Was Frank Lautenberg sufficiently pro-Israel?


Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post berates AIPAC for what she calls its “fawning” remembrance of Frank Lautenberg, the longtime New Jersey senator who died yesterday:

As for Lautenberg, AIPAC’s fawning can be chalked up to the gradual lowering of the bar for Democrats in an era in which most are pro-Israel, except when inconvenient. They therefore chose to overlook Lautenberg’s support for anti-Israel Chuck Hagel for defense secretary and his demands for a unilateral settlement freeze by the Jewish state. It wasn’t so long ago (1988 to be exact) when he signed a letter to George Shultz lambasting publicly then prime minister Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir on Israel’s negotiating posture. AIPAC, I suppose, chose to overlook Lautenberg’s muteness during this administration when the president “condemned” Israel for building in its capital.

“Fawning” suggests a transactional relationship. Rubin does not make clear what AIPAC derives, exactly, from praising the dead.

According to Rubin’s standard, the Republican Jewish Coalition also is lowering the pro-Israel bar:

Frank Lautenberg was a staunch supporter of Israel and a leader in Jewish communal life. He served his country during World War II and in decades of dedicated public service. His work in the Senate helped thousands of Soviet Jews and other victims of religious persecution to reach freedom. He was a proud Jew and a proud American.

Lautenberg’s Israel record, as the RJC notes, predates his time in the Senate; As UJA chairman in the 1970s, he oversaw an increase in fundraising for — and concomitant growth in U.S.-Jewish identification with — Israel in the country’s dark post-Yom Kippur War years.

Some of the most earnest praise I’ve heard for Lautenberg, paradoxically, comes from Jews whose views are diametrically opposed to his liberalism. This is because his signature 1989 law, the Lautenberg Amendment, facilitating emigration from the former Soviet Union and Iran, flooded this country with Jews whose politics trend more conservative than those of the established community.

I don’t know if Lautenberg ever considered whether he was “undercutting” his natural Jewish constituency when he wrote the law, or whether he cared that its inadvertent end was the advancement of Rubin’s stated mission, which is to correct what she sees as the skewed liberal temperament of the American Jewish community. From what I knew, he championed the law because he believed in extending to others the freedom of political and religious choice that was his birthright.

UPDATE: Gil Hoffman, a longtime Israel correspondent at the New Jersey Jewish News, outlines Lautenberg’s Israel record for the Jerusalem Post — including more than 80 visits to the country. Hoffman goes into detail about how Lautenberg first heard of the Sept. 11 attacks while visiting Israel.

Joe Biden has started a kind of audio blog, “Being Biden.” Yesterday, he gave it over to his friendship with Lautenberg:

Sandy stories: Destruction, recovery and human kindness


A week after Sandy swept into the New York area with fierce winds, driving rain and a high tide for the history books, the nation’s largest Jewish community was still picking up the pieces. JTA gathered stories from around the storm zone about Sandy’s destruction, the recovery and the remarkable tales of human kindness.

Houses of prayer as places of refuge

Some synagogues in the stricken area have seen more congregants this week than during the High Holidays. Many came for prayer, but others flocked to shuls for their offers of shelter, hot food, heat, recharging of electronics, wireless Internet and children's programming.

Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck, N.J., hosted a free pizza night, but the real draw for area residents was the offer to charge electronics. In White Plains, N.Y., in suburban Westchester County, Jewish community members used an email listserv to trade information about which gas stations were open and where the lines were shortest.

In Mahwah, N.J., near the New York State border, locals packed into the social hall at Beth Haverim Shir Shalom to use tables set up with power strips so they could go online.

“I’ve been using my synagogue social hall as an office,” Joe Berkofsky, managing director of communications for the Jewish Federations of North America, told JTA. “I’ve been powering things up and have been able to get some work done.”

