UJA Launches $420 Million Campaign for Absorption of Soviets in Israel

Leaders of the United Jewish Appeal announced Friday that they would raise $420 million in a special campaign for the resettlement of Soviet Jews in Israel.

The fund-raising drive, titled Operation Exodus, will be part of an unprecedented worldwide effort to provide the thousands of Soviet Jews flooding into Israel with jobs, housing and other forms of assistance to integrate them into Israeli life.

UJA is seeking to solicit the entire $420 million in pledges over the first year of the campaign, though the money will be paid out over a three-year period.

“The numbers clearly are astronomical,” said Marvin Lender, chairman of Operation Exodus and UJA national chairman-elect. “They are greater than any numbers we have ever attempted to raise in this country.

“But I think it is clear to every Jew, both in the United States, worldwide and to every Israeli, that what we are currently experiencing is tantamount (in magnitude) to the establishment of the State of Israel,” he said.

Lender said he does not believe the limited success of last year’s Passage to Freedom campaign, which closed on Dec. 31, reflects on the potential of Operation Exodus.

The Passage to Freedom campaign was designed to raise money for the resettlement of Soviet Jews in both the United States and Israel. The campaign raised $50 million, a large sum but well short of its goal of $75 million.

Passage to Freedom was different from the new campaign, said Lender, in that it took place “in an environment that was, at best, described as controversial.”

The controversy, he said, stemmed from the fact that “for the first time in the history of the UJA, we mounted a campaign where dollars were left in the United States. That created a bit of controversy as to what our mandate is and was in the UJA.”

120,000 INVITATIONS A MONTH

He said he believes that since all funds raised in Operation Exodus will be earmarked for Israel, the new campaign will be more successful in reaching its goal.

Operation Exodus was conceived last October by Israeli and Diaspora leaders, as part of a $2 billion plan for Soviet Jewish resettlement.

The contribution from U.S. Jewry and the rest of the Diaspora was originally set to be $500 million over five years. The campaign announced Friday aims to raise $600 million over three years, $420 million to come from UJA and the remainder to be raised outside the United States by Keren Hayesod.

The changes in the dollar figures were made this week during high-level meetings of Jewish Agency and UJA officials in New York. Leaders of the two agencies hammered out the final figures in what Lender described as “very serious and very heavy deliberations.”

“The purpose of these consultations now was to update the fund-raising to the needs that have been created as a result of the new and unprecedented wave of immigration from the Soviet Union to Israel,” said Simcha Dinitz, chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive.

The UJA figure of $420 million was set on the basis of projections that at least 165,000 Soviet Jews will come to Israel in the next two years.

Dinitz, Kaplan, and Lender all acknowledged that exact predictions are impossible. They said that with the current tide of immigration rising, 165,000 appears to be a conservative figure.

Requests by Soviet Jews for invitations to immigrate are coming into Israel at the astonishing rate of 120,000 a month, Dinitz reported. The number of Soviet Jews arriving in December was 3,600, and in the first half of January alone, over 2,000 arrived.

It is the kind of immigration “that Israel has not experienced since the early days of the statehood,” Dinitz said.

Mendel Kaplan, chairman of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, called the influx “the living embodiment of the Zionist dream.”

“And it’s up to us to see that it’s not only an ideological dream, but its practice is operational on the ground,” he added.

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