Friday, May 22, 2015

JUST WHAT NO ONE NEEDED

The organization that hasn't a clue what it should be doing or what it could be doing has now found a new way to pass the time and waste our money -- it's called FedWorld. Its premier "Edition" appeared on-line on April 29.  The next day -- the "2nd Edition" -- arrived with the tagline "The most exciting thing to hit your inbox." JFNA, masters of hyperbole. It's a web paper ostensibly promoting federations or JFNA or something -- but, really, if the first "editions" are the best evidence, it's about...well, whatever JFNA decides is "newsworthy." This has to be among the biggest wastes of time on a growing tab of time wastes at 25 Broadway...yet...inasmuch as all of the JFNA-related Nepal information (which is after all the bulk of what JFNA appears to about today) is highlighted on the JFNA home page.

So what's going on in FedWorld according to JFNA? Well, there's:


  • Federations/Philanthropy: There's Nepal 
  • JFNA Notes: Let's see -- there's Nepal
  • Then there are cites to articles...on Nepal...in "other" publications -- Chronicle of Philanthropies, JNS*
  • Oh, yes, there are references to the work of the Secure Communities Network and the IAN
  • And links to "critical" stories in the Federation world -- e.g., Bernie Sanders running for President and a New York Rabbi will receive a "Papal knighthood."
  • The "2nd Edition" -- more of the same; and in the 3rd iteration and ever since, JFNA discovered that "'millennials' generation can become the new wealth builders and philanthropists;" and on and on, more and more on Nepal 
I didn't read anything about Prime Minister Netanyahu's Coalition Agreement with United Torah Judaism that abandoned all efforts in support of a positive change to Israel's Conversion Law. JFNA hasn't even sent one of its "letters to the Prime Minister" on the subject -- guess there is no time what with the Nepal Fund and all.

There isn't even accuracy. In a reference to its work in FRD for Ukraine, FedThing reported a $5 million total -- just about 25% more than actually transmitted to date. For JFNA that's called "accurate reporting." I assume you need your own tout sheet to put out data like this.

Sure, there's more --this one pager is as chock full of nothing as can be stuffed onto a single page...but, really, should any of JFNA's meager energies be devoted to this? How many staff were required to input on this thing? One, five, ten? And wouldn't one be one too many? Then, the JFNA Budget document discloses that this thing is JFNA Program Priority -- already with a "circulation" of 7,000 although elsewhere the "mailing list" is said to be 6,000 (this from the same organization that thinks that 3,000 are still attending GAs) JFNA projects a 10% "increase" -- and to get there -- to 6,600 -- all JFNA has to do is buy a few mailing lists don't they? Waste follows waste...all the way down the drain.

I remember a meeting -- I think it was five years ago at my federation where a small group of us met with the recently hired new CEO, Silverman. Among the suggestions for him was one from Steve Nasatir -- JFNA should publish a weekly  column of sufficient interest that it would be picked up in the Jewish media promoting federations' work. And five years later...we get this stuff?

We constantly see our organization flailing about looking around for "purpose," because its leaders fail to understand that its purposes have been lost -- strengthening federations, strengthening our partners, more dollars and more donors. Take a look at FedWorld and tell me how this thing strengthens strengthens anything.

Do you think there is anyone...a single person...at 25 Broadway who has questioned: "Isn't it time, after 16 years of existence, that JFNA be known for a single achievement?" Instead, having achieved nothing...zip, nada...there seems to be the attitude that "Let's just work on brand recognition" even if the brand stands for nothing...zip, nada...not a thing.

For reasons I will never understand, the JFNA lay leadership, the basic check and balance on an unknowing, directionless professional leadership, just sits by and permits the professionals to apparently do whatever they wish, no matter the waste, no matter the distraction -- apparently without even a question. 

Vayezmir!!! The mess marches on. The circus rules.

Rwexler

* I don't question the beauty of our communities fulfillment of the mandate of tikkun olam as expressed in our donors contributions to the Nepal effort, or Katrina, etc. But, when a minor Mailbox/Fund effort, and that's what Nepal is, becomes a daily JFNA obsession, it is a reflection of JFNA's aimless purposeless wanderings as well.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

STUPEFYING -- THE GREAT AND THE FAILED

1. Let's begin this Post with examples of what Federations have done in the face of the broad assault by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions extremists on things we hold sacred. And please excuse my pride that one of these federations in question is my own. Yesterday, the State of Illinois House of Representatives, responding to an initiative of Illinois' new Governor, Bruce Rauner, and the Jewish United Fund of Chicago, assured by a vote of 102-0, that Illinois will immediately become the first State "...to adopt legislation countering the BDS movement." The legislation, previously passed unanimously by the Illinois Senate and now pending our Governor's signature, will require five State pension funds to divest from companies that boycott Israel. Here we have an example of how to turn the BDS effort on its proverbial head -- it's simple, it's a small step, but it's a major beginning to turn momentum to the pro-Israel community.*

And then there is Tennessee where at the initiative of the Nashville Federation, anti-BDS legislation was passed on April 24: "With strong bi-partisan support, the Tennessee General Assembly has passed a resolution condemning the boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and the worldwide increase in anti-Semitism." Even earlier this year a similar Resolution was enacted in Nevada.

For those of you who would ask what role our JFNA played in the efforts here -- none.  Nothing --  JFNA, beyond its constant references to aid to Nepal, did manage to publish a sentence on the the JUF initiative (!!) in its brand spanking new waste of time FedWorld on May 15. Meanwhile this JUF-Chicago effort and those in Tennessee and Nevada must...must...become part of a national federation movement and, certainly, with the expertise at the Israel Action Network, that's where the action will take place. State-by-state, federations, through their CRC network or through their legislative offices, will use the Illinois, Nevada and Tennessee examples as  best practices and, ultimately, at the Congressional level as well where anti-BDS legislation is pending adoption as well.

The Playbook, including a grass roots letter-writing and phone calling effort, is right there for the doing...but not by JFNA.

