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Ujc Not Expected to Decide on Overseas Funds Next Week

The North American federation system’s two main overseas agencies are about to make their case for a pot of funds that has become smaller over the years.

For the past three months, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which provides relief and welfare for Jews abroad, and the Jewish Agency for Israel, which funds immigration and absorption in Israel, have been supplying documents and answering questions in hairsplitting detail to the “work groups,” or subcommittees, of the Overseas Needs Assessment and Distribution Committee of the United Jewish Communities.

The committee, known as ONAD, will meet in Manhattan on Sunday and Monday to hear reports from those groups and presentations by the two agencies.

But the highly anticipated decision about how that pot is split — and whether the changing needs of world Jewry warrant a reassessment of the allocations — is not expected to come next week, according to the chairman of ONAD.

The meetings come at a time of tremendous anxiety for the agencies, which rely heavily on the federation system’s funds to do their work, and for the federation system itself, which has continued to fall short of the amount promised to its overseas partners.

With dwindling funds, the agencies themselves have become anxious over the highly politicized current split of the funds.

Of the approximately $188 million allocated for 2003, 75 percent went to the Jewish Agency and 25 percent to JDC.

The UJC, the umbrella organization of the federation system, recommends certain amounts for local federations to allocate for overseas needs — but the local federations, struggling with flat campaigns and increasing needs locally, continue to fall short of those recommendations.

The UJC was formed four years ago in part to reverse the trend of dollars shifting from overseas to local needs. The system has somewhat stanched the drop in funds, but the shortfalls continue.

The UJC said it would launch an overseas advocacy committee in January, but it has yet to be formed.

Meanwhile, a decision on whether to change the split of funds will not come until later in the year or the beginning of 2004, according to Steven Klinghoffer, past president of UJC of Metrowest New Jersey.

“There is little or no discussion” of the split, Klinghoffer told JTA.

“The focus of ONAD activities is on the needs of the Jewish world and how they should be prioritized and how they should be paid for,” he said, “irrespective of who the service deliverer is.”

That split was up for discussion last year, and the ONAD committee traveled to Ukraine, Russia and Israel on fact- finding missions. But a decision was put off last November.

This year, some think the split may shift in the JDC’s favor.

“I think most people think that there will be some shift in overall funding from JAFI to JDC,” said Barry Shrage, president of Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies and a member of the ONAD committee.

“JDC has done a better job of interpreting their needs locally,” and engaging local federations and their communities, he said.

Some also believe that a decrease in aliyah around the world means the Jewish Agency needs less money.

But Jewish Agency treasurer Shai Hermesh said that while decreased aliyah in the past year led to a savings of $10 million, the Jewish Agency still faces high absorption costs for many new immigrants, especially Ethiopians.

The Jewish Agency received $143 million through the ONAD process for 2003, according to Carole Solomon, chairman of its board of governors.

The JDC received $45 million, according to Steven Schwager, JDC’s executive vice president.

“JDC has asked the ONAD committee to add $25 million to the JDC core,” Schwager said.

Of that sum, $10 million is intended for needy elderly in the former Soviet Union, $10 million for poor Jews in Argentina and $5 million to begin working with poor Jewish children in the former Soviet Union.

The Jewish Agency has not finalized the numbers it will request, Solomon said.

Last year, the Jewish Agency requested more than $160 million, Solomon said.

“There is definitely, we believe, a case to be made for increased needs over what our ask was last year, but I’m not prepared to finalize the number at this point,” she said.

According to Robert Aronson, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and chair of ONAD’s work group on social welfare outside of Israel, the addition of work groups has improved the ONAD process.

The three groups examine immigration and absorption, needs in Israel and social welfare needs outside Israel.

This is the “first time ONAD has seriously looked at the condition of needs today in these different areas,” Aronson said, adding that the committee has a better understanding of the needs.

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