Menu JTA Search

UJA ‘passage to Freedom’ Drive to Raise $75 Million for Refugees

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

The United Jewish Appeal has officially launched a special campaign to raise $75 million to resettle Soviet Jews in the United States and Israel.

The campaign, to be called “Passage to Freedom,” was formalized last week at a meeting of UJA campaign officers and the heads of agencies most severely affected by an enormous influx of immigrants.

Specific plans for the campaign remain sketchy, but are expected to be worked out among various Jewish fund-raising and service agencies over the next few weeks.

The first major events of the campaign could begin as early as the first week in April, according to Raphael Rothstein, vice president of UJA, who provided details of the new campaign.

The campaign is a response to the largest Soviet Jewish emigration in 10 years. If emigration levels reached in January and February are maintained through the rest of the year, more than 30,000 Jews could be let out of the Soviet Union in 1989.

Local Jewish federations are often responsible for most of the services needed by Jewish immigrants, from English classes to housing to health care.

With increasing caseloads and declining federal dollars available for refugee resettlement, Jewish welfare agencies and federations say they face financial chaos without the transfusion of additional funds.

“Passage to Freedom” thereby becomes the first campaign in the memory of many fundraisers in which the UJA will be collecting funds to be redistributed for domestic needs.

HALF FOR OVERSEAS NEEDS

Ordinarily, UJA raises funds primarily for services in Israel and, on a smaller basis, the overseas relief activities of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

But UJA does have a tradition of helping immigrants. It funds the activities of the New York Association for New Americans, which handles almost 50 percent of all Soviet Jews who enter the United States. A founding body of the UJA was the National Coordinating Committee for Aid to Refugees, NYANA’s predecessor.

The special campaign will be run by local federations, who will raise money and turn it over to the UJA. Fund-raisers are expected to ask for donations in cash, rather than pledges, in order to make money immediately available for resettlement.

UJA officials agreed to the special campaign — requested by federation leaders — on the condition that it would not cut into their already dipping annual campaign. Last year, UJA collected $357.8 million, compared with $372.2 million in 1987.

Half of the funds raised in the special campaign will be available for domestic needs and half for overseas needs.

The overseas portion will include money for the Joint Distribution Committee and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Both provide services for Soviet emigrants when they arrive at migration facilities in Western Europe, and both are reporting huge deficits.

The 50-50 split was insisted upon by the UJA and its major beneficiary, the Jewish Agency for Israel, as a way of protecting the integrity of the UJA as a fund-raiser for Israel and enhancing Israel as a destination for Soviet Jews.

Israel and the Jewish Agency remain bitterly disappointed that only 10 percent of the Soviet Jewish emigrants in recent years have chosen to make aliyah.

The Jewish Agency maintains it will need at least $39 million to absorb those who do come to Israel, and to maintain facilities in hopes of attracting even more.

Local federations are not bound to take part in the campaign, but most of the close to 180 federated communities in the United States are expected to do so, according to UJA’s Rothstein.

“There’s a sense of responding to a historic challenge and responsibility,” he said.

THREE LOCAL DRIVES STARTED

Three communities — Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco — have already begun special efforts to raise resettlement money.

Los Angeles will merge its effort with the national campaign, according to a spokesman for the federation there. How the other two cities’ campaigns will be integrated with the national effort remains to be seen.

UJA’s last special campaign took place in 1984, when local federations raised $60 million on behalf of the migration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Fund-raisers are hopeful that individual donors will react to the Soviet Jewish emigration with the same generosity.

“We think there’s going to be a heck of a lot of education necessary. But I think this is a cause around which we can create furious excitement,” said Carmi Schwartz, executive vice president of the Council of Jewish Federations, an umbrella group of more than 200 North American federations.

Schwartz said contributors will be reminded of 1987’s “Freedom Sunday” rally in Washington, in which more than 200,000 demonstrated for free Soviet Jewish emigration.

“We have to make them understand that the challenge is a direct consequence of that,” said Schwartz.

Details of the “Passage to Freedom” campaign will be refined at a meeting March 16 of the planning committee, headed by Marvin Lender of New Haven, Conn.

NEXT STORY