2. Then there's the always stupefying CEO who on his travels continues to dissemble unlike anyone in his position anywhere/anytime. Clearly he will say anything to get him through the meeting in which he finds himself. Most recently, with the data set forth in our Post The End of the Collective fresh at hand, CEO Jerry I-Can't-Count-But-Watch-Me-Make-Stuff-Up has been telling audiences that "the range" of overseas allocations is from 10%-40% with a national average of 30% "on a campaign of $900 million." Not one...that's nary a one -- of those statistics is correct (unless one...that's ONE...federation allocating almost 38% including designated gifts creates a "range") and the national average allocation according to the most recent data available, sadly, is just over 20% rather than 30% -- the average allocation hasn't approached 30% since Jerry Silverman joined the disaster to which he has contributed so much. Specifically, and again according to the most recent figures provided by JFNA itself, core allocations for Large Cities average was 21.8% and for Large Intermediates, 21.2%.** 

At one meeting, in response to a question about the sharp decline in donors during Jerry's 5+ years, he had the chutzpa to assert that "federations in the 1990s made a conscious decision that it was more expensive to focus on small donors rather than on major donors" as if (a) that were true (it wasn't/isn't) and (b) this would excuse the huge percentage decrease in donors during Silverman's years of negative leadership. All this answer evidences is how little Jerry Silverman, awarded a new CEO contract for no apparent reason other than convenience, knows about our system, its history or its present.

These misrepresentations are bad enough in the abstract; in context, they are even worse because Silverman probably believes them.

Everything about this most recent series of misstatements reminds me of what Cousin Vinnie said after cross-examining a particularly stupid witness in the classic My Cousin Vinnie: "I'm done wit' dis guy." Shouldn't we all be?

3. Then...there is this. The following is the complete statement of Michael Siegal and Dede Feinberg on May 13:
"Dear Colleagues,

Today, Vatican and Palestinian leaders met to advance a discussion that began in 2000 to produce a treaty that refers to a Palestinian state. The meeting, which has been reported by news outlets including The Washington Post and The New York Times, was met with “disappointment” by the Israeli government. “This move does not advance the peace process,” they said, “and further distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct and bilateral negotiations.” 

At this time, the Obama Administration has not commented on the discussions. If a statement becomes available, we will distribute it.

Sincerely,"
Remember -- this was the complete JFNA statement. Or, as some might ask: WTF? Was there supposed to be an opinion paragraph that was lost in translation? Or was this just like a newspaper story -- telling us something we already knew. As Tablet pointed out, before the JFNA WTF?: this "recognition" first took place in 2012.


Rwexler

* For an insightful and full discussion of the Illinois effort, read Jay Tcath's, Jewish Federation of Chicago's Executive Vice-President and one of the point persons on this effort, op-ed in today's Chicago Tribune at http://eeditionmobile.chicagotribune.com/Olive/Tablet/ChicagoTribune/Default.aspx

** These are the results at year-end 2013 only because JFNA has released only 2013 allocations by community data. Trust me, the year-end 2014 results will only be worse given that total allocations to JAFI, JDC and World ORT reduced significantly once again in 2014.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

ONE STEP FORWARD; TWO STEPS BACKWARD

First, I must say that there have been some important and positive steps at JFNA that must be acknowledged even by JFNA's most severe critics. Let's look at some of them:

FORWARD...

The "JFNA Ambassadors Program." One of the first steps taken by new Global Operations: Israel and Overseas Chair David Brown has been to recruit a group of lay leaders as "Ambassadors" to approach communities and advocate for increased allocations to all of JFNA's "partners." This is almost "revolutionary" inasmuch as (1) there has been no such advocacy by JFNA is over a decade; (2) it removes the Global Planning Table from the advocacy effort it arrogated to itself and then abandoned; (3) no sooner had Silverman taken the reins as CEO than he visited at least one community -- Dallas -- and told the assembled lay and professional communal leaders, as reported to me, words to the effect of "JFNA will never come into your community and ask that you allocate more money to overseas" (and then told me in a phone call that I initiated to question what he believed JFNA's allocation role to be), that he had said no such thing); and (4) may lead to JFNA demanding that UIA abandon its Chaverim advocacy for JAFI alone leading some to conclude that JFNA Israel wants to coopt UIA's efforts in all areas. Eventually, we'll learn the names and communities of the "Ambassadors" and, hopefully, they will all come from federations whose core allocations exceed their City-Size averages thereby cloaking them with a degree of legitimacy. We can hope that this time -- as similar efforts (under differing names) have been begun and abandoned in the past -- the effort will be constant and succeed.

"New" Leadership. While JFNA is and will be stuck in place so long as Silverman is sitting in the CEO/President Chair, Michael Siegal has recruited a sometimes new cadre of Continental lay leadership.* Among them**:

