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Federations, Relief Agencies Vie for Share of Resettlement Funds

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Local federations, overseas relief agencies and the Jewish Agency for Israel are all competing for a share of the funds to be raised in a special United Jewish Appeal campaign to aid the resettlement of Soviet Jewish emigrants in the United States and Israel.

It is a competition without rancor, based as it is on one of the most welcome developments in Jewish life in years.

Last year some 19,000 Jews were allowed to leave the Soviet Union, the highest figure in a decade. This year, that figure may double.

But the good news also comes with a price tag. The special campaign may need to raise $100 million to supplement the more than $700 million a year already raised by Jewish communities in the United States for local and overseas needs.

An interagency committee that is meeting this week to plan the campaign will have to find an equitable way both to collect and to distribute funds. Its membership is drawn from the following key organizations:

*The United Jewish Appeal. The UJA is the main fund-raising agent in the United States for Jewish needs abroad. The money it collects in partnership with the local Jewish federations is channeled to the Jewish Agency for Israel and, in smaller but still substantial proportions, to relief and resettlement organizations such as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the New York Association for New Americans.

Before agreeing to a special campaign, UJA officials wanted assurances that a campaign would not bite into the share of the total campaign normally slotted for Israel.

They also would like to see all of the more than 200 local federations take part in a national pooling of contributions — “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

*Local federations. Of the total amount raised by the Jewish federations in most cities, about half is apportioned to local needs and half overseas via the UJA. The federations are represented as a body by the Council of Jewish Federations.

The Soviet Jewish influx is creating an enormous strain on local budgets. In Los Angeles, costs for housing, vocational and medical services to immigrants have increased from $1.1 million in 1987-88 to a projected $5 million in 1989-90.

Los Angeles is one of seven cities hardest hit by the influx. The others are Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and the North Shore communities of Massachusetts.

Three of those communities have already begun special Soviet Jewry campaigns of one form or another.

In San Francisco, the federation hopes to raise over $2 million in a campaign begun earlier this month.

New York’s UJA-Federation this week launched a $25 million, four-month campaign known as “Passage to Freedom.”

The Los Angeles federation has asked its biggest donors to increase their gifts significantly to cover costs of the Soviet immigration.

One question yet to be answered is how these separate campaign.

*The Jewish Agency for Israel. More than 80 percent of the funds received by the UJA are transmitted to the Jewish Agency for its programs in Israel, including immigrant absorption and rural settlement. The United Israel Appeal serves as the conduit for those funds and as the representative of the agency’s interests in the United States.

Jewish Agency officials, already stung that 90 percent of the Soviet emigrants are choosing to live elsewhere than Israel, were concerned that the federations’ problems meeting local needs would further deplete the agency’s already shrinking slice of the fund-raising pie.

UIA’s share of the relatively flat yearly campaign has dropped from $373 million in 1987-88 to a projected $364.5 million in 1989-90.

At the same time, the Jewish Agency budget is in crisis, faced with inflation, a weak U.S. dollar and the normal increase in operating costs.

According to UIA officials, the agency lacks more than $6.4 million for absorption services to Soviet immigrants.

It also estimates it will need an addition $20 to $40 million for permanent housing for the immigrants.

In response to those needs, there is general agreement that the national resettlement campaign will allocate half of the money raised to U.S. needs and half to overseas needs.

*Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. HIAS assists Soviet emigrants at transmigration centers in Vienna and Rome, where they are processed before proceeding to the United States and other countries. HIAS estimates it will need $21 million from local federations in 1989 to handle the processing. That is more than eight times its original request to the federations of $2.6 million.

HIAS is expected to run out of operating cash sometime in May. If no national effort is in place before then, it will ask federations to “front-load” dollars that are slated to be allocated for later in the year.

HIAS still hopes to shake loose more federal government money for refugee absorption.

*The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Largely funded by the UJA, the JDC is in charge of the housing, medical and social needs of Soviet Jews awaiting entry to the United States in Ladispoli, a seaside village 20 miles outside of Rome. Some 8,000 Jews are in Ladispoli, and the direct cost for transmigrants is estimated at $3 million to $4 million per month.

JDC has announced it will no longer be able to take on new clients there after March 31. That would leave Soviet Jews the options of staying in the Soviet Union, petitioning relatives for aid or moving to Israel.

All of these organizations leaven their talk of financial crisis with statements welcoming the Soviet exodus.

Lay and professional leaders of the organizations are excited about the fruits of 20 years of activism on behalf of Soviet Jews, and the opportunity to participate in the American Jewish drama of resettling refugees.

But there is concern how the “rank and file” will respond. Donations were generous in 1984 for a special campaign on behalf of Ethiopian Jews, a technologically unsophisticated community once thought lost to the Jewish people.

Whether the absorption of middle-class Russians into suburbs of Boston or Los Angeles will be as “sexy” a cause is still unknown.

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