Survivors’ welfare is a public, private and community responsibility


They survived unimaginable horrors, yet went on to live productive lives, despite the haunting memories, the profound loss and physical scars from years of deprivation. Now many Holocaust survivors need our assistance so they may live their twilight years with dignity in their homes and communities.

Most Holocaust survivors are in their 80s and 90s, and an astounding 25 percent of them in the United States live in poverty, struggling to meet basic needs for food, housing, health care and transportation. Many live alone and have no extended family who survived the Holocaust. Spouses who used to provide support are no longer living. Each year, just as we lose many survivors, we also see others coming forward, identifying themselves as Holocaust survivors in desperate need of assistance.

As survivors age, they face challenges different from other older adults. Some suffer from delayed-onset post-traumatic stress disorder, making it more difficult to live in assisted living or nursing homes, where institutional life, with its uniformed staff, regimented schedules and rules can lead to flashbacks of concentration camps or other periods of confinement. Unfamiliar showers can be a frightening reminder of gas chambers.

Multiple studies have found that survivors are more likely than others to experience anxiety and nightmares.

We cannot let this happen.

For many survivors, social services are their lifeline. Home care, the most expensive of these vital services, costs an average of $20 per hour per survivor. With approximately 125,000 Holocaust survivors in the U.S., it will take extensive resources to serve even the neediest of survivors. The German government, through the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, provides the majority of the funding for social services, but survivor needs are exceeding available funding.

Local communities have taken note, and we’re inspired by the philanthropic campaigns that are working to educate the community. Together we’ve raised more than $30 million over the past couple years.

Additionally, companies have stepped up to help. We’re grateful for the partnership between the Alpha Omega dental fraternity and Henry Schein Cares to offer Holocaust survivors pro bono dental care, and the generosity of the Starkey Hearing Foundation to provide hearing aids free of charge to survivors in need.

Finally, government leaders are recognizing the specialized assistance that aging Holocaust survivors require. Vice President Joe Biden announced the White House’s initiative to help Holocaust survivors in 2013. This resulted in numerous avenues for assistance.

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day earlier this year, President Barack Obama declared, “Governments have an obligation to care for the survivors of the Shoah because no one who endured that horror should have to scrape by in their golden years.”

In March, Jewish federations distributed $2.8 million in federal grants to assist programs for Holocaust survivors. Coupled with the required matching funds, the disbursement results in $4.5 million for survivor services. For the first time, the federal government will soon issue guidance to states on serving Holocaust survivors, as required by the Older Americans Act Reauthorization that cleared Congress in April.

A few states and local governments are providing assistance as well. In Florida, for example, local Jewish federations worked together to obtain a special state appropriation for Holocaust survivor services, while in New York City last year, the mayor and City Council approved a budget including $1.5 million to assist Holocaust survivors living in poverty. More states and local governments should follow these leads in pursuing special appropriations.

Perhaps more impactful is that we encourage Germany to continue to fulfill its moral responsibility by providing additional financial resources for social services for Holocaust survivors, as recently called for in bipartisan resolutions in the U.S. House and Senate.

Both of our families managed to overcome great odds and survive the Holocaust, fortunate to be able to re-establish their lives in America and prosper. Not every Holocaust survivor was so lucky. They are the survivors who need our help. We must volunteer our time, visit Holocaust survivors and engage them in their Jewish communities.

These survivors are our heroes, our teachers and our mentors. One day they will no longer be with us. Until that day comes, we are obligated to ensure that they live their remaining days and years in dignity.

When future generations ask if the Jewish community took care of its Holocaust survivors, let that answer be a resounding “yes.”

Mark Wilf is president and co-owner of the Minnesota Vikings and a board member of JTA’s parent organization, 70 Faces Media. Todd Morgan is the founder and chairman of Bel Air Investment Advisors.  Together they co-chair the Jewish Federations of North America's Fund for Holocaust Survivors.

A ‘Promise’ to Help Jews Overseas


A 100-year-old Jewish woman, whose closest relatives are dead, lives in a one-room walk-up apartment in the former Soviet republic of Moldova that she hasn’t walked out of in four years.

The thought of Klara Kogan, who exists on a paltry government pension, haunts Steven Schwager, executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which provides relief and welfare to Jews abroad.

“We owe it to those people” to care for them, said Schwager, whose group provides Kogan with a home-care worker — and her only human contact. “Those people could be us.”

Making the case for funding overseas needs has become increasingly difficult for the North American Jewish federation system, which raises money for local, national and international needs.

Jewish federations have increasingly put their campaign dollars toward local social service and educational needs; today, roughly 30 percent of funds raised by federations go overseas, down from 50 percent in earlier times.

But the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella group of the federation system, wants to change that.

