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Making Sense of the Donated Dollars

August 26, 2010 By:
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When it comes to dollars designated for the Jewish state, is it more important to fund a soup kitchen or send more college students on a Birthright Israel experience?

While it might not be an either/or proposition, these issues lie at the heart of an ongoing debate, especially as funds for Israel continue to decline.

Now that Israel is considered a first-world economy with a growing philanthropic sensibility, should the focus still be on using communal dollars to assist Israel's poor and disadvantaged? Or should those monies be utilized to bolster the Israel-Diaspora connection at a time when American Jews are increasingly becoming disconnected from Jewish life and the Jewish state?

Locally, the tide seems to be shifting toward prioritizing identity-building programs.

Jeri Zimmerman, director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Center for Israel and Overseas, said of the trend: "This is a long-term discussion. But for right now, there is a subtle change to invest in programs that strengthen Jewish identity."

"It's not a zero-sum game," she added. "It's not all social welfare and no Jewish identity, or the other way around. There is a range in there. We just want to make sure we are having an impact with the dollars we are giving both for social welfare and for Jewish identity."

In the latest round of allocations -- approved by the Federation's Board of Trustees on July 29 -- the numbers illustrated a clear movement.

Of the $3.7 million unrestricted dollars awarded to Israel and overseas programming, nearly half -- $1.8 million -- went to about a dozen programs under the banner "Israel-Diaspora and the Unity of the Jewish People."

That $1.8 million represents a more than $400,000 increase from the previous year, while funding for other priority areas, including disadvantaged youth and basic needs, fell by more than $900,000.

While national figures are hard to break down in a comparable way, the trend appears to extend beyond Philadelphia. Federations in other large cities and international organizations, such as the Jewish Agency for Israel, are all discussing how to bolster identity at a time when assimilation appears to be one of the greatest threats to the Jewish future.

An elderly man at a soup kitchen in Jerusalem; money given to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is allocated to fighting hunger in Israel and in the former Soviet Union.

"I have no doubt in my mind that it is a trend across the board, both in terms of Federations and the Jewish Agency, to focus on Jewish identity and Jewish peoplehood," said Dani Wassner, director of communications for the Jewish Federations of North America's Israel and Overseas Department.

'In a Different Phase'
At the heart of the debate is a very real question about the meaning and purpose of giving to a country that's no longer considered a "poor cousin." Once tasked with resettling massive amounts of refugees, contemporary Israel is viewed as an equal partner.

Yet as numerous donors pointed out, the small country still still grapples with poverty, and has not finished the work of fully integrating Russian and Ethiopian immigrants.

Bennett Aaron, a vice president of the Federation and a member of the board of its Center for Israel and Overseas, who has long been involved with Israel causes, put it this way: "The reasons that we give today are different. At one time, it was to settle immigrants. There was no way that the citizens of Israel could settle 3 million people with their tax base.

"Now, we are in a different phase," he said. The primary task "is to strengthen the relationship between the Diaspora and Israel."

The $3.7 million in total designated to Israel and Overseas needs represented 23 percent of the total unrestricted funds allocated. The rest went to Jewish education and identity-building programs or to social-service programs to assist the elderly and disadvantaged.

The smaller slice to Israel and Overseas -- a trend for more than a decade -- represents what Federation officials say is in keeping with donor desires and also reflects the national trend of devoting more resources to growing needs at home.

In fact, the money that individual Americans donate directly to Israeli organizations and institutions -- like the American Society for Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Hadassah and the American Friends of Magen David Adom and many smaller charities -- dwarfs the figure passed through the national federation system.

But the Federation pot is still the closest thing to a public fund and how it is spent says a lot about communal priorities. Activists in the community most strongly tied to Israel worry that overseas funding, which also includes programs in the former Soviet Union, is too low a priority.

Those tasked with recommending which Israel and Overseas programs be funded had actually requested a total of $11.6 million. The end result left some members disgruntled. The center's co-chair, Kenneth Kaiserman, resigned his post. In an interview, Kaiserman said that he objected to the process -- in which volunteers ultimately were able to hand out a relatively small sum -- and not the final funding decisions.

"My concern is those needs that might fall through the cracks," he said.

Referring to Jews in the former Soviet Union, he added: "Their needs are very great, and we can't forget about them."

Bump Up for Birthright
Within the funding targeted for Israel-Diaspora connections, Birthright Israel was bumped from $200,000 to $260,000, and a new program, Kolot, which will link influential leaders from Israel and the Philadelphia Jewish community, was awarded $50,000.

At the same time, money designated for disadvantaged youth overseas declined from $1.6 million to $1.2 million. Programs meeting basic needs fell from $1.2 million to $652,000.

Historically, Federation's overseas dollars were largely split between the Jewish Agency for Israel, which rescued Jews and resettled them in Israel, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which provides humanitarian aid to Jewish communities throughout the world.

Earlier in the decade, the Philadelphia Federation made the switch to funding specific programs and opened up the process to other agencies, stipulating that its dollars largely be spent either on basic needs, disadvantaged youth or Jewish-identity programs.

