The United Jewish Communities raised $2.5 billion for its endowment fund in 2005, a jump of more than 25 percent over last year's number, according UJC CEO Howard Rieger. "It's our highest potential fund-raising source in the community," Rieger said of legacy donations. He noted that the annual campaign also took in 3% more money than last year to reach $860 million. The numbers help boost the UJC amid criticism that it's failing to claim a big enough piece of the Jewish philanthropy pie. Rieger said even though the annual fund might be a place of steadier income, new opportunities such as legacy contributions show promise for tapping into the "unlimited" potential of Jewish giving. And then there's "Operation Promise" itself. A project intended to raise $160 million to support Ethiopian immigration and elderly in the Former Soviet Union, it has already raised $50 million well less than a year into the campaign. Disbursing money for Ethiopians, Rieger explained, hasn't happened yet because the anticipated absorption of that group has been held up. Despite a government commitment to double the number of Ethiopian arrivals from 300 to 600 each month, which was supposed to start over the summer, no increase has yet been made. The UJC recently visited Ethiopia to see the situation first-hand in the hopes that will increase fund-raising capabilities - and that immigration will quickly get on track. Observers attribute the immigration stagnation to several causes - lack of political will to allocate the necessary funds, focus on other matters in the wake of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke, and racism. Of the latter, Rieger said, "Can there be racism between black people and white people? Of course. We live in the real world." But he was optimistic that the pace of immigration would be picked up sooner or later. "I believe that this will happen in time. It's not an easy issue," he said. He was less certain about discussions over merging two major programs to encourage aliya from North America: Taglit-Birthright and Masa. The former, established before the beginning of the Intifada, provides free 10-day trips to Israel for 18- to 26-year-olds who have never been on organized tours of the country. The latter, established in the past two years, seeks to have one-fifth of all Jews in that age range come to Israel on year or semester programs, which it subsidizes. Taglit-birthright gets most of its money from private donors, while Masa relies primarily on the Israeli government. There has been some disgruntlement among Taglit-birthright backers that the government launched a new, expensive venture while its forerunner continues to lack money. "I think we all want to start the conversation," Rieger said of a possible pooling of funds. "[But] to take merger right now is premature."