Partisan Jewish groups focus on budget in assessing Ryan pick

Partisan Jewish groups focused on Paul Ryan’s leading role in the budget stand-off in assessing Mitt Romney’s pick as running mate.

Rep. Ryan (R-Wis.), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives budget committee, has taken a lead role in the stand-off between the White House and the Democratic-led Senate on one side and the Republican-led House on the other, that has stymied passage of a budget.

“Paul Ryan has challenged both party leaderships in Washington to face up to growing fiscal problems that threaten to blight our nation’s future,” Matt Brooks, the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said Saturday after Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, presented Ryan as his vice presidential pick at a rally in Norfolk, Va.  “And while congressional Republicans have responded to the challenge, Democrats have ducked responsibility.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council said Ryan does “not reflect Jewish community values.”

David Harris, the NJDC president, said in a statement that “Ryan’s signature budget plan drew the profound concern and even ire of many in the American Jewish community because of its plans to end Medicare as we know it, slash vital social safety net programs, and increase the burden on seniors, the middle class, and the poor.”

A broad array of Jewish groups have criticized elements of Ryan’s budget proposals, although without naming him.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish public policy umbrella, the Reform movement and B’nai B’rith International have protested proposed GOP cuts to social safety net programs, including Medicaid, which provides medical coverage for the poor, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

The Jewish Federations of North America has this year maintained a low profile in the rancorous budget debate, and has not weighed in on Ryan’s proposals.

In 2011, however, JFNA was bluntly critical of plans that originated with Ryan to transition parts of Medicare, the medical program for the elderly, into a voucher program, and to convey Medicaid funds in block grants to the states, which reduces federal controls over how the money is spent.

“Within the current framework of Medicaid and Medicare, we believe that it is possible to restrain growth and rein in costs,” read the the April 2011 from JFNA and JCPA to Congress members. “We are capable of strengthening their long-term viability without a fundamental restructuring that turns Medicaid into a block grant or Medicare into a voucher program.”

Ryan, 42, is likely to help Romney, the former Masachusetts governor, in keeping the right wing of the party energized.

A close associate of House majority leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the most senior Jewish lawmaker in Congress, Ryan is a stalwart of budget and social policy hawks who are wary of Romney because of his reputation as a moderate.

Ryan also will be valuable to the campaign in his home state and in neighboring Michigan, both considered possible swing states.

MetroWest and Central N.J. federations to merge

Two Jewish federations in New Jersey are merging in what is being described as the largest federation merger in history.

The United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, which has about 100 employees, is merging with the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, which has more than a dozen, on July 1, becoming the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. The two federations’ catchment areas are contiguous.

MetroWest’s president, Lori Klinghoffer, will lead the new entity, MetroWest Executive Vice President Max Kleinman will be the CEO, and Stanley Stone, executive vice president of Central New Jersey, will be the executive director. The headquarters will be in Whippany, N.J., where MetroWest is located; Central’s existing office will become a regional office of the new federation.

Federation officials said the merger, which has been under discussion for about 15 months, brings together two communities that have similar values and numerous shared programs but are separated arbitrarily by geography.

“It’s not that bigger is better, but something greater has come that will have a positive impact on the community served by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ,” Stone said.

The move is expected to result in cost savings of about $200,000 annually, and some “redundant” employees may be let go, MetroWest’s chief marketing officer, Shelley Labiner, told JTA in an interview last month ahead of this week’s merger vote.

The primary reason for the merger is to provide better services to constituents, Labiner said. It will also increase the federations’ clout on a national level, she noted. The merger will make the new entity one of the nation’s top 10 federations by size.

“There’s greater potential for providing services and programming to a wider area, building on existing synergies,” Labiner said.

New Jersey currently has 11 different Jewish federations. There are a total of 157 in North America.

Federations raise $1,349,000 in Japan relief

Jewish federations throughout North America have raised $1,349,000 to help Japan recover from last month’s massive earthquake and tsunami.

The federations’ Japan, Hawaii and Pacific Relief Fund, opened immediately following the earthquake and resultant tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, has collected the money to support relief and recovery efforts in the damaged areas.

The Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella group of the federation movement, has directly raised more than $187,000 through online, mobile and mailed donations.

Several individual federations also have opened funds, which have yielded nearly $680,000 in combined donations. As of April 8, the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and the UJA-Federation of New York have raised more than $125,000 each, while the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s fundraising has totaled more than $100,000.

The Emergency Committee of The Jewish Federations of North America voted April 8 to allocate $125,000 of the funds raised to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which is supporting victims on the ground in Japan through local humanitarian organizations. The allocation is on top of an allocation last month of $135,000. The committee also made an allocation to the Israeli humanitarian umbrella group IsraAID to support their efforts on the ground – specifically in the area of creating Child Friendly spaces.

