Agency to Discuss How Much More Must Be Raised for Soviet Jewry
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Agency to Discuss How Much More Must Be Raised for Soviet Jewry

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When the Jewish Agency Board of Governors convenes in Jerusalem later this week, its first order of business will be to draw up a budget for the remainder of 1991, as the Jewish Agency adjusts to a new fiscal year based on the calendar year.

But the Feb. 12-21 meeting is also expected to resolve some important questions about how the Diaspora Jewish community will finance the additional $1.3 billion the Jewish Agency estimates it will need to assist in the immigration and resettlement of up to 1 million Soviet Jews through 1993.

The Jewish Agency, which pays for the transportation of immigrants and their possessions to Israel, along with approximately 25 percent of their first-year absorption costs, is funded mainly by the United Jewish Appeal, which raises money in federation campaigns across the United States.

In 1990, Diaspora Jews were asked to raise $600 million to aid what was then thought to be a lower rate of immigration, with the bulk of the money being raised by the U.S. Jewish community.

Under the auspices of UJA, a $420 million Operation Exodus campaign was launched and, by all accounts, it has met with resounding success.

But last October, when it became clear the number of Soviet immigrants would reach 200,000 in 1990 and possibly double that in 1991, the Board of Governors decided the Jewish Agency would need a total of $1.9 billion to resettle the Soviet olim expected to arrive through 1993.


The Board of Governors must now decide how to come up with the approximately $1.3 billion left after Operation Exodus proceeds are subtracted.

Federation officials in the United States have raised worries that if asked to start a new campaign for Soviet Jews — one that could be more than double the unprecedented Operation Exodus goal — they would find themselves bank-rupting their own communities, especially with the current recessionary economy.

But Jewish Agency officials apparently think there is plenty of Diaspora money left to tap.

“I would say that world Jewry could meet the full costs of Russian aliyah without any major impact on their standard of living,” Mendel Kaplan, chairman of the Board of Governors, said in an interview last week.

But Kaplan said the Jewish Agency would not expect Diaspora Jewry to come up with the full $1.3 billion from traditional fund raising. He said the Jewish Agency would seek less demanding sources of income.

Some officials involved in the financing of the massive aliyah have suggested instituting a loan program in place of the Jewish Agency’s share of the grants currently given to Soviet olim, thereby doing away with a large portion of needed fund raising.

These loans, which would be financed by Israeli banks and guaranteed by federations in the United States, would be repayable under lowinterest terms over 10 years, according to a preliminary proposal drafted by the Council of Jewish Federations.

According to the CJF report, the loan program might also lead to a decrease in the number of people receiving money, as those not in financial need might choose not to take out a loan.

Additional money will be sought by stream-lining Jewish Agency operations and putting 75 percent of the 1991 operating budget — which will probably run close to $400 million — toward Soviet absorption, said Kaplan.


The remainder needed to finance the immigration will come from additional federation fund raising, in what already is being referred to as Operation Exodus II.

But UJA’s current Operation Exodus campaign may very well end up raising more money than it originally planned, meaning that less will have to be raised later.

Many Jewish communities, either because they realized more money would be needed, or because their members were so generous, raised substantially more money than they originally promised UJA.

The United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Washington, for example, raised $16 million for Operation Exodus, although its original goal was $10.6 million, said Ted Farber, its executive vice president.

By the time all the federations have completed their campaigns, it is estimated that the total raised will have surpassed UJA’s original goal of $420 million by $100 million to $160 million.

But how much of that money UJA will get remains unclear.

Many of the local federations used the Operation Exodus banner to raise money both for their UJA commitments for resettlement in Israel and to pay for the cost of resettling Soviet Jews in their own communities.

Nearly 40,000 Soviet Jews immigrated to the United States last year, and an identical number is expected to arrive here this year, with local federations picking up a substantial share of the resettlement costs.

The exact portion of the money that will go for local resettlement needs, versus what will ultimately be given to UJA for resettlement in Israel, is not yet known, said officials involved in the fund-raising effort.

But it has been estimated by some that UJA will get an extra $20 million, with the remaining money earmarked for resettlement in the United States.


Officials have stressed that all money raised under Operation Exodus will go, either here or in Israel, solely for the resettlement of Soviet Jews.

“We can’t use the money for areas other than we said we would,” said Allan Gelford, campaign director at the Jewish Welfare Federation of Detroit. The Detroit federation set a goal of $16.5 million for local and overseas needs, and raised over $20 million.

Meanwhile, federation officials are now asking donors to pay their pledges — originally payable over a three-year period — as soon as possible, due to Israel’s tremendous need for cash.

“The objective is to bring full repayment by March 31,” said Kaplan of the Jewish Agency.

UJA officials said they have so far received $186.6 million in cash and are hopeful the March goal will be met.

(JTA correspondent Charles Hoffman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)

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