  • Harold Gernsbacher, the incoming National Campaign Chair. Harold is an experienced fund raiser, one who has earned his chops in his own community and at the Jewish Agency. He is energetic and persuasive and does not suffer fools or fooling around. He views this position as fund raiser, first and foremost, and a cheerleader second. Let's hope that he can reestablish the National Campaign Chair as a fund raising- first function. All he needs is a staff.
  • David Brown, already deep into his leadership role as Chair (see the "Ambassadors" program above), Global Operations: Israel and Overseas. David has the opportunity to refocus the JFNA Israel Office in positive directions he needs to avoid being "played" by the existing professional staff. David's leadership roles in Chicago demonstrated that he will reach his own conclusions and influence positive actions. All he needs is a staff.
  • Richard Sandler, the incoming JFNA Board Chair, has taken active leadership roles at JFNA since he began his Board service as the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Chairman. Thus, he comes into this important office with his eyes wide open and the support of his own community's innovating and forward-thinking Federation CEO. One can only hope that Richard sees JFNA "warts and all" and knows better than his predecessor where he must begin his leadership role. But there is one caveat: Sandler let it be known that he believes that lay leaders should get out of the way and let the professionals lead. So...All he needs is a staff.
  • Jodi Schwartz, the incoming Budget and Finance Chair and Treasurer, has had in-depth engagement at the New York Federation, UJA (where, as I recall, among her many holes, she Chaired the YLC a few years ago), and CJF. (I recall about a decade ago, one of my then law partners had a transaction in which Jodi was on the other side -- I said to him "Jodi is brilliant." He responded: "Yes, that's what she told me.")  The positions she is assuming are critical roles that have for too long been filled by JFNA cheerleaders in the tradition of "hear no evil, speak no evil, and, in particular, see no evil." While friends I trust who have watched Jodi in JFNA meetings of late have told me that she has become part of the JFNA Hallelujah Chorus, another toady among the toadies, if Jodi reverts to the integrity she had shown in her other positions in other organizations in Jewish communal life -- a background that commends itself to a JFNA leadership role -- the organization's integrity will be boosted immeasurably. Yet, unfortunately, in her prior JFNA leadership positions (Chair of the Administration and Bylaws and Governance Committees), there is little to suggest that she will suddenly "revert to form," to her former self, as she steps in as Treasurer. But, if she runs a transparent process with a Committee that is allowed/encouraged to asks the hard questions and reject non-answers, JFNA may have turned a corner.
The End of the waste that is the Global Planning Table. Somehow, the JFNA leaders will find a graceful and quiet way to end the GPT. Although the GPT leaders -- mainly Kathy Manning, Michael Gelman and David Butler, with Becky Caspi staffing -- may cling to the belief that there is still hope for the Planning Table, the evidence...all of the evidence...is to the contrary: almost no significant dollars raised for any of the three "Strategic Initiatives," no Second Membership Criterion monitoring, no allocations advocacy, no...nothing to show for four+ years and millions of dollars wasted. Ms. Manning may still go around stating that "...the Global Planning Table is already making a difference in Israel," and we should continue to let her do so. Absorb the remaining "functions' of the GPT -- especially if one is a real planning and evaluation effort -- into JFNA and just say "thank you" to everyone involved.

BACKWARD...

The Silo of JFNA Israel. 27 people on the payroll and lacking a single measurable accomplishment, JFNA Israel is in serious, serious need of total deconstruction and, then, reconstruction. Instead, it appears as clear as can be to an outsider that Becky Caspi, the empire builder, who appears to have some Rasputin-type control of CEO Jerry (maybe a Star Trek-like "Vulcan mind meld?"), with nothing else to do, is now out to join United Israel Appeal to the silo. Perhaps the fact that UIA meets its fiduciary responsibilities and does its jobs -- monitoring our allocations for IRS-compliance, advocating for JAFI, administering the U.S. State Department Refugee Grant, and operating its owned projects -- and does them well with a small staff, its budget not even paid for by JFNA, is threatening to Caspi who must fear that someone, some day will actually examine how the JFNA Israel office spends its funds. Maybe Caspi and Silverman don't realize that UIA, while a subsidiary of JFNA, has its own Board and Chair; and, perhaps, Caspi believes that if she can add UIA to the "silo," JFNA Israel will have finally done something even though what it has done will have been UIA's. Where is the push back? Well, this probably wouldn't be happening if UIA still had a lay Chair.

The Non-CEO CEO. Meanwhile, and I probably don't need to underscore this, if Silverman is CEO, it is his responsibility to direct the JFNA staff. Included among that staff is the professional head of JFNA Israel. If CEO Jerry cannot or will not manage JFNA Israel, inasmuch as he is doing little else other than traveling and, I assume, thinking great thoughts and taking speech lessons, it's just another...another...reason for him to go...now.

Sadly, of all I have written about JFNA ineptitude, none of it had to be made up. From the first TribeFest forward through abuse of the JFNA Budget, to one failed FRD effort following another, to the total support of the Global Planning Table ("if the GPT fails, then JFNA will be out of business" said CEO Jerry), etc., etc., etc., there is a continuity of failure that makes one just want to look away. It's been 6 years of watching a car crash in slow motion.

And it continues...the poorly thought out "Education Unit," for which JFNA immediately hired two professionals -- to do what, exactly? Think about education? With hundreds of thousands of National Agency dollars to throw at Jewish education, with no history of operating anything (unless throwing failed parties like the multiple Festivii and dwindling GA after GA count as "running" something), you can predict the outcome of this thing -- hundreds of thousands if not millions ill-spent before the plug is pulled. 

The good does not outweigh the bad, but at least there is some good.

Rwexler

* I rarely take any "credit" for anything that happens at JFNA but I will take some for the "release" of the roster of sort of new leaders. Let me explain: inadvertently, on May 13, I released this Post even though anyone who compared that draft with this final version will note major changes. I reverted the Post back to Draft but not before 5 people downloaded/read it -- at least one  a JFNA professional. So...you're welcome.

* * I have not included in the list Susie Stern, who will serve as the Vice Chair -- succeeding the now non-existent Chair of the Executive Committee and all Vice Chairs other than she. Susie was a great leader within the United Jewish Appeal (back in the day) but in her service as JFNA National Campaign Chair and as Chair of the Nominating Committee she proved to be a great presenter and an excellent order taker. At JFNA, for those two characteristics, you get a "promotion." Susie could be much better than she has been. Let us pray.






Wednesday, May 13, 2015

TRUST US? THIS TIME -- YES

On May 6, JFNA's epic publication FedWorld announced a major allocations decision as follows:
 "THE OPERATION PROTECTIVE EDGE COMMITTEE made its final $6.1 million allocation of the funds raised by Federations to help Israelis cope with and recover from last summer’s conflict. The committee will continue to provide oversight and evaluation of funded programs. Heartfelt thanks to outgoing co-chairs Susie Stern, of New York, and Heschel Raskas, of St. Louis."
Perhaps only coincidentally, shortly thereafter, an Anonymous Commentator wrote the following: 
"Did a JFNA Committee or some group within JFNA make a decision to divert millions pledged during Operation Protective Edge from aid to the victims of terror to be used in the Negev for undefined purposes. Did they do so without any JFNA governance action and without communicating this diversion to the federations or federation donors who had dedicated these millions for another purpose entirely? Who authorized these acts and under what authority?
If these actions are true, what trust can we have in JFNA whatsoever?"
 If the allegations of the Anonymous Commentator above are true -- and I honestly hope they are not -- then JFNA would have enabled a process that corrupts our system. No one has the right to divert donors' funds intended for one purpose to another without the consent of the donor. Our organizations' sacred responsibility is to the donor -- though I wouldn't expect most of the current crop of professionals to understand that, I would expect that Susie Stern and Heschel Raskes would have.

