The sound of silence – a lack of respect.

My blog site is getting quite a few hits. There are more than 320 people who have read my story about the millions of dollars wasted by the Jess Schwartz Administration, which I posted on June 12. I am including a report that is generated by WordPress, the site host, that verifies that I am being truthful about the readership of my blog.

I appreciate the feedback and the questions that are being sent to me about the issues surrounding the merger of Pardes and Jess Schwartz Academy, the lack of financial disclosure at Pardes, and the mismanagement and change of mission at the Jewish Federation.  I have received ten emails that are framed around the question about what I think the parents should do about the merger of the schools.  Because the question of the school merger is most pressing, and because the merger is not completed, I am going to focus on that topic.

Rabbi Kahn’s article mourning the loss of the Reform School is a must read.  I do not want to take Rabbi Kahn’s words out of context because his article about the merger is both scholarly, insightful, and copyrighted. I do not have permission to reprint the blog here on my blog nor have I asked for it.  The following passage is a small portion of his writings on the subject of the merger and should not be taken out of the context in which it was written.  But clearly, he shares with many of us a profound sadness, and has his own misgivings about the wisdom of the decision.

I think that you should ask your Rabbi to publicly provide guidance on this matter, especially if your Rabbi is a Reform Rabbi’s whose Temples send kids to Pardes.  I think this is Temple Chai, Temple Solel, Temple Emanuel of Tempe, Temple Kol Ami and Temple Gan Elohim, and Kehillah of Arizona. These are learned men and women who have many years of learning and I do believe it is their place to provide commentary, for or against the merger, and to provide guidance.

Until the other Reform Rabbis come forward and we can have a consensus, or in the absence of the Rabbi’s coming forward, then the leadership void must be filled by parental action.  There is really only one parental action that is effective, and that is to withhold your re-enrollments until we get the answers that make us feel comfortable about what will happen at Pardes.  I know that withholding re-enrollments would be a very effective action because the Board Members with whom I have spoken have urged me to refrain from asking parents to withhold their re-enrollments if they are unhappy with the merger.  Due to the fact that there are ten parents brave enough to be writing me,  the witholding of $120,000 of tuition, until we get the answers we are entitled to receive as parents and supporters of Pardes, will put an unpleasant amount of financial pressure on Pardes. 20 parents doing this, withholding tuition until we get the openness and answers we are entitled to get, would certainly get the attention of the Pardes Board.  The Board’s silence in the face of so many questions, reflects an arrogance and a misunderstanding of their mission in leading the school.  Unlike a heavily traded corporation where the shares are heavily diluted, there are about two hundred families sending their children to Pardes. Without the tuition from two hundred familes, Pardes becomes Jess Schwartz Academy, a collection of empty buildings.  Moving the school into forced Pluralism, where the t’fillah is going to be designed by Rabbi Kanter (who I am sure is a very fine Rabbi), an ordained Conservative Rabbi, without consulting the Reform families, seems to be smug, misguided, and the kind of high handed action that I would expect from the Board of Jess Schwartz Academy, not Pardes. Certainly, the continual circular referencing of what this will mean to have PEJE and Ravsak (see blog of the 12th) on board and supporting the merger is very far from comforting.

It is clear, that the immediate way to help Pardes, and insure the future of the school, will be to enact the tough medicine of withholding tuition, pledges of support, gifts, and the like, to make sure this last Jewel of the Reform Jewish Community of Phoenix is not swallowed by the chronic mismanagement that has destroyed two schools and set fire to the educational assets of the community.

Until the Board understands their responsibility to the parents of the students who attend the school and decides to be open about Pardes’ finances, the exact reasons for the merger, and explains to us why abandoning the Reform Jewish affiliation that has served the school so well is smart, then the continual financial support is akin to enabling an addiction.  If the school fails, like JSA and King David did before, we will all regret, and be to blame for not holding the board accountable for their actions.

Into thin air: The Staggering Loss of Millions of Dollars by JSA’s Leadership and some equally frightening information about RAVSAK and PEJE.


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Before I begin, I would like to call your attention to Rabbi Stephen Kahn’s Blog because I believe it represents what is best about any community: thoughtful discourse about sensitive events brought to the fore. Rabbi Kahn addresses the issue of forced Pluralism and his thoughts about the Pardes – JSA Merger.

I know that in almost all instances, I have pushed Pardes to open their books, file their IRS 990’s, and bring a healthy dose of sunlight on to their financial position so that we can step up and help. One board director told me that he thought that I was wrong to push for openness in the midst of merger plans and I told the board member that since the merger is not yet final, that their shareholders (which are the parents of the students) must be consulted, because a school without students is called Jess Schwartz Academy. When you read below about the staggering amounts of money that have been donated to JSA and to King David, you will see exactly why a top down decision, driven by wealthy donors is not a gurantee of success. Indeed, it seems to be a recipe for failure.

The William and Ina Levine Foundation and the Jess and Sheila Schwartz Foundations are required to make their tax returns available to the general public. These foundations comply with the law and their gifts to other philanthropies and non-profit organizations are well documented and they are to be commended for their philanthropic works. Both Guidestar and Charity Navigator provide access to their tax returns, and those links are located here for the Ina Levine Foundation and here for the Jess Schwartz Foundation.

