonymously, of course.
"This is shameless. You attack Jewish leaders who may support the Administration. Are they traitors, in your mind? You seem to think so. Calling people names isn't going to help our federations. Are you sure you want to go down this path of sinat chinam?"
I have been fortunate in the writing of this Blog -- I have presumed and treasured the intelligence of all of you who are regular readers of these Posts. I enjoy the frequent give and take and appreciate the substantive criticism that so many of you have provided (reread the heat, passion and intelligence embodied in the Comments to Speaking Out as examples). In many instances -- well, some, anyway -- you have convinced me that I need to reexamine my own convictions.

Then, I get accused of being on the "path of sinat chaim" by some Anon. who I would direct to an immediate on-line reading comprehension course. You want to criticize me for what I have written about the Court Jews in Jewish communal life, go for it. But do not accuse me of sinat chaim for what I have not written...at least not yet. 

The rest of you guys...I love you.

Shabbat shalom,

Rwexler

OUR OWN COURT JEWS

In a recent opinion piece in Tablet Magazine, commentator Lee Smith offered an excellent definition of the "Court Jew:"
"The term refers to a particular class of Jews who’ve existed throughout modern history, people who obtain privilege with the ruling authorities and who then take on a dual role: to convince the Jewish community of the beneficence of the ruling authorities, and also to intercede with those authorities on behalf of the community." (emphasis added)
Smith's definition was then applied to the Jews in the Obama Administration. In Jewish communal life, we have got our own...and we all know whom they are, don't we? They probably helped to write that feeble response to the Administration's Iran "deal,"...and...

...and here is what our own Court Jews do -- they "kiss up" to those who are in power at our communal, Continental and international institutions, ignore the values they have been taught through their own experiences and believe that only by their acquiescence to the powers in place, will they achieve higher office. Then having convinced themselves that all is well, they believe that it is their duty, their obligation, to convince others that black is white and that the fiction they have bought into lock, stock and barrel is truth. 

One affect of all of this is the ostracizing of anyone and everyone who pushes back -- it makes no difference whether they are lay persons or federation CEOs. All of us know lay leaders who have been pushed away from the table because they spoke out against some inane act at their own federation or at JFNA. Many of us are aware of federation professionals seeking new positions who have been, for lack of a better descriptive word, "blackballed" by a JFNA CEO because they may have legitimately questioned a judgment or ten, pushing back in some way. (The fact that any federation would be influenced by [or even seek] the opinion of a proven know-nothing is further commentary on the state of the federation system.)

At other places in other times, dissent was tolerated, often even honored. There was value placed on real debate and discourse in the public arena. Even before this Blog began (was there ever such a time?), after privately offering what I believed to be constructive criticism of an inane JFNA restructuring I was told by the then "powers that be" to "get on the team" or be pushed aside. Later, a once good friend told me that my criticism was unwelcome and that if I persisted not only would I be "punished" but that I should "immediately resign" any and all positions I held at JFNA. Just a Court Jew doing the "job" -- and, no doubt, immediately running to those above him in the food chain to report on the great job he had done.

We have been warned in our Pirke Avot "...be wary of those in power." This admonition would serve us well, it is at the very heart of full disclosure, of transparency and open debate -- three things that we are denied by a succession of leaders, lay and professional, at JFNA and elsewhere. Those who seek higher office and know better...those who know that speaking truth to power will disqualify them from those higher positions...still set their/our values aside in pursuit of the holy grail of a committee chair, or a subsidiary chair, or...praise the Lord...Board Chair. That's why there were such high hopes for change when Michael Siegal took that position -- he parachuted in in a coup of sorts (Cleveland gets Board Chair, NY gets JA Chair, Chicago gets Chair of the Executive [and would have but for one small problem -- an actual Nominating Committee revolt]) without owing anyone but his federation CEO for the office, then deferred to any pushback he received from the Court Jews whose support he believed he "needed" to accomplish his/the organization's goals. One can only hope that Michael's successor will have the strength that Michael lacked.

