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December 27, 2014 / 5 Tevet, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘Jewish Federations’

Jewish Federations Chiefs Call for Free Jewish Preschool

Friday, October 25th, 2013

The leaders of the Jewish Federations of North America are calling for free Jewish preschool for every Jewish family in America.

Jewish Federations CEO Jerry Silverman and board chairman Michael Siegal said free Jewish preschool would “dramatically widen the pipeline of families entering Jewish life through this critical early gateway.”

The idea was one of four proffered by Silverman and Siegal to “intensify — and make affordable — the most effective vehicles for engaging people in Jewish life,” they wrote.

The two also called for tripling the percentage of Jewish kids attending Jewish summer camps, to 30 percent; more follow-up with alumni of Birthright Israel trips; and intensive investment in Jewish programming in parts of the country where Jewish density is high but Jewish engagement is low.

Asked in an interview with JTA if he has a road map to deliver free Jewish preschool to every Jewish family in America, Silverman said, “It’s an idea. These are four concepts and ideas. Our goal is to unpack these, take a look at these, take a look at the models that are already out there and see what this idea could really turn into. And once we unpack it we will be able to really see what is reasonable and what is executable. But we think it’s in the right direction.”

The Jewish Federations has changed its plans for the upcoming General Assembly in Jerusalem to make room for discussion of ideas to address the negative trends in American Jewish life evident in the Pew Research Center’s recent survey of U.S. Jews. The survey showed American Jews assimilating at faster rates than ever.

Silverman and Siegal offered little in the way of specifics.

On Birthright follow-up, the two authors issued a call for Birthright’s “gatekeepers to share this vast database of alumni contacts with us so that we have a mechanism to engage them in Jewish life.”

Silverman told JTA, “If we’re supporting this as a community and as philanthropists, then let’s make sure that we’re staying in some way and in some form and in the right way connected with these young people so they know there’s varying entry points into the community and into Jewish life.”

On the subject of Jewish camp, Silverman did not identify a particular strategy for increasing enrollment but told JTA that the Foundation for Jewish Camp, which he led for five years before he assumed the helm of the Jewish Federations, is working on a number of strategies for increasing market demand for Jewish camps.

On the subject of dense Jewish communities with low Jewish engagement — Silverman cited Denver, San Diego and Phoenix — the Op-Ed called for “Jewish Development Zones” that would develop the free Jewish preschool model, build an excellent Jewish summer camp, support existing Jewish youth programming, and develop programs for Birthright alumni and young Jewish singles.

“These ideas that Michael and I have written about are not set in stone,” Silverman told JTA. “These are ideas to question, to debate, to challenge. But we think they’re pretty solid because let’s start with low-hanging fruit instead of creating from afresh.

“We are very open and hungry to listen to dialogue that occurs. There may be another idea that comes out that’s better, so be it. We felt we needed to put our seeds in the ground to say OK, here’s what we see, here’s what we think. Let’s start the dialogue and put something on the table.”

The Zionist Girl the Jewish Federations Love to Hate

Friday, August 17th, 2012

My friend and colleague Lori Lowenthal Marcus writes today in Arutz 7 about her entanglements with the Jewish Federations of North America, and how, instead of confirming or denying a simple question she posed to them, they chose instead to start a campaign of personal attacks against her. (By the way, for a version of the article with all the links intact, go here.)

It began with “one former high-ranking leader of global Jewish philanthropy has claimed that the largest Jewish charity in the world succumbed to the polling/fundraising dilemma by rejecting the use of the term Zionism because that term is ‘too controversial’ – at a recent high level meeting. When this reporter tried to investigate the truth, she unwittingly became, like the title of a popular book, the Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest..”

She continues:

In writing the story, I did what reporters are supposed to do. First I researched and then interviewed the person making the claim. I then reached out to JFNA people who were at that meeting, and/or who are major players within the JFNA world. I reached out to them for hours, across several states, time zones and levels of leadership, in attempts to include in my story the JFNA response. I was explicit about who I was and what I was making contact about.

