Federation Fete


Too often we take our Jewish communal successes for granted and focus on our problems. One of the ongoing success stories is the work and reach of UJA-Federation of New York, the world’s largest local philanthropy, with its more than 100 constituent agencies providing social services for Jews and others in need here in New York as well as in Israel, the Former Soviet Union and communities around the world.

The other night 145 of UJA-Federation’s lead donors expressed their support for and confidence in the charity by pledging a record $41 million to launch the 2008 campaign at the annual “Greenberg Event” hosted at the Manhattan home of Bear Stearns CEO Alan “Ace” Greenberg and Kathryn Greenberg. That marks an increase of nearly
Jewish Theological Seminary
$3 million from last year, up more than 7 percent.

Last year’s annual campaign raised more than $150 million from the entire community, so it is remarkable to note that more than 27 percent of that figure was raised in a single night last week.

But that last statement needs to be put in context because the lay and professional leaders of UJA-Federation set the groundwork for the kickoff event throughout the year, seeking to tell the dramatic but complex story of an organization that provides services at home and around the world and that supports care for the young, the elderly and the disabled as well as educational and community building programs and projects designed to ensure the continuity of Jewish life.

“We are a Jewish philanthropic mutual fund at a time when many people want to pick only their stocks of interests,” says UJA-Federation executive vice president and CEO John Ruskay, adding that “if you only pick your favorite, a unique system that reaches throughout New York and around the world won’t be there.”

At a time when centralized giving is considered out of step with the more chic boutique style of philanthropy, and when there is much concern about the declining real estate market amid other economic worries, it is important to note the confidence expressed by donors in giving generously to UJA-Federation, recognizing the needs that are real and the expertise of the charity in serving those needs.

We applaud the generosity of those at the Greenberg Event (who qualified for inclusion by pledging at least $125,000 to the annual campaign), and invite the remaining 99+ percent of the community to do their fare share in assuring that the essential works of UJA-Federation continue to be a proud success story for many years to come.

Pastor Hagee And The Giving Gap

Many American Jews have watched with alarm as Christian Zionists, some with an apocalyptic view of Israel and her future, take on a greater role in the pro-Israel movement. But evangelicals like Pastor John Hagee, the founder and president of Christians United for Israel, are putting their money where their mouths are. They are coming through for a Jewish state that faces grave new dangers, and their support is not all shadowed by ideology.

That represents a genuine challenge, especially for Jews who worry — not entirely without reason — about the impact on U.S. Middle East policy of Christian groups that object on biblical grounds to the policies of Israel’s democratically elected government.

This week Pastor Hagee, an outspoken opponent of any new land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians, announced another large gift to Israel. More than $8 million raised by his ministry will go to a variety of Israeli charities, many that promote aliyah — a goal most American Jews support. That comes on top of the millions of dollars raised by his “Night to Honor Israel” events around the country.

Also this week, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which channels millions of dollars a year from Christian donors to Israeli groups, announced a program to give $10,000 to every Iranian Jew who makes aliyah. The money doesn’t seem to come with any strings; there’s little doubt much of it will be put to good use.

The fact is, Pastor Hagee and others are filling a vacuum partially of our own making. Israel is an economic success story in many ways, but it also requires our help for vital goals such as social services for those in need and aliyah.  The American Jewish community has a proud history of generous support for Israel, but will the next generation continue that tradition? If critics are genuinely concerned that the evangelicals are gaining too much influence by dint of their financial contributions, the natural response is to increase our own giving so Israel will not have to seek financial support from outsiders whose view of Zionism may not be the same as that of most Jews.