UJC pledges $18m. for North

"The American Jewish community has been galvanized by the challenge of what is going on."

kids in shelter 298 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
kids in shelter 298 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
With violence in the North entering its second week and solidarity missions already arriving in the country, Jewish communities across the US say they are ready to increase their support for Israel where needed. The Executive Committee of the United Jewish Communities (UJC), for example, has approved an $18 million fundraising plan for the Israel Crisis Fund. This will allow UJC - through its overseas partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) - to provide relief and support for residents of the North. The plan, approved July 20, authorizes UJC to work with federations to provide a stream of undesignated funds at a minimum of $3.5 million over four weeks, allowing JAFI and JDC to help the most vulnerable populations under siege. "The American Jewish community has been galvanized by the challenge of what is going on," said John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of the UJA Federation of New York, during his visit on a UJC solidarity mission to Israel that arrived Sunday. "The support is across the political spectrum with no ambiguity. There is an extremely strong unified response." The 70-strong mission met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert shortly before visiting the site of Tuesday morning's Katyusha rocket attack in Haifa, which the mission's press officer, Harriet Dobin, said brought everything home for the group. "Many are still shaken by the experience, and their admiration for Israel has increased 300 times as a result," she said. "It has opened their hearts even more and will help them influence people to open their checkbooks." In the first day of the UJC campaign, following the outbreak of the conflict, it raised $750,000, which increased to $11.5 m. by Tuesday and is still expected to grow. The immediate funding will go to the needs of people in distress, including the relocation of some 8,000 children from the North to summer camps in the South, providing first aid and improving the conditions in bomb shelters with better air conditioning, lighting and TV fittings. The budget for the crisis fund is $18.5m., Dobin explained, while the weekly cost to deliver the services it supports stands at $3.5m. Nahman Shai, vice president and director-general of UJC-Israel, added that they are also looking to "the day after" to allocate funds to help market tourism to the affected areas, provide scholarships for students wanting to study in the North and help with loans for small businesses affected. However, it has not been just with financial support that the communities have taken the challenge, as many cities around the US hosted rallies to lobby support for the Israeli operation. This response prompted the UJC to organize its current mission to Israel, filling the 70 spots available within four days of sending out the first invitation little over a week ago. The main purpose of the mission, according to participant Steven Nasatir, president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, was to get a real sense of what special needs can be provided for and how much and what can be provided to supplement the government's support of affected communities. He added that there was also a strong need in the Diaspora to show their support. "People want to do something to connect to Israel, to get a sense of participation," Nasatir said. "Their donation not only does good for the recipient, but it is also important for the donor."