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American Jewry to Launch Emergency Campaign for Israel


In a campaign reminiscent of one undertaken during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Israel’s survival was at stake, the North American federation system is hoping to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for Israel in the coming months.

Robert Schrayer, chair of the UJA Federation Campaign of the United Jewish Communities, said the situation in Israel now "may be even more drastic than things were in 1973."

"It’s different because it’s a different kind of conflict, but just as serious, if not more so," he said.

The UJC’s board of trustees is expected to vote Sunday to approve an emergency campaign for various needs as Israel engages in its war against terrorism.

The funds are expected to aid victims of terrorism, rebuilding infrastructure damaged in terrorist attacks, crisis management and other social services.

Most of the UJC’s existing $42.5 million campaign for Argentine Jews will be folded into the new campaign, dubbed Israel Emergency Campaign, with most of the money going to resettle Jews who immigrate to Israel as a result of Argentina’s economic crisis.

The campaign will officially be launched with a special leadership mission to Israel leaving Monday. Another UJC mission will be leaving

for Argentina at the same time.

The new campaign, unanimously approved by the UJC’s top leadership, comes on the heels of a relentless spate of suicide bombings and in the midst of a major Israeli military initiative to root out Palestinian terrorists.

Officials say the Israel Emergency Campaign will be larger, more centralized and more forceful than UJC efforts on Israel’s behalf that started earlier in the 18-month-old intifada.

The previous effort, called Israel Now, has raised $90 million since September, with each federation deciding independently whether to do extra fund raising for Israel and how to allocate it.

"The difference now is we’re calling on every community to get with the program," said Stephen Hoffman, the UJC’s CEO and president.

"We’re no longer advising them, we’re no longer saying it’s a good idea. We’re saying this is a must," he added.

UJC leaders are in ongoing meetings with officials at the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Israel’s Ministry of Finance to determine how the new dollars will be allocated, Hoffman said.

However, while national leaders are forcefully pushing for full participation and a centralized allocations approach, it is not yet clear whether every federation will agree to participate.

In recent years, issues of "fair share" — or how much each federation is obligated to contribute for national and international needs — have been a major sticking point in the functioning of the UJC, which is an umbrella for more than 189 Jewish federations.

Hoffman said he does not expect federations to object to participating in the campaign. He also said he thinks their fund-raising goals will likely be exceeded.

As for collective decisions about how to spend the emergency money raised, Hoffman said, "At the end of the day, every community is always entitled to decide how it wishes to allocate funds, but we’re going to give them some very compelling options."

In addition to fund raising, the campaign will also includes efforts to mobilize American Jews to advocate on behalf of Israel.

Hoffman compared the current crisis in Israel to the 1948 War of Independence in "how deeply thrust the war is into the Israeli civilian population."

"In the past, people go off to war and you kiss your son or brother or husband goodbye and send them off to war. There was a general assumption that the home front was fairly safe."

Several major federations, including ones in Washington, New York, Boston and Detroit, have already intensified their fund-raising efforts for Israel in the past few days.

In perhaps the most dramatic step, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit has declared a monthlong moratorium on all other activities but raising money for Israel.

At the Detroit federation, which hopes to raise at least $5 million for Israel in the coming month, there will be "no more planning meetings, no more calls about day school education, no more business as usual for the next 30 days," said Robert Aronson, the federation’s executive vice president.

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