U. of Judaism shuts S.F. office, cites poor economy

The University of Judaism has become the latest Jewish organization to close its San Francisco office, citing the current economic climate.

As of July 1, the office, which was dedicated to fund-raising for the L.A.-based institution, closed down. Its sole employee, Bay Area Development Director Sandra Leib, who was with the university for 4-1/2 years, was let go.

"In this financial environment, it just wasn't feasible to keep the office open," said Iris Waskow, the university's senior director of communications. "We're really sorry to lose Sandy, but we couldn't afford it."

Leib herself said that while she was still raising money, she believed it was the combination of the economy and the many other capital projects now in the works that were a higher priority to residents of the Bay Area.

"There has been so much capital fund-raising within the community that people naturally believed or preferred to lend their support within their home communities as opposed to the outside community," she said.

The Conservative institution, which serves undergraduates and rabbinical students, had just co-sponsored a day of learning in the Bay Area in early May.

Waskow promised that similar events would continue, but just as that one was co-sponsored by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, future events would also rely on the participation of local groups.

"We will try to create as many partnerships as we can because we just can't fiscally handle it," said Waskow. "The economy has been bad, and people who give are giving less."

The university isn't the only Jewish organization to be undergoing restructuring. In May, the New Israel Fund closed four regional offices and made San Francisco its regional hub.

And even before the current economic downturn, the American Jewish Congress closed its Bay Area office in 2001, and the Jewish National Fund closed its local office in 1999.

"We're really at people's mercy," said Waskow, pointing out that tuition does not go very far in terms of paying the bills of an academic institution. And while other universities can count on their high-salaried alumni for large donations, the rabbis, teachers and educators who graduate from the University of Judaism are often not in the position to make such donations.

In addition, she said, the university grants most students large financial-aid packages, with the average undergraduate receiving approximately $8,500 a year and the average rabbinical student receiving $10,000 annually.

"People have the sense that everyone has money, but they don't, so we support our students really heavily so they can come here.

"We really look to the donor community, and if they hurt, we hurt," said Waskow. "It's a hard economy for everybody."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."