In the Levine Foundation’s 990 for 2008, they made gifts totaling $970,586. Of these gifts, the Federation of Phoenix received $300,000, the JCC received $110,000. There were no donations made to Reform Jewish Charities or to Jewish Schools in the Valley. In their 2007 990 filing, the Levine Foundation generously supported the King David School with a gift of $325,000. They also gave $302,000 to the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, and $72,947 to the JCC. They gave a total of $1,707,988 and Phoenix is very lucky to have such supportive donors in the Levine Foundation. There were many smaller donations to Orthodox and Conservative Schools, but nothing to any Reform Schools. This is not to be taken as anything bad, the Levine Foundation supports the giving vision of their Trustees and it is terrific that they give away such large sums of money. In 2006, the Levine Foundation gave $1,000 to the Jewish Federation, $84,840 to the JCC, and $250,000 to the King David School. That year, their charitable donations totaled $1,157,391.00

The Jess and Sheila Schwartz Family Foundation gave away a total of $1,780,695 in 2007, according to their 990’s. The Jess Schwartz Community High School received $1,001,356, and PEJE (Partners for Excellence in Jewish Education – this is the organization frequently cited by Jill Kessler) received $325,000. In 2008, the Jess and Sheila Schwartz Foundation gave away $1,688,550. The Jess Schwartz Community High School received $999,446, the Federation received $50,0000, and King David School received $205,000.00. Pardes received $4,600 (first Reform based Jewish gift I have seen from either foundation). The JCC received $22,500. In 2009, the last year I have access to records, the Jess and Sheila Schwartz Foundation donated $898,793, a drop in giving by the foundation of approximately 50%, but still incredibly generous, and the Jess Schwartz School received $198,798 (down from $1.2 million the year before), the Federation received $50,000, and PEJE received another $300,000.00 Interestingly, the Phoenix Hebrew Academy, which was founded by Jess Schwartz, received $100,000. There were no gifts made to Reform Jewish Schools.

It is very difficult to know what the financial wherewithal of these foundations are because the JS Foundation operates as a pass through, where the body of money is put into the trust every year and then spent. So if the people funding the Foundation have substantial assets, then the funding can go on for a very long time. The Levine Foundation has substantial holdings in equities, which is very detailed, but again, the last information I have available is from two years ago.

What is absolutely incredible, and not able to be disputed from the records that we do have, is that King David School and the Jess Schwartz Academy were the recipients of more than $2.8 million dollars from these two Foundations within the last four years and there is nothing to show of this incredibly generous support to the community other than an empty building and 40 students. I am guessing that my figures are actually just a small fraction of what these two foundations have donated (the law only requires three years of the most recent statements to be posted). I actually get a knot in my stomach when I think about how poorly their donations were stewarded by the leadership of JSA, and if anything, the leadership of JSA owes a very large apology for taking this money and setting it ablaze. They owe an apology to the Foundations first and foremost, and second, to the Jewish Community in whose interests they were supposed to act and protect. Unfortunately, sometimes “sorry” is just not enough.

This brings me half way around the circle to asking, why does Pardes want to embrace this? We know money is not the key to success, and we know relying on a concentration of small donors is not a key to success. It was mentioned at the Town Hall Censorship Festival when the merger was explained, sort of, that the merger would eliminate confusion among donors and would allow Pardes to get national grants from Ravsak and PEJE. According to Ravsak’s 2008 990 filing (Ravsak is technically known as the “Jewish Community Day School Network), also available on Guidestar, their largest inbound grant came from PEJE, and it was about $110,000. Ravsak’s 990 from 2008 boasts that they serve the leadership and management needs of 30,000 Jewish Day Students from 120 Jewish Day Schools in North America and they stand at the cutting edge of Jewish Day School Education and Leadership. In this year, they received $1,076,481 in donations and grants and their executive director earned $140,000.00, or 14% of all money given to Ravsak (that’s a disgraceful ratio by the way). Finally, I have found A Jewish organization that makes the Federation’s management look like Warren Buffet. So, basically, that leaves approximately $860,000 to deal with 30,000 students and 120 schools, or, $7,166 for each school, or $28.00 dollars per student. So it looks like merging the schools to please Ravsak might get Pardes $28.00 per student = $8,960.

We also need to look at PEJE, the Partnership for Jewish Education. Their 2009 990 shows that they took in $2,290,700 and spent $442,000 compensating their Rabbi – leader, Joshua Elkin (who will be stepping down to do something else as of May 11, 2011. Just to keep this in perspective, Warren Buffet’s salary is $100,000), and $191,146 Compensating Amy Katz and $191,146 compensating Cheryl Finkel. That is $824,000 paid to three people of a tax exempt organization that collects 2.29 million dollars. So they are spending 35% of the money they collected on themselves. A new low, even worse than Ravsak. Maybe we should be happy with the devils we know. I don’t even think Bernard Madoff stole that high of a percentage of the money he collected. PEJE also gave out 11 grants, the largest was $150,000 to Ravsak, and then 10 other schools received $236,000, but the New Orleans School received $66,000 so the 9 other Jewish Day Schools received on average $18,888.

Clearly, the idea of merging the schools to get PEJE and Ravsak funds has either not been researched enough, since it will yield very little in the way of funding, or the Board of Pardes has been deceived. I actually do not know what is more troubling, merging with JSA or being affiliated with PEJE or Ravsak. If I was affiliated with PEJE or RAVSAK, I certainly would not tell anyone. So this argument about access to grant money goes into the intellectual dishonesty bin with, ‘they were going to start their Hebrew Language Charter School.”

Now, what remains? In my mind, the only possibility is that these two foundations, the William and Ina S. Levine Foundation and the Jess and Sheila Schwartz Foundation have promised Pardes something monetarily to become a Forced Pluralistic School and move to the Jess Schwartz campus. However, I actually think this is really unlikely because it would be beyond my ability to comprehend how such successful business people like the Levine’s and the Schwartz’s could be duped again by the management of JSA. Donors want to see results, and even the most passionate donors eventually realize they have been lead astray and that the assets that they worked so hard to accumulate, were just set ablaze, under the justification that this was somehow “good for the community.”

I think now that the matter of the campus is settled and everything is not rushed, it would be prudent to call off the merger, focus on building Pardes, being open with Pardes’ financials so we know what we are all facing, and not doing things in haste. Really, if we need to be deciding what is best for Pardes from the likes of the management of Ravsak, PEJE, JSA and the Federation, G-d help us all.

CALL OFF THE MERGER! Why I’m proud of Pardes, and the true meaning of “Hineni”, the Pardes Anti-bullying program.


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As Jill Kessler’s FAQ pointed out, the Hineni program of anti-bullying will be taught at the soon to be merged school. First, I would start with teaching it to the JSA board.

