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Jewish Federations Commit over $50 Million to Birthright

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The North American Jewish federation system has voted to become a full partner in an international program that sends young Jewish adults on free 10-day trips to Israel.

The United Jewish Communities’ decision to sign onto Birthright Israel came at a June 15 meeting in Chicago, where the organization also formally approved its $41.7 million budget and the recommendations of its Overseas Needs Assessment and Distribution Committee.

Leaders of the UJC, formed last year from the merger of the United Jewish Appeal and the Council of Jewish Federations, announced the decisions at a news conference last Friday.

The UJC, which announced in April that it would likely contribute $39 million to Birthright, has in fact committed $52.5 million over the next five years, including $7.8 million in 2001.

Together with central Jewish fund-raising entities from Diaspora communities outside North America — which are expected to commit an additional $17.5 million — the UJC will join 14 individual philanthropists and the Israeli government as Birthright’s three prime supporters and decision makers.

The Israeli government pledged $70 million in April and the 14 philanthropists, including cofounders Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman, have pledged a total of $70 million.

Of the UJC’s 2001 allocation to Birthright, $3.1 million will come from the UJC itself, $3.1 million from its member federations and $1.7 million from the budget of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which is the largest recipient of the federation system’s overseas dollars.

Of the 189 federations belonging to the UJC, 118 — including all the large and intermediate federations — have so far agreed to help support Birthright financially, the UJC’s chief executive officer, Stephen Solender, said at last Friday’s news briefing.

UJC officials declined to provide a list of the federations, citing ongoing contractual negotiations that determine individual federation contributions.

Solender said UJA-Federation of Greater New York will contribute the largest amount, some $600,000 in the coming year.

Birthright sent 6,000 young adults — mostly college students — to Israel last winter and 2,000 more this spring.

The enthusiasm surrounding the winter launch has widely been credited with building support in the federation system, which initially had some misgivings about the program.

Some feared that the program would interfere with their own local Israel programs, while others wondered how effective a 10-day program would be in accomplishing its goal of enhancing Jewish identity.

In other business at last week’s Chicago meeting, the UJC approved its 2000-01 budget, which represents a $4.4 million cut from what its predecessor organizations spent before merging.

The UJC’s revenues come from dues of its member federations as well as 11 percent taken off the top of federations’ overseas allocations.

The new budget includes a 19 percent cut to the organization’s regional offices, which are expected to lay off 15 employees, or approximately 25 percent. Although small- and intermediate-sized federations have voiced concerns about the cuts, UJC officials say they will be offset by plans to deliver services in new, more efficient ways.

The UJC’s Birthright contribution will not come out of the budget, but will be raised separately from individual donors and family foundations, said Solender.

One donor family, Herbert and Elaine Gimmelstob of Boca Raton, Fla., has already committed to paying $600 for each young adult from their region who participates in Birthright.

In addition to approving the budget, the UJC’s Board of Trustees approved the recommendations of the newly formed ONAD committee.

That committee, composed primarily of representatives from 18 U.S. federations, called on federations to increase their overseas giving, the bulk of which goes to help needy Jews around the world, bring new immigrants to Israel and settle them in the Jewish state.

For the first time ever, federations will be able to choose where 10 percent of their overseas allocations go, but the choice will be limited to pre-approved projects offered by the federation system’s longtime overseas partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

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