$6.1 million is a major allocation -- too major to be merely "announced" without any detail whatsoever, and without any review and ratification by a governance body -- in fact it would be a perfect function for an Executive Committee but, sadly and of course, JFNA has decided in its wisdom to do away with its Executive Committee.

With all of that as preamble, I decided to inquire of the JFNA Board Chair and the Chair of Israel and Overseas -- and I learned that while there was some controversy in the allocations process, leadership engaged in what has been characterized as "robust debate" within an open process in which the major funding communities of Operation Protective Edge FRD participated along with other federation leadership. Apparently there was dissent but the allocations decisions were consensual and the Committee Co-Chairs assured a fair result. (Board Chair Siegal, in an email response to me on which, CEO Jerry was copied, promised me that I wold receive a print-out breaking down the allocations of the $6.1 million. Here it is, one week later, and I have received...nothing!! Unfortunately, this is typical.)

Sure, there are legitimate questions that can be raised about the flip of millions of dollars from terror relief by JFNA essentially to itself through its dormant Negev Work Group and Negev Funding Coalition; whether these millions might not be better held in a Terror Relief Fund escrow for future emergencies and, thereby, remain true to the donors' intent especially when the fund raising for Operation Protective Shield fell far below any reasonable goal and, as reported last week from Gaza in Tablet, actions there are "creeping toward another explosion;" and whether JFNA is merely attempting through this reallocation to revivify the futile, bloated silo of its Israel Office. I hope, but do not know that those issues were part of the Committee's debate. 

But we as a Continental Jewish polity should be satisfied that the allocations decisions were fairly arrived at with the right leaders in on the decision. If only all of JFNA's decisions were arrived at in similar fashion.

Rwexler



Sunday, May 10, 2015

IN DYSTOPIA...OR WHERE WE ARE TODAY

On the April 18 weekend it was reported that an actual deck chair from the Titanic was auctioned off for $120,000. Rumors that that historic antique now resides in Jerry Silverman's office are no doubt untrue. Many of you have called me or written me off-line sharing your concerns with the sorry state of our Continental organization today often expressing real doubts about the present and future of our once-strong system; and many of you have written anonymous Comments to my Posts, sharing the same sense that I have -- that we are not being led and that we are approaching, if we are not already there, the end of a meaningful, purpose-led Continental organization. We are literally up s___'s creek without a paddle. I just finished reading Anita Shapira's brilliant biography of David Ben Gurion -- the saga of the right man at the right time, like so many other remarkable men and women in Jewish history. Of course, no one writes about the wrong man for our times -- I will.

Friends, Jerry Silverman, or, more correctly, the Office of the JFNA CEO, is the proverbial canary in the system's coal mine -- if we can't fix THIS, then we can't fix anything. And, to date, the so-called "leaders" of JFNA -- through laziness, smugness, arrogance, you name it -- don't think anything is wrong while the coal mine is about to totally explode. As the Brits would say, "this is an unforgivable cock-up" of epic dimensions. Our "leaders" seem to think that living in the bubble in which they reside is living in bliss when it's really living in ignorance. And it is clearly "[T]he unexpected virtue of ignorance" echoed in "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" -- an ignorance grounded in denial -- that tells all you need to know about JFNA 2015. 

In the recent Israeli elections, the Zionist Union's commercials had a simple theme, somewhat imagined, in their opposition to the reelection of the Prime Minister -- Nine Years of Nothing -- a theme applicable to JFNA under Silverman -- Five and One-Half Years of Nothing...and Counting. There may have been the illusory promises of a brighter future and some kind of "change leadership" to some when Jerry  was hired but, truth be told, these were nothing more than promises unkept by the wrong man at the wrong time for the wrong organization. Think about it -- name me one example...just one...of a successful new program initiated (yeah, you may call it an "Initiative") under Silverman's leadership and carried through to a positive finish. To me there is ample evidence today as there was 5+ years ago that Jerry, who loves sports with a passion, can't hit a major league fastball let alone a minor league curve.

Silverman staked the organization's "survival" as he put it directly and publicly upon the success of the Global Planning Table (he frequently stated, starting in 2014 that "if the GPT fails, it will be the end of JFNA"). Yet, though there were multiple reasons for the Global Planning Table to fail of its own accord, it was Silverman himself who led the woeful GPT to the dustbin of history when he, personally and through his hire, former Large City Executive, Max Kleinman, couldn't come close to raising the threshold tens of millions necessary to kickstart one or both of the pathetic "Strategic Initiatives" themselves. Things have gone so offtrack with the GPT that its Committee Chair had to postpone a scheduled May 11 meeting (which would have been the first meeting in months) while "JFNA’s senior leadership is assessing how to best address the GPT Committee’s mandates" (whatever that means). No future meeting date has been set. In addition, the proposed JFNA Budget contemplates the elimination of two GPT staff positions emasculating the contemplated professional effort. In other words, after five years and who even knows how many millions wasted, the GPT is dead while Jerry Silverman survives. It did not have to be this way.

Yes, yes, certainly to the entrenched and immovable leadership at JFNA, or, worse, at the GPT, I am a revenant and a scold. So be it. I, with so many of you, identified what would become the Global Planning Table from the beginning as a terrible mistake, ill thought through and, ultimately, shoved down the throats of the federations as if it were some magic formula for change. It never was. And any thinking person who looked at the Rube Goldberg structure that emerged from made as instructed consultants and the fertile mind of Kathy Manning would have/should have seen it for what it was -- a multi-million dollar mistake, pure and simple that just got worse as it went forward, ever onward. Worse, even worse, was that while the GPT was failing, its leaders, with the acquiescence of JFNA's CEO who proved to be its greatest misinformed cheerleader, arrogated to themselves allocations decisions (the "split"), fund raising and more and more. 

And, add to the failure of the GPT (which is in all respects the failure of JFNA) we have the excrescence that is JFNA-Israel staffed to the hilt and beyond…doing what, accomplishing what exactly? And the JFNA Budget has evolved from a serious document that laid out the organization's direction for the coming fiscal year to a work of fiction. It is, as an incisive critic once wrote: "mumbo without the jumbo." If one looks into every nook and cranny at JFNA, friends, one finds nothing more than an incredibly expensive trade association -- an organization that has completely lost its way.