“The Jewish Federations stand ready to respond to disaster with the strength of our collective action, to ensure that the funds contributed by generous donors are put to work in the most effective way possible,” said Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America. “Working in partnership with our trusted overseas partner, JDC, we can be sure that these funds will have the greatest impact where they are needed most in Japan.”

Federations lobby on health care

Jewish federation officials lobbied in Washington for health care funding and programs.

The fly-in last week, organized by the Jewish Federations of North America, met with Obama administration officials and lawmakers to press for additional funding for Medicaid, the program that provides health care for the poor, and for the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, or CLASS Act, which is proposed legislation that would establish a voluntary disability insurance program.

“These two initiatives will ensure that those who are the neediest in our nation continue to receive vital health and long-term care services that our movement offers,” said William Daroff, the JFNA’s Washington director.

JFNA also conferred its Leadership Award on two senior Jewish members of the U.S. House of Representatives for helping to steer the Medicaid and Medicare programs. Medicare funds health care for the elderly.

Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, “are devoted to strengthening these programs for future generations,” Daroff said. “We are honored to continue working with them to help the vulnerable in our communities receive the care they need.”

Your Letters

Saving the JCCs

During the past 50-plus years that I have been involved in Jewish life a number of JCCs throughout the continent have found themselves in financial distress, sometimes for reasons of their own doing and at other times because of circumstances beyond their control (“Buy It Now,” May 14).

In almost all instances, the Federation in each of these cities realized the importance of JCCs as a unique community institution serving their communities in vital ways. These federations recognized that only JCCs could reach out to both synagogue and non-synagogue people and thus provide the only Jewish setting in their communities hospitable to all.

The leadership here has done a grave disservice to the community by not continuing the path that their predecessors here and their colleagues in other cities did when JCCs experienced the same difficulties now confronting us here.

By closing centers here the community is about to be deprived of services that have stood the test of time. There is an enormous difference between “fixing” and destroying. What is happening now is a destructive act, which will have long-range consequences for all of us.

Federation is in the process of alienating countless JCC supporters. It is removing services form a segment of the community that is not served by synagogues. By doing so, it abdicates its claim to be a central address for the community — and all this in the name of calling in notes amounting to few million dollars.

I am painfully aware that millions don’t grow on trees. As this community grows it will produce leadership that will once again realize the uniqueness of JCCs. More millions of dollars will have to be raised to build new centers. It is not too late to halt the present path. Let us call upon the Federation leadership to arrange to refinance JCCs, to become active “overseers” if need be in the process. A city this size should do no less. The resources can be arranged for. What is lacking is the will to serve the future as was the case in the past.

No one should excuse JCC management for its errors and shortcomings. The present leadership in the JCCs is prepared to shoulder their responsibilities but cannot do this without Federation’s help. People in this community should not be made to suffer and be deprived of the services that only a network of centers can provide in this huge metropolitan area.

Rob Eshman was right — where are the visionaries who are needed now more than ever?

Gerald Bubis, Founding Director and Professor (Emeritus)School of Jewish Communal Service Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute ofReligion Los Angeles

Gay Marriage

Kudos to The Jewish Journal on the prominence of your coverage of the issue of gay marriage (“Gay Marriage,” May 14). Jews have historically been at the forefront of civil rights issues. Equality (“not separate but equal”) for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals is today’s civil rights issue. As for Joan Goldstein’s letter to the editor (May 14), she quotes chapter and verse and then concludes that one should refrain from homosexuality. Sexual identity is a core part of everyone’s identity. I do not know how one, in a healthy way, refrains from who he or she is. However, if Goldstein agrees to refrain from her heterosexuality, I will refrain from my homosexuality. Ms. Goldstein, you first.

Jeff Bernhardt, Valley Glen

We who have signed this letter were among the joyful participants at the chuppah of Rabbi Don Goor and Cantor Evan Kent. We feel that it is incumbent upon us as Jewish communal leaders of congregations and institutions across the nation to support our newly married colleagues and lend our voices to support of those who wish to sanctify their unions in the Jewish tradition and have them recognized by our state and national governments.

First to the issue of the picture on The Jewish Journal’s front cover: Had your readers witnessed the absolute joy and shared celebration felt by all in attendance, they would understand the profound holiness attainable in same gender weddings. They would know that far from concerns of immorality, this was the moral choice affirmed by communal leaders from across the nation acutely aware of the issues raised by such marriages.

Gay and lesbian couples who choose to marry with a Jewish ceremony and Jewish leaders who officiate recognize in these unions a level of morality and kedushah that is potential in all marriages. Yes, without hesitation, we agree that marriage is a sacred institution. By extending its blessing to gay and lesbian couples we are doing nothing less than strengthening the very moral fiber of Jewish community and our American society.

