Monday, June 30, 2014


I'm proud and excited to have been selected to be the next Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest, NJ.

I've lived in this community for seven years now. And for the past six years, I've watched my kids grow up in a thriving, vibrant, dynamic Jewish community. It's a community with strong connections to Israel and the Jewish world. And it's a community with an amazing history - and future - of taking care of the vulnerable, and showing leadership and Jewish values.

I'm proud to be part of it, and honored to be selected as the next Federation Exec.

Over the coming weeks I'm going to transition out of JDC. It was a difficult decision - I've loved the Joint, I've loved working for the Joint, and I've loved every single day of my "job." Now that it's coming to a close, I can say openly that I'm grateful that they paid me for something that I would have done for free.*

Thank you to all of you who have reached out with kind words of support. Keep reading my blog for transition thoughts, experiences ... and please reach out with your comments and suggestions.

I feel incredibly fortunate, and honored, to move to this next stage.


*But, you know, good that they did. Kids, food, mortgage, etc. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Step by Step

There was a fascinating report the other day on NPR from Cuba. The reporter looked at entrepeneurs in Cuba, their successes and challenges.

If you've been on a mission with us to Cuba, you'll have seen some of these developments.
Cuba today is undergoing some fascinating changes. Private businesses have increased dramatically ... but there are still significant restrictions and limitations on their activities.20% of the workforce is now in the private sector. But not everything happens at a linear rate.

You can read the background to the story here and you can listen to the report here

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Not the competition we want to win (again)

My colleagues at JDC's macroeconomic research institute, the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, are doing some fascinating research on how Israel's society and economy look.

One graph in particular fascinated me. Even after you exclude Arab-Israelis and the Ultra-Orthodox, poverty rates in Israel are still among the highest in the developed world. Almost a quarter of Israelis live under the poverty line.

In fact ... compared to all the other developed countries there's only one that beats Israel. The US.

If you want to receive this blog on a regular basis by email, sign up in the top-right box where it says "follow" ...

Monday, June 23, 2014

The depth of commitment

I was glad to be in Rhode Island the other day with my colleague, JDC's CEO Alan Gill, for their Annual Board meeting. The "Jewish Voice" published a nice piece on our visit ....

