Thursday, October 23, 2014

A LONG OVERDUE RESET

                                       "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall 
                                        Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
                                                 All the king's horses and all the king's men

                                                 Couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again

Do you, dear readers, think there is anyone (other than the CEO) who is engaged with this iteration of  JFNA who doesn't believe that the organization is terminally broken? A Comment offering significant insight inspired this reflection:



"In 1995 Samuel Norich, the current publisher of the Forward wrote a brilliant 86 page essay titled "What Will Bind Us Now" A Report on the Institutional Ties Between Israel and American Jewry in which he posited that a merger between UJA and CJF would lead to a dramatic reduction of collective communal support of Israel.
The merged organization would lose focus and water down efforts as it aspired to be everything to everybody and include a domestic agenda that would polarize the American Jewish community.
He could not have been more prescient.
It is time to allow UJA to leave the union and merge the JAFI and JDC fundraising efforts under one roof and get JFNA back to its holy agenda of building capacity of Federations.
Everybody wins. 
Under the current construct, the Jewish People lose."  
Of course every good idea, even this one, won't even be considered by JFNA leadership; this one because it would reverse the merger-created hegemony of the Large City Executives and the lay leadership oligarchy that has secured its power. But, that does not mean that this and other ideas should not be considered...immediately. It's long past time for an institutional reset, isn't it?

I don't know where such a reset might end up, but wouldn't a conclave called by JFNA where the issues of the future governance could be discussed by federation lay and professional leaders, academics, our Rabbis and foundation leaders have great value in and of itself? When the merger process convened a continental meeting on McDonald's Oak Brook Campus so long ago, that meeting itself was so valuable to all of us. It was a meeting called by UJA and CJF and, obviously, resulted in their institutional demise out of which we had hoped would arise something better. What we have today is so much worse that a total reorganization is called for -- one that might result, with better...far, far better...leadership in a rebirth of JFNA.

Friends, there is no rational basis for perpetuating a leadership and an organization that has resulted in one loss after another for the Jewish People, that has diminished rather than enhanced the Jewish communal professional cadre, that has lost the means to campaign and the passion that both propels and engages our donors, that focuses on increasing the number of donors rather than looking on with horror as the number of system donors falls beyond 60% the number on the date of JFNA's birth. 

I still believe, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, that we can do better in every area -- for how can we do any worse?

Rwexler

Monday, October 20, 2014

"A MAN'S WORTH IS NO GREATER THAN HIS AMBITIONS"

Perhaps you read a few months ago, as did I, the media plants and denials related to Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the Founder and President of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, whose alleged run at the Presidency of the State of Israel had made the Israeli press while remaining but a blip, if that, among the Israeli public. We all need a good laugh every now and then (other than the almost daily laughs supplied by our friends at JFNA); so, a big todah rabba to Rabbi Eckstein for this chapter of "As Our Strange Jewish World Turns."  There may be no greater argument in favor of abolishing the office of Israel's President than in those who aspired for that office. And, congratulations to Shimon Peres' successor President Reuven "Ruby" Rivlin.

But, in other areas, Rabbi Eckstein has been and is doing incredible work. As reported on August 5 in The Jerusalem Post: "Three planeloads of Ukrainian Jews sponsored by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews will land in Israel in the coming weeks... Asked about what role the Jewish Agency, which is responsible for immigration to Israel, will play in the flights, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, IFCJ founder, replied that as a private organization "we can do this quicker with better results by seizing the moment.""   And more -- The IFCJ has opened a Refugee Center in the Ukraine serving the Jewish communities with major staffing. And, if he had not chosen to  cut his grants completely, Eckstein's IFCJ might soon be allocating more to the Jewish Agency than the entirety of the federation system -- and far more already than does Keren Ha'Yesod. But, off goes Rabbi Eckstein...on his own.

Then let's be sure to acknowledge Eckstein's prodigious philanthropy. Starting from literally nothing in the 70's with the formation of his Fellowship, Yechiel progressively built a fund raising machine on hundreds, then thousands then tens of thousands of small contributions from (mainly) Evangelical Christians with a love of Israel (and, no doubt, other motives  never disclosed, always denied) into a raise of over $100,000,000 a year by year-end 2013. Rabbi Eckstein, whose career began in Chicago as an itinerant Rabbi, part-time Chazan, and Midwest Director of the ADL, built his own stature on the backs of those contributions directing allocations to the Jewish Agency, the Joint Distribution Committee (from which Rabbi Eckstein became only the fourth recipient of its Raoul Wallenberg Award) and, more and more, to direct project funding. He is a charming man; I have always enjoyed speaking with him, in touring his Chicago office space; and watching him operate.

