What’s Hebrew For ‘Federation’?
10/18/07
Assistant Managing Editor
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In fundraising for Israelife, a network of volunteers that provides lifesaving medical services in Israel, Eli Beer has recently tapped into a pool of Israeli donors. “I just had a meeting with someone in Israel who gave us a large donation,” Beer reported last week. “There have been hard times for many years, and they still don’t have the capability to give what people overseas can give. But more and more Israelis are learning about philanthropy in Israel.” Fueled by the booming high-tech market, Israel’s wealthy sector has grown steadily of late, with a reported 7,000 millionaires living in the country last year. Yediot Achranot recently published a list of Israel’s biggest givers of the past year, topped by by Sammy Ofer, whose donations totalled 514 million shekels, followed by Israel Discount Bank’s Nochi Dankner, who gave away 270 million shekels. Then came diamond tycoon Lev Leviev’s 220 million and 180 million shekels donated by Shari Arison, owner of Bank Hapoalim and Israel’s richest citizen. Businessman Aracadi Gaydamak, who has funded the evacuation of Israelis from trouble-plagued areas, donated 140 million shekels while Eitan Wertheimer of the Iscar metalworking company gave away more than100 million shekels. Still, much of the social services provided by non-governmental organizations in Israel are still funded by foreign donations, mainly from North America. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the United Jewish Communities and numerous other organizations, including local Jewish federations in cities like Boston, Detroit and New York, have been highly successful in raising money, particularly during crises like the 2006 Lebanon war, to provide relief and other funding. New York’s UJA-Federation alone allocates over $44 million annually to JDC and the Jewish Agency for Israel for core and targeted initiatives, with a substantial portion going to Israel programs. The agency also made targeted grants totaling $13.8 million last year and raised $45 million in its Israel Emergency Campaign in 2006. The grants included $3.4 million in aid for Ethiopian immigrants, $1.8 million in family support and afterschool initiatives, $800,000 for health, hospice and spiritual care and $600,000 for poverty initiatives. John Ruskay, UJA-Federation’s executive vice president and CEO, said Israeli philanthropists such as Dankner and Wertheimer were increasingly organizing their efforts. “We are increasingly seeing the important role of Israeli philanthropists,” said Ruskay. “And we are increasingly in dialogue about partnering with them” Israel has something of a philanthropic network in Latet, an umbrella group of 110 non-profit organizations. The Jewish Agency has also launched Spirit of Israel, the nation’s largest fundraising campaign. But nothing comes close to the federation model of fundraising prowess established and perfected by American Jews in the past century. Last year, UJA-Federation collected a record-setting $290 million, with the Israel emergency funds not making a dent in its local campaign. Beer said most of the money to fund his 68 Hatzolah organizations, utilizing 1,100 volunteers in Israel still comes from abroad. The organization runs on about $4.5 million a year. “Right now, about 30 percent comes from Israel,” he said. “Ten years ago, it was maybe 7 or 8 percent. Every year it gets better and better.” But Beer says a national spirit of philanthropy hasn’t caught on among Israelis as it has in American culture. He noted that following the December 2004 Asia Tsunami disaster, President George W. Bush encouraged donations here by contributing $10,000 of his own money. Bush also extended the deadline for tax deductions for such donations into 2006. “In Israel, they never would do something like that,” says Beer. “The government in America pushes people to give. In Israel, there is a small tax deduction [for charity] but it’s not as easy to get as in America.” Not every nonprofit depends on foreign largesse. Tzvi Binn of Efrat, an organization that offers aid to pregnant women to discourage abortion, says his organization has consistently relied chiefly on Israelis. “We’ve been around for 30 years, and only in the past five years has a majority come from outside of Israel. Our efforts are concentrated inside Israel.” Of the organization’s $3.5 million budget, only about $1 million last year came from outside Israel. But many more groups rely on offices and full-time staff in the diaspora to keep their doors open. “We are fundraising all the time in America, France, England, Australia and Canada,” says Chaim Buchinger of Meir Panim, an organization that aids poor families in Israel. Buchinger’s office is located in Borough Park, Brooklyn. The organization, with a $12 million budget, runs warehouses providing food, clothes, appliances and other goods for the needy. “We always catch a big fish in Israel,” he says. “But the problem in Israel is that there is a very big wealthy sector, and a lot of very poor people. In the middle class, there is not a lot. Professor Eliezer Jaffe of Hebrew University, who has done extensive research on Israeli social service and served as an adviser to the government, said that despite increased efforts toward organized, nationwide philanthropy, the federation concept appears to still be, well, foreign. “There has been a modest start, that is, we set up and took the model of United Way in America and went after payroll deductions, where people could designate charity money from that income for Latet,” said Jaffe. The reason, he says, is that in diaspora communities, “it is proper for Jewish communities to want to pay their dues to [fund] services, child welfare, the old age home. It’s a compact community looking to fund services to its own people. “In Israel, we are the Jewish community, and it’s the job of the government to do these things. People feel they are paying for it in their taxes. They are not looking for another organization to do central fundraising.” Another factor, says Jaffe, is that “people like to give directly [to causes] here. They don’t like proxy giving — giving money to someone to give to someone else … People give directly because they see right and left, every day, different organizations coming to them. If people want to check it out they will check it out because it’s not 7,000 miles away.” Israelis, he says, are also suspicious that their money may be absorbed by intermediaries and that less of it may go to the intended cause. “They are very much afraid that people in the middle will take a cut,” he said. “We may never have serious federated giving in Israel.”

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