A dramatic proposal to merge the central American Jewish fund-raising organizations has surfaced as the latest effort to make communal institutions more responsive to the changing needs of the Jewish world.
The plan could profoundly affect the distribution of American Jewish money to Israel, to other places overseas and to programs at home.
The proposal calls for the consolidation of the Council of Jewish Federations, the United Jewish Appeal and the United Israel Appeal, the agencies that oversee a national $725 million annual fund-raising campaign for both local needs and humanitarian project abroad.
The plan will be high on the agenda of the CJF quarterly meeting next week in Detroit.
The architects of the proposal stress that it is now only preliminary, and that there are serious concerns which must be addressed before the plan can win the consensus needed for its implementation.
The biggest challenge is finding a way to ensure that enough money will continue to flow to Israel and to Jewish projects overseas at a time when local Jewish needs are assuming a higher priority. Pressure to direct more funds locally will only intensify as pending federal budget cuts are put into place.
Most insiders say a resolution of this issue is the key to winning support for the plan from organizations whose primary focus is overseas.
Critics fear that the plan could jeopardize the Israel-Diaspora partnership by not providing for enough representation in the governing bodies for advocates of overseas interests, even though this is a stated goal of the plan. They also express concern that too much power will be concentrated in too few hands.
But proponents maintain that the current national structure is outmoded and that not making a dramatic change risks rendering the organized Jewish world irrelevant.
Leaders from key agencies were in Chicago last week to press their concerns with the authors of the plan in advance of the CJF quarterly.
The proposed merger is the latest plan by the Committee to Study the National Structure, formed in the spring of last year under the auspices of the CJF and UJA. Members were charged with examining the structure, accountability, function and performance of the major national philanthropic organizations: the UJA; CJF; UIA; the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, also known as the JDC; and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
They also looked at the relationship of these organizations to local federations.
After concluding that a more efficient national organizational structure was needed and would save considerable sums of money, the committee devised a series of models.
But the merger idea, unveiled this summer, reflects the most radical proposed change.
“What’s occurring in the Jewish world is cataclysmic,” said Joel Tauber, president of the UJA and co-chairman of the committee. “If we do nothing” to reform the structure, “the organized Jewish community could become irrelevant.”
“For the last 50 years, the needs have been survival, of Israel,” and of Jews in distress, Tauber said.
“But we are entering a new era,” he said. “The rescue of Jews will always be a paramount priority, but Israel is more secure economically and militarily, while anti-Semitism has decreased, at least in the United States.”
The new crisis is Jewish identity, Tauber said.
Although the old organizations “did a marvelous job, it takes a different organization” to carry out the new mission of building and preserving Jewish identity, he said.
“We are changing our rescue efforts,” he said. “We now need to rescue our spirituality” and identity.
The Israel Experience program is a prime illustration for Tauber of the need for reorganization. Its target is 50,000 U.S. Jewish youths annually, but only 5,000 to 6,000 youths are participating.
For the program to succeed, it needs a national marketing campaign, massive community outreach and “interesting programs in Israel to attract the kids,” Tauber said.
That now requires the involvement of the UJA, CJF and UIA. Instead, “we need one organization responsible” so “crossing the lines and getting the approval of three different boards” can be avoided, he said.
Tauber also said the UJA in its current from simply is not equipped to meet the challenge of fund raising in the future.
“More than $1 trillion will go from one generation to the next in the next 30 years” in the Jewish world, he said, and “we don’t have the structure to deal with this. We don’t have the franchise to deal with endowments and testamentary giving. This has never been our bailiwick.”
The CJF is the association of Jewish community federations, which raise money in concert with the UJA. Federations autonomously decide how much money to keep at home for local needs, which they disperse, and how much to allocate overseas.
The overseas allocation is given to the UJA, which is independently governed; this year that allocation was 42 percent of the gross amount of money raised.
The UJA then decides how much it needs for operational expenses and divides the rest between the UIA and JDC, which provides humanitarian relief for Jews around the world, including Israel.
That division is decided on the basis of a negotiation between the UIA and JDC, both of which own the UJA. The UIA’s function is to distribute and monitor its share of funds to the Jewish Agency for Israel for social services in the Jewish state.