At the beginning, back in Chicago, the Rabbi's ambitions were already great. I recall, when I Chaired the Chicago Federation and its JUF in the mid-1980s, multiple calls to come to the Federation building and have my picture taken with Yechiel and an over-sized check. Chicago's FRD Director often was called to drop everything and travel with the Rabbi to, e.g., Uzbekistan for the same purpose as were my travels to the Federation -- only this was a fly-in and fly-out.  After several years of directing his funding through the Chicago Federation, Rabbi Eckstein apparently determined that he and the IFCJ could get more "play" by sending the dollars through the United Jewish Appeal but that route, too, was soon abandoned as Yechiel felt that he was being "ignored by the American Jewish community" which benefited so greatly from his FRD efforts. (He wasn't in any "ignored.")

Yechiel, no matter his frustration with his perceived lack of recognition by the Jewish community for his efforts, never abandoned Jews in need. But the fund-raising commercials he produced for the Christian donations he sought often showed Jews in incredible poverty and were often beyond the pale. They were often crude and harsh. Eckstein, through his IFCJ and its arms, redoubled his efforts, directly funding Jews in need through the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee. He required and, as he should have, received seats on the Board and Executive of both; even serving as Chair, inter alia, of the JAFI Aliyah Committee. But even those platforms weren't sufficient to satisfy Rabbi Eckstein's needs for public approbation for his good and great works.

At JAFI, Eckstein demanded as a quid pro quo that the organization's letterhead be modified to include him as a co-equal with the Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Ha'Yesod. It appeared to this writer that JAFI leaders had agreed only to renege when the push-back from the LCE became too great.  All during these years, the IFCJ became the largest single non-governmental contributor to the Jewish Agency and the JDC other than the Claims Conference. He was and is a major charitable force with which to be reckoned. Just months ago, he joined JA, JDC and World ORT with a $1 million grant to Jewish institutions in the Ukraine.

But, when any of the organizations through which the Rabbi allocated his funds for wonderful, often life-saving, purposes, exhausted the honors, the kavod, that they could or would offer, Rabbi Eckstein moved on -- and earlier, coupled with his denials, he apparently coveted the Presidency of Israel! To "celebrate" the Jewish New Year, Eckstein announced that he was pulling a $9,000,000 allocation  from the Jewish Agency, hiring the charismatic Eli Cohen, who ran the Jewish Agency's Aliya and Klitah Department until JAFI almost abandoned the aliyah effort to head up his own IFCJ Immigration "Department." (Never mind that Yechiel still serves on the Jewish Agency Executive and only recently resigned his rather woeful chairing of JAFI's Aliyah Department Committee.)

Given this history and the switch in corporate focus and venue of the IFCJ to Israel, where Rabbi Eckstein had become a citizen years earlier, and the location of the IFCJ broadcasting studios, is it any surprise that Eckstein might pursue the Presidency of the State of Israel? Well, in a word...yes. Notwithstanding his well-planted denials, it seemed well known in Jerusalem at the time that Yechiel had retained Moshe Teumim, the Israeli marketing and communications czar (known in Israel as "the man who made Shimon Peres President") as his behind the scenes stalking horse for an office for which he appeared to be supremely unqualified.

So, the Presidential trial balloon went up and quickly disappeared from view; Eckstein never even registered in Israeli's public polling. But given his history and determination, a determination reflected on billboards around Israel bearing his punim, his new "I will do aliyah myself" funding, don't count Yechiel out next time. 

