Menu JTA Search

Uja, CJF Move in Together and Make Plans for Wedding

They have barely finished moving in together, and already they are making plans to stand under the chupah.

The United Jewish Appeal and the Council of Jewish Federations, which together make up American Jewry’s central fund-raising establishment, physically combined forces this week in a Manhattan office complex, cementing a partnership that began to take shape several months ago.

The move to the trendy Chelsea neighborhood marks a significant step in the consolidation of resources at a time of change in the Jewish world and when Jewish needs — locally, nationally and abroad — surpass available Jewish communal funds.

“The partnership was not created for neatness, but to do things better,” said Martin Kraar, executive vice president of CJF and a driving force behind the consolidation.

“We need to do more with less,” he said.

But the real culmination of what has often been a contentious process, pitting local federations against national agencies, is expected to occur in less than a year, when the UJA and CJF move from partnership to a full merger.

For 50 years, the United Jewish Appeal has been a well-known institution that, in concert with local federations, raises money for Israel and other overseas needs. The CJF serves as an umbrella organization for some 200 local federations, providing services and guidance for fund raising and leadership development.

The cultures of the two organizations were so different that there was a time not so long ago when leaders of the institutions balked at the public use of the term “merger.”

Now, in a sign of how quickly the process has moved — driven in part by large- city local federations that are demanding a more efficient and responsive national system — these same organizational officials are preparing for a key meeting next week in Chicago, which is being billed as “The Road to Merger.”

More than 100 individuals from around the country, representing the partnership, national agencies and local federations, are slated to come together July 7-8 to hammer out a wide array of issues — including the mission of the new entity, how it will be funded and how it will be run.

CJF and UJA have agreed in principle to a complete merger. The organizations announced plans to complete the technical aspects of the merger by the end of 1998 and to finalize all other issues no later than the end of March 1999.

Whether all the key players will ultimately sign the marriage contract is not yet certain. Most insiders are expressing cautious optimism that it will happen, but as one key figure said, echoing the sentiment of many: “Until some important issues are resolved, there has to be some doubt it will happen.”

The purpose of the new national organizational structure is, according to documents, “to create a national environment for raising greater financial resources, to satisfy needs at home and abroad, and for serving communities better and in a seamless manner.”

Many details still need to be worked out. The new entity has neither a name nor an executive to head it. Questions of governance and direction have yet to be resolved.

And some in the community worry that more attention is being paid to the details than to overall vision and goals.

To the skeptics, those involved plead for patience.

“It’s going to take a couple of years for all of this to work itself out,” said Steven Nasatir, president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. “People need to be patient and invest in the outcome.”

Richard Pearlstone, the immediate past president of UJA, summed up a commonly voiced vision for the future by focusing on two key issues: Jewish continuity and Jewish responsibility.

“We are still talking about `tikkun olam’ and Jews helping Jews,” said Pearlstone, using the Hebrew expression for making the world a better place. Pearlstone will co-chair a committee charged with finding a new chief executive for the new entity.

Said Dr. Conrad Giles, president of CJF and the other co-chair of the joint partnership: “If all we end up with is a refined, new efficient bureaucracy, without a sense of mission and clearly articulated purpose, we will have failed.”

It is clear that raising more money is a central goal of the partnership.

“We never have enough money to do what is needed,” said Kraar, who is sharing the title of co-executive vice president of the partnership along with Bernard Moscovitz, executive vice president of UJA.

The central system raises an annual $1.4 billion each year, including $750 million in the annual campaign conducted by UJA and local federations. The rest comes from endowments and capital campaigns.

But there are an estimated $1.8 billion worth of needs, according to Kraar, from raising educated and committed American Jews to feeding hungry Jews in the former Soviet Union.

Over the past year, the partnership has begun to take shape in several ways, including:

the creation of a 29-member partnership operating committee to oversee the process;

the establishment of six strategic subcommittees — from needs assessment to budget and finance — to work out operational details;

the consolidation of regional UJA and CJF offices to create five joint regional offices aimed at providing more effective and comprehensive services to local federations.

The five regions are:

the Northeast, based in Bergen County, a region of 3 million Jews;

the Southeast, based in Atlanta, a region of 250,000 Jews;

Southeast Florida, based in Deerfield Beach, Fla., a region of 650,000 Jews;

the Midwest, based in Chicago, with a satellite office in Cleveland, an area of 800,000 Jews; and

the West, based in Los Angeles, a region of 1.3 million Jews.

As the partnership moves toward the merger, a host of thorny issues has yet to be resolved.

One of the key and most contentious issues, many insiders agree, will revolve around what is known in the federation world as “collective responsibility,” the obligation of local federations to contribute to national and international needs.

“Everybody agrees on the need for collective responsibility,” said Pearlstone, but there is disagreement among federations over “what that means and how much money that includes.”

Much of that discussion has focused on support for the Jewish Agency for Israel, the primary recipient in Israel of funds raised by U.S. Jews. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee also receives funds raised for overseas needs for its work in Israel and countries around the world.

The Jewish Agency, whose main task is the rescue and resettlement of Jews, has undergone a major restructuring of its own during the past year, drastically cutting its budget and streamlining services.

The federation system provides about $200 million annually to the Jewish Agency. Responding to a cash emergency, federations committed close to an additional $60 million in emergency funds this year.

But there is debate in the community over whether the Jewish Agency should be the sole recipient of American Jewish funds raised through local campaigns and whether it should be guaranteed a certain minimal amount.

Several local federations, such as San Francisco, have opted to direct a portion of their funds for Israel to specific programs there. Federations that take this approach argue that it gives them greater control over allocation of funds and makes individual donors feel more connected.

The United Israel Appeal, which serves as the link between U.S. Jewry and the Jewish Agency funds, believes that federations should support JAFI as the central “global agency designed to respond to the needs of Jews everywhere,” said Bennett Aaron, the new chairman of UIA.

UIA recently joined the CJF-UJA partnership, even moving into the new central offices, but insiders say they are not certain whether the organization will ultimately be part of the new, merged entity, in part for legal reasons.

NEXT STORY