Where’s my check, Mr. Boehner?


Oh, thank you soooooo much! Some Republican members of Congress suddenly remembered they were Americans. Whoa, guys, that one was way too close. But thank you for postponing the end of this country for a few months. That way, holiday sales won’t suffer from wary consumers, just back from the Great Recession, slamming their wallets shut.

I am so tired of this dangerous nonsense.

I was wondering how so many people (who would be considered toxic misfits if they behaved the same way outside of Congress as they have in the House) could have been elected. This group of partisan fringe “true believers” has temporarily been beaten back in their crusade to impose their loony and dangerous ideas on the rest of America.

I also wonder how these Tea Party folks were raised. Most people are given limits and are expected to learn how to respect the limits of others. They also learn to raise their hand when they have something to contribute.  In this case, we have adults who have chosen to do whatever they want to do and to delight in the consequences to all Americans, as long as the Tea Party gets its own way. They were betting that Americans were more afraid of the Tea Party’s threats than they were afraid of an economic holocaust.

“Loser” is not in their vocabulary. When they were flattened by the steamroller of the vast majority of Americans (74 per cent) who say they disapprove of the Republican actions over the past few weeks, Tea Party stalwarts like Ted Cruz of Texas simply turn the facts on their heads and declare that the  American people are against Obama. Yet the targeted Affordable Health Care Act is the law with the Supreme Court refusing to diminish or repeal the Act.

All of this petulant and childish behavior brought us to the brink of economic extinction. The closer we got to the Tea Party’s “weapon of mass destruction,” (as Warren Buffet called the possible default) the greater the glee for the Tea Party.

Instead of using these next few months to develop a compromise, the Democrats should continue on the path set out by Obama: find more ways to just shut down the Tea Party. Any organized group that intends to harm this country through its actions, could be called a terrorist group. They attack the innocent civilians and leave a wake of misery wherever they go. It is not their misery, but that of all other Americans.

I have a few suggestions. They should have the same health insurance limitations as those faced by their constituents. They should take no more than three weeks vacation each year and be forced to retire on their anemic retirement accounts. Their children should be required to attend public schools as an act of patriotism and then be expected to do their duty in the military. They should pay the same taxes, receive the same benefits as those who elected them. Bank loans should be nearly impossible to get, even for Congress. 

During a campaign, the wealthy candidates may spend as much as they choose but their opponents will then receive matching funds from the IRS. If a law exists, they must follow it the same way those who voted for them must follow it. If they attack an established law such as the right to an abortion, they should be fined the same amount that it costs to raise a child to age 18. In this case, the rights of law abiding citizens to act in a legal manner trumps the free speech rights of those who would diminish the rights of others.

With less than a five percent approval rating from the voters, all members of this Congress should pack their bags and not let the door hit them on the way out. They have proven that they enjoy playing with matches, as long it is only other people who get burned.

Finally, unless supported by legitimate polls, any member of Congress who falsely claims to be speaking for the American people should be placed immediately on the next un- air conditioned bus headed for their home.  The American people let their opinions be known with no help needed from those who would profit from manipulation of the facts.

This latest Republican-created crisis cost the American people about $24 billion. Clearly, that money should be repaid by those who caused the financial losses. So, Mr. Boehner, where’s my check?

L.A. day schools manage to survive, even thrive, despite recession


When the recession first brought financial hardship to the Los Angeles Jewish community, community leaders feared that families would leave day schools in droves, causing Jewish education to be yet another casualty. But despite the recent market swings and global insecurity, those fears have yet to materialize.

L.A. day schools have been stable throughout the recession, “really in large tribute to them and their resiliency,” said Miriam Prum-Hess, director of day school operational services at BJE —  Builders of Jewish Education.

To stabilize enrollment, some day schools instituted cost-cutting measures — from shuttering classes to eliminating nonessentials, like field trips — and many have stepped up financial aid to families.

“The recession was a traumatic event for the Jewish community,” Prum-Hess said. “Many people in L.A. lost homes, many became long-term unemployed … schools were trying to keep stability for the kids in the school environment.”

“A number of our schools worked very hard to increase financial aid,” she said.

In the 2008-09 school year, 41 percent of students in BJE-affiliated schools received need-based financial aid. That number jumped to 50 percent in 2010-11, with the biggest jump in non-Orthodox schools, which went from giving aid to 20 percent of students in 2008-09 to 35 percent in 2010-11.

“In general, the Orthodox community has always given more financial aid then non-Orthodox schools,” Prum-Hess said. “The level of funding was always there, but the non-Orthodox schools hadn’t had the same level of demand.”

That’s certainly changing now. Seven schools interviewed for this article reported increased demand for financial aid, and many pointed to special fundraising initiatives and help from the Jim Joseph Foundation as enabling them to assist more families.

“When the recession came roaring in in ’08, we were OK,” said Bruce Powell, head of school at New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) in West Hills. But as the year went on, he said, the school had to give help in the middle of the school year to parents who had lost jobs. During the past year and for the coming school year, they’ve had to ensure that students will be able to attend via increased fundraising.

“It’s been very hard to fundraise in this climate,” Powell said. “There’s a great deal of need, and we make tough choices, but everyone is making those tough choices.”

Jill Linder, Judaic studies principal at Pressman Academy, a Conservative day school in Los Angeles, agrees. “People are doing very serious homework, a lot of shopping and number crunching. They’re seeing what [a Jewish education] will mean to their lifestyle. They don’t want to start and then have to take their kids out, which is really heartbreaking for everybody.”

She notes that Pressman Academy had a few kids leave for financial reasons; some were able to return, but the economy has created challenging situations for many families.

Rabbi Y. Boruch Sufrin, head of school at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, an Orthodox day school in Beverly Hills, said that when the recession hit initially, Hillel deferred tuition for a number of families who had lost jobs, allowing their kids to stay in the school. He also noted a 2 to 3 percent increase in financial aid over the past two years but said that this year there was a decline in requests from families new to the school, a hopeful sign that families at his school may be stabilizing.

Enrollment at Hillel has steadily increased 3 percent over the last three years. At the same time, tuition has increased 10 to 11 percent.

