Allan Finkelstein 248.88.
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The organized Jewish community in the Diaspora must make critical structural changes in order to make it through the current economic crisis, Allan Finkelstein, president of the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America, told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday in an exclusive interview.
Finkelstein presented his blueprint for the organized Jewish world Wednesday at the Global Conference of the World Confederation of Jewish Community Centers taking place in Israel. He warned that 2010 would be a tougher year financially for the organized Jewish world than 2009, but said that the new reality engendered by the economic crisis would hopefully be a better one.
"We all would have preferred not to have gone through what we went through this past year in terms of economic difficulties," Finkelstein told the Post, admitting that his own organization, which provides crucial social and cultural services to many Jewish communities in the US, was badly hit by the Madoff affair and by the recession.
"However, I believe it has created a dialogue and people are having conversations they never had before," he said.
Finkelstein pointed out that requests for JCC scholarships for its various programs had significantly increased over the past year and that contributions from within the community for its various programs had fallen.
"JCCs follow in the way of families and the economy," he said, explaining that when families are hurting financially it has an impact on these Jewish institutions. "There are JCCs that have had to make cutbacks to their programming or significantly reduce their staff, the same as in the business world. It has been painful for us."
While Finkelstein said he believed that the economic situation would be greatly improved for organized Jewry worldwide by 2011-12, he noted that "we will likely see a very different Jewish community."
Among the suggestions made by Finkelstein, who will also present his ideas Sunday at the United Jewish Communities' (UJC) annual General Assembly in Washington, are for Jewish institutions to pool resources and streamline their services, as well as to rethink the current organizational norms that dominate the Jewish world.
"During the '70s, '80s and '90s, the Jewish community was focused on building institutions and placed less emphasis on building communities," stated Finkelstein. "We did nothing to sustain those institutions except to rely on [financial support from] the Federation system. When the economic crisis hit, people suddenly realized they could no longer maintain what they had created.
"We need to change the rules of engagement. I think the Jewish community, particularly in North America, has operated under certain unwritten rules that are no longer relevant or that simply don't work anymore."
As an example Finkelstein mentioned fundraising restrictions placed on smaller organizations that rely on financial support from local Jewish Federations.
"Obviously, we need the Federation system, but its fundraising methods were designed so that donors could give one gift in a certain way," Finkelstein explained. "We have to admit that this approach is changing and we can no longer maintain that rule."
He also suggested streamlining Jewish communal services and cutting back on the number of Jewish organizations filling similar roles.
"I believe there could be, for example, one membership fee that would enable access to a synagogue, the JCC and other institutions," he said. "It's the concept of the Jewish community as an integrated organism and not as many separate entities."
Some 250 Presidents and Executive Directors of Jewish Community Centers and JCC networks from 30 countries, representing more that 1,100 JCCs, were in Israel this week for the 8th World Conference of the World Confederation of Jewish Community Centers, which took place at Kfar Hamaccabiah.