Rwexler


Friday, October 17, 2014

ANSWERING SOME QUESTIONS

Friends, you have raised some questions in your Comments that I wanted to try to answer in today's Post:


  • Can't you send the Posts directly to the JFNA Executive Committee? Well, yes, I guess I could, but though many of them would deny it, many clearly do read it. I would guess they ponder the questions raised, consider the impudence of the source, and then go back to their dormant states. 
  • Did you ever get an answer from the Board Chair to your recent Post addressed to him? No, the Board Chair can't be bothered with serious questions about the competency of the JFNA CEO. He is too smart and too experienced not to know -- so why bother responding? 
  • Why do federations still pay Dues yet demand nothing of JFNA? Because a termination of membership would mean, among other things: no more Lions of Judah, no more Professional conferences, no more Young Leadership Cabinets, no more Dues "deals" (you know, the ones we never hear about), no more GA participation. So your community just swallows hard and pays and pays, asking for nothing in return -- some communal Dues approach $6,000,000, others in excess of $1,000,000, but for every community, except the "richest," Dues are a hardship. A reformed JFNA could still offer all the things federations fear losing, but even challenging the on-going pathetic wanderings of the JFNA of the present and the past 8 years carries the risk of ostracism and worse.
  • What about the guy who wrote that your claims to "exile" were "crap"? Did he ever respond to your request for the names of his blind copy recipients, among other things? Nah, bullies don't respond to requests (unless they are from someone who can do them some good). 
  • What about the Board Chair, did he ever respond to your recent letter Post? No and no. I am reminded that his predecessor claimed never to read this thing; yet, admitted to one and all that I ruined many a breakfast as she read it. Facts hurt so much. I reflect on the courageous statement that Zygi and Mark Wilf made on television last week as they reversed an earlier public position about an employee: "We made a mistake...And we needed to get this right." How I long to hear those words from the JFNA Board Chair...it's long past time to call a mistake for what it was four five years ago and is...a mistake. And then do something about it.
Rwexler

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

THE OLD OLD BOY NETWORK

It must be reassuing to retiring  federation CEOs (whatever the cause might be) that, if they behaved themselves within the frat house (that is showing appropriate deference to their fraternity brothers), there will be opportunities aplenty for them in the outside world. Examples abound, let me offer two:


  1. Ted. A prodigious and creative fund raiser, he raised his community to heights never before experienced maybe never even imagined over a lifetime with the same community, many as CEO. With superb professional partners, he built a great staff and with great lay leadership led one successful campaign after another. Then, for reasons we are not to know, all of a sudden, he retired or "was retired." But, never fear, he is now working for the Jewish Agency where he will bring his fund raising skills to bear on the Government of Israel/World Jewry Initiative. Maybe he will be able to explain why JFNA is not doing so; maybe he will explain why/how the GOI "management" of this "Initiative" will be a good thing. Or maybe not. Good luck, Ted.
  2. Max. Then, one of JFNA's greatest cheerleaders among the federation CEOs, the long-time professional leader in MetroWest, retired after working side-by-side with some of our system's greatest lay leaders from that community  in building a formidable federation. I love Max so much, having worked with him often in the UJA days and into the merger, that a few years ago I offered him the CEO position with JAFI North America, knowing of his commitment to collective responsibility and the core of both JAFI/JDC. He considered the offer before deciding (wisely as it turned out) to remain at the helm in MetroWest. I never perceived Max to be the fund raiser that Ted is, or that many of his fellow CEOs are/were but, great public supporter that he was of every cockamamie JFNA scheme (you could always count on Max to stand at the microphone and applaud anything and everything), after the most brief of retirements, Max has been retained (at what cost, we will probably never know) by CEO I-Don't-Have-Time-To-Raise-Money (just what does Silverman do, one might ask?) to spearhead raising money from within the federations for those moribund "Signature Initiatives" and, no doubt, for the National Holocaust Initiative (another $60 million funding scheme that, even with a great Chair in Mark Wilf, seems to fit no priority at JFNA) and who knows what else. Good luck, Max, you will need it.
Yes, I wish them both well. 

We should all be thrilled, just really thrilled, that our system is such that a retired federation CEO will always resurface somewhere -- JFNA anyone? Some of us recall when JFNA's first CEO/President was gift-wrapped by UJA-Federation of New York and delivered with the "hire me" sign around his neck to JFNA's doorstep clearing the path for John Ruskay's impressive decade and one-half Presidency. Then, after Steve Hoffman returned to his sinecure as the Cleveland CEO with all kinds of compensation from JFNA, he was succeeded, by the demand of the LCE, by the recently retired Pittsburgh CEO, Howard Rieger, for his four years of futility. 