At its annual conference held in Toronto in mid-November, the UJC heavily promoted “Operation Promise,” a special campaign to raise $160 million over three years primarily to finance the aliyah of an estimated 17,000 Ethiopians of Jewish descent known as the Falash Mura.

The funds will also go toward the absorption of Ethiopian Jews in Israel, caring for the Jewish elderly of the former Soviet Union and invigorating the identity of its Jewish youth.

Despite the fanfare around the special campaign, launched in September by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and endorsed by him via video conference at the General Assembly, there is real concern about how it will resonate with donors across North America.

But Carole Solomon, who chairs the Jewish Agency of Israel’s board of governors, said there was great urgency in expediting the aliyah of the Falash Mura and reuniting families.

“It’s our every expectation that they will provide the necessary funds to complete this chapter of Jewish history,” she said, referring to UJC and the federations.

The campaign comes amid another major development in the federation system’s overseas work — the creation of a new allocations system.

With the 1999 creation of the UJC — a merger of the Council of Jewish Federations, United Jewish Appeal and United Israel Appeal — came the Overseas Needs Assessment and Distribution Committee (ONAD), which comprised a cross-section of federation leaders to determine allocations overseas with the aim of increasing overseas dollars.

Fraught with politics and bureaucracy, the committee has cost several million dollars and has not substantially increased the allocation of overseas funds.

The system’s major overseas partners are the JDC and the Jewish Agency for Israel, which runs aliyah and Zionist education worldwide.

While the federations’ annual campaign, which tops $800 million, increased by 4 percent since 2000, dollars overseas have dropped by more than 4.5 percent since 2001.

The UJC board of trustees unanimously voted to replace ONAD with a system that allows the Jewish Agency and the JDC to hammer out their own agreement for the next two years. A group of federation officials will monitor the process and the UJC board must then approve the deal by the two agencies.

Some hope the new format — a modified return to pre-ONAD days, when the Jewish Agency and JDC negotiated their funds — will restore a spirit of cooperation to the process.

Others call the resolution a compromise document that will satisfy no one, and some lament the lack of minimum amounts required by federations to allocate overseas, given past shortfalls.

In fact, the critical issue of shoring up overseas funds remains in question.

“Nothing much will improve unless there’s an increase in overseas allocations, and that takes more than a document,” said Ellen Heller of Baltimore, the JDC’s president. “That takes advocacy.”

There is no formal advocacy committee, UJC President Howard Rieger told JTA. But the resolution allows for an aggressive approach to raising overseas funds, he said.

It asks federations to increase overseas giving, provides incentives for those that do and calls for the consideration of punitive measures against noncompliant federations.

For many local federation leaders, making the connection to overseas needs in general and Operation Promise in particular is tough amid so many competing local demands.

People don’t see overseas concerns as their responsibility because they have never seen the problems firsthand, said Michael Nissenson, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara

Federations are also facing increased local costs due to growing numbers and budgets of local agencies like day schools, said Steven Rakitt, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.

Still, Rakitt said that “sometimes a special campaign has a way of providing a laser focus,” suggesting the new campaign will generate additional funds overseas.

“We have a responsibility to Jews wherever they live and an elderly person who’s hungry in Atlanta or hungry in Belarus is our responsibility.”

Operation Promise has already raised $32 million in pledges, according to UJC officials.

Several federations are responding to the campaign by soliciting individual major donors rather than rolling out a massive campaign.

Privately, several officials said they didn’t want to conduct a “second-line campaign” because it would raise questions among donors, who understand that the annual campaign already funds these types of overseas needs.

The UJA-Federation of New York, which has been a leading proponent of the push to expedite the aliyah of the Falash Mura, has already appropriated $5.7 million to the cause.

John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of the New York federation, said his federation would provide an additional $18 million over the next three years for the other elements of Operation Promise.

“This is our way of fully participating in Operation Promise,” he said. Jay Sarver, a UJC board member from St. Louis and the budget and finance chairman of the Jewish Agency, said that although the needs of Operation Promise are contained in the federations’ annual campaign efforts, the urgency of the situation demands more funds in a shorter time frame.

In Cleveland, the community has already pledged nearly 90 percent of its goal to raise almost $6 million for Operation Promise, said Stephen Hoffman, president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland.

These pledges come on top of its annual campaign as well as a $137 million capital campaign.

Success comes “if you ask and you take the time to explain why you’re asking.”

Still, it may be a tough sell.

“It’s going to take some real strategic marketing and an incredibly intensive fund-raising effort to reach the $160 million goal, and if we don’t reach that goal the Jewish Agency and JDC are going to be in a tremendous debt situation,” said Richard Wexler, a UJC board member from Chicago.

Moshe Vigdor, director general of the Jewish Agency, said that “if we have less, we will be able to do less, unfortunately.”

But the aliyah operation is unlikely to be halted, even in a funding crisis, according to senior UJC and Jewish Agency officials.

