Visions: Israel, UJC, and Philanthropic Pluralism

general
March 1, 2000
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Norman Rosenberg

The reorganization of the Federation system detailed by Carl Sheingold offers the American Jewish community an extraordinary opportunity to assess its relationship with a changing Israel. Will this represent an evolution in the Israel-Diaspora relationship and create a useful, meaningful, and effective role for us in relation to the distinctive challenges that Israel faces today?

This very question led to the creation of the New Israel Fund 21 years ago. The organization’s founders recognized that the challenges facing Israel had shifted dramatically: from pitched battles to create a Jewish state, to the more elusive–and divisive–challenges of implementing the prophetic values of freedom, justice, and peace on which the state was founded.

The UJC merger allows the Federation system to assess these challenges and define its position on a changing Israel that raises as Sheingold points out “divisive ideological issues.” As it does so, it may also redefine its role in the North American Jewish community. In the past, Federations sought to position themselves as the central address of the philanthropic community, a community in which there were no other equally authentic ways to be involved. As a consensus driven organization, the UJC must recognize that it cannot address all issues. It would do well to embrace the ethos of philanthropic pluralism that can pave the way for developing strategic partnerships with others.

As an example, while the Jewish Agency may remain an important recipient for UJC/Federation allocations, we believe there may be other potential partners with whom they can contribute to the building of Israeli society. We welcome Sheingold’s suggestion that the UJC merger “calls for the… creation of new institutional connections.” Polling data tells us that over 75 percent of our donors also support their local Federation. It’s time to move beyond “us and them.” We would welcome the opportunity to develop a creative partnership with the new system, and work together on the issues we have focused on now for over 20 years.

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