Liberal groups condemn religion bill as ‘government-sanctioned discrimination’


Some 22 liberal groups, most of them Jewish, condemned a bill that would protect individuals and nonprofits that oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds from government sanction.

The First Amendment Defense Act would prevent any federal agency from denying a tax exemption, grant, contract, license or certification to an individual, association or business based on their belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. For example, the bill would prohibit a federal contractor from losing its funding if it refused to serve same-sex couples.

The bill was introduced last month by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Ind.).

 

Hearings on the bill will take place Wednesday in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

In a letter to the committee about what they call the “unjust legislation,” the groups said that: “Although our beliefs and faith traditions hold different views about the nature of human sexuality and marriage, we all share a common teaching that all human beings deserve to live in dignity and with respect, and that we must treat all people fairly and equally. The ‘First Amendment Defense Act’ directly contradicts these principles and reflects a profoundly misguided understanding of religious freedom.”

“This bill falsely suggests that the protections of the First Amendment are certainly inadequate to ensure robust religious freedom,” the letter continued, saying that it “authorizes government-sanctioned discrimination against married same sex couples and persons having sexual relations outside of marriage.”

The legislation “violates the core constitutional principle that the federal government will not prefer a faith tradition or religious tenet over another by endorsing and privileging certain religious perspectives on marriage and sexuality,”according to the letter.

Among the groups that signed on to the letter are the Anti-Defamation League, Bend the Arc, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Hadassah, Jewish Women International, Keshet, National Council of Jewish Women, and Union for Reform Judaism.

Pyramid power (not)


OneVoice, one heart, one mind


OneVoice

Arthur Cohn’s recent guest opinion on OneVoice and Mideast peace is hopelessly rooted in the thinking of past generations (“OneVoice Speaks Mistakenly on Achieving Peace,” Nov. 16).

The idea that Palestinians intentionally kill innocent Israelis, but Israelis only accidentally kill innocent Palestinians, and, therefore, there is no “moral equivalence,” sadly misses the point. Both sides are killing.

The Palestinians, whose family members are killed by Israelis, take no comfort in the fact that Israel has done all it can to avoid killing innocent people. There is no point at the beginning of negotiations to try to cast one side as less morally equivalent than the other.

OneVoice is right. Let both sides stop violence and incitement, and let both sides sit down to find common ground to peace.

Lawrence Kopeikin
Via e-mail

Survivor Mitzvah Project

I read the article on the activities of the Survivor Mitzvah Project online with a sense of pride and frustration (“Touched by Angels,” Nov. 23). I have been aware of the activities of the project for the past year.

The source of pride is obvious. The frustration probably comes with the sense of feeling that with just a little more effort from those of us whose input to helping is financial, we can make a difference.

We cannot unring the bell of the slaughter and degradation of our fellow Jews, but we can help the survivors live out their lives with less pain than has been inflicted upon them to date.

This letter is one more man’s plea to the already committed community that reads The Journal to do just something more right now. Every cause is worthwhile, but these survivors are more than just a cause, and the fact is we can do more.

People and institutions in the Jewish community should pause for a moment in this week of Chanukah and light a candle for the survivors left behind. Yes, it is money that will bring them warmth, food and medicine. Please give it a thought.

Richard Nathan
Englewood, Colo.

Thank you for publishing the article about the good work being done by the Survivor Mitzvah Project. These volunteers have been able to reach out to the forgotten Jews of Eastern Europe who have endured decades of pogroms, terrible wars, the Holocaust and tragic repression. Now they live alone in their last years in abject poverty, in remote shtetls virtually abandoned by the Jewish world.

The angels of this project seem to have managed to establish a network that has become a lifeline. With the small amounts of money, they deliver large amounts of hope to our virtual parents and grandparents, who are the only ones keeping alive in situ the memory of a destroyed Jewish civilization.

I second Grant Arthur Gochin’s letter (Letters, Nov. 30) urging that each of us contribute even small amounts to enable the project to continue its commendable work.

