Ambitious Partnership Program Changing UJA Philanthropic Style

If Israel is no longer the needy cousin of the Diaspora, can a new relationship based on mutuality continue to attract hundreds of millions of dollars annually in philanthropy?

With Partnership 2000, the United Jewish Appeal is making a limited gamble that the answer will be yes.

The program, launched last year, twins American communities and Israeli regions.

Working together, the Israeli and American partners will allocate roughly a sixth of the money sent to Israel by each American federation to help its matched Israeli locality.

But in keeping with the emerging new Israeli-Diaspora relationship, and in marked distinction from the Project Renewal program launched in the 1970s by then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin, helping Israel’s impoverished citizens is not the central goal of the UJA program.

Instead, as the name indicates, it is about partnership.

In Baltimore, which is matched with the central Galilee town of Karmiel and the surrounding region, the federation’s Partnership 2000 committee has identified six areas of action.

They include job creation and economic development; education; peer relationships between Israelis and Americans; regional cooperation between Karmiel and its rural neighbors; and promoting good relations between the area’s 50,000 Jews and 150,000 Arabs.

Social services also are a concern, but under the Partnership 2000 program they are treated differently from the Project Renewal experience.

“These are not Project Renewal neighborhoods,” said Martin Waxman, who serves as a consultant to both the national UJA and the Baltimore federation for the Partnership 2000 program. “These are largely successful people.”

Recognizing that both Israeli and American communities have social problems, Waxman said, “We think we can learn from their [social service] professionals, and they can learn from ours.” He noted the potential of exporting Baltimore’s Big Brother-Big Sister League to Israel and of looking of Karmiel’s expertise for Baltimore’s new domestic violence initiative.

Waxman summed up the Partnership 2000 concept as “equal partners with both sides gaining and both sides gaining. No longer are the Diaspora partners simply the benefactor; we should be the beneficiary as well.”

Arik Raz, who as head of the Misgav Regional Council near Karmiel, is one of Baltimore’s partners, agrees.

“For the first time we see a place where we can help the Jewish community in the U.S., in programs where we build together,” Raz said in a telephone interview from Baltimore, which he visited in July.

Waxman said the Diaspora benefit would come through personal, family and community friendships created with the residents of the Karmiel region. Baltimore youth on Israel programs will spend time in Karmiel and Israeli youth will come to Baltimore, enhancing “the Jewish identity to our children for continuity,” he said.

Reflecting the hope of a broad communitywide partnership, Baltimore is involving heads of member agencies, such as Jewish Family and Children Services and the Jewish education bureau, in the process.

So far, $600,000 has been allotted by the Jewish Agency for the Baltimore- Karmiel programs, reflecting the size of past Baltimore UJA campaigns. The actual spending decisions are made by a joint committee of the twinned Israeli and American communities.

More than a third was devoted to economic development programs, such as funding for business development centers and high-technology “incubators” designed to help fledgling commercial concerns in Karmiel and the surrounding region.

A medical service program, aimed at turning Karmiel into a major regional medical center, was allocated $85,000. A program to help with the absorption of elderly immigrants received $50,000.

And $30,000 was allocated to bring kids from Pittsburgh and Baltimore up to the region when they visit Israel.

Another $15,000 was allocated to a Jewish-Arab youth choir.

So far, the allocations process has followed along the lines of that in Project Renewal – the Diaspora partners participate with the steering committees of local officials.

Waxman hopes, however, that Partnership 2000 will incorporate programming suggested by the Diaspora partners as well.

One idea that has come up: a program of e-mail communication between schoolchildren in both countries.

In Detroit, similarly, the Partnership 2000 program has already involved parts of the community not usually affected by UJA programs.

Detroit chose to twin with a nearby Galilee region that includes the towns of Upper Nazareth and Migdal Ha’emek.

The region can claim the title of Israel’s automotive capital on the basis of the country’s sole Jeep assembly plant.

But the regional leaders have not been on the forefront of the UJA and Israel Bonds lecture circuits.

After an initial visit to Israel last year, Detroit’s Partnership 2000 committee decided that its Israeli partners needed a crash course in American Jewry.

The Detroit federation sponsored a week-long, fact-finding tour of Michigan. The nine-member Israeli delegation included three mayors and one regional council head.

“They basically were taken on a mission,” said Tova Dorfman, director of Partnership 2000 for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

The first goal of the visit was “to spend time in our agencies and understand how federation functions,” Dorfman said.

After that came a focus on economic development and partnerships. The Israelis visited local universities and met with city officials and dozens of prominent business leaders.

“The president of General Motors’ international division came, was very excited about the possibility of pursuing a relationship,” said Dorfman.

And there was a social component to the delegation, the beginning of the person-to-person connection seen as crucial to Partnership 2000.

“It energized the community in terms of feeling connected,” Dorfman said.

All this activity is being seen by many within the UJA and Jewish Agency as just the beginning. These people hope the program will outgrow its remaining connections to Partnership 2000 and old-style philanthropy.

Jewish Agency Chairman Avraham Burg, for example, does not like the program’s emphasis on outlying regions. Building up and populating the Negev and Galilee are seen as vital by Israeli policy-makers. Developing areas on Israel’s periphery is the mandate of the Jewish Agency’s Department of Rural and Urban Development, under whose auspices Partnership 2000 is being carried out.

Speaking to the Council of Jewish Federations earlier this year, Burg said the importance of Partnership 2000 is less the actual projects it sponsors, but the bridges it creates between Israel and the Diaspora. “Since I’m looking for [Israel-Diaspora] contact, it’s not enough to have Jerusalem, the Negev and Galilee” in the program, Burg said.

“We need to have it in places that will be grateful for the partnership,” he said.

Along those lines, the Jewish Agency Assembly in June passed a resolution hailing Partnership 2000 and calling for its expansion. Because “many programs appropriate for twinning are outside the scope of the Department of Rural and Urban Development,” the assembly “resolved that the Department of Rural and Urban Development should make opportunities to participate in Partnership 2000 for All JAFI departments, the Joint Authority for Jewish-Zionist Education and other organizations providing facilities in Israel.”

“Partnership 2000 is one of the first programs the Jewish Agency is implementing on Israel-Diaspora relations,” said Judith Ster Peck, chairwoman of the UJA’s national Partnership 2000 committee. “It’s in the forefront, the forerunner of this becoming a stated mission of the Jewish Agency.”

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