Under this regime, we have substituted "opening a new Mailbox" for fund raising. Just opened one in response to the horrific tragedy of the Nepal earthquake; opened one to assist French Jewry after terrorist attacks; opened another and another and another. Those in JFNA leadership seem to truly believe that once a Mailbox is opened, once a "Fund" is created, their job is done. This is among the saddest manifestations of the abandonment of sacred responsibilities that I can think of; add to "the Mailboxes," the "letters" requesting support for, e.g., the Jewish communities of the Ukraine, or any other critical need and you have summed up the futility of this version of a Continental Jewish organization. The JFNA tagline ought to be -- "JFNA -- Always Failing to Meet our Responsibilities on Your Behalf." So sad...so very sad.

If you brought in, e.g., McKinsey and Company to examine JFNA today -- not a bad idea, actually -- that consultant would find an organization in absolute need of total reorganization* -- of its laity and, most certainly, of its Office of the President and CEO. They would find an organization sclerotic or worse -- apparently comatose.  Perhaps the best analogy to the present of JFNA may be found in the words of a Russian dissident, Vladimir Ryzhkov, commenting on Putin’s contemplated actions to get Russia back on track: “The country needs surgery, and he proposed therapy.” For JFNA perhaps he would have said: “This organization needs surgery and its leaders proposed…nothing.” Nothing at all. How many years will it take to clean up the mess the current leadership "team" is leaving behind? Five? Ten?

And, there's the rub. We all know by now that Silverman's contract extension was based not on any fair examination of the record of futility of his first contract "term," one absent any measurable accomplishment or even hope for any in the future, but on the Board Chair's unconscionable and unsupportable decision that replacing him would so engage Michael Siegal that he and the organization would accomplish nothing before Siegal's term itself ended next year. Well, no surprise -- nothing is being accomplished and Silverman is and will still be with us. What an outcome!! And, while Michael Siegal sadly dissembles, even he must know he has led an organization of such promise through the mediocrity he inherited right on down to irrelevancy…total irrelevancy. Irrelevant to and within the federations; irrelevant to its historic partners; irrelevant in Israel. Calling the JFNA of today a "mediocrity" is an insult to the very definition of "mediocrity."

We have reached a low point that not even the worst cynic -- I guess that could be me -- could have predicted at the time that that terrible, inexplicable hiring choice was made 5+ years ago. Recognizing that Jerry Silverman was destined, by his lack of understanding of federation or the core values upon which federations were constructed, or that he lacked all comprehension of the lingua franca of Jewish communal work, was not some form of bias or precognition on my part -- it was nothing more than a frank appraisal of reality. I am saddened that all of what has occurred over the past 5+ years was so predictable...so damn predictable. Jerry may be a nice guy (I don't however remember that being on the criteria for the job search); but, based on the last 5+ years (and each and every one of them) he is and has been and will forever be the wrong man for the wrong job for the wrong time.

On these pages I have suggested why and how a continental Jewish polity -- lay and professional federation leaders -- might come together with the best of thought leaders to reform the Jewish Federations of North America. But there must be first an acknowledgment that JFNA will not emerge from any reconstruction on a pathway that even offers the promise of a better tomorrow unless it is totally reborn under a new professional leader -- I have offered many names of who might be up to the task were he or she interested. Just think back to a time when we were led (nationally at the time) by the Phil Bernsteins, the Herb Friedmans, the Stanley Horowitzes, the Marty Kraars, the Brian Luries, the Irving Bernsteins and look at us today -- in a Continental organization with a yawning void at its head. What needs to happen is that the federations must insist that JFNA effectively be placed in a conservatorship with a top professional -- one who understands federation and the system -- named as Conservator to lead a real reformation of the organization on an interim basis. These steps would, in turn, lead to new leadership and a recommitment to organizational purpose.

In the alternative, perhaps it is time to admit the obvious -- that JFNA has diminished itself into nothing more than a trade association of and for the federations: today, instead of FRD, there are Mailboxes and one failure following another;today, instead of programmatic successes, there are a string of failed "initiatives," one failure following another; and, now, there is FedWorld!! JFNA itself might confess to the trade association status but fears that reality would result in an appropriate reduction in Budget...and reduced compensation to the over-compensated. Let JAFI/JDC should they be able to work together at last reconstruct a "UJA" from the ashes of the JFNA disaster -- together they could not raise less from the federation system than is allocated today -- and probably a whole lot more.

When there is finally change for the better at JFNA, no doubt there will be a heavenly choir singing. And we will all hear it and sing along. Until then...pray with me.

Rwexler

* What else can one say about an organization that, e.g., increases the compensation of those whose successes after years of employment could fit in a thimble beyond comprehension and add titles such as: Director General, Israel Office and Senior Vice President, Israel and Overseas for the same person.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO...?

Are you like me and do you wonder whatever happened to:


  1. Sheatufim? In the original Post I assumed that Sheatufim had gone out of business. Two insightful Commentators (see below) have noted and underscored my error -- for which I apologize. I have rewritten this subsection) You remember way back to the days that Israeli philanthropist and entrepreneur Ronnie Douek kick-started Sheatufim, the organization dedicated to Israel's civil society in "partnership" with, among others, Zionism 2000 and JFNA? JFNA, over the objection of many, plowed well in excess of a quarter million dollars into the enterprise, and had/has a number of very important people on its Board -- Bobby Goldberg, Susie Gelman, Michael Gelman and Toni Young, among others. When asked why we kept throwing big money at this thing year-in and year-out, the answer, as I recall, was that "we needed a seat at the Sheatufim table" -- so, apparently, we bought it. As late as November 2013, less than two years ago, Sheatufim presented at the GA. We know what Sheatufim received from JFNA -- cash -- but we seriously question what, if anything, the federations received from its payments to that organization.
  2. TribeFest, the Festivus for None of Us? Y'all recall the first failed Fest -- over $1 million of donors' money wasted on a party -- true, it was a Jewish party, but there was no return on investment, just over $1 million wasted. Silverman and his claque then decided to ignore Santayana's reminder and repeated the Fest again...and, then, again. And, looking back as JFNA's leaders won't do, what, other than the  waste of precious assets -- maybe $3 million in total -- did the system receive in return? Absolutely nothing. In most places, heads would roll...but not at JFNA where failure has to be rewarded because outside of JFNA Washington, there are no successes.
  3. Select Core Priorities? Rolled out with great fanfare by JFNA and the inestimable Global Planning Table in 2011, these "SCPs" were described -- incorrectly vu den -- thusly: "Select Core Priorities (SCP) is the temporary overseas allocations model as called for in the November 4, 2010 agreement of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the Jewish Agency for Israel (Jewish Agency), and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).  SCP gives Federations the opportunity to direct up to 10% of the funds previously allocated via the core split model to one or more of the four programmatic "core" areas within the Jewish Agency and JDC agendas.  SCP expands opportunities for designated funding and is being implemented in addition to the existing framework for supporting Elective programming."  Friends,  at least 13 papers addressed these "priorities" at the demand of the GPT. The result? In 2014 federation allocations to these "Priorities" totaled $1,717,642 or 1% -- that's one percent -- of the pathetic total allocations. The costs to JAFI and the Joint for this exercise probably haven't been calculated but GPT/JFNA leaders couldn't care less. Oh, and the suggestion that this designated allocations process (that's what it is my friends) is or even was "the temporary overseas allocations model" proved to be the disaster that some of us predicted it would be.
Which JFNA disaster do you remember that matches these? JFNA...let us count the ways.

Monday, May 4, 2015

THE END OF THE COLLECTIVE

This moment in time has been coming for a long while. Those who care about what we affectionately recall as "the system" have been watching, commenting on and documenting the steady unwinding of what was such a beautiful and meaningful "Movement" since the day leadership was handed over to the unknowing and uncaring, to those who didn't and don't comprehend that absent collective responsibility, federation and its umbrella organization become nothing more than "another Jewish charity." And, here it is -- the collective is dead with federation lay and professional leaders celebrating the last rites.

In mid-April -- that's 4-1/2 months past calendar year-end, JFNA sent out the final 2014 allocation/distribution numbers to the Jewish Agency, JDC and World ORT (I do not know if federations received the same information; certainly the JFNA Board did not receive the data). Here is what they were told were the "final" 2014 allocations distributions:

                       JDC                       JAFI               ORT
   Core       $29,443,570         $87,607,082     $2,421,155
   SCP*          1,176,261               541,381          
   

   Advances                ($3,568,750)                                                                   

   TOTAL    $30,619,831        $88,148,463   $2,421,155

Yes, JFNA managed to make this calculation as complicated as possible. Let me explain: to make the allocation numbers less horrible (they were still abominable) in 2012 and 2013, JFNA cajoled some federations to "advance" allocation dollars against future allocations -- those advances totaled $5,408,000 in those two years. From the way the 2014 numbers were presented to JA/JDC/ORT those federations which advanced funds recouped $3,566,750 in 2014. Thus, the totals to JAFI/Joint and ORT were net of these recouped dollars.

And the allocation numbers as presented by JFNA may not include all of the designated dollars allocated by the federations -- for reasons totally unclear. Was/is JFNA holding back (there is probably a pejorative term I could use, but I won't) and using those dollars for its own internal purposes until, for lack of a better term, caught? Or is there a more charitable explanation -- like negligence or failed oversight? But this is just a footnote, important as it is, to the abandonment of the collective represented by the 2014 numbers.

In just three years, friends, there has been a drop in allocated dollars by $11,000,000 (after the repayment of the Advances) -- 9%. Maybe that doesn't sound too bad even if the result is that in 2014 what were once our system's "partners" received their lowest annual allocations in history. Period. And, if one looks at the draconian drop in core allocations to JAFI alone since the first year of the merger -- $185,000,000 dropping to $88,148,463 in 2014 -- a reduction of more than 52%. This drop is beyond belief unless you understand...

...That from Day 1 of the Global Planning Table, the "leaders" of the GPT have conspired to drive core allocations down while focusing an easily persuaded federation polity to drive designated allocations up. Thus, they created the "brand" of the so-called *Select Core Priorities -- something Manning, Butler, Silverman, et al., articulated would be "a new model allocations strategy" but which has been but a meaningless 1% siphoning off of total allocations. Not happy with that result, then the same chachams came up with Signature Initiatives, which would have required, in at least two instances, driving core allocations into designated Initiatives to the tune of $15,000,000 per Initiative per year. And, while a few federations pushed to fund these Initiatives with only "new money," just as they has argued that the Select Core Priorities be similarly funded, these were overwhelmed by the tide created by GPT leadership. Had the GPTers succeeded, core allocations would have been further and even more catastrophically depleted, if that were possible. To date, these Initiatives have gone...nowhere. 

And, core allocations? Well in 2014 the GPT leadership arrogated to itself allocations advocacy (that was easy -- JFNA neither did any nor wanted/want to do any), appointed an excellent Chair, and, then...abandoned the Chair and the function. The results, as they say, speak for themselves.

Meanwhile -- and some would argue that these efforts are a direct result of JFNA's failures on their behalf, JAFI, JDC and World ORT are in our communities raising direct dollars in support of core and projects within their budgets as well as designated projects, as they have had to do. They are raising 10s of millions annually. The result is a system in disarray if not total collapse. (In a not surprising reaction, some federation CEOs, whose communities have effectively abandoned core allocations to one partner or all of them scream about the "partners" approaching "their" donors. These leaders don't understand  [or care about] the cause, only the effect.) Meanwhile, JFNA opens Mailboxes/Funds and takes credit for the work of  the Joint, the Jewish Agency and World ORT and, incredibly, (if a transmittal from the Director General, Israel Office and Senior Vice-President, Israel and Overseas, on April 28 could possibly be believed) in the aftermath of the tragic Nepal earthquake, even that of the heroic work of the Government of Israel (and of Chabad of Nepal). Unreal.

So, where are we? JFNA has abandoned core -- each and every one of its overseas efforts has been a failed effort toward designated allocations. It appears to this writer that in the near term, core allocations to JAFI/JDC/ORT will be made solely by New York, Chicago and a few others. And, how long can that, and our system, last, if that is the case? It's a rhetorical question.