Now, the paradigm of "outside the box" futility, allegedly directing the expenditure of $20 million a year on FRD (!!), and not wishing to dirty his hands on raising money for the GPT (if the effort fails, he might get blamed), hires a freshly retired LCE CEO to fund raise in his stead. There must be some gratification, must there not be, on the part of CEOs everywhere, that the old, old boys network, assuring full employment post-retirement, continues -- maybe that's one way CEO Jerry keeps the CEO community "happy;" it sure can't be the way he is not doing his job.

At the end of the day, my friends, while I can tell you what the predecessors as JFNA CEO did or didn't do, can you tell me what Jerry actually does? Can anyone? Can Michael Siegal do so with a straight face? Can Siegal look at himself in the mirror with any sense of pride and tell just himself "I have done the right thing"? Are they really going to extend this guy's contract? Have they already?

If any of this makes sense, please let me know. If it makes no sense, as I believe, let Michael Siegal know.

RWexler

Saturday, October 11, 2014

CATCHING UP WITH FAILURE -- THE CONTINUING SAGA OF THE GLOBAL PLANNING TABLE

On practically the eve of Yom Kippur, as if to give the leaders of the GPT and JFNA more for which to atone a few days later, the Global Planning Table Committee and its oversight committee (I have no recollection of what that is called, only Rube Goldberg knows for certain) met at 25 Broadway and by phone. If you didn't know about the meeting, that's because you, like me, weren't supposed to. 

I was pleased to know that some in leadership believe it's time to declare victory, make the GPT into some form of Israel and Overseas Think Tank and fertig. The Strategic Initiatives that might be or get funded (it looks as if only one -- the "voluntary" Initiative funded by Foundations -- that one pursuing issues related to Israel's Civil Society focused on marriage this time -- has any chance of funding). 

Unfortunately, that would mean that Ms. Manning and her claque would not have taken over all of the critical overseas and domestic functions of JFNA as has been their apparent goal so you can imagine the push back at a sensible strategy. Sturm und drang. Yes, screeching for the idea of "today Israel, tomorrow the world" was Michael Gelman -- you remember him, of course, as a wonderful and generous philanthropist with his wife Susie, often articulate, and, as JFNA Chair of the Executive under Ms. Manning, her henchman, for lack of a better term. Gelman argued for an all powerful Global Planning Table (like the all-powerful Oz, I guess) wherein the validating Partnership Committee (where most of the participating Federations sit) would be erased and all dictates "decisions" would now flow directly to the GPT Executive Committee (chaired by. Manning...of course (who, you will recall, Chairs JFNA By-Laws Committee which is pushing for the elimination of JFNA's Committees, so why not; and, perhaps, in the future, by...Gelman) where sit but certain self-selected Large Cities and a few constituency leaders. Further, I have been told, all...as in ALL...Israel and domestic activities (e.g., UIA, the "split," JAFI, JDC, World ORT) would report to the GPT Executive. 

So, at least you had discussion at this obscure "Table" of these polar extremes -- one an excellent idea to staunch the bleeding and restore (if that's the right word) JFNA to its proper leadership role for all federations; the other to drown the system in that very blood. I don't think anything was resolved but, based on past experience, Manning (with David Butler and one of his D.C. clients, Gelman) will be twisting the arms of the most malleable to get her way. And, on that note, within the next ten days or so, the Global Planning Table Committee will be learning from the Global Planning Table "Partnership Committee" (that's the one that leadership proposes to rid itself of) chaired by Ms. Manning (c'mon who else could possibly Chair such a thing) its recommendation on the fiction of the "split." That recommendation, I have no doubt, will be to eliminate or drastically change that which the federations have ignored in practice for years. But, a recommendation, any recommendation keeps you know who at the microphone. 

And, where, you might ask was CEO I-Agree-With-You-and-I-Agree-With-You-Too in all of this? As he is wont to do when he does't know which side to choose, he "filibustered" in such a ridiculous way that no one knew where he stood. He called the GPT "an amazing success" that "...has already changed the world for the better." He is the Cheerleader-in-Chief, blind to all that is right in front of his eyes, when he should be the CEO. He called the GPT's "accomplishments" "significant" even though there have been none; and he foresaw the GPT as the permanent planning arm for Israel and Overseas. Fund raising for the "Signature Initiatives" -- terrible, of course, but CEO Jerry I-Only-See-Blue-Skies-and-Unicorns said FRD for the Signature Initiatives "is looking very good" at unnamed federations. (Is this how the man sold khakis?) A disgrace.