“Our method was very transparent,” Sufrin said. “We increased scholarship lines in the budget and effectively raised our tuition to become more in line with the actual cost of educating.”

Shalhevet, a Modern Orthodox high school on Fairfax Avenue, shuttered its elementary, middle and early childhood schools last year in response to reduced enrollment. According to a press release, Shalhevet leadership decided to concentrate its energy and resources on its high school, which is growing with increased enrollment and donor funding.

Ari Leubitz, Judaic studies principal for Shalhevet, said his school has delayed all major capital improvements and is fully utilizing every teacher for every time slot.

“A teacher who is not fully utilized is a thing of the past,” he said.

Pressman Academy made the decision this year to cut down to two kindergarten classes from three to conserve their resources for programming and other spending. Although overall enrollment there has remained strong, the incoming kindergarten class is smaller than in previous years, so “the responsible move was to slim down,” Linder said.

At Ilan Ramon Day School (formerly Heschel West Day School) in Agoura, elementary school director Yuri Hronsky said that the school renegotiated all contracts with vendors for water, health insurance and more. Teachers are working leaner, there are fewer assistant teachers, and they’ve stopped relying on internal fundraising, which, he said, a lot of schools do. But they have realized that “parents can’t be the only ones to support the school,” he said.

Metuka Benjamin, educational director at the Stephen S. Wise Temple educational system, which includes an early childhood center, elementary school, religious school and Milken Community High School, said school leadership didn’t undertake any specific cost-saving measures, but that they boosted financial aid by as much as three or four times the regular amount.

To meet the increased demand, she said, they focused their efforts on fundraising, not on cutting programs. “We speak to people’s emotions. It’s not just, ‘Give me money.’ We talk about Jewish education, Jewish continuity. We say, ‘Do you want to be a partner?’ ”

Powell of NCJHS agrees.

“The last thing anyone wants to do is cut programs,” he said. “You don’t cut the product that you’re providing [families], you try to raise more money.”

He said NCJHS has experienced a slight dip in enrollment but that it was anticipated based on the population of their feeder schools. “It was a demographic dip, not a financial dip,” he said. 

Day school enrollment has declined slightly over the past three years. Enrollment in Jewish K-8 schools went from 7,245 in 2008-09 to 6,925 in 2010-11. High school enrollment went from 2,610 to 2,521 in the same period, according to BJE.

BJE’s Prum-Hess said this could also be due more to a declining Jewish birthrate in Los Angeles than to financial hardship.

“At one point, there were 5,000 Jewish kids being born per year [in the Los Angeles area], then 4,000, and now it’s even dropped below that,” she said.

But this year, Prum-Hess expects to see a slight increase, which is positive news.

“Some schools are experiencing a lot of growth, some are tapped out and their space does not allow them to increase, and other schools have plenty of space,” she said.

Even though numbers have slightly declined over the past three years, she contends that “we’re probably capturing a larger percentage than before,” thanks to significant efforts to let families know the benefits of a day school education, along with increased financial aid.

Nationally, the day school climate seems positive as well, according to Donna Woonteiler, director of marketing communications at PEJE, the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education.

Numbers come and go, Woonteiler said, and while she admits that it’s been a terrible time and there has been some decline in some cities, day schools “have been revitalized in others. There are a lot of positive things happening as a result of community collaborations and help from federations,” she said.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles also has been instrumental in providing funding for local day schools, according to Federation President Jay Sanderson.

“One of our top priorities is the issue of affordability and accessibility of Jewish education,” he said, estimating that they earmark about $1.5 million each year to help local day schools with financial aid. 

Five high schools in the Los Angeles area, among them NCJHS, Shalhevet, Milken Community High School, and both the YULA girls and boys schools, are part of a challenge grant in which the schools are responsible to fundraise for an endowment while receiving funds from the Jim Joseph Foundation for tuition assistance.

The grant, which was a collaboration between Federation and BJE, successfully met its first benchmark, according to Prum-Hess, and now Los Angeles has been selected by PEJE to bring a similar endowment-building program to seven additional schools in the area.

NCJHS’ Powell said he is relieved that schools are finally making endowment a priority and wonders why it took so long.

“I’ve been saying it for years — we need a $1 billion endowment [for L.A.-area Jewish schools] so we can shell out $50 million a year to ensure that every family will have financial aid.

“The costs of day school are a huge concern to young parents,” Powell said, “which is why we need our endowment — so we do not have to make a financial decision whether or not to have children.

“Shame on us as a community to have our young couples make a decision to have children based on whether or not they can afford a Jewish education.”

Groups Back Obama Budget, Concerned About Tax Proposal


WASHINGTON (JTA)—More than 100 Jewish community organizations are backing President Obama’s 2010 budget while expressing “significant concerns,” but not opposing, a proposed decrease in the tax deduction for charitable contributions.

In a letter sent last week to Congress members, the organizations highlighted four specific Jewish communal priorities, including “comprehensive health care reform” that reduces costs while improving quality and access, and the reauthorization of child nutrition programs.

The groups also declared their support for various discretionary spending programs—including the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Community Development Block Grant, the Community Services Block Grant and the Social Services Block Grant—and urged the inclusion of funding for the National Housing Trust Fund to build, rehabilitate and preserve housing for low-income families.

“Now, more than ever,” the letter asserted, “this economic crisis requires a federal budget that balances the need for long-term fiscal discipline with the need to sustain critical services in this time of economic crisis.”

The March 19 letter also raised questions about one Obama administration proposal.

“Many in our community have significant concerns” with the Obama administration’s plans to partially finance healthcare reform by the deduction for charitable contributions, the letter said.

It urged the administration to consider the impact of the measure on nonprofit organizations.

Signatories to the letter, which was organized by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, included the United Jewish Communities, American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith International, National Council of Jewish Women and the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements, along with dozens of local community relations councils.

One group that did not sign was the Orthodox Union.

Public policy director Nathan Diament said the OU supported the measures endorsed in the letter but declined to sign on because the language objecting to the tax deduction change was not strong enough. Diament said the OU, which represents about 1,000 congregations and operates the largest kosher certification agency in the United States, wanted a “clear statement of opposition” to the reduction in the tax deduction.