Russian-American Jews unite

Steve Asnes, an activist in the Russian Jewish community, was helping neighbors in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn on the night of the storm when a sudden surge brought water careening through the streets and up to his neck, according to Mordechai Tokarsky, director of the Russian American Jewish Experience. Asnes managed to hang onto a piece of scaffolding until he could reach safety.

At the nearby RAJE center, Michael Britan watched the center’s first floor turn into a swimming pool. The full extent of destruction became apparent only the next day. Cars lay on top of each other. The RAJE center was under 12 feet of water, its beit midrash study hall wrecked, and classrooms, offices, a boiler room and the elevator shaft all waterlogged.

Community activists who came to help clean up ended up spending much of the time at a high-rise apartment building across the street assisting elderly residents trapped in their homes without power or hot water, Tokarsky said. With the help of Esther Lamm, a RAJE alumna who heads the young leadership Russian division of UJA-Federation in New York, the volunteers quickly organized a command-and-control center that played a key role in relief efforts throughout the neighborhood.

Tokarsy said it would require plenty of work and help from private funders to get RAJE back up and running.

UJA-Federation providing $10 million

The lights were still out and the gas lines still miles long in parts of New York City when the UJA-Federation of New York announced Monday that it was making $10 million available immediately to synagogues, Jewish day schools and federation agencies providing direct care and support in storm-hit communities. The money will go toward cash assistance, temporary housing, food and “whatever else is needed,” federation CEO John Ruskay told JTA. The unanimous decision was made in an emergency board meeting on Sunday night.

The money will come from the federation’s endowment and reserves, and will be offset by any storm-related donations. “The point of having reserves and an endowment is to enable our agencies, our synagogues and our community to respond to people at times like these,” Ruskay said. It's the largest-ever commitment of UJA-Federation funds for a natural disaster, according to Alisa Doctoroff, chairwoman of UJA-Federation of New York.

Schools destroyed

Several schools, notably in beach areas, took a big hit from Sandy. Two of the three campuses of the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach on Long Island reportedly suffered major damage, including at the boys high school, which was flooded. Though the elementary school is situated on the boardwalk of the New York suburb, the building reportedly escaped structural damage but was left with a mess.

The 120-student Yeshiva of Belle Harbor in hard-hit Far Rockaway, Queens, was flooded beyond repair, The New York Jewish Week reported. Water flooded past the ceilings of the first-floor classrooms, and by last Friday the school had decided to merge with the Crown Heights Yeshiva in Brooklyn’s Mill Basin neighborhood, the paper reported. At the Mazel Academy in Brighton Beach, books, furniture, classrooms and Torah scrolls were destroyed in a building that was renovated just last year.

Away from the beach, at the SAR Academy in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, the school managed to reopen despite no electricity by relocating classes to neighborhood synagogues.

Help wanted

They came from Manhattan’s Upper West Side and went to buildings without power or heat on the Lower East Side. They baked challahs and distributed them throughout the city. They sent a bus to take residents of Far Rockaway to Kemp Mill, Md., for a “relief Shabbos.” They started a clothing drive in Berlin.

All over the world, volunteers mobilized to help with storm relief. Some offered spiritual succor: A rabbi in Berkeley, Calif., composed a Sandy-inspired prayer beginning “Elohei ha'ruchot,” “God of the winds.”

Chasidic singer loses recording studio

When the surge hit the community of Sea Gate in Brooklyn, four or five feet of water ran through the streets from the ocean to the bay, leaving behind houses now condemned, a dramatically altered shoreline and destruction everywhere. In a YouTube video, Chasidic singer Mordechai Ben David offers a tour of his deluged recording studio, where the water that submerged his equipment rose to the bottoms of pictures of rebbes hanging on his walls before stopping.

“Everyone that lives in Sea Gate got hit badly,” Ben David said. “But Baruch Hashem, we’re fine, we’re alive.”

Donations

To donate to storm relief, please visit http://blogs.jta.org/telegraph/article/2012/11/06/3111241/donate-to-storm-victims.