Sure, our own Court Jews also appear in the public political realm. Have you heard a word from JFNA or JCPA "leaders" -- such frequent visitors to the White House over the past 7 years -- in opposition to the Administration's attacks on Israel, or urging the Administration to oppose the invidious BDS efforts? No, we're not going to risk those West Wing invites by taking any position, are we? We'll leave that to others.

Just as we leave everything to others.

Rwexler

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

SPEAKING OUT

I know it's difficult, in the community consensual environment in which federations live, or in the totally risk averse world of JFNA, to speak out in opposition to the Administration's "Iran Deal" when there might be a division within the community that might cost the community donors. So, even on an issue of conscience like this one, the political wisdom seems to dictate the sha sha of generations past. But this did not silence the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, just as it did not silence AIPAC, it should not silence any of us, regardless of party or politics. 

The JFGLA issued the following call to action:
"Dear  _________,

As you know, this summer Congress will be reviewing the Iran nuclear agreement and it is imperative that our elected officials hear our voice. Below is our statement on this matter of national security. Please contact your member of Congress<http://www.jewishla.org/page/m/5714bf7d/2bb01abe/7c4dc4c0/5d7e9b09/281357870/VEsH/> today — the time is now.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles joins with Jewish communities across the country in urging Congress to oppose the joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Program, signed on July 14, 2015.

The proposed agreement with Iran is not a partisan issue; it impacts the security of the United States, the stability of the Middle East, the future of the State of Israel and the safety of every Jewish family and community around the world. This Iran deal threatens the mission of our Federation as we exist to assure the continuity of the Jewish people, support a secure State of Israel, care for Jews in need here and abroad and mobilize on issues of concern.

Our Federation wants a diplomatic solution that ends Iran’s nuclear program. We recognize the efforts of the Administration to reach such an agreement. We regret and are gravely concerned that the proposed agreement allows Iran to remain a threshold nuclear state, does not allow for “anytime, anywhere” inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities, and offers immediate rather than gradual sanctions relief without requiring Iran to address the military dimensions of its nuclear program.

The proposed agreement releases Iran from arms embargos in five years and ballistic missile sanctions in eight years. Iran’s past behavior gives us reason to be concerned that these deadly weapons will be shared with terrorists including Hamas and Hezbollah and will hasten the creation of an Iranian hegemony in the Middle East.

As Americans and Jews who yearn for peace and are invested in the future of our children and grandchildren, we must voice our concerns about an agreement that will destabilize a fragile region. We encourage members of our community to raise their voices in opposition to this agreement by contacting their elected representatives to urge them to oppose this deal.

Congress has until September 18th to review the agreement. That means that by acting promptly, you can start the Jewish New Year knowing you made your voice heard when it counted.

Thank you,

Leslie E. Bider
Chairman of the Board   
          Jay Sanderson, President & CEO"

To Leslie and Jay and the leadership of the Jewish Federationof Greater Los Angeles, kal ha'kavod.

And...add another kal ha'kavod to the leaders of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and its JCRC for their clear expression in the following Statement on the Iran "deal":
"

The Greater Miami Jewish Federation and its Jewish Community Relations Council are deeply disappointed with the details of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Program, signed on July 14, 2015. Regretfully, we have no choice but to oppose it and we urge others to join us.

