UJC plan concerns Jewish Agency

Bomb shelter in Kiryat Shemona was refurbished by the Jewish Agency after last summer's Lebanon war with funds raised by the United Jewish Communities' Israel Emergency Campaign. (Nir Ayalon)

Bomb shelter in Kiryat Shemona was refurbished by the Jewish Agency after last summer’s Lebanon war with funds raised by the United Jewish Communities’ Israel Emergency Campaign. (Nir Ayalon)

NEW YORK (JTA) – Some volunteer leaders of the Jewish Agency for Israel are worried that their fund-raising needs will not be addressed adequately by a new strategic plan adopted by America’s largest Jewish charitable network.At issue is the strategic plan adopted this spring by the United Jewish Communities, the national arm of the North American network of local Jewish federations that raises some $850 million annually.Under the plan, the UJC would establish two divisions, one focused on domestic fund raising and another on beefing up overseas initiatives.Officials at UJC have succeeded in quelling most of the initial opposition to the plan from federations, and some of the larger federations have praised its broad vision. UJC officials say the organization has been working well with its overseas partners, including JAFI, to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars raised in the past year in the wake of last summer’s Lebanon war.Still, worried rumblings continue to emanate from the the Jewish Agency, UJC’s main overseas recipient. JAFI, a quasi-governmental agency based in Jerusalem, historically focused on aliyah. In recent years, however, it has played an expanded role in resettling and rebuilding communities in Israel, particularly in the North, and running Jewish education programs worldwide.Some board members of JAFI, which receives at least 45 percent of its $317 million annual budget from the federation system, say their anxiety is fueled by their lack of input into the formulation of the UJC plan and a feeling that they have been left in the dark.Carole Solomon, who recently completed her term as chairwoman of JAFI’s board of governors, has expressed concern that the increased dues that the plan requires federations to pay UJC will come at the expense of the Jewish Agency’s overseas allocations.The concerns, which attendees of JAFI’s board meeting last month in Jerusalem said were being voiced in the hallways, reflect years of frustration over declining contributions from the federations. They also come at a time when the agency is facing a $30 million to $40 million budget shortfall this year, according to JAFI board members.Some JAFI officers are calling for the agency to move ahead with plans to raise money directly from North American federations and foundations. In March, even before the UJC’s new plan was announced, JAFI re-established its North American Council, a team of lay leaders that articulates the agency’s needs to local federations.The chairman of JAFI’s executive, Ze’ev Bielski, charged the council with doubling the $140 million JAFI currently takes in from North America.”There is a tremendous pressure internally to raise greater resources, and it appears that we will have to do it ourselves,” the chairman of JAFI’s North American Council, Richard Wexler, told JTA. “The lack of money to meet priorities creates its own pressure, and the reduced core dollars have forced JAFI to cut back on every area of its core business, and that needs to grow.”In sharp contrast to the anxieties of some JAFI board members, professional staffers at the agency are preaching patience.”I think the plan takes some new invigorating directions, and I know it is important for UJC,” said Jeff Kaye, JAFI’s director-general for resource development and public affairs, who works closely with UJC. “I see their new efforts as an honest and brave attempt to do a job they have to do. A strong UJC is to our benefit.”At the UJC, meanwhile, officials cite the $360 million raised from North American donors to help Israel cope with the damage inflicted during last summer’s Lebanon war in saying that relations are excellent between the UJC and its main overseas partners, JAFI and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.Nearly all of the approximately $250 million that has been allocated has flowed either to the groups for their own rebuilding efforts or through them to third-party providers.”I believe the working relationship we have with JDC and JAFI is better than ever,” UJC’s president and CEO, Howard Rieger, told JTA.”There are people who don’t understand what the facts are, and if they had an inkling of an idea of what our goals are,” the chatter would stop, he said. “We raised $359.9 million through” the Israel Emergency Campaign and “we haven’t charged a penny of overhead to the JAFI or JDC. I don’t see why they aren’t throwing a party.”Rieger acknowledged that the UJC needs to better communicate its goals to both the leadership of the federations and their overseas partners, adding that he plans to broaden what has been an ongoing conversation with them.”I think that the few individuals who may be overly critical are stuck in the past, and this could be put behind us if they would finally come to the table,” Rieger said.Some JAFI leaders emphasize that they want to work collectively with UJC to raise more dollars.”The pie is so big, the potential is here, so let’s work together to bring in more money,” Bielski said in March at the first board meeting of the North American Council.But there is still some uncertainty about what UJC’s new operation in Israel will mean for JAFI and its programs.”I don’t know what’s happening other than that they’re moving their Israel operations to Israel,” said the CEO of JAFI North America, Maxyne Finkelstein. “If this is going to strengthen UJC’s capacity to support Israel and overseas programs, that’s good.” And while JAFI has benefited from the huge influx of funds from the emergency campaign, officials are looking to their own strategic plan to help ensure funds for the future. That plan, adopted four years ago, called for working with UJC, but also directed the agency to reaching out on its own for the first time to federations and philanthropists in North America.”The bottom line was that we needed to expand our revenue stream,” Finkelstein said. “The fact is that this organization’s most important revenue stream comes from UJC, but we needed more support.”In addition to re-establishing its North American Council, JAFI mobilized a team of six professional “relationship managers” to reach out to the federation system and its lay leaders, as well as to private philanthropists and foundations outside the federation system.And for the first time, JAFI opened a media relations office in North America.Rieger dismissed the notion that JAFI could make significant gains in North America without partnering with the federation system.”There is no role JAFI and JDC can take in North America without the federations,” he said. “If anybody thinks they can walk into the North American market and do it alone, they are foolish.”

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