Ruskay: Must Do More On Poverty


A religious court in Jerusalem has taken up the case of sex abuse charges levThe roughly once-in-a-decade UJA-Federation of New York population survey has huge implications for the country’s largest federation in terms of its funding priorities and allocations. John Ruskay, president and CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, sat down with The Jewish Week on Monday, the day the survey was released.

Jewish Week: What was the most surprising aspect to you of the new population study?

Ruskay: I had feared that intermarriage rates had increased, and was surprised and somewhat relieved to learn that they have leveled off in New York. [The study found that 22 percent of married couples are intermarried.] I was also encouraged to see an increase in rates of Jewish ritual practices, like lighting Shabbat candles. This is, indeed, a positive development.

What was your overall response to the findings of the report?

We see promising news in terms of the relative stability of the community and levels of Jewish participation. For doomsayers who thought intermarriage would soar, and participation in Jewish institutional and philanthropic life would decline, this data refutes those notions. But this study also documents the remarkable growth of Jewish poverty during a period of unprecedented wealth.

The data on the needs of the poor seems overwhelming. Where do you begin?
The truth is we have focused on the growing needs of the Jewish poor for the last decade, and we have helped a number of local agencies along those lines to increase their services to the immigrant community, the elderly and large families. We always need to do more, though, and this report will help us focus on how we can best do that.

How does UJA-Federation begin to respond to the needs outlined by the study?

“Moral triage” is the phrase [UJA-Federation board chairman] Morris Offit uses to describe our job. The needs alone are real and glaring, but they are insufficient for an entity like ours in terms of response because what is required of us is to determine what we can do most effectively. That means assessing sources of other funds as well, including government funding and other charities.

Keep in mind that the report consists of highlights, and in the months ahead we will be providing additional in-depth studies that more extensively present the data about Jewish poverty, New York’s Russian Jewish community and Jewish identity.

Should the Jewish poor in the Bronx come before the Jewish poor in Argentina or the former Soviet Union?

Our mission encompasses global responsibility, so we don’t use geography to determine the need but rather the urgency of the need and how the money can best be put to use. For example, we have to keep in mind that there are no safety-net programs for the poor in Argentina or the FSU while there are here, and part of our job is to make sure poor people here are aware of and making use of government funds they are entitled to receive. We are also responding to growing social and economic needs in Israel.