It's pathetic.

Rwexler






Friday, May 1, 2015

VLADIMIR SLEPAK, Z'L

I, like so many of you, was so saddened to learn that our hero and dear friend, Volodya Slepak had died in New York City on April 23 after a life fully lived. Literally 1000s of American Jews, and, certainly, all who visited Moscow while the Iron Curtain was sealed shut met Volodya and Masha and, after meeting, however short it may have been, realized we had been in the presence of a man, a couple, of historical importance.

For the Slepaks could have been our parents, our aunts or uncles but for an accident of history that cast them in the roles of Refuseniks, of Prisoners of Zion. We first met Voldoya outside our Hotel in Moscow, where he met us on a cold mid-October night in 1986 while the Iron Curtain was still sealed shut. He was unmistakable with full beard and a glint in his eyes and a warm embrace as he walked us back to the Slepak flat just off Tverskaya Street in Central Moscow, then up the stairs to meet his wonderful courageous wife, Masha, and Akhmad ("our dog has been in refusal longer than any other dog") where I, my wife, Bobbi, Steve Nasatir, and Rabbi Willie Frankel, z'l, sat and chatted long into the night over tea, and more tea. He showed us the mettle of a true leader in his strength and determination, the quiet strength of a great leader. For behind the great humor, and the self-effacement was the strength of an unbreakable will. He and Masha spoke of their son, who was able to make aliyah, and whom they were so desperate to join that, in 1978, they placed a huge hand-drawn sign over their apartment balcony crying out "Let Us Go To Our Son in Israel" for which Volodya was sentenced for "malicious Hooliganism" to five years in exile in Siberia. He returned to Moscow unbowed, indefatigable in his efforts for freedom for all Jews.

When we visited the Slepaks they had been in refusal for 16 years, and when we asked them what we could do for them on our return, their answer was probably the same as the 1000s of Americans who had visited them over the years: "Visa, demand visas for us and for every Soviet Jew, and never forget us and the millions like us." We did not forget; no one who ever met the Slepaks was not inspired by them as were we.

Almost one year to the day later, in the era of Glastnost, the Slepaks were given permission to emigrate to Israel. It was a day, and, later, a time of incredible joy, of North American Jewry reaching heights not achieved since. The Slepaks were released; they traveled to Washington for the great Rally for Soviet Jewry, we reunited with them in Chicago -- they inspired North American Jewry wherever they went. 

And, then, another incredible meeting. Out of the blue, in the late 90's, Arlene Kaufman, the wonderful and incredibly generous Palm Beach philanthropist who would later serve as the Palm Beach Jewish Federation Chair and, for many years as International Chair of MASA, among so many roles vital to community and People, approached what is now the NCESJ expressing her desire to fund an oral history of the Refusenik Movement. Serendipitously, I was in Jerusalem when the time came to film the Slepaks. I remember those moments as if they were yesterday: Mark Levin, the brilliant, long-serving CEO of the NCESJ, the videographer and I were off to the Slepaks modest home in West Jerusalem. It was such a wonderful couple of hours. As we sat with Volodya and Masha, (with Akhmad, also free, running around the house), with the sounds of Jerusalem, of freedom, all around us, we remembered the past but also heard the appreciation of freedom and some of the quiet fears of being forgotten -- something that never happened. I had the sense of my philanthropy having come full circle -- from Moscow to Jerusalem, with the help of, the strength of North American Jewry buttressing their own.

And, then, three years ago, on a small celebratory NCESJ Leadership Mission to Moscow, as we traveled up the now busy Ulitsa Tverskaya thoroughfare in a changed, now-modern Moscow, we passed the very apartment where that banner flew almost 4 decades earlier and I was again reminded of the Slepaks, of the Refuseniks as a Movement's, courage, of their Jewish souls.

Bobbi and I, and Steve Nasatir and Rabbi Willie Frankel were so blessed to have touched history in this incredible chapter of modern Jewish History. I will never forget Volodya, the Slepaks, none of us will. Memory can be and is a blessing at this time. Vladimir Slepak continues to inspire with a message that resonates within me: "never, never give up." Our hearts go out to the Slepak family.

Rwexler

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

FOLLOWING UP

1. On April 13, the White House convened two meetings with American Jewish "leaders" in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing. http://us5.campaign-archive2.com/?u=df4304ea8a37a7ef335a5fb1b&id=f1b61f2d9c&e=a8840142f1  The first of those meetings was with representatives of American Jewish organizations. One of those organizations, identified in reports, was "federations" and our representative was the ubiquitous Jerry Silverman. (Do the miles that Silverman has piled up on his wanderings inure to the benefit of JFNA?)  The purpose of the meeting appeared to be to explain away concerns in the Jewish community with, while seeking support for, the emerging outline of the Iran nuclear "deal." A subsequent report --http://www.algemeiner.com/2015/04/15/liberal-jews-push-obama-to-drop-support-for-israel-at-un-during-white-house-parley/ -- went into greater detail: 
"Regarding the first meeting, at which senior representatives of groups like the World Jewish Congress, the Conference of Presidents and the Anti-Defamation League were present, one source said the conversation was “difficult” and “depressing.” The source added that “nobody was breaking ground, they were at cross purposes.” An attendee who spoke with JTA described the gathering as “intense” and said, “There was an openheartedness, there were some deep reflections by the president.” Other participants who spoke with JTA used the term “therapeutic” to describe the tone of the talks."
We'll put aside for the moment the propriety of our Continental organization being represented at this meeting called at the White House by a professional, let alone this one -- he is, after all, the CEO -- when relevant organizations had their lay Chairs present. Let's focus instead on a singular reality -- here it is, April 28, more than two weeks after this meeting, and Silverman has yet to advise his Board of what occurred there (let alone why he was there); a dereliction of responsibility that is beyond irresponsibility. Does Jerry believe he had been invited to meetings of this nature, including this specific meeting, because of who he is rather than who he is supposed to represent? And...this is not the first time. My guess is that CEO Jerry just sat there like a good boy, grinning that grin of his, maybe eating some peanuts or whatever the President puts out for his guests and is just hoping against hope that his good behavior gets him another invitation...and soon. Don't we at least get a selfie of Silverman, Daroff and the President?