Today I found myself speaking with two of my friends who are on the Pardes Board, both of whom were excited to tell me that Pardes was staying put, for a minimum of a year. Apparently, this did not sit well with the JSA Board (and I stand corrected, the JSA Board has about 8 people on it, not just the two people identified in their annual reports to the state and their IRS 990’s). I was informed that the JSA Board just urged the Pardes Board to default on their present property, abandon their obligations to a mortgage holder who has been good to Pardes, and just move on. When the Pardes Board explained that is not the manner in which they do business, the JSA Board threatened to walk away from the merger. I am now advocating to the parents to put their feet down, voice their opinion to the board, and demand that that the board call off this merger.

I am proud that Pardes’ Board took the approach of integrity and did nothing to blemish their reputation. Pardes is a crown jewel of the Reform Jewish Community and the Jewish Community in general here in Phoenix, and they should not do anything untoward to blemish their reputation, their ability to serve the community, and their ability to get financing for expansion in the future.

I have had it with the bullying that goes on from the Jess Schwartz board. That the Jess Schwartz board is inept and accomplished at destroying schools is proven, but beyond that, they are collectively nothing of substance. A school that was the product of a wealthy donor kept afloat by corruption at the JTO. Corruption that enabled their Treasurer to funnel money to the school from the JTO without any oversight. It is not lost on me that when I brought this matter up publicly, the Treasurer of JSA was forced to resign from the JTO, and without that money, JSA imploded, dragging down King David with it. No less a community arbiter than the Jewish News highlighted that the JTO’s management practices were not even close to being in keeping with best practices. Is this the culture or the example we want for our Pardes’ Kids, to merge Pardes with a school run by thugs, by people who destroyed King David and their own school in the process? By people who rigged the JTO to support their dying monument to their own pride?

Who is the Jess Schwartz Board to put a gun to Pardes’ head and tell them that if they don’t merge the school and move to the JCC Campus that they (JSA) will go ahead and start their Hebrew Language Day School, implying that they will destroy Pardes in the process? Look at the names of the people on the board of that scholastic misadventure (they have changed their name so many times in the last three years I just call it JSA – the Jess Schwartz Abyss). The last names of those board members are frequently the same names of people who have donated heavily to the JCC, whose names are festooned on the wall in great big letters, memorializing their lack of wisdom for all to see. I once thought that these self appointed wise men should read Fooled by Randomness. Now I would be happy if they could just make it through Yurtle the Turtle. What kind of Jewish Community builds a 35 million dollar health club, then sets about trying to raise another $10,000,000 to keep it afloat, diverting money from Jewish agencies and Israel. Is this something we should be proud of? If it is, then I am ashamed and our Federation is a disgrace, a pox on all of our houses.

Intellectual Dishonesty: I had one Pardes Board member (who had kids in both schools and who was very active in the Federation) tell me that the threat posed by the opening of a Charter Hebrew Language School by JSA was very credible. The director told me this was the driving force behind this merger because it is proven that when a Hebrew Language Charter School opens, all the surrounding private Reform schools fail because the Reform Jews will go for the free charter school to avoid paying private school tuition. To that board member: your statement is intellectually bankrupt. If that was your motivation to merge the school, leave the board. To wit, there are only two Hebrew language charter schools in the United States, one in New Jersey and one in Brooklyn, and that is not a viable statistical sample, even if what the board member said was true, which it is not. That sounds like something posited by the board of the Abyss which was not researched by the Pardes Board.

The time has come for the Pardes Board to stand fast to its wonderful heritage, to be open with us as supporters and parents, and rally us to the cause of Pardes. I think we should have a campaign of fund raising to reward Pardes for calling off the merger, and tell Pardes that we will all give money to Pardes for doing what is right. If every family gave an additional $100 per month to Pardes, that would be awesome. And I know money is tight, it is tight everywhere, but I did not contribute to the annual fund this year because I was not asked, and the year before I gave $4,000. So if Pardes calls off this merger and opens their books to us, their community of supporters, I will give the $4,000 that I did not give this year. What could be more exciting than supporting the crown Jewel of Jewish Reform Education and restoring Pardes to its Reform identity? I urge you to email or call the board with pledges that are contingent upon them sending the Abyss on its way and let them know that we stand with Pardes as a Reform Jewish Day School, that we support Pardes as a Reform Jewish Day School, and that we will financially sacrifice for Pardes with our pledges.

In concluding, why would Pardes even want to merge with people who threaten them? What is the possible impetus? To get a shiny new campus that is not needed and that we can not afford. Show the JSA Board the door and wish them well in starting their Hebrew Charter School and let them score their own hat trick of destruction when that fails. I am no Kreskin, but this is the reality: the JCC, if not deaccessioned from the Federation, will finally kill the Federation off, which might actually be a good thing. Because if all they can come up with are solar panels, that is not much of a vision. Photovoltaic panels generate electricity, not wisdom.

The Leper with the most fingers

I have seen a very odd trend. While the Phoenix Federation Health and Fitness Company and their VOS JCC have increased their censorship of dissent and deleted me as a friend on Facebook (a type of censorship for sure, preventing me from posting on their site, which is a wee bit infantile to me), the number of hits to my little paean of protest is increasing. The bad news for the management of Federation H&F and Pardes is that the more I get deleted, the more I write, and the more I write, the more hits I get. I am not sure that stifling dissent is going to solve the myriad of financial issues at Federation H&F or at Pardes, but it is worth a try. It is working a bit in Syria. My house did get egged a few nights ago but that has more to do with my son’s choice in girlfriends than my opposition to the Pardes merger. Oh well.

This morning, when I woke up, I went to look at this blog to see how many people read it the day before. There were 137 people who read it yesterday and over 152 people who read it today. Now maybe some of those are people who have read it more than once, but I doubt that it represents a majority because my writing is neither profound nor particularly witty, so I can’t see it as a “must” read with a lot of repeaters.

When I picked up my phone, I had a text message from a member of the Board of Pardes. I have a few friends who serve on Pardes’ Board and I know them to be very good people. I just disagree now with the merger and with Pardes becoming a Pluralistic school because I do not have enough information to make a good decision about whether or not I support it. However, that does not mean that I do not respect these directors as people, they are my friends and it just means I disagree.