I contacted New York City UJA-Federation Chair John Ruskay, his press contact person Jane E. Rubinstein; president of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland Steve Hoffman; JFNA’s senior vice president for Global Planning, Joanne Moore; JFNA Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington, D.C. JFNA office, William Daroff; and JFNA spokesman Joe Berkofsky. I was stonewalled at every turn: I got literally nothing of substance back.

Needless to say, she got bupkes. They were either out on vacation or they stonewalled her. So she—and I, her editor—went ahead with the story. “And then it really hit the fan,” Lori reports.

“What should have been a minor story about a credible critic’s claim that JFNA leadership had rejected the term Zionism as ‘too controversial,’ followed by a JFNA response denying that that’s what happened, and making clear Federation’s Zionist credentials, disappeared in a barrage of personal and unfounded attacks on me.”

“The hornets were angry; she writes, “I kept getting stung.”

“I and my article were labeled “scurrilous,” “vituperative,” “false,” “evil,” misleading,” and “lashon hara.” And in their latest statement, JFNA leadership used the most somber day in the Jewish calendar to reprimand me and to accuse me publicly of “sinat chinam”– the baseless hatred of one Jew for another that, according to Jewish tradition, caused nothing less than the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of Jewish sovereignty in Israel for 2000 years. In Federation’s narrative, I was presented as the one who needed to repent.”

My editor joked that he wouldn’t be surprised to see me being used in JFNA fundraisers the way Rachel Maddow is used by Republican fundraisers and Sarah Palin by Democrats. He wrote: “I can see it now, a local Federation brochure: ‘Lori Lowenthal Marcus wants you to hate Jewish Federations, but we won’t let her. Send your checks to the address below.’”

So now you know. As usual in these cases, the cover-up is worse than the crime. It’s possible to imagine a Jewish federation opting to dial it down on the Z word when fundraising within its constituency, seeing as some of said constituents might be busy BDS’ing Israel. But the way they went about destroying the reputation of a writer who is beyond reproach makes you wonder just what kind of hornets live in that nest…

US Jewish Federations to Drop ‘Zionism’ from their Global Plans

Friday, July 27th, 2012

See an update at the end of this report.

In what has been described as “a closeted and cowardly move,” the Jewish Federations of North America last week rejected the inclusion of the term “Zionism” in a major system-wide planning document.

The JFNA’s Global Planning Table is the mechanism by which JFNA and Federation leadership come together to determine the allocation of dollars for new Federation initiatives outside of the United States.  The Report issued by this collaborative is considered a building block of the allocations decision making process, and it was the call to include Zionism in the recent report that was rejected.  The Global Planning Table page of the JFNA website does not include either the term Zionism or Israel.

Richard Wexler, former chair of the Chicago Federation and national chairman of the United Jewish Appeal in the late ’90′s, revealed yesterday, July 26, that JFNA’s leaders have rejected the inclusion of the term “Zionism” in their Global Planning Table Work Group Report  because the term “is too controversial.”

In 2008 Wexler stepped down from his position as chairman of the United Israel Appeal, a subsidiary of what later became the JFNA.  He also was one of the architects of the merger of United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group for the local Federations.  Even while in a leadership position, however,  Wexler was critical of the management culture, writing in his blog “UJ Thee and Me” that “criticism is not merely ignored, it is not tolerated.”

Some fear the JFNA move will be seen as a watered-down acceptance of the notion that Zionism is to blame for the problems in the Middle East, or at the very least an effort to hold at arms length the idea that Jews are entitled to a national homeland.

“I am beyond disappointed and upset,” Wexler told The Jewish Press, about the decision to hide from the idea of Zionism.  He said, “that is at the heart of all we do.”

Members of the GPT work group who were present at the meeting and frustrated by the outcome told Wexler about the decision.

One of those most closely involved in this decision making effort was Joanne Moore, senior vice president for JFNA’s Global Planning Department.  Moore oversees the Global Planning Table, JFNA’s research department and the General Assembly.