JCPA’s Washington director, Hadar Susskind, said the letter took a moderate line because there was ³no community consensus² on the charitable deduction proposal. Some in the community were worried about it, but others believed it was good policy and unlikely to have much of an effect on nonprofit groups.

“There are varying opinions and nobody really knows what it’s going to do,” Susskind said, “but because it could have a negative impact, this was our attempt to express community concerns without implying opposition.”

Susskind said the issues emphasized in the letter were chosen because they are “big community priorities” that every agency involved in domestic policy cares about. They also encompass both short-term priorities—such as the child nutrition programs that are up for reauthorization this year—and longer-term goals such as health-care reform.

Kosherfest 2008 is heaven on earth for foodies


ALTTEXT

Business could not have been better for Ilan Parente, owner of Solomon’s Finest Kosher Meats, the only fresh meat supplier at this year’s Kosherfest 2008, the international kosher food and food service trade show.

Held Nov. 11 and 12 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in New Jersey, Kosherfest (photo, above) offered exciting new foods and kosher innovations, but also reflected the difficulties in the kosher industry brought about by the growing meat shortage.

With the recent collapse of Agriprocessors, the United States’ leading meat supplier, many businesses came to Kosherfest to find solutions to their empty shelves.

One such restaurateur, Marc Epstein, came to Kosherfest to find more meat and cheese sources. Epstein, who owns Milk Street Café in Boston, was frustrated by the lack of options. “Choice is good, and there is no choice,” he lamented. Epstein also attributed the problem to increased stringencies of the rabbinic establishment over the years.

Parente, on the other hand, who specializes in natural meat products, was reaping the rewards. Traveling to Kosherfest from Dawson, Minn., Parente had been inundated with buyers. They’re under “tremendous pressure,” he said, “trying to get Klal Yisrael as much meat as we can.” Parente’s company sells beef, bison, lamb and elk meat, uses no antibiotics on their animals and feeds them an “all-vegetarian diet.”

Kosherfest was also celebrating its 20th anniversary at a new location in New Jersey (rather than the Javits Center in Manhattan, where it has been held in recent years). The change notwithstanding, regular exhibitors and attendees said it felt like business as usual.

Celebrity Jewish chef Jeff Nathan (“they call me the ‘Jewish Emeril'”), who owns the kosher restaurant, Abigael’s, on Broadway near Times Square in Manhattan, said Kosherfest 2008 seemed on par with previous years.

“Jersey is a little more laid back, that’s why I live here,” he said. Nathan did notice “a little leaning toward lighter and healthier” foods at the show, something he has been hoping to see more of. Some examples included a number of new gluten-free products, soy nut butter — as a peanut butter substitute — and many desserts advertised as “trans-fat free.”

The event continued to be international in flavor, bringing together kosher food purveyors, caterers and distributors from more than 28 countries. Attendees traveled from as far away as Turkey, South Africa, Italy, Panama and Israel and as close to home as Los Angeles, Chicago and New Jersey.

Rabbi Gershon Finesilver, who attended the event on behalf of the London Beit Din (LBD), called the event “amazing.” It was the London-based rabbi’s first time staffing a Kosherfest booth and he likened the event (and the concomitant sampling) to “a very large Kiddush. You’re nibbling all day.”

In addition to educating American consumers about the LBD’s role in supervising ingredients across Europe and Asia, the LBD was showing off its newest heksher, a slightly curvier design than it had before, with a hint of Asian flair. Finesilver said the new design had been in use for a couple of years, even if Americans might not have seen it.

Each year Kosherfest organizers hold a competition for the best new kosher-certified products. This year, Zelda’s Sweet Shoppe of Skokie, Ill., took top honors with a “Southern Pecan Pie.” Zelda’s pie won the Best in Show award, the prize for best dessert, the prize for best packaging design and the prize for best snack food (for its caramel corn series).

After racking up so many awards, Zelda Neiman, the company’s matriarch, couldn’t help but stand at her booth beaming. “The show itself is amazing [as well as] a little overwhelming,” she said.

Neiman, who keeps kosher, said she enjoyed seeing all of the kosher-certified products at the show. She had been planning to come to the event before as an attendee but it just never happened. Then, as a first-time exhibitor, her company won the top awards; “Nothing could be better,” she said.

Other award-winners included Bella Baby organic frozen baby food, which won the prize for best new organic product; Kedem All Natural Premium grape juice for best new beverage, and Davida Aprons & Logo Programs, Inc. for best new food service product — a baby bib that reads, “I’m not crying, I’m davening.”

Exhibitor Linda Hausberg of Brentwood, who founded Linda’s Gourmet Latkes, was attending Kosherfest for the first time. Hausberg called herself a “PTA mom” who started her business after watching her homemade latkes sell out at a fundraising event for her kids. She launched her product at Vicente Foods and now sells her frozen latkes at Whole Foods around the country.

Other highlights of this year’s Kosherfest included a sushi-making competition that pitted sushi chefs from Eden Wok, Milk N’ Honey NYC, Glatt A La Carte and Simply Sushi Café against one another for the title of best sushi. Simply Sushi of Monticello, N.Y., took the prize for best presentation, taste and creativity.

But for many, Kosherfest is all about sampling the food. From a rose-flavored fruit juice to spicy turkey jerky and tomato-basil risotto, and from mouth-watering Danish blue cheese and chocolate crepes to elk-meat sausages, the show was a kosher gastronome’s dream come true. There was also a kosher Scotch by Speyside (for those who need a heksher on their liquor), freestanding vending machines with hot food available in minutes by Kosher Vending Industries, a kosher gelatin (courtesy of Kolatin), parve ice cream bonbons by Nestlé and nougat by Sally Williams (a South African favorite).

Rachelle Lewis of Beverly Hills might as well have been in heaven: “This is so exciting,” she exclaimed; “It’s fabulous!” Lewis works for Grocers Media, Inc., which markets new products with promotions inside supermarkets that use a barcode system. Though she’s been to many different food shows, she said this year’s Kosherfest was “one of the best.”