Alliance annual meeting recognizes progress, honors JDC partnership

By Fran Ostendorf   
Thursday, 19 June 2014 18:36

Sharon Gaines welcomed the crowd June 16 to the third annual meeting of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island by taking a moment to recognize the plight of the three kidnapped teenagers in Israel. At the entrance to the Dwares JCC Social Hall was a table with iPads so that the audience could sign a virtual message to the families of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel from the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). “We hope this will offer some comfort that we are supporting these efforts,” Gaines said.
As a prelude to the annual awards presentation, members of Pastrami on RI blended their voices for “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Hatikvah” as well as “Bilvavi.”  Pastrami on RI, a post-collegiate coed Jewish a capella group, is a (401)j cluster that performs locally.
Awards presented      
The Jenny Klein Memorial Teacher Award, established by the Alperin-Hirsch Family Foundation to recognize outstanding teachers who have excelled in teaching and demonstrated a commitment to Jewish education in a synagogue religious school was presented to Nitza Attali. Attali, who teaches second-, third-, fifth- and sixth-grade students at Temple Beth-El in Providence, transmits her love of her homeland of Israel to her students. “In Israel, our national treasure is our children. Keep on loving our nation,” she said.
The Riesman Leadership Development Award, created by Robert and Marcia Reisman to inspire and encourage emerging leadership, is awarded to individuals who have demonstrated leadership and commitment through significant service with the Alliance. Recipients attend the General Assembly of the JFNA. Rabbi Barry Dolinger, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Sholom, is this year’s recipient. A member of the board of directors of the Alliance, he served as lead educator for the New England Region of the March of the Living and is a founding member of (401)j. “Outside of your congregation,” presenter Doris Feinberg said, “you have embraced our community. You are already on a path that will cement your leadership in our community.”
Dolinger had particularly kind words for the Rhode Island community where, he said, “Everyone gets along and cooperates … more than anywhere.”
The Norma D. & Flo Tilles Community Relations Council Award was established to stimulate and encourage leaders and emerging leaders who have performed significant service to the Community Relations Council (CRC) of the Alliance. Sharon Gaines, a previous recipient, presented this award to Richard Glucksman, chair of the Government Relations Council of the CRC and a senior staff attorney at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island. As the Government Relations Council chair, Glucksman reaches out to government officials at the federal, state and local levels to raise awareness of Alliance priorities and goals.
Glucksman thanked his high school teacher for inspiring him and his mentors at the CRC for providing an unparalleled model of service.
The final award of the evening, the Joseph W. Ress Community Service Award, recognized an individual who has demonstrated exemplary leadership at the Alliance, local or national Jewish agencies and the general Rhode Island community. Joan Ress Reeves presented the award to Alan Litwin, whom she deemed “a regular Joe Ress Junior,” referring to her father, after whom the award was named. As she listed Litwin’s many contributions to the community at large, she mentioned the similarities to her father’s activities.
Litwin, managing partner of Kahn, Litwin, Renza & Co. Ltd., has served on the boards of the Jewish Seniors Agency, Jewish Home Corp., Jewish Family Service, Brown RISD Hillel, Temple Emanu-El, Miriam Hospital and The Miriam Hospital Foundation. He is a past president of the JCC and served on the board of the Alliance.
In accepting the award, Litwin said, “It’s such an honor to be named in the same sentence as Joe Ress, let alone get this award.” He said that the real reward is to be able to instill the same values of service in his children.
Alliance report
Jeffrey Savit, president and CEO of the Alliance, offered an encouraging report of growth and renewal at the Alliance, highlighting several initiatives underway.
“I hope, a year from now, we’ll be sitting in our renovated social hall,” he said, referring to the ongoing renovations to the Dwares JCC. He said that fundraising has resulted in more than $2 million so far, and that the result will be a “lovely inclusive user-friendly community center.”
Savit also told the meeting about the Living on the Edge Initiative, explaining that almost one-half of our community is living on the edge of financial insecurity. “We are committed to helping those in need in our community, “he said.
Fundraising has reached $1.4 million of the initial goal of $1.8 million for this initiative. “We are beginning to raise an army of people to help,” he said.
Commitment to community was the theme of the evening as the meeting celebrated the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s 100 years of service and its impact around the world.
“It’s wonderful to share in this anniversary with Alan Gill and Dov Ben-Shimon,” Savit said. “For 100 years, there’s been one worldwide address for Jews in need. We cherish our relationship.”
“I’ve seen the depth of commitment you have in this community,” the JDC’s Ben-Shimon responded. “I’m proud of the partnership we have.”
In an earlier conversation, Ben-Shimon said that he and Gill value the deep and meaningful tie that the JDC has with the Jewish community of Rhode Island. “We see the impact that Jewish philanthropy has around the world.”
Gill, CEO of the JDC, and Ben-Shimon, executive director-Strategic Partnerships, are well-known to members of the Rhode Island Jewish community, where support has been high for the work of the JDC around the world. Ben-Shimon has accompanied many Rhode Islanders on missions around the world.
From the JDC
Gill delivered a brief history of the JDC, from its beginnings in 1914, and a “brief snapshot of the Jewish world through the JDC lens. “Here we sit as brother and sister. We, as a Jewish people, will be there to help. The 100th anniversary is a time to consider where every dollar you give us is spent,” he said.
He explained that the JDC’s mission hasn’t changed though the years.
He stressed that all Jews are responsible for one another. “We are the only Jewish organization that holds itself accountable.” The JDC is active throughout the world – in Russia, in Hungary and Ukraine, in Greece, in Germany, and in Israel and in many other countries. Wherever there are Jews who need food, medicine, financial help or help staying safe, the JDC is there.
Israel is one example. Gill said that 36.5 percent of Israeli children are living below the poverty line. “We’re fighting poverty. We can’t afford a social fabric that’s frayed.”
Ukraine is another example. Gill mentioned the work that the JDC is doing there to make sure that Ukraine’s Jewish population, which numbers more than 300,000, is getting the help it needs.
“I talk about the history to remind us of what happens when we stay focused on our mission,” Gill said. “Our mission is our business plan.”
His compelling stories of housebound elderly in communities under stress, worldwide, held the attention of the crowd. They were meant to illustrate the work done by the JDC, said Gill, so “am Israel chai” … the Jewish people shall live.
Following Gill’s speech, Edward Feldstein installed the newly elected boards of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, the Federation Foundation and the Alliance Realty.
Gaines ended the evening with remarks echoing those of Savit. “Change is never easy,” she said. But, showing what Feldstein had termed her positive outlook, she said, “We will continue to move forward.” She cited the Living on the Edge Initiative as a defining moment and said that the Alliance is positioning itself for a great future.

