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Dispute over Dues Payment Threatens a Federation’s Future Tie with the Ujc

January 29, 2004
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A Virginia federation is trying to avert becoming the first federation to be ousted from the United Jewish Communities, but it is not yet clear whether it will succeed.

In a news release issued Monday, the umbrella group for North American Jewish federations said it was ousting the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, Va., due to its “continuing delinquency” on paying its UJC dues.

But after learning from Tidewater that it may make good on its dues, UJC is giving Tidewater more time before it severs ties with the federation, UJC’s president, Stephen Hoffman, told JTA.

“It seems to have been a miscommunication,” said Harry Graber, executive vice president of the Tidewater federation. Graber said he was “shocked” to learn of its ousting through a UJC news release.

Tidewater’s reluctance to pay its dues represents an extreme case of a local federation expressing its discontent with the UJC. The case is also a test of the UJC’s strength and ability to force compliance on collective decisions.

Tensions between the UJC and the Tidewater federation have persisted for more than a year, when the federation decided to hold off on its dues.

Its position, along with that of San Francisco, which had also questioned the dues structure, helped prompt the passage of a UJC resolution last year to oust federations that do not pay their dues.

Now San Francisco is “100 percent” in good standing, Hoffman said, and there is no other federation that has not paid.

For Tidewater, the decision was rooted not in economic hardship, but in its desire to see changes at the UJC.

It has asked the UJC to reduce its budget, which would mean a reduction in the amount of dues local federations pay. It also wants the UJC to boost funding for one of UJC’s overseas partners, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and provide Tidewater with better services.

Its dues are roughly $175,000, or 5 percent of its $4 million annual fund-raising campaign, Graber said.

“We felt that it was important to have a considerable drop in the amount of funds that are being part of the budget of the UJC, and then subsequently passed on to us,” he said.

Tidewater also worries that the JDC, a UJC overseas partner that runs relief and welfare abroad, is not receiving the funding “necessary to meet the needs of Jews around the world.”

The UJC sends 75 percent of overseas funds raised through the federation system to the Jewish Agency for Israel and 25 percent to the JDC.

Backers of both agencies fight bitterly to protect or increase their funding.

In Tidewater’s case, it has circumvented the system, dividing its overseas funds evenly between the two agencies, and funded each directly.

The Tidewater board is slated to make a decision on paying dues next month, Graber told JTA.

But UJC mistook an alleged unreturned phone call to its president for rejection, he said.

“In no way did our president ever, ever receive a phone call and fail to respond,” he said.

“Our silence didn’t mean anything other than that we were contemplating the issue. That’s where we are now,” Graber said.

Hoffman said that if that is the case, “I feel a little embarrassed, but happy to make amends.” He said he hoped it was all just “a terrible mistake.” But, he added, the UJC is “not going to wait forever” for a decision.

Graber, who objects to the characterization of his federation as delinquent, said Tidewater has offered to pay the UJC a reduced amount of dues, which the UJC has rejected.

“Our community will pay all the dues that it will owe to the UJC in a timely and prompt manner once the fair share issue is resolved,” Graber said.

“This is not an easy road for us,” Graber said. “We could have just taken the easy road and just complied with the big players and that would have been it.”

According to Hoffman, the flap is a simple matter.

“Membership is you pay your dues,” he said.

The consensus-driven UJC is a democratic process, and he said he is willing to discuss all sticking points with Tidewater.

“I hope Tidewater will choose to continue arguing their issues within the system,” he said.

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