"Painful lessons of history have taught the Jewish people that reliance upon the good will of others for our well-being is not a plan. This agreement, the success of which is dependent on willing Iranian cooperation, puts Israel and others in harm’s way against a sworn and evil enemy in the world’s most volatile region. Therefore, the details truly matter.
While we sincerely respect the intent and effort of the United States Administration to prevent Iran, through negotiation, from obtaining a nuclear weapon, this agreement falls short in several key areas that we believe are critical to the safety and security of all people around the globe. There is simply too much at stake, not only for Israel, but also for the United States and indeed the entire world, to remain silent on any concerns.
We recognize that we are not nuclear experts, but we must heed the large, diverse and growing number of independent and nonpartisan experts and organizations who have raised serious concerns since the release of the text of the agreement. 
In particular, critical issues have been raised relating to inspections and verification, weaponization activity, infrastructure dismantlement of nuclear facilities, and the duration of some of the most sensitive components in the agreement.
These issues, and the resulting vulnerabilities, are sufficient reasons to let our elected officials know that a nuclear Iran is of concern, and compromise on any of these areas is not an option. Therefore, it is critical that we urge their disapproval of this agreement.
Given the escalating instability in the Middle East and Iran’s long-standing commitment to encourage and fund violent terrorist groups sworn to the destruction of Israel and every democratic value we share as Americans, it is impossible to separate this deal from the context of life in this region or from Iran’s constant hateful rhetoric toward the United States.
Trust must be earned over time. With very little evidence of long-term compliance, the agreement allows for the release of up to $150 billion in funds to Iran, much of which will be coming in the earliest stages of implementation. This large influx of cash will serve to strengthen that country’s role in destabilizing the region. It will enable Iran to continue its proven record of supporting terrorism at anyone’s doorstep – a profound concern for all people of good will worldwide. Consequently, this deal impacts all of us – our children, our grandchildren, and generations yet to come.
We acknowledge that there are diverse views within our community, but ultimately this issue must remain above politics and reflect our collective determination to ensure moral clarity and absolute resolve in dealing with one of the world’s most dangerous regimes.


Rwexler


GOOD THEN; BETTER NOW

There were so many moments in our institutional history that elevated us, elevated amcha, through the actions of our leaders. At the end of the first week of June, one of the storied professional leaders of our system, Bob Hiller, passed away. His memory is for a blessing. One of his great contributions came in his service as Executive Vice-President of the Council of Jewish Federations 1979-1981.

Bob's death reminded me of one his actions in support of our system, of the Federation Movement. I went back in my own files and located a paper that Bob authored with his CJF professional colleagues, Carmi Schwartz, Darrell Friedman and Charlie Zibbell, Implications for the Profession of the Review of the Council of Jewish Federations. That Paper, presented to the Annual Meeting of the Conference of Jewish Communal Service, had many important lessons for a profession that has, of late, gone moribund.

The recommendations on CJF "functions" are critical inasmuch as they are as relevant today as they were 36 years ago. 
"1. Help Federations enlarge their financial resources.
2. Help Federations develop more efficient, economical and effective community services.
3. Define standards.
4. Assist Federations to develop highest quality leadership.
5. Recruit, train, provide highest quality professional staffing for Federations.
6. Intensify involvement of Community Federations in Council's decision-making, with improved, ongoing two-way communica­ tion.
7. Where there is broad consensus, and where it is appropriate, speak and act in behalf of Federations on their national and inter­national concerns and responsibilities.
8. Cooperate with appropriate organizations to help strengthen Jewish communities and Israel.
9. Help achieve greater collaboration among national Jewish organizations on Federation- related responsibilities.
10. Take leadership nationally, and through Federations locally, in advancing the general welfare of total community.

11. Develop long-range planning capabilities, locally in communities and nationally in CJF , to anticipate changes and to define basic goals and program."
Friends, is there one of us who doesn't believe that (a) the federations and JFNA of today would be best served were JFNA capable of focusing on these 11 functions; (b) JFNA is failing in each and every one of these 11 at this time; and (c) JFNA as presently staffed is incapable of achieving these functions? 

Clearly, JFNA excels in only one thing today -- promoting itself. Its leadership is either devoid of ideas for our system or, if they have any, lack the will or ability to implement them. Where are the Hillers, the Schwartzes, the Friedmans and Zibbells of today? Where are the women and men of ideas, of courage, of the willingness to invest their time, their overtime in not just making their communities better but our continental organization a shining City on the Hill rather than a mediocrity?

Bob Hiller, z'l, and his generation of professional leaders would never tolerate the circus we call JFNA; they would demand change, they would work for change. Today, our most system's most senior professionals look away from the disaster they have perpetuated. 

The leaders of JFNA are so far behind the parade that they can no longer hear the music, if they ever did. Shame on them; shame on us.