Miriam Koral
Via e-mail

Chanukah and Adult Faith

Danya Ruttenberg’s article is historically inaccurate and itself kind of childish (“Chanukah and Adult Faith,” Nov. 30).

First, Judah never presided over an independent nation. He was killed four years after the rededication of the Temple in one of the many battles to save a Jewish community under attack from the Syrian Greeks. Two other brothers also died in battles to protect Jewish populations from such attacks, which would cause certain death and destruction.

It was brother Shimon, who became Cohen gadol (the big kahuna) and nasi (prince) and achieved independence from foreign control by adroit diplomatic and military maneuvers. This occurred over 21 years after the rededication of the Temple, whose access was limited even after the rededication until Shimon finally defeated the Syrian garrison at the citadel — literally across the street from the Temple.

Second, the need to express some kind of soul-searching for some alleged ancient wrongdoing by our guys, in order to appreciate the meaning of the holiday for today, is itself immaturity personified, when the soul searcher is really searching for a path to current political correctness and acceptance by those who have no sense as to what it took to become a Jewish nation then and what it takes now, for that matter. Or was the writer just writing stuff so that she appears deep?

James Auspitz
Auspitz Law Corp

Nonprofit Raffles

A clarification to Julie Gruenbaum Fax’s Nov. 23 article, “Can Nonprofits Rake It in With Raffles?”

Should someone, in fact, win a home in a megaraffle, the value of the house would be taxed as regular income at a rate of 35 percent for federal taxes, as she reports. However, for the house, just as for a cash prize, the charity conducting the raffle would have an obligation to ensure that 25 percent of the value of the prize is withheld at the time the prize is won.

Satisfying the withholding requirement is much more difficult when the prize is property, such as a house, rather than cash, and the withholding requirement is one of the reasons that most grand prize winners opt for cash, rather than the house.

Ellen Aprill
John E. Anderson Professor of Tax Law
Loyola Law School

Missing MIlestone

It seems that The Jewish Journal has overlooked one of the most important dates in Jewish history. Nov. 29 marked the 60th anniversary of the U.N. partition vote on Palestine, turning the British mandate into two states, one Jewish and one Arab.

A milestone of 60 years of existence, no matter how embattled or hated, should not be ignored. It is a tribute to the stiff-necked nature of our history that we are still there and are proud of that existence. Too bad, it seems, that The Jewish Journal is not part of that recognition.

Larry Hart
Via e-mail

Two Thumbs Up

I just wanted to tell you what a great service your paper provides for Southern California Jewry (“Annapolis and Chanukah,” Nov. 30). Last week’s edition included your pitch for the worthy laptop program, opposing views about the wisdom of and prospects for the Annapolis conference, Zane Buzby’s Mega Mitzvah project and Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky’s insightful comments on the weekly Torah Portion.

Women’s Lib Rises in Wake of Disaster


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This Time They’re Ready for the Wave

The two young, sari-clad women, one in blue and one in orange, stand in the thatched-roof meeting hall, take hold of the microphone and join their voices.

“We don’t need any fancy materials,” they croon by heart. “What we need is just some food to live. We don’t ask for a refrigerator, a TV or a car. We just need some small capital to start a business.”

The audience of women in the village of Alamarai Kuppam applaud with enthusiasm. The few men, seated or hovering around the edges, are more circumspect, but they, too, nod approvingly.

Call it women’s lib, post-tsunami-India style.

The outpouring of financial support that followed the 2004 tsunami has accelerated efforts to improve the lives of rural women — an initiative that goes well beyond helping families recover from the tsunami.

“This disaster has given us a space to create gender equality,” says Attapan, the director of Rural Organization for Society Education (ROSE). ROSE is among the Indian nonprofits supported by the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), which focuses on international development based on the Jewish value of tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

Before, says Attapan, many fishing villages functioned almost as closed societies, distrustful of outsiders, with women locked into traditional, subservient roles. It’s still a country of arranged marriages, and, in places, instances of girl infanticide and widow burning.

