The umbrella group of North American federations has won overwhelming approval for its 2002 budget, despite cuts in regional staffing and in subsidies for its missions program.
In a departure from previous policy, the United Jewish Communities also voted this week to allow funds to be used to aid Jewish residents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, who have borne the brunt of Palestinian violence during the 21-month-old intifada.
The cuts to UJC’s budget come as crises in Israel and Argentina, along with a rise in global anti-Semitism, have spurred the Israel Emergency Campaign, the federations’ largest special fund-raising effort since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
The campaign has raised more than $265 million since it began in October 2001.
UJC President and CEO Steven Hoffman believes the trimmer budget addresses current needs and responds to the demands of its member federations, many of which have complained of a bloated budget.
UJC is “making adjustments in services we thought needed to be radically altered,” he said, citing as an example the reform in UJC’s regional staffing to better serve the needs of member federations.
In addition, he said, “we’re putting resources into areas that have been underdeveloped, like professional resource development.”
Meeting in Chicago, the UJC’s Delegate Assembly — consisting primarily of representatives of the North American federations — passed the budget Monday with only a handful of abstentions and nays.
The $42.5 million budget is pared down from last year’s $44.7 million total. The current figure is considered a maximum allowance, with UJC leadership committed to seeking further cuts.
Because this is his first stab at the budget, Hoffman said he is still planning a “line-by-line” review to further reduce expenses in areas such as the organization’s choice of vendors.
In another development at Monday’s meeting, the UJC unanimously approved a resolution to allow relief and rehabilitation funds from the Israel Emergency Campaign, or any other UJC funds, to be used to help “any Jew in need without regard to geography or any other consideration.”
That would include settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, areas that Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.
In the past, UJC money was spent only within the Green Line, as the pre-1967 border is known.
According to a charter it inherited from the United Jewish Appeal, the UJC had subscribed to an internationally agreed upon definition of Israel, which excludes the territories it gained in the Six-Day War.
However, UJC officials would not confirm whether the UJC had ever previously administered services to Jews living beyond the Green Line.
Gail Hyman, UJC’s senior vice president of marketing and public affairs, would only say that “changing our practice allows the organization to help Israelis regardless of where they live.”
“The events in Israel over the last 20 months have to a great degree been behind the desire to revisit the UJC charter that was inherited at the time of the merger and to make sure that the new UJC board’s understanding of that charter was clear and understood by all,” Hyman said.
She said UJC’s leadership has been working to bring a review before the board for several months.
“The review of the charter was related to all of our fund raising” and allocations overseas, which would include the needs of newly poverty-stricken Jews in Argentina, she said.
“It’s bigger than one specific campaign,” she said.
Israel Emergency Campaign funds will go toward providing safe summer camps in Israel, assisting special immigration efforts from Argentina, enhancing Israel’s emergency rooms and trauma centers, and paying for a fund for victims of terrorism.
This is not “a political decision,” Hoffman said.
Rather, it’s a “statement that says the UJC and its federations are here to provide relief and rehabilitation services to Jews in need wherever they live,” whether in Tajikistan, Sao Paulo or Buenos Aires, he said.
Richard Wexler, a member of UJC’s budget committee, called the resolution “totally consistent” with “both UJC’s charter and its mission” and the interest of “our donors.”
The major cuts in UJC’s total budget came to its regional staff or consulting department, which served as liaisons to local federations.
The department was cut by approximately 38 percent, with 16 staff members laid off, office closures in Chicago and South Florida offices and a move of the New Jersey office to UJC’s Manhattan headquarters.
The two other biggest cuts apply to reduced subsidies for missions and travel by volunteers.
But the new budget also contains significant new investments.
Reflecting the situation in Israel, UJC’s Israel and Overseas department received an additional $150,000 each for its Israel and New York offices, and $300,000 for the department’s allocations committee.
Another $250,000 was earmarked to hire a senior vice president of human resource development and to invest in recruitment, continuing education and training programs.
Planned giving activities also received an extra $250,000, Hoffman said.
Personnel costs such as compensation and insurance also increased, Hoffman said.
Much of the wrestling over the cuts occurred before Monday’s final approval.
Many have faith that Hoffman, who served as president of the Cleveland federation before taking over as UJC head, can revitalize the 3-year- old UJC, a merger of the Council of Jewish Federations, the United Jewish Appeal and the United Israel Appeal.
Critics have said the UJC has been stunted by weak leadership and unclear goals, along with natural growing pains.
At Monday’s meeting however, the “vast majority of people in the room were very supportive,” said Steven Rakitt, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.
They “recognized the long and intense process by the UJC budget committee and extensive consultation with communities throughout the country,” he said.
Yet some continue to complain that the budget is too large, and criticized the choice of cuts.
Steven Nasatir, president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, supported the budget.
But he disagreed with cuts in the UJC’s missions program, which come at a time when visits to Israel are touted as crucial acts of solidarity with the embattled state.
There is “no way” to have a budget that makes “100 percent of the people happy 100 percent of the time,” he said.
But he said that cuts in the missions program are “silly” and “shortsighted.”
It’s “good business” to encourage people to “see the miracle of Israel,” he said.
Federations more than make up their investment in mission subsidies with the generosity of won-over travelers, he said.
But he called it a “philosophical” issue that divides federations: Those with less successful mission programs aren’t keen to subsidize travelers from other cities.
Wexler said the UJC “might at the same time be spending far more dollars with direct engagement with the federations, as opposed to increasing visibility in Israel” and Israel-Diaspora relations.
Wexler, a former UJA president, said the previous structure excelled in coordinating among local federations and the national leadership.
Hoffman dismissed some of the criticism, saying some people “just like to complain.”
Barry Shrage, president of Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies, supports Hoffman’s vision for the UJC, which he calls “leaner and better at the end of the day.”
He said it will take time for Hoffman’s changes to be felt.
“You’ve got to give the guy some time,” Shrage said. “It’s destructive to ask him to make serious cuts, and then second-guess every cut he makes.”
Initially, the UJC required a management style that “didn’t rock the boat that much,” Shrage said.
At this point, however, it needs “incisive management,” and someone to take it “in the direction it needs to go. Steve can do that.”
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.