In an effort to come to terms with a changing organizational mission and a gaping budget deficit, the leadership of the American Jewish Committee has embarked upon a radical restructuring plan.
Reports that the organization plans to eliminate some of its existing departments and lay off an estimated 38 employees were confirmed Wednesday by Sholom Comay, the organization’s national president. The organization has a worldwide staff of approximately 275 personnel.
Comay also said the agency’s budget next year will be 25 percent leaner than the one it began this fiscal year with.
For the moment, there apparently has been no decision to close regional offices across the country, but the organization will study the feasibility of keeping them open.
The reorganization plan was approved during a four-day meeting of the agency’s Board of Governors in St. Petersburg, Fla., that ended Sunday night.
AJCommittee’s departments of education and urban affairs are among those that will be completely eliminated once the plan is put into effect.
The department of international relations will be slimmed down and moved to the AJCommittee Washington office, “in order to pursue more effectively our efforts on behalf of Israel, Soviet Jewry and Jewish communities at risk,” said Comay.
The organization will eliminate its activities in Western Europe and South America.
Comay said that Harvey Feldman, who currently heads the international relations department in New York, will leave the organization. The new Washington international relations office will be run by David Harris, presently the organization’s Washington representative.
“We will be focusing on contacts with the State Department, the administration and the Catholic church,” said Mimi Alperin, who chairs AJCommittee’s National Executive Council.
‘PRESENT TENSE’ TO CEASE PUBLISHING
Alperin explained that the restructuring decisions were made by the organization’s lay leadership after a close examination of whether the AJCommittee, which bills itself as “the pioneer human relations agency in the United States,” was fulfilling its original mandate of solidifying tics between Jews and other groups, protecting Jews from anti-Semitism and promoting Jewish life.
In choosing which programs to cut, “we took a look at what we were doing and what other organizations are doing,” Alperin said. “We kept what we felt we did better than other organizations and the things that no other organizations are doing.”
For much of its 84-year-old history, AJCommittee has been considered the dean of American Jewish organizations. But in recent years, it has been challenged externally by Jewish organizations with more aggressive fund-raising strategies and internally by staff instability.
The agency has changed executive vice presidents five times in the last decade.
One of the most visible changes will be AJCommittee’s decision to cease sponsorship of the liberal magazine Present Tense. The conservative journal Commentary will, however, continue to publish.
Comay and Alperin said that both magazines had been informed that AJCommittee could no longer subsidize them. Commentary was able to raise funds, so it will no longer cost the organization additional money. But it will remain housed rent-free at AJCommittee headquarters.
Present Tense, which publishes articles often critical of Israel and the American Jewish establishment, apparently was unable to obtain sufficient outside funding. Editor Murray Pollner said that its March/April issue will be its last.
“The real tragedy of this,” Pollner said, “is that the organized and established Jewish life will no longer have a journal of dissent. The death of our magazine means that serious writers who question existing policies no longer have any forum but the non-Jewish mainstream press.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.