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Federations look to the future

JCorps founder wins first Jewish Community Heroes award

After weeks of deliberation and the tally of more than 600,000 online votes, the Jewish Federations of North America has named its first Jewish Community Hero — Teaneck native Ari Teman, the founder of JCorps.
A panel of judges from outside the federation system chose Teman, 27, for the $25,000 Jewish Community Heroes prize after whittling down a list of more than 400 nominees, which also included Rabbi Ephraim Simon, director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County in Teaneck. Simon, who was nominated because of his donation of a kidney to a stranger, garnered 8,210 votes to make it into the list of top 20 semifinalists but was not chosen to be among the top five.

The Jewish Federations announced the winner Tuesday at the closing plenary session of its General Assembly in Washington. The contest was part of the federation system’s new multimillion-dollar marketing and rebranding strategy to broaden its base of support.

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Ari Teman

Teman’s organization sets up young Jews with volunteer opportunities in nine cities over three continents — all while working on virtually no budget.

“We’re all a product of a community,” Teman, a graduate of Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, said during a press conference after he was declared the winner. “I was raised in Teaneck and I benefited a lot from the education system in Teaneck.”

Noting that Chabad had a large share of nominees in the general pool and in the top 20, Teman credited the organization for its work and for pulling him back to Judaism after he wandered away during college. The outreach group, he added, has also had an influence on JCorps.

“Chabad is way ahead of us,” he said. “If you’re traveling somewhere in the world, in some far remote village there’s a Chabad guy willing to let you in no matter what. We’ve been able to borrow from them [the philosophy of] ‘a Jew is a Jew’ and not get into the conversation of what kind of Jew are you. We got that from Chabad.”

Teman, a standup comedian by day, runs JCorps as a volunteer on a budget that is probably less than the award he will take home. Yet the organization has enlisted some 10,000 volunteers for local community service projects in the United States, Canada, and Israel.

“This will enable us to take in a lot more volunteers rapidly without having to worry, ‘Do we have to slow it down because we can’t afford to bring more people in?’” Teman said.

He started JCorps in 2007 on something of a late-night whim, he said, about how he could meet more Jewish people.

The money will help the program expand and perhaps allow Teman to hire his first professional staff member.

“The first year we started with $300,” he said. “We like to say that if we had no money we could still keep running, which is great, because it means the money we put in is for growth.

JTA/Jewish Standard

 
 

Federations look to the future

Sharansky: Israel needs the diaspora

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Natan Sharansky, right, new head of the Jewish Agency for Israel and a former prisoner in the Soviet Union, chats with two active members of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, Eva and Leo Gans. Josh Lipowsky

Israel may need the diaspora just as much as the diaspora needs Israel, Natan Sharansky, the newly appointed head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, told members of the GA delegation from UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey during a private meeting on Tuesday.

Sharansky, a former minister of diaspora Affairs and a former prisoner of Zion in the Soviet Union, took over JAFI earlier this year.

“I am trying now to refocus the Jewish Agency, a huge organization with a lot of idealistic people,” Sharansky told the group. Echoing what he said at the plenary session on Monday, he said, “I believe that [Jewish] identity has to be put in the center.”

Responding to a question from UJA-NNJ executive vice president Howard Charish on the role of Israelis in diaspora communities and an unspoken directive not to engage them in local affairs, Sharansky said he was never one to follow instructions. The model where the diaspora looks to Israel for a Jewish connection but not vice versa, which he said was likely directed by Israel itself, is outdated.

“We are one people,” he said. “We’re a global world. I think you have to do your best [for] Russian speakers and Spanish speakers and Hebrew speakers.”

Many Israelis who leave Israel often leave behind their connections to the Jewish people — until they realize that their children are growing up without that connection, and then they begin to engage, Sharansky continued.

“Israelis are also discovering for their own interests they need the diaspora, to connect to Jewish history and tradition,” he said. “It’s less about how one helps the other but how you’re helping yourself.”

Turning toward JAFI’s role as a facilitator of aliyah, Sharansky said that though the decision today is mostly aliyah by choice, the Jewish world must be prepared in case aliyah becomes a rescue option.

Program such as MASA, which enables young Jews to study in Israel, provide professional development and connect Jews around the world to the Israel experience, he said.

North American aliyah, he added, has increased to some 4,000 a year and JAFI has dreams of it soon reaching 7,000.

“That will come only if we continue building strong Jewish communities,” he said. “It’s challenging times but I think we will succeed.”

Sharansky shared a story that when the Soviet Union prepared its case against him, prosecutors had amassed 15,000 pages of documents, listing every Jewish and anti-Soviet organization he was affiliated with. These organizations did not communicate well with each other, he said, but there they were, all listed together.

“For our enemies we are all on the same page,” he said.

UJA-NNJ makes it a point to schedule private meetings like these at the GA, Charish said afterward. Past meetings have included former UJC executive committee chairs Kathy Manning and Joe Tauber and former JAFI head Ze’ev Bielski. Some members of the local delegation told Charish that the Sharansky meeting was the best session they had attended that week.

“We felt privileged to be in his company given the fact that he’s a hero of our time and has a distinguished record of service since coming to Israel,” Charish said. “It’s good to have that small group discussion to get clarifications and understandings of positions.”