As someone who keeps kosher, the event was particularly exciting — “It’s uplifting to see so many upscale [products],” Lewis said. She particularly enjoyed some fresh Israeli pita she had tried with falafel as well the Oxygen-brand sauces and glazes. “They have a bottled charosets that I couldn’t imagine would taste good. But it does!”

I hear you knocking


Could economic slump — which means less giving — kill Jewish community innovation?


The past decade has seen a groundswell of innovative Jewish nonprofits — from the birth of a Jewish pop culture magazine, Heeb, to the creation of a slew of trailblazing Jewish social service organizations, to an array of projects that allow Jews to express their Judaism through ways other than the prayer book.

But as these initiatives reach adolescence and eye expansion, the spiraling economy and financial crisis threatens to stunt their growth and thwart the next generation of startups from even getting off the ground.

Story after story has been written about fears that the economic downturn will hurt philanthropy. The thinking goes that when people feel economically unstable, the first thing they do is cut their discretionary spending — and charity, no matter the moral or biblical obligation, is still viewed by most as discretionary spending.

Until recently, most of the concern had been based on speculation; charities had been holding out hope that they would be able to avoid significant cutbacks. But, according to a survey taken in late September by the private wealth research firm, Prince & Associates, the cuts have arrived.

According to Forbes magazine, Prince spoke to 439 high-net-worth families, with 73 percent of respondents saying they had been significantly hurt by the economic downturn. Fifty-one percent said they planned on giving less next year than they did this past year — and only 16 percent said they planned on giving more.

The concern about such trends was detectable recently at the Manhattan launch party for the 2008 edition of “Slingshot,” an annual guidebook to innovative Jewish organizations put out by the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Foundation. The leaders of several of the most well-regarded and established innovative Jewish projects expressed concern, saying they are expecting to feel the pinch.

“Most recently, we are starting to hear, ‘We love what you do. We think that it is really, really great. And because of the economy, we are not going to fund any new projects this year. We are going to fund the things that we already fund.’ And that is only over the past few weeks,” said Aaron Bisman, who runs JDub, the nonprofit Jewish record label that produced Matisyahu’s first album. “I had heard it was maybe going to be a possibility, but we are really starting to hear that as a definitive answer.”

JDub, the product of two incubators of Jewish startups, Bikkurim and the Joshua Venture, is widely regarded as one of the most successful young Jewish projects to get off the ground in recent years. For the last five years, Bisman’s budget has increased as funders have taken notice of the group and JDub’s record sales have started to bring in additional income.

Early this summer, Bisman was talking about expansion. Those plans were based on being able to tap into new revenue streams, attract new donors and entice foundations to become new investors.

But by late September, Bisman was talking cutbacks — in both programming and staff.

Bisman’s experience reflects what most philanthropy experts see on the horizon. Philanthropists may not completely shut their coffers, but new grants — the lifeblood of young organizations — are going to be the first to get cut because, like any investment in any startup, they are risky proposals that may not pay dividends.

“Everybody is looking to this as a real event that they are dealing with, and especially for groups that are young and startup and in a growth phase, it is challenging,” said Rabbi Eli Kaunfer, the cofounder of Kehilat Hadar, an egalitarian, traditional-style minyan in New York that is a model for the independent minyan movement.

Hadar has yet to lose any grants, but Kaunfer has been told to brace for next year.

That is when the real crunch could come, especially for those who rely on funding from endowed foundations. Those foundations are required by law to give away 5 percent of their assets each year, based on the assets from the previous fiscal year. As the market drops, that 5 percent shrinks, leaving less for foundations to give away.

To put it in perspective, the Washington Post reported that the Community Foundation for the National Capital Area, one of the area’s largest grant makers and comparable in size to the Koret Foundation, the Pritzker Foundation and the Mandel Fund, lost about $40 million between July and September. The fund had approximately $330 million in assets at last reporting.

Back in 2006, Hadar was able to raise enough funds to launch an egalitarian yeshiva. Kaunfer said he’s unsure if the founders could have pulled it off in the current climate.

“Today would be a very hard day to start an organization and raise the soft dollars,” Kaunfer said.

Such projects — especially those focused on building Jewish identity — could be facing an even greater challenge in the coming months if they need to compete with social service agencies that are getting squeezed on both ends as they face greater demand for services and shrinking revenue streams.

But a bad economy does not need to be the death knell for Jewish innovation.

Those who run new organizations that have established a foothold for themselves and are looking to grow, like JDub, have won recognition in the Jewish organizational mainstream. Their leaders have become regular speakers at federation events and at the federations’ annual conference, the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities.

At last year’s GA in Nashville, organizers dedicated a plenary session to young Jewish innovators and gave them a chance to address several thousand federation lay and professional leaders. Though they will have to work hard to secure funding, many of them have at least one foot firmly in the door.

And most of the newer operations have an advantage over established organizations: They tend to operate on relatively small budgets of under $2 million and so are not yet in need of megagrants.

There may even be hope for those looking to start nonprofits, as the Joshua Venture — the incubator that helped launch this movement, but then went on hiatus in 2006 — has announced on its Web site that it is now seeking new applicants.

Nina Bruder, who runs the UJC-funded incubator Bikkurim, said she is hopeful.

“When the economy is bad, the need for basic human services goes up and the funding for basic human services goes down,” she said. “In the circles that are concerned about that, there is going to be a big push about [the fact] that basic subsistence needs are going to have to be met.”

“But I think there is a whole other part of the funding community that doesn’t focus on that and still has an attention for other kinds of creative cultural and special needs areas,” Bruder went on. “I think we are going to have to wait and see what happens.”

This article was adapted from Jacob Berkman’s blog on the nonprofit sector, which can be found at www.fundermentalist.com.

With economy faltering, nonprofits brace for recession


Americans continue to default on their mortgages in numbers not seen since the Great Depression. Banks continue to become more reticent about lending money. The stock market continues a herky-jerky tumble downhill.

The finance industry is still roiling from last month’s stunning collapse of Bear Stearns, Wall Street’s fifth largest investment bank. The dollar continues to fall against other world currencies.

And the philanthropic world is becoming increasingly fearful about what seems to be a perfect storm brewing against the financial world.

While most philanthropy professionals feel some anxiety now, they are bracing for what could be a calamity in the world of charitable giving.