In Sandy’s aftermath, N.Y.’s UJA federation releasing $10 million in emergency aid


UJA-Federation of Greater New York released $10 million in Hurricane Sandy emergency relief aid to its network agencies and synagogues.

The agency made the funds available on Monday morning; its board of directors had decided unanimously to make the money available in a special session the previous evening.

“The emotional and economic impact, especially on the isolated elderly and the poor, is acute and will remain so for a long time,” the agency said in a statement Monday.

UJA-Federation had set up a Hurricane Sandy relief fund shortly after the storm hit on Oct. 29.

The week before Sandy struck the greater New York area, the federation raised a record $45 million at its annual campaign kickoff event.

N.Y. federation worker sentenced in $2 million scam


A UJA-Federation of New York employee was sentenced to six to 18 years in prison for stealing and selling the personal information of donors.

Tracey Nelson, 25, who had worked at the federation for three years, was sentenced in Manhattan Supreme Court after pleading to grand larceny earlier this month, the New York Post reported last week. She was part of a $2 million identity theft operation that along with targeting the federation also hit banks and a car dealership.

Nelson sold the information of some 200 federation donors, including former AIG chief executive Maurice “Hank” Greenberg and billionaire investor Ira Rennert, according to the Forward. Others in the ring used the information to order duplicate credit cards or create and plunder dummy accounts.

Nelson, the mother of a young boy, collected several unemployment checks after she was fired by UJA in the summer of 2011, despite being in jail. The checks were stopped once the authorities discovered what was happening.

At the sentencing, Nelson wept and apologized for her actions, the Post reported.

According to the Post, UJA-Federation authorities have stressed that no donor suffered financial losses in the scam.

Why counting counts: Who knows who L.A.’s Jews are?


Susan Goldberg, rabbi of Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock, grew up in nearby Echo Park.

“There were no Jewish families around when I was growing up,” Goldberg, 38, said. Now that these neighborhoods are being gentrified, and a young, creative crowd is moving in, the Jews are coming, too.

Some five years ago, Temple Beth Israel, a nearly 90-year-old congregation, counted 30 individual members. Today, she said, “We’re bursting at the seams with young families, parents in their 30s and 40s who are living here, in Mount Washington, in Highland Park, in Eagle Rock,” Goldberg said.

But for all the anecdotal evidence that Jews are moving eastward, no one knows exactly how many Jews comprise this trend.

“We know they’re out there, because when we have events, they come,” Goldberg said. “But it would be so, so tremendously helpful to know where they are, who they are, how many there are.”

Los Angeles hasn’t done a Jewish community survey since 1997, and with nothing concrete in the works, organizations are “flying blind,” in the words of one demographer.

“No other large Jewish community has been without a study for such a long period of time,” said Jacob Ukeles, president of Ukeles Associates Inc., a firm that helped conduct New York’s recently released survey.

And that can have serious implications for how effectively a community responds to needs.

“We need to know who lives where, what they do Jewishly, what diversity exists among Jews, what needs they have, what resources they have and what they think on a variety of issues,” said Sarah Bunin Benor, associate professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles. “That’s my take on it, from the perspective of somebody who wants to help Jews have a better life.”

Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said conducting such a study is “rising to the top of our agenda.”

“We really need to do it. We know we need to do it, and I believe we will do it. We have to figure out the resources and how we’re going to pay for it,” Sanderson said in an interview.

A study of Los Angeles’ Jews, who are believed to number between 500,000 and 600,000, would likely cost somewhere around $1 million. In most cities with large and medium-sized Jewish populations, Federation pays for a survey once a decade. Los Angeles conducted community surveys in 1950, 1958, 1968, 1979 and 1997.

When Sanderson took office in 2010, no study was in the pipeline, and he said he had initially hoped to launch one quickly. But as the impact of the recession became more severe, Sanderson said, funds continued to be redirected to such programs as the Emergency Cash Grants, which has provided more than $2.6 million in relief to 5,350 recipients since 2009.

