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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Tensions about how the United Jewish Communities distributes its money boiled over at Tuesday's Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting.
The organization's decision to review how emergency funds raised for Israel would be spent instead of simply handing the entire sum to the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee angered some board members who argued the new process was delaying payment, breaching donor trust and hurting the UJC's historic ties with Israel funding recipients.
This summer the UJC collected $300 million - and more is still coming in - in an emergency campaign to help Israel cope with the recent war. The UJC is the umbrella organization for North America's 155 Jewish federations, which raise the money individually and send it to Israel via the UJC.
At the concluding session of the board of governors meeting, UJC Chairman Bobby Goldberg said the money should be used not only to address immediate needs but to strengthen the North long-term.
He explained that fewer people now live in the North following the summer's war, as some of those who headed south or abroad during the violence hadn't returned. "We have to secure the North," he said. "Demographics are an issue, and we need to deal with it."
Earlier he told The Jerusalem Post, "I'm not looking to do something that feels good [just] for the next six months... we have to look at what we can do strategically."
Usually, UJC money bound for Israel is split between the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee. The decision not to give the emergency funds wholesale to the two traditional recipients raised ire among those who felt the move was undermining the relationship between the entities and donors.
"This marks the first time [in an emergency campaign] that our national [federation] institution has expressed any degree of anxiety about how the money would be spent here," said Richard Wexler, chairman of the Jewish Agency's North American Council. He added that the Jewish Agency and the JDC have experts who have determined how the money should best be spent based on local needs, and that the UJC's decision to hold its own review "breaks the confidence" between the organization and those who receive their funds.
Wexler, speaking to the Post, said out that he himself was an emergency fund donor and was worried that the UJC's action would trouble contributors who gave money on the assumption that it would go straight to the Jewish Agency and the JDC.
"I gave the money trusting that organization - the Chicago Federation - would send it to [the Jewish Agency and the JDC], not so that the national organization would interpose itself in order to judge the validity of the programs to which the funds would be applied," said Wexler, a former chairman of the Chicago Federation.
But one federation head and former UJC CEO, Stephen Hoffman of Cleveland, defended the UJC review at the open meeting. He said that while raising emergency funds in the community he never made commitments on where the money would be spent.
"They trusted our federation to work with the national system to make the best use of the funds," he said, adding that it was the donors who asked to find ways to assess long-term needs in the North as opposed to quick-fix programs.
He also said that the review made for better decisions which benefitted everyone.
Following the meeting, Goldberg told the Post that the Jewish Agency and JDC needs' assessment would be used "as a resource" but no more, though he said that so far no money has gone to places other than the JA and JDC.
"It's our money and we're going to decide how we'll use it," he said. "The donors gave it to the UJC."
At the meeting, Mark Leibler, chairman of the Keren Hayesod World Board of Trustees, questioned the UJC fundraising process generally, as it had successfully recruited more than $300m. for the emergency campaign even as the Jewish Agency faced a funding gap in its operating budget. The Jewish Agency relies heavily on the UJC and Keren Hayesod, which represents Jewish communities outside of the US, for its budgets.
The Jewish Agency's $418.1 million budget for 2007 was approved at the meeting, despite the need to come up with an additional $19m.
"What sort of an organization are we when we can raise $300m. but we can't find $19m. to keep the organization running?" Leibler asked.
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