At its worst, they say, the stock and real estate markets could continue to slide and large foundations could be forced to cut their allocations significantly, smaller donations from the middle class could dry up and what has been a renaissance in Jewish programming over the past several years could come to a screeching halt. Also, the dollar’s decline could continue to stretch the budgets of Israeli nonprofits.

At its best, the economy could stabilize and there could simply be a short-term slowing of philanthropic dollars — a slowing that already has started.

“I think you will begin to see cutbacks now in terms of commitments for the future,” said Richard Marker, an independent philanthropy adviser and a professor of philanthropy at New York University. “If you were to start a major campaign now and are asking people for lead gifts, I think you will begin to see an atmosphere of reservation.

“People are beginning to be nervous, especially in places where the economy is so based on banking and real estate. And I don’t think that the Jewish community is going to be exempt. There is going to be tremendous pressure on both the philanthropists and the nonprofit world.”

Some are comparing the economic situation brewing now to the recession that followed Sept. 11, 2001 and the bursting of the high-tech bubble.

Some are holding tight to the notion that the economy ebbs and flows, and after a period of unprecedented growth over the past several years the market is simply correcting itself. But those considering the philanthropic world believe they are peering over the edge of a cliff unsure about whether they are about to fall over or be mercifully yanked away from it.

Philanthropy typically follows the economy by two years — if the economy falters, usually it takes two years for philanthropists to slow their giving. But Marker and others predict this downturn will have a much quicker effect.

“I think people are taking a deep breath,” Marker said. “I don’t think that people right now are looking to make major new commitments, whereas maybe a year ago, if a great new idea came along, someone might say, ‘OK, lets take the risk.'”

Marker, who acts as an adviser to a number of foundations and philanthropists, said he has heard of one foundation that already has said it will not provide grants next year, but declined to name it.

At the annual conference of the Jewish Funders Network (JFN), which gathered some 350 of the world’s wealthiest Jews and most prolific givers this week in Jerusalem, philanthropists and foundation professionals openly expressed concern that a philanthropic recession is on the way.

Yael Shalgi, the president of Israel Philanthropy Advisors, says she also knows of several foundations that already have cut their funding.

Even the behemoth of the Jewish philanthropic world, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, is nervous. The foundation, which last year was worth some $2.3 billion, gives out more than $100 million a year to charities, most of which are Jewish.

Foundations are required to give away 5 percent of their assets each year, which means they generally try to earn 7 percent annually on their investments to pay for their allotments and overhead.

But the Weinberg foundation, which has about two-thirds of its money invested in various markets and the rest in real estate, has lost 9 percent of the value on its invested assets since the beginning of the year, according to its treasurer, Barry Schloss.

Schloss said the impact on the foundation’s giving will not be felt immediately, as its allocations for the last fiscal year, which for Weinberg ended Feb. 28, are already set.

“We’re not cutting grants at the moment,” Schloss said. But if the market continues to tumble, “the real effect will happen next year. We will probably have to make cuts. But we don’t stop giving when we get to that point.”

At the JFN conference, Schloss said that because of the falling dollar, some of the Israeli organizations funded by Weinberg will have to do less with their money than they expected. He noted a program that pays for dental care for needy children that will be able to help only 175 children with dental surgery rather than the intended 200.

The real crunch, though, may come not from major foundations but the middle class.

Givers tend to make charitable donations in accordance with how comfortable they feel financially. Thus, in this economy the middle class — and therefore smaller donations — could suffer tremendously.

“We are very concerned about the manner in which the volatility in the markets and the repercussions of the credit crunch will have [an effect] on fund raising in general and the abilities of the charities to function,” said Sandy Cardin, the president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

While he expects those charities that receive a significant portion of their budgets from foundations to be relatively secure, charities that depend on smaller donations from the public could be in trouble.

“Regarding the larger group of donations — gifts from the general public — it is unknown,” Cardin said.

Charitable contributions are among the first cuts for Americans feeling insecure financially, say experts in the field.

Tourists Pass on Israeli Passover


It’s known as the holiday of freedom, but Passover this year in Israel will likely be remembered for its sense of restriction.

With a worldwide recession in progress and would-be tourists still wary of airline travel because of possible terrorist attacks, there will be far fewer tourists eating matzah in Israel this spring.

While some hotels are booked for the Passover holiday, others are expecting the worst during what is usually a peak season for the Israeli tourist industry.

“I think Americans aren’t coming, and money doesn’t seem to be the issue,” said Zvi Lapian at Platinum Travel. “To me, it’s very sad.

This is Lapian’s fifth year arranging Passover week vacations at the glatt kosher Caesar Premier Resort hotel in the Dead Sea, and he only has about 172 rooms booked at $999 per person.

Most of the guests will be Israeli, but about 20 percent off the visitors will come from England.

A general manager at one of the higher-end hotels in Tel Aviv said he expected a much tougher season than in previous years. With Tel Aviv tourism geared toward incoming traffic from abroad, all issues of marketing depend on outside factors.

“This is a period when we’re trying to understand what’s happening,” he said. “It’s hard to know with all the turmoil. People have to be calm to make reservations and that depends on the political situation.”

For Israelis, Passover is usually a time for family travel, particularly those who are not observant and don’t mind missing the family seder. With the kids off from school for two weeks and most companies offering half days during the holiday’s four intermediate days, it’s the perfect time to take a trip.

But these Israelis aren’t heading back to Egypt, nor are they planning on exploring the land of milk and honey. Clearly, Israelis aren’t interested in swimming in the Red Sea like their ancestors.

Instead, they’ll be driving to Ben-Gurion International Airport and taking off for foreign locales. New York, London, Paris, Holland and China are all popular Passover destinations, according to El Al, Israel’s national airline.

From mid-March until mid-April, El Al will have 72 flights to 16 destinations. There are three additional flights each week to New York, four more to London, three to Milan and two to Amsterdam.

“They want to go places where the weather is springlike, where they can forget their troubles,” said an El Al spokesperson. “They want a great vacation.”

According to ISSTA, a large Israeli travel agency that caters to the student segment, around 250,000 Israelis will leave Israel for Passover. Around 60 percent of the outgoing traffic will be after the single seder night — some traditions can’t be broken, after all — and others will go away for the entire holiday.