2. A friend sent me an above the headline, page 1 ad in The Times of Israel in which the JDC and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews were paired in an apparent expression of partnership -- the same "partnership" that was a threshold demand of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein for continuing his organization's incredible allocations to the Jewish Agency. At the time of that demand of JAFI, which was just one of many...many...federation Large City Executives vehemently objected citing the federation system's allocations to JAFI which had never been promoted in such a way. So JAFI backed away and Eckstein, reiterating that "this has never been about ego," pulled the plug. So, though I would not go so far as to suggest that JDC has sold its soul for a bit of porridge, who would doubt that if it hasn't already, that day will be demanded real soon.

3. JFNA is promoting its May 31-June 1 Board meetings with the fact that the wonderful Abe Foxman will be the featured ("only") speaker. I say "whooppee" and count me in -- can't wait to hear Abe. Also, Linda Hurwitz will be honored for her many years as National Cheerleader-in-Chief and, presumably, Michael Siegal will announce her secret successor -- who has no doubt been promised Michael and Jerry's "total support" -- whatever that means or ever meant. I wonder if Linda's successor comes from a federated community that allocates at the same level or higher than its City-size average. What are the chances?

4. In January 2014 JFNA proudly announced that one of North America's most valued Jewish philanthropists and leaders, Mark Wilf, had been appointed "to lead a new initiative* that will 'assess and communicate the needs of the Holocaust survivor programs' and bridge budget shortfalls of those programs." Mark and the Wilf Family have evidenced their commitment to the holocaust survivor community by their constant generosity to and leadership of this most major cause in their lives and memories to organizations ranging from Yad V'Shem, to Project Heart, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, among so many others. But here we have another JFNA "Initiative" that we hear about with great fanfare at its "launch" and then it disappears. I don't have to write about these pathetic failures that induce the best and brightest of leaders -- the Mark Wilks of our world -- and, then...nada, zilch, nothing.

5. One person (maybe there are more but none that I know other that I know of) took a careful look and published The Complete List of Jewish Communal Leaders..." who requested leniency from New York's courts upon William Rapfogel's conviction for stealing over $9 million from New York's Metropolitan Council on Poverty. I read some of the letters, all of which referenced "Willie's" good deeds (most of which were done in the normal course of business BTW) all of which were performed while he was stealing over $9 million from the agency he led -- a pattern of theft that appeared to have begun upon or shortly after his first day on the job. All I can say, after reading these pleas for leniency, is "what a great guy!!"

Rwexler


* Yes, friends, another failed "initiative" -- a word that at JFNA has no meaning whatsoever.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

THE JFNA 990 BLUES

JFNA has not yet filed its Internal Revenue Service Form 990 for FY 2013-2014...but it has assured some at JFNA that it will do so "around April 30" and has sent around the 990 to some sort of "exclusive list" of recipients the 990 that it will be filing. Thanks to those of you who forwarded it on to me -- it won't surprise you that JFNA didn't do so. It discloses, of course, among other things, the ridiculous compensation that it pays its highest paid and a new and very questionable role for one highly paid consultant -- we'll get to all of that in a moment. But, first, please bear in mind that the data are already stale by almost  one year -- just the way that JFNA likes it. This is a document unworthy of a wrapping for dead fish.

Now...on to the farce:

  • Jerry "Even I Can't Believe What They're Paying Me" Silverman -- $724,000 (+/-). This makes Jerry the highest paid CEO in the federation system...and for what? Showing up, apparently, because there is nothing else to show for this egregious compensation, is there. That Silverman makes more than the CEOs in any federation you wish to examine would meet my definition of "excess compensation" (and, were the IRS to examine the disparity between compensation and deliverables, it would probably agree) -- how about yours? And, this, back in FY 2013-2014. Can't wait for the 2014-2015 990 that we will probably have a chance to see in 2017 or beyond.
  • Someone else on the payroll who ought to be asking herself "how did I luck into this job" is the estimable Senior V-P, Global B.S./Israel and Overseas, Becky Caspi. She earned was paid $341,000 in FY 2013-14. Just incredible. And, again, for what: building a silo in Jerusalem that housed 27 staff members in 2013-14 with no measurable accomplishments. Yes, Becky earned more than any CEO in our system outside of the Large Cities CEOs (and even more than some of those). 
  • And then there is one Deborah Smith, still the premier "consultant," on the payroll but with changed "responsibilities" -- now she is "in charge" of something called "Donor Management" to the tune of $272,000 in 2013-2014. What does she do for that compensation? Has anyone other than Silverman ever seen her? How many times did she prowl the hallways at 25 Broadway? What donors is she "managing?" Or with the name "Smith" is she just a "ghost payroller" like so many in municipal government? Does she come up to NYC from Naples Florida to pick up her checks? She remains a highly paid, highly valued mystery person.
These are three examples of how little attention the JFNA Compensation Committee pays to its responsibilities. In truth, there are many on this bloated payroll who are doing a great job and deserve to be paid more, while these three are so overcompensated as to make the JFNA compensation review "process," if there is one, as much a mockery as the rest of JFNA. It once again, as always, raises the question as to why the JFNA lay leadership just doesn't take its oversight responsibilities seriously. We have continuing serious fiduciary neglect by a group of leaders who know better...or should.

Friends, when you have a chance (and, ultimately, you will find this 990 on the JFNA website as well as on Guidestar) to review this thing, compare it to prior years and you will find, as I did, that JFNA treats the filing with a repetitive disdain -- other than the financials, the narrative sections are almost identical year-to-year. It's gibberish and nonsense.*

Yes, another year, another "read it and weep." As bad as the 990 is...and it's terrible...it offers one more glimpse of JFNA as the Potemkin Village that it is. Nothing more than a facade for wasting precious donor dollars. 

I know -- wait 'til next year. Sure.

Rwexler

* It's long past time for the Internal Revenue Service to seriously examine the futility of the 990 itself. For example, by the time the data are published they are stale -- as in the case of JFNA more than one year old.