JAFI is in the midst of a strategic overhaul, moving away from promoting aliyah toward focusing on Jewish identity and Israel-Diaspora connections. Of the $1.8 million that Federation's Israel and Overseas Center earmarked to this area, $750,000 went to JAFI for the core funding of its Israel department.

Another $450,000 went to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee's Ashalim program, which focuses on services for at-risk youth.

A big change in the philanthropic equation happened in the 1990s, when Israel first started to emerge as a fiscally significant power in the world. At the same time, growing concern about the effects of intermarriage in America, in addition to a lack of connection between younger people and the Jewish state, led to a greater concentration of resources in education and identity-building programs on the home front.

According to the 2009 "Jewish Population of Greater Philadelphia," just 25 percent of respondents under 40 said that they felt very attached to Israel. And 39 percent said that they felt somewhat attached.

While there are still some skeptics who wonder about the long-term impact of a 10-day trip to Israel as provided by Birthright, by and large, the program has been touted as a successful model in helping establish lifelong Jewish connections. A 2009 study by Leonard Saxe of Brandeis University found that 72 percent of married, non-Orthodox Birthright Israel participants had wedded fellow Jews, compared to just 46 percent of their peers who did not go on the trip.

Edward Newman, a member of Federation's board of trustees and of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, said that even more money needed to go to Israel-experience programs.

Joan Stern, a Center City attorney who co-chairs the Israel center board, said that taking the population study into account, board members took pains to ensure that all programs they recommended for funding served to build connections.

When it comes to dollars that support the needy in Israel or the former Soviet Union, nothing builds bridges like the opportunity to meet recipients, either here or overseas," she continued.

"We are never running out of programs that seek funding," said Stern. "We try to pick programs that meet [needs] and help make connections."

That goal continues to resonate within the community.

"It is our responsibility to take care of Jews in other countries," stated Deborah Gordon Klehr, a 32-year-old lawyer who is part of Federation's Renaissance group, and who sits on the board of Jewish Children's and Family Service of Greater Philadelphia.

Israel and Overseas board member Robert Fox said that the biggest issue is not so much how the dollars are spent, but simply that not enough cash is being raised to grapple with all that needs to be accomplished.

"The appeal may change over time, but the fundamental rationale for funding Israel is not the particular circumstances," he said. "It is that this is the third time in the history of the Jews that we have a sovereign Jewish state. It's central to us. It's who we are." u

- See more at: http://je.pliner.com/article/21781/Making_Sense_of_the_Donated_Dollars/#...

 

When it comes to dollars designated for the Jewish state, is it more important to fund a soup kitchen or send more college students on a Birthright Israel experience?
 
While it might not be an either/or proposition, these issues lie at the heart of an ongoing debate, especially as funds for Israel continue to decline.
 
Now that Israel is considered a first-world economy with a growing philanthropic sensibility, should the focus still be on using communal dollars to assist Israel's poor and disadvantaged? Or should those monies be utilized to bolster the Israel-Diaspora connection at a time when American Jews are increasingly becoming disconnected from Jewish life and the Jewish state?
 
Locally, the tide seems to be shifting toward prioritizing identity-building programs.
 
Jeri Zimmerman, director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Center for Israel and Overseas, said of the trend: "This is a long-term discussion. But for right now, there is a subtle change to invest in programs that strengthen Jewish identity."
 
"It's not a zero-sum game," she added. "It's not all social welfare and no Jewish identity, or the other way around. There is a range in there. We just want to make sure we are having an impact with the dollars we are giving both for social welfare and for Jewish identity."
 
In the latest round of allocations -- approved by the Federation's Board of Trustees on July 29 -- the numbers illustrated a clear movement.
 
Of the $3.7 million unrestricted dollars awarded to Israel and overseas programming, nearly half -- $1.8 million -- went to about a dozen programs under the banner "Israel-Diaspora and the Unity of the Jewish People."
 
That $1.8 million represents a more than $400,000 increase from the previous year, while funding for other priority areas, including disadvantaged youth and basic needs, fell by more than $900,000.
 
While national figures are hard to break down in a comparable way, the trend appears to extend beyond Philadelphia. Federations in other large cities and international organizations, such as the Jewish Agency for Israel, are all discussing how to bolster identity at a time when assimilation appears to be one of the greatest threats to the Jewish future.
An elderly man at a soup kitchen in Jerusalem; money given to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is allocated to fighting hunger in Israel and in the former Soviet Union.
 
"I have no doubt in my mind that it is a trend across the board, both in terms of Federations and the Jewish Agency, to focus on Jewish identity and Jewish peoplehood," said Dani Wassner, director of communications for the Jewish Federations of North America's Israel and Overseas Department.
 
'In a Different Phase'
At the heart of the debate is a very real question about the meaning and purpose of giving to a country that's no longer considered a "poor cousin." Once tasked with resettling massive amounts of refugees, contemporary Israel is viewed as an equal partner.
 
Yet as numerous donors pointed out, the small country still still grapples with poverty, and has not finished the work of fully integrating Russian and Ethiopian immigrants.
 