Rabbi Ron Stern and Becky Sobelman-Stern; Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Michelle November; Rabbi Bruce and Tamar Raff; Rabbis Jonathan and Zoe Klein; Rabbi Richard Levy; Marissa Borenstein; Natalie Smolens; David Eshel; Margie Ipp; Ellen Franklin; Rabbi Karen Bender; Rabbi Dan Moskowitz; Rabbi Phil and Amy Warmflash; Rabbi Michael White; Rabbi Karen Fox and Michael Rosen; Rabbi Dense L Eger and Karen B. Siteman; Rabbi Nancy Kasten; Cantor Mark Britowich; HUC-JIR rabbinical student Jeremy Schneider and Rachel Tucker; HUC-JIR rabbinical student Jeremy Schneider, MAJE; HUC-JIR rabbinical student Jocee Hudson; HUC-JIR rabbinical student Brett Krichiver and Tami Krichiver; HUC-JIR rabbinical student Adam Schaffer

Coming Out on Top

After what has been a turbulent year for Los Angeles’ Jewish community, some happy news came in for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Despite a downturn in the economy, 2001’s United Jewish Fund (UJF) general campaign closed at $45 million, ahead of the previous year. By comparison, 2000’s UJF campaign had amassed $42.5 million. The $45 million does not include an additional $1 million raised for the Sept. 11 designated Victims of Terror Fund.

The campaign succeeded despite what Bill Bernstein, The Federation’s executive vice president of financial resource development, termed "a very shaky economy and a very tragic event that upset many charities. We also had the intifada drawing people’s attention away from the local community. Nevertheless, we still had one of the best campaigns in our history."

The lion’s share of that $45 million is already in The Federation’s coffers.

"Our pattern," Bernstein said, "is that we collect 80 percent and the balance — the last 20 percent –is collected over a two-year period."

In addition to General Campaign’s diligent leaders and staff, Bernstein credited the campaign’s success to an 11th-hour stock market surge.

"That certainly helped to restore confidence," Bernstein said.

The last financial quarter has not been kind to Jewish organizations, which were forced to lay off employees because of the economy. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles laid off some 30 workers in December. "We took a serious look at the entire operation and said, let’s be very thoughtful about the impact of the economy. We’re in a time of great challenge," Federation President John Fishel had said at the time. The Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) also sustained the layoff of 49 employees. JCCGLA received the largest Federation allocation of any local agency — $3.2 million in 2001.

Michael Koss, 2001 Campaign chair, said that Federation layoffs in such departments as Campaign did not come until after he had wrapped up his fundraising drive. "I don’t think anyone was laid off while I was a campaign chair," Koss said.

Bernstein and Koss said the media portrayal of The Federation’s campaign woes was misleading. They dismissed the idea that part of the confusion came from ads The Federation took out in this paper, which labeled Federation programs, "endangered."

"We were always ahead in our entire campaign," Bernstein said. "What we were trying to illustrate in those ads was that we wanted to reach a goal, and unless we reached those goals, certain programs would be endangered."

Koss, who labeled the press reports "unfair media coverage," focused in 2001 on increasing gifts from established donors.

"In all of the years of solicitation," Koss said, "I rarely run into people who over-give. So I said if they can, they should give more. At virtually every event, people did."

At the Women’s Campaign, Laurie Konheim helped fundraise through the division’s seven branches, which included the Chai Emerald Zahav, Lion’s Circle, L’dor V’dor, Business and Professional Group, Kolot and Sephardic.

"Women are a huge power and influence in the community," Konheim said.

Now in her 50s, Konheim has been an active Federation participant since she attended a young women’s luncheon at 32.

"The community at large that gives to UJF has always been there and is truly loyal," said Konheim, whose main emphasis in 2001 was with young Jewish professionals.

"My big push was really for young leadership," Konheim said, "and we needed to build on that and educate the next generation and teach them to give."

Koss will continue as 2002’s Major Gift Chair, campaigning at Brentwood, El Caballero, and Hillcrest country clubs, which collectively, he said, "40 percent of all money in the community comes from."

He looks forward to a healthy 2002 drive.

"Jake [Farber, incoming Federation chairman] has a tremendous amount of commitment," Koss said, "and a very good understanding of the inner workings of the Federation process."

"It’s the most wonderful feeling to see what’s going on," Konheim said. "It’s just the most satisfying and gratifying feeling to be a part of this community."

Konheim, who maintains her Women’s Campaign chair seat for her second year, believes that she is even more prepared for 2002.

"I understand how things work," Konheim said. "I know who the players are. My goal this year is to strengthen the unity between the General Campaign and the Women’s Campaign. To work together as a team for the same cause."

Reaching Consensus

When leaders from 119 North American Jewish federations met here this week, they did not make any earth-shattering decisions or vote on anything binding.