 
 

Federations look to the future

Kehillah Partnership: ‘Doing together what no agency can do alone’

Many came to the GA looking for ways to re-energize their communities and bring new and younger people into the fold. UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and the YJCC of Bergen County came to Washington with their solution: the Kehillah Partnership.

The program, created in 2006, links the YJCC, UJA-NNJ, synagogues, and other communal organizations through cost- and resource-sharing. Rabbi Noam Marans, associate director of Contemporary Jewish Life at the American Jewish Committee, presented the program during a panel on Monday called “You Had Me at Shalom,” exploring new methods to engage young families.

“The Partnership is a place where local community agencies and institutions … work together to foster innovation and connectedness, doing together what no agency can do alone,” he told the standing room-only session. “Institutions maintain individual identities and allegiances but embrace the benefit of working together with others.”
During a Kehillah Partnership-sponsored reception later that evening, Marans, who lives in Teaneck, said the program had been well received at the conference, which made him optimistic that it could be replicated nationally.
“The greatest accomplishment is that thoughtful people in Jewish education and in institution-building have recognized the Kehillah Partnership as a national model that can be implemented locally,” he said. “We hope to enable other communities to apply the lessons we’ve learned to the specific circumstances of their communities.”

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Rabbi Noam Marans talks about the Kehillah Partnership. Josh Lipowsky

Evie Rotstein, program consultant for the Partnership, said organizers have been able to capitalize on a grant they received last year from the Covenant Foundation to develop a new curriculum for sixth-grade Hebrew school teachers that integrates the arts.

“This is a very special kind of professional development for teachers,” she said. “It’s infusing arts into the curriculum and nowhere else is that happening in the U.S. Teachers are learning to utilize videography, art, dance, photography, airplane-making, jewelry-making…. They’re using the skills of the artists in bringing that back to the classroom.”

The Partnership recently brought the national PJ Library, geared toward getting young children and their families to read Jewish books, to the area. That program crosses all denominations, but for the most part, the Partnership has focused on Conservative and Reform synagogues. That, said YJCC director Harold Benus, is only because the partnership has concentrated on congregational Hebrew schools. Programs such as a planned cost-sharing initiative will reach across the Jewish community, he said.

“It’s a matter of the stage of life that we’re at,” he said. “When we can start other programs through adult programming, with broader appeal, we’ll be more successful at reaching other synagogue communities. We are in a pilot stage right now.”

The 10 congregations involved in the pilot program all agreed that the congregational schools should be the first step, Marans said. Eventually, the program will expand to include not only more synagogues, but more Jewish institutions. This will help build community “from the bottom up,” he said.

“We have learned,” Marans added, “that if one creates an environment of trust between institutions, the institutions and their lead players will work together on projects for the betterment of the entire community.”

 
 

Federations look to the future

GA shows ‘collective will’ to build and rebuild

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. Robert Cumins/Jewish Federations of North America

A delegation from UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey joined some 3,000 Jewish professionals and lay leaders from around the world in Washington this week for the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, formerly the United Jewish Communities.

Traveling with UJA-NNJ executive vice president Howard Charish was a mix of seasoned and new leaders, 36 in all, looking for new ideas and to see how their colleagues were facing the recession that has hurt campaigns across the board.

“There’s no question times are difficult,” Charish said at the end of the confab, “but also I believe there is a collective will to get through it and focus on building and rebuilding.”

He noted that at one session he attended, Steve Shrager, head of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, reported that it is expecting an $8 million shortfall this year. The organization borrowed 10 percent from its endowment last year and is taking another 11 percent this year.

“The facts of the downturn are ever-present,” Charish said. “They of course condition yearly operations. However, there have been hard times before, and one of the things that we consistently have noted is the resilience of the Jewish people and the fact that we have a history of meeting challenges.”

Meeting challenges and looking toward the future was a theme the leadership of JFNA kept touching on. “We’re going to have to stop making Shabbat separately and start making Shabbat together,” said Jerry Silverman, JFNA’s new president and CEO, during a press conference on Sunday, the opening day of the meeting. “We need to think boldly,” he continued, “and generate an abundance of ideas and engage … new consumers and lapsed users to connect with new ideas.”

UJC’s rebranding and the appointment of its new CEO point to the need to update the federation system to maintain relevance in the changing world, said Alan Scharfstein, UJA-NNJ president.

“This was a very positive meeting in terms of understanding how all the federations are looking to change the nature of the federation system and focus on problems [whose solutions would] really make a difference,” Scharfstein continued. “There seems to be a realization across the federation system that these changes we’ve been talking about are essential to keep federation relevant and move it forward.”

This was the second GA for Alan Gallatin of Wyckoff, a member of the National Young Leadership Cabinet, and despite the faltering economy, he noted a sense of optimism among participants. “The programs themselves have been painted that way,” he said. “It’s clearly a message they’re trying to get out there, but it’s a theme that’s caught on.”

The conference also included panels led by members of the UJA-NNJ delegation. Rabbi Noam Marans of Teaneck gave a presentation on the Kehillah Partnership, a project of the YJCC of Bergen County, UJA-NNJ, and other community organizations. Leonard Cole of Ridgewood introduced a panel called “Birthright: Paradigm or party,” which explored the relationships forged between the Jewish communal world and the alumni of the popular free trip to Israel. With more than 200,000 participants since the program’s inception in 1999, it has directly or indirectly affected more than one million people, Cole said, adding, “I’ve met many people inspired to take trips because of the experiences of their kids.”

