NEW YORK (Jun. 26)
The partnership between the Council of Jewish Federations and the United Jewish Appeal is poised for takeoff.
Following a bid for support from the key players last month, the majority of federations across the country — either by phone or fax — have ratified the plan for a joint operating partnership between the two national bodies.
On its face, the story is about the consolidation of two bureaucracies and of immediate interest only to a small circle of Jewish professionals and activists.
But on a larger scale, the impending partnership also reflects the effort by the central Jewish philanthropic and communal establishment to respond to changing times, demographics and needs — and how painstaking that effort is.
There will be a clear delineation of roles between the two bodies, with UJA assuming the management of fund-raising responsibilities and CJF overseeing the delivery of services to communities.
“The rank-and-file would not know what the alphabet smorgasbord really stood for,” Martin Kraar, executive vice president of CJF, said in a recent interview.
But the partnership has very serious meaning, he said. “We’re going to join forces with a common agenda and purpose and engage in it with a sense of trust and respect.”
“The objectives of UJA and the federation system are the same,” he added. “Everybody is seeking a way to do more good for more people with more funds. That’s what we’re all about.”
The promotional material for the partnership states it more formally.
“UJA and CJF, in a spirit of shared history and tradition and in the recognition of a powerful, common responsibility to Jewish communities and to the principles of God, Torah and Israel, wish to create a more effective, efficient and aggressive new national structure.”
That structure, it goes on to say, aims to raise more money to satisfy needs at home and abroad and to serve communities better.
In fact, the partnership will be a much more modest version of a full merger plan, which collapsed last year under the weight of over-ambitiousness.
There is much more anticipation for the partnership than there was for the merger, said Bernie Moscovitz, UJA vice president and chief operating officer.
This “doesn’t frighten people into believing they would have to do things exactly the way the head office says. It’s not that type of relationship.”
Overall, the plan is notable more for what it does not spell out than what it does.
Complicated governance issues, or who controls what — which tripped up its predecessor — are not really altered.
The two boards will stay as they are, while an operations committee composed of equal representation from each entity will manage the partnership.
The separate boards will approve the budget of the partnership.
The two organizations will share common space and are negotiating a lease in the Chelsea district of Manhattan.
They are expected to move in together next spring, according to CJF officials.
Fund-raising operations will be integrated and managed by UJA, with the joint annual campaign for local and overseas needs continuing to be the centerpiece.
“There will be no more fragmentation,” Kraar said.
There has been a tension in recent years over the trend of federations decreasing their overseas allocations — which are funneled through UJA — and keeping more money home for local programs.
Architects of the partnership believe that it augurs less competition and a greater sense of responsibility for both components of the campaign.
Meanwhile, the new plan calls for community services to be consolidated and delivered through a system of about six or seven regional offices, overseen by CJF.
Dr. Conrad Giles, CJF president, said the plan is a response to an “understandable demand that we become an efficient organization, because if we don’t, we don’t deserve the trust of people committing funds to us.
“To have two organizations when it was clear that one could do the job was an insult to our donors.”
But he acknowledged that “institutions have a difficult time putting themselves out of work” and that both professionals and lay leaders feel their jobs are threatened.
In this case, Giles claimed, “the professionals are not at any substantial risk” in the face of the consolidation.
The federations’ sign off is the final hurdle after a series of votes by the boards of CJF and UJA as well as those of the United Israel Appeal and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the owners of UJA.