Dark Horizon At UJA
Financial concerns underscore General Assembly.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
hen the United Jewish
Communities began plan-
ning last year for its 2008
General Assembly in Israel, the goal was
to highlight and strengthen the federation
system's support for philanthropic efforts
in the Jewish state.
But, as more than 3,000 federation
lay and professional leaders from North
America gathered last week in Jerusalem,
their attention seemed more focused on the
economic gloom and doom back home.
On the face of it, this year's G.A. was very
much about highlighting the programs that
the federations help finance in Israel, with
a dual emphasis on attracting young, "Next
Generation" donors and the upcoming elec-
tion for Israeli prime minister.
The reality, however, is that many
federation officials and lay leaders are
supremely worried about the financial cri-
sis, which is forcing serious concern about
budget crunches at best and threatening
their existence at worst.
It was the constant topic of conversation
among delegates for the four-day G.A.-
as well as among participants in the previ-
ous week's UJC Lion of Judah Conference
on women's philanthropy in Tel Aviv.
The major fear is a drop in donations
coinciding with a sharp rise in charitable
need. Such a combination would pose
significant challenges to a network of
Jewish federations that collectively raised
more than $2 billion last year for local and
international Jewish causes — more than
$900 million through their annual fund-
raising campaigns, the rest from endow-
ments and capital campaigns.
Hallway conversations at the G.A.
revealed difficult times. The federation
in Atlanta is $2 million off its pace; small
federations are in serious trouble; the fed-
eration in Washington has cut the salaries
of its top employees and is facing layoffs;
the Las Vegas federation is looking at hard
times due to the collapse of both the real
estate market and the gaming industry.
The UJC, the system's umbrella, is trying
to remain optimistic and realistic. Many of
"This might be your grandparents'
federation system, but now it should
belong to you." That was essentially
the message organizers of this year's
United Jewish Communities General
Assembly were hoping to hammer
home by programming an entire day
aimed at "Next Gen" participants. The
effort drew about 800 participants.
"We need to broaden our donor
base," said CJF Chairman Joe Kanfer.
"It's a lot better if they participate and
build this on their own than if we try
to sit in our old rocking chairs and try
to figure it out for them in traditional
ways that may have worked perfectly
the system's largest
have had their first
Delegates listen to the G.A. proceedings.
ers for the 2008-09
end Dec. 31 may be in serious trouble.
campaigns and done well, the UJC's presi-
Compounding the concern is the impact
dent and CEO Howard Rieger said at a
of the down-spiraling stock market on
federation endowments. Federations
Still, while initial total numbers for
earned approximately $1.5 billion last
pledges may have increased, the number
year from their endowments in new con-
of donors has dropped significantly, Rieger tributions and returns on investments.
Endowments almost uniformly have been
There is optimism that large federations
hit hard in recent months.
most likely will come through 2008 reason-
While most federation-raised money
ably well because their fiscal years ended in goes to help Jews in North America, about
late summer or early fall. Small federations
33 percent is used for overseas causes. In
with campaigns of $3 million or less that
Detroit, the figure is closer to 50 percent. ❑
for our parents' generation, may have
worked very well for us, but may not
work as well for these next genera-
The day dedicated to the younger
participants started off at Yad Vashem
Holocaust Memorial with a series of
speeches from UJC officials and young
federation leaders - most of whom are
in their 40s - as well as an address by
The UJC then loaded up 19 busses
and headed out to various sites that
the organization felt would resonate
with the participants - most of whom
were Americans already in Israel on
programs affiliated with the Jewish
Agency's MASA initiative, Hillel and
groups such as Kol Dor.
Participants paid nothing for par-
ticipating. The Bronfman Foundation,
which kicked in $100,000, and other
funders footed the bill at $75-per-per-
son for those who took part only in the
"Next Gen" day, and $300 for those
who attended the rest of the four-day
Several admitted they did not know
what a G.A. was and were in atten-
dance only because their programs
recruited them. The UJC acknowledg-
es the problem, but officials say that
they are working on new ways to teach
younger generations about the work
the federation system does - because
old tactics simply are not working.
Israeli candidates stump before U.S. Jews.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
bile America just completed
an election about the future,
Israel is entering an election
campaign that seems mired in the past.
The three leading candidates for prime
minister are two men who already have
held the post and a woman who had the
premiership in her hands last month but
failed to assemble a governing coalition,
A30 November 27 • 2008
prompting new elections in February.
Israel has been unable to demonstrate
concrete progress in its peace talks with
the Palestinians, unable to thwart the
Iranian nuclear threat and unable to offer
up a candidate who represents a break
with the policies of the past.
It was against this backdrop that the
three major Israeli candidates for prime
minister — Benjamin Netanyahu of
Likud, Tzipi Livni of Kadima and Ehud
Barak of Labor — presented themselves
last week to American Jews at the annual
General Assembly of the United Jewish
"We are living in tough times
in a tough neighborhood;
Barak, Israel's defense minister,
said in his plenary address.
"For Israel to survive in this
corner of the world means to
stand firm, open-eyed, ready to Benjamin Netanyahu
stretch its hand, preferably the
left hand, to find — to open any
door, any window — to try to find a way
ing finger close to the trigger, ready to pull
to make peace.
it whenever ifs necessary. That's the situa-
"At the same time, we should have the
tion that dominates our lives."
other hand, the right hand, with the point-
The appearances of the three major-