The panel’s moderator, Leah Stern, an alumna of the first trip who has since made aliyah, said the program “brought abut the rebirth of my life.”

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Leonard Cole of Ridgewood praised Birthright, the popular free trip to Israel offered to young Jewish adults. Josh Lipowsky

A recent Brandeis University study examined increased Jewish participation among Birthright alumni. They are 24 percent more likely to feel connected to the Jewish community, said panelist Leonard Saxe, the study’s author. Participants, he continued, are 23 percent more likely to feel connected to Israel, and non-Orthodox participants are 54 percent more likely to marry Jews.

“Birthright proves that a bold and creative and audacious plan can not only be successful but can transform behavioral patterns,” said panelist Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The New York Jewish Week and a Teaneck resident.

President Barack Obama had been scheduled to address the conference, but canceled in order to attend a memorial service at Fort Hood, Texas. After JFNA received word of the cancellation, a group of some 40 federation volunteers and executives were invited to a reception with the president Monday evening at the White House. There, Charish said, Obama apologized for not making it to the GA, but wished the leaders well in their mission. According to Charish, Obama said that he had been trained by the Chicago Jewish federation, knew the meaning of tzedakah, and that the federation system mirrored the American value of serving those in need.

“It was very important to receive the acknowledgment by the president of the role that Jewish federations play in communal life,” Charish said. “It was a geniuine display of friendship with the Jewish community.”

A “special moment” for Charish came when he shook hands with Obama while thanking him for his support of non-profit organizations. “I was very proud to be there,” Charish said.

GA attendees did hear from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as scheduled, about the challenges facing Israel and the peace process.

“He has never given a speech that I haven’t been impressed with,” said Gallatin. He laid out a nice vision. Better than most politicians, I think he’s not afraid to call it as he sees it, and he gives a good rationale for his plan. I hope that others are going to step up to the challenges he put out there.”

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The UJA-NNJ delegation relaxes at Eli’s Restaurant. Top right: Malcolm Hoehlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. JOSH LIPOWSKY

Harold Benus, executive director of the YJCC, said he thought Netanyahu was sincere in his calls for peace.

Federations, Benus noted, are beginning to look for new models to attract younger donors, and he said he was pleased with what he saw this week. “The Jewish Federations of North America are currently undergoing a transition to determine a new direction for the future,” he said. “Considering where they are, I was happily surprised about the ability for them to carry [the conference] off.”

 
 

Groups pushed health reform, but some keeping quiet on bill

Several Jewish non-profit groups are lauding passage of health-care reform legislation, saying it will benefit the community on a number of levels. Other groups, however, are keeping quiet in what some observers describe as a concentrated effort to keep out of the political crossfire.

Among those declining to comment on the passage of the bill is the Jewish Federations of North America, the North American arm of the country’s largest Jewish charitable network. The JFNA and its Washington office played an active role in advocating for parts of the bill, which Congress approved 219-212 late Sunday night.

According to federation insiders, the JFNA was the non-profit organization that took the lead on pushing for inclusion of two parts of the bill it thinks could create “transformational” change for the Jewish community: The Early Act, which will create more funding for breast cancer research and detection, and The Class Act, which will allow workers to buy into a system — much as they buy into Medicare — that will provide up to $3,000 per month for long-term support and services for the elderly and infirm.

Backers say both programs are important for Jews: The former, because Jewish women of Ashkenazi descent have a higher occurrence of the markers for breast cancer than any other minority; the latter because the Jewish community is aging faster than any other subgroup, as Jews live longer and have fewer children than anyone else.

The long-term funding should also prove a windfall for the 120 Jewish nursing homes, 145 Jewish Family Service agencies, and 15 to 20 Jewish hospitals that the federation system supports.

On Monday, the morning after the U.S. House of Representatives voted along party lines to pass a measure that would create sweeping change in the country’s health-care and insurance system, a slew of Jewish groups issued statements supporting the bill and looking forward to President Obama signing it into law.

B’nai B’rith International has been closely watching the bill’s evolution over the past year because it operates a network of senior residences, according to Rachel Goldberg, B’nai B’rith’s director of aging policy.

“We have looked at the whole thing because we think access to health care for younger people is going to affect how they age,” Goldberg said. “All of the Jewish organizations have come at this from slightly different angles. Because of our expertise, we are looking at things like access to care for everyone. And healthy aging is not possible without access to health care.... For other Jewish organizations that are responsible for running nursing homes, they are affected in different and more direct ways because they are providers.”

Similarly, the Religious Action Center, the political lobby of the Reform movement, said in a statement that the adopted bill “is not perfect. But it is necessary.”

And while the Jewish Council on Public Affairs did not put out a public statement, its executive director, Rabbi Steve Gutow, endorsed the bill in an interview with JTA Tuesday.

“Knowing our community, we will take advantage of the things in there that apply for us,” said Gutow, whose organization is a public policy umbrella group bringing together the synagogue movements, several national organizations, and more than 100 communities in North America.

