Unity Campaign Beset by Tension: UJA Calls for Emergency Meeting
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Unity Campaign Beset by Tension: UJA Calls for Emergency Meeting

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It has been almost a year since the United Jewish Appeal kicked off a special fund-raising campaign to benefit the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements in Israel.

And today so much tension and confusion surrounds it that an emergency meeting has been called to straighten things out.

UJA leaders have invited Reform and Conservative officials to a special meeting on Aug. 3 at the new headquarters of the recently merged UJA-Council of Jewish Federations to try to clarify misunderstandings that mostly have played out as vituperative comments about each other in Jewish newspapers and magazines.

The Orthodox Union, which is modern Orthodoxy’s representative in the special supplemental campaign, was not invited because the meeting will focus on concerns raised solely by the liberal movements, said Bernie Moscovitz, executive vice president and chief executive officer of UJA.

The special initiative, dubbed by many the “unity campaign,” emerged last year out of concern that anger within the liberal movements over what many non- Orthodox Jews see as official religious intolerance in Israel could trigger a backlash against the philanthropic campaign run by UJA and local federations nationwide.

They were also concerned that the movements would try to divert Israel-directed funds from the central fund-raising establishment and raise money for their own institutions in Israel.

The campaign, which was supposed to target special gifts above and beyond regular contributions, looked at the start not only like damage control, but like a win-win proposal for all the parties involved.

But now officials of both UJA and the religious movements say they are frustrated, angry and tired of the other side painting them as bad guys.

UJA fund raising, up nearly 10 percent over this time last year, “Hasn’t been this good for 25 years, and we’re out there fending off the bullets with shields because something needs to be wrong all the time,” said Moscovitz.

At the same time, leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements say they haven’t seen any of the money UJA is reaping with their help.

At issue is how much money has been raised — and how little the movements have received.

UJA leaders say they have raised $21 million to benefit the three movements in Israel, but almost none of it has been collected from donors. Of that total, $16 million is in firm commitments, said Moscovitz. The other $5 million is still being negotiated with various donors.

In a recent issue of The Jerusalem Report, the newly appointed UJA national chairman, Carole Solomon, wrote in a letter that “within the $750 million we raise annually for worldwide humanitarian work, we fund more than $21 million worth of projects affiliated with the Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox movements in Israel.”

The head of the Reform movement takes issue with that claim.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said his movement hasn’t “seen a nickel, not one nickel” from the campaign.

“We’ve told them 100 times that it’s very hard to develop a relationship of trust when they say that they give us $21 million of support” but none of the movements have yet to see any of it.

Moscovitz suggested that the frustration from the movements stems from a lack of knowledge.

“Perhaps the movements, not accustomed to raising this kind of money, just don’t know how these things work,” he said.

Money pledged at the start of a year doesn’t usually begin to come in until the following December, Moscovitz said, and many large gifts promised — from tens of thousands to millions of dollars — are paid out over as many as four or five years.

At the same time, the Reform movement has launched a new effort to raise funds for its own institutions in Israel, which Yoffie announced in a letter to the denomination’s rabbis last month.

The new Reform initiative, not the first by the movement, is being viewed with caution by those involved with the supplemental campaign, said Moscovitz.

“That’s one of the reasons for the meeting,” he said of the planned August gathering.

At the same time, Moscovitz said, “we understand and support that they have needs for which they have to raise money, needs that a supplementary campaign isn’t going to satisfy.”

The Conservative movement hasn’t yet seen any of the Unity Campaign funds, either, but Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the denomination’s Rabbinical Assembly, is taking a more conciliatory tack.

“Everyone involved would like more funds to be raised more rapidly and in larger amounts, but we must have patience and a continued common approach and dialogue to get there,” said Meyers.

“I don’t believe we’ll raise more money by being angry with one another — only by being cooperative and working together.”

The Orthodox Union — which is getting less than the other movements in unity campaign pledges, say UJA sources — has likewise not yet seen any of the money.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, president of the O.U. “I believe that they are making a good-faith effort to treat us fairly. In the final analysis, the proof will be at the end of the campaign.”

Also at issue is how the touted $21 million has been counted.

The religious movement leaders say that UJA officials are “double-counting” pledged contributions made by the movements’ own constituents directly to the denominations.

“How the money is counted we’re not all clear about ourselves,” said the Conservative movement’s Meyers. “I don’t believe even from the beginning we were clear about it. It’s one of the things we’ll be talking about at the upcoming meeting.”

Moscovitz said the very allegation that UJA is including in its tally money raised by the movements on their own “is a disgusting comment.”

But the guidelines for how the total is calculated don’t seem to be entirely clear.

Yitzchak Shavit, who is vice president of supplemental giving at UJA and is staffing the unity campaign, said that “all the pledges we have, including money the Reform and Conservative raised by themselves, was accomplished because of the atmosphere we created.”

He said he is counting some of the special gifts given to the movements in the amount raised by the unity campaign.

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