“We have an obligation here,” Rieger said.

He noted that Ethiopia and Israel reached an agreement that officials say could prompt the Ethiopian immigration to begin in December.

The $100 million cost of funding the aliyah is broken down as follows: $23 million for preparing and educating the Jews before they immigrate, $40 million for their needs in Israeli absorption centers and $37 million for programs that integrate Ethiopians once they have moved out of the absorption centers, Vigdor said.

Zeev Bielski, the new chairman of the Jewish Agency, which will assume the bulk of responsibility for the education and preparation for the Falash Mura aliyah, said he hoped that the entire immigration would be completed by the end of 2007.

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Center Aids Iranians in Need of Help


After only a few months in Los Angeles, Shirley N., a 30-year-old Jewish immigrant from Iran, almost returned to her homeland because of financial difficulties.

"I was down, I was broke, I didn’t have anyone here, and I was also worried about my family in Iran," Shirley said. "I would have probably gone back to Iran if it weren’t for all the miraculous help of these ladies and SIAMAK."

"These ladies" Shirely refers to are Manigh Youabian and Manizheh Yomtoubian, co-director for the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center’s charity outreach.

With a substantial number of affluent and financially successful Persian Jews living in Southern California, it might be hard to believe there are some who live below the poverty line. Yet Youabian and Manizheh and their volunteers encounter this all-too-sad reality every day.

"We help them because no one else does, and we offer them what they cannot receive from welfare; or some don’t have any documents in this country but are hungry," said Youabian, who has been volunteering for the past 14 years. Co-director Yomtoubian has volunteered for the last 14 months, and together they help provide food, home furnishings, clothing, transportation, financial assistance and even temporary housing to approximately 100 Persian Jewish families living in poverty in Los Angeles.

The organization provided Shirley with food, clothing, rent money and even a used car to get around, and it also recently granted her a full college scholarship because of her high grades.

"If I wanted to say what they’ve have done for me, it’s beyond words," said Shirley, who is now a student at Santa Monica College and works part-time at Starbucks. "They’ve helped me financially and emotionally. I don’t have anyone here; they’ve basically been my family."

Originally working with the Iranian American Jewish Association of Southern California (SIAMAK) — one of the oldest Iranian Jewish organizations in the city, which in February merged with the Eretz Cultural Center in Tarzana — the group has taken up the monumental task of providing support to Iranian Jews just barely getting by in Los Angeles. With their primary goal to feed hungry Jews locally, the new Eretz-SIAMAK organization subsidizes food expenses for needy families by giving them $50 to $100 worth of coupons per month — depending on their income — help from other organizations and assistance from people in their households, Yomtoubian said.

Food coupons are used by many struggling families at Glatt Mart and F&Y Kosher Market in West Los Angeles and at Q-Market in Van Nuys, all kosher markets that have entered into contracts with Eretz-SIAMAK to assist those in need. On a daily basis, the organization is bombarded with desperate phone calls for help from locals who have discovered by word of mouth or by the organization’s monthly magazine, Iranian Jewish Chronicle (Chashm Andaaz), of the group’s charitable efforts, said Lili Kahen, a volunteer of nine-years.

"People call me at the office here or even at home asking for help because they’ve lost their job and beg us for one more bag of rice or gallon of oil," Kahen said.

Youabian, who often makes personal deliveries to some of the families’ homes, said the organization not only helps local Persian Jews in need but also new Iranian Jewish immigrants struggling to make ends meet in Los Angeles.

"A lot of [Persian Jews] who come here from Iran or Israel have absolutely nothing — no clothes, no furniture — and we give them those basic things they need to get by," Youabian said.

For many recipients, it’s more than just financial support from the organization: it’s the emotional bonds forged.

Elisa P., a 14-year-old resident of the San Fernando Valley, said that Yomtoubian "is so amazing — not only did she help me get a lawyer for my green card and gave me food coupons, but she’s been like a mother figure to me." She said she shares a special relationship with Yomtoubian, who has become a second mother to her after her own mother died in Israel five years ago and her father has been in a coma in an Israeli hospital.

"She really cares about me, let’s me into her life, gives me confidence in myself, and that makes me feel special that there’s someone who cares," said Elisa, who currently lives with her 75-year-old grandfather.

The two women’s charitable work has also motivated younger Jews to volunteer their time locally.

"After I found out that there are Jews in L.A. who don’t have food for Shabbat dinner, I was heartbroken," said Eman Esmailzadeh, a 21-year-old Brentwood resident. "It was very simple for me to give back to the community and this was the best way possible." He and six other college and high school Jewish students have volunteered to deliver food parcels to families in need of food on Shabbat throughout the city.