But in this region, when the tidal wave took everything, these villagers had to look outside for help. The women, it turned out, were eager for expanded roles. And many men quickly realized that not only could they benefit from the outsiders, who brought resources and new ideas, but also from the resourcefulness of their own spouses, daughters and mothers.

Attapan’s organization has worked with women from fishing villages to help them develop business skills, such as tailoring and growing and selling herbs.

The two singing women are performing the homemade anthem of an informal women’s “congress” from 14 villages that has gathered in Alamarai Kuppam under the auspices of the Ghandian Unit for Integrated Development (GUIDE). GUIDE is trying to make women politically powerful and to break down traditional Hindu class divisions.

The caste system, although officially abolished in 1949, remains a potent and denigrating social force. The mixture of castes among the women gathered in Alamarai Kuppam is striking: It includes Dalit participants, the group once known as untouchables; they still suffer pervasive discrimination.

At the meeting, women rise group by group to proclaim their successes.

“We stopped the men from making alcohol in our village,” one women says.

Another exclaims: “We made demands for tsunami relief and got it.”

“We got schools to reduce their fees,” a third says.

This activism is true and courageous feminism, says R. Vasantha, development consultant for GUIDE. “In traditional society, if a woman speaks out about a problem, especially a problem with an abusive husband, she is an immoral woman. These women will now go to a police station and file a case.”

A delegation of women from four villages recently demanded that a man reserve some property and inheritance for a second wife he had taken, as well as for the woman’s baby. And in Alamarai Kuppam, women and GUIDE workers went to the police to halt an arranged marriage between an unwilling 13-year-old and an older man who wanted a second wife.

The 13-year-old’s parents had made the deal for money. Villagers later raised money to help the family.

And, when it comes to the business theme of the homemade anthem, these women aren’t waiting for opportunity to come looking for them. They’ve opened fish stalls in nearby towns to sell the village catch. And they’re going to start an ice factory to keep their fish fresh and to sell ice to others.

Working with women, particularly educating them, is probably the “best single investment” that can be made in international development, said Michael Cohen, director of the New School for Social Research’s graduate program in international affairs in New York. “It helps on the income side and reduces the family size.”

Both elements, he added, are key to reducing rural poverty.

 

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Fight the Minotaur in the Tax Labyrinth


This past September, the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles, the Zimmer Children’s Museum and representatives of more than 70 other organizations attended a seminar for nonprofits that I conducted at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Like many taxpayers, nonprofit organizations need guidance to comprehend the labyrinth of federal and state tax laws. With the exception of accountants and attorneys, few people absorb the millions of words that make up state and federal tax codes, including rules and regulations. In addition, many nonprofits cannot afford the expense of maintaining counsel to steer them through the thicket of tax laws.

To facilitate seminars that provide vital tax information to nonprofits, I enlist experienced speakers from various federal, state and local agencies to break down our complex tax system into easily understood component parts. At The Federation seminar, experts discussed provisions of the state and federal tax codes that apply to nonprofit organizations, as well as laws that specifically govern their activities.

A rabbi who attended the meeting was unaware that an exemption from sales tax exists for sales of meals and food products furnished or served by any religious organization at a social gathering it hosts. To his delight, the rabbi discovered that the synagogue was eligible for a refund of hundreds of dollars of sales tax reimbursement paid to several restaurants (Revenue & Taxation Code, Section 6363.5).

Marina Arevalo-Martinez, an accountant at the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic, took a particular interest in raffles. She heard one presenter say that under Penal Code Section 320.5 “no eligible organization can hold a raffle unless it has registered with the [state] attorney general’s office to hold raffles.” Arevalo-Martinez also learned that an eligible organization must use at least 90 percent of all gross receipts from raffle ticket sales for charitable or beneficial purposes.

The Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic constantly looks for ways to raise money, and Arevalo-Martinez said the information will enable the agency to sponsor raffles while adhering to the letter of the law.

Federation President John Fishel said, “The seminar provided the staff of The Jewish Federation and the staff of our affiliated agencies with vital information on reporting and compliance.”

But the reality is that in today’s fast-paced environment not every nonprofit organization or charitable contributor has the time to attend a seminar. With this in mind, here are some tax tips from the Board of Equalization and the Franchise Tax Board you might find useful.

Franchise and Income Tax Tips for Donors

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• Confirm that the recipient of your gift is a valid charity before you give. You can do so by looking up the charity on the IRS Web site (” target=”_blank”>www.boe.ca.gov, which features sales and tax rates by county, frequently asked questions, a list of publications, and an online tutorial for sales and use tax.

John Chiang is chair of the California State Board of Equalization and member of the Franchise Tax Board.

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Young Professionals Learn to Lead Pack


 

Not long ago, Tali Pressman, 24, found herself sitting in a room full of civically minded young Jews in Los Angeles — that elusive demographic of 20- to 30-somethings targeted by so many religious and political recruiters.

The goal: How to better collaborate and organize their diverse work for nonprofits and Jewish communal services in the city.

“Our first meeting turned into a five-hour kvetch session, saying it would be great to collaborate but that there’s not enough supervision, there’s no mentoring, there’s no ladder,” she said.

Now Pressman and others like her are at the forefront of a new leadership movement in Southern California created by Jewish youth, for Jewish youth.

Pressman at the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and David Cygielman at the Forest Foundation are both spearheading brand-new programs, which recognize that new leaders do not emerge out of thin air — they must be cultivated.

Interpreted broadly, there are numerous programs designed to reach young Jews and connect them to their heritage through service. From leadership-building trips to Israel offered by Birthright Israel and Hillel to career-building programs offered by the Professional Leadership Program (PLP), options exist.

Marcia and Eugene Applebaum, part-funders of PLP, put it succinctly: “We are facing an impending crisis in Jewish professional leadership due in large part to our failure to attract enough highly qualified people in their 20s and 30s to work in the Jewish communal world.”

But what emerged at PJA, called the Jeremiah Fellowship, is unique in a significant way. The fellowship is about using Jewish ethics to solve societywide problems, both within and outside the Jewish community. This is more about the fire of progressive activism than about replacing the previous generation of graying leaders in Jewish organizations.

The name, not incidentally, is biblical: “And seek the well-being of the city in which you dwell … for in its peace you shall find peace” (Jeremiah 29:7).

Starting in January, the 16 fellows will generally meet twice a month. Half the meetings will be field visits. In one case, the fellows will go to a mushroom farm, meet with workers, and speak to United Farm Workers Vice President Irv Hershenbaum. He’ll explain the personal Jewish ethic that he believes underlies his work.

Other notable field trips include speaking with Southern California ACLU Director Ramona Ripston and City Councilman Eric Garcetti.

The other monthly meeting will connect fellows with a scholar such as Aryeh Cohen, University of Judaism chair of rabbinic studies, to discuss what Jewish tradition says about the developments they saw in the field.

“This is an unabashedly progressive fellowship,” Pressman said. In Los Angeles in 2005, that encompasses a significant number of labor issues, including the ongoing hotel worker dispute in Los Angeles and a review of Jewish involvement in labor, she said.

“We have a Jewish and progressive obligation not only to volunteer at the soup kitchen, but also to address why people are hungry, because it’s not an accident. There are political, economic and social structures in place that need to be examined,” Sokatch said. While combating anti-Semitism and supporting Israel are critical issues for American Jews that many organizations deal with, Sokatch said, there are other concerns that need to be addressed.

In this vein, the fellows could well decide that Jewish precepts impel them to pursue careers working on behalf of non-Jews in fields like labor, economic equity and civil rights — thus the biblical allusion.

