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Federation Leaders Join Forces to Pay for Soviet Resettlement

February 8, 1990
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Leaders of Jewish community federations from around the country made a historic commitment Tuesday to join together to fund the resettlement of Soviet Jews in the United States and Israel.

At a special general assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations, representatives of 83 community federations overwhelmingly agreed to take on collectively one of the biggest fund-raising challenges that American Jewry has ever faced.

“Few of us were lucky enough to be part of the triumph of creating the State of Israel in 1948, and fewer of us were around to try and save European Jewry. But now we have that opportunity,” said Rabbi Brian Lurie, executive director of San Francisco’s Jewish Community Federation.

Lurie’s sentiments echoed those of many in the Miami conference hall who believe that the current wave of Soviet emigration represents a dual opportunity that comes once in a lifetime: the chance to rescue hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews and the ability to infuse the State of Israel with an educated and motivated population.

It was in this atmosphere that the assembly voted to approve four resolutions implementing the principle of federations paying their “fair share” of resettlement costs.

The concept will apply not only to the $420 million goal of the United Jewish Appeal’s new Operation Exodus campaign for the absorption of Soviet Jews in Israel, but also to the estimated $40 million to $50 million that it will cost to settle the 40,000 Soviet Jews expected to come to the United States in the next year.


The decision to share the cost of domestic resettlement — as opposed to leaving individual American communities heavily impacted by the emigration wave to fend for themselves — was singled out for praise by CJF leadership.

For the first time, American Jewish communities have “finally accepted that they would help other communities pay some costs,” said Miriam Schneirov, president of the Federation of Jewish Agencies of Greater Philadelphia and a CJF vice president.

Schneirov co-chaired a special CJF panel on resettlement that came up with the proposals adopted Tuesday.

It was a giant step for the federation movement as a collective enterprise, as community federations have traditionally acted independently in handling domestic needs.

But while the federation leaders unanimously agreed that at this time of crisis, they need to pull together, there was disagreement over what constitutes a community’s “fair share.”

There was considerable debate over one of the resolutions, which stated that each community’s campaign achievement in 1988 would form the basis of its responsibility for Soviet Jewish resettlement.

Smaller federations that have raised relatively large sums of money for communities of their size complained that basing the formula strictly on past performance would, in effect, punish their communities for successful fund-raising in the past.

Led by the federations from Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio, these communities banded together and proposed an amendment stating that the formula for domestic resettlement be based 50 percent on the 1988 campaign results and 50 percent on a Jewish community’s size relative to the national Jewish population.

This formula, they contended, would push federations that have not raised as much money to work harder, instead of putting an additional burden on communities that do well.


“If a person is giving two pints of blood and everybody else is giving one pint of blood, and you come to that good person and say, ‘We want even more blood from you,’ eventually you are going to drain the blood out of the person that is the good guy,” said Herbert Goldenberg, president of the Minneapolis Federation for Jewish Service.

But a delegate from Detroit countered that “if we were the American Red Cross and if we were looking for donors, we would not set up sites where blood has not been given before.”

“To change the formula on the basis of anything other than past performance would suggest at the outset that we might be setting ourselves up for failure,” the federation leader said, adding with emotion, “And we must not fail!”

Eventually, a compromise was hammered out and the resolution amended so that the formula for a community’s “fair share” would be based 85 percent on the 1988 campaign results and 15 percent on each community’s population.

The negotiation of the compromise was a “fine exhibition of statesmanship,” Martin Kraar, executive vice president of CJF, commented after the proceedings.

“The smaller communities walked away feeling as much a part of this process as the New Yorkers,” he said.

And larger communities like New York demonstrated that they “were more concerned about consensus than their own parochial interests,” Kraar said.

After the assembly was over, a group of four leaders from the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey sat in the Miami hotel lounge and reflected on the intense meeting.


They pointed out that while they were pleased with CJF’s formula and the well-organized assembly, on a grass-roots level, the drama of Soviet emigration could not necessarily be measured in terms of parliamentary resolutions, “fair share” formulas or in dollars and cents.

“There’s a component to this beyond money,” said Dick Samuels, who chairs the Central Jersey federation campaign.

While their federation agencies have been stretched financially to accommodate 55 Soviet immigrants who came to their region last month, “whatever it is costing us in strain and effort is paying off in the way our community is coming together,” Samuels said.

He said volunteers have been transporting Soviets from the airport to their homes and hosting them for their first weeks in America.

The four federation leaders said they were leaving Miami determined not only to settle Soviet Jews in their own area successfully, but to convey to their community that fund raising this year would not be “business as usual.”

They expressed confidence that the challenge of funding resettlement in Israel will be met, whatever the price tag.

“The rank and file of American Jewry will not let history pass them by,” said Burt Lazarow, the Central Jersey federation’s vice president. “We, as American Jewish leaders, will see to that.”

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