FRAN OSTENDORF is the Editor of The Jewish Voice.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The huge shoes

I was grateful to be interviewed in last week's New Jersey Jewish News on the tasks and horizons ahead.

‘We don’t draw borders around caring’
Questions for Dov Ben-Shimon

As a resident of Fanwood and as the next top professional of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, succeeding 19-year veteran Max Kleinman, Dov Ben-Shimon says he understands the successes he’ll inherit and the challenges that are ahead. 

“I am fully aware of the huge shoes I am expected to fulfill, the incredible achievement Max has had, and I am humbled by the opportunity,” he said June 9. “I am also aware of the achievement of the professional staff and how hard they work every day to make this community even more successful. Finally, I am looking forward to the deep cooperation and partnership with our partner agencies and other institutions in our community.”

Ben-Shimon said there are three areas he’ll be particularly focused on between now and when he assumes the post in the fall: outreach to the unaffiliated, expanding the donor base, and deepening the Jewish values with which professionals and lay leaders approach their work and voluntarism.

He spoke about these and other priorities with NJJN editor-in-chief Andrew Silow-Carroll; below is a lightly edited transcript of their conversation. 

NJJN: As a resident here for seven years, what have you learned about the community and especially about what had been, before the merger of the MetroWest and Central NJ federations, the historic Central territory? 
Ben-Shimon: I’ve been blessed to have raised my children in this community. I told the search committee that there were two reasons I wanted the job, and their names are Eitan and Yael, our six-year-old twins. I wanted my children to grow up Jewishly in this community, with a strong, thriving and healthy Jewish community that understands the value of leadership and service.
And being an active member of Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford and of the Scotch Plains JCC, I’ve gotten to see to see the dynamism of Jewish life here. 

NJJN: From what you know or have experienced of the merger, how do you think it is going?
Ben-Shimon: I am aware of some of the concerns and grateful that many of the leaders of Central have reached out to me and shared their hopes and aspirations. I am aware that there have been incredible successes in this merger and still much left to do. It’s no easy task, but with a merger between two highly prominent and visible federations with two different cultures, there are always going to be challenges that we cannot meet overnight. But with good will and hard work we can continue the successes of the merger and rise to meet the challenges that are ahead. 

NJJN: It’s no secret that most federations are struggling to attract younger donors and to keep the campaign growing in the face of competition from other charities, Jewish and non-Jewish. How do you plan to grow the campaign?
Ben-Shimon: The competition we face is not with other Jewish organizations. I’ve been a professional fund-raiser for Jewish organizations for 17 years, and I have never felt that Jewish organizations are in competition with each other. If you give to one or two or three, you will understandably give to a fourth. Once on the path you’ll understand it. When someone is already highly identified and in love with the Jewish world, the conversation is easy for us.
The byword is collaboration. The challenge of the federations, and the JCCs, and the synagogues, and the organizations is to bring in the unaffiliated.

NJJN: So how do you do that, especially when some are more interested in so-called “boutique” giving as opposed to umbrella giving?
Ben-Shimon: Two steps. A lot of my colleagues in professional and lay leadership are expressing a desire to help make the federation more efficient in its fund-raising efforts. That means making sure we are speaking in a coordinated voice, that we improve our databases, our messaging, and our branding.
The other level is in helping constituencies — donors, supporters, and lay leaders — fall in love with us again. It is not an enticing prospect when a federation comes to you once a year and just asks for money. We need to rethink how the federation and the agencies dialogue with the community as a whole. How do we reach out and share the successes and achievements and horizons with as many members of the Jewish community as we can? 