Dariush Fakheri, co-founder of Eretz-SIAMAK, said besides helping poor Iranian Jews locally, his organization has, on numerous occasions, come to the aid of non-Jews by handing out food parcels to the homeless downtown and even donating medicine to Bosnian Muslims during the recent Balkans War.

Having cooperated with the Hope Foundation, Torat Hayim, the Iranian Jewish Federation and SOVA, Yomtoubian said Eretz-SIAMAK would like to collaborate with other local Jewish groups who are aiding poor Jewish families.

Volunteers said their greatest challenge has been overcoming the lack of resources to help everyone who has approached them for help.

"The most difficult part is when we have to put a limit on the help we can offer because we just don’t have the money every time to help everyone," Youabian said.

L.A. Jews Aid Argentines


The plight of Argentine Jews hammered by the collapse of their country’s economy was forcefully brought home to a contingent of Los Angeles Jews this month.

Twenty-two young leaders active at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles joined the United Jewish Communities (UJC)/Ben Gurion Society (BGS) National Young Leadership Mission Oct. 31-Nov. 6.

Standing on the patio of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Aid Association (AMIA) center in the city’s La Paternal neighborhood, Brian Weisberg talked with Graciela Estrin, who had come to the center for help. When Weisberg asked Estrin what had brought her there, the woman tearfully revealed her story.

The 43-year-old Estrin explained that she had been unemployed since December 2001, and her husband, a furniture salesman, only earns 500 pesos a month — roughly $140. The eldest of her three children, she continued, had just quit the university so that the family could buy food.

"This was too much to keep standing on our own," said Estrin, who added that she had only come to the center after many weeks of deliberation.

Estrin’s story is one of only many that the 166 UJC/BGS members heard on the mission. The group visited Argentina to get a first-hand look at the situation. According to officials, thousands of Argentine Jews are being assisted by a Jewish welfare network.

The AMIA center, which opened in August to help Jews in the area who were living near the poverty level, is part of the welfare program. About 550 families receive food vouchers, medicine, clothing and subsidies at the facility, which is supported by AMIA and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

Monica Cullucar, a JDC staffer in Buenos Aires, used to work with Paula Szwarc at the same Jewish high school. Cullucar’s former colleague has been hit hard by the economic crisis.

"Now I teach only four hours a week of classes in a local private and prestigious university," said Szwarc, a former Fullbright Scholar who taught English at international companies. "Many companies became smaller and quit training their staff."

"I used to earn $1,300 a month," said the 32-year-old divorcee, who has a 9-year-old son. "Now I’m getting $70."

Silvana Bloch, a social worker, said of Szwarc, "She does not talk about her needs, but they are urgent."

One of the mission members, Diana Fiedotin, who represents Los Angeles on the United Jewish Communities’ (UJC) National Task Force on Argentina, is the daughter of an Argentine couple.

Fiedotin is involved in the Lifeline to Argentina project, which matches Jewish American families with Jewish Argentine families. The project provides the Argentines with a year’s worth of food vouchers, medicines and day school or Jewish Agency programs. The local Tzedaka Foundation in Buenos Aires and a JDC partner coordinates the program in Argentina.

"The program started last Yom Kippur and has already gathered $40,000," Fiedotin said.

Michele Sackheim, national co-chair of the UJC/BGS mission and the sponsor of a family, said visiting the Argentine Jews was like looking in a mirror. She said the Argentines were educated, well-traveled — "we can relate [to them]."

"It is so emotional because we can all see ourselves in the Argentine community," Sackheim said. "But you need to look beneath to really know that something is happening, and that is why the Argentine story is so compelling."

Sackheim related her visit to the family she sponsors. She said the family’s situation was typical of what many Argentine Jews are experiencing.

"The [husband] used to sell medical materials," she said. "They had a good standard of living. They bought their own apartment, and they even showed me the receipts of contributions they made to the Jewish community when they were prosperous."

"Now," Sackheim related tearfully, "the couple is looking for jobs. Their two kids have a scholarship in a Jewish school. This is so emotional."

Daniel Yoffe, executive director of the Tzedaka Foundation, told the mission, "Argentine Jews lost their dignity. They are like us, but they suddenly became poor."

Despite the desperate economic situation, Yoffe said, Argentine Jews remain involved in their community to the best of their abilities. He said they have contributed 3.8 million pesos — roughly $1.07 million — this year and, "we have just gotten 800 new donors."

Fiedotin, who has made three trips to Argentina this year, has seen the Argentine Jews’ reactions change as the crisis continues. In February, she said, there was panic. In August, there was resignation to the situation and no hope.

On the latest trip, Fiedotin said Argentine Jews have accepted "their new reality and are adjusting to being lower-middle class, having middle-class values and lower-class living standards."

Throughout the trip, the BGS mission members encountered recipients of social assistance programs who thanked them for the help that the Jewish community has received.

