Jewish Agency scrambles to balance budget in shadow of dollar crunch

The Jewish Agency Board of Governors is meeting in Jerusalem this week in the shadow of a painful budget crunch due to the low value of the dollar, the currency in which it raises most of its funds. "We expected a dollar value of 4.25 shekels," Richie Pearlstone, chairman of the board, told board members on Sunday morning. "Now it's hit 3.22 and risen to 3.4." The net result is an estimated budget deficit of $30 million for 2008, a figure "we can't afford to see for two years running." The severe budget crunch has led to a renewed emphasis on reorganizing and streamlining the organization, including cuts to overhead, to the agency's committees and to programs "that are not relevant to our strategic vision." Pearlstone also said the agency would focus on improving its fundraising, including through increasing gifts from the board members themselves. "If we're diligent about cost-containment and the dollar strengthens, we can have a balanced budget for 2009," Pearlstone said.