The text message said that the word-on-the-street was that I was advocating for parents to take their kids out of Pardes. I told the director to read the blog and judge for himself. The director texted back ten minutes later and said I was doing exactly what he said I was doing. I called the director and said that I disagreed and simply thought the school should be transparent, explain the reasons for the merger, disclose their finances, and not hide behind the oft repeated refrain that “this merger is good for the community.” So, the director said that I should not be suggesting any actions that would be harmful to the school and that telling parents that they should explore their options if they are unhappy is harmful to the school. The director went on to say that Pardes would make their financial statements available to anyone who wanted to review them. I told the director no one should have to ask for this and as a matter of course it should be made public (like the Federation’s information or Jess Schwartz’ information), and that making people ask for the financial information puts many of them in an uncomfortable position. Many people who depend on the Jewish trade for their livelihood can not speak out in the manner that I have, and if I was the owner of Yonah Shimmel’s Knish Factory, I can assure you I would be more circumspect.

Later in the afternoon, I got another text from the same director saying that CBI did not make their financial statements public and that religious non-profits do not make their IRS 990’s public. The point in fact is that Houses of Worship, Churches, Synagogues etc. are exempt from filing IRS 990’s, and Pardes obtained a waiver many years ago because they were originally part of Temple Solel and therefore exempt. I doubt, if the issue was pressed, that Pardes would hold onto their exemption. But, if Pardes does not want to be transparent, that will be to the detriment of Pardes and it will hinder financial support for Pardes. In general, it is very difficult to offer advice to the Captain of the Titanic and doubly hard, if you are like me and viewed as the leper with the most fingers.

I would think that the quickest way to end this discussion once and for all about Pardes’ financial situation would be to make their financial statements available online, like Jess Schwartz does, like the Federation does. Their mortgage is public, so what we know for certain is there is a 4.8 milliion dollar mortgage on Pardes’ current campus. I think that sending a board member of Pardes, who is my friend, on a fool’s errand to tell me in the morning that the statements are available to anyone who asks, only to have that same board member come to me in the afternoon to inform me that religious institutions do not make their financial information public, does not make Pardes more transparent, and the board position on this is both misguided and reflective of the back of their hand that they show to the parents and supporters of Pardes. Pardes is not a house of worship, and certainly now, with their new and improved Pluralism, they are not attached to a Synagogue. This semantic obfuscation just increases the specter of doubt on the whole merger mystery even more and makes everyone wonder what is Pardes hiding?. Markets do not like uncertainty, and either do parents who are thinking about spending $12,000 a year on tuition. My wife asked me the following question today: If Pardes was an Orthodox or Conservative School with 270 kids and merging with a school of 40 Reform Jewish Kids, would the school become Pluralistic to accommodate the 40?

The guessing game: Since we know nothing of the details of the merger other than a vague statement that the school was thinking about strengthening their t’fillah, I am left guessing. So my first push on the buzzer has me guessing that Mitchell Ginsberg offered the JSA Campus to the Pardes Board with the sole condition being that the school drop its Reform Affliation to accommodate the 40 conservative students. I guess that Pardes’ board is so enamored with the prospects of a new campus, that they are going to increase their mortgage load to almost $7,000,000 dollars to move to a school, turning their back on a perfectly good campus, with the vague idea in mind that the mortgage holder will just eat their losses, to be publicly made fools of, jilted for a newer model. I will now select Renaissance painting for a hundred.

No room for debate: I received emails from friends who were teachers, or spouses of teachers, and the refrain was the same; “your writing is on point, but I can not post a comment on your blog because my spouse needs a reference from Pardes.” I know that when I attended the curriculum meeting at Pardes, I was told by a senior Pardes Administrator that I should be kind, shut up, and not say anything against the merger because Pardes had done a lot to help my youngest son. It is precisely because Pardes helped my son so much that I began the blog in the first place.

The myth of hundreds: I have been told that hundreds of people support this merger. I have been told that the Reform Rabbis support this merger. I have not seen one public show of support for the merger. I would love for the Reform Rabbis to step forward, in their position of leadership and from their position of scholarship and advise us as to whether a Pluralistic school is something that is supported by the Reform Movement and whether or not they believe this will be successful here. There is a short article here at this link from Hillel at Ohio University that is a pretty fast read.

Have a great Shabbat.

A need for, and the importance of transparency for Pardes

Last week I attended a seminar of college directors and Jim Ward, the Interim President of the Phoenix Symphony and John Graham, the president of Sunbelt Holdings, and a board member of the Phoenix Symphony, the ASU Foundation, and dozens of other boards, spoke on the topic of development, fundraising, and the importance of transparency in the financial dealings of the organization that one is trying to raise funds for.

The basic recipe for success in fundraising is based upon building trust with donors by showing them a detailed picture of the financial status of the organization one is trying to raise funds for, making everyone understand the needs of the organization, and explaining why the organization is important, vital, to the well being of the community.

Pardes’ failure to be transparent in their financial dealings, their failure to make their IRS 990’s available to donors, means that the donor has no idea what is going on and it is possible that the donor may be donating to an organization that may well be on its way out of business.  Now in practicality, I am sure that Pardes makes this information available to a major donor who would want to see this information.  But the fact of the matter is, the giving matrix is a pyramid, with very large donors (usually one or two) near the top of the pyramid, and then the base is made up of many mid-level  and smaller donors.  By not being forthright about their financial status, the smaller and mid level donors are disconnected from the process, and generally, the apathy about giving is accompanied by the thought that if one does not know what is going on, the the one or two larger donors will step forward and therefore, my money is not needed.

Four years ago, when I served on the Pardes development committee (before I stepped down over the corruption at the JTO and Pardes’ continual membership in the JTO), I, and several other members of that group brought up the need to initiate an endowment campaign, but this was not a priority at that point in time, and it was a mistake made then and really sad that no progress has been made on that front.  The FAQ that came home last week is the first time that I have ever even seen the concept of an endowment mentioned publicly.  My guess is that Pardes probably lives hand to mouth, hanging by a thread financially, and the reason that they do not disclose their financial status is that they are fearful of what people would think if they knew the truth.  Unfortunately, all private schools are having a difficult time, and I think that if Pardes would be more transparent about their finances, they would have an opportunity for everyone to understand their needs and for everyone who loves Pardes to step forward and contribute.  Otherwise, aside from that warm fuzzy feeling you get from giving to a Jewish School, donating to a school that hides its financial status is like giving money to a marginalized individual who is panhandling and tells you he won’t spend the money on drugs.

