Jewish Agency Asks UJA to Raise $700 Million More for Soviet Jews

The leaders of the Jewish Agency for Israel this week asked the United Jewish Appeal to raise $700 million over three years as the next phase of Operation Exodus, but it appears that the actual goal for this special campaign will be considerably lower.

Agency leaders Mendel Kaplan and Simcha Dinitz asked UJA and Keren Hayesod, which raises funds for the agency outside the United States, to agree to a $1 billion goal for what is being called “Exodus II.”

UJA is being asked to raise $700 million and Keren Hayesod $300 million. The $1 billion request was made this week during meetings of the agency’s Board of Governors.

Kaplan, who chairs the Board of Governors, said that even if this billion dollars is raised over the next three years, the agency will still be short several hundred million dollars for its programs of immigration and absorption, education, settlement and Diaspora Jewish education.

The chairman of Keren Hayesod, Shlomo Hillel, told the Board of Governors on Thursday, the closing day of its session, that his fundraising organization accepts the new $300 million goal. Keren Hayesod was asked to raise $180 million in the first phase of Operation Exodus.

UJA’s national chairman, Marvin Lender, told the Board of Governors that a decision would be made on the Jewish Agency request during meetings of the UJA and federation leadership next month.

‘WE WILL DO OUR BEST’

“I know that we can’t raise amounts in the neighborhood of $1.2 billion,” said Lender. “Everyone thinks so except Mendel (Kaplan) — he thinks our capacity is unlimited.

“In the end, we will do our best,” he said.

Lender pointed out that UJA raised $420 million during the past year as its part of Operation Exodus, in addition to a $765 million regular campaign. UJA is now in the midst of a three month $400 million cash drive to collect on pledges made during these campaigns.

A senior American fund-raising official told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “the federations and the UJA will probably agree on a campaign goal of between $420 million and $500 million for the next phase of Exodus.”

The Board of Governors approved a budget of $555 million for the nine months of fiscal year 1991, which starts April 1. The fiscal year, which normally runs from April to March, is being switched to correspond to the calendar year. The budget anticipates that 225,000 Soviet immigrants will come to Israel during this period.

The Board of Governors decided to cut regular Jewish Agency programs and economize, to make more money available for Soviet aliyah and immigrant absorption.

The agency covers the full cost of transporting the Soviet immigrants and their belongings to Israel, as well as a portion of their living and basic absorption expenses during their first year in Israel.

Earlier this week, the agency announced that beginning March 1 it wants to extend loans, rather than outright grants, to the immigrants for its share of their basic absorption expenses.

The proposal, which calls for loans on easy terms of $1,000 per person to be made through Israeli banks, with federations in the United States guaranteeing them, drew sharp criticism from some Israeli officials.

SHARANSKY ASSAILS LOAN PLAN

But Charles “Corky” Goodman, president of the Council of Jewish Federations, defended the plan, which CJF developed over the past several months, in coordination with the Jewish Agency and Israeli banks.

Goodman told the Board of Governors that if the agency continued to give cash grants, it would run up a deficit of $300 million this year.

He said that in practice, elderly or disabled immigrants, or other hardship cases, would be exempt from repaying the loans. A $200 million reserve fund for defaults and exceptional cases would be set up as part of the program, he said.

The plan was approved by the Board of Governors despite opposition from the head of the agency Aliyah and Absorption Department, Uri Gordon, and Natan Sharansky, head of the Soviet Jewish Zionist Forum, who joined the board several months ago.

Gordon said that if the agency did not have enough money for cash grants to immigrants, it should turn over all assistance programs for immigrants to the government.

He warned the agency would have colossal bureaucratic headaches from all the “exceptional cases” that would ask to be exempted from repayment. He said that 30 percent of the Soviet immigrants were elderly or hardship cases.

Sharansky said the real problem is that financial aid for immigrants was cut so much during the past year that they are forced to work right away instead of studying Hebrew for their first few months. He said the loan program would not make sense unless it substantially increased the funds available to newcomers.

NEXT STORY