The average cost of a trip? Around $800 per person, depending on the destination. Mediterranean trips to Turkey and Greece are the cheapest, followed by Europe, with the United States costing the most per person.

For Israelis who like staying closer to home, whether for financial reasons or religious, few are making elaborate plans for the holiday’s intermediate days.

Unlike previous years, when Israelis went to relax in the Sinai Desert or explore the Petra caves in Jordan during Passover, no one is visiting Israel’s neighbors this year. There may be peace with Egypt, the nation that figures so prominently in the Passover narrative, but it’s not quiet enough on the border to venture a boat ride on the Nile.

“Pesach used to be a very popular time to go into Sinai,” said a spokesman for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which organizes local hiking trips. “But we’re not doing that right now, because no one wants to go.”

Instead, the society, like other local tour companies, is focusing on tourism inside Israel.

All the tours down south to Ein Gedi, the Ramon Crater, as well as up north to the upper Galilee and Golan, are almost fully booked. With the average cost of $15 to $30 for an adult and $12 to $25 for a child, depending on the length of the trip, it’s a bargain, and that’s good news for many Israelis right now.

Down at the Dead Sea, the 22 mineral-rich waters still attract tourists, mainly Israelis, because it is far from any security threat, and Israelis can still drive there safely.

Safe roads and distance from possible trouble spots are taken very seriously these days. No one wants to run into trouble, and that has made resort areas like the Dead Sea and Eilat still popular for Israelis.

“Freedom of movement is an important factor,” Lapian said. “People feel a bit safer at the Dead Sea, but they won’t drive on certain roads to get here even though there haven’t been any problems.”

In fact, the Hyatt hotel at the Dead Sea is fully booked for Passover, with 50 percent of the guests from Europe and the rest from Israel. Many are family units that book 20 to 40 rooms and stay for the entire week.

“I think this particular segment isn’t sensitive to the situation because they figure they have to celebrate Pesach anyway,” Hyatt Manager Arie Aizenshtat said. “And for them, celebrating in Israel is the most important thing. There’s a logic to it.”

In Jerusalem reservations are being made, albeit slowly, at the capital city’s top hotels.

“If someone could tell me what’s going to happen with peace, I could tell you what’s going to happen with my bookings,” said Norman Rafelson, the general manager of the David Citadel Hotel, formerly the Hilton, in Jerusalem.

By mid-February, the five-star hotel had more than 100 bookings for 10-night stays during Passover, which put the hotel at 50 percent of its hoped-for 80 percent occupancy rate.

“I think we’re prepared for a little bit less this Pesach,” Rafelson said. “I thought bookings would have picked up earlier, but everyone’s waiting for the last minute.”

For now, Israelis will be celebrating the holiday of freedom, of spring and of matzahs in destinations far and wide. And next year? Maybe in Jerusalem.

Economic Emergency


On top of being in a military state of emergency for over a year, Israel is now in an “economic state of emergency” as well, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced last week. He was about the last person in the country to say the words out loud.

The arrival of Israel’s economic crisis was something like the NASDAQ crash of last year — everybody knew it was coming, they just didn’t know when. The scales began falling from Israelis’ eyes last week when the economic growth figures for the third quarter of the year came in — 2.8 percent in the red, the second straight quarter of economic contraction. Bad, bad news.

It’s no mystery what’s caused the recession. The NASDAQ crash hobbled Israel’s high-tech sector, the turbo jet of the economy. Then the intifada came along and devastated the tourism industry, at the same time burdening the State with the cost of fighting a new, mass-scale guerrilla war. The intifada, combined with the burgeoning world economic slump, chased foreign investment away. All this comes against the background of a construction industry that’s been in the doldrums now for five years. The economy was hit so hard in so many places, that the ripple effect has touched virtually everyone in the country. Then came Sept. 11, and there was nothing much left to do except wait for the bleak statistics to confirm the consensus expectations. In a country where the prime minister and the political echelon get blamed for the weather, it’s no surprise that Israelis are blaming the bad economy on Sharon. A poll in Yediot Aharonot last weekend found 73 percent of the public gave the prime minister a failing grade on economic performance.

The problem is that emerging from this recession is probably out of the hands of the prime minister and the rest of the government. It wasn’t government economic policy that crashed the NASDAQ, or started the intifada, or chased away tourists and foreign investors. These are objective conditions that drained the Israeli economy of billions upon billions of dollars; government policy, be it liberal or conservative, can’t replace it.

And while it is no mystery how Israel got into this fix, it is a total mystery how and when Israel will get out of it. The upshot is that lean times are coming. People are going to have to learn to make do with less. But nobody — not government, not business, not labor, and certainly not a special interest like the ultra-Orthodox community — is ready for that. Start with the government. Cutting public services and benefits alienates voters, so for Finance Minister Silvan Shalom, who has his eye on the prime ministership, it’s business as usual.

He’s drawn up a budget for next year based on the notion that the government will have greatly increased tax revenues, which will come as a result of a 4 percent economic growth. Nobody believes Israel’s economy will grow by anything close to that figure, but cutting back expectations would mean cutting back spending, which Shalom is loath to do. So, while government leaders may talk of an economic emergency, they’re spending as if the country’s on easy street.

As for labor, social security workers have been striking for weeks, joined by university professors, and now the firefighters. Public sector strikes are as Israeli as falafel, and no economic state of emergency is going to change that. With unemployment rising and government aid about to decrease, social solidarity is being battered, which is a mighty dangerous thing when terror threatens everyone and the army is fully engaged. Yet manufacturers aren’t willing to hold off on firings; in fact they want a tax cut and a promise that the minimum wage will not go up.

“Industry is the engine of the economy. The country depends on the taxes that industry pays,” said Oded Tyrah, head of Israel’s Manufacturers Association, arguing the industrialists’ demands. He seemed to forget that regular working people pay most of the taxes, and that businesspeople are not a higher order of being who deserve financial breaks when everyone else is hurting.