NJJN: I heard that you “love” fund-raising. Why?
Ben-Shimon: It allows me to see people’s deepest hope and love and reminds me that Jewish philanthropy is all about our donors and leadership and not so much about our organizations. It’s an incredible z’chut [privilege] to work in Jewish communal service and see the Jewish path that our donors and leaders are taking, and to help escort them along that path. Fund-raising is one aspect of that journey. 

NJJN: Your recent background is with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which has an international focus. Are you prepared for the domestic challenges of raising money for local needs, like schools, family service, and the elderly? What do you see as the right balance of the domestic, Israel, and international?
Ben-Shimon: I don’t believe in drawing a radius around the Jewish community and saying, “This is all we have.” Once we start setting up strict funding barriers between local, national, international, and Israel causes, we are cheapening the value of what a Jewish community can aspire to. For me, the dialogue we have to have has to be wider and more reflective of the values we have as Jews. We don’t draw borders around caring in the Jewish world. We have much wider horizons. We won’t be able to help Israel and the world if we don’t have a strong Jewish community at home. On the other hand, if we don’t have a strong Israel and strong connections to a diverse Jewish world that makes us proud, we won’t have the values that make us a strong Jewish community at home.
We live in one of the most Zionist communities in North America, and I think one of the reasons is because we are a very wide-horizoned people. We look at the world in a very sophisticated manner. We have deep ties to Israel and are not constrained with a small-scale view of who we are as Jews in New Jersey.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Mazal tov to my colleagues in Myers-JDC-Brookdale, JDC's applied social research center, on their 40th Anniversary.

To celebrate the occasion, they put out this lovely video.

If you support the idea of understanding Israel's pressing social issues, how we can find decent information and research, how we know what we know ... this is a good place to start ...

If you want to receive this blog on a regular basis by email, sign up in the top-right box where it says "follow" ...

Monday, June 16, 2014

Things that take too long

I'm on a train heading up to the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. Together with JDC's CEO, Alan Gill, I'm going to speak at a number of events to thank the Alliance for their support of the Joint and our partnership in places like Poland and Afula. But, train journeys being what they are ... my mind got wandering to things that take a long time. And sometimes, too long.

My colleagues at JDC's macroeconomic research institute, the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies, have a fascinating review on labor productivity in Israel. One of their findings is how long it takes to start a business. The OECD average is 13 days. The US is 6 days.

Israel ... is 34 days. Over a month to overcome bureaucracy before you can start production. High concentration in the domestic market, lots of regulation, not enough competition. So ... higher domestic prices, lower attractiveness of the economic environment.

We have to fix this. Because money won't flow to physical and capital investment that slow down growth.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Questions

We had an amazing meeting with some 70 Israeli philanthropists the other week in Jerusalem as part of the JDC Centennial Board meetings. I sat with an inspiring Jerusalem philanthropist, born in Germany, who supports tolerance and peace programs. I had a drink with a couple from Tel Aviv who donate significant funds to support after-school programs for kids-at-risk. And there were countless stories of philanthropic journeys and discoveries.

Don't let anyone tell you that there's no philanthropy in Israel. It's real, and it's impressive. It's growing.

One of the exercises we ran in small groups was to ask each other some basic questions about philanthropy. I thought the questions were so clever, and so focused, that I wrote them down.

They were  ....

What is the main focus of your philanthropy and how did you choose it?
What was your first giving moment?
What motivates you to be a philanthropist?
Who is your philanthropic role model?
What is your vision for the next generation of philanthropists?
What are the values that guide your giving?
What's the most meaningful philanthropic gift you've ever given?
What's your biggest challenge as a philanthropist?
Have you ever regretted a philanthropic gift?

If you get the chance - try doing this exercise with friends.
It's an amazing revelation, and really gives you an opportunity to hear people's deepest values and motivations. Plus it's a lot of fun.