As a note, JSA and the Federation disclosed their IRS 900 forms, and they should be commended.

The issue of transparency extends to other areas as well.  How many parents of the 40+% of the students who are Reform Jews are in favor of Pardes becoming Pluralistic?  How many Rabbis in the Reform movement here in Phoenix think this a good idea?  Where is the public display of support for this?  Why does debate, which essential for the success of Pluralism to succeed (as identified on the Ravsak site), find a deaf ear at Pardes?Why does Pardes, which has, with their JSA merger, done everything to stifle debate?  Is debate only healthy when the debate goes your way?  I continue to urge all parents who want more information about this, or members of the donor community who have question, to vote with your pocketbooks, withhold donations, tuition payments, and re-enrollments (and evaluate the many fine public school alternatives) until the community gets a better picture of what will go on at the new, improved Pardes.

What could be done differently.

I think it is fair to say that it is very easy to point out the mistakes that our Federation, JTO, Pardes, and the JSA have made.  They are a mile wide and pretty tall, so it is like shooting fish in a barrel.  I have been asked, and I think it is only equitable to offer an alternative vision of what might be a better plan for our community.

1) It is safe to say that unloading the Federation Health Club, campus et al. would be step in the right direction.  I know this would be a crushing blow to our leaders who have donated money to this “Golden Calf” of “VOS Judaism”, but it would be better to cut our losses and plow whatever money we can get back into the Federation.  This would allow them to fund their programs and get back to the core mission of being a Federation and not a health club.  To assuage the egos of those whose vision fell so valiantly short, and who parted with so much cash to fund this structure, I would propose a dramatic statue, like the one at the Marine Corp. Memorial depicting the raising of the flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima.  You could have all principles involved in this fiasco depicted doing very noble things, or on horses, or putting cream cheese on a bagel for a small child, or whatever, but at least these leaders and donors would be memorialized.  Each synagogue could give a child on the occasion of their Bar/Bat Mitzvah a small copy of the statue, so that the efforts of our ancestors will never be forgotten.  This might cut into the mini Torahs handed out, but I think it will promote healing.

2) Dismiss the board of the Federation in its entirety.  Have the Presidents of the Jewish congregations in town (all congregations welcome, voting rights to be apportioned to the size of the congregation’s membership) form an interim board of directors of the Federation. It seems to me that if a successful congregation has 1,000 members, their President might just know a thing or two about how to engage Phoenix Jews and he should therefore have voting power that is greater than a a congregation that has ten members.  Have this new board hire professional management to run the Federation in keeping with the best practices as established by the Nonprofit Board Best Practices, a document from the 2007 National Directors Institute put together by the Chicago law firm Foley & Lardner LLP.

3) Sell the JSA Campus.  Take the money from the sale and retire the debt from the current Pardes Campus. It is embarrassing to sign contracts, mortgages, etc., and then approach donors and ask them to write off our obligations.  It detracts form the willingness of people to treat the community seriously and work with us in the future. It is a blemish on the whole community, tarring us as deadbeats.  Pardes’ strategic vision of growth is great, but unproven, and if JSA and King David could not operate from that building, I seriously doubt that changing the character of the school to become Pluralistic, is going to make matters easier.

4) Utilize the infrastructure that the Jewish Community has at its finger tips.  The Congregation I belong to seems to have a ton of space.  I know many of the other Synagogues also have quite a bit of capacity to host events. They also have vacant fields that could be lined for sporting events, outdoor events, etc.  I do not think they have swimming pools, but I know that the Village Sports Clubs have swimming pools, basketball courts, etc., so I am guessing that there is a way to pick up the fitness slack. And, for those events that can not be held at a Synagogue because the crowds would exceed the Synagogue’s capacity, I think it is possible to rent facilities to host these events.

Relieving the financial pressure that our Golden Calf has created, while enhancing our sense of responsibility and survivability, might get the community thinking about things other than solar panels at the JCC.

The Golden Calf – The Valley of the Sun JCC or, Competing for Jewbucks



I love the Jewish News. They do a pretty good job of accurately reporting what goes on in the Jewish community here in Phoenix. So, last week I saw that they reported that Mr. Lahr, the past president of the Federation, has announced that they are going to raise $10,000,000 for an endowment for the JCC, which will then get spent down to zero over twenty years (the law requires that most endowments spend a minimum of 5% of their assets each year).

From the article in the Jewish News: “What became clear as the presentations progressed is that the cost of managing and operating the campus has been a drag on community resources because the original plan to establish an endowment to help offset those costs was never completed. As David Goldman, who chairs the VOSJCC board, said about current plans to establish an endowment that could “reduce or eliminate” occupancy costs at the campus, “All of us can’t wait for that to happen.”

He also mentioned that, with the consolidation of staff, there is now empty office space on the campus that “we can rent or use for other purposes.”

Lanny Lahr, a former federation president who is working on fundraising for the campus operating fund endowment, said that it is time to complete the job that was left undone since the $35 million capital campaign to build the campus concluded.

Lahr, who had headed the two-year capital campaign that began in 1999, said he has a goal of raising $10 million in the next year for the campus endowment. He said that $1 million already has been pledged by a single donor and that he is talking to at least two more donors about similar pledges.

He also said that the endowment would be spent down to zero over about 20 years, so that new generations would have to make similar investments in the community in the future. He described this as a new model of philanthropy among donors who want to see the fruits of their donations at work, not deferred to some later time.”