The biggest public debate between Jews has emerged between Jewish partisan organizations. On Monday, the National Jewish Democratic Council effusively praised the bill and the president for getting it passed, saying it ranked among “such monumental legislative achievements as the passage of Social Security in the 1930s.”

On the other hand, before the bill was passed into law, the Republican Jewish Coalition called it “deeply flawed” and said, “Substantively, the Obama plan is wrong for America.”

Some supporters of the bill say partisan politics may explain the silence of several large organizations that at various points over the past year have pushed for the bill or portions of it.

The JFNA, which raises close to $2 billion per year through its more than 150 federations — and lobbies the federal government for hundreds of millions more to help care for the elderly — has been silent since the House vote, even though the federations and the Jewish Family Service organizations potentially have much to gain. “We will not be issuing any statements on this issue,” the spokesman for JFNA wrote in an e-mail.

Outside observers are saying that the federations, like some other large organizations, are now stuck in a position where they may be happy that the bill passed but cannot publicly say so for fear of upsetting major donors who side with the Republicans on the issue.

The highly charged, bitterly partisan fight on Capital Hill over the past week has spilled into the board rooms of many Jewish organizations, making it harder for some to take very public stances on the bill, backers said.

“It’s amazing how few Jewish groups got into this fight,” the RAC’s executive director, Rabbi David Saperstein, told JTA. “The Conservative movement and a few others co-sponsored a call with the president in which they brought this up. The Orthodox didn’t do anything. The federation system was nominally supportive of it.”

The JCPA says it supported the bill and was publicly applauding its passage, though it did not issue a press release. Health care is a loaded issue, especially for an umbrella group that has many factions to please. “We supported this,” the JCPA’s Gutow said. “But it became more complicated as the health-care bill became more complicated and partisan.”

JTA

 
 

Jewish groups exhale after Congress extends Medicaid program

Jacob BerkmanWorld
Published: 20 August 2010

Jewish groups are breathing a sigh of relief after Congress passed a law that saved them $150 million to $200 million.

President Obama on Aug. 10 signed into law a bill that extends relief provided by the federal government to individual states as part of the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage, a part of the 2008 Federal Recovery economic stimulus package. The measure will pump billions of dollars into organizations that rely on payment from Medicaid.

The FMAP extension, which had been the top priority of the Jewish Federations of North America, is particularly important for Jewish federations and their partner agencies, as nearly $6 billion per year in government aid goes through Medicaid to Jewish hospitals, nursing homes, Jewish Family Services outposts, and other social service agencies.

“Without these funds, states would have certainly cut back on their Medicaid programs, which would have had an adverse impact on how Jewish communal providers deliver needed care to their respective communities,” said William Daroff, the vice president for public policy and director of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington office.

As part of the package, states received some $87 billion in aid to help them pay their portions of the total cost for Medicaid. According to the Recovery Act, the money had to be spent by Jan 1, 2011, which posed a problem for states, whose fiscal years run from July 1 through June 30.

If the money ran out on Jan. 1, 2010, states would have been left with gaping holes in their budgets for the second half of the fiscal year. The law enacted Aug. 10 will extend FMAP until June 30, 2011, and pump another $26 billion into the program, of which $16 billion will be used for Medicaid.

The Jewish Federations of North America, which lobbies for more than $10 billion for Jewish causes each year from the federal government, was among the largest supporters of the FMAP extension. But the extension was particularly critical for groups such as the New York-based Jewish Home Life Care.

Over the past three years Jewish Home Life Care, which provides skilled in-home care to 9,000 New Yorkers, has had to cut its budget nine times, forcing the $300 million per year operation to excise more than 110 jobs and close two of its outpatient day-care facilities.

Until last week it was facing another $1.7 million in cuts and would have been among hundreds of Jewish organizations and institutions that would have lost up to $200 million in aggregate, according to JFNA estimates.

“It’s a sigh of relief,” said Jewish Home Life Care CEO Audrey Weinn, even though she still faces $400,000 in cuts from other shortfalls.

Federation officials say the JFNA was one of the 10 major groups, secular and faith-based, that lobbied Congress for the FMAP extension. Among them were Families USA, AFSCME, the First Focus children’s advocacy group, the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, and the Catholic Health Association, according to the JFNA’s assistant director for legislative affairs, Jonathan Westin.

The extension was a lesson in how federation advocacy can work.

The JFNA, which started its fight for the FMAP extension in January, created background materials and talking points that it distributed to local federations and Jewish community-relations councils, which then lobbied their own local congressional representatives. And in June, some 30 lay and professional leaders of the federation system flew into Washington from across the country for intense lobbying with government officials with whom they had strong connections.

“It showed a synergy between our lay and professional leaders,” Westin said. “You had this common bond, and whether you were from a large or small community, it wasn’t just about fighting for Medicaid needs but about delivering needed services for those in need. That is our core mission.”

In Ohio, social service groups would have lost an estimated $513 million without the FMAP extension, according to Joyce Garver, the executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities, the state’s Jewish advocacy group. Jewish groups would have lost about $2 million — a significant amount for a population of about 150,000 Jews.

Garver spent the past several months working with Ohio groups to help them understand what the cuts might mean, and also worked with the state’s leaders to lobby their representatives for the extension.