The UJA also gives money to the New York Association for New Americans, which helps resettle immigrants in the United States.
The overseas portion of federations’ allocations traditionally was roughly 50 percent, but it has dropped in recent years, frustrating and angering some who believe that Israel is the biggest draw of the campaign.
Federations, in turn, are increasingly preoccupied by the question of Jewish continuity in the United States and will be further pressed to meet local community demands to compensate for anticipated sharp cuts in funds from the federal government.
The proposed merger was roughly outlined in an Aug. 2 memo to federation leaders by Tauber and the other committee co-chairman, Charles Goodman, who is immediate past president of the CJF. Goodman was unavailable for comment.
Under the plan, the UIA, UIA and CJF would become a “new single organization.” The JDC, as a direct-service organization, would remain independent.
The plan calls for a breakdown of the new megaentity into four departments: one for fund raising, one for domestic affairs, one for overseas affairs and one for finance and administration.
Each department would have a lay and professional head and lay board. All the departments would be accountable to an assembly, a “superboard” and an executive committee, headed by a lay chair and a professional.
The outline in the memo emphasizes that the governing bodies of the new organization would “be balanced between representatives of the federation system and of overseas interests.”
It also says there would be “some means of assuring an appropriate share of funds for overseas purposes.”
The advocates of overseas interests “need assurances that we’ll have the funds to get through the change and take care of our recipients,” the JDC and the Jewish Agency, Tauber said. He conceded that the transition would be “rough.”
For UIA Chairman Shoshana Cardin, the question is: “What level of assurance gives us enough security to move forward” with the proposed restructuring? Cardin, in an interview from Israel, said she welcomes a new national Jewish “construct” but is not sure that this is it.
Local federation executives were reluctant to speak about the plan, and many are expected to resist a specified commitment to overseas programs at the expense of local needs, such as day schools, Jewish community centers and family services.
Under the current proposal, federations would continue to decide how to divide the campaign funds between local and overseas needs.
But they would be urged to allocate to overseas programs half of any money collected above the level of the current year’s campaign.
Some insiders who favor the plan expect or at least hope that federations will embrace the responsibility for overseas interests when they see the UJA and UIA as true partners accountable to the same governing bodies.
“We are making a strong appeal to federations to regard the overseas portion as an equal partner,” said one insider. “The inducement is they’ll be in the same tent, so they’ll feel more responsibility” for the overseas causes.
Cardin expressed concern about how restructuring will affect the UIA’s stewardship over $80 million in annual U.S. government grants for the Jewish Agency.
“These are delicate, sensitive negotiations built on trust” with familiar players,” she said. Scrapping the UIA would pose a “serious” risk to the grant process, she said.
Cardin said the restructuring study has been “long and tedious” as well as “flawed” because it failed to include all of the players in significant numbers in time for meaningful consultation. However, after the concerns of the UIA and JDC were thoroughly aired at the Chicago meeting, Cardin said she is confident that the process would move faster.
Milton Wolf, JDC president, said his agency has an “open mind” on the issue.
“While we are against change for change’s sake, we are not averse to actions that might improve the efficacy of the national philanthropic system and raise more dollars for the campaign,” he said in a statement.
“I would hope that current deliberations would also analyze what other factors, beyond questions of mere structuring, should be addressed to strengthen our community,” he said.
Rabbi Brain Lurie, UJA executive vice president, said he believes that the community cannot afford to miss this chance for reform.
“Conventional wisdom [calls for] incremental change, change at the edges,” he said. But “we are at a new point in Jewish life” when it is “time for dramatic change. It’s a once-every-50-years opportunity and we have to seize it.”
Members of the study committee plan to meet with federations across the country in the fall and early winter. They expect then to make changes in the plan before it is submitted to boards of the CJF, UJA, UIA and JDC, which must approve it before it can be implemented.
CJF leaders, meanwhile, emphasized that they are not advocates of a particular reform plan.
Maynard Wishner, CJF president, would say only that “of the various models advanced, this one seems to draw the broadest support, although many issues remain to be addressed.”