Basically, the Federation is going to raise $10,000,000 to fund a health club that can not be operated profitably, and $500,000 of that money will be spent each year to prop up this health club, so that it can continue to operate unprofitably for another 20 years and then the cycle of fundraising will have to be repeated. So that’s it – the community leaders believe that it is prudent to spend $10,000,000 on this Golden Calf for the Jews of Phoenix. Our shining idol, a monument to Jewish sports power, something to be contributed to at the expense of supporting the agencies in the community who were left high and dry when our Federation reneged on their promises. When the money is raised for our idol, will there be a bacchanal like the one depicted in that movie of the ten commandments? Although I will not contribute to the calf, I will definitely try to get an invite to the party. I confess to being a badly educated Jew, but didn’t G-d do a big smackdown for building the golden calf. Don’t we get punished for worshipping idols? Maybe that’s why this Jewish Taj Mahal keeps failing.

Here is what our peerless, sagacious leaders of Pardes do not realize: there are only a certain amount of Jewbucks to go around. I know a wee bit about this because I served as the endowment campaign co-chairman for the Foundation for Blind Children for close to a decade with John Dewane, who was the Chairman Emeritus of Honeywell, and we struggled to raise seven million dollars because Lattie Coor had drained the community dry on behalf of ASU. So when our Federation’s leadership attempts to raise an endowment for their monument to themselves, there will be precious little left in the way of donations for Pardes Jess Schwarz Academy and for aid to those who need it most. Hillel and Kivel may collapse, and I am guessing so will Pardes, but we will have the best Jewish Gym in town.

I am pretty sure this is a big mistake. I know this because Jews are historically not so great at sports. Yes, we have had Koufax, Hank Greenburg, Moe Berg and Mark Spitz, but aside from the list of NBA players who convert to play in Israel, I do not exactly see the list growing. But if our leaders want us to invest in a health/sports club, then we should follow, blindly, like we always have.

Breaking News: Tom Sylvester, From PCDS – Superb Professional Educator is Joining Pardes/JSA + My wish list of FAQ’s that won’t ever get answered about the Pardes – Jess Schwartz Merger.

Breaking News – Tom Sylvester, one of the most respected admission counselors, development officers, and private school educators west of the Mississippi, is joining the new merged Pardes/JSA school. This is like signing Babe Ruth to your little league team. I do not have the space to list his myriad accomplishments but he is a huge asset to any school and it is a feather in Jill’s cap that this is happening. Congratulations on this.

Now, back on point:

1. I donated money to Pardes because I wanted to support the Reform Jewish Day School in Phoenix.  Now that Pardes, without parental input, has decided to become a pluralistic school, which I am not interested in supporting, I would like my money returned to me so that I can give it to to my Reform Congregation (which will not be becoming pluralistic).  How can Pardes make that happen?

2. In the FAQ that Pardes sent home this week, it states that:  The potential tuition implications of a change in campus or the school’s debt structure are unknown, though our goal is to develop a plan that ensures no dramatic tuition increases are necessary.  Most people do not merge businesses or buy houses without knowing their debt structure or mortgage obligations.  Why is Pardes willing to take this risk with the school?

3. What will happen if Yeladeem Gan, who holds the mortgage on the present campus and is owed $4.8 million dollars, does not agree to write off a substantial portion of the mortgage?  How will Pardes survive?

4. Since Pardes is a 501c3, no longer sheltered by being part of a Synagogue, will Pardes make their financial statements public, as is required?  JSA makes their financial statements public, even the mighty Jewish Federation complies with this law, so why does Pardes not make this information public?  Would Pardes rather have these inquiries addressed to the IRS?

5. Since the parents were not consulted about this merger and the rush to embrace Pluralism and drop the Reform affiliation, how do we know that in six months Pardes will not decide to drop Pluralism and become a Yeshiva?  How can you guarantee to a donor what their money is actually going for?

6. What Reform Rabbis are supporting this merger?  Since more than 40% of the kids at Pardes are reform, I am guessing that their support for this is critical.  If the reform Rabbis do not support the merger, can the school survive without the Reform base?

7. Why are no reform Rabbi’s mentioned by name in the discussions of t’fillah?  I notice Rabbi Kanter is mentioned  so prominently, and she was ordained as a Conservative Rabbi.  Why did the Judaics department turn to Rabbi Kanter prior to talks about consolidation, as is written in your FAQ’s?  Was the management of Pardes upset with the Reform t’fillah?

8. In 2009, JSA merged with King David, moved to the JSA Campus, and both schools went out of business before the year was out, losing enrollment of 200 tuition paying students.  You are following on their heels within a year of that merger disaster.  What are you doing differently?  Do you even know if you are doing anything differently?

9. As a courtesy to parents who do not share your vision of Pluralism, will parents be given their deposits back and released form their contracts?

10. If this merger does not according go to plan because of the inherent difficulties in creating a pluralistic school and the unwillingness of Yeladeem Gan to be made a fool of, do you have a plan B?

11. There is tremendous talk of how willing the Federation of Phoenix is to work with Pardes/JSA and allow Pardes/JSA to use their facilities, but times are very bad for health club businesses like the Federation.  What will happen if the Federation continues to operate their fitness enterprise at a loss and is forced to sell their fitness holdings to focus on their core competency (I have no idea what that is and would like some guidance on that if you know)?  Will the JSA campus, without these athletic facilities, still be a good idea?

Answers coming Tuesday.

Is the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? Will repeating the same steps that destroyed JSA and King David just one year later, also destroy Pardes? What will Pardes do differently?

Hopefully everyone has had an opportunity to digest the Q&A memo that was sent out by Pardes in response to questions that the parents asked at the town hall meeting at JSA. If you have not had an opportunity to read this Q&A, the link to it is here.  It appears there are no directors from JSA who will be on the new board, yet that leaves me again wondering why the current board of Pardes feels that it is a necessity to become a pluralistic school?

In 2009, the Jewish News published a story about the newly announced merger between Jess Schwartz College Prep and the King David School.  At the time of  the merger, KDS’s head of school, Nammie Ichilov was quoted as saying,  “I think it’s important that the community understand that although this is financially the smartest thing for us to be doing, especially in economic times like this, this is truly an opportunity for educational improvement,” Ichilov said. “Sometimes, out of necessity you get an amazing product, and I think this is one of those cases.”  So my curiosity is piqued because the head of the KDS school felt that the community should understand that the merger between KDS and JSA was the financially smartest thing to do and that the resulting educational product would be amazing; yet within a year, both schools lay in ruins.

