Special Interview Lautenberg: U.S. Jewry Showed Its Mettle Through Critical Period

American Jewry has demonstrated its devotion to Israel through a critical period for the American economy which is now hopefully coming to an end, Frank R. Lautenberg, United Jewish Appeal general chairman, said here this weekend. In an exclusive interview with JTA, Lautenberg, here to attend the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting and to lead the annual UJA Study Mission for a week beginning Oct. 6, noted that the 1975 campaign had produced the second-highest cash figures and second-highest pledge total ever.

The record year was 1973-74, the year of the Yom Kippur War campaign. But this year, though there was no war and despite the “liquidity crunch” which many American contributors felt in their business affairs, the UJA had achieved most satisfactory returns, Lautenberg said.

In part, the success may have been due, Lautenberg felt, to the very deep concern felt by many American Jews over the political-diplomatic struggle that Israel has been and is still waging. There is real and widespread anxiety for Israel’s ability to face the concerted political strength and economic influence of the Arab bloc and their supporters, the UJA chairman said.

The UJA, for its part, must constantly drive home the message to its contributors that despite the sums in aid that Israel hopes to receive from the U.S. government, its social and educational needs remain the burden of the Jewish Agency, which is funded by UJA and United Israel Appeal moneys. The U.S, government money, Lautenberg stressed, is very largely earmarked for military spending. Moreover, the aid sums, he said, reflect rising prices (especially for sophisticated military hardware) more than a growing appetite on Israel’s part.

LOOKING AHEAD WITH CONFIDENCE

Looking ahead to the new campaign, Lautenberg spoke with confidence. The first promising sign was the Premier’s Mission here last month, whose members’ pledges showed a 15 percent rise over last year. The second campaign kick-off–the Study Mission–begins today its intensive eight-day program which includes visits by air to the Sinai and Syrian front lines and briefings from top government officials, Jewish Agency leaders and army commanders.

The basic criterion for participation in this prestigious mission, Lautenberg explained, is a $20,000-plus contribution. But this is not the only qualification. The mission organizers approach each community looking for big givers who are also actively and intimately involved in the campaign and can influence others to give likewise, he said.

The aim of the mission, then, Lautenberg explained, is to stimulate the member to give, and to stimulate his ability “to ask others, with conviction and without embarrassment, to give likewise.” The mission will number some 120 couples drawn from all over the U.S. Members pay their own way. Some will have attended previous study missions, but a significant number will be new.

UJA’S RECORD ENVIED

Reviewing his UJA experience Lautenberg said he is sometimes frankly embarrassed by reactions of Gentile acquaintances to UJA’s record, “Usually, they simply do not believe you,” he said. Beneath the disbelief, he sometimes detects envy and even resentment. Jewish criteria of charity (“giving till it hurts,” is how Lautenberg expressed it) are not common among most Gentiles. In the wider world a $5000 donation is considered a major effort drawing warm praise.

UJA is often approached by other ethnic or other groups for know-how and advice on fund-raising, Lautenberg noted. “But they don’t understand that with us it is not just a matter of technique. It is a matter of Jewish commitment–which goes far beyond the UJA per se, in time, in place and in the Jewish tradition.”

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