“It’s a huge victory, and it is wonderful to work on something and have it end in success,” she said.

The federations are not completely happy with the extension, as Congress is slated to divert funds from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food stamps for millions of Americans.

The reduction to the food stamp program, however, is not set to go into effect until 2014. Federation officials are gearing up already to fight the reduction.

“That is four years out, and we will work hard to try to restore those funds,” Westin said. “This was an immediate issue, and this was the combination, for better or for worse, that got the vote.”

JTA

 
 

Facing confluence of diplomatic events, Israel taking wait-and-see stance

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From left, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet at Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, on Sept. 14. Moshe Milner/GPO

WASHINGTON – Heading into a period of intense diplomatic activity, Israel and the pro-Israel community are taking what may appear to be an atypical wait-and-see approach.

That sentiment and the Jewish holidays explain the relatively muted tone.

News Analysis

This week, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheik for their second round of direct talks. Next week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is scheduled to deliver his annual address to the U.N. General Assembly — his first since the international community launched a major intensification of sanctions aimed at getting Iran to make its nuclear program more transparent.

Also next week, two separate U.N. inquiries into Israel’s deadly May 31 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla of ships are likely to be released.

Such a confluence of events, with its potential for anti-Israel invective, normally would invite a vigorous “best defense is an offense” approach from the pro-Israel community. Instead, organizations appear to be hanging back.

The reason, insiders say, is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees the stakes as too high for nasty back-and-forths between Israel and its opponents to get in the way. Netanyhahu is genuinely invested in the peace process and does not want to hand Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas an excuse to bolt.

Netanyahu also wants the Obama administration to have room to maneuver as the prospect of a nuclear Iran looms larger.

“The Israelis are saying this is real — Netanyahu wants to talk to Abbas one on one, and they will either move this ball forward or they won’t,” said William Daroff, the Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America, who has been in close contact with Israeli officials.

Netanyahu’s seriousness is underscored by what appears to be a shift on extending the partial settlement freeze he imposed 10 months ago. Abbas has threatened to quit the talks if the freeze is not extended past its Sept. 26 deadline, and last Friday President Obama said he also wanted it extended.

The Israeli leader, who until this week had refused an extension, suggested to his cabinet on Sunday that there may be room for compromise.

“Between zero and one there are a lot of possibilities,” Haaretz quoted Netanyahu as saying.

Key to Netanyahu’s calculations is the improved relationship he has with Obama, a critical element in selling concessions to the Israeli public. At a news conference last Friday, Obama praised Netanyahu’s freeze.

“The irony is that when Prime Minister Netanyahu put the moratorium in place, the Palestinians were very skeptical,” Obama said. “They said this doesn’t do anything. And it turns out, to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s credit and to the Israeli government’s credit, the settlement moratorium has actually been significant. It has significantly reduced settlement construction in the region. And that’s why now the Palestinians say, you know what, even though we weren’t that keen on it at first or we thought it was just window dressing, it turns out that this is important to us.”

Another calculus for the Netanyahu government in its wait-and-see plan is the Obama administration’s success in drumming up Iran sanctions. Most recently, Japan and South Korea expanded sanctions over China’s objections, joining the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Norway in targeting the Islamic Republic’s energy and banking sectors.

Even Russia is reported to have effectively “forgotten” to deliver its promised S-300 air defense system to Iran, which would considerably boost Iran’s ability to repel a strike against its nuclear arms centers should they become active.

U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies agree that Iran is feeling the squeeze, Israeli officials have said, leading Israel to defer to the Obama administration — for now.

“We’ve seen that the sanctions have taken a bite,” Michael Oren, Israel’s U.S. ambassador, told JTA. “But they have not yet in any way stopped enriching uranium or pressing on with their nuclear program. So that’s going to be the true test. Six or nine months down the road, we’re going to have to reassess and see where the sanctions are going.”

Ahmadinejad’s planned appearance at the General Assembly next week usually would spur the major Jewish organizations to organize a major protest rally to underscore his isolation. But with the Sukkot holiday coinciding with this year’s General Assembly, the protest has been scaled down to a Central Park rally organized by StandWithUs, a student-driven pro-Israel group.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is urging nations to walk out when Ahmadinejad speaks.

“We call upon all member states that uphold democracy and human rights to manifest their rejection and disapproval of President Ahmadinejad’s incitement, bigotry, and Holocaust denial by walking out of the General Assembly during his speech,” the organization said in a statement.

Local Jewish groups are planning sustained activism on Iran, said Josh Protas, the Washington director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish community relations councils.

“Several communities are planning days of action to raise community awareness about Ahmadinejad, the United Nations, the continued threat,” he said.

JCRCs are asking members to press lawmakers to keep Iran on the agenda, on the federal level and state level, where divestment initiatives are flourishing, Protas said.

“There’s a recognition that the sanctions don’t end the situation,” he said.

The collective decision by Israel and Jewish groups to lay low on the dueling reports on the flotilla raid is seen as a test of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has tried to moderate the U.N. probes of the raid.

Israel was condemned harshly after its commandos killed nine Turks when violence broke out on one of the ships during Israel’s operation to stop the flotilla from breaking the maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel’s defenders say the commandos came under attack and were defending themselves; critics say Israel used excessive force.