“So much of my social activism I feel comes from Judaism,” said Natalie Stern, one of the recently admitted fellows and a graduate of Northeastern School of Law. “I really want to learn why I feel [that way]. Where does it come from textually?”

Therein lies the second half of Jeremiah: To explore the origins of compassion and service to the entire city in Jewish tradition.

And as for Stern’s career goals, networking with big organizations like the ACLU won’t hurt either.

“I think the fact that this came out of a young person is the most important part about it,” Jeremiah fellow Matthew Loebman said.

That’s especially important when considering whether a program like this has broad appeal, Loebman said. And he should know. Loebman works for a company that does marketing for nonprofit organizations.

“There are tons of Jewish young people who are self-identified progressives and activists; they’re not working in a Jewish vein because no one’s given them that opportunity,” Loebman told The Journal. “But when I look back to see where this sort of morality was built into me, it was from Jewish sources, Hebrew school and summer camp,” he said.

At least in Los Angeles, the Jeremiah Fellowship aims to bridge that gap. The success or failure of Jeremiah in Los Angeles may shed light on the power of liberal values in the next generation of Jewish leadership.

Meanwhile, the Forest Foundation is offering its own version of Jewish youth empowerment in both Santa Barbara and Berkeley. The program, helmed by a 23-year-old, connects college-age Jews to local Jewish organizations that need help.

Again, there is something unique about Forest as compared to other Jewish leadership training. Instead of paying to attend conferences or seminars, the students actually get paid by the foundation for their work within various agencies.

Even more impressively, if the participants have an original idea that will benefit the Jewish community, Forest will both help them organize it and pay them to make it happen. So instead of a concentrated political imperative, the Forest Foundation provides a powerful incentive for college-aged Jews, many of whom must find part-time work during their studies anyway.

“The basic idea is to empower these students so they become Jewish leaders and are inside Jewish organizations now rather than after they graduate or have held a job for while,” Forest Director David Cygielman said.

“We went to every local organization and asked the question, ‘What is it that you can’t do because you don’t have enough time or money?'” Cygielman said.

After Forest filled those gaps, it began to fund students’ individual projects: Cooking and activities with senior citizens, a Jewish Business League, a young women’s society or recruitment efforts for Hillel at UCSB, to name a few.

Now organizations routinely call Forest when they need an extra body, whenever they need to alleviate the most common nonprofit conditions of being understaffed and underfunded. Forest, in the meantime, is looking to actually expand its existing roster of 21 participants up to 60. Young Jews not in school can apply as well, and even college grads can continue to work if their projects are successful.

Both PJA’s fellowship in Los Angeles and Forest’s programs in Santa Barbara and Berkeley are in their early stages to say the least.

Richard Gunther, who with his wife funded PJA’s Jeremiah Fellowship, clearly sees what they are both trying to accomplish: “I think one of the universal problems that the Jewish community has, certainly in Los Angeles, is how do you keep young members of the Jewish community really concerned and involved?”

Whether the focus is on incentives to keep them working on behalf of the Jewish community or simply infusing them with Jewish ethics to do good work outside of it, the battle to prevent their drift from Jewish tradition is the same: Recall all the dire predictions you’ve heard from rabbis about Jewish youth as the most religiously unaffiliated. Recall the frantic postulations about the unknown politics of that same group in the run-up to the 2004 elections.

If programs like Jeremiah and Forest succeed and spread, then perhaps in the future finding the civic or social pulse of American Jewish youth won’t require polling or statistics — the proof will be in the boardrooms, the courtrooms and the demonstrations.

 

Federation Faces Underfunded Pension


Faced with a pension shortfall of $20 million, the organized Jewish community’s largest philanthropy finds itself forced to divert millions of donor dollars to employee retirement benefits, rather than to needed social services.

To cover the underfunded pension, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and its 13 beneficiary agencies are slated this year to contribute $5 million to retirement plans, up from $4 million just two years ago. That means about 10 cents of every payroll dollar now goes to pensions, a higher percentage than at many other federations.