Prior to joining JFNA, Moore, a former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, spent more than a dozen years working on USAID-funded public health projects in Africa, Haiti and Asia.  She also was a consultant to the Institute of Reproductive Health.   In addition, Moore had been a lay leader in various capacities for JFNA.  Moore did not respond to a request for comment.

The rejection of Zionism by JFNA leaders was described by Wexler in his blogpost and in comments to The Jewish Press, as a continuing trend by Federations to distance themselves from Israel.

Several years ago, Federations changed the name of their non-domestic efforts, which had been called their Israel and Overseas Department, to the Global Operations Department.  In response to pushback from local leaders, the name was changed once again to Global Operations: Israel and Overseas.

Further evidence of this trend, according to Wexler, is a drift from the close connections the JFNA had with its actual overseas partners, the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Acknowledging that there might be better, more efficient ways for the Federations to encourage North American Jewry with Israel than through the Joint or JAFI, he was adamant that this latest decision — the excision of the term Zionism from their planning documents — was morally disastrous.

“What we cannot permit is an implicit denial of the centrality of Israel in our lives and a denial [of] the absolute responsibility we as Diaspora Jewish leaders have to engage more Jews here with Israel.”

Although repeated efforts to reach JFNA leaders were unsuccessful, it is possible that the decision may be reversed before the report is finalized.  Richard Wexler, for one, hopes this is what attention to this decision may bring.  Otherwise it is simply a “terrible commentary on what Federations are today.”

Update:

After this story was published, JFNA officials issued a statement sent to Federation executives and others, by Kathy Manning, Chair, and Jerry Silverman, President/CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America:

On July 27, 2012, Lori Lowenthal Marcus wrote accusing the Jewish Federations of North America of moving away from its support of Israel and Zionism. Nothing could be further from the truth. The ongoing support of Israel is fundamental to Federations and to JFNA. Our system sends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to Israel to support the vulnerable, to assist in education programs, to help new immigrants, to assist in job and skills development, and to provide concrete expressions of solidarity during Israel’s darkest hours. We connect American Jews to Israel and Israelis by supporting birthright and other youth and young adult programs, community and national missions to Israel, and innovative partnerships between our communities and Israeli communities. We are proud to be holding our 2013 General Assembly in Israel, where we will have an opportunity to highlight the important work we do with our partners in Israel.”

The decision to remove the term “Zionism” in an important global planning document because that term is “too controversial,” which is the point of the article, is not denied in their statement. Repeated efforts were made to contact Federation and JFNA officials before the story ran.

Jewish Groups Grapple With Expected Cuts In Funding

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

WASHINGTON – Even before the debt deal was signed Tuesday in Washington, U.S. Jewish groups and recipients of government largesse were asking the same question: Who’s going to get cut?

It’s still too early to say. But the new “super committee” created to hash out the details of $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in spending cuts by the end of the year, and the arguments that surely will arise from the committee’s work, will provide the clearest sign yet of which government grants or programs are on the chopping block.

In the Jewish community, the areas of concern range from funding for elderly care to environmental issues to democracy promotion overseas. Federal funding makes up a significant chunk of the budgets of many of the groups that operate in those fields.

Joyce Garver Keller, the executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities, which lobbies state lawmakers for Ohio’s Jewish federations, said Ohio Jewish service providers already are reeling from cuts mandated last month in the state budget. That included up to 14 percent in cuts for nursing homes and 3 percent cuts for home- and community-based providers.

The largest Jewish facility for the elderly in the state, in the Cleveland area, already is dealing with $2 million in cuts on the state level even without any cuts at the federal level.

Keller said the homes for the elderly were examining solutions including freezing salaries and retirement benefits for staff, and cutting back on utilities such as electricity. Others are considering opening up in-house medical practices to outsiders to create revenue.

The National Council for Jewish Women expressed concern particularly about cuts that could affect women and children.

“The deal does require deep cuts in government spending, cuts that will likely affect Head Start, K-12 education, Title X family planning, job training, domestic violence prevention, meals on wheels and other services for vulnerable people,” NCJW said in a statement.

