November 29, 2002
Some local federations balk at paying their share to keep up national system.
Rachel Pomerance - Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Beyond the workshops and plenaries at last week's General Assembly of United Jewish Communities, the issue of noncompliance by local federations to contribute to a variety of things — from UJC dues to birthright israel — permeated the gathering in Philadelphia.
Many federation leaders call it a growing pain for UJC, the 3-year-old umbrella group of North American federations. Its annual event drew some 4,000 people to address topics of Jewish concern.
"We are approaching a fork in the road in the maturation of the UJC," said John Ruskay, CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York. "Will it be a network of federations where there are expectations about financial participation that we have collectively agreed to, or will we be a decentralized system in which federations participate at will in each national project?"
Which path is taken could determine whether the national system holds together or falls apart under the weight of conflicting needs and priorities.
The UJC, a merger of the Council of Jewish Federations, the United Jewish Appeal and the United Israel Appeal, has weathered a series of logistical and leadership challenges.
The organization was created to help streamline the Jewish community's central fund-raising and social service agency into one that was more responsive to local federations' concerns while effectively directing dollars abroad for overseas needs.
And it was intended to stave off the trend of disenchanted federations by making them the owners of the new system, said UJC's president and CEO, Stephen Hoffman.
But the disenchantment among some has persisted, centered mostly on the question of whether federations should be required to contribute their share to keep the national system going.
A resolution approved by the Board of Trustees in June calls for the ouster of federations that do not pay their dues. The measure was conceived after Jewish federations in Tidewater, Va., and San Francisco questioned their payments.
Federation members, who discussed the issue last Friday at the Delegate Assembly, which represents all the federations, are expected to vote on the resolution by conference call within the next 30 days.
Hoffman downplayed the issue of dues compliance and other acts by the federations.
Until the creation of the UJC, "the actual costs of running the national system weren't fully understood by most folks. Today, everything's transparent," Hoffman said, referring to an itemized bill federations receive for UJC's costs for administrative and overseas needs. "That, in part, is what just stimulates the whole discussion."
The controversy has been further exacerbated by a new dues formula implemented July 1, officials say. The formula is based on the ratio of each federation's annual campaign to the total campaign, rather than a formula based on the local Jewish population and its campaign.
Hoffman said the dues issue is the only one in dispute that requires compliance.
And San Francisco has now agreed to pay its portion, he added. Other contributions from local federations are based on a "best-faith" effort. Nonparticipation by some federations has always plagued the system, he said.
"I believe it's actually better today than it's ever been," Hoffman said. "But we had this ideal vision that if the federations were going to vote on something, that they would all come through, and it's not happening in exactly that way, so the challenge is how to get us closer to the ideal."
Some federations are still clearly choosing to go their own way.
These issues surfaced at several points during the GA:
At a meeting of the National Funding Councils, a body of 45 federations that helps to fund nine national agencies like Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, JTA and the Jewish Community Centers Association, four federations declared that they would not pay their portion for the remainder of the year, a total of $41,000.
The National Funding Councils will dip into reserve funding to make up for the shortfall, officials said, but the same federations have agreed to replenish the reserves.
It was the first time members of the National Funding Councils unilaterally withdrew pre-designated funding.
Noncompliance also struck the Board of Trustees meeting on Nov. 20 over a discussion of overdue payments to birthright israel.
Officers discussed a proposal to pay the UJC's unfulfilled portion of the program that sends 18- to 26-year-olds who have never been to Israel on an organized trip.
The five-year program was conceived as a $210 million partnership among the Israeli government, several major philanthropists, the UJC and worldwide Jewish communities.
The UJC initially committed to $39 million over five years. The proposal would reduce UJC's portion to $23 million, and ask the Jewish Agency for Israel to pay the balance.
Robert Aronson, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, called on UJC to expose the noncompliant communities, thereby pressuring them to pay.
Several member federations have not implemented the second year of the Israel Emergency Campaign, despite the fact that the UJC passed a resolution calling on the federations to do so.
Federations are increasingly falling short on what they are being asked to pay for overseas needs. In the first two years of the UJC, the committee that funds those needs, the Overseas Needs Allocation and Distribution, known as ONAD, saw an increase in allocations.
But it still fell short of its goal for funding its overseas partners, including the Jewish Agency and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which runs programs such as relief and welfare for Jews in the former Soviet Union and the absorption of Ethiopian Jews in Israel.
And it "will fall significantly short" this year, according to the national GA chair, Richard Wexler.
The Israel Emergency Campaign, which has tallied $326 million to date, is separate from the ONAD process.
For those federations resisting their financial obligations, it is often a matter of juggling tight budgets. At last Friday's meeting of the Delegates Assembly, several conveyed that sentiment.
Ellen Masters, a member of the board of directors of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires in Massachusetts, explained the new fair shares formula has increased its dues from $13,000 to $30,400.
Phyllis Lannick, women's campaign chair of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, which has cited its own budget constraints, called on the UJC to make sure its budget "has been looked at and is as lean and mean as it can be."
And a representative from the Raleigh-Cary Jewish Federation in North Carolina captured both the impact of lean budgets and dissatisfaction with the system in his blunt comment: "We want more and we want to pay less."
But many federation leaders echo Hoffman's distinction between compliance on dues and other areas.
It's the "difference between a speed limit and a caution sign," said David Mallach, assistant executive vice president of the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest New Jersey, referring to paying dues and implementing the second year of the Israel Emergency Campaign.
But Mallach thinks the UJC is strong. Referring to the emergency drive, he said, "If people didn't trust the system, they wouldn't have turned over their IEC campaign dollars."
Others see a more threatening pattern.
"I think one has to be able to connect the dots and see there is a growing issue and that it's UJC's responsibility to engage on a 24/7 basis with the federations," Wexler said.
"We're at a point where with engagement and with consulting and dialogue that UJC can emerge from this stronger. Without it, this will spread and that will pull the underpinnings out from a strong national system."
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