"It makes me uncomfortable to be thanked," Sackheim said. "The whole Jewish world is like my family. I know they would have done the same for us."

The Jewish Federation’s Jews in Crisis Fund is still accepting donations for the Jews of Argentina. For more information, contact (323) 761-8200.

Plans for Future Aid

The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI)’s Task Force on Argentina says that Argentina’s Jewish community is restructuring itself, cutting costs and raising money, but the country deteriorated even more dramatically in recent months. JAFI is hoping to come up with $44 million to meet that challenge.
Steve Hoffman, president and CEO of United Jewish Communities (the umbrella organization over JAFI, JDC and the federations) believes another 6,000 Argentine Jews will make aliyah in 2003 if JAFI can provide special aliyah/absorption funding as they did in 2002. Part of the $44 million will go to aliyah and absorption, welfare relief in Argentina, and funding to keep poor children in the Jewish school system. “Without special funding, thousands will soon drop out and be lost,” Hoffman wrote in a recent newsletter.

Sukkot and Our Duty to Alleviate Poverty


This Friday marks the end of the celebration of Sukkot. The word Sukkot, of course, means “booths,” and refers to the temporary dwellings that we spent the past week eating, singing and even sleeping in. We remember the wandering of the Jews in the desert and celebrate the fall harvest season. As we spent the past week in the sukkah — with its fragile walls and a ceiling made of leaves and branches — we reflected on the fragility of our lives and our possessions and, perhaps, we thought about those who are not as fortunate.

Although our harvest is bountiful indeed, not all Americans share in it: 5.4 million American families live in unsafe or unhealthy housing conditions. That number pales next to the 31 million Americans today who are hungry, or at immediate risk of hunger. Even those who receive government assistance remain in need: 58 percent of employed former welfare recipients have incomes below the poverty line.

Just as the rhythms of our Jewish calendar have us thinking about our many blessings and those who remain mired in poverty, the congressional calendar is now turning to consideration of the most important federal anti-poverty program. Last week, more than half of the members of the Senate signed a letter asking Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) to bring welfare reform reauthorization to the floor of the Senate chamber for a vote before the end of the 107th Congress. The bill, titled, the “Work, Opportunity and Responsibility for Kids Act of 2002” (WORK), has bipartisan support. The Senate bill is a strong improvement over the current welfare system and a strong improvement over the welfare reform bill passed by the House of Representatives in May. The House bill would increase the number of hours per week of work required of welfare recipients, while limiting the availability of education and training and other services required to make employment viable and attainable. At the same time, the meager increase in funding for childcare falls way below the $4.5 billion that is needed just to maintain current childcare services, which are provided to only one-seventh of families who are in need.

The WORK bill would maintain the current work week for welfare recipients, increase childcare funding by $5.5 billion, give states the option to restore welfare benefits to legal immigrants, encourage more education and training and make it easier for individuals to receive substance abuse treatment and mental health counseling. While significantly better than the House bill, this bill would leave many millions without child care. Currently, only about 2 million of the 15 million eligible for child-care services actually receive help. The Senate bill would provide child-care assistance for only an estimated 100,000 more low-income children than the current program. No parent should be forced to choose between losing benefits because they are not working and leaving their children alone because the parent has to work.

The Torah and the Jewish tradition teach us that providing for the poor is not a matter of charity but an obligation. “If … there is a needy person among you … do not harden your heart and shut your hand…. Rather, you must open your hand and lend whatever is sufficient” (Deuteronomy 15:7-11).

As Jews and Americans, we should require nothing less from our government today. In a land where one in three children will be poor at some point during their childhood, we can and must do better.

As Sukkot comes to an end, so too does the 107th Congress. The circumstances could not be more urgent. It is crucial that comprehensive welfare legislation pass this year, since budget constraints will make it even more difficult to pass legislation that would positively affect families next year. With the lessons and experience of Sukkot fresh in our minds, let us remember those who do not share in our prosperity. Let us help spread a sukat shalom, a shelter of peace and healing, over those who most need our help. And let us join with them to encourage the Senate to pass just and humane welfare reform during this session.

Rabbi David Saperstein is the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Rachel Wainer is the legislative assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism focusing on economic justice issues.

Stopping the Violence


It’s no secret that Israelis experience many of the same social ills that Americans do. However, there has never been an official study to identify the breadth and nature of domestic abuse in the Jewish State… until now.

A survey — the first of its kind in Israel — was recently conducted by the Los Angeles/Tel Aviv Partnership — a coalition formed by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles — to help social workers and government welfare bureaus understand the country’s domestic violence and sexual abuse problems, and to prescribe solutions. The domestic violence covered in the findings includes all manner of physical, sexual and psychological abuse.

