NEW YORK (Mar. 29)
A committee of the UJA-Federation of New York has approved in principle a report that will commit the agency to work for the depoliticization and modernization of the primary beneficiary of its funds, the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Thus the largest fund-raising body of any single Jewish community will ask the Israeli quasi-governmental social service instrument to open its allocation procedures to allow for greater input from diaspora Jewry and increased funding for programs of the Conservative and Reform movements in Israel.
The report, drafted by a Jewishly hetero-geneous ad hoc committee led by Rabbi Saul Tepliz of Congregation Sons of Israel in Woodmere, N.Y., also directs the UJA-Federation to strengthen its own Jewish Agency Committee and consider the committee’s work to be “of highest priority.”
That committee unanimously approved the thrust of the report Wednesday, and a subcommittee will be appointed to examine suggested modifications, none substantive, according to UJA-Federation executive vice-president Ernest Michel. He expects the report to be ready for the consideration, and approval, of the full UJA-Federation board in May.
ABOUT $70 MILLION
The UJA-Federation sends about 70 percent of the money it raises annually, after expenses, through the United Jewish Appeal and then the United Israel Appeal to the Jewish Agency, which disperses it to a variety of social service and educational programs in Israel. Last year that was about $70 million, according to Michel. That sum is nearly 20 percent of the Jewish Agency’s budget.
But the report contended that the variety of recipients was too narrow. *(T)he Jewish Agency allocates more to institutions and programs affiliated with various Orthodox groups than to those affiliated with Conservative and Reform groups,” the report said. The latter two movements have been heatedly arguing that very point for several years.
The report found no “evidence of an overt policy of discrimination against any of the three religious movements by the Jewish Agency. However, the perception of inequity is not unfounded…”
This disparity reflects Israeli society, according to the report, specifically that: one percent of the Israeli population is Conservative or Reform; the Orthodox-dominated “state-estab-lished religious system … does not recognize the legitimacy of Conservative or Reform Judaism”; and that those movements don’t have the power of the Orthodox political parties to influence Jewish Agency decisions.
The report committee, comprising six principal members of Conservative, Orthodox and Reform organizations, interviewed 46 leading Israelis from throughout the religious and political spectra from February 1-5.
The committee concluded that the Jewish Agency “functions in the world of a generation ago” and is most concerned with protecting the status quo. That old reality, the report asserted, was created “at a time when there was little active participation in Israeli society by apolitical religious movements…”
New requests for funds are lost in the Jewish Agency’s bureaucratic shuffle or delayed “indefinitely for insufficient reasons,” the report charged.
The 66-year-old Jewish Agency has undergone several reforms since 1971, when it formally separated its functions from those of the World Zionist Organization, the representative body of Zionist groups and a liaison between Israel and the diaspora.
WZO representatives continue to sit on Jewish Agency policy-making bodies, but the diaspora Jewry fund-raisers and program-planners are demanding and receiving improved fiscal accountability and a greater say. This was made official with the 1981 Caesaria Process.
MORE FUNDS TO NON-ORTHODOX
These reforms may explain a breakthrough of sorts for the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel. The Jewish Agency plans to allocate about $2.5 million to their programs this year, Jewish Agency treasurer Akiva Lewinsky told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in Jerusalem Thursday.
That’s more than five times what they received last year. Still, the programs of the Israeli Orthodox are to receive a reported $30 million. Meanwhile, programs of American Orthodox institutions will receive a reported $600,000.
Of the diaspora protesters, the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation (JCF) could be considered the loudest. Claiming the Jewish Agency isn’t addressing JCF members’ concerns, the JCF has taken the unique step of planning to donate $100,000 directly to programs in Israel that stress intergroup and intragroup relations, bypassing the Jewish Agency. But JCF will continue to send more than $8 million annually to the Jewish Agency.
Michel of the UJA-Federation stressed to the JTA that the San Francisco action had no bearing on his agency’s report, that his agency has taken no official position on the action and that he and probably a majority of the UJA-Federation leadership disapprove of it.
Once ratified, the UJA-Federation report will be relayed to the Jewish Agency, where Michel anticipates a good reception. “They welcome a greater involvement,” he said.
The report noted that the Jewish Agency “has the ability to change and to prepare for the years ahead” as demonstrated by the “initial positive response to requests from the Conservative, Orthodox and Reform movements.”