UCLA Orthodox program raises funds, but need continues

More than 100 students, alumni and parents raised $23,000 for UCLA’s JLIC (Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus) during a Nov. 18 fundraiser, contributing roughly a quarter of the $100,000 that the program now needs to raise annually to ensure its continuing presence on the Westwood campus.

The JLIC program, which provides Jewish learning, prayer and holiday experiences for Orthodox students at UCLA, was funded entirely by the Orthodox Union (OU) until earlier this year, when the OU asked JLIC and the L.A. Jewish community to step up and help shoulder half the cost of running the program. 

Rabbi Aryeh and Sharona Kaplan, two East Coast natives who founded and have directed the program at UCLA for the past eight years, are now charged with raising 50 percent of the program’s operating cost, according to Joshua Ross, associate director of the JLIC program for the OU.

Rabbi Kaplan said he and his wife, Sharona, are now spending time on fundraising that otherwise would be spent preparing for classes or connecting with students. 

“There’s definitely a time management issue when you add these things to the schedule,” he said.

To jumpstart the campaign for the 2012-13 school year, the Kaplans organized the Nov. 18 fundraiser, Take Us to the Top(pings), at Toppings Yogurt in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. Costs for the event, including free frozen yogurt and an iPad 2 raffle, were covered by the OU, according to Rabbi Kaplan.

Rabbi Kaplan said he’s grateful to the many alumni who stepped up to raise awareness and solicit donations.

One alumnus, Nick Faguet, created the Web site keepourkaplans.org, through which 70 to 80 percent of the program’s donations have been processed, Rabbi Kaplan said. 

Faguet, who graduated last year and is currently attending UCLA School of Law, said he was surprised at how everyone he approached was willing to do their share to donate.

Faguet said he credits the JLIC program with “creating a Jewish community within the larger campus community” and being a place where “people who are observant can be observant without alienating the rest of the student body.”

Debby Segura, a parent of two former UCLA alumni and a member of JLIC’s board of governors, said the JLIC program was a “lifeline” for her kids, offering Shabbat experiences and learning opportunities. 

“Without [JLIC], it would not have been a rich experience; it would have been just a commuter experience,” she said. 

A number of things led to the shift in the OU’s support of JLIC, Ross said. “Dollars are down, in general, for the OU, and all branches are looking to do more fundraising.”

But while the economy played a part, Ross said the OU was moving to make JLIC more of a partnership anyway.

If the Kaplans can’t meet their fundraising goals, “it’s not a do or die situation,” Ross said. “If we get to 70 or 80 percent, we’ll find a way. If we only get to 20 percent — which we’ve already surpassed — it’s a more challenging situation.”

Among all of the 15 JLIC programs on campuses in North America, the OU is looking to create more partnerships with Hillel, parent advisory boards and other initiatives, he said.  But while the Hillel at UCLA provides use of its building and contributes programming money to JLIC, it isn’t able to help subsidize overall operating costs, Ross said. 

“But we have partners,” he said. “We’re not in panic mode.”