Supervised by Dr. Yosefa Steiner and Dr. Minah Zemach, the study is comprised of statistics culled from interviews with anonymous women reached at home during the day. In all, 1,019 households were polled, serving as a representive sample of the total population of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa vicinity. In addition, 101 ultra-Orthodox residences and 100 Arab homes were studied. The research also included information on services available to address social disorders, the degree of coordination between them, and their accessibility to those who require them.

Until the Partnership launched this study, an official survey of Israeli home violence had not been attempted. The initiative for conducting such research was not a question of money, but of timing. Awareness of these issues rose to the surface in recent years, after a dramatic rise in reported child abuse and incest cases from 1990-1993, and some high profile spousal abuse cases that even included murder.

This domestic violence project was a by-product of the Partnership, in conjunction with the Department of Social Welfare and Health of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Israel (JDC-Israel), and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles (the Partnership’s parent organization). A budget for the survey totaled $46,000, with $25,000 of that total budget coming from the Jewish Community Foundation; $15,000 from JDC-Israel; and another $6,000 from the municipality of Tel Aviv.

Says the Partnership’s local chair Herb Glaser, “It’s apparent that the Jewish people have problems in this arena irrespective of geography or economic class or the religious vs. secular component. And we have a mutual problem in both communities, which we didn’t expect to find.”

Both communities are on the minds of the people behind the domestic violence study. Last March, a Partnership symposium invited Israeli field workers to visit agencies within the City of Los Angeles and County of Los Angeles systems. They learned about multicultural populations, family violence court, Jewish shelters, and the county’s Domestic Violence Council — a consortium of community, law enforcement, and social services personnel.

A subsequent gathering last June sent a team of experts to Tel Aviv: a USC School of Social Work professor; representatives from Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Services; Jewish Family Service (JFS) employees; and Fredi Rembaum, director of Israel and overseas relations for the Jewish Federation.

Vivian Sauer, director of Adult and Children Services for the Federation-run JFS, commends the work-in-progress nature of the enterprise: “Personally, I thought it was [an] extremely productive way to bring two communities together and come up with some concrete proposals to work on these areas, based on the needs of these communities.”

Adds Nissan Pardo, Ph.D., who chairs the Partnership’s Los Angeles Health and Human Services Committe, “From the early 20th century, the spirit in Israel is that we’re responsible for each other and that carries over… up till today. There’s more of a common spirit. The way they handle batterers and individuals is very different than what is done here. That is from what we can learn.”

Rembaum also evokes this Israeli theme of collective responsibility: “In Israel, providing [for] the people’s needs is the business of the government and if services aren’t met, they must find a way to provide them.”

In fact, Tel Aviv actually has a program that extricates the male batterer from the household and commits him to counselling services.

“We don’t have that here [in the U.S.],” says Rembaum. “We have jails.”

Rembaum looks forward to the next step in the Partnership’s strategy: “Right now, we are preparing a proposal for funding to implement workplace training in Tel Aviv. Los Angeles representatives will start working with them in the next few months.”

The training will teach employers and supervisors how to identify and treat victims of abuse.

From Israel, Ellen Goldberg, director of Planning and Evaluation for JDC-Israel, communicated to The Journal her pleasure in being involved in this ambitious welfare undertaking. Goldberg reports that USC professionals have been assisting the project on every step of the survey.

Says the administrator, “This has enabled [Los Angeles and Tel Aviv agencies] to understand different perspectives to problems and their solutions.”

As an example of the cross-cultural influence taking place, she cites the establishment of a Tel Aviv counterpart to Los Angeles’ Domestic Violence Council.

“We are bringing fresh approaches to solving problems in each other’s domain,” says Goldberg. “[Ultimately, it will help] create better solutions and services for our respective populations and needs.”


Researchers’ findings include:

* Incidents of domestic violence have taken place in 12.5 percent of all households in Tel Aviv. That’s a high figure, relative to findings in other nations.

* Women were the targets of violence in 7.0 percent of households, while minors were the victims in 17.7 percent. Also high, as are the findings below.

* In two-thirds of the families polled, both women and children have been abused.

* Physical abuse occurred in 10.7 percent homes, while sexual abuse occurred in 2.8 percent of the families sampled.

Jewish Philanthropy, From A to C


There was a sort of informal poll conducted among the delegates who gathered in Atlanta last week for the annual assembly of America’s Jewish welfare federations.

The agency that convened them, the newly-designated United Jewish Communities, had scheduled a series of discussions for the assembly’s second day on the four “pillars” that sum up its mission: Jewish renaissance, social services, Israel and overseas needs, and fundraising. Delegates were free to pick their “pillar.”

The results tell you everything you need to know about where Jewish philanthropy is headed in the next few years. The session on fundraising drew between 400 and 500 people, mainly professionals engaged in a businesslike discussion of new trends. The session on Israel and overseas needs drew about the same number, including some of American Jewry’s top activists, for an earnest — and inconclusive — exploration of how to bind American Jewry and Israel together in the years to come.

