Cash-strapped Palestinians cut pay in half for September


The Palestinian Authority will pay only half wages this month, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said on Tuesday, the second time in three months it has taken such a step because of a financial crisis it blames on donors failing to provide promised funds.

Fayyad announced the half pay measure at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday. The Palestinian Authority took the same measure in July. Last month it paid full salaries but said its funding crisis had not been solved.

The Palestinian Authority pays salaries to 150,000 people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and monthly allowances to another 75,000 people.

A Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the aid-dependent authority was facing an unprecedented financial squeeze on funding from Arab states which are failing to meet commitments to provide support.

“We do not know why they are imposing this siege on us,” the official said. In recent years, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been the Palestinians’ most generous Arab donors.

The financial crisis has highlighted the fragility of the PA as President Mahmoud Abbas embarks this month on a diplomatic offensive to secure U.N. endorsement for Palestinian statehood—a step opposed by the United States and Israel.

The Palestinians are hoping to secure an upgrade in their status at a United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York.

The leadership has called for popular protests to add weight to the diplomatic initiative. However, the official suggested turnout at such demonstrations could be hurt by the financial crisis.

“People will be concerned with the financial situation,” the official said.

Reporting by Tom Perry and Ali Sawafta

Campus groups offer students cash for Torah study


Several years ago, Rabbi Shlomo Levin hit on a new way to attract students from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to classes at his nearby Orthodox synagogue. Instead of spending money on eye-catching advertising, Levin reasoned it would be simpler just to give the money directly to the students in exchange for attendance.

Though the sums involved were relatively modest, the initiative was a success.

“My thinking was very, very practical,” Levin said. “Instead of spending all that money on elaborate publicity, just give the money to the people who come to the program. They’ll be happier.”

Not everyone was happier. Some board members at the rabbi’s Lake Park Synagogue were uncomfortable from the start, Levin said, and after the local newspaper reported on the project, the synagogue shut it down.

But the idea of paying college students to attend Jewish studies classes has not only survived, it has expanded to more than 70 campuses across the country and attracted support from major Jewish philanthropists.

And though the programs are justified in terms similar to Birthright Israel — the massive philanthropic undertaking that provides young Jews with all-expenses-paid trips to Israel — they provide not only a free service but cash rewards to students who complete them.

“This was an idea to get students involved in learning Judaism, learning about their heritage, and as an incentive, in order to give them the amazing knowledge and to give them right mind-set, it’s to lock them in,” said Fully Eisenberger, an Orthodox rabbi at the University of Michigan who runs the Maimonides Fellowship program on the Ann Arbor campus.

The program, which was launched in 2001 by Jewish Awareness America and is supported by the New York City-based Wolfson Family Foundation, offers participants $400 or a free trip to Israel.

In exchange, Eisenberger said, students “have to commit to 10 classes and come to weekend getaways,” including a trip to Toronto — all expenses paid.

Providing financial support to students who engage in Torah study dates back more than a century. In Europe, kollels provided an annual salary to married men who studied full time, a practice that has continued among the Orthodox in the United States and elsewhere.

Organizers of the college student fellowships describe their programs in similar terms — as “stipends” to enable Torah study free from the pressures of earning supplementary income. But payments are being used increasingly to attract unaffiliated Jews who may not otherwise attend a Jewish class.

“I had a friend who was doing it,” recalled Elise Peizner, who participated in the Sinai Scholars Society, a program run by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, as a sophomore at Boston University. “But to be quite honest, I heard there was a $500 check that went along with it. So it sounded intriguing — the check.”

Founded in 2005, Sinai Scholars will be offering students at more than 40 universities $500 to attend classes in the upcoming semester. The program is supported by the Rohr Family Foundation and developer Elie Horn.

One of the leading non-Chasidic Orthodox outreach programs, Aish Hatorah, also has adopted the pay-the-participants approach. In an article last week, The Associated Press reported that AishCafe, a Web site run by Aish Hatorah, offers students $250 cash or $300 toward an Israel trip for completing its program and passing two tests.

Rabbi Avraham Jacobovitz, who started the first Maimonides Fellowship at the University of Michigan, said he screens participants in his program to weed out financially motivated students.

“The financial offer was only an additional incentive,” he said. “Someone that comes only for the financial benefit is not really the quality student we’re looking for.”

Still, Jacobovitz acknowledged that the payments have boosted participation in his programs. Indeed, that was precisely why he founded the fellowship after noticing that a federation stipend program was drawing students to a combination of Jewish studies and leadership classes.

Andrew Landau, a sales representative for Google who completed the Maimonides Fellowship during his sophomore year at Michigan, said he was looking to advance his Jewish education and meet new friends. The money, he said, was not a prime motivator.

“It’s sort of like a coupon,” Landau said. “Why does a pizza place offer a buy one, get one free? It’s to get them in the door, and then if they like it, they’re going to stay.”

Both Landau and Peizner, neither of whom are Orthodox, said they are glad they took part in the program, though they added that they haven’t made any lifestyle changes as a result.

Eisenberger, the rabbi running the initiative at the University of Michigan, said that alumni of his fellowship program have become more observant, and he believes he has even prevented some intermarriages. He also claims that about a third of students donate the money back to the program.

“This thing works,” Eisenberger said.

Defenders of the programs note that the payouts are not that different from college scholarships, which also provide cash incentives unrelated to financial need. They also note that providing free food is a time-honored method for attracting hungry college students.