Mark Olshan, the associate executive vice president for B’nai B’rith International, which runs 38 homes for the elderly across the country, said federal cuts would burden a system coping with a growing number of retirement-age baby boomers.

“The reality is we’re probably not going to be building a lot more buildings, but there will be more people who need these kinds of programs,” he said.

Jewish groups are also closely watching cuts in areas where they do not receive direct assistance. Jason Isaacson, the director of governmental and international affairs for the American Jewish Committee, anticipated cuts in programs promoting energy alternatives and democracy overseas.

Isaacson said cuts in democracy promotion would be especially unfortunate just as reform was sweeping the Arab world, noting the upcoming elections in Tunisia in October as an example.

“We need to lower the deficit, but we have big opportunities and responsibilities around the world,” Isaacson said.

The key to preserving funding is to intensify lobbying between now and when the new super committee votes in November on proposed cuts, said William Daroff, the Washington director of the Jewish Federations for North America.

“We will be lobbying heavily to ensure that the $550 billion in immediate discretionary domestic cuts do not come from the programs that fund key Jewish federation services to the vulnerable,” Daroff said. “No decisions have been made yet on the Hill as to where those cuts will come from.”

Under the deal struck over the weekend and passed by both houses of Congress – in the House of Representatives on Monday and the Senate the next day – about half the cuts are to come from the defense sector and the other half from domestic programs, with some cuts designated for foreign assistance.

Opposition Mounting To Proposed Israeli Conversion Bill

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010


WASHINGTON – Opposition to a proposed Israeli conversion bill is mounting, from the U.S. Congress to the Israeli prime minister.


Meanwhile, the bill is likely to be put on hold while the Knesset adjourns this week for a two-month recess.


The controversy over the bill erupted last week when its main sponsor, David Rotem of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, unexpectedly put it to a committee vote. The measure passed by a 5-4 margin, sending it to the full Knesset.


Meant to give would-be converts more leeway in choosing where and how to convert in Israel, the bill also would consolidate control over conversions under the office of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Non-Orthodox Diaspora Jewish movements and the leadership of the Jewish Federations of North America and Jewish Agency for Israel all have warned that non-Orthodox converts would be put at risk of being disqualified as Jews by the Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate.


In recent days, a Jewish U.S. senator unhappy about the bill, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), began circulating a letter asking fellow lawmakers to join him in condemning the controversial Israeli measure. Wyden’s letter is circulating among the Senate’s 13 Jewish lawmakers for more signatures before it is delivered to Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.


Meanwhile, in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he opposes the bill in its current form. The bill “could tear apart the Jewish people,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday.


Following its passage last week by the Knesset’s Law, Constitution and Justice Committee, the bill must pass three readings in the Knesset for it to become law. The prime minister said he would try to remove the bill by consensus, but if that fails he will ask members of his Likud Party and other coalition members to oppose it in the Knesset. With the Knesset on the cusp of a long recess, the bill is unlikely to come up for another vote until the fall.


Rotem says the bill aims to simplify the conversion process, empowering local Israeli community rabbis to perform conversions and thereby make it easier for Israelis to convert – including those who don’t intend to adhere to Orthodox observance.


But in giving the Rabbinate ultimate authority over conversions, the bill puts non-Orthodox converts at risk and may make it more difficult for non-Orthodox converts to make aliyah, critics in the Diaspora warn.


Rotem says the bill should not concern Diaspora Jews.


“It has nothing to do with Jews in the Diaspora,” Rotem told JTA last week. “It is only an Israeli matter.”


Shas Party Chairman Eli Yishai, a member of Netanyahu’s coalition government, said he supports the bill.


“The absence of a conversion law is the greatest spiritual danger for the people of Israel at this time,” he told Ynet.


In the United States, the Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox organization, said that “While the legislation in question may not be perfect, we who live in North America must recognize that it does contain much to commend it.”


The RCA called on Diaspora Jews not to interfere with the internal Israeli legislation, noting, albeit incorrectly, that “North American Jews have long embraced the principle that the duly elected leadership of the State of Israel should not be subject to outside interference or pressure by other governments, religious bodies, or communal entities.”


