Even as Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza grinds on, attracting headlines around the world and support among pro-Israel advocates, I have the disturbing but distinct sense that the Jewish state is on the way to becoming increasingly irrelevant to the majority of American Jews.
There will be 17,000 fewer young people accepted to the Birthright Israel program in 2009 as the organization slashes its budget by $35 million due to increased costs, an unfavorable exchange rate and a decline in fundraising, according to the president of its foundation, Jay Golan.
“Our budget this year was $110 million and it will be $75 million in 2009,” he said. “That will mean we will take 25,000 [participants] worldwide in 2009 compared to 42,000 in 2008.”
About 80 percent of the 25,000 will be from North America.
Ann Schwarz, a 42-year-old Nassau County unemployed mother of three, now buys only store brands at the supermarket.
With food costs rising, Schwartz (not her real name) said she has been forced to “change the way we buy food with the food certificates we get. We buy store brands and we look for what’s on sale. We don’t use coupons because we can’t afford the Sunday paper.”
As a global recession looked increasingly likely this week, officials at UJA-Federation of New York said they were prepared to dip into their reserves to help sustain vital services here for those in need.
“The reserves will be available during acute crises, whether to rescue Jews globally or to assure that those in our community can live in dignity,” said John Ruskay, the organization’s executive vice president and CEO.
After an accountant in his mid-50s from Merrick, L.I., was laid off this summer amid the burgeoning economic crisis, he went to meet with his rabbi.
“He felt betrayed by his company,” said Rabbi Charles Klein, spiritual leader of the Merrick Jewish Center. “He also wanted someone to talk to because he didn’t want to show his wife how frightened and hurt he was.”
Tel Aviv – Israel’s economy, which for a decade rode the wave of globalization and liberalization to high growth, now is bracing for the shock waves of the U.S. financial crisis to hit home.
“A financial tsunami is nearing and Israel may face recession,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Tuesday.
But few analysts expect a recession, with most insisting that Israeli banks remain fundamentally sound. They do expect, however, that economic growth will slow considerably.
In further signs that the deepening recession is having a major impact on Jewish universities and institutions, two major seminaries here announced tuition freezes and budget cuts, the city’s largest Jewish cultural institution laid off nearly 10 percent of its staff and Brandeis University is taking the highly unusual step of selling off its prized contemporary art collection.
Someone on Facebook called it a “tragedy.” Another said she has not stopped crying.
Camp Edward Isaacs in upstate Holmes is closing after 50 years.
“It’s been a struggle for the past decade to have sufficient enrollment to support the kind of programs we wanted to offer,” said Robert Friedman, executive director of the Central Queens YM&YWHA, which runs the camp.
The Ramaz School on the Upper East Side, instead of providing its usual $3.2 million in needs-based scholarships, is allocating a record $5.5 million for the next school year — a staggering 72 percent increase.
Although similar figures are not available for the Abraham Joshua Heschel School on the Upper West Side, Carol Weintraub, the director of institutional advancement, said “scholarship requests are substantially higher” for the next school year.
Ronen and Leah Hillel were happy in their home in North Woodmere, L.I. Ronen Hillel was working as the manager of a mortgage bank and the oldest of their six children were attending Jewish day schools.
“When times were great in New York and the money was there, the party was going on and we were living a comfortable life,” Hillel said. “But when the recession hit, things became a lot more difficult.”