But probably the greatest anomaly of this military and economic state of emergency is that the sector of the Israeli population that, by and large, neither works nor serves in the army — the ultra-Orthodox — continues to demand more welfare. They threaten to bolt Sharon’s government if they do not win passage of a bill that would sharply increase government aid to families with five or more children — a law tailored for ultra-Orthodox needs.

The good news is that Israel is fundamentally a middle-class society; a deep recession will hurt, but will not drive the country into poverty. The restaurants and theaters remain full, one out of every five Israelis still travels abroad each year. Even while three-quarters of Israelis rated Sharon’s economic management poor, two-thirds rated their own personal economic situation as good. The bottom third, however, stand to get considerably poorer in the near future. This will put a severe social strain on the country; advocates in the poor towns of the Negev and Galilee warn of an “intifada” of the unemployed. If that happens, maybe then Israeli decision-makers will understand the meaning of an economic state of emergency.

High Time


For the past three years, in meetings that often go toward midnight, a handful of local parents, educators and community leaders have been coming together to plan Los Angeles’ next non-Orthodox Jewish high school.

Now it has come to pass. Late last month, the Core Group, as the parents call themselves, announced the September 2002 opening of the New Community Jewish High School in the West Valley.

Against a background of world tragedy and looming recession, organizers see the school as a sign of communal growth and vibrancy. “The Jewish community is moving westward,” said school co-chair Howard Farber. “There are enough spaces at our elementary schools, like Kadima, Adat Ari El, Valley Beth Shalom, Heschel, and so on, but there are not enough Jewish school spaces for our graduates. Milken [Community High School of Stephen S. Wise Temple] is great, and they have been wonderful to us. But our community needs more schools.”

Instead of hand-wringing over the limited number of non-Orthodox Jewish high schools, concerned parents devoted hours to starting a new one. “It is an incredible group of people,” Farber said. “When we sit in meetings, there’s not one person who wants to leave early, or cut it short. There is a level of energy and creativity and cooperation that is just nice to see.”

The energy paid off. Elana Rimmon Zimmerman, who works as program director at Valley Beth Shalom and is the mother of two children in day schools, co-chairs the group with Farber. “I always think the opportunity to be part of something new is exciting,” Zimmerman said. “How often during our lives do we get to be part of something at the very beginning?”

Open House

While they have no permanent site yet, the school will use the Bernard Milken Campus in the West Valley as its temporary location when it opens next fall.

From their office suite in Tarzana, school planners are sending out brochures to spread the word. They have consulted with a consortium of San Fernando and Conejo Valley day school principals — administrators whose own student populations will be key feeder schools to the new campus. They have three open houses scheduled for this fall and winter, and are offering a tuition discount to families of the very first group of freshman, the Class of 2006.

School planners are reluctant to quote exact rates, emphasizing instead that significant assistance will be available.

Even in stronger economies, tuition has been a major challenge facing parents and day school administrators. The New Community School organizers say their approach to it was guided by a bedrock commitment to Jewish education. “A Jewish school should not be a commodity,” Powell said. “It should not be a luxury item — you can afford it, you buy it. It should be like a birthright, a community entitlement. What that means, ultimately, is that every family who wants a Jewish education for their child should be able to have one. We have a two-page brochure for families that goes over our tuition assistance policies. We want to be able to accept people who cannot afford to pay the full price. That’s why endowment is so important. That is our central challenge.”

The Core Group may be pioneers of a sort, building a 9th through 12th-grade school from scratch, but taken together, they are not lacking for established contacts or professional support. Both Farber and Zimmerman have a long record of involvement in local Jewish community organizations. “This is hardly a case of some parents getting together and with no experience, deciding they’re going to start a school,” Zimmerman said. “We are hardly neophytes. We have some of the most professional and experienced people participating as our guides, every step of the way.”

The group consults with a 30-member rabbinical cabinet composed of local pulpit rabbis. They’re assisted by the AVI CHAI Foundation, The Jewish Federation Council, the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), and other organizations. The connections run deep: Farber’s mother, Janet, is president of the BJE, and his father, Jake, is the incoming chairman of the board of The Jewish Federation. Farber himself is a graduate of the Wexner Fellows Program.

The new school’s National Advisory Board includes historian-author Deborah Lipstadt, Rabbi Irving Greenberg and Rabbi Daniel Landes, the director of Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

The Headmaster

Still, even with the impressive roster, there will be parents who are skittish about the prospect of placing their student in the first class of a new school, preferring instead to wait out the first few years until a school becomes a tried and tested commodity. To those who hesitate, Farber says the answer is simple: Dr. Bruce Powell.

Powell is well-known in education circles as a committed and experienced educator at the high school level and as someone who can bring a considerable resume along to meetings with parents and potential donors. After heading up the general studies department at Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles, Powell ran the school at Stephen S. Wise, which later became Milken High School. After a successful 10-year stint as head of school at Milken, where three of his own children graduated, he has continued as an educator and consultant, working closely with Jewish high school start-ups nationwide. At a time when most Jewish institutions across the board are suffering from an acute shortage of qualified Jewish educators and administrators, the new school is given a considerable boost with Powell as the head administrator.

Under his direction, the school’s four-year curriculum will offer courses in Jewish ethics, text and Hebrew language, along with a slate of Advanced Placement classes, (chemistry, music theory, macroeconomics, etc.), and a host of arts and multicultural electives like drama, dance, African American Studies and Modern Israeli Literature.

Why a Jewish High School?

In an interview with The Journal, Powell crystallized the philosophy of a school whose founders have already devoted, in Zimmerman’s words, “countless hours” to discussing vision, purpose and moral education component.

“I’m the last person to sit here and say that Jewish school is some kind of all-purpose panacea,” Powell said. “Nothing is. But it’s critical that our children know who they are, not just to enrich our homes, but to connect with the fabric of the country.

“We have this incredible treasure of a heritage sitting there, and our kids can’t access it or participate in it if they’re ignorant of it. We say things like ‘Jewish continuity,’ but these are empty phrases if there is no content. Why perpetuate something if you don’t know what it’s about? Jews have made a unique contribution to the world and to this country, a contribution grounded specifically in Judaism. The founding forefathers of this country knew Torah. There was a time when to be admitted to Harvard, a student had to know Latin, Greek and biblical Hebrew. Half the world uses our book as a basis for their civilization, and we don’t read it enough.”