If you want to receive this blog on a regular basis by email, sign up in the top-right box where it says "follow" ...

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


I'm in Baltimore today, presenting with JDC's CEO Alan Gill, about the work we do around the world. Which is why I was particularly struck by this video. 

It was made by my colleagues to show the areas in which we work and the people whose lives we make better ... because of the support of our funders. Makes me proud. 

If you support our work, you should feel proud too.

If you want to receive this blog on a regular basis by email, sign up in the top-right box where it says "follow" ...

Monday, June 9, 2014

What will become of us?

Some 40% of Israel's children live under the poverty line according to market incomes (before welfare and taxes). Only Poland, in all the developed world, has a higher child-poverty rate.

After the welfare and tax systems are taken into account, disposable income poverty in Israel among children is the highest in the West. It actually increased by 61% from 1992-2011.

We may be a Start-Up Nation. But many of our kids won't be in it.

My colleagues at JDC's macroeconomic research institute, the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, have done some fascinating research on this subject ... take a look at this chart for an example:

If you want to receive this blog on a regular basis by email, sign up in the top-right box where it says "follow" ...

Friday, June 6, 2014

Easy doesn't challenge

I visited Susan's House again recently. If you haven't been - you need to go. It's an amazing workshop in Talpiot, Jerusalem, where at-risk kids get a fresh chance with training in woodwork, glasswork, ceramics and the arts.

But really, it's not 'about' the crafts (even though they're beautiful, and they make terrific gifts and souvenirs).

It's about helping kids who face the worst situations of crime, abuse, neglect and more, and giving them self-esteem, the idea that they can succeed and make something of themselves.

They learn business skills - and social skills. And I loved the concept that they don't 'do' simple jewelry or art - they have to do complex pieces. Because the kids need to grapple and concentrate, and feel a sense of achievement. They don't do easy pieces.

Easy doesn't challenge.
Easy doesn't give you a sense of fulfillment at the end.

JDC helped set up Susan's House. But what I like most about our connection there is that we don't have one anymore. We've phased out.

But, you know, they always need people to buy things. So add a visit to your next Israel mission or trip.

If you want to receive this blog on a regular basis by email, sign up in the top-right box where it says "follow" ...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

How not to be alone

Etti is 94 years old. She lives with a caregiver in Bet HaKerem, in Jerusalem. And she's a member of a JDC Supportive Community. I met her recently when she was doing some group exercises in the Supportive Community program (below). The elderly meet every day for a cultural program, maybe a meal or a movie, or a lecture about something interesting.

The Community Father, Tzion, is JDC's liaison to the 240 elderly clients in the community. They receive cultural activities, medical support, emergency care if needed, home repairs ... most of all, they get the knowledge that they're not alone. That people care about them.

This is the key to ageing-in-place - we know that people live longer when they live at home. But they have to have a decent life, and a social framework, as well as the care and medical support they need.

There are 250 Supportive Communities all over Israel, serving some 50,000 Jews, Arabs, Haredim, blind, disabled, minorities ... you name it.

And sitting in Etti's living room later, we talked with Tzion and Rachel (the Community "Mother," who organizes cultural and other programs). Tzion worked 36 years in the Bezek phone company. "In 36 years I never once had a single day as good as every day I have here as the Community Father."

And for Etti, who sometimes needs Tzion to change a lightbulb, or help her when she feels sick or weak, Tzion is "really like my Father. He's there for me. I'm not alone."

If you want to receive this blog on a regular basis by email, sign up in the top-right box where it says "follow" ...

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Not the kind of competition we want to win

My colleagues at JDC's macroeconomic research institute, the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies, shared a fascinating table in their 2014 report on Israeli society and economy.

Israel's educational inequality is consistently the highest in the developed world. And to the extent that education gives you an entry to the job market ... then education inequality shows you the challenge ahead. Namely - income gaps, social unrest, and more.

The gaps between pupils are consistently the highest in the developed world. We have to solve this. It's going to shape the future of Israel, and not in a good way.

If you want to receive this blog on a regular basis by email, sign up in the top-right box where it says "follow" ...