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American Jews Open Checkbooks in Response to Campaigns for Israel

April 24, 2002
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At the New York office of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, phone calls from people seeking to make contributions or volunteer increased an estimated 500 percent in the past month.

Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, which raises money for Jerusalem’s largest hospital, has already raised $8.4 million of a special $28 million campaign for its emergency medical center.

The Jewish National Fund, which is running a special campaign in addition to its regular campaign, has already raised $19 million this year, 26 percent ahead of where it was at this time last year.

And Israel Bonds, which pays for Israeli government infrastructure, reports investments 70 percent ahead of last year at this time.

As major Jewish and Israel-related philanthropies launch emergency campaigns for Israel, American Jews are apparently heeding the call and pulling out their checkbooks.

The Jewish federation system, which has raised more than $100 million in emergency dollars for Israel in the past few weeks, expects to raise considerably more.

The recent giving — stemming from widespread concern about Israel’s survival — appears to be reversing, at least temporarily, the 1990s trend away from general giving to Israel.

The more traditional institutions, such as federations and Israel Bonds, had suffered setbacks in recent years, as American Jews opted to fund what were described as “boutique” philanthropies — Israeli institutions that focused on specific institutions, political causes or cultural needs.

“In general, the way most Jewish fund-raising organizations work is that they always do better in times of crisis, and in fact many of them are structured for crisis,” said Gary Tobin, president of the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish and Community Research.

Tobin, who has studied American Jewish philanthropy, said, “There is no question that we are in a real crisis.”

He said he expects all giving to Israel — whether to centralized or specialized groups — to increase.

“It’s a plain and simple response. People are concerned. They’re afraid. They are desperate to do something to show support for Israel.”

But some of the more specialized groups, like the New Israel Fund — which supports a variety of progressive causes in Israel — and the American Society for Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, say their fund raising this year is holding steady so far, but not increasing.

For the most part, both groups report they are sticking to their main missions, but say their funding priorities will likely change somewhat to reflect the new situation.

At the New Israel Fund, officials said, that means collecting money for grantees that help terrorist victims, as well as increasing support for human and civil rights groups, which the fund believes are particularly challenged in the current climate.

At the Technion, more spending is expected for ongoing security-related projects, such as a think tank for the IDF and projects to upgrade weapons systems and border fences, said Lawrence Jackier, chair of the American Society for Technion’s board.

However, Jackier, who is also president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, said the Technion is deliberately not creating a special emergency campaign.

“We don’t want to start shifting gears and projecting some different image to the pool of donors,” he said. “And we certainly don’t want to get in the way” of other groups raising emergency funds.

Amid so much bloodshed, medical facilities like Hadassah and — to a lesser extent — the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Jerusalem Medical Center, a fund-raising arm for another major hospital, are seeing major increases not just for special campaigns but for regular efforts as well.

Hadassah’s regular campaign is already $3.3 million ahead of last year at this time.

Its special campaign focuses on upgrading its emergency facilities, which were last renovated 20 years ago and designed to handle 40,000 patients a year.

Currently, an estimated 70,000 patients a year go through the facility, officials say.

Officials say the hospital is facing other new demands as a result of the situation. For example, it has stepped up security at the hospitals and now provides its doctors and nurses traveling through eastern Jerusalem with bulletproof vests.

The increased needs seem to be matched by increased giving, said Joyce Rabin, coordinator of the national fund- raising division.

She said that on top of the emergency campaign, she would like to double the $30-$40 million that Hadassah raised last year.

“There has been a tremendous outpouring of people calling us that never gave before, even though they were members,” Rabin said.

In addition, one individual who had never made large gifts before recently contributed $500,000, she said.

The group has also benefitted from a high media profile recently, including features on several television programs drawing attention to the fact that the hospital serves both Jews and Palestinians.

Shaare Zedek, which also serves both Jews and Palestinians and is also upgrading its emergency medical department, saw increased giving in the past year.

But the organization is not yet certain how this year will shape up.

“What’s happened to us is that we don’t have a hard sell at all,” said Paul Glasser, executive vice president of Shaare Zedek’s American fund-raising arm.

However, he noted, with all Israel-related groups stepping up emergency campaigns, fund raising may become more challenging in the coming weeks and months.

The group is in the midst of a $30 million campaign — a third of which has been raised so far — to build a new department of emergency medicine.

Plans for that project began last fall, and it is slated to begin construction this summer, expanding the department’s capacity from 40 beds to 70 beds.

The committee, which raises $12-$15 million per year, enjoyed an 8 percent increase in 2001.

For its part, the JNF is sticking with existing priorities, including addressing Israel’s water needs and building roads.

But it is focusing its advertising on the ways its regular activities relate to the security situation.

For example, it has marketed an ongoing project to build a new road near the Lebanon border as a safe alternative to an existing road that has been vulnerable to attacks from Lebanon since Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon.

The JNF is also allocating some funds for new projects related to the situation, such as after-school programs for Israeli schoolchildren and Caravan for Democracy — a series of pro-Israel speaking tours to college campuses in North America.

For the first time it is also helping raise funds for groups such as the Long Island based Israel Emergency Solidarity Fund that help the victims of terrorism and their families.

In a new partnership, people can make contributions in increments of $36, half of which goes to plant a tree in honor of a terrorist victim and half of which goes to the Israel Emergency Solidarity Fund.

A spokesman for Israel Bonds, which also focuses on general infrastructure needs, said the group has been asked to sell at least $1.25 billion worth of bonds this year, a 25 percent increase over last year.

As the Israeli government has increased spending for military and security needs, it “needs more bonds money for road building, port expansion, telecommunications, water desalinization, power and the economic infrastructure,” said the spokesman, who asked not to be identified.

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