Local federations amass millions to aid beseiged Israel

Ami Nahshon can only remember one other time in 18 years when the situation was so dire.

The year was 1990, and the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay put all its fund-raising mettle into Operation Exodus — to get Jews out of the then-Soviet Union.

"The challenge was equally serious," said the executive vice president of the East Bay federation. "The plan was to do something only done twice in 18 years: to conduct an old-fashioned group fund-raising caucus, based on a shared assessment of the critical nature of what has to happen."

So on the evening of May 13, 65 donors convened at Scott's Restaurant in Oakland's Jack London Square. Among those present were 11 of the federation's past presidents.

"It shows the willingness of people to stay engaged over decades with the work we do," said Nahshon.

By the end of the evening, $1.1 million was raised for the Israel Crisis Fund.

The East Bay federation isn't alone in its aggressive fund-raising for the Israel Emergency Campaign, a national effort organized by United Jewish Communities that aims to raise $300 million. The S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation has raised $2 million and the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose has amassed more than $420,000. So far, federations across North America have raised more than $120 million.

The fund will provide direct aid to terror victims and their families, supply bulletproof vests and armor-plated buses and ambulances, and pay for additional security in schools. The UJC will also earmark $35 million to help roughly 5,000 Argentinians make aliyah by the end of the year.

Ed Cushman, the JCF's assistant executive director and campaign chair, said the fund was a political statement as well as a philanthropic one.

"We're speaking in one voice, rather than 125,000 people giving to their pet, favorite project. When that happens, the impact is lessened," he said. "This sends a message to the broader community, the government and the White House."

The JCF aims to raise $5 million, with the first $3 million going directly into the national Israel Emergency Campaign. The next million dollars will go to JCF beneficiary organizations in Israel, as will $333,000 of the next million dollars after that.

The East Bay federation, meanwhile, hopes to amass $2.5 million. "One of our major sources of gratification was to see our leadership prepared to commit at very high levelss," Nahshon said.

Jyl Jurman, the San Jose federation's campaign chair, said her organization has put its capital campaign on hold in order to accommodate the Israel Emergency Campaign. In addition to the money raised for Israel, the federation has also raised more than $90,000 for Argentine Jews.

"For our community, that's tremendous," said Jurman.