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February 13, 2009
 

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PAGE 2A By Jacob Berkman HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 13, 2009 Chairman of UJC's national campaign resigns NEW YORK (JTA)--The chairman of the national campaign of the Jewish fed- eration system has resigned, citing frustration with the system's top lay leader, JTA has learned. David Fisher, who was the chairman of the national fund-raising campaign of the United Jewish Communities, submitted his resignation in an angry letter addressed to the UJC's chairman, Joe Kanfer. "I have found trying to lead during your term, frus- trating, ineffective, and unfulfilling and candidly, something I believe you were not interested in allowing," Fisher wrote to Kanfer in a letter dated Feb. 3. "There was the periodic lip-service to my role and contribution, but your resistance to my leadership and true involve- ment was palpable." The resignation came less than aweek before more than 200 leaders of the federation system were set to meet in Palm Beach, to discuss changes to the UJC and the federation system. One of the proposals under consideration is a plan to end the exclusive funding relationship the federation system has had with the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which now split the money that the system raises for overseas needs. The proposal has sparked strong debate. Two weeks ago, the chair- man of the board of the Jewish Agency, Richard Pearlstone, shot off an angry letter to Kanfer and other top UJC leaders insinuating that they wanted to abandon the Jew- ish Agency during its time of need. UJC officials rejected such claims. Kanfer, for his part, praised Fisher, while saying that they lacked a common vision. "David did good work for the Jewish people and always did what he thought was best, and perhaps he did not share our view of the path to the future success of the federa- tion system, but I know we both share the same dreams for Klal Yisrael, and I thank David for his service," Kanfer told JTA on Feb. 3. "David did not share the agenda for change that UJC leadership feel is necessary to revitalize the federation system," Kanfer added. "We are going to have to embrace change if we are going to raise the dollars and engage the donors of the future. David did not share the same perspective for the future or change." Fisher was not available when JTA tried to reach him at his office on the evening of Feb. 3. By James D. Besser New York Jewish Week WASHINGTON, D.C.--A spiraling economic emer- gency has upset the tradi- tional political calculations of Jewish groups and prompted several to become active in the national effort to avert an even deeper calamity. Lastweek the Jewish Coun- cil for Public Affairs (JCPA) and the United Jewish Com- munities (UJC) were lobbying for versions of the massive economic stimulus bill now moving through Congress, a dramatic and revealing shift for organizations that have traditionally steered clear of positions on core economic issues like taxes and spending. "We're seeing a major change," said Hadar Susskind, JCPA's Washington director." The perception has sunk in that this is not just a normal economic downturn." The change has been driven both by the mushrooming impact of the downturn on Jewish communities across the country--and by the fear that unless quick and effective action is taken, things will get much worse."If you're living in a nice, suburban commu- nity and you're seeing houses foreclosed on your own street, it becomes visceral," Susskind said." When we talk about poverty, it's not just about other people, and it's not just about building relations with other communities--it's about Jews, as well." Recession forcing groups off D. C. sidelines meltdown and provide guid- ance to local groups that were the first to feel the pinch, will surface at a long-planned UJC leadership meeting in Florida next week that some would like to turn into an emergency summit. (Sowill lastMonday'sangry resignation of UJC's national campaign chair David Fisher. According to a JTA report, Fisher wrote to UJC chair Joseph Kanfer and said"I have found trying to lead during your term, frustrating, inef- fective, and unfulfilling and candidly, something I believe you were not interested in al- lowing." In response, Kanfer said "perhaps [Fisher] did not share our view of the path to the future success of the federation system," according to JTA.) "I've seen stirrings that suggest a growing number of federations have reached the end of the roadwith this itera- tion of UJC; I think that the economic crisis has been the catalyst," said Richard Wexler, a Chicago lawyer and former head of the United Jewish Ap- peal-the philanthropy that combined with the Council of Jewish Federations in 1999 to create UJC. Wexler, who has long been an outspoken critic of UJC operations, was the chairman during that merger. UJC's leaders, he said, were slow to recognize the depth of the economic crisis and its impact and slow to provide leadership to Jewish federa- tions around the country that These days, former $1,000 donors to local federations are showing up at local food banks, he said. In another sign of the change--which breaks through longstanding opposi- tion by major Jewish donors to lobbying on tax and spending legislation--UJC brought a group of 60 leaders to Capitol Hill for a round of lobbying on the stimulus package in the Senate. The skyrocketing unem- ployment rate, the sickening plunge of the housing market and instability in the financial sector that has required re- cord federal bailouts--chang- es that are imperiling Jewish giving--are also producing a shift in communal priorities away from Israel and other overseas commitments and in the direction of local needs. "When everybody's flush, giving millions to Israel is an easy choice," said an official with a major Jewish fed- eration." When we're seeing kosher food pantries in our own cities running out of food, foreclosures in Jewish neighborhoods and former mortgage bankers taking jobs as baristas, it's inevitable there will be a shift in focus to our own communities, our own neighborhoods." That pressure is roiling UJC, where traditional battles over foreign versus domes- tic spending are becoming more acute. That, along with charges by some federations that UJC was slow to recognize the depth of the economic There's no place like USA.gov. It's the official source of federal and state government information. It can make you as all-knowing as the Wizard of Oz. USA.gov 1 (800) FED-INFO A public service message from the U.S. General Services Administration. face a perfect storm of declin- ing donations, the burgeoning demand for services and the threat of deep, disruptive