I believe the community should be interested in finding out what happened that caused the Jess Schwartz/King David merger to fail because after all, the King David School had been in business for over twenty years in 2009.  So, to see the school wiped out, reduced to rubble less than a year after merging with Jess Schwartz is confounding.  At the time of the merger, Jess Schwartz had 85 students and KDS had approximately 180.

The Q&A from Pardes contained the following statement:

We have always sought to provide the highest level of Jewish and secular education in a school that is financially stable and has the ability to grow.

As the Pardes JSA Community Day School, with our combined resources, we are now better positioned to do each of these things. We are now, more than ever, well positioned to attract the most talented teachers, pursue additional local and national philanthropy, and create best practices among the national Jewish Day School community.

We hope this consolidation will not only improve the quality of our school; it will help reduce some (sic) the division and fragmentation in the broader Valley Jewish community.

Again, another statement of platitudes,  similar to the 2009 statement from the JSA/KDS merger that stressed the importance of the community being able to understand that the merger was in the community’s best interest. Does this mean that the byproduct of that merger, which was the ruination of both schools, was in the community’s best interest?  Again, we are being asked to accept something without adequate explanation, only this time by Pardes’s Board and JSA’s Board, who have decided that this is both good for the community and Pardes, all without empirical evidence and following disastrously close to the footsteps of the previous failure.

When I asked a board member of Pardes about the reasoning for the merger, and the necessity of becoming a pluralistic school, the board member told me that this was a condition that was necessary to stop Jess Schwartz from going ahead with their plans to become a Hebrew Language Charter School.   In other words, merge with JSA or we will start a Hebrew Language charter school.  I told the board member that this implies a certain level of thuggish behavior on the part of JSA’s board (which would at that point be only Mr. Ginsberg and Ms. Steinberg), and it implies a certain amount of absurdity on the part of the Pardes Board.   I told the board member that from my standpoint, this was a threat akin to me calling the Vikings and telling them that if they did not sign me to a contract, I would offer my services as a cornerback to the Cardinals for the coming season.   In fairness to the board member, I was informed that what I  did not understand was that it is proven that when a Hebrew language charter school opens up in an area, it destroys the private Reform Jewish Day Schools in an area because the parents will send their kids to the charter school to avoid paying tuition. I can find only two Hebrew language charter schools in the United States, one in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and one in Brooklyn, NY.  I can find no evidence that the opening of these schools caused the closing of the surrounding Reform Jewish day schools in those areas. Yet, even if I could find evidence of this, two schools do not create a valid statistical sample.

So, completely discounting the threat of a Hebrew Charter School, I am again asking, why is Pardes School becoming a pluralistic school? Why does abandoning their successful model as a  school affiliated with the Reform Judaism make sense?  The Q&A does not in any way address these questions. Instead it is filled with platitudes about the hopes and dreams of what will be good for the community. Merging the schools to be a bridge, which will magically end whatever divisiveness in the Jewish Community that is perceived by the Pardes Board, brings to mind that great rhetorical question, posed by the humanitarian (and recipient of savage police brutality), Mr. Rodney King, who pleaded, “Can’t we all get along?”

On the Ravsak site, as I noted in an earlier post, it says that Community (i.e. Pluralistic) Day Schools are the only growing segment of Jewish day schools besides Orthodox schools.  So, if there are five community day schools in the country, and schools like JSA and KDS merge to become a pluralistic school, then the growth rate for that year is 20%. The description of pluralistic schools should be explained in a way that is meaningful. I think it is more important to look at how many pluralistic schools have failed and why have they failed? The board should be asking why did JSA/KDS fail?  Was it community divisiveness that did in JSA? Does Pardes believes that the merger will end this divisiveness? Were donors squabbling and was this was the reason that the JSA/King David merger failed? Can the campus be operated in an economically efficient manner? Does the addition of 52 students really make it possible for Pardes to attract the most talented teachers, as the Q&A states?

I am also wondering where the public support is from the Reform Rabbis whose congregations have traditionally supported the school?  According to the Q&A: Our Judaics department began conversations with Rabbi Elana Kanter prior to talksof a consolidation. We are very fortunate to have Rabbi Kanter as part of our Judaics team. She has an extensive background in teaching, curriculum development, and coaching both on a local and national level.   For whatever reason, the memo fails to mention that Rabbi Kanter is an ordained Conservative Rabbi.  Maybe there is a shortage of Reform Rabbis in Phoenix to give input into “Judaics.”  I think the way that this is written basically tries to convey a message that the school decided before the merger that they were going to give up their Reform affiliation and that we, as parents, who obviously have no say in such matters, are just to swallow this.

I wonder why we don’t ever see pluralistic Christian Schools.  I wonder why there is no Methodist/Catholic/Pentecostal Community Day School?

As I had mentioned in one of my first memos, I am withdrawing my son from Pardes, but that decision was made long before I had news of the merger.  Pardes did a great job of getting my son up and running, helping him overcome his ADHD and dyslexia, and I am grateful for that.  I decided to move my son because I did not want 9th grade to be his introduction to public school.   My oldest son is a graduate of PCDS and Swarthmore College.  My middle son is at Arcadia High School and he has had a very positive experience there.  The facilities at the public schools in the Scottsdale Unified School District are impressive, and they have impressive academic standards in their honors programs.  I would encourage all parents who are uneasy about these decisions to look at the alternatives that are available, both in the public and private sector, so that they are aware of their options.

All comments are welcome and will be posted and left up for review.

Why does a successful Reform Jewish Day School with 270 students become a “Pluralistic” Day School? Is the school really abandoning its Reform affiliation for a potential influx of 42 students from the remnants of JSA?

