‘Jewish Unity At Its Finest’


After a rocky first year, the much-heralded UJA-Federation Unity Campaign designed to help the Conservative, Orthodox and Reform movements raise money for their own projects in Israel has raised nearly $10.5 million in pledges and organizers said they have begun to pull their act together. This effort comes at a time of a booming economy that has helped 36 federations across the country achieve record high levels of donations. Many others have recorded such significant increases that the national United Jewish Appeal Federation annual campaign is expected to end the year up by nearly 5 percent, a new high in collective Jewish philanthropy.

Although some of the 189 Jewish federation campaigns in North America do not close until the end of the year, UJA’s national chairman, Carole Solomon, said 88.7 percent of the campaigns are complete and that the year is expected to end with nearly $760 million raised. At this point, she said, donors have increased their gifts in 1998 an average of 6.8 percent. UJA-Federation of New York ended its 1998 campaign with gifts totaling $123 million — $6 million more than the previous year.

“These astounding figures demonstrate that the Jewish community of North America is more committed than ever to the UJA mission of serving our brethren across the street or across the ocean,” said Solomon. “This campaign, which will touch more lives around the world than ever before, represents Jewish unity at its finest.”

Unity was also the subject of meetings this month in New York when representatives of the Conservative, Orthodox and Reform movements met with UJA-Federation leaders to better coordinate the Unity Campaign. The groups pledged to work together to promote religious pluralism and to coordinate their actions and public statements.

The meeting was in response to complaints from the movements that they have seen none of the money UJA-Federation claims to have raised in their behalf. The executive vice president of the United Jewish Appeal, Bernard Moscovitz, said the nearly $10.5 million that has been raised is in pledges and that such pledges are generally paid by Dec. 31. He added that the campaign is in discussions with other donors for another $5 million to $6 million.

“We have seen hundreds and hundreds of people and received scores and scores of pledges,” said Moscovitz.

He noted that 35 to 40 federations have agreed to participate in the Unity Campaign, which was formed in response to a feared backlash from non-Orthodox donors upset by what they perceived as moves of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to codify Orthodox hegemony in Israel. Federation officials were concerned that these donors would vent their disgust by reducing or eliminating their UJA donations, a portion of which is sent to Israel to support social programs. They also feared that their campaigns would be hurt by other donors who diverted some or all of their gifts to the movements themselves, which launched aggressive fund-raising efforts for their own operations in Israel.

The chief operating officer of UJA-Federation of New York, John Ruskay, said his organization was one of the federations that signed onto the Unity Campaign.

“Discussions are continuing both with the major movements and with individual donors in support of projects considered important toward promoting Jewish unity and tolerance, both in Israel and in New York,” he said.

Following a meeting of the movements and UJA -Federation on Aug. 12, a statement was issued in which all parties “agreed that North American Jewry can succeed in contributing to a strong, open Israeli society only by working together. The religious movements will be key in implementing the changes desired by their constituents, while UJA Federations will be essential to developing the necessary resources.”

An 11-member working committee composed of representatives of the movements and UJA Federations was also formed. James Demb, executive vice president of the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel and a member of the committee, said everyone agreed about the “primacy of the UJA campaign.”

He said the Unity Campaign will target those who have made large UJA contributions and are active in their movements. It will do that by contacting local federation leaders and rabbis and asking them to identify such individuals. In most cases, representatives of both the federation and the movements will work together to solicit potential donors.

“It’s a win, win for Israel,” said Samuel Sislen, executive director of the Masorti foundation. When the Unity Campaign was announced a year ago, Moscovitz said it would strive to help the movements raise $10 million each. He said no time limit was placed on that effort. Demb said he hoped that by the fall, officials of UJA Federations would provide each of the movements with a specific breakdown of how much was raised for each of them.

The director of development of the Orthodox Union, Sheldon Fliegelman, said he could make no comment about the Unity Campaign until the UJA Federations respond to the questions he posed at the Aug. 12 meeting.

“We’re working with individuals at the UJA and we trust that it all will work out,” he said. “I don’t think any one of the groups could tell you it has all been worked out. Every group there was in unanimous agreement that no funds have been received yet for any project. And there are serious questions as to who raised what — whether it was UJA or the [movements] themselves.”

Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, applauded the efforts of UJA Federations, saying their “commitment to religious pluralism is not only apparent but has been acted on and the task before us is to see how we can maximize that effort. The Unity campaign has not gotten off to the quickest of starts … [but] I’m confident we’ll do a better job next year.”