“Now, with everything we’re doing, we’re still trying to put a survey on the front burner,” Sanderson said.

Federation hopes to launch the process in the next year, Sanderson said — if he can figure out where the money will come from.

But the more time that goes by without a survey, the less efficiently the community is spending its dollars, demographers say.

“If you have a Federation that says they are the planning body of the community, where are they getting their information?” asked Pini Herman, a principal at Phillips and Herman Demographic Research. Herman was the L.A. Federation’s research coordinator for the 1997 survey; he has also worked on surveys in San Francisco, Houston and Seattle.

“The longer you don’t have a survey, the more you have to guess, and basically you’re snatching ideas and data out of thin air. And without any community study, there is no way to confirm or refute what they say,” Herman said.

Community leaders say they are eager to have current data.

“Synagogues call all the time, wanting to know where the Jews are moving. Are they moving into our area? Out of our area? Are we losing members because Jews are leaving this area, or for some other reason?” said Bruce Phillips, a principal, with Pini Herman, at Phillips and Herman Demographic Research and a professor of sociology and Jewish communal studies at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles. Phillips has conducted or published research on more than 20 Jewish community surveys.

Other questions in Los Angeles also need answering. How many Iranian Jews live here, and what is there economic profile? Their Jewish identity? Their integration patterns?

What areas are people moving to and away from? Are nearby cities that are experiencing growth, such as San Francisco, Phoenix and Las Vegas, doing so at the expense of Los Angeles, or along with Los Angeles? How many French and Latin American Jews have moved into the area, and are they being served? Has the Orthodox population increased, and if so, in what sectors?

Anecdotal evidence about subpopulations can be deceiving, Phillips said, as it’s easier to count visible Jews who are frequent users of community resources — for instance, the Orthodox, or immigrant populations. The unaffiliated are more likely to go undetected if you rely on visibility or data from Jewish organizations.

A topic open to debate is how many Israelis are in Los Angeles. While some estimate there are hundreds of thousands of Israelis in Los Angeles, Herman says his own research points to a number closer to a maximum of 25,000, a figure corroborated by the official Israeli count of how many people have left their country.

The Los Angeles Jewish population, once concentrated on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley, is migrating toward the East Side and north to areas such as the Conejo, Santa Clarita and Simi Valleys.

Several organizations are investing both money and resources in the East Side, including Federation, which has funded a new staff person at East Side Jews, a nondenominational Jewish community that has attracted hundreds of young, hip Jews to its irreverent monthly holiday celebrations and social events. East Side Jews recently became part of the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, an organization that is on a short list to receive significant Federation funding for a renovation and expansion project.

At the same time, Temple Beth Israel’s Goldberg said, Jews in the area remain underserved. When she needs to refer people for social services, she is often told that Jewish agencies don’t extend out to her part of town. In addition to leading Temple Beth Israel, Goldberg serves as rabbi-in-residence for East Side Jews, a position co-supported by Wilshire Boulevard Temple, which is also interested in being part of the East Side Jewish renaissance.

Indeed, Wilshire Boulevard Temple is in the middle of a $150 million project to restore and revitalize its historic sanctuary and campus in Koreatown. Before embarking on that project, the congregation commissioned its own demographic study of the area — roughly from West Hollywood on the west to Eagle Rock and Pasadena on the East, stretching from Adams Boulevard on the South up to Studio City and Glendale.

“I intuitively felt that young Jews were moving eastward, but intuition is not always right,” Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Rabbi Steven Leder said.

Their study, which cost them about $25,000, found around 30 percent growth in the area over the last 10 years, with the most significant increases in the population of childbearing and -rearing age. That information convinced the synagogue’s leadership to buy up the rest of their square block to make room for more parking, an expanded day school, religious school and social service center.

Having data has also made it easier to approach donors, Leder said.

