If you have been reading The Fundermentalist, The Jewish Week and the Forward over the past couple of weeks, you know there has been some tussling involving the Jewish federation system and the two overseas organizations to which it feeds more than $130 million per year in unrestricted funds, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
The short version: JDC and the Jewish Agency have been struggling over how to split that money for decades. The traditional split has been 75 percent for the agency and 25 percent for JDC. For the past two years, the Jewish Federations of North America has been serving as mediator as the two organizations debate: The JDC believes the formula is unfair, the Jewish Agency desperately wants to maintain it.
JDC stirred things up two weeks ago when organization officials let it be known that they were prepared to start raising money on their own in the federations’ backyards if the federations would not at least maintain the status quo in terms of real dollars going to the JDC.
Some federation leaders said they were taken aback that JDC would essentially go public. The tensions have caused some consternation among federation boards, which include board members of both JDC and JAFI.
John Ruskay, CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, attempted last Wednesday to assuage some of the tension on his own board.
“The crux of the issue is that all agencies feel that if they had additional money they would be better able to actualize their missions,” he said at a board meeting.
Ruskay also pointed out that while JDC feels that the 75-25 split is “historically wrong,” the actual dollars in reality are split 71-29. And, he added, when one factors in elective dollars from the federations, JDC actually takes in about one-third of the money.
“Many of my colleagues felt this ought not to be made public,” Ruskay said. “The JFNA very strongly asked that the first two items be pulled off or it would derail negotiations.”
Ruskay was referring to the first two of 13 recommendations that a JDC internal committee submitted to the JDC board regarding future fund raising. The first two recommendations involved determining how much each individual federation should be giving to JDC and evaluating whether the federations were meeting the benchmark. If not, JDC would raise money on its own in that federation’s area.
According to a number of sources, JFNA officials demanded that the two recommendations be dropped or they would cancel a scheduled May 17 meeting of the three organizations. JDC ended up removing the items from the actual document it presented to its board of trustees this week in New York.
Officials with the three organizations are set to meet Monday, just about now, for what could be final negotiations, or something close to final. We’ll let you know what happens.