This, of course, brings me back to Max Kleinman. In the absence of any lay leaders, Max delivered the d'var torah. No mention that he's on the GPT/JFNA payroll to raise the very money Jerry and his crew haven't.

Let me try to sum this all up -- the vast number of federations and the Network communities are no longer relevant to nor within JFNA. Just pay your Dues and leave us alone. Or, maybe you hadn't noticed. Yeah, you, the ones who pay the Dues...awake from your slumber.

So it goes in the Lake Woebegone of the Global Planning Table where Jabbawokees dance among the snowflakes while JFNA dies a slow death.

Rwexler

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

GA 2014: A REVISIT

As GA 2014 approaches, just one month away, a revisit is appropriate -- and it's not good:


  • The list of Speakers has been expanded. Beyond the liberal justices of the Supreme Court and some talking heads from MSNBC and NBC, added are a few TED speakers and a whole bunch of consultants. There is the LA Federation Campaign Chair and the usual JFNA/GA lay and professional leaders (?!) including "Mr. Federation: Jerry Silverman"...
  • But, who won't be  here  The Prime Minister, the President, the Vice President or any Federation CEOs.
  • The thing is still being held miles from the "District" in a land far, far away called "National Harbor" but you can count on buses to a Smithsonian Event and an expensive taxi ride if you want to spend your free time (of which there will be time aplenty) seeing some D.C. sites or visit with your Senator.
  • The Program has some moments of excellent potential and good take-away as well -- but here we are, about one month from the GA Opening and there is no meat on any of the bones -- who are the presenters, who are the panelists? We are apparently not to know. But all else pales in comparison with the total lack of focus of this GA on the experiences of our People over the past months -- experiences that are so vivid, even CEO Jerry can't get them (or his supposed "role" in them [ask those who heard his "me-me-I-I" speech at their Conference) out of his mind. I remember vividly that on the cusp of the 2006 General Assembly in Los Angeles, the CEOs demanded that the GA be totally refocused on our communal relationship to Israel; a reset we need so desperately once again. But the CEOs appear to either have run out of steam or interest. A great philanthropist was lost when she resigned her GA leadership role in protest 8 years ago -- today we won't run that risk and our present leadership just doesn't give a damn,  all in proof that JFNA leaders have not only wiped out institutional memory of the UJA/CJF eras but of its own more recent past as well - Santayana weeps.
  • If you are a JFNA Board member, at the end of last month you received an inquiry as to whether you would be attending all, two or none of three GA "convenings" ("convening" as a noun, really?). Apparently JFNA doesn't yet have sufficient registration as at October 1 to know who is coming. This could be, maybe even deserves to be, a disaster. One thing is for sure -- after seeking your input, literally pleading for it, the GA Program reflects nothing more than bad business as usual. 
  • Then, but days after the first "Survey," came another -- "We need your help. Answer a few questions for a chance to win an IPhone 6." The questions: check off the break-outs you might attend; and, another listicle, check-off your top break-out choices. The purpose -- we need some idea of the size rooms we will need to accommodate the throngs. The problem: not one of the multiple choices involved Israel, Western European anti-semitism or the Ukraine, among other  critical issues facing us; and session-after-session involving foundations and groups outside our system. Nope, we are just trying to see the size meeting rooms we'll need. Idiocy.
Look, I still encourage you to go, make your voices heard, demand that JFNA start to actually make a difference rather than continuing to pretend that it does.

Rwexler

Sunday, October 5, 2014

"STUCK ON STUPID"

Through the windows of our home I can watch the seasons changing, the leaves, brown, red and yellow, fall like the snow that will soon follow, and change is everywhere...except at JFNA.

They never cease to amaze...