Pro-Israel officials expect the investigation of the incident by the U.N. Human Rights Council to be biased; the council condemns Israel more than any other nation. The other investigatory commission, however, which Ban appointed and is headed by Geoffrey Palmer, a former New Zealand prime minister, is seen as fair. Netanyahu cooperated with that commission.

The question, said Daniel Mariaschin, the executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, is whether Ban will be able to maneuver his commission’s report into being the one adopted and advanced by other U.N. bodies, including the General Assembly, rather than the U.N. Human Rights Council report.

“This is a test for the U.N. and for Ban’s leadership,” Mariaschin said. “Will it be fair?”

JTA

 
 

Meeting again with Jewish leaders, Abbas broaches substance

WASHINGTON – For Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Jewish leaders, their second date featured a little more substance and a little less flirtation. And this time the Palestinian Authority president brought a wing man.

Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, met separately Tuesday evening with Jewish leaders in New York — a sign of understanding on the Palestinian side of the importance of Jewish sensibilities, in Israel and the diaspora, to advancing the peace process.

News Analysis

At the meeting, Abbas seemed ready to move forward on some substantive issues, which took place during the launch of the U.N. General Assembly session.

In the first meeting, in June, Abbas frustrated Jewish leaders by dodging issues of substance — returning to direct talks and incitement — but set a tone unprecedented in Palestinian-Jewish relations by recognizing a Jewish historical presence in the land of Israel.

When a group of Palestinian intellectuals challenged Abbas on the issue a month later, instead of backtracking — typical of the one step forward, two steps back peace process tradition — his envoy in Washington, Ma’en Areikat, repeated and reaffirmed the comments.

In the interim, direct talks have been launched.

“I would like for us to engage in a dialogue where we listen to each other and where I can respond to your questions because I trust we have one mutual objective — to achieve peace,” Abbas said at Tuesday’s meeting, according to notes provided by the Center for Middle East Peace.

The center, a dovish group founded by diet magnate Daniel Abraham, sponsored the Abbas meeting, as it did in June. The Fayyad meeting was sponsored by The Israel Project, which tracks support for Israel in the United States and throughout the world.

Making his clearest statement to date on the matter, Abbas said he would not walk away from negotiations should Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fail to extend a partial 10-month moratorium on settlement building set to lapse next week. The PA leader suggested that a way out might be if Netanyahu does not make a public issue of the end of the moratorium.

“I cannot say I will leave the negotiations, but it’s very difficult for me to resume talks if Prime Minister Netanyahu declares that he will continue his activity in the west bank and Jerusalem,” Abbas said.

Netanyahu is under pressure from the settlement movement not only to end the moratorium, but to resume building at levels unprecedented in his prime ministership. The Israeli leader also is heedful, however, of Obama administration demands that the parties not go out of their way to outrage each other.

Among the Jewish leaders at the Abbas meeting were Malcolm Hoenlein and Alan Solow, the executive vice chairman and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director; and leaders of umbrella groups such as the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Jewish Federations of North America.

Also on hand were Clinton administration foreign policy mavens such as Sandy Berger, Madeleine Albright, and Daniel Kurtzer, who maintain close ties with Obama’s foreign policy team.

Abbas also showed that he was attempting to bridge a gap on what until now seemed an intractable issue.

The Palestinians have long accepted the inevitability of a demilitarized state, but they reject a continued Israeli military presence. Netanyahu told Jewish leaders in a conference call Monday that he would trust no one but Israeli troops to preserve Israel’s security on the west bank’s eastern border. At the meeting, Abbas floated the idea of a non-Israeli force that would include Jewish soldiers.

On other issues, Abbas was less prepared to come forward.

Israel wants a clear commitment from the Palestinians that any discussion of the refugee issue would preclude a flooding of Israel with descendants of refugees of the 1948 war, which Israelis say is a recipe for the peaceful eradication of Israel. Behind closed doors, the Palestinians have said they are ready to provide Israel the assurances it needs, but Abbas said at the meeting only that it is a final-status issue.

Another issue could yet scuttle the talks now that the parties seem ready to put the settlement moratorium behind them.

Netanyahu, having extracted what seems to be an irreversible Palestinian recognition of Israel during his previous turn in the job, in 1998, now wants the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state — a result of the emergence of movements that seek to strip Israel of its Jewish character.

Abbas has resisted, in part because he sees such recognition as cutting off the 20 percent of Israel that is Arab, but also because he seems baffled by the demand. He argues that states are free to define themselves and should not need the approbation of others.

“If the Israeli people want to name themselves whatever they want, they are free to do so,” the PA president said.

In a sign that he also was seeking conciliation on the matter, Abbas said at the meeting that he would accept the designation if it were approved by the Knesset. He repeated his recognition of Israel’s Jewish roots and decried Holocaust denial.

It was not far enough for some of his interlocutors.

Stephen Savitzky, the president of the Orthodox Union, wanted Abbas to recognize not only Jewish ties to the land but with the Temple Mount, the site of the third holiest mosque in Islam.

“President Abbas missed an opportunity this evening to make a key statement that would have created good will in the Jewish community,” Savitzky said in a statement.