cuts in government support. "It's been off-putting to federation leaders that while they were forced to take this seriously many months ago -- reducing budgets, cutting staffs--UJC seems to be of the belief that this was something that would pass quickly, requiring only some belt tightening," Wexler said. He added that some local federations, including the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, and groups like the Jewish Funders Network reacted early and creatively to the unfolding crisis. The economic maelstrom is also intensifying long- standing grievances over UJA dues. Wexler said that the Los Angeles Jewish Federation has decided to cut its UJA dues by over 50 percent in June. Calls to the Los Angeles federation were not returned. "There have been a lot of conference calls among city- size federation execs in which federation leaders have said: 'Our budgets are being cut because of the economic reali- ties we face; we expect UJC's budget to be cut, as well, and we expect this to be a matter of discussion at the meetings next week," Wexler said. The UJC Federation Lead- ership Institute in Palm Beach earlier this week was also scheduled to consider proposals to break UJC's ex- clusive relationship with the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and allow local groups to make their own decisions about overseas allocations. But even some critics say UJC is awakening to the depth of the current crisis and the likelihood it will get much worse before it starts getting better. One measure of that shift, they say, is the decision by UJAto lobby actively for the economic stimulus bill now before Congress. "I don't think you can put all the blame on UJC," said an official with a major Jewish federation." Many in our own community were slow to react; this is something totally out- side our experience. The last thing we expected was some- thing so deep that even many of our community'swealthiest and most generous members have been devastated. This is all uncharted territory for us." Outgoing UJC chief Howard Rieger defended the group against charges it responded slowly and ineffectively to the economic crisis. "You can't plan for some- thing like this," he told the Jewish Week. "Nobody could see this coming with the speed and depth with which it's come." He said the national leader- ship is in "constant contact" with local Federations on is- sues relating to the economic downturn. "We've been very responsive," he said. "We have set up a Web site here; I get feedback every day from Federation executives around the country." In a way, the Bernard Madoff scandal--which hit numerous Jewish donors, badly damaged organiza- tions like Hadassah and the American Jewish Congress and forced a handful of Jewish foundations to close--may have had a silver lining. "After the Madoff tsunami, people started looking at the economic situation different- ly," said Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the Jewish Community Fed- eration of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties, a community that has yet to feel the full brunt of the economic collapse." It's changed the complacency, it's sparked a lot of interest in the broader issues facing all of us." A year ago, Jewish groups like JCPA that were pushing poverty as a top issue faced an uphill struggle against a communal establishment that did not always see this as a "Jewish" issue. Today, with the kosher food pantries depleted and some of the biggest names in Jewish philanthropy adding up their huge losses, that mindset is quickly changing. In Washington, the Obama administration is talking about economic recovery, but the real priority in its first weeks is simply slowing the economic skid, stabilizing critical banking and finance sectors and finding ways to curb the accelerating surge in unemployment. Two weeks ago the House passed an administration- backed $819 million stimulus package that emphasized spending for job creation, but that also included elements that are priorities for Jewish groups, such as an increase in "FMAP"--the Federal Medi- cal Assistance Percentages, the formula used to determine federal reimbursements to states for health and social service programs. UJC's Washington office has lobbied for the whole measure in recent days, not just specific spending items, abandoning a longstanding policy of not taking positions on sweeping and controversial economic measures. Why the shift? "This economic recession, and its impact on the federa- tion system and on the vul- nerable populations we serve, has been unprecedented," said William Daroff, UJC's vice president for public policy." Frankly, dramatic action was necessary." While UJC had a special interest in elements of the package that directly af- fect the Jewish agencies it serves, Daroff said there is a growing recognition that the group cannot afford to ignore policies addressing the nation's worsening economic affliction. "We're supportive of the government doing what it can to lessen the impact on those affected, but also to shorten the time frame and severity of the recession," he said. "We believe Congress and the administration taking dramatic action is a necessary ingredient." Other national groups are coming to the same conclu- sion. JCPA is also actively back- ing the stimulus plan despite its longstanding aversion to taking positions on broad- brush economic policies. At the same time, the crisis has spurred a "tremendous amount of activity at the local level," said JCPA's Washington Director Hadar Susskind. "CRCs, federations and syna- gogues are having sessions on the crisis." In fact, some of the most creative responses to the intensifying crisis are coming from local groups. Detroit has been among the nation's hardest hit cities, and its large Jewish community-- primarily in the northwest suburbs--is hardly immune. In response, and with the assistance of an anonymous donor, local groups created the Jewish Housing Associa- tion of Metro Detroit, which is providing direct assistance to Jewish homeowners facing foreclosure. With almost no publicity, the group has already helped some 212 clients, said Perry Ohren, chief program officer of Jewish Family Services of Metropolitan Detroit. He described a typical cli- ent: a successful businessman who, in the span ofayear, faced the collapse of his business, personal bankruptcy and the illness of his wife. "This is someone who is accustomed to a six-figure income," Ohren said. "He's now four months behind in his mortgage, and there's no prospect for him to make the kind of money he was making. This crisis is people who look like you and me. And from our vantage point, there's no light at the end of the tunnel." Reprinted with permission from the New York Jewish Week, www.jewishweek.com.