By contrast, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia spends about 3.5 cents on pensions, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston about 4 cents, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta about 4.5 cents and the UJA-Federation of New York 6 cents.

In addition to restricting cash that could be used for other purposes, the Los Angeles Federation’s underfunded pension has caused headaches for the agencies gaining their independence from the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCC) , a Federation beneficiary agency. The pension shortfall means that the Westside JCC, the Zimmer Children’s Museum and Valley Cities JCC might be responsible for paying off their share of the pension liability, a financial burden that could saddle them with tens of thousands of dollars in extra costs.

"I’d say it’s a concern, but I wouldn’t characterize it as a big concern," Federation President John Fishel said of the underfunded pension program, adding that the agency would cover all present and future pension payments owed to 120 retirees and 956 current employees.

However, agency heads speaking on background said the pension shortfall had made it more difficult to hire people, give raises or expand programs. They also worried that the relatively high contributions they’re now making could persist for years, putting a long-term financial strain on their organizations.

Whatever size the concern, it isn’t unique to The Federation. Corporate America has also experienced pension problems in recent years. Billions of pension fund dollars invested in the market vanished when the high-tech bubble burst and stocks plummeted.

Although Wall Street has come back some, U.S. businesses recently reported a pension shortfall of $278.6 billion, said Loretta Berg, spokeswoman for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. in Washington, which is charged with protecting private-sector pensions of 44 million American workers and retirees.

California counties and cities are also struggling with pensions. Orange County, for instance, has shortfall estimated at $1 billion.

The amount of an unfunded pension liability often reflects how much money a company would need to pay off all earned retirement benefits if it terminated its retirement package.

Pension expert Lou Kravitz said The Federation’s shortfall, along with many companies’ pension problems, would likely disappear or shrink considerably in the next five to 10 years, as the stock market and interest rates rise as expected. Typically, pension liabilities move in the opposite direction of stocks and interest rates, said Kravitz, a former member of The Federation’s pension committee and head of the retirement plan consulting firm, Louis Kravitz and Associates in Encino.

"The amount of underfunding goes up and down, so it’s not something you necessarily should lose sleep over," he said.

Jack Klein, Federation executive vice president and chief operating officer, said his agency has addressed the agency’s pension shortfall by gradually raising plan contributions over the years and by changing the mix of stocks and bonds in which retirement dollars are invested. He also said The Federation and its agencies have 30 years to pay down the underfunded pension plan, more than enough time.

"I think The Federation, agencies and lay leadership have done a very good job of managing the pension fund," Klein said.

Agency executives agree — to a point. The Federation’s pension plan is "a great benefit that has kept people in the Jewish community, but it might be proving too expensive to maintain at its current level," said Andrew Diamond, president and chief executive of Aviva Family and Children’s Services.

Mitch Kamin, executive director of Bet Tzedek, another benificiary agency, said the plan has been great for worker retention. However, the costly benefit could be less appealing to more junior workers who might prefer the flexibility and portability offered by other options.

In an attempt to cut pension costs, The Federation has proposed modifying retirement plans for new employees, although benefits for current staff would remain intact.

Instead of offering new hires so-called "defined-benefit" plans, which guarantee an annual fixed income, The Federation now favors "defined-contribution" plans. Under those plans, employers set aside money for workers to invest in stocks and bonds of their choosing.

However, with defined-contribution plans, "the risk of the pension is in the hands of the employee," said Brett Trueman, a professor of accounting at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. In other words, if the market falters and wipes out workers’ nest eggs, corporations and nonprofits have no obligation to make up the losses, he said.

Locally, most nonprofits appear to have retirement plans that are both less generous and less costly than The Federation’s. A recent survey of 252 mostly Southern California nonprofits found that nearly four out of five offered benefits, but only 6 percent had defined-benefit plans like The Federation’s, said Pete Manzo, executive director and general counsel for the Center for Nonprofit Management in Los Angeles. That’s down from 13 percent a decade ago, he said.