The chorus of American voices against the bill is growing, particularly in the Conservative and Reform movements, whose members make up most of American Jewry but have only a small presence in Israel.


Opponents are concerned by the bill’s clause that converts will be recognized as Jews only if they “accepted the Torah and the commandments in accordance with halachah,” which could exclude some converts from being eligible to obtain Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return because they would not be considered Jews by Israel.


The executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, in an open letter to Netanyahu explaining why the bill will divide the Jewish community, wrote: “The way to really ‘solve this problem’ is to have options for multiple streams and for the indigenous Israeli expressions that will only flower in a non-coercive system.”


The Jewish Federations of North America said it supports the U.S. Senate letter opposing the Israeli bill.


“We welcome any expression of commitment from influential Jews to maintain the unity of the Jewish people and the dangers posed by this divisive legislation,” said William Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington office.


In Washington, U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) have signed the Wyden letter.


“I am troubled by a proposal which I believe would make it more difficult for many people who want to convert to Judaism to do so,” Levin told JTA.


The letter’s text has not been made public.


Jewish members of the U.S. House of Representatives also have expressed support for Wyden’s letter. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the State and Foreign Operations subcommittee that oversees the State Department and international programs, left a message for Netanyahu and spoke directly to Oren to voice her objection to the bill.


“Congresswoman Lowey believes Israel should continue to be a welcoming place for Jews, as it has been through its history,” said Matthew Dennis, Lowey’s spokesman. “She is concerned that this bill would alienate Jews around the world and risks weakening the sense of unity within the Diaspora that is critical to Israel’s security.”

(JTA)

 

See related article titled “Religious Zionist Rabbi: Conversion Bill A ‘Haredi Ploy’” by Steve K. Walz.

It’s My Opinion: Back To School

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

      Summer isalmost over,and in countless homes throughout the country, preparations for the new school year have begun. Shiny new pencil boxes and supplies have been purchased.  Hair has been cut and shoes have been shined. Many children are eager to see old friends and familiar classrooms. Traditionally, this time of year has been one of happy anticipation and excitement.  

 

    Unfortunately, especially in these tough economic times, many Jewish families are facing back-to-school with dread. Breadwinners have lost their jobs. Businesses are barely scraping by. Revenue is down. For these families, yeshiva and day school tuitions loom as an insurmountable hurdle. 

 

   The thought of sending their children to a public school fills many parents with anguish. The youngsters cannot understand why their beloved rebbes and teachers will not let them into the school they love so much. They know that they have done nothing to warrant expulsion. The sad fact is that this experience can forever sour a young mind on the Jewish lifestyle. They see the very yeshiva that taught the importance of chesed, has thrown them out on the street.

 

     The adults feel helpless. They simply do not have the money. They feel humiliated and abandoned.

 

     The Jewish schools, themselves, should not necessarily take the brunt of the blame.  Some can barely meet their payroll. Some cannot even do that. Many have fully half of their students on some sort of discounted (scholarship) rate. It is troubling, however, that the cost of many Jewish schools is on par with that of college tuition.

 

    Jews in the United States took part in a vast cultural endeavor.  They interacted and intermingled with the population.  Their venture was, tragically, a great success.  The rate of assimilation and intermarriage of American Jews has been astounding.

 

   Jews who attended yeshivot and day schools, however, have bucked this trend. Their assimilation is far below the national numbers. They, for the most part, have remained true to their heritage.

 

    The Jewish people need to put together a communal effort toward nurturing every precious young soul. Jewish organizations and philanthropies need to make this funding as a number one priority. It is essential to the very survival of our people.

 

    Synagogues need to make appeals from every pulpit for money to fund Jewish education.  Jewish Federations need to concentrate on this vital issue and cut back on funding non-essential parties, events and trips.  Every Jewish group, club and congregation needs to be part of this vital undertaking. 

 

     One-and-a-half-million Jewish children were murdered in the Shoah.  We have not a soul to spare. 

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community//2009/08/12/

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