As every reader knows, war has broken out in the Republic of Georgia and its surroundings. Russian troops, tanks and aircraft have attacked not only military installations but the civilian population as well. Georgian Jewish lives are at risk...10,000 Jewish lives. The Jewish Agency leaped into the fray to rescue Jews, to bring our People comfort -- as we have mandated JAFI to do, as our agent. Even though JAFI lacks the funds to engage in this emergency effort on behalf of all of us, JAFI as always before and as always into the future is in Georgia for us, tending to the wounded, the weak, the imperiled, taking care of our People most in need and bringing them home to the Jewish State. While the Jewish Agency has been immediately responsive to a crisis described in a JTA headline -- Jews Caught on Both Sides in Georgian- Russian Fighting -- UJC has failed to respond.
And, what is the Agency, our JAFI, doing on our behalf? It will bring 50 children from Georgia to summer camps in Israel, expedite Aliya and visa processing, offering 10 young adults immediate participation in the Sela program, large family absorption center housing for multi-generations, transport assistance to Tbilisi, Georgia for Aliya assistance, offering Aliya assistance to at risk Georgian Jews living in Russia and immediate need-based financial assistance. But, JAFI, suffering a massive Budget deficit incurred, at least in part, by a failure in our 2007 federation allocations transmittals, needs an immediate federation- and donor-driven cash infusion to respond to these emergency needs.
So, JAFI turned to UJC thinking UJC to be its partner. Asking professional-to-professional that UJC open an "emergency mailbox" for $663,000 to $1 million or more to fund the comprehensive package of assistance above, UJC's most senior professionals responded: "No, the amount is too small." Or, "this has to be coordinated with JDC." No immediate processing the JAFI request with the UJC Executive Committee; no immediate interest even as Jewish lives are at risk once again. JAFI has scheduled a special teleconference briefing on the crisis for today and JAFI has convened its Executive for an emergency meeting this Thursday; UJC-Israel senior staff spent part of this morning questioning JAFI leaders about the need for funding. The National Conference on Soviet Jewry convened a conference call today on the crisis. UJC remains silent...figuring our how to "coordinate" while Jews are in peril. While UJC "contemplates," JAFI has been forced to open its own mailbox -- www.jafi.org/JewishAgency/English/Home/ .
I could write that this is par for the course with UJC. I could sarcastically assert that UJC, without process, has asked the federations for $100's of thousands for. as examples, a tax attorney in Washington or a non-Jewish school in Ethiopia or millions for the Israel Advocacy Initiative, or the multiple mailboxes opened without process for tsunami or Katrina relief, but when it comes to $660,000 to $1 million to save Jewish lives, to meet our highest obligation, pidyon sh'vuyim, there is only silence..."the amount is too small" -- "we must coordinate." This is beyond shame or reason.
Some alternatives: UJC has a $25 million line of credit. UJC should immediately convene its Executive Committee and approve the draw down of $500,000 today and transmit these emergency funds to save Jewish lives to the UIA for the Jewish Agency. Then convene the UJC Board to ratify the emergency funding, ask the federations to participate, open a mailbox for JAFI and JDC all while sending an emergency Mission led by Kanfer and Manning (joined by major federation leaders and donors) to Tbilisi and Israel to evaluate on-site. Or, in the alternative, recognize the emergency and redirect $500,000 from UJC's 2008-2009 Budget to JAFI. In either instance, UJC could either repay its draw-down or its "loan" from Budget from the UJC Mailbox established to aid the Jewish victims of the Georgia-Russia War.
Or UJC can do nothing on behalf of Jews whose lives are at risk. Nero fiddles while Rome burns. UJC's leaders appear to fear doing anything to support this emergency funding request even as Jewish lives are threatened These are our leaders? Who can possibly be proud under these circumstances? How can we permit this to continue?
P.S. UJC has now convened an "Emergency Briefing" on the Georgia "crisis" for tomorrow afternoon. Most of you, and certainly I, are not invited -- maybe it's exclusively for federation CEO's.