Does Charity Still Begin At Home?
Staff Writer
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Within a month after the Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon, North American Jews pledged nearly $300 million — and sent nearly $100 million — to Jewish federations to help Israel shoulder the costs of the conflict, which caused losses in the billions of dollars due to property damage, the loss of tourism and lost income. In view of this outpouring of money, some Jewish organizations surveyed at random said they were concerned that their general fund-raising campaigns would suffer. Others said they were not concerned. “There is enough support and wealth in the Jewish community to meet our needs,” said Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. “The challenge is to impassion people because we have to understand that if we don’t take care of these needs, there is no one else to do it.” During the 34-day war that began July 12, the Jewish National Fund mounted its own war-related emergency fund campaign that raised $5 million — $1 million through the Internet. But Linda Wenger, executive director of marketing and communications for the Jewish National Fund, acknowledged that funding “has been the subject of much discussion here to make sure that as we move forward we are not going to shortchange the other areas we have been committed to.” And Stan Steinreich, president and CEO of Steinreich Communications, a Hackensack, N.J., public relations firm that represents a half-dozen nonprofit organizations, said he knew of some American organizations affiliated with political parties in Israel that “did not have a great response” to their recently mailed solicitations for funds. He declined to name them. “Many groups and organizations are fearful that during the High Holy Days when domestic causes would benefit, they may suffer because discretionary charitable dollars went to Israel during the summer,” he added. Beth Rudich, a spokesperson for JBI International (formerly the Jewish Braille Institute of America), said her organization raised about $2 million last year and that this year “we’re slightly behind” last year’s pace. But she stressed that “since most of our contributions come in at the end of the year, we don’t know yet what the impact will be. We do anticipate the possibility that there will be a decrease as a result of everything that has gone on.” But Sara Hahn, a spokesperson for the American Jewish World Service, said its donations have not dropped and that the group was “cautiously optimistic about reaching our end-of-year goal.” “We have no doubt that many of our donors gave generously to Israel during the conflict, but our donors have the capacity to commit to more than one cause,” she added. Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, which is comprised of 1,200 Jewish family foundations, said foundations, rather than cutting back on funding other areas, are “digging into their pockets to help Israel or are digging into other sources in order to do additional giving.” Steve Schwager, executive vice-president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, said the $300 million pledged in such a short period of time “demonstrates that we are truly one people and that when there is a crisis, we know how to respond. … When the federation system mobilizes, it far outdistances everybody else [in fund-raising]. Nobody else even comes close in raising money — and we hear that it should not [adversely] impact the annual campaign.” But Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which follows nonprofit organizations, said that although “all of the surveys show that in only a few instances” are local fundraising organizations hurt when a major event such as a natural disaster draws large donations, that is not always the case. “Every time we cite academic data that says [others] are not hurt, I get letters from charities saying it is not true,” Palmer said. “Some groups do get hurt because not everybody can give to both.” Helping the UJC in its post-war fund-raising effort are all four major synagogue movements, either by endorsing its effort or actually fund-raising for it in a move the UJC described as unprecedented. “The federation system and the synagogue movements, together, represent the largest Jewish constituent framework on the continent,” the UJC said in a statement. “They are breaking new ground in their determination to broaden the overall base of support for Israel by creating a united front through the Israel Emergency Campaign.” Rabbi Epstein said his movement joined the UJC effort after he approached UJC officials and suggested a combined fund-raising campaign. “I said we can run our own campaign and cause people to have to make choices, or we can do it together, which is our preference,” he said. “Some of the money from the campaign will go to help Conservative movement institutions. We felt this was an opportunity to do this as a united Jewish community.” Rabbi Epstein noted that some Conservative movement facilities were damaged by Hezbollah-fired rockets and that some of its programs were relocated to the south. “This is the first time in the recent past that we have decided to run a united campaign,” he said. “A lot of our congregations report that there is support for the Israel campaign and that it is not affecting” their own fundraising. Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, said his organization has a center in Jerusalem and programming throughout the country. When the war broke out, he said, “we mobilized the infrastructure and brought it to the north. We had 700 volunteers who came to the north from all over the country.” Initially, he said they concentrated on providing food and companionship to those in bomb shelters and on moving youngsters to safer areas in the south. Later, emphasis was placed on trauma counseling and on attempting to lift the morale of those in the north. “We raised about $500,000 over the month of the war,” Rabbi Weinreb said. “The UJC asked us to join them in their campaign in late August. Our initial response was that we would encourage our synagogues to support their campaign, but that we had our own.” But after the UJC saw what the OU was doing, Rabbi Weinreb said it was suggested that they work together and that the OU drop its campaign and receive funding from the UJC campaign. The OU agreed. “We hope we will be able to do more,” the rabbi said. “We are urging our synagogues to make at least one major appeal for the UJC Israel Emergency Campaign with the understanding that it will go in part to funding the programs we’re doing in the way of emergency relief in Israel.” Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said the UJC “did not ask us to fold our campaign into theirs” and that the Reform movement’s fundraising efforts are continuing. To date, he said, more than $1 million has been raised. “At the time of the war we set up an emergency campaign and [UJC] came to us maybe six weeks after it started and asked us for a formal endorsement of their campaign,” he said. “We said of course. It never occurred to us to stop our campaign. … It was not possible to put our campaign out of business. We were happy to provide them with an enthusiastic endorsement, knowing full well that many of our congregations are already giving and that we are not in competition with [UJC].” One Jewish organization, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the war is responsible for a spike in its donations. “This is when [people] give the most,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, the organization’s dean and founder. “The climate of Jews under assault is very high now. … I think many Jews around the world are concerned. That is often an important barometer among smaller donors. If they begin to increase their gifts dramatically, it is often an indication that their concerns have greatly expanded.” He said his organization is now “three or four months ahead of where we should be from our small donors. Summer is the time of the smallest fundraising, but people viewed [the war] as an emergency.”

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09/10/2009 - 10:36

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