The session on social services, the worst attended, drew just over 300 people, for a dispirited discussion of how to keep American Jewry from dropping out of social activism altogether. “People in the room were generally pretty depressed from what I could tell,” said a New Jersey delegate. The best attended session was the one on Jewish renaissance and identity.

It had over 800 delegates spilling out of the chairs and lining the walls . The mood in the room was one of eager expectation. But the reviews afterward were generally downbeat. The consensus seemed to be that delegates hadn’t heard much they didn’t know already. In part, that was because the answers are already familiar. “We already know exactly what we have to do,” Boston federation president Barry Shrage told the delegates. “All we have to do is do it.” What’s needed, Shrage said, is more and better teachers, more communication among synagogues, more openness among Jews.

“The bottom line is, you can’t do anything without money,” said one delegate, Caryl Berzovsky of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as she exited the session. The delegates had come to Atlanta with few expectations. They knew the organization that convened them had been reorganized and renamed. Just what that would mean for their local work, out in the community, wasn’t clear to anyone. But they were about to find out. After five years of mind-numbing quibbling, the fabled United Jewish Appeal had been transformed into the little-known United Jewish Communities. This assembly was the new agency ‘s inaugural rollout.

The opening session had featured Vice President Al Gore, in a 45-minute speech that could only be called astoundingly adequate. He was smooth, sometimes funny, at times almost uplifting. He talked about things his listeners cared about. By any standard it was a credible performance. For Gore, given his robot-like reputation, it was a masterpiece. “I was looking for a reason to like him, and he gave one,” said one satisfied listener. By the time delegates headed home two days later, that was pretty much the verdict on the operation as a whole. For five years the national institutions of Jewish philanthropy had been paralyzed, unable to discuss anything but their own structure. In Atlanta, finally, they got back to t he business of Jewish philanthropy. “There’s a sense of optimism that some o f the institutional baggage has been cleared up,” said delegate Francine Immerman of Cleveland. The shift hadn’t come a moment too soon. Delegates spoke repeatedly, many in urgent tones, of the need to shake up the Jewish community’s institutions and move them into a new era. The existing institutions of Jewish philanthropy had been created a century ago, to face emergencies that have long since ended. Local Jewish federations were set up to provide social services for millions of penniless Jewish refugees pouring into America’s urban ghettoes. The United Jewish Appeal arose a half-century later to rescue Jews from the devastation of Nazi Europe and build a new state of Israel.

Today’s emergency isn’t in the ghettoes or battlefields, but in the heart s of young Jews. The issue is no longer how Jews can survive in a hostile world. The issue is why stay Jewish in a world that’s ever more welcoming . The question facing the Jewish federations is whether the awesome resources they command — annual donations of $1.5 billion, a vast network of institutions from coast to coast — can be harnessed to that new mission.

Up to now the system has been slow to shift direction, in large part because the old structure kept vested interests in command. The old Unite d Jewish Appeal, run by donors who’d spent a lifetime fighting for Israel, was a stubborn advocate for keeping things unchanged. Local initiatives — new forms of Jewish outreach, voices of Jewish spirituality, women’s groups — had little voice. According to some critics, that was a key reason the new emergency hasn’t yet gotten the full-bore response American Jewry is capable of. “Right now, the leadership and vision are being provided further down the food chain,” says Shrage. Heads of the new United Jewish Communities say they’re moving as fast as they can. “None of our pillars is up and running,” says UJC president Stephen Solender. “We don’t have permanent committees working yet. This is just the beginning. Up to now people really couldn’t see what we were trying to do. People here are seeing it come together.” But there’s another question facing the federations, and it’s not so simple to answer. You can’t discuss a renaissance of Jewish identity without discussing what Judaism is about. That will leave Jews feeling empty and frustrated, as assembly delegates learned.

Pursuing a genuine agenda of Jewish renaissance means not just focusing inward and teaching more Torah. It also means adapting — and expanding — the old programs. It means reaching out to Israel, not forgetting about it now that it can take care of itself. It means adapting, not ending, Jewish social services and social activism, so that Judaism doesn’t become the only religion in America with nothing to say. The initial moves by the UJC are encouraging. What’s needed is much more leadership and vision, to keep Jews engaged with each other and the world.

Otherwise, as one UJA ex-board member griped, “it’s all just rearranging furniture.” “In the end, this is the place where people come together to set the agenda for the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Md. “The question now is how this whole configuration is going to trickle down, whether changing an A to a C is going to have an impact on people’s lives.”


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

Invitation to a Showdown


Readers’ Quiz: Who was the unhappiest Jew in Indiana last week?Was it:

A) Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had to endurethe icy stares of 4,000 hostile delegates at the General Assembly ofthe Council of Jewish Federations, as he begged them to set asideinternal divisions in the face of deadly enemies such as Iraq?

