Federation Leaders Confront Operation Exodus Challenge

Joy and trepidation mingled in the faces of Jewish community federation leaders from across the country here Sunday evening, as they viewed a video presentation on the need for Operation Exodus, the upcoming $420 million United Jewish Appeal campaign to resettle Soviet Jews in Israel.

While the audience of 200 federation executives and lay leaders smiled at the images of newly arrived Soviet Jews in Israel dancing and singing “Shalom Aleichem,” many winced during the parts of the presentation that laid out the number of immigrants Israel is expecting and the astronomical cost of their resettlement.

Officials of the Jewish Agency for Israel reported in the presentation that for each of the more than 200,000 Soviets emigres expected to go to Israel in the next three years, transportation and absorption costs covering only their first year there will reach an estimated $5,000.

The $600 million that Israel is requesting from world Jewry, including the $420 million from UJA, “is the bare-bones minimum,” said Martin Stein, chairman of UJA’s board of trustees.

The federation leaders, who are attending the Council of Jewish Federations’ Board Leadership Institute, appear to be inspired by Operation Exodus and ready to accept the challenge.

The current wave of Soviet aliyah “is one of the most cataclysmic events in Jewish history,” exclaimed Robert Tropp, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Pinellas County, Fla.

But together with his excitement, Tropp said he has “concerns about the level of funding and whether it’s achievable.”

UJA DEMANDING ‘FIRM COMMITMENT’

Federations must raise money for Operation Exodus at a time when they are also facing the cost of resettling 40,000 Soviet Jews expected to come to the United States in the next year. All of this is above and beyond their regular fund-raising campaigns, which fund domestic services and provide about $750 million annually to UJA for Israel and other overseas needs.

At a special CJF general assembly here Tuesday, federations are being asked to endorse the “principle of collective responsibility for the resettlement of Soviet Jews in Israel and the United States.”

In practice, this means that communities will be held responsible for raising a precise percentage of both the $420 million Operation Exodus goal and the anticipated cost of resettling Soviet Jews in the United States.

A federation’s percentage will be determined by the proportion of the national total raised for the general federation campaign in 1988.

For example, if a Jewish community raised 3 percent of the total raised by all federations in 1988, it will be considered responsible for raising 3 percent of the Operation Exodus target and 3 percent of the domestic resettlement price tag, estimated at $40 million this year.

UJA will view the percentage to go to Operation Exodus as a “firm commitment.” The national organization is drawing a lesson from last year’s Passage to Freedom campaign, which achieved only $50 million of its ambitious $75 million goal.

“UJA is not making a request for a best effort” from local federations, as it did with Passage to Freedom, said Marvin Lender, chairman of Operation Exodus and national chairman-elect of UJA. This time, he said, “UJA wants a firm commitment for each community’s fair share of $420 million.”

For the first time, UJA leaders have outlined how the $420 million Operation Exodus goal will be spent: $151.2 million for transporting Soviet Jews to Israel, $58.8 million toward their maintenance in absorption centers and $210 million for “direct absorption” costs during the first year.

‘LAST GREAT OPPORTUNITY’

Though Operation Exodus will be launched nationally in April — appropriate to its title, just after Passover — UJA is already busy gearing up for the enormous drive.

Lender has already begun meeting with “major givers” and will soon go on a fact-finding trip to Israel.

During the first week of April, UJA will try to boost public awareness, with a National Soviet Jewry Week.

At Passover time, model seders will be planned to which celebrities and politicians will be invited. Shortly thereafter, the campaign will be officially launched.

Overall, UJA is attempting to create the kind of atmosphere of urgency and unrestrained giving that has come during Israel’s wars.

“This is life-saving, but without any bloodshed,” said Stein, the board chairman.

The Israeli government understands that, in both an economic and a demographic sense, “this is their last great wave of immigration and the last great opportunity for the State of Israel,” said Morton Kornreich, UJA’s national chairman.

And for American Jews, said Lender, “this is probably the last opportunity in our lifetimes to save and free one-third of the world’s Jewish population.”

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