What does the board of Pardes Jewish Day School know that we don’t know? Pardes is affiliated with the Reform Jewish Movement. Their mission statement on their web site says that “Pardes Jewish Day School prepares students to become outstanding members of society through a rigorous secular and Judaic education, a nurturing community, and a foundation in Reform Judaism that welcomes all Jewish traditions.” Under the tab for affiliations, accreditation & grants, Pardes lists the Progressive Association of Reform Jewish Day Schools and the Jewish Day Schools for the 21st Century as affiliations, as well as the Partnership for Jewish Education (PEJE). The Pardes web site does not list RAVSAK. I have heard this name mentioned quite a bit by Jill, so I visited their website to learn more about what it is that RAVSAK does.

The Ravsak website is located here, and accordingly, their mission is to strengthen Jewish Community Day Schools. Community Day School is a term that is used interchangeably with the word Pluralistic Day School, but seems to be less controversial. Barbara Davis, the Editor of HaYidion, a Ravsak publication writes: The mission statement of RAVSAK, the network of Jewish community day schools throughout North America and abroad, speaks to the lofty goal of “fostering authentic Jewish pluralism.” I would say I am very unacquainted with Pluralism to the point of being uneducated about it, but there are many good articles about it on the Ravsak site and I would encourage all Pardes parents to look at the site. I do know that when I friended the site on Facebook and listed my blog site, they yanked it down immediately. I am guessing that like the leadership of Pardes and JSA, they are not fans of debate, or maybe me. All I know from Pluralism is that when Kind David School dropped it’s affiliation with the Solomon Schecter Day School Network and joined the Pluralistic world of JSA, it failed, and so did JSA.

There is a great article on the Ravsak site written by Michael A. May called Threefold Pluralism: A Strategy for Building “Hybrid” School Community. Because it is copyrighted material, I can not reprint it it without Mr. May’s permission, but I can include excerpts that merit some contemplation.

Mr. May writes: Twenty-first century pluralistic Jewish schools face a perilous task: to craft school communities that are “hybrids,” at once modern and postmodern. Like Jewish institutions throughout history, they seek to emphasize a degree of homogeneity and sameness—the cultural, religious, and historical heritage that unites Jews across expanses of space and time. At the same time, they endeavor to honor the diversity that exists within this heritage and to promote the presentation of multiple perspectives as a foundation for learning. Leadership in pluralistic schools is fraught with complexity, as tensions between the “modern” and “postmodern” elements of the school mission can engender conflict, pedagogic difficulties, and seemingly unreasonable expectations for community engagement.

Further in the article: No school leader is a stranger to conflict; one study from the early 1990s indicated that school administrators spend approximately 40% of their time engaged in “conflict management.”3 Nevertheless, what makes conflict in pluralistic schools particularly threatening is that the issues that are likely to be the subject of the most vigorous debate within such schools constitute the very essence of what the school is all about: What are our central educational goals? What should we teach, and using what methodologies? Who should teach in our school, and how should those teachers be trained? How should Jewish ritual be observed? What religious principles, if any, should we take into account when devising school policies? … A second source of tension that challenges school leaders is the complexity associated with instruction in a community school. As the expanded notion of community gains traction within the Jewish world, it is now simply expected that a teacher will master several different perspectives on a particular issue, understand each perspective well enough to answer questions about it, and present all of the perspectives fairly without giving preference to any one. … A Jewish day school’s mission of identity-building can be a third source of complication in a community school. The notion of bringing together individuals representing a diversity of perspectives and promoting thoughtful interaction among them works well when the participants already possess clear understandings of their own beliefs and practices. But what about day school students who are only just beginning to develop their own Jewish identities? Can a school foster substantive interaction among diverse identities while at the same time working to develop these identities, in many cases from scratch? … A final challenge that community school leaders are likely to face is a lack of ideological diversity or ideological passion within their school communities. For one thing, many of our community schools simply do not boast sufficient breadth to consider themselves truly representative of the Jewish community at large. …

This I particularly like: And in the realm of conflict, it is important to note that the most effective way of addressing this source of tension is not through the suppression or avoidance of discord, but rather through the recognition of the existence of diverse opinions, respect for an individual’s right to express her/his opinion, and careful management of a process by which these opinions can be voiced. As Albert O. Hirschman noted in his book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (1970), an atmosphere comfortable for those who wish to voice dissent is a crucial feature of a healthy organization.6 An individual who feels that such an atmosphere does not exist is liable to respond by simply withdrawing from the organization, which would be crippling for a school that seeks diverse perspectives as a component of its raison d’être.

I would highly recommend reading the whole article, because I have only highlighted a fraction of the passages that point out how unbelievably difficult it is to pull off a successful Pluralistic School. There is a fact that is quoted in the article that states that Pluralistic Jewish Day schools are the only schools showing growth, other than Orthodox schools in the US. I wonder if that is because there are a lot of Conservative Schools that have failed and trying to make an educational sausage of what is left is driving this trend? I am not educated enough to know the answer to this question.

So, back to my basic question about why there is a “merger”? You would not normally see a huge corporation merging with a corporation that is 6.5 times smaller unless the smaller corporation was bringing something to the table. Let’s just say that the “something” they are bringing to the table would be the JSA campus, which, according to the real estate experts at JSA, has a a value that is many multiples higher than the 1.7 million dollar mortgage owed on the campus. Is that a great reason to create a merger? If the board feels that they are landlocked and can not expand past the numbers of students that are presently attending Pardes, is there any statistical evidence to show that the Jewish population of Phoenix is increasing and for this demographically based reason, expanding the campus is smart? Does a thriving school with a bad mortgage on its campus merge with a poorly run school because they have a favorable mortgage? Does the bad school’s board of directors stay on and give their input on how the new school is to be run? Does anyone on the Pardes board wonder, “Gee, the last time there was a school merger involving King David and JSA under the umbrella of Pluralism, it failed. Why will our merger be different? Why will our attempt at Pluralism succeed? Why is changing from a successful Reform Jewish Day School to a Pluralistic School to accommodate the needs of 42 potential students smart? I hope that when the Q&A that comes out tomorrow, in written form, it will answer many of the questions and do a very transparent job of explaining why this is a sound decision. I hope that the “its good for the community” truthiness is backed up by facts that will help this proposed merger be successful.