First ‘Jewish Federation of Israel’ to make debut at GA

"It’s time for Israelis to be less dependent on overseas help," says Takdim Director Arik Rosenblum.

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
October 31, 2011 04:48
4 minute read.
ARIK ROSENBLUM

Arik Rosenblum 311. (photo credit: Courtesy Takdim)

 
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For decades Jewish federations have been the backbone of Jewish life in the US and Canada, raising billions in donations that fund communal projects in both countries and around the world.

But in Israel, the recipient of much of their largesse, a similar network of regional fundraisers has not appeared – yet.

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Now there is Takdim, the first “Jewish Federation of Israel” founded earlier this year in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Hasharon. The group – which means precedent in Hebrew – draws its inspiration from the Jewish Federations of North America, and will make its debut at the federations’ General Assembly in Denver next week, where it hopes to learn how to replicate the network’s success at home.

“We’re not coming for money or anything like that,” Israeli-American lawyer Arik Rosenblum, Takdim’s director, said on Sunday. “We’re coming to learn since we’ve adapted the Federations model and we want to know more about it from the big to the intermediate and the small.”

Besides Rosenblum, the delegation will be led by prominent Ramat Hasharon residents like former Israel Air Force chief Herzel Bodinger, former spokeswoman for the IDF Miri Eisen and Debra London, deputy director of Sheatufim, a charity in Israel.

“We have meetings with organizations like the 92nd Street Y in New York,” the Takdim director said. “Besides that we’re going to San Francisco in order to advance the possibility of the partnership of the two communities – a full-fledged relationship with exchange groups.”

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Takdim is not a member of JFNA, although its officials say they seek to emulate many of its key characteristics.

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For instance, the organization is led by a cadre of professional fundraisers, and like their role models in North America they plan on holding annual fundraising drives and then identifying recipients of the donations inside and outside their home community.

Rosenblum said importing the idea of the system to Israel was long overdue.

“That was the sense at [one] time that Israel doesn’t need communities because it’s one big community,” he said.

“Since then we’ve learned through developments like the Second Lebanon War and others that we need more.

“Another reason why something like the Jewish federations never took root [in Israel] was that until relatively recently Israeli Jews were much poorer than their coreligionists in the US. But the economic boom of the past two decades, which brought prosperity to much of north Tel Aviv and suburbs like Ramat Hasharon, Herzliya and Ra’anana –the heart of the so-called Start-Up Nation – has changed that. Many Israelis are giving increasingly to charity,” he said.

“The non-profit communities in Israel have long been supported by donations from abroad,” Rosenblum said.

“Even today 62 percent of money for NGOs in Israel comes from abroad but only a few years ago it was 80%. So we see on the one hand a decrease in funding from abroad and on the other increasing support from families in Israel.

“We’re saying the first place to give is home. If you add to the fact that Israel is in a better place than it was before and is no longer a poor nephew then it’s time to take responsibility.”

At a time of economic hardship at home the federations of North American have embraced Takdim. The Jewish Federation of Greater Chicago, for instance, has agreed to “mentor” it in Denver.

“They’re helping us identify the important sessions and having us join them in their community dinner,” said Rosenblum.

But Takdim still has a long way to go before it becomes a major player on the Jewish charity scene. Since its foundation the group has raised $500,000, a significant sum but one that pales in comparison with the hundreds of millions raised annually by JFNA affiliates. Still, Takdim officials say it’s a start.

“And that’s before we have started our annual campaign,” Rosenblum said.

Takdim hopes to raise another $800,000 by the end of the year. Those funds will go toward building a youth center and a playground for children with disabilities in Ramat Hasharon, as well as two other unidentified projects outside the community which will be announced soon.

Is Takdim, then, the harbinger of a new Jewish federations system in Israel, one that might help shoulder the burden of supporting Israeli charities long carried by Jewish Americans? Rosenblum said he hoped so, arguing it was time for Israelis to be less dependent on overseas help.

“We will have at least 20 of these federations in Israel in a decade,” he predicted. “It’s time we take responsibility.”

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