“It’s important to know that there is hard data to support your assumptions when you’re trying to raise money,” he said.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s study was based on Jewish surnames in voter registration listings — a method that may have left out Jews who have a non-Jewish parent or who are married to non-Jews, a population that, anecdotally at least, accounts for much of the growth on the East Side.

New York’s UJA-Federation sets event fundraising record


A record $44 million was pledged at the inaugural event of UJA-Federation of New York’s 2012 annual campaign.

“In a time of great economic uncertainty, such loyalty and generosity is astonishing and inspiring,” Jerry Levin, president of UJA-Federation, said at Monday’s launch event at the . “This is a terrific start for this year’s annual campaign.”

Levin thanked the donors for “stepping up when our community needs you most.”

It was the 25th year of the campaign launch event, which brings together philanthropists from the New York Jewish community. Alan “Ace” and Kathy Greenberg have hosted the event since its inception.

UJA-Federation works with more than 100 network beneficiary agencies, synagogues and other Jewish organizations around the world to address humanitarian crises and economic, educational and community issues.

Symposium on caring for survivors set


A symposium on caring for Holocaust survivors will bring together specialists from around the world.

“Perspectives on Caring: Current Practice, Future Trends,” hosted by of Nazi Victim Services of Selfhelp Community Services and co-sponsored by the UJA-Federation of New York and the Claims Conference, will be held in New York City this week. Health care professionals, psychologists, authors, educators and social workers are set to attend what is being called the most comprehensive Holocaust survivor care symposium of its kind.

The average age of the world’s approximately 600,000 Holocaust survivors is over 80.

“Our work shows the physical and emotional needs of Holocaust survivors become even more complex as they age,” according to Elihu Kover, vice president of Nazi Victim Services of Selfhelp Community Services.  “That makes an international exchange like this even more critical as we identify different approaches to assist these aging victims of the worst atrocity of the 20th century and improve everyday lives for the survivors themselves and their care givers.”

Selfhelp was formed in 1936 when a group of German emigres joined together to help newly arriving European Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi persecution establish themselves in America.

Care specialists from the United States, Israel, Brazil, Canada and Germany will present workshops at the symposium.

Fundraising Just a Mouse Click Away


When Carol Vavra, a major and tactical airlift navigator in the U.S. Air Force, returns home from the Middle East at the end of July, her husband will have a surprise waiting for her.

Paul Vavra, a recently retired Air Force major and an avid classic rock fan, bought his wife a pair of tickets to a Rolling Stones concert for $760 on eBay. In the process, he made a substantial donation to the UJA-Federation of New York.

Last month the federation hosted its first auction on eBay. With about 200 sales of items contributed by donors, the auction raised about $115,000 for the organization.

The initiative reflects a growing trend among Jewish groups to move their fundraising ventures to the Internet, which they say has proven to be far more efficient than more traditional modes of solicitation.

Paul Vavra, who is not Jewish, says he didn’t plan to buy tickets for the sake of donating to the federation, but he’s glad the pricey purchase will benefit a worthy cause.

“I’d like to think that UJA-Federation is not going to stiff me,” he said with a laugh.

In addition to the concert tickets, up for bid were a behind-the-scenes trip to the Fox television show, “24”; tickets to “American Idol” and “Total Request Live”; seats at New York Mets, Yankees and Knicks games, and dining opportunities with historian Deborah Lipstadt and the “As the World Turns” star Anthony Herrera.

Various artworks, jewelry, fine dining and sports memorabilia were also available to the highest bidder.

Some items were even pricier than the Rolling Stones tickets: The day on the set of “24,” which included airfare, went for $16,600; a week at the Canyon Ranch spa in Tucson had a final bid of $14,600, and two tickets to the MTV Video Music Awards sold for $4,100.

“We thought it might be something new and exciting and different for us to do something on eBay,” said Bonnie Shevins, the UJA-Federation’s group vice president.

The auction was part of continuing efforts at online fundraising by the UJA, which has raised more than $1 million through its Web site in the past year.

