Locals come back ‘inspired’ from GA in Jerusalem

Locals come back ‘inspired’ from GA in Jerusalem

Members of UJA-NNJ’s GA delegation at the Neve Yosef community center in Haifa.

Thirty delegates from UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey were in Israel last week for the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities, and they say they left with renewed resolve to overcome the financial crisis that is draining local and international resources.

“It’s a critical situation that our overseas partners are facing,” said Howard Charish, UJA-NNJ’s executive vice president. “Right now discussions are taking place on how best to meet our overseas obligations and understand that circumstances have changed drastically locally.”

During the annual conference of the federation system’s umbrella group, Charish and Alan Scharfstein, UJA-NNJ’s president, attended a session for large city presidents and executive directors. There, representatives of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Joint Distribution Committee, both federation beneficiaries, explained that they face deficits of $45 million to $60 million because of the weakened dollar and diminished allocations.

The GA’s location in Israel this year gave UJA-NNJ’s delegates – one of the largest contingents the federation has sent to the conference – the opportunity to see how their donations are being used.

Requests for help from local beneficiary agencies are increasing, Charish said, and the federation is faced with difficult decisions about where to send its funding.

“The delegates saw firsthand the impact of what our dollars are doing on the ground,” he said. “When it comes time to reflect on 2009 allocations, the GA experience will be taken into account when we have to make that painful … choice.”

At the Lion of Judah Conference, Louise Tuchman receives the Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award for a high standard for philanthropy.

Despite the budgetary shortfalls, the mood at the conference was not somber, Scharfstein said. Rather, the assembled delegates recognized that they had a challenge before them.

“There was optimism that people would rise to the occasion and we would be creative in terms of trying to find ways to respond to this crisis,” Scharfstein said. “I would not say it was a depressing conference, but there was a strong dose of realism that we are entering a time when many of our donors and many of our members and many in our community are facing economic crises.”

But, he added, the federation system was designed to deal with crises. “There is a clear commitment of the federations to rise to the occasion,” he said.

Gail Billig with children from Neve Yosef, in the activity room dedicated to her late husband, Peter Billig.

The UJA-NNJ delegates took a day off from the conference to visit Neve Yosef, a community center in Haifa that has had a long relationship with North Jersey philanthropists. Last week’s visit gave federation leaders the opportunity to dedicate the latest gifts to the center.

Louise and Ron Tuchman dedicated an administrative area in honor of their parents, while Gail Billig dedicated a children’s playroom in memory of her late husband, Peter.

Neve Yosef is in an economically depressed area of Haifa that used to be rife with crime and juvenile delinquency. Through UJC’s Project Renewal, UJA-NNJ partnered with Neve Yosef and several New Jersey donors to fund improvements to the center, which has created programs to keep the city’s youth out of trouble.

“It was inspiring,” Charish said. “The center is an anchor in improving the quality of life, and it’s worked. We came away inspired that while situations are grave, exciting things are happening that make a difference in people’s lives.”

Before the GA, the International Lion of Judah Conference drew 1,100 participants to Tel Aviv, including 17 women from northern New Jersey. During regional caucuses at the conference, participants raised a combined $16 million for their respective federations.

Louise Tuchman received the Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award, which honors members with outstanding community involvement.

Gale Bindelglass, co-chair of UJA-NNJ’s GA delegation and a delegate to the Lion of Judah conference, said one of the highlights of the latter was the way Israelis interacted with Americans.

“To see the renewed strength of our global Jewish community over the past 60 years is what gave us all our collective sense of strength and pride,” she said.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz of River Edge’s Temple Sholom was another co-chair of the UJA-NNJ delegation to the GA. Although the economy weighed heavily on participants’ minds, he said, the conference was “upbeat,” in that it emphasized the partnership between American and Israeli Jews.

“We’re talking about the changing nature of the diaspora-Israel relationship and how it’s now a partnership,” he said. “It was talking about what we can be doing together, not ‘Can you raise this much money for us?’ It wasn’t discussion about money, it was discussion about community.”

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