Fayyad, less charismatic but deemed more trustworthy than Abbas by the pro-Israel intelligentsia, appeared to fare well in the dinner hosted by The Israel Project, which hews to the centrist-right pro-Israel line of much of the U.S. Jewish establishment. He scored points for admitting that the Palestinian Authority had not done enough to combat incitement.

“Prime Minister Fayyad’s spirit of hope was extremely welcome,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, a founder of The Israel Project.

“We know that some people will criticize us for falling for a Palestinian ‘charm offensive.’ However, there is nothing offensive about charm. More Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, should sit together over dinner and exchange ideas — especially when it can help lead to security and peace.”

JTA

 
 

Jewish charities do poorly in annual list

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As the recession ends, will mega-donors like Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson re-up their Jewish giving? Courtesy Deborah Camiel

While economists say the recession ended more than a year ago, you wouldn’t know it to look at Jewish nonprofits.

In an annual list released earlier this month by The Chronicle of Philanthropy of the top 400 nonprofits in the United States, fund raising at the country’s largest Jewish charities had declined by an average of 18.5 percent in 2009 — nearly twice as much as the list as a whole, which showed a fund-raising decline of 10 percent.

Twenty-two Jewish organizations made the Philanthropy 400, which ranks the country’s 400 largest nonprofits by the size of their fund-raising totals.

Only two Jewish charities ranked among the top 100 earners in 2009, with the Jewish Federations of North America and its overseas partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, ranking 45 and 78, respectively.

Some of the country’s largest Jewish charities took significant hits. Hadassah was down 7.9 percent to $78 million; the JDC fell 8.5 percent to $224 million; Yeshiva University dropped nearly 40 percent to $111 million; and Brandeis University was down 12.6 percent to $78 million. On the other hand, the Birthright Israel Foundation rose 46.8 percent to just over $71 million.

It seems that 2009 was an especially hard year for the Jewish federation system.

The Chronicle’s accounting of the 147-federation system is always a bit tricky, as some of the largest federations are counted by themselves and not with the rest of the system.

According to the Chronicle’s survey, the JFNA brought in $320,252,000 in 2009, a 19.6 percent drop from the previous year (when it was known as the UJC, for United Jewish Communities).

All but one of the top federations on the list, which were counted separately, showed significant declines. The UJA-Federation of New York was down 10 percent to $159.7 million, JUF-Jewish Federation of Chicago was down 15 percent to $133.5 million, and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston was down 21 percent to about $85 million.

Only the Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore saw an increase, gaining 10 percent to reach $62 million.

But the JFNA says the numbers for the federations are not as bad as the report may seem. Looking at the federation system’s campaign as a whole, and including the larger federations, the 2009 annual campaign stood at $938 million, a 10 percent drop from 2008’s $1.04 billion campaign and more in line with the national averages for declines.

In total, according to the JFNA, the federations took in $2 billion in 2009 when counting all of their assets, including endowments and foundations such as the Jewish Communal Fund of New York. This year, the federations are ahead of the 2009 pace, as they have taken in $747 million in 2010, a 3.4 percent increase over the same period of last year.

“There is a cautious optimism,” a JFNA spokesman said. “I don’t think anyone thinks we are out of the woods or that everything is great. But there is a feeling that people have really responded and stepped up to the plate, especially given that nonprofits and charities continue to be down. Our surveys have shown that there is a trust in the federation movement.”

On the positive side, two Jewish organizations were new to this year’s list of the top 400: American Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and the Jewish National Fund. On the other side, two Jewish organizations dropped off the list: the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego and the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, N.J., both of which made the top 400 for 2008 thanks to significant one-time gifts.

This marks the 20th year that the Chronicle has conducted the survey. It provided an opportunity to see how top charities have evolved since 1991 and how donor interests may have changed.

In general, the largest charities have stayed relatively stable. Some 228 charities made the list in both 1991 and 2010, and they increased their mean fund-raising by 228 percent. When adjusted for inflation, they raised 81 percent more in real dollars last year than they did two decades ago. And the largest of the large have fared well, according to the Chronicle: Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Catholic Charities USA, the Salvation Army, and the Y (formerly YMCA) stayed in the list’s top 20, with each group at least tripling the amount raised over the two decades.

Still, the landscape has changed dramatically. Nearly half the list is new since 1991. Jewish charities have declined. In 1991, two Jewish organizations were in the top 10, but this year the top Jewish charity, the Jewish federation system, only made it as high as No. 45.

Paul Kane, who heads the JFNA’s development department and is the senior adviser to the CEO of JFNA, said federations expect better outcomes next year. So far, the JFNA has had three major campaign events, all of which are up on average 18 percent over last year.

“We’re going to do better in 2010 than in 2009,” Kane said, adding that 2011 should be another step toward recovery. “I think people are coming back financially and showing great commitment that could reach levels pre-2009 and higher.”

JTA

 
 

Federations, JCPA teaming to fight delegitimization of Israel

The Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs are launching a multimillion-dollar joint initiative to combat anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns.

The JFNA and the rest of the Jewish federation system have agreed to invest $6 million over the next three years in the new initiative, which is being called the Israel Action Network. The federations will be working in conjunction with JCPA, an umbrella organization bringing together local Jewish community relations councils across North America.