  • JFNA proudly announced a Mission of the system's largest donors that sounds exactly like parody: "King David Society Mission to China     A community of philanthropists with a passionate concern for the worldwide Jewish community will be travelling to China. Today’s China is a fascinating mix of the modern and the ancient. We’ll tour imperial palaces, climb the Great Wall and explore winding backstreets. We’ll encounter the incredible Shanghai Jewish community - founded by Baghdadi Jews, a refuge during the Holocaust and the Russian Revolution, and still going strong today. March 9-17, 2015." Yep, "...and still going strong today." Uh, huh, sure. When Chabad came to Shanghai, the native Jewish population was estimated at 150; today the community, consisting mainly of foreign Jews working in Shanghai is estimated at 1500. The history is fascinating -- but while huge Jewish populations in France, in England, in Germany and on and on, are facing enormous anti-semitic attack, while in Hungary, Jews (and, in particular, Survivors) face anti-semitism not felt since the 1930s and '40s), while the Jewish communities of Ukraine are facing life and death decisions, for JFNA to send a Mission of its major donor constituency to...Shanghai? This borders on, or may be, institutional insanity.
  • And in a Tweet on September 29, CEO I-Might-Be-Raising-Money-But-I-Have-No-Time, we viewed a photo, maybe a selfie, of himself in an empty chamber, proudly reported: "Looking Forward to Seeing the PM Speak at the General Assembly." Sure you are, Jerry, so glad you were there. Later Jerry reported: "Amazing speech." Thanks.
  • Dan Brown, the brilliant and incisive Founder and Publisher of ejewishphilanthropy wrote a Comment to a recent Post in which he noted. with some deserved disgust: "Not one person - professional or lay - has the courage to write a serious article on the Jewish communal system as it exists today. I know - I've invited submissions from some of the most visible." I am certain that Dan was not surprised; submitting "a serious article" would entail taking a position (risky) or demonstrating some understanding of the systemic condition (very risky) -- and what professional or lay person engaged in our system today would want or be able to do that? Or, equally likely, they just don't have time to write -- too busy attending speeches at the U.N. or planning Missions to China, or something of equal importance.
Any wonder that some can write that we no longer have a system? 

Rwexler

Friday, October 3, 2014

HEED THE CALL OF THE SHOFAR

I love our religious services -- their rhythms, their nigunim and their meaning -- I always have. I especially love the services on the yomim noraim. This year, as the Shofar was about to be blown, in my synagogue, we read a Meditation that resonated with me -- I wish our leaders had read it as well:
"The shofar exclaims: Wake up from your slumber!  Examine your deeds and turn in repentance, remembering your Creator.. You sleepers who forget the truth while caught up in the fads and follies of the time, frittering away your years in vanity and emptiness which cannot help: take a good look at yourselves. Improve your ways..."
I took the message of this Meditation personally -- all of it, even the passages I have not reprinted here; but I fear this call is lost on too many of those in power. I know them to be good women and men, yet I find them "frittering away (their) years in vanity and emptiness." We see expediency where there should be principle. And our organizations suffer, wither and wane.

Rich Bernstein. the dedicated Chair of United Israel Appeal recently included the following in his Yom Kippur message, a message that resonated with me as it did Rich:
                 "Avinu Sh'bashamayim, O God in Heaven
a
As we approach another year, we ask Your blessings upon us and upon our loved ones. Grant us the courage to peer into our lives, the wisdom and discernment to evaluate what we see, and the strength to act with resolve to change whatever needs improvement."

Certainly our leaders know what their offices demand of them. If they cannot bring themselves to act, it is not because they know not what must be done; it is because they lack the will to do what is right. 

All we can ask is that the call of the Shofar wakes them from their slumber. 

As for me, I know that I have hurt any number of you with what I have written (and thought but not written) over this past year and wish that I could apologize to each of you for anything that I have written that has been hurtful. I, too, will try to heed the call of the Shofar in the New Year.

G'mar hatima tovah to you and your families.

Rwexler
                          

Monday, September 29, 2014

A TERRIBLE FAILURE TO LEAD

Could what happened in London late last August become commonplace in our North American communities as well?
"...at a town hall-style meeting two weeks ago, in which the community leadership was attacked for its failure to lead. The hope that life will continue as usual, including the freedom to retain and celebrate ties to the Jewish state, has been shattered." (as reported in Tablet Magazine: Crisis of Confidence for British Jewryhttp://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/183240/crisis-of-confidence-for-british-jewry?utm_source=tabletmagazinelist&utm_campaign=e78615b226-Wednesday_August_27_20148_27_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c308bf8edb-e78615b226-206560494 
"[A]ttacked for a failure to lead" -- imagine that? 