Bennett Aaron, a vice president of the Federation and a member of the board of its Center for Israel and Overseas, who has long been involved with Israel causes, put it this way: "The reasons that we give today are different. At one time, it was to settle immigrants. There was no way that the citizens of Israel could settle 3 million people with their tax base.
 
"Now, we are in a different phase," he said. The primary task "is to strengthen the relationship between the Diaspora and Israel."
 
The $3.7 million in total designated to Israel and Overseas needs represented 23 percent of the total unrestricted funds allocated. The rest went to Jewish education and identity-building programs or to social-service programs to assist the elderly and disadvantaged.
 
The smaller slice to Israel and Overseas -- a trend for more than a decade -- represents what Federation officials say is in keeping with donor desires and also reflects the national trend of devoting more resources to growing needs at home.
 
In fact, the money that individual Americans donate directly to Israeli organizations and institutions -- like the American Society for Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Hadassah and the American Friends of Magen David Adom and many smaller charities -- dwarfs the figure passed through the national federation system.
 
But the Federation pot is still the closest thing to a public fund and how it is spent says a lot about communal priorities. Activists in the community most strongly tied to Israel worry that overseas funding, which also includes programs in the former Soviet Union, is too low a priority.
 
Those tasked with recommending which Israel and Overseas programs be funded had actually requested a total of $11.6 million. The end result left some members disgruntled. The center's co-chair, Kenneth Kaiserman, resigned his post. In an interview, Kaiserman said that he objected to the process -- in which volunteers ultimately were able to hand out a relatively small sum -- and not the final funding decisions.
 
"My concern is those needs that might fall through the cracks," he said.
 
Referring to Jews in the former Soviet Union, he added: "Their needs are very great, and we can't forget about them."
 
Bump Up for Birthright
Within the funding targeted for Israel-Diaspora connections, Birthright Israel was bumped from $200,000 to $260,000, and a new program, Kolot, which will link influential leaders from Israel and the Philadelphia Jewish community, was awarded $50,000.
 
At the same time, money designated for disadvantaged youth overseas declined from $1.6 million to $1.2 million. Programs meeting basic needs fell from $1.2 million to $652,000.
 
Historically, Federation's overseas dollars were largely split between the Jewish Agency for Israel, which rescued Jews and resettled them in Israel, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which provides humanitarian aid to Jewish communities throughout the world.
 
Earlier in the decade, the Philadelphia Federation made the switch to funding specific programs and opened up the process to other agencies, stipulating that its dollars largely be spent either on basic needs, disadvantaged youth or Jewish-identity programs.
 
JAFI is in the midst of a strategic overhaul, moving away from promoting aliyah toward focusing on Jewish identity and Israel-Diaspora connections. Of the $1.8 million that Federation's Israel and Overseas Center earmarked to this area, $750,000 went to JAFI for the core funding of its Israel department.
 
Another $450,000 went to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee's Ashalim program, which focuses on services for at-risk youth.
 
A big change in the philanthropic equation happened in the 1990s, when Israel first started to emerge as a fiscally significant power in the world. At the same time, growing concern about the effects of intermarriage in America, in addition to a lack of connection between younger people and the Jewish state, led to a greater concentration of resources in education and identity-building programs on the home front.
 
According to the 2009 "Jewish Population of Greater Philadelphia," just 25 percent of respondents under 40 said that they felt very attached to Israel. And 39 percent said that they felt somewhat attached.
 
While there are still some skeptics who wonder about the long-term impact of a 10-day trip to Israel as provided by Birthright, by and large, the program has been touted as a successful model in helping establish lifelong Jewish connections. A 2009 study by Leonard Saxe of Brandeis University found that 72 percent of married, non-Orthodox Birthright Israel participants had wedded fellow Jews, compared to just 46 percent of their peers who did not go on the trip.
 
Edward Newman, a member of Federation's board of trustees and of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, said that even more money needed to go to Israel-experience programs.
 
Joan Stern, a Center City attorney who co-chairs the Israel center board, said that taking the population study into account, board members took pains to ensure that all programs they recommended for funding served to build connections.
 
When it comes to dollars that support the needy in Israel or the former Soviet Union, nothing builds bridges like the opportunity to meet recipients, either here or overseas," she continued.
 
"We are never running out of programs that seek funding," said Stern. "We try to pick programs that meet [needs] and help make connections."
 
That goal continues to resonate within the community.
 
"It is our responsibility to take care of Jews in other countries," stated Deborah Gordon Klehr, a 32-year-old lawyer who is part of Federation's Renaissance group, and who sits on the board of Jewish Children's and Family Service of Greater Philadelphia.
 
Israel and Overseas board member Robert Fox said that the biggest issue is not so much how the dollars are spent, but simply that not enough cash is being raised to grapple with all that needs to be accomplished.
 
"The appeal may change over time, but the fundamental rationale for funding Israel is not the particular circumstances," he said. "It is that this is the third time in the history of the Jews that we have a sovereign Jewish state. It's central to us. It's who we are." 
 

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