"Nonprofits want to maximize their program activities, just like for-profits want to maximize shareholder value," Manzo said. "So they want to cut or contain costs."

Federation President Fishel said a lack of consensus among The Federation and beneficiary agencies led the organization to stick with the defined-benefit plan until now. Beginning in the early 1990s, The Federation reduced contributions from 6.6 percent to 3 percent and later to 1.5 percent. At the time, organization executives believed that the pension fund was flush or overfunded.

Jon Lepie, chief negotiator for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 800, the union representing about 450 Federation and agency workers, said it appeared The Federation may have acted irresponsibly by lowering contributions. Without that tinkering, The Federation might have avoided the underfunding problem and the need to move away from defined-benefit retirement plans, which give workers more security and often more money than other options.

Fishel said the philanthropic agency used the savings from the lower rates to help "stabilize" Federation and agency programming that experienced significant funding cuts in the early 1990s. Later, The Federation and the agencies dipped into that money to raise salaries across-the-board. Klein, The Federation’s COO, added that the organization’s pension contributions have always exceeded legal requirements.

Union officials representing The Federation and beneficiary workers have reacted unenthusiastically to The Federation’s proposal to scrap defined-benefit pensions for new workers, although they have not ruled out accepting the offer as part of larger negotiated settlement.

"If we’re forced into cutting employment benefits because of management incompetence, shame on them," Lepie said.

Local 800 President Jeff Rogers said that The Federation had failed to live up to its contractual obligation to invite a union representative to pension committee meetings over the years. The presence of a union member might have "protected the pension," he said.

Klein declined to respond to Rogers’ charge, saying that it was inappropriate to do so at this time, because of the ongoing negotiations with the union.

Officials at the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization for the nation’s federations, said they had no information on the types of pension plans offered by individual members. However, several federations appear to have healthier retirement funds than the Los Angeles Federation’s.

The Atlanta Federation offers defined-benefit pensions like the local Federation’s but has no shortfall.

The Philadelphia Federation offers defined-benefit pensions to its employees and workers at 13 beneficiary agencies. The plan, which is underfunded by $1.5 million, offers benefits that are in some cases about half as generous as the Los Angeles Federation’s. Still, four agencies have recently dropped their defined benefits in favor of defined contributions, said Angela Falcone, Philadelphia’s chief financial officer.

The United Jewish Federation of San Diego County, like Atlanta, Boston and New York, has no underfunded pensions. The organization offers its employees a 403(b), the nonprofit version of a 401(k), and a defined-contribution plan.

Reflecting on the Los Angeles Federation’s situation, Elias Lefferman said change is in order. The president and chief executive of Vista Del Mar Child and Family Care Services said beneficiary agencies could no longer afford to set aside an increasing percentage of donor and grant dollars for underfunded pensions.

"We need a new plan," he said.

Jewish Giving is Still Looking Good


When the stock market entered bear territory last month, individual investors weren’t the only ones taking note. The continued softening of the market can also have a major effect on nonprofit organizations, many of which have benefited greatly from an exceptional run during the past five years.

While it’s still too early to tell how the recent changes will affect Jewish nonprofits in Los Angeles, fundraisers at some of the city’s largest philanthropic organizations say they’re not worried yet.

The Jewish Federation’s annual United Jewish Fund campaign is "off to its best start in seven years," according to William S. Bernstein, Federation’s executive vice president for financial resource development. He said giving has already increased 15 percent, and the campaign reached the $26-million mark — more then half its goal — a month and a half earlier than it did last year.

Not suffering either is the American Jewish Committee (AJC). "We are right on schedule," said Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, Western regional director of the AJC. The organization is "raising about the same as last year, which was our best year ever — over $2 million in Los Angeles," he said.

Likewise, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger is having a "banner year," with 100 new synagogues having joined its Passover campaign, said H. Eric Schockman, MAZON’s new executive director. Organizations that emphasize planned giving — like the American Society for Technion–Israel Institute of Technology and the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles — say they are also performing strongly this year.

One factor making these Jewish organizations hopeful is that the last several years weren’t just good, they were very good. During the three years from the start of 1997 to the end of 1999, the nation’s largest charities experienced double-digit percentage increases in giving, according to a September 2000 report in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

"There’s been huge growth in private foundations that give to Jewish causes," said Evan Mendelson, executive director of the Jewish Funders Network, an organization that brings together Jewish donors across the country to collaborate on their giving. In 1998, she said, there were 3,000 U.S. private foundations that gave to Jewish causes, and today there are 5,000, and that doesn’t even count the supporting foundations and donor-advised funds that are run by individual Federations and community foundations. The accumulated assets of these funds topped $6.2 billion in 1998, although the percentage given to Jewish organizations varies.

"There is a tremendous amount of new money that’s secured into foundations," said the AJC’s Greenebaum. "They may not be making the same interest rate that they were … but those foundations will be giving in perpetuity."

A February survey in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, however, found that nearly half the country’s largest foundations expected giving to remain flat in 2001. Slightly more said their assets shrank over the last year. In Los Angeles, it’s too early to predict what will happen to the local foundations, the stock market and the economy overall, said Marvin I. Schotland, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation, a $325-million endowment that helps Jewish donors with tax and estate planning and philanthropic giving. What he and other leaders say is that during times of financial uncertainty, people give more strategically; they think about which organizations are best equipped to fulfill the passions they believe in.

"Passions and commitments don’t come and go based on economic circumstances," Schotland said. "They’re based on what you feel deep down in your heart or your gut. Economic circumstances merely allow you to fulfill those commitments."

Schockman agrees that donors are more selective when the economy sags. But he points to the tradition of tzedakah and says that, when it comes to giving, "Jews behave differently…. If the economy bottoms out, Jews will still give. I think they will give to organizations they feel comfortable with, who have good track records, whose administrative overheads are within guidelines of nonprofit management and who they trust." Most leaders agree that a nonprofit’s best protection against an economic downturn is planning, a clearly defined mission and a good track record. A large endowment doesn’t hurt, either.

"The next couple of years are going to be challenging for charitable organizations," Schotland said. "The better-run organizations and those whose missions resonate will come through the process more easily and with less trauma than those that are not."

"It’s a little like the pharaoh’s dream — there are the fat cows and the skinny cows. Part of fundraising is to do as well as you can in good years and as well as you can in the not-so-good years," said Greenebaum of the AJC. "I think people are not convinced that the economy is, long-term, so unhealthy that it has completely altered how people are giving right now. Many, many, many people are vastly better off than they were 10 years ago, so they may still be giving at a higher rate."

The Federation’s Bernstein agrees. "Although the economy and market have declined somewhat in the last year, the accumulated wealth of the community … still leaves contributors with significant flexibility in terms of how they wish to spend their charitable dollars," he said.

While a large amount of money has been created, it would be a mistake to believe that everyone has benefited. "There’s 31 million people who go to bed hungry every day, and 12 million of them are children," said Schockman. "Stock market or no stock market, there’s an epidemic out there of hungry people. We have not seen a diminution, even in the good times."

While tzedakah inspires giving, so do tax deductions. One tax of concern to fundraisers is the estate tax, sometimes called the death tax, which enables people to reduce the taxable value of their assets when they die by leaving a portion of it to charities. The tax encouraged the creation of many major foundations, such as Hughes, Mellon, Ford, and MacArthur.

If the Bush administration eliminates the estate tax, nonprofits stand to lose a large incentive for giving. Like the economy, the future of the estate tax remains an unknown. But a cause that speaks to donors’ hearts and checkbooks is the best protection against the hazards of both.

"The longer you’ve been involved with a cause, then the stronger you feel about it," said Diane Siegel, executive director, Western region, of the American Society for Technion. "It becomes part of your life and something you want to do, regardless of tax benefits."