“The eBay initiative is another notch in our efforts to develop e-philanthropy,” Shevins said. “It’s a really wonderful way of having people connect with us.”

Online fundraising has proven to be auspicious for other types of philanthropy as well. According to Shevins, when the federation launched a campaign to raise money for victims of December’s Southeast Asian tsunami, it raised about $500,000 online — some 15 percent of the $3.25 million total it raised for tsunami relief.

According to Gary Tobin, president of the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish & Community Research and an expert on Jewish philanthropy and demography, the growth of online solicitation shows that Jewish organizations are willing to adopt less traditional modes of fundraising in response to changing social trends.

“The Jewish community has been relatively slow in developing online philanthropy, but there have been some remarkable successes,” Tobin said, noting, for example, that the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee raised millions of dollars online for tsunami victims.

Tobin says Jewish philanthropists have traditionally focused on working directly with wealthy donors capable of giving large single contributions. The move to online fundraising, he said, reflects a recognition that groups also can attract smaller donations from larger numbers of people with greater efficiency.

“People would rather do it online than go to another dinner,” he said.

According to Michael Charendoff, the president of the Jewish Funders Network, online fundraising is particularly appealing for organizations because it enables them to reduce fundraising costs while educating Web-site visitors about their work.

“I think there’s no question it’s a growing trend,” he said.

Charendoff noted, though, that Internet fundraising tends to favor organizations that are larger and have the resources to maintain an online campaign.

One group that has achieved particular success in online fundraising is the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which raised $1.4 million in fiscal 2004, making it the leading fundraiser among Jewish organizations. The Chronicle of Philanthropy last year rated the JNF the top fundraiser among environmental groups.

The JNF’s communications director, Serena Roffe, attributes this success primarily to the appeal of the organization’s mission and message.

“We have a very clearly identified mission and a very clearly identified product line,” she said. “Our message really resonates with people.”

Most of the JNF’s online fundraising comes from purchases of trees to be planted in Israel. The organization encourages sales through various initiatives, including personalized electronic newsletters and an affiliates program, which enables other Web sites to earn profits from sales by linking to the JNF site.

Another group with lucrative online fundraising programs is the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which raised $1.04 million online in 2004.

“We just knew we had to have something better for the people who came to our Web site,” said Diane Dubey, the organization’s director of communications. “We’re really able to share with people the urgency of what’s happening. That’s very advantageous.”

While most contributions are direct donations, Dubey said, visitors to the fellowship’s Web site can also help the group raise money by purchasing e-cards or Israeli-made products.

Flying Aces


If you closed your eyes and sat very still, you could almost feel history unfolding last week in Conference Room No. 1 at national United Jewish Appeal headquarters in New York. One of the most broadly representative parliamentary bodies in organized American Jewish life was gathered to vote itself, in effect, out of existence.

The March 18 vote was meant to clear the way for a new body to emerge. It will allow responsibility for hundreds of millions of dollars of Jewish communal money to be concentrated in a smaller group of wealthier hands.

Some tried to block it. There was a brief revolt by a disorganized group of populists who demanded representation on the new council. But they couldn’t muster the votes. In the end, the merger of the United Jewish Appeal and the Council of Jewish Federations passed its last major hurdle.

Now, the truth is, you had to shut your eyes real tight to feel the drama here. This was a quarterly board meeting of the United Israel Appeal. Watching these folks work is usually about as dramatic as watching grass grow. This time, though, something happened.

The United Israel Appeal is a little-known agency that helps manage the flow of cash between the UJA and its Israeli beneficiaries. Last week, its board met to approve the long-awaited merger between the UJA and the Council of Jewish Federations. There wasn’t supposed to be any trouble.

The merger, of course, will combine the UJA and the Council of Jewish Federations into a single, still-unnamed super-agency. The new body is supposed to coordinate all the fund-raising and social-service work of America’s 190-odd local Jewish welfare federations. Four years in the making, the merger will put the machinery of Jewish philanthropy firmly in the hands of the folks back home who pay for it. Enthusiasts see it as taxpayer justice at its finest. It depends on your math.