And, what have we got right here at home? Well, whatever it is, it was wholly "predictable" from the beginning of what is JFNA through today. In fact, our friends, Gerald Bubis and Steve Windmueller, published their analysis in From Predictability to Chaos way back when. 
"The creation of United Jewish Communities (UJC) in 1999 - involving the merger of the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF), United Jewish Appeal (UJA), and United Israel Appeal (UIA) - resulted in the largest consolidation of Jewish communal resources ever undertaken. For this study of the merger, the authors interviewed those most directly involved in the effort regarding their motives and perceptions, and their satisfaction with the outcome to date. 
The study reveals a tale of unclear expectations, unshared visions, mixed motivations, and multi-layered power games. But it is also a story about men and women who live the Jewish people, want to serve it, and desire to see it flourish. There are no villains. As the picture unfolds, it demonstrates the difficulties born of grafting differing organizational cultures together while seeking to merge the better or best attributes of each of these separate entities."
The authors convened a public meeting at HUC-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City upon the release of the Study in February 2005. I and others who were involved in framing the merger were invited as were federation lay and professional leaders. I remember vividly the Large City Executives present sat with arms folded in seeming objection to the Study itself (thinking back, this should have clued me in to how this Blog would be "greeted" by the same folks).  In candor, I am not sure that any of them (other than Howard Rieger, having just succeeded Steve Hoffman as CEO of the then UJC, made a presentation on the merger that day) had actually read the Study. (I am absolutely certain that Steve Hoffman, who in a newspaper article described the analysis as worthy only for wrapping stale fish, had not read it or any part of it.) In any event the "system," as embodied in these men, and they were all men, rejected the premise of the Study and, certainly, its conclusions.

And, based upon their extensive interviews, Bubis and Windmueller recommended:

  • Restoration of the role of Rabbis and intellectuals, then and now excluded, as one of the pillars of communal governance;
  • Provide opportunities for discussion of and reaction to Israel's policies encouraging full airing of diverse opinions on the challenges facing Jewish life in North America, now suppressed in the name of unity;
  • Expand the "old boys" network of the wealthy in Jewish life by including more women and young people;
  • Appoint an ombudsman to examine and report on the stewardship of federation funds supporting the continental organization;
  • Underwrite and use think tanks;
  • Restoration of UJA "brand" in one form or another; and
  • Balance to division of power between lay and professional leadership.
The authors also concluded that while there were few "winners" in the merger -- namely large city federations and their CEOs -- there was one sure "loser" -- Israel.

The authors could not have foreseen how right they were about how much the "loser" might lose and how none...that's zero...of their recommendations would be incorporated into any reset of what is now JFNA or that there would be neither introspection nor reset at all.

As Bubis and Windmueller told JTA at the time of the publication, after interviewing 88 lay and professional leaders: "The end result (of the merger) was a new organization which met few if anyone's expectations. Many described it as a 'work in progress,' yet serious questions remain regarding its status. One of our respondents stated 'Nobody got it right. We simply were not able to do it at this time." The authors continued: "In the end...those who guided the merger were well-intentioned, but...the result is fundamentally flawed. Areas of concern include who has power in UJC and whose voices are being heard, the relationship of federations to (JFNA) and even the name of the organization."

Almost ten years after the publication of Predictability...it's conclusions and recommendations are not only spot on in retrospect but even more telling today when a CEO not up to the tasks of running a most complex organization is partnered with well-meaning lay leaders who have driven JFNA by personal agendas and a lack of commitment to transparency and transformational change.

There is plenty of blame to go around -- and I and those who partnered in the merger have accepted our share and apologized for the imperfect model we turned over to the federations in whom we entrusted it. Yet, when one looks around for those who might take the mess that a succession of failed leaders have created through that model, we seed no one even acknowledging that anything is amiss let alone doing anything about it.

As I have written, more's the pity.