“God forbid you give them cash, that’s very, very bad,” Levin said sarcastically. “But if you give them this gigantic food thing, like some of the organizations bring in a Chinese food chef and have a whole Chinese thing, that’s not seen as unseemly or a bribe. I really don’t understand totally the difference.”

Neither does Randy Cohen, who writes The Ethicist column for The New York Times Magazine. Cohen said he saw little difference between offering food and offering cash.

“Ethics, like most law, makes no distinction between incentives in the form of cash or cash equivalent,” Cohen said. “Some corporations, for example, forbid employees from accepting gifts from suppliers above a certain cash value. Some campaign law does likewise. When it comes to food, I’d be particularly wary of any diamond-encrusted chicken legs.”

But Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an Orthodox author and host of the TLC television program, “Shalom in the Home,” said that while providing refreshments is an accepted social norm, money crosses a line.

“It trivializes Judaism, and it portrays secular Jews as people to be bought off,” said Boteach, who once ran a popular campus outreach program at Oxford University. “It’s insincere. It sends all the wrong signals, that we don’t think the material alone would be compelling, that we need to buy you off.”

Money Talks


We live in the age of full disclosure. In this era of creepy stalkers, emotional maniacs and frightening venereal diseases, you can’t be too careful, so singles have learned to utilize romantic phrases such as, “Have you been tested for AIDS lately?” as casually as one used to suggest, “Shall I pick you up at 8?”

As my romances blossom, I learn about my boyfriends’ health records, former lovers, stints in therapy, trips to rehab and devastating childhood traumas. Is nothing sacred?

Well, yes, there is one thing that should never, ever, ever be discussed. One subject so taboo that if you even begin to flirt with the notion of dancing around the subject, you’re considered wildly offensive. I’m talking about money, honey.

Last summer, I was joyriding around in my boyfriend’s new convertible. We were testing out the acceleration, battling with the CD player and speculating whether the GPS could talk in Spanish. Although I had asked my guy about 25 thoughtful car-related questions (not an easy task for a girly girl like me), I then stumbled upon the one mortally inappropriate one.

“So, how much did this bad boy run you?”

My guy looked at me like I had just suggested we go spin doughnuts in a school-zone. He sneered and asked, “Why on earth would you even ask a question like that?”

I tried to quickly recover. “Um … I was thinking of buying a new car.” He looked unconvinced and completely offended.

“If the price is that important to you, I am sure you can find it on the Internet,” he replied tersely.

I was going to let it rest, but I was upset. “Did you tell your friend how much it cost?” I asked. He said yes. “Did the co-worker that took you to the dealer know how much it cost”? He said yes. “So why,” I asked, “am I not allowed to ask such a question?”

“With you,” he said, “it’s different.”

Huh?

Some guys protect their financial information as gravely as those soccer players who grab their crotches during penalty kicks. Now, the car-guy had shared family secrets, confidential work information and a frighteningly precise sexual history with me, yet the sticker price of his stupid car (which was the new convertible BMW M3 — look it up if you’re curious) was a sticking point.

I believe that men who won’t talk about their cash think that we’re after it. With that one simple question, I am perceived as a little money-grubber.

What is it about money? Does the unfortunate characterization of the “greedy Jew” make us hesitant to discuss money for fear of reinforcing the stereotype? Yet protectiveness of cash transcends social and religious barriers. A WASPy friend of mine explained that he was raised never to discuss money, which, like politics and religion, was considered offensive dinner-party conversation. Even in the secular American workplace, income is kept secret.

And for romantically involved men or women, the subject is even stickier. Maybe men worry that they make too little money and their masculinity or “breadwinner” potential will be called into question. There are also high-earning, professionally successful guys who wonder if women are pursuing them for their hearts and minds, instead of the Rolex on their wrist.

Are we women simply supposed to wait around until the “I do” to find out if we are going to be paying off some guy’s old college loans? And is it fair for us to wonder? Society’s answer: an emphatic no!

A week ago, my new (and improved) beau asked me to help him shop for a new apartment, explaining that his current floor plan was huge, and the monthly rent obnoxiously high.

“What do you want to spend?” I asked.

“Less than I do now,” he answered cryptically.

“What do you pay now?”

He looked pained. He searched his mind, and finally settled on an overly diplomatic answer: “The current market price for a two-bedroom in Brentwood is anywhere from $1,800 to $2,600 per month.”

I groaned inwardly, thinking, “here we go again.” But I didn’t learn from my past, deciding to let ‘er rip.

“Look,” I began, “I don’t care how much you spend, or how much you make. But if you want my help, then you should give me a hint at a budget. And I am so sick of guys being anal and assuming we’re after your money. It’s not that I am dying to know your financial situation, but we have gotten naked, met each other’s parents and you even let me drive your truck, so you know, as far as your rent is concerned, you can trust me.”

He smiled, and then he let it rip. He told me his salary, his savings, about financial windfalls and losses and, yes, his rent. True, he did make a lot of money — but that only made me feel more materialistic for bringing it up. After I heard it all, I realized that he hadn’t been hiding anything from me; but he thought it was too early in our relationship to discuss money — and he was right.

I was embarrassed. Even though we had seen each others’ bodies, families and motor vehicles, even though we knew about past lovers, sexual history and psychiatric evaluations, somehow, when he laid it all out before me so precisely, it was all too much. I wished I lived, not in the age of full disclosure, but the age of mystery, when all your suitor asked you was, “Shall I pick you up at 8?”

Lilla Zuckerman is the author of “Tangle in Tijuana” (Fireside, May 2003),
the first book in the “Miss Adventures” series. She can be reached at lillazuck@aol.com.