S.F-based federations UJA cut grabs national spotlight

WASHINGTON — The aftershocks of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation's recent vote to cut $1 million from its annual contribution to Israel via the UJA echoed this week at a meeting of the nation's federation leaders.

High on the quarterly meeting's agenda was a re-examination of the relationship between federation campaigns and the Jewish Agency, which is the primary recipient in Israel of federation campaign money earmarked for overseas needs and funneled through the United Jewish Appeal.

During the meeting of the Council of Jewish Federations here, two private focus groups were held with federation leaders to try to find out what they want from the Agency.

Many in the federation world have become increasingly frustrated with the agency, claiming it is not as efficient, responsive or relevant as it should be.

Some leaders speculate that unless the Jewish Agency undergoes massive change, more and more federations will follow San Francisco's lead and reduce their allocations to the UJA in order to bypass the Agency.

"We no longer see the Jewish Agency as the exclusive instrument for diaspora philanthropy in Israel," said Wayne Feinstein, executive vice president of the San Francisco-based federation.

San Francisco federation leaders, Feinstein said, had long wanted the national system to become more flexible and responsive to local wishes. Those include wanting more opportunities to connect directly to Jews in Israel and other foreign countries.

The Agency's funding of the World Zionist Organization over the years and the failure of the UJA-CJF merger last year "accelerated" San Francisco's feeling that "if we didn't begin to take steps to meet what donors expected and demanded of our federation, then our campaign would erode," Feinstein said.

Partially bypassing the UJA, the S.F.-based federation decided last month to keep $500,000 from the annual campaign for local needs and send another $500,000 to Israel using alternative means.

This year, the S.F.-based federation will still send $5 million to the UJA.

The state of relations between federations and the Jewish Agency has resurfaced because the federations must decide by September whether they want to renegotiate their contract with the Agency.

The Jewish Agency leadership is asking federations to hold off on reopening the negotiations as it implements a new restructuring plan aimed at remedying some of the most serious organizational ills.

The restructuring plan calls for the Jewish Agency to assume control of the bulk of the operations of its organizational partner, the World Zionist Organization. The Agency's commitment to fund the WZO, long a bone of contention for many federations, ends after two years.

Consolidating the two administrations into one would result in a seven-figure savings, according to Charles Goodman, chair of the Jewish Agency board of governors.

The Agency would also assume full control of the Joint Authority for Jewish and Zionist Education, a responsibility it has shared with the WZO. The semi-autonomous body's politics and lack of accountability have been a major source of frustration for the federations.

The success of the restructuring hinges largely on whether this plan clears other hurdles, said Shoshana Cardin, chair of the United Israel Appeal, which funnels UJA campaign proceeds to the Jewish Agency.

Cardin, also a member of the agency's restructuring subcommittee, will join a group in London this week that will try to win support for reorganizing from UIA's two partners in the Jewish Agency, the WZO and Keren Hayesod, which raises money for Israel in diaspora communities outside North America.

Winning that endorsement and moving forward with the plan, she said, would help boost federation confidence in the overall fund-raising system itself.