Instead, they did what many involved described as even more revolutionary: They listened to each other, building trust and beginning to explore what it will mean for them to be “owners” of their newly formed umbrella organization, the United Jewish Communities.

“I’ve begun to see a trusting relationship start,” Charles Bronfman, chairman of the UJC’s board, said at the meeting’s closing plenary on Monday.

Robert Aronson, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, observed as the meeting closed: “I don’t think the decisions themselves were as important as the opportunity to sit and talk together.”

Spawned from the merger of the United Jewish Appeal and the Council of Jewish Federations, the UJC says it is attempting to transform a system that had traditionally been top-down and somewhat mysterious in its decision-making to one that is more open.

Indeed, at this two-day “owners’ retreat,” which ended Monday and was followed by a series of meetings, the most oft-repeated words were “transparency,” “consensus” and “change.”

What happens with the UJC is significant because its 189 member federations across North America raised almost $882 million last year for domestic and overseas Jewish needs — everything from day schools to rescuing and resettling refugees.

The federations have long been considered the central address of Jewish philanthropy and social services, but in recent years have been devoting larger portions of their funds to local causes rather than overseas needs.

What remains to be seen is whether — in this climate of openness and without coercion — they will be able to come together and agree on enough to form a cohesive system.

At this week’s retreat, representatives from the various federations spent time breaking into small groups for lengthy discussions and debating among the entire body.

Following the retreat, the UJC’s board of trustees on Tuesday approved:

* A two-year nonbinding plan for federations to maintain at least their current contributions to the UJC and to overseas needs. The board also passed an amendment that would require UJC to come up with a formula by Dec. 31, 2001, that would determine the “fair share” contributions of individual federations in the future.

* A decision to work with local federations and the Jewish Agency for Israel to become partners of Birthright Israel, a program started by philanthropists Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman to send unaffiliated Jews on a free trip to Israel.

The board set $39 million as the target amount to contribute over three years — $15.6 million from the UJC budget, $15 million from federations and the rest from the Jewish Agency. So far, more than 70 federations — representing more than 83 percent of the North American Jewish population — have indicated they are prepared to participate, according to Stephen Solender, UJC president and chief executive officer.

In addition, leaders from within the UJC system agreed as a result of their discussions on their top three priorities for what they want the new organization to accomplish: coordinate overseas needs, help with training for lay and professional leaders and assist with fundraising.

During the retreat, UJC leaders updated their constituents on their accomplishments — getting up and running, establishing pillars, or focus areas, and forming tentative recommendations for a budget and overseas allocations.

They also outlined some goals for the future, including recruiting more women for top leadership positions, stepping up planning, identifying and publicizing “best practices” and developing training programs for federation leaders.

All in all, they seemed to be seeking the buy-in of federations and attempting to persuade them why they should be involved.

But there remain many points of conflict and uncertainty:

* Many small and middle-sized federations feel they do not have a large enough voice in collective decisions and have expressed fears that proposed budget cuts — particularly to regional offices that assist smaller federations with things such as fundraising and personnel matters — would adversely affect them.

* Issues of obligation and enforcement — particularly on the issue of financial commitment for overseas needs and the national system’s overhead — were considered so divisive that they were moved off the agenda weeks before the retreat. Nonetheless, the UJC committee charged with assessing overseas needs is requesting federations contribute at least 105 percent of what they gave last year.

* Federations agree that they want to trim the budget — which is approximately $40 million — for the national system but cannot agree what programs and services should be cut to achieve that goal.

Despite the difficulties, participants from both large and small federations overwhelmingly voiced satisfaction with the retreat, even if some were skeptical about what will happen next.

“We have the opportunity to speak up, and everyone’s being heard,” said Daniel Chefjec, executive director of the Central Kentucky Jewish Federation.

“Small communities have a history in which we’ve felt neglected and been forced to go into decisions we didn’t like. But much of that is being dispelled by the fact that this is being kept clean.”

Jeff Levin, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County in Ann Arbor, Mich., said the meeting was strengthening federations’ commitment to the larger system.

“There’s a growing recognition that whatever comes, everyone making Shabbos for himself is not a good thing,” he said. “That’s the main theme, and all the rest is commentary.”

Shelly Katz, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Santa Barbara, Calif., described the process as “a real turning point for the small cities.”

“We feel we’re being listened to, especially in the small groups,” she added.

For Joel Tauber, UJC’s executive committee chairman, “We’re building a culture of oneness, and people are beginning to look beyond their own federation.”

Despite the sense of growing confidence, leaders — particularly from smaller federations — noted that they were still not certain what the long-term impact of their discussions might be.

Sara Schreibman, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte, N.C., described the retreat as a learning process but noted that “the real test” will be “if the board really listens.”

Arthur Paikowsky, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, agreed, saying, “The devil is in the details. Once you figure out how you want to do it, what’s the implementation?”