Leaders deny Bnai Brith teetering on bankruptcy

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Any impact on Hillel, is not likely to be dramatic because B'nai B'rith provides less than 10 percent of the college campus program's $22.5 million annual income.

This week, B'nai B'rith officials denied a story in the weekly U.S. News & World Report that the organization would be "forced shortly to declare bankruptcy." B'nai B'rith president Tommy Baer even threatened legal action.

At the same time, Baer conceded that a $2 million budget shortfall would prompt a shift of resources as the agency carries out a long-term restructuring process to "make it more receptive to members' needs."

But "to equate major restructuring with financial collapse" is "irresponsible," Baer said in a statement.

"We are shocked at this gross misstatement of facts and are consulting legal counsel to restore our reputation," he said.

"B'nai B'rith has no intent to declare bankruptcy, and is definitely not on the verge of any such action."

The group's financial difficulties stem in part from B'nai B'rith's $2 million loss in annual income following a change two years ago in the members' insurance program, Baer said.

The organization claims about 250,000 members, down from 325,000 two decades ago.

To compensate for the loss and "provide a cushion against future losses," the budget committee last week cut $2 million from the 1997 budget, which now totals $12 million. The 1996 budget was $15.2 million.

"We are reallocating our resources and redefining our priorities," Baer said.

Sidney Clearfield, the group's executive vice president, said the cuts' exact target was yet to be determined, but that "a substantial amount of money" would be taken out of Hillel and BBYO.

When pressed, he said only that the cuts would be much closer to $500,000 than $10,000.

Richard Joel, Hillel's international director, was unavailable for comment on the potential impact of the cuts. Hillel spokeswoman Nurite Notarius-Rosin said it was "very premature to speculate" about the cuts.

Budget information she provided, however, indicated that the impact would not necessarily be dramatic.

Of the more than $22 million in Hillel's income for 1994-1995, only $1.9 million came from B'nai B'rith.

Hillel was once a division of B'nai B'rith. Now, the Jewish federations are its single largest source of income, providing $9.7 million in 1994-1995.

Clearfield said money-saving efforts would include cutting six clerical positions and not replacing five other staffers who would leave the agency under natural attrition.

B'nai B'rith spokeswoman Robin Schwartz-Kreger said the agency's book-publishing efforts would also be scaled back.

B'nai B'rith officials involved with the BBYO were not available to comment on how their programs would be affected.

A vote on the restructuring plan is slated for the group's international convention in Washington at the end of August.