JDC: Funding intact for 2009

CEO: We were always suspicious of Madoff.

joint 88 (photo credit: )
joint 88
(photo credit: )
Despite the philanthropic turmoil facing Jewish charities and non-profit organizations, the American Jewish-Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) announced Monday that only a small portion of its $300 million budget for 2009 is likely to be damaged by the Madoff investment scam and the global economic crisis. "There is some $40m. in undesignated donations that could be hurt as a result of the economic situation, but all things considered we are reasonably optimistic," Steven Schweger, the JDC's chief executive officer, told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview. Considered one of the Jewish world's largest social welfare organizations, the JDC oversees hundreds of programs in Israel and throughout the Jewish world aimed at improving the lives of weak populations. Schweger was in Israel over the weekend to calm fears among staff in the local office. He told the Post that the JDC had been approached in the past by Bernard L. Madoff, the disgraced investment fund executive at the center of what's estimated to have been a $50 billion Ponzi scheme. However, members of its board - many of whom work in the financial sector - could not fathom "how Madoff made his money, and because it was not completely clear we decided not to invest in his company." Schweger cited the JDC's ongoing commitments from Israel and several large foundations as the reasons behind its projected financial stability for the coming year. He explained that in addition to $100m. from the Israeli government and from Holocaust restitution funds, it received another third of its budget from such bodies as the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and the final third from the Jewish Federations of North America, which has designated a large proportion of its share to projects in Israel. "We believe that most of that money is secure for 2009," he continued, pointing out that roughly $40m. in undesignated funds is in jeopardy due to both Madoff and the economic downturn. "It is inconceivable to me that we will forfeit all that money," said Schweger. "It is likely, though, that we could be down a few million." He was confident that wealthy US Jews would be able to fill the void left by those caught up in the Madoff scandal. "The US Jewish community is the richest, most powerful community in Diaspora history and I believe it will step up to this new challenge," he said. In a letter Schweger sent to all JDC staff over the weekend, he admitted that "budgets and endowments will be affected," but he reminded the staff that the organization had experienced "many crises" in its 94 years. "The JDC has survived two world wars, the Great Depression and many recessions," he wrote. "Our budgets have gone up and they have gone down, but we have never lost sight of our mission." Nevertheless, the JDC dismissed 60 employees from its offices worldwide and cut funding for many of its programs this past summer due to the falling dollar. "I am hopeful we will not have to repeat that this year," Schweger said. So far, the Madoff affair has wiped out at least two large Jewish philanthropies, the Chais Family Foundation and the Robert I. Lappin Foundation, both of which funded projects aimed at assisting Israelis and strengthening Jewish identity worldwide. Last week, Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization announced it had lost close to $100m. in the scam, and many other non-profits were still assessing the damage.