Most of the faculty for the school is already lined up, Powell said — this despite what experts say is a severe shortage of Jewish educators nationwide. Powell acknowledged the shortage, but found ways to work around it. “We just have to think creatively,” he said. “There are pulpit rabbis, for example, with a deep background in Judaica, who might take a small cut in salary if it meant having Shabbats and holidays off in order to have a life with their families. There are veteran educators who are excited by the prospect of being in on something from the beginning.”

That excitement is palpable speaking with Farber, Powell and others involved in the project. What began as an idea will soon be another part of the city’s growing Jewish-education system, another institution to make good on one generation’s promise to the next. Powell is certain that alone will draw parents and students to join the endeavor.

“There is a tremendous appeal in truly being a founder of something,” Powell said. “Parents who will be with us from the outset have that this opportunity, and so do the students. It’s a tremendous opportunity for kids to blossom and to lead.”

The New Community Jewish High School will be holding open houses on Nov. 14, Nov. 19 and Dec. 2, at the Bernard Milken campus, 15580 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. For reservations or additional information, call (818) 344-9672.

The Man Behind the Vision


In fall 1994, UCLA hired Dr. Gerald Saul Levey to assume the newly merged role of provost of UCLA Medical Center and fourth dean of its top-rated medical school. Levey couldn’t have picked a more precarious time for a job move.

Beset by leadership conflicts, a weak census and budget woes, UCLA was struggling to finance its famous research and teaching programs while delivering superior care in a marketplace rocked by the Northridge earthquake, a recession, managed care and declining government revenue.

Five years later, Levey’s business acumen and love of challenges have restored a clear vision, high morale and financial soundness to UCLA.

“My earliest memory is of wanting to be a physician like Dr. Rosenstein, our family pediatrician,” Levey, 62, recalls. “He made house calls, fixed my broken collarbone and saved a finger I nearly lost. I was absolutely in awe of him.”

Though Levey lived on “the wrong side of the Hudson River” during the Depression, his Jersey City, N.J., parents worked hard to support their only son’s dream.

“We didn’t have a lot of money, but my family’s passion was for me to go to college and become a physician,” Levey says. “Education, achievement and raising kids who became good people — this is what my parents’ world revolved around.”

Life grew complicated when Levey turned 18. His attorney father, an immigrant from Odessa who once chaired the Republican Party in Hudson County, N.J., died suddenly of a heart attack. His mother, a first-generation daughter of Polish Jews, joined the workforce as a secretary to support Jerry and his older sister.

“With what she earned, my mother put me through college and medical school,” Levey says. “She lived to be 83 and was a great woman.”

In addition to internalizing her value for hard work and education, Levey inherited his mother’s devotion to Judaism.

“Judaism was important in our family,” says Levey. “We celebrated all the holidays and belonged to a conservative synagogue, where I went to religious school and was bar mitzvahed.

“I still remember raising money in the little, blue tzedakah boxes,” he adds, “and the sheer excitement we felt when the State of Israel was created.”

In his senior year at Cornell University, Levey met Barbara Cohen, another strong woman who would influence his life. A quick-witted blonde who sat next to him in folk-singing class, his wife-to-be was, Levey says, “a case of assigned seating — and love at first sight.” Recalls Barbara, now UCLA’s assistant vice chancellor of biomedical affairs, Levey dazzled her with his “incredible sense of humor.”

Barbara had already been accepted to medical school at SUNY Syracuse, where she graduated cum laude as the only woman in her class. After Levey earned his medical degree from the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey, the two married in 1961. They have two children, Robin, 34, and John, 36.

Dr. Barbara Levey attributes the secret of the Leveys’ happy marriage to “reciprocal devotion.” “Jerry is honest, direct, fair and empathetic — important traits for marital success,” she acknowledges. “And, after 38 years, his sense of humor hasn’t diminished a bit.”

Not content to restrict their partnership to marriage and career, the Leveys have shouldered leadership roles in Jewish organizations, often working as a team. In the past 25 years, the Leveys served on the local boards of their synagogue, the American Jewish Committee, Jewish National Fund, and Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

“We are active on the American Jewish Committee because of their work to improve relationships with other groups,” Levey explains, “and the United Jewish Federation, because of the great things they do for Israel and the local community.”

In 1996, the Jewish National Fund awarded the Tree of Life Award to the Leveys for their longtime commitment and contributions. Last year, the American Physicians Fellowship for Medicine in Israel presented the Leveys with a distinguished medical service award for their efforts to arrange U.S. training experiences for Israeli physicians.

During Levey’s five years of leadership, UCLA’s medical center and medical school have tangled with copious challenges, which Levey admits “intrigue and frankly challenge” him. In the devastating wake of the Northridge earthquake, both institutions have vigorously rebounded under Levey’s energetic direction.

Over the past five years, UCLA has launched 19 clinics in a community-based primary-care network; attracted $500 million in private donations, with $140 million in capital gifts for building projects; increased research funding to $227 million this year; recruited 13 academic chairs; created four new departments; maintained its 10-year reputation in U.S. News & World Report as the “Best in the West” for clinical care; and continued to identify life-saving scientific breakthroughs, such as the breast cancer drug, Herceptin.

Now, in the midst of a $600-million campaign to build two new hospitals to open in 2004 on UCLA’s Santa Monica and Westwood campuses, Levey’s star has never risen higher. Designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei, the million-square-foot Westwood complex will blend a light-filled healing environment with cutting-edge medical technology. In Santa Monica, prominent New York architect Robert A.M. Stern is designing a 525,000-square-foot neighborhood-friendly facility to replace the existing community hospital.

“Here at UCLA, we are creating the first academic health center specifically planned for the next century,” Levey says. “Can you imagine the exhilaration connected with this prospect? We are literally testing our ability to prophesy how medicine will be practiced and taught in the new millennium. If we do it well — and we must — we will be able to provide unsurpassed care for our patients and improve the health of people around the world.

“Every day,” he says simply, “I feel that these extraordinary new hospital and research buildings will be the legacy that I leave to UCLA.”