B) United Jewish Appeal chairman Richard Wexler, who repeatedlyappealed to the assembly’s delegates not to let their anger overIsraeli religious policies cripple the legendary American Jewishfund-raising machine?

C) Avraham Burg, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, whoarrived to find an American Jewish philanthropic establishment deeplyalienated from his Jerusalem-based agency and bent on radical budgetcuts, despite all his recent streamlining efforts?

Answer: None of the above. It appears that the unhappiest Jew inIndiana last week was insurance agent Ed Wormser of Terre Haute, 85miles southwest of Indianapolis. Wormser is the president of TerreHaute’s tiny Jewish Welfare Fund, which raises some $17,000 a yearfrom the town’s 250 Jews. The General Assembly that convened inIndianapolis on Nov. 16 was about the biggest Jewish event ever totake place in Ed’s neck of the woods. Unfortunately, he missed itbecause no one remembered to tell him in time that it was takingplace.

“I think it’s crazy,” Wormser said in a telephone interview fromhis home, on the assembly’s second day. “I know we don’t raise bigbucks. We’re submicroscopic. Still, somebody should have thought ofus. Communities like ours can really benefit from experiencing ameeting like this, and we didn’t have the opportunity.”

The reason the organizers forgot Ed Wormser — and leaders likehim from a dozen other one-shul towns around Indiana — is one ofthose classic cases of many small errors adding up to one bigfoul-up. It’s the sort of mistake the organizers are certain to learnfrom so that they can go on to make new ones next year.

For the rest of us, though, there’s a bracing lesson in EdWormser’s misfortune. The assembly in Indianapolis may have been ascene of great turmoil and angst, but Wormser wanted to be there justthe same. People usually want to be part of the action, if they’reinvited.

That’s the way it is with a big convention. Whatever else it maybring — great clashes between warring philosophies, dark warnings oflooming danger — the delegates usually experience it as a rippinggood time. It’s a chance to learn from others, to be part ofsomething bigger. It’s a chance to see another part of the world,even if it’s only Indianapolis.

And, indeed, while the top guns of American and world Jewry werefulminating from the podium of the Indiana Convention Center lastweek, warning of the calamities sure to result from the Jews’disunity, disengagement, disaffiliation and that nasty habit ofmarrying the wrong kind, the folks down on the convention floor werehaving the time of their lives.

“I haven’t been to a General Assembly in many years, and I mustsay, it’s very good,” said an exuberant Delores Wilkenfeld, adelegate from Houston, interviewed on the assembly’s final day. “Ijust came from the biennial convention of the Union of AmericanHebrew Congregations in Dallas, and now I’m here, and it’s quite anexperience.”

Paradoxically, the assembly may have been all the more successfulthis year because of the crisis atmosphere that hung over theproceedings. With Netanyahu isolated on countless fronts at home andabroad, his journey to Indianapolis to mend fences with AmericanJewry, Israel’s last and best ally, captured the world’s imagination.As such, Israel-Diaspora strains over religious pluralism becamefront-page news from Kuwait to Kansas City. The whole world, itseemed, was watching to gauge the assembly’s mood.

“There’s no denying the experience of sitting in a room with 4,000people and listening to the prime minister of Israel,” said CindyChazan, executive director of the Jewish Federation of GreaterHartford, Conn. “Whether or not you agree with him, it’s a headyexperience.”

Because of such heady experiences, many delegates went home fromIndianapolis with energy renewed. The bitter pluralism debates, farfrom reducing their will to carry on fund raising and communitybuilding, actually gave them a boost. For a change, it seems, thethings they do and care about actually mattered. “What our peoplefelt was the passion,” said Marvin Goldberg, executive director ofthe Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte, N.C.

All this may help to answer a riddle posed with increasingfrequency by the Jewish community’s latest generation of doomsayers– those who say that with the big crises of the past nearly settled,there are no big crises left, and that’s a crisis. Now that MiddleEast peace is visible on the horizon and most Jews are out of Russia,what will hold the Jews together? Does the age of normalcy meanthere’s nothing to look forward to but drift and decline?

If the Indianapolis assembly was any indication, normalcy may notbe all that bad. In the next great stage of Jewish history, beingJewish may be something like being American or French — ascomfortable as we make it, and filled with the content we give it.The challenge will be to fight today’s battles and then go back tobusiness as usual tomorrow.

Normalcy, then, may be a matter of learning to walk and chew gumat the same time. The Indianapolis experience suggests that Jews outthere are ready for it. What’s needed is a leadership that canremember to send out the invitations.

J.J. Goldberg is the author of “Jewish Power: Inside theAmercan Jewish Establishment.” He writes from New York.

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