Taking first major steps, UJC cabinet approves changes to the central system

NEW YORK, Aug. 31 (JTA) — Start spreading the news: North America”s umbrella fund-raising and social service organization is about to make a brand new start of it by concentrating two of its important offices outside of New York, New York. Organizational shifts approved this week by the United Jewish Communities would make Jerusalem and Washington the centers for overseas concerns and for domestic services and policy, respectively. Another significant change gives representatives of the synagogue movements one-third of the seats on the UJC committee for Jewish “renaissance and renewal.” It was up to a 21-member interim cabinet to approve proposals meant to re-energize and to streamline American Jewry”s most broad-based means of raising communal funds and delivering social services. Before being implemented, the proposals need final approval from decision-making bodies — including an executive committee — that have yet to be created. The cabinet meeting on Sunday marked the latest stage in the merger of the Council of Jewish Federations, the United Jewish Appeal and the United Israel Appeal. That union was forged in April, but still awaits the appointment of permanent governing bodies and a chief professional officer, as well as the legal approval of New York state. The new system is designed as a national table where federations come together to set an agenda that will define the UJC”s position on a range of communal concerns. The national entity, in turn, will help federations execute the agenda on a local level by providing funding, expertise and information about successful projects and innovative programs. The latest proposals — which were approved at a meeting Sunday in Los Angeles — lay the groundwork for the “pillar committees” that in the coming months will define the policies and work of the UJC in each of four content areas: Israel and overseas; human services and social policy; campaign and fund-raising development; and Jewish continuity, referred to by the UJC as renaissance and renewal. The changes also reconfigure the framework that for over 60 years governed how the community federations in North America determined and responded to Jewish needs nationally, and in Israel and other countries. Perhaps the most startling recommendations approved this week come from the task force charged with designing the UJC”s global approach. Decisions about how funds raised in the federation system — $790 million this year — will be allocated for overseas needs are the responsibility of the recently inaugurated Overseas Needs Assessment and Distribution Committee, known as ONAD. ONAD will determine which are “core” needs, to be covered by federations collectively, and which are “elective”; that is, open to federation funding on a case-by-case basis. In the past, the Israel and Overseas task force report says, the UJA, UIA and CJF served in part “to ”sell” Israel and overseas needs” as the collective responsibility of federated communities; “any alternative to collective action,” the report states, “was viewed as a threat to the entire system.” Under the new system, the Israel and Overseas Committee, in addition to advocating for overseas needs, would, under the proposals adopted this week, take on a new role: fostering direct relationships between North American Jewish communities and their counterparts throughout the world. In addition to recommending that the Israel and Overseas department of UJC be headquartered in Jerusalem, the interim cabinet adopted the following proposals: * Jerusalem-based “community consultants” would serve as liaisons in assisting North American Jewish communities to develop community-to-community relationships; these connections could include helping a local donor fund a project in Israel or identifying ”sister” communities in the former Soviet Union. * The office overseeing missions to Israel would move from New York to Jerusalem “where missions are actually planned and implemented,” and missions subsidies should be examined for greater cost- effectiveness, as it is no longer clear that subsidies are required by “veteran Missions travelers” or that they produce “greater campaign results, as was once the case.” * The Israel and Overseas department will represent the federation movement to the Israeli government on issues of national concern, such as the controversial “Who Is a Jew” question, and on community-based and national projects, such as the Birthright Israel initiative, which plans to provide all-expenses-paid first-time trips for Jewish youth. * The North American Jewish community”s traditional overseas partners — the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee — will coordinate a single approach for soliciting funds and communal cooperation on projects that the UJC determines to be “elective” needs. * The UJC will replace the UIA — founded in 1925 as the United Palestine Appeal and which until now served as a conduit for communal funds to the Jewish Agency — in appointing representatives to the agency”s Board of Governors. The UIA will, in a more limited way, continue its mostly administrative role. Representatives of the UIA board, including representatives from Zionist movements, the task force recommends, should sit on the Israel and Overseas committee togther with federation leaders who are influential in their communities and are committed to Israel and overseas needs. Other major changes proposed by the individual task forces and approved by the interim committee include: * Expanding the role of the UJC”s Washington Action Office to coordinate domestic policy issues and further its national advocacy on issues of communal importance, such as immigrant resettlement and services for the elderly, families and children. * Establishing a United Jewish Foundation, a national center where private funders can join forces to collaborate and address issues of communal concern such as summer camping or recruiting day school principals. The foundation would also provide a place for cultivating endowment funds and other financial services that will “enhance the annual campaign.” * Creating a Renaissance and Renewal division that will infuse all of the other pillars of the UJC with Jewish values and develop partnerships with successful and promising programs in the field of Jewish continuity and education. The committee overseeing the division will represent in equal measure the federations, the four religious streams of Judaism, and academics and education experts. Rabbis from the Conservative and Orthodox movements who participated in the planning process said the one-third share is satisfactory. One of them, Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, called the decision “a very important first step” and said that the religious movements had lobbied heavily for “this type of significant representation.” Announcing the proposed system-wide changes on Monday, Joel Tauber, the UJC”s executive committee chairman, told reporters, “What occurred reflects what we”ve been hearing from federations, who are the new owners of the UJC.” According to Tauber, however, representatives of federations— having approved the CJF-UJA-UIA merger — also told the national leadership that they were not sure what they had agreed to do. Tauber and Stephen Solender, the acting president of the UJC, together with other national lay and professional UJC, spoke to what they estimated to be 2,000 people this summer at various meetings. That trip around the country showed, Tauber said, that “there was not a clear understanding” of what ownership entailed in terms of rights and obligations. Tauber said the UJC was planning to hire a consultant, who over the next few months would canvas federations for their “suggested definition of ownership.” Federation representatives should get a taste of ownership soon: Federations are now submitting names for UJC standing committees, and Tauber said the governing bodies — including the full board of trustees and executive committee — could be appointed by October, in advance of the UJC”s General Assembly in Atlanta, scheduled to begin Nov. 17. He was less specific when it came to discussing who would replace Solender as chief professional officer when his six-month contract ends in October. The search for a permanent UJC president has dragged on for a year, but Tauber said only that the search committee discussions on “how we wish to move forward in that area”” should be concluded by Sept. 15. The committee is currently reviewing several applicants, he said.

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