Rwexler










  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

FUTILITY THY NAME IS JFNA

To me, perhaps to you, nothing better evidences the futility...the absolute futility...of what should be, was designed to be, our federations' continental umbrella, the JFNA, than when the organization goes into its defensive posture. Yes, rather than responding to either world events impacting on the Jewish People (e.g., the "Iran Deal," or Greek Jewry) or criticism (e.g., "The Ugly Side of Jewish Federations," an anonymous critique in ejewishphilanthropy that inspired an incredible debate on that great web site's pages), JFNA, under its current pathetic leadership can't or is unable to respond. There is a saying (that applies as well to this Blog, I know...I know) "the law abhors exercises in futility." Apparently the federations don't mind throwing money at an organization that embodies "futility" without demanding more -- ever.

Let's look at a few examples, shall we?

1. On July 6, JTA's Gavin Rabinowitz reported from Athens with an excellent analysis of the suffering of Greek Jewry in the midst of the economic crisis there: Amid their country's financial crisis, Greek Jews struggle and brace for more turmoil. http://www.jta.org/2015/07/06/news-opinion/world/amid-their-count...Aroused from its slumber, JFNA's David Brown, Chair, Israel & Overseas Council, and Rebecca Caspi, JFNA Sr. V-P, responded to the crisis reported in JTA one week earlier, with a pathetic (what else??) "Update About Greece" that reflected on a Mission one year earlier, told us what JDC and the Jewish Agency are doing on the ground, offered no guidance as to what the federations/JFNA might be doing to assist and closed with the following: "Jewish Federations continue to monitor the situation and liaise with our partners; and will report on any new developments." As they used to say on Saturday Night Live, with appropriate sarcasm: "Isn't that special." For the 5,000 Jews of Greece it must be reassuring that while they suffer the worst crisis in Greek economic history -- probably worse than that confronted by Argentine Jewry 15+ years ago when the organization responded as it should have -- JFNA is "monitoring." In other words, friends, JFNA is doing nothing; less, even, than it did for the non-Jewish victims in Nepal.*

2. Then there was the devastating dissection of the condition of the federation system in the Anonymous (OK, whoever it was used the nom de plume "Uzi ben Gibor") piece on the pages of ejewishphilanthropy -- a piece that produced a high volume of quality Comments pro and con many from those claiming affiliation -- past or present -- with the federations. Here's how JFNA "responded" -- it used its captive "publication" -- you know, the worthless FedWorld -- to publish positive comments from federation professionals about the federations themselves. As usual JFNA receives an "F" in reading comprehension, as any fair reading of the article and comments in ejewishphilanthropy would lead one to the inevitable conclusion that the support void at 25 Broadway has been a (or "the") major contributor to the conclusions in "The Ugly Side..." JFNA has been unable or unwilling to respond; indeed, JFNA's leaders, lay and pro alike, have been unable or unwilling to respond.

3. Finally, we have already written of the inanity of JFNA's announced "monitoring" of the "Iran deal." Well, after the "deal" was announced, here is what JFNA issued as its "statement" on the subject. Read it, and weep in awe at the meaningless text:
" we feel it is so important to speak out on today’s agreement with Iran.
We are hopeful that diplomatic efforts will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and we appreciate the hard work President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry and Under Secretary of State Sherman have put into crafting this agreement.

At the same time, we are concerned. Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas, its human rights violations and its aggressive threats toward neighboring countries—including Israel—make the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran untenable.

President Obama and his administration have repeatedly said that any deal with Iran must shut down Iran's uranium enrichment pathway to a weapon, cut off all four of Iran's potential pathways to a bomb, and track Iran's nuclear activities with unprecedented transparency and robust inspections throughout its nuclear supply chain. We agree.

We urge Congress to give this accord its utmost scrutiny."
I reprint this in its entirety as a public service, exposing JFNA for its ability to use so many words to say absolutely nothing.