The network is expected to serve as a rapid-response team charged with countering the growing campaign to isolate Israel as a rogue state akin to apartheid-era South Africa — a campaign that the Israeli government and Jewish groups see as an existential threat to the Jewish state. In fighting back against anti-Israel forces, the network will seek to capitalize on the reach of North America’s 157 federations, 125 local Jewish community relations councils, and nearly 400 communities under the federation system.

“There is a very, very high sense of urgency in [fighting] the delegitimizing of the State of Israel,” the JFNA’s president and CEO, Jerry Silverman, told JTA. “There is no question that it is among the most critical challenges facing the state today.”

In fact, Silverman added, Israeli leaders identify this as the second most dangerous threat to Israel, after Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Under a plan approved in late September during a special conference call of the JFNA’s board of trustees, the JCPA’s senior vice president, Martin Raffel, will oversee the new network. He will be working in concert with the head of the JFNA’s Washington office, William Daroff. Over the next several months, Raffel will be putting together his team, including six people in New York, one in Israel, and one in Washington.

The network will monitor the delegitimization movement worldwide and create a strategic plan to counter it wherever it crops up. It will work with local federations and community relations councils to enlist the help of key leaders at churches, labor unions, and cultural institutions to fight anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns.

Organizers of the network are looking at the response to an attempted boycott of the Toronto International Film Festival last year as a model for how the system could work.

When the festival organizers decided to focus on filmmakers from Tel Aviv, more than 1,000 prominent actors and filmmakers signed a statement saying that the organizers had become part of Israel’s propaganda machine, and they threatened to boycott the event. In response, the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles worked together to come up with a counter-statement supporting the festival. The counter-statement bore the signatures of even more prominent Hollywood figures, including Jerry Seinfeld, Natalie Portman, Sacha Baron Cohen, Lisa Kudrow, Jason Alexander, and Lenny Kravitz.

“The partnership started last year around the Toronto international film festival,” said Ted Sokolsky, president of the Toronto federation. “We jointly produced an ad saying that we don’t need another blacklist.”

Sokolsky went on to say, “I spoke to Jay [Sanderson, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles] and said, ‘Here, there are a lot of prominent Hollywood types on the delegitimization protest. Can you reach out to the Hollywood community and find some pro-Israel leadership?’ He reached out to some key leadership in Hollywood. And it was like waking up a sleeping giant. Then we realized we can’t all fight this alone.”

He added, “It was a great lesson and set a template on how to respond because clearly, the other side is running a linked campaign with international funding and global strategy but local implementation.”

When similar delegitimizing attempts erupt, leaders of the new network plan to respond early, according to Silverman.

“If the community in Chattanooga all of a sudden is faced with [a boycott of] Israeli products in the mall, they should be able to call the [Israel] Action Network and have response and implementation within 12 hours, and not spend time thinking about how to do it,” he said. “We should be able to do that in every community.”

Toronto and Los Angeles are two of the largest federations in the JFNA system, but the smaller federations feel that the network will benefit them as well.

Michael Papo, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, said that Indiana has not yet witnessed a full-fledged anti-Israel boycott campaign.

“But it could happen,” he said. “It could happen quickly. It could happen on our college campuses, and it would be helpful to have that national network to call for help.”

Papo said he sees the network as being able to provide guidance when his federation has to face situations such as the one it faced several years ago, when the Presbyterian Church (USA) pursued a divestment strategy against Israel. At that time, he and his colleagues were able to influence local Presbyterian churches in Indiana to vote against the divestment campaign at their national convention.

“As a Jewish community, we have a huge range of contacts in the general community,” he said. “We are connected politically, culturally, socially, academically, and in the business world — anyplace we work and live, we have connections with neighbors.… If and when we need support, we are quite capable.”

Steven Nasatir, president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, said that federations and their local partners are uniquely positioned to take on delegitimization campaigns against Israel.

“A top-down approach cannot fully comprehend or appreciate local nuance, and after each and every incident, when the headlines recede, it is the local community that is in the best position to strengthen the community for the future,” Nasatir said in an e-mailed statement. “Over the past few years, active local federations have countered the boycott of Israeli products by buyout of those same products. They have demanded that university institutions require civility from anti-Israel protestors trying to drown out Israeli speakers. And, through ongoing contact with local elected leaders, they have sensitized public officials and institutions to the need for fairness, civility, and appropriate monitoring of anti-Israel thuggery.”

While other groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Zionist Organization of America, and J Street, focus primarily on influencing the political arena, and others, such as the Israel Project and CAMERA (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), key in on the media, the new network will aim to influence civic leaders.

The Jewish federations have agreed to give the JFNA $1.6 million to fund the project fully in its first year. In the two subsequent years, the federations will split the cost 50-50 with JFNA.

“Israel’s government has been advocating for this, especially over the past six months or eight months,” Silverman said. “It has been in dialogue within our federation movement for a while, especially following the Toronto incident and the incident in San Francisco with the film festival, and divestment movements in the Protestant and Presbyterian churches. This idea was born out of the large city executives meeting that said, ‘It is time. And time is running out.’ We have to do this quickly and we have to be armed in our community and be offensive, not defensive.”

Silverman said that he expects the Israel Action Network to be fully staffed and up and running by Jan. 1.

JTA

 
 
 
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