Rwexler



Friday, September 26, 2014

WHILE NO ONE IS PAYING ATTENTION

This is another cautionary tale. It is what happens when there is no internal accountability, no management, no monitoring...no almost anything. As you read what follows, measure the return on investment and let me know if you calculate any at all. For the following is a list of those on the employment roster of JFNA-Israel from the page-after-page list of JFNA personnel (names have been redacted), just positions and that favorite JFNA activity -- titles. 

Please pay close attention:

  • Senior Vice President, Israel/Overseas, Executive Office
  • Managing Director
  • Executive Vice-Chair, UIA
  • Coordinator, Executive Office
  • Senior Director, Donor Relations/Emissaries/Speakers/VIP Travel
  • Senior Associate,Communications and Government Relations
  • UIA Israel Deputy Managing Director
  • IT Manager, Fianance and Administration
  • Grants Executive, Communal Advancement
  • Missions Consultant/Giving/UIA/Missions
  • Special Assistant to Director General (?) and Director, Special Projects
  • Senior Manager, Missions
  • Operations Director, Global Planning Table
  • Missions Consultant
  • Coordinator, Global Planning Table
  • Executive Assistant/Executive Office
  • Assistant Director, Program and Planning, Global Planning Table
  • Grant Manager, UIA
  • Coordinator, Donor Relations
  • Office Manager/Finance Manager
  • Associate Director/VIP Travel
  • UIA, Israel Representative
  • CFO/Deputy Director General
  • Israel-American Jewish Relations/Executive Office
  • Assistant Director, UIA, U.S. Grant
  • Senior Associate, Communications and Media Relations
  • Managing Director, Communications and Media Relations
  • Senior Bookkeeper, Payroll Supervisor
  • Grant Coordinator/UIA
  • Associate Director/ VIP Travel
  • Associate Vice-President, Global Planning Table
I have probably left out a couple, but who could blame me, and what difference would it make? In fact, other than the UIA personnel, what difference have any and all of the JFNA-Israel professionals made, starting at the top? Really.

I have been told, though I find it hard to believe, that JFNA has two professionals at the Knesset every day to monitor Knesset activities. I sense that there is such a fear on Silverman's part of being surprised by some piece of legislation that these staff persons linger and take notes -- a kind of Jewish "early warning system" and kind of ineffective like everything else. What the heck do these people do and what the hell has this exploding bureaucracy provided the federations...and at what cost? (There is a rumor that Silverman was able to "persuade" Philanthropist Jay Ruderman, JFNA's turn-to funder of last resort, to pay for one of the "spies.")

Then, consider the number of personnel, including the two Knesset "spies," dedicated solely and exclusively to the support of the the CEO of Israel/Overseas. I count 6 -- that's almost 20% of the total personnel and if one backs out the UIA personnel, that's well over 30% of a bloated bureaucracy dedicated to the support of the CEO -- an unconscionable percentage. But not at JFNA. (Just for comparison's sake: When I chaired my law firm with 80 lawyers and a para-professional staff of over 100, we had a CEO and her assistant...and that was it.)

Finally, when JFNA first emerged from the cocoon of merger, an Israel Task Force of federation lay and professional leaders did some prodigious work. Led by the great philanthropist, Marvin Lender, and Bob Aronson, the then dynamic Detroit CEO, the Task Force offered a series of recommendations all premised upon moving the system's Israel Office back to New York headquarters. It was a recommendation built upon two premises: that it would significantly reduce systemic costs and would more effectively control policy and the bureaucratic expansion that we have now witnessed. (It should be noted that under the two predecessors to the current Senior Vice-President/Managing Director/Director General, Menachem Revivi and MK Nachman Shai, there was no massive hiring and support system as is evidenced above.) Those recommendations fell on deaf ears. More's the pity.

Perhaps, some controls would be in place were the immediate Past Chair of the Israel/Overseas Committee not so totally ignored that he quit over 6 months ago, with no successor appointed until Chicago's David Brown was named, and, as is usual, no hue and cry from any Committee member about the fact that the Committee had not met since last year's GA, if then. Maybe this is the model for those who wish to abolish all JFNA Committees in the interest of expediency; no doubt Brown will assure a voice for lay leadership out of this continuing mess.

Bottom line, this listing of personnel demonstrates nothing more than the total absence of professional management and accountability at JFNA. A lot of questions come to mind...how about: who the hell is minding the store? Give that person a contract extension.

Sure.

Rwexler