This is what JFNA believes to be it response to a great "...need to speak out." This reminds me of the politically incorrect joke about Helen Keller's comment when attending her first Seder. The host saw Helen rubbing a piece of matzo with a look of disdain on her face. "What's wrong, Helen," the host asked? Helen replied: "Who writes this shit?" The JFNA "Statement" was written by weasels. No passion, no strength, no convictions. And, then, insult to injury, this piece of garbage was promoted as "something" in FedWorld...vu den?

Now, JFNA can scurry behind the "skirts" offered by AIPAC's strong statement of condemnation of the "deal" and hide back there.

___

It's all futility...all of the time. But keep paying those Dues. Expect nothing; demand nothing; say nothing.

Rwexler

* It should be noted that the Distribution List for this worthless piece bearing the signatures of Brown and Caspi is unknown. It appears not to have even been distributed to the JFNA Board.

** Compare this insipid JFNA "Statement" with that of the Chicago Federation/Jewish United Fund at http://www.juf.org/news/world.aspx?id=435485 or that issued by your federation.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

THE ONCE FECKLESS, THE FECKLESS AND THE FECKLESSER!!

Maybe there is something in the water down there:

1. Having written at length about the South Palm Beach Federation when it was most pathetic of federations over the years, after some investigation and a conversation with its CEO after the last Post that mentioned this community, I can honestly say that South Palm Beach is a Federation that recognizes its responsibilities to community and People and is on the rise. It is feckless no more.

And, here are the facts as I understand them:

  • Over two years ago, SPB hired a vigorous and enthusiastic young leader from Aipac as its CEO. Matt Levin clearly understands Community (with a capital "C") and his own Community. He joined SPB at what might have been its lowest point and he and his lay leadership are driving it forward and upward.
  • The annual campaign is still struggling but the increases over the last two years suggest that it is turning around. To go from $12.8 million to $14.9 million in two years is no small achievement with significant growth in $10,000 gifts and above.
  • The Federation has already begun to move its overseas allocations to core northward and expects to reach 20% (designated plus "free" dollars) quickly.
  • Matt made a brilliant hire when he brought Cathy Schwartz from her position as the Hartford Federation CEO to lead the Boca Endowment effort. It takes an excellent professional to bring a strong professional into his ranks and Matt has several of them working with him.
  • There is a healthy bank balance and I sense no fear of both operating a federation and multiple agencies.
There are major hurdles ahead and SPB gets no help from 25 Broadway, nor should it expect any.

South Palm Beach...feckless no more.



2. We also learned that the Executive Committee of the Palm Beach Federation, which hired its new CEO a little less than 3 years ago, voted not to renew his contract. This CEO had been the Director of a camp system serving 700 campers a year (and a large Retreat Center) for 11 years before being hired for his first CEO job (surely good old Jerry "Camp-Guy" recommended him); he had never, to my knowledge, worked for or in a federation. This Federation's Annual Campaign was going nowhere, and this CEO had an unfortunate conflict with his then sitting Chair further evidencing a lack of understanding of the lay-professional partnership (even though that lay Chair, a terrific, caring and generous philanthropist, was the one who resigned). 

One thing one can say about this Federation: when things went flat, unlike JFNA, the CEO went, didn't get the "automatic extension;" its lay leaders weren't concerned with the prospect of "another search" distracting them from other things. The "rigorous and lengthy search" that led to this hire was led by the ubiquitous Mandel Center for Leadership. The new search was led by...the Mandel Center for Leadership!!?? First, I thought, maybe there's another Camp Director out there "ready made" to professionally lead a Large City (or any-size City for that matter)...just ask Jerry I-Know-A-Guy-And-He'd-Be-Perfect. In fact the community had two superb finalists for this position; a community that appears to have a real future if it has real professional leadership. We shall see how their selection of a senior professional from Baltimore will go.

Good luck to them.


