High Holidays Feature (10): Rabbis Promote Bond Sales to Further Israel- Diaspora Ties

Israel’s economy may be booming, but rabbis across North America still see a need for people to purchase Israel Bonds.

To this end, as they prepare High Holidays sermons, rabbis also are planning their appeals to congregants to buy bonds. Most of the bonds sold through synagogues are done on the High Holidays, when the sanctuaries are filled to capacity.

“The bonds become an instrumentality to connect the Diaspora with the State of Israel,” said Orthodox Rabbi Reuven Bulka of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa. Bulka also is the chairman of Israel Bonds’ High Holy Day Appeal.

The word “bond” is a double-entendre, he said, adding that it means monetary bond as well as emotional bond.

The annual campaign on the High Holidays reaches congregants in more than 800 synagogues — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist — across North America, inviting them to support Israel and its economic development and prosperity.

“You need [investments] more in time of growth than in time of stagnation,” said Maj. Gen. Nathan Sharony, who is retired from the armed forces and who is the president and chief executive officer of Israel Bonds. “The need for money is self-evident. The faster the country grows, the faster the country absorbs immigrants, the more financial resources are needed.”

Since the program began in 1951, more than $15 billion in State of Israel Bonds have been purchased worldwide.

Bonds have been used to help develop the country’s infrastructure, technology, agriculture and industry. Since 1990, Israel’s Ministry of Finance has also directed funds for the absorption of new immigrants, especially the massive aliyah from the former Soviet Union.

“Diaspora Jewry becomes a partner with Israeli Jews in providing employment opportunities for the ever-growing number of new immigrants to Israel,” said Conservative Rabbi Aaron Landes of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park, Pa., a member of Israel Bonds’ national rabbinic Cabinet.

More than 800,000 people, or 250,000 families, are expected to hear the appeal at the High Holidays, said Rabbi Haskell Bernat, national director of synagogue and rabbinic activities at Israel Bonds.

“Approximately 14 percent of the families that hear the appeal purchase,” he said. “We feel very optimistic this year that [investments] will be $75 million.”

Last year’s campaign raised $72 million. The figures are for North America.

Worldwide, $920 million in bonds were sold last year. This year, Israel is asking for $850 million, though that number may change during the year.

“This is what the Israeli government has asked us to sell and we have been immensely successful in selling what Israel asks,” Bernat said.

Of the $850 million, about $500 million will be sold in North America to labor unions, banks, pension funds and through synagogue campaigns, which purchase some $120 million.

Congregants are asked to return a tab card at the services with the amount they wish to buy.

“Each tab card is a symbolic vote for Israel,” said Bernat. Israel Bonds encountered political difficulties last year when several U.S. rabbis canceled their appeals and refused to distribute the cards. They were protesting the Labor government’s approach to the peace process.

Bonds officials view that incident as an aberration, saying that the dissident religious leaders are back on board for this year’s appeal.

The investor has a choice of six types of bonds, including the 7th development issue bond, reintroduced this year, with a yield of about 4 percent at maturity, after 15 years.

And, recently introduced in Canada are the $100 (U.S.) State of Israel certificates, which, after one year, can be used to purchase a ticket on El Al Israel Airlines or as legal tender in Israel, Bulka said. The certificates are already available in the United States.

Canadian investors can defer their taxes when purchasing Israel Bonds and securities for retirement portfolios.

A greater portion of bonds purchases are made by older generations, such as those who no longer have to care for children. But, an increasing number of buyers have been young families or teens using Bar or Bat Mitzvah money.

“There are many more Jews that should be bonded to Israel,” said Sharony. “The more people we introduce into our activity, the better we are for the future in communicating between Israel and the Diaspora.”

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