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November 21, 2003 - Image 18

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-11-21

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Birthright On

TRUST from page 17

Birthright Israel trips get go-ahead, but funding
sources still not secure.

RACHEL POMERANCE

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

New York

T

he international Jewish
partnership that has sent
nearly 50,000 youngsters
from around the world on
free trips to Israel is slated to con-
tinue past its five pilot years.
Birthright Israel, the free trip for
young Jewish adults who have never
been to the Jewish state on a peer
tour, enters its fifth year this winter
amid struggles to secure funding
from two of its three main backers.
.
Despite the commitment
announced recently by Birthright's
steering committee to continue the
program, some say the resolve of
funders who have faltered in the
past remains in question. That's why
Birthright backers lobbied for the
program this week at the North
American Jewish federation system's
annual General Assembly, which was
held in Jerusalem.
Funds for the $210 million pro- -
gram are evenly divided among 14
philanthropists, world Jewish com-
munities — largely the federation
system — and the Israeli govern-
ment. But the United Jewish
Communities, the umbrella organi-
zation for North American federa-
tions, has failed to get all of its
members to allocate the amounts
requested for the program.
An internal UJC memo revealed
that, as of Oct. 29, the federation
- system =had fallen $7:5 million shoit.
for r, program, vaiich
on'
has 1-e-ii 43,000 young.adults tii— -
Israel from North America. Citing
its economic crisis, Israel plans to
withdraw all but a token amount of
funding for the program this year.
Funding levels will return to normal
after this year, Israeli officials said.
However, judging from past diffi-
culties in raising money for the pro-
gram, Lynn Schusterman — whose
philanthropic foundation has pro-
vided $5 million for the program —
is skeptical that Birthright's future
funding is assured.
"We have two partners that aren't
at the table," she said. "The philan-
thropists are great," but we have

11/21

2003

18

Constantinople.
But the Jewish community start-
ed truly to develop only after the
arrival of the Spanish Jews in 1492.
They created important centers of
Jewish life in Istanbul, Izmir and
Salonika, which is now part of
Greece.
The Ottomans provided a sort of
limited autonomy to the religious
Schusterman
communities under their rule,
which allowed Jewish life in the
empire to flourish. For example,
many of the Ottoman court physi-
cians were Jewish.
At the beginning of the 20th
century, just before the dissolution
of the Ottoman Empire, the Jewish
population in the area that is now
Bibi's Opposition
Turkey numbered over 100,000,
Natan Sharansky, Israel's
mostly Sephardim, with sizable
minister of diaspora affairs
Jewish communities ranging from
and Birthright's steering
the country's Anatolian heartland
Sharansky
committee chairman,
to its Aegean coast and its border
announced recently that "all
with Syria.
partners will continue their
Turkey's Jewish population today
Agency Support
commitment for the next five years,
is
estimated at 25,000. Driven
Meanwhile, the. Jewish Agency for
and then renew for the next 500
away
by political and economic
Israel, a UJC beneficiary, plans to
years.
turbulence
and lured by the possi-
increase funding for Birthright.
But insiders say Sharansky is not
bility of living in nearby Israel,
We have increasingly upped the
the stumbling block to Israel's fund-
ante, so to speak, in putting in more Turkish Jews left the country in
ing; Benjamin Netanyahu is. As
great waves starting in the late
money this year geared to young-
finance minister, Netanyahu — who
1940s. They left behind Jewish
is said-to be lukewarm on Birthright sters wanting to go to Birthright
communities
that — with the
from the former Soviet Union" and
— wields more control over Israeli
exception
of
Istanbul,
and to a less-
" countries where the communities
government funding for the pro-
er
extent
Izmir,
which
has
a Jewish
there don't have the assets to send
gram.
population of around 2,000 — are
them," said Carole Solomon, chair-
A spokesman said Netanyahu
either struggling to survive or have
woman of the Jewish Agency's board
would not comment on the issue.
ceased to exist.
of governors.
In the federation system, UJC
In Istanbul, the community
Solomon could not say how much
CEO Stephen Hoffman is promot-
maintains:,scveral
institutions,
the. agency would provide this year,
ing the -program,_ which has been
a hiih -
since 4ts budget procesS4#ot yet
of the-largest .providers of.:
ed.
Israalityrifig the
tal;As in Ottoman times, the com-
However, the Jewish Agency
(uprising).
hi
an
Palestinian intifada
munity is headed by a chief rabbi
would probably be close to dou-
Oct. 31 memo to federations,
known as the hahambashi.
bliria our commitment," she said. "I
Hoffman included a personal anec-
Jews and Muslims traditionally
think
b there's been a tremendous
dote, about visiting his daughter's
have
gotten along well in Turkey,
"
investment, and not just financial,
university, to illustrate the need to
which
is officially secular and
in Birthright, Solomon said. Data
reach out to Jewish youth.
which — as a non-Arab country
proves
that
it
is
an
extraordinary
"I was struck hard by the realiza-
— has pursued policies starkly dif-
tion of how little I really understand life-changing experience for these
ferent from Turkey's Arab neigh-
youngsters."
this younger generation," Hoffman
bors.
In light of the recent National
said. As a system, we need to col-
Military and economic ties with
Jewish Population Survey 2000-01,
lectively pause and ask whether we
Israel
are strong, and despite hav-
which Solomon said showed a
understand how the next generation
ing earned Turkey harsh criticism
shrinking Jewish population in the
identifies themselves as Jews."
in the Arab world, those ties have
United States, "anything that works
"Too many federations have not
persevered under governments of
that
positively"
is
worth
"whatever
fulfilled their full requested shares,"
varying
ideologies.
support we can give it," she said. I i
he continued. "Is it really about lirn-

ited funds, or too many
priorities? Or is it our
failure to understand the
different way we have to
reach this generation?"
Marlene Post, chair-
woman of Birthright
Israel USA, said she is
"optimistic" that
Hoffman can get federa-
tions to pay. Until now,
she said, Hoffman has
been preoccupied with
reshaping UJC, an
organization formed four
years ago from a merger
of the Council of Jewish
Federations, United
Jewish Appeal and
United Israel Appeal.
"What you're seeing is
that this is a new focus,"
Post said.

two other partners that are
n 0 t.
A major supporter is
Michael Steinhardt, chair-
man of Jewish Renasissance
Media, the parent company
of the Detroit Jewish News.
"The Israeli government,
of course, has said that
they'll be there,
Schusterman said, but
(( when they made their first
commitment, they were
going to be there and they're
not — and the same for the
federations."

3)

7!



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