3. And, then there was the decision of the Federation just to the south of the Palm Beach Federation to part ways with its CEO. In this instance, the departing Executive was hired and walked into a mess not of his own making -- he found himself in a hole and, try as he did, as is usually the case, he could not dig his way out. Curiously, he had left a community that was in the midst of bailing itself out of the horrific Katrina disaster only to land in a federation truly under water. In Broward, you have a community that once received more national human investment than any other -- UJA and CJF worked to assist in the merger that created the Broward Federation, we worked to assure that one of the best and most generous lay families would lead the newly created federation. But poor professional leadership at the outset of the merger; significant under-giving by those with capacity (too often "corporate sponsorships" were a substitute for capacity giving -- that never works), resulted in stasis...not a good place to be; and there was no assistance available from the bereft JFNA when the professional leader and the community needed it the most. Dues were paid in full.

So, let's add it up: SouthPalm Beach on the rise; Palm Beach with a new CEO; Broward...oy.


At least the climate is good -- in Winter.

Rwexler

Sunday, July 12, 2015

INSTITUTIONAL AMBIEN

Ambien is an incredibly popular drug for the "short-term treatment of insomnia."  It has been known to both work effectively to induce sleep but, as advised at Drugs.com there are severe side-effects:
"Ambien may impair your thinking or reactions. You may still feel sleepy the morning after taking this medicine, especially if you take the extended-release tablet, or if you are a woman. Wait at least 4 hours or until you are fully awake before you do anything that requires you to be awake and alert.
Some people using this medicine have engaged in activity such as driving, eating, walking, making phone calls, or having sex and later having no memory of the activity."
Yes, quite clearly, JFNA is the institutional version of Ambien. Sleep has been induced, memory has been wiped out and JFNA leaders have waited some 16 years now "to do anything" whatsoever.

The latest exercise in sleep-walking, finger in the wind decision making can be found in the announcement in FedWorld, that epic JFNA publication, which trumpeted "JFNA reacts to comments by the Israeli Religious Affairs minister regarding Reform Jews" on July 8. And, reading the Times of Israel lengthy piece, here's what JFNA had to say on a Israeli Cabinet action impacting on the vast majority of Jews in North America: “'I do believe that there is a lack of real understanding of what Reform and Conservative Judaism actually mean, especially as it pertains to the Diaspora,' (Jerry) Silverman said Tuesday." Ahh, the courage, the strength, the passion, the anger...the...nothing. Let's just excuse the rejection of Reform Jews as non-Jews to "a lack of real understanding."

I don't exactly know what has induced the deep sleep in which JFNA has found itself -- I think it has been a combination of things:

  • A series of ineffectual now inept professional leaders (almost continuously from the birth of the organization);
  • An organization that put all of its eggs in the single basket of the Global Planning Table forgetting that the top down dictation of policies never works when the funding required must come from the bottom up -- literally four years and at least $4,000,000 wasted on this thing. And this is not 20/20 hindsight. This Blog was not the only place of criticism of this wasted effort from the get-go; but no one in power at JFNA was listening -- this Empress had no clothes and, even today, she fights to preserve her position (Chair of the GPT decision-making Committee) with neither funding nor professional support. Silverman into last year was pleading with his colleagues that "if the GPT fails it will be the end of JFNA." And, in fact, it should be the end for him;
  • Many lay persons -- well-intentioned (in the main) leaders who pursued personal agendas, took steps, often not consciously, to erase institutional memory -- who lacked the vision, the strength and the will to chart a course for JFNA'S success; and
  • Always...always...a small group of CEOs, certainly believing they were dictating orders to the JFNA CEO that were in the best interests of the system (in the sense of l'etat c'est moi), proving absolutely that even the "brightest bulbs in the box" can't micro-manage or macro-manage a complex organization from hundreds, even thousands of miles away. They have watched as the system that many of them have helped to build with such dedication erode away and it must bring them the same pain that we all feel...but, they sense the kind of hands-on effort it would take to effectuate change and they believe that they can just mitigate the damage that JFNA in its current condition can wreak...and that that is enough. They are so wrong.
So the institution sleeps, rousing itself to exercises in futility -- a "Solidarity Mission" to Paris with no follow-up, a "Solidarity Mission to Kiev" as if a single Mission will inspire non-existent fund-raising, FedWorld, yada yada yada. 

So the institution sleeps. Shhhhhh.

Rwexler