Behind the Headlines: UJA Trying to Wrap Up Special Drive As It Gears Up for More Ambitious One

Leaders of Jewish federations across the United States and Canada will spend the next several weeks putting the finishing touches on a United Jewish Appeal fundraising campaign for Soviet Jewish emigres, as they gear up for a far more ambitious drive.

Israel has asked world Jewry to raise $500 million over the next three to five years to help resettle an expected flow of 100,000 Soviet Jews into the Jewish state during that time period.

Under an agreement worked out by the Jewish Agency for Israel, UJA will raise $350 million of the total, and Keren Hayesod, representing Diaspora Jewish communities outside the United States, will raise the other $150 million.

The new special UJA campaign has not been formally approved. But it is expected to get the blessing of UJA’s officers at a Jan. 15 meeting.

In the meantime, UJA and the federations that work with it will be striving to bring their $75 million Passage to Freedom campaign to a successful close by Dec. 31.

At this point, they have a long way to go. As of two weeks ago, Passage to Freedom had raised $44.59 million in pledges and had received $15.8 million in actual cash — just over 20 percent of the target.

While UJA leaders insist the campaign has been a success and that many communities have met or exceeded their local goals, they nevertheless expressed concern about the situation during the 58th General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations, which ended here Sunday.

‘LET’S GET THE CASH IN’

Morton Kornreich, UJA’s national chairman, put it bluntly at a plenary session of the G.A. on Nov. 16: “The bottom line is cash,” he said. “Let’s get the cash in.”

And Mark Talisman, director of CJF’s Washington office, told a G.A. forum on the resettlement issue that Passage to Freedom has had “mixed results all over the country.” There are communities around the country that have “slacked off,” he charged.

“We have to be more serious about what we’re doing,” he said. “It is unacceptable. It is not Jewish.”

CJF and UJA leaders admit privately that Passage to Freedom has been a difficult campaign. But they insist that most of the problems occurred in the beginning stages of the campaign last spring.

“Ambivalence was caused, because there wasn’t clarity about where the money was going,” explained Shoshana Cardin, immediate past president of CJF and current chairwoman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.

However, CJF and UJA leaders say that once it was decided to split the $75 million in anticipated proceeds evenly between agencies resettling Soviet emigres in the United States and those absorbing them in Israel, the campaign picked up.

And they seem to have very little apprehension about UJA’s ability to raise a far greater sum of money over the next three to five years.

“The capacity of American Jews to respond,” said Cardin, “is far greater than many are willing to credit them.”

Ben Zion Leuchter, a CJF board member, UJA honorary national vice chairman and president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, said UJA will have to raise approximately $75 million per year for the next five years, in order to reach the $350 million target.

“We think it is eminently doable,” he told reporters at a news briefing here organized by the American Jewish Press Association.

REACTING TO CHALLENGE, NOT CRISIS

One reason Leuchter, Cardin and other CJF and UJA leaders are confident is that they believe it is a lot easier to raise money for the absorption of Soviet Jews in Israel than it is to raise funds for resettling them in the United States.

The feeling in some communities, Talisman of CJF explained, is that “we like the issue of Soviet Jewry, but we don’t like Soviet Jews.”

Fund-raising officials are convinced that once American Jews are confronted with news of a massive influx of Soviet Jews into Israel, they will respond with their checkbooks.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir may have put it best, in an address to the G.A. last Thursday night:

“Anyone who sees the plane loads of Jews arriving in Israel from the Soviet Union, or the groups of frail and tired Ethiopian Jews kissing the soil of Eretz Yisrael, cannot but be overcome with emotion and excitement,” he said.

Nevertheless, Israeli and American Jewish leaders alike know that they will have to do a lot of work to raise enthusiasm for a new multimillion-dollar campaign.

“Jews react to a crisis more than a challenge,” observed Simcha Dinitz, World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency Executive chairman.

The “Who Is a Jew” issue, which electrified last year’s G.A. was a crisis. But the task of resettling tens of thousands of Soviet Jews “is a challenge, not a crisis,” said Dinitz. “People react to happy challenges differently.”

1.5 BILLION SHEKELS APPROPRIATED

There were a number of expressions of skepticism here last week about whether the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency, which is the chief beneficiary of UJA funds, would be prepared to handle the avalanche of Soviet Jews.

But Dinitz said the Jewish Agency is ready. As of now, there are 1,500 empty places in absorption centers for arriving immigrants, a dramatic reversal of the backlog that was evident even six months ago.

As for the government, it has already appropriated an extra 1.5 billion shekels, some $750 million, for absorption in its new budget.

Of course, not all of that money, nor of the funds UJA raises, will benefit Soviet Jewish immigrants. Some will go to aid the absorption of other immigrants, including the thousands of Ethiopian Jews expected to arrive in the coming months, now that Jerusalem and Addis Ababa have re-established diplomatic relations.

That is why UJA leaders will probably choose an inclusive or non-specific name, such as “Exodus II,” for the $350 million campaign. And their strategy will undoubtedly be to play up the historic nature of the immigration wave.

Already, they are warning that American Jews had better respond before it is too late.

Said Shamir, “My friends, such an opportunity occurs once in a generation. We must grasp it. We must not lose it through inaction, debates on technicalities or indifference.”

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