Christian supporters of Israel ready to fill philanthropic void

IFCJ founder: "Not only have our donations not been hurt, we're actually up by 39.8%."

intl christian embassy jerusalem 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
intl christian embassy jerusalem 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The international Christian community, under the auspices of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), is ready to step in and partially fill the void that could be left if American funding is cut for Jewish social welfare organizations and programs in Israel and the Former Soviet Union (FSU), The Jerusalem Post has learned. "We are in what I believe is a unique situation," IFCJ founder and president Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein told the Post this week. "Not only have our donations not been hurt [by the economic crisis], we are actually up by 39.8 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to last year. The bottom line is that we are one of the few organizations where our giving has increased." Last year the IFCJ raised a total of $90 million, which it in turn donated to a wide range of social welfare programs for young children, needy families and the elderly both here and in the FSU. Officials with the American arms of both the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Joint Distribution Committee told the Post last week they were concerned about possible cuts in funding from federations across North America under budget proposals being considered by the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization that channels donations to both JAFI and JDC. Members of the UJC's finance committee met Monday in New York and agreed to shrink its budget to $30m., down from $37m., by cutting 31 full-time staff in its operations. A final decision will be made in June. The status of another proposal that would potentially reduce funds to both JDC and JAFI by up to another $7m. was not clear Tuesday. Eckstein, who sits on the board of both JAFI and JDC, said the financial crisis was taking its toll on both organizations, and that in the current economic climate "they will have to crunch down and realize their core missions." "The JDC is in much better shape than JAFI, not just fiscally but also in terms of brand and direction, but there is no doubt that both organizations will take a serious hit with this cut," he said. "The fellowship will try to make up for it, and we have already stepped in to provide funding for Holocaust survivors in the FSU." Just this week, the IFCJ launched a NIS 7m. initiative aimed at supplying needy families both here and in the FSU with basic staples for Pessah. Roughly half, or some NIS 3.2m., went to humanitarian aid organization Latet to distribute 20,000 food aid packages to needy families in Israel, and a further NIS 4m. was given to various programs run by the JDC, JAFI and Chabad for distressed Jewish families and individuals in the FSU. "These are difficult times," observed Eckstein. "Unemployment and poverty are on the rise and the need for help is growing. At the same time, Jewish communities and philanthropies have been hit hard by the decreased value of the dollar and the subsequent economic turmoil. Last year was a devastating one for Jewish organizations and foundations." Allison Hoffman contributed to this report from New York.