The merger is now down to the final details. Winning approval from the United Israel Appeal was one of them. It’s essential because, for obscure historical reasons, the United Israel Appeal actually owns the UJA. Under the new plan, the UJA will turn the tables and own the United Israel Appeal.

Nobody expected any real trouble, because all three institutions — UJA, United Israel Appeal, Council of Jewish Federations — are basically governed by the same people: the donors who run the local federations that pay everybody’s bills.

But trouble is what they got. The United Israel Appeal isn’t quite like the UJA or CJF. One-third of its leadership doesn’t come from federations at all, but from the squabbling ideological and religious factions that make up the World Zionist Organization. When the UJA-CJF merger is done, these factions — Labor and Likud Zionists, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Zionists, Hadassah, B’nai B’rith International, the fraternal order of B’nai Zion and some others — will be left out in the cold. Not one seat is reserved for them on the governing councils of the new organization. They came to last week’s meeting spoiling for a fight.

Why are these groups on the United Israel Appeal board in the first place? For the same reason that the United Israel Appeal owns the UJA: Both were created by the World Zionist Organization, decades ago, to finance its Jewish state-building plans. Over the years, the federations gradually took control. But the Zionists never lost their foothold. Until now.

What happened last week was not a pretty sight. One after another, the Zionists rose to criticize the merger negotiations, to claim that they’d been hoodwinked, to defend their role as Israel’s leading supporters and to demand seats on the new board. “I want to remind you that we’re real people out there,” said former Hadassah President Bernice Tannenbaum.

The response they got from federation representatives veered between sympathy and derision, once even descending into a shouting match. When the vote came, the Zionists lost badly. Not one federation leader crossed over to support the Zionists.

Sadly, the Zionists had lost their fighting spirit. Years ago, they were the feistiest hell-raisers in the Jewish world. But, for generations, they’ve been just the opposite: loyal followers of Israeli diktat. Now, when they had to fight for their own survival, they couldn’t remember how to put up a fight.

The best argument they could muster was that Zionists are solidly for Israel. That only annoyed the federation leaders. “To question the Zionist commitment of the leaders of the federation is not only ill-placed but somewhat degrading,” said Ivan Schaeffer, president of the UJA-Federation of Washington.

In fact, federation leaders said, the federations are already open to all. Why reserve seats for one group? “There’s no reason why the people who say they’re Zionists can’t get deeply involved in their federations and try to influence them,” said Robert Goldberg, president of the Cleveland federation.

Actually, there’s a good reason. In federations, you’ve got to pay to play. The median household income among federation board members is more than $200,000 a year. For the rest of us, it’s around $50,000.

Federation leaders insist that you don’t need to be rich. Repeatedly, they cite cases of $5,000 donors playing key leadership roles. They think that’s modest. In fact, fewer than 4 percent of all UJA donors give $5,000 or more. Fully 86 percent give less than $1,000. Almost half give less than $100. They don’t get to vote.

The leadership of the UJA is drawn today from a tiny group of the wealthiest Jews. That’s not a healthy way to run an organization that needs to make decisions about people’s lives. Will the new UJA be funding Jewish education? What kind? Trips to Israel? At what cost? Social welfare? For whom? The most powerful institution in Jewish life shouldn’t be run entirely by people with no idea how most Jews live.

This argument didn’t start last week. For over a year, the UJA has been under pressure, from Zionist groups and synagogue movements alike, to make the new body a partnership between fund-raisers and opinion leaders. They’ve been ignored.

It’s got people worried. “Everybody understands that Jewish education and religious life are absolutely central concerns of our community now,” says Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Reform movement. “Our creative survival depends on it. What would make sense is a national structure based on partnership between movements and communal leaders. What happened was that the movements were left out. My own sense is that it was a tragic error.”


J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal.