Divvying Up The Emergency Pie


Since Hezbollah’s surprise cross-border raid on Israel July 12 that started a month-long war, American Jews have been digging into their wallets with an outpouring of money to help the northern Israeli cities that came under attack.

Some $300 million has been raised by the Israel Emergency Campaign of the United Jewish Communities, the network of 159 North American Federations. But the mayor of Haifa, Yoni Yahav, surprised leaders of UJA-Federation of New York here last week when he told them his city "didn’t get a penny."

Yahav asserted that his city deserves 20 percent of the $300 million being raised since Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, with 270,000 residents, represents 20 percent of the population of northern Israel. Asked if he was disappointed at the situation, Yahav fumed: "I demand my share."

But local Federation officials later said they felt Mayor Lahav did not understand how the vast and complex Jewish voluntary network of charities and social services operates, allocating funds on the basis of needs assessments rather than on a per capita basis, for example, and targeting social service groups and charitable projects rather than municipal governments.

"The mayor is frustrated with the pace of recovery," said David Mallach, managing director of UJA-Federation’s Commission on the Jewish People, who chaired the meeting here. "I sympathize with his situation," he noted. "Our process is slower than he’d like, and he wants funds on the ground. It’s a legitimate complaint. But the mayor may not fully appreciate the system, which takes time but in the end" produces solid, trustworthy results. Yahav’s criticism and responses from local Jewish officials highlighted the complexity of the fund-raising effort and the misunderstanding some Israelis and American donors have about how the emergency funds are being spent.

Yahav said no money has come to Haifa even though a representative of the Jewish Agency for Israel visited his city to assess the damage. He credited Haifa’s American sister city, Boston, with providing $3 million in aid and praised the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee for its efforts in preparing Haifa’s emergency groups – the police, fire department, ambulances, etc. – to respond to crises like the missile attacks.

But local officials pointed out that the funding from the Boston Federation was part of the Israel Emergency Campaign, and that the JDC is part of the same system as the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Federations which the mayor criticized.

Susan Stern, chairman of the board of UJA-Federation here, said she understood Yahavís passion in fighting for his city. "His community was under attack and he wants to do the best for it," she said. "I don’t blame him."

Yahav said 94 rockets slammed into his city’s residential areas, another 200 fell in open areas and the sea. The rockets killed 13 civilians, injured another 50 and caused 250 to require treatment for shock and trauma. In laying out his case for why Haifa deserved more UJC money, Yahav said his city spent $15 million in emergency repairs, set up safe recreation areas during the war for children at a cost of $20,000 a day, and paid $200,000 to bus other youngsters to summer camps in the south. And he said he has directed that all 60,000 school children in the city receive eight-weeks of post-traumatic counseling under the direction of the University of Haifa. Yahav asserted that Haifa has been overlooked by the UJC because it is considered a "rich" city that can "take care of itself, which is totally incorrect. … I’m now trying to find ways to cover" the $15 million spent on war-related costs.

"Everybody says we in Haifa operated well," he said. "Now they are punishing us because we were so industrious." Stern said all of the money raised by the UJC’s Israel Emergency Campaign goes directly for services; no administrative costs are deducted and no money goes to municipalities.

"What we are doing is totally transparent," Stern stressed. A spokesman for the Jewish Agency, Michael Jankelowitz, said the UJC money would be spent where it is most needed in the north.

"The majority of Katushyas did not fall in Haifa," he said. "Kiryat Shmona, Nahariya, Sfat and Tiberias are at the top of the [help] list. … We have to help those most affected, and areas like Nahariya don’t have a Federation like the one in Boston to help them."

Yahav complained that the Technion, a prominent university in Haifa, received no emergency funding among the $7 million allocated for scholarships. But Jankelowitz said the majority of Technion students already receive scholarships and that the allocation was to help students attending schools close to the border, like the college in Kiryat Shmona.

UJA-Federation officials noted that their board of directors last week approved an allocation of $9.3 million to the rebuilding effort in Kiryat Shmona, a hard-hit community in the north. Stern said the funds would come from the $44 million UJA-Federation has raised to date from more than 11,000 donors for the UJC’s Israel Emergency Campaign.

In a statement, Merryl Tisch, a UJA-Federation campaign chair, said she was part of a mission that visited the city and witnessed the physical devastation and emotional trauma of the residents.

"Businesses and factories have been closed; the city’s education infrastructure has been damaged," she pointed out. John Ruskay, executive vice president of UJA-Federation, said: "We have witnessed the strength of these people despite this tragedy, and we wanted to respond swiftly and comprehensively. … No city encountered the number of rockets and the damage – both physical and psychological – to the extent of Kiryat Shmona."

He and other officials pointed out that the allocation was based on a site visit, extensive discussions with partner agencies like the Jewish Agency and the JDC, and the needs of the community. The funds will go for one-on-one counseling for youngsters, upgrading programs for the elderly and disabled, a walk-in treatment center, the rebuilding and repair of shelters, and the improvement of the local library.

The officials also noted that UJA-Federation still has about $30 million from the campaign set aside for aiding Israel’s north, and Haifa’s needs will be part of the assessment.