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What does the Weinberg shift mean for the Jewish Agency?

We reported two weeks ago that the Weinberg Foundation had been keeping in escrow $750,000 of its 2009 gift to the Associated Jewish Federation of Baltimore that normally would have been passed along to the Jewish Agency.

The foundation’s outgoing chairman, Shale Stiller, was part of a group — including Lee Kohrman at the David and Inez Myers Foundation in Cleveland and two past chairmen of what used to be known as the United Jewish Communities, Charles Bronfman and Bobby Goldberg — spearheading a major behind-the-scenes campaign to push the Jewish Agency to reform the way it does business.

Some speculated that the change in leadership might pave the way for renewed Weinberg funding of the Jewish Agency.

Neither Rachel Monroe, the foundation’s new president, nor Donn Weinberg, its new chairman, would comment on the situation, saying it was premature. However, according to sources close to the situation, the foundation’s stance for now is that it does not want money it gives to the Baltimore federation to go automatically to the agency.

One thing that has changed is the rational being offered for that decision.

In his correspondence with the Jewish Agency, Stiller stressed the need for a series of reforms aimed at increasing transparency and accountability at the organization. But now the unofficial line coming from sources close to the situation is that the foundation, the Baltimore federation’s largest donor, sees the federation as an organization for helping charities in Baltimore. As the foundation does significant work in Israel on its own, it does not want a significant part of its gift to a Baltimore charity siphoned off to Israel.

Though Weinberg officials are no longer playing up the transparency issues, they remain a cause of concern for the foundation, according to some sources. Still, the foundation is not ruling out giving money directly to the Jewish Agency for specific projects in the future. Sources said that leaders of the foundation, the Baltimore federation and the Jewish Agency may sit down to talk sometime down the road.

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