The Giving Game (Extract)

Extract from a story in Issue 18, December 22, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. With new strategic branding, together with traditional appeals to conscience, the leaders of America's United Jewish Communities hope to weather the current economic crisis They even took over the men's bathrooms. In mid-November, some 1,000 women, joined by several hundred men, convened in Tel Aviv for the annual Lions of Judah conference, just one week before the annual General Assembly (GA) of the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the North American umbrella organization for the Jewish federation system, held in Jerusalem. "This time, the men will have to wait in long lines," said one elderly woman smugly, her gold Lion of Judah pin, indicating that she has contributed a minimum of $5,000 annually to the Lions of Judah campaign, attached prominently to her suit jacket. "It's time that everyone realizes that women have power and money, and we intend to use it." With strobe lights, confetti falling from the ceiling, dance and song performances by Israeli teens, and emotional renditions of Hatikva, the Lions of Judah conference was a feel-good festival in the midst of the world economic crisis. The women cheered and sang, and some even danced along in the aisles. And they particularly enjoyed the promotional video, prepared especially for the event by the UJC, cheekily entitled, "Women Who Get It," and filled with delicious innuendo such as "The First Time I Did It" and "Keeping It Up" - referring, of course, to donations to the UJC. But behind the fun and spontaneous enthusiasm, the Lions of Judah was a carefully choreographed event, reflecting the fact that women constitute an important strategic segment for UJC fund-raising. While both the Lions of Judah Conference and the GA ostensibly focused on highlighting Jewish peoplehood and the contributions that the UJC make in Israel, as well as issues such as the upcoming Israeli elections and the Iranian nuclear threat, no one could ignore the fact that some 30 percent of registrants had cancelled, most likely as a result of the U.S. financial turndown. And with an expected decline in charitable contributions coupled with an expected increase in the number of people in need of services provided by the UJC in the United States, Israel and throughout the Jewish world, lay and professional leaders alike were, and remain, clearly worried about the impact of the financial crisis. The Lions of Judah was founded by the UJC in 1972 to inspire Jewish women to take a more active role in communal fundraising. But it is only in recent years that officials have begun to recognize the potential of women's giving. According to data provided by the UJC, women are a powerful economic force in the United States. Women inherit almost 70 percent of all estates and women own a majority of all stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange. And moreover, officials noted privately, the economic downturn isn't expected to continue forever - and women do live, on the average, longer than men. Within the UJC, Women's Campaigns in the federation system are the fastest-growing components in the Annual Campaign, now representing some 22 percent of the total campaign. In 2006, the UJC's National Women's Philanthropy campaign raised $191.7 million and that figure doesn't take into account the additional money that women also contribute as members of couples and families. There are some 16,000 Lions of Judah, and over 3,200 of them have endowed their Annual Campaign gifts, representing over $480 million in pledged assets. And the Lion of Judah Conference, which, unlike the GA, includes a fund-raising component, raised $16 million - a 13 percent increase over the previous year. "Women are integral to family financial commitments," explains New York lawyer Alisa F. Levin, chair of Women's Philanthropy, UJA Federation of New York. "By 2010, women will be controlling 64 percent of the wealth in America, and we must pay attention to women's needs and expectations." Extract from a story in Issue 18, December 22, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.