In an insightful Haaretz article (April 13,2009) on the impacts of the financial tsunami on our system -- Will U.S. Organizations Survive the Economic Crisis? -- Joe Kanfer offered his own unique skewed analysis based upon...hard to tell. First, Kanfer in his own words:
"Many federations are cutting, and it hurts for people that have been laid off and it's sad, but most organizations can stand and go through a one-time cut", said Joe Kanfer, chair of the Board of Trustees of United Jewish Communities. "But they haven't been cutting historically, so for some it might be the way to stop doing activities you probably shouldn't have been doing." Kanfer believes that the first year of the crisis is the time to make those cuts, though if they persist into the second year, the groups may really start to feel the effects.
"I didn't hear about federations on the verge of bankruptcy," he said. "The federations are fundraisers and fund dispersers. Our income may be down 5 percent or 15 percent, maybe in some very bad cases 20 percent, but there still is plenty of money there, it has just to be spent wisely."
The Jewish social agencies supported by the federations are a different story, he admits. "If you run a Jewish center or a school and your constituents can't afford to pay - they are in trouble. And the smaller institutions with no endowments are in trouble. So we are going to see a number of institutions close, or combine with another institutions, or restructure. But that's the way it happens in business every day - the ones that are on the edge, when there is a downturn, have to find a new way. We have to get creative; we just can't run away from this. It's hard to prioritize - we have to support Israel, we have to support Soviet Jewry, we can't say one is not important. But each community has to make their own decisions."
Joe Kanfer believes the crisis is not as bad as many make it out to be.
"I think it's going to take us a while to realize that it's not the end of the world", he said. "People lost some money and they don't know when it will end, but most are in a place that their wealth will increase again. It's a year for us to adjust to a fewer dollars and how to spend them. In some cases it's just a psychological effect.
"When you buy a house for $100,000, and it grows to $300,000, you feel like you have a lot, and when it goes to $200,000, you feel like poor, forgetting that you initially bought it for $100,000. Our Torah teaches us to give 10 percent of the income - no less - but no more than 20 percent. Very few people are within a range of their 10 percent. Not everyone was giving at a maximum before, and some people say well, there is more need and we have the means. In general, we don't lack wealth. So there is plenty of room for giving." (emphasis added)
Now I am not sure of the empirical evidence on which Joe relies, perhaps it was based on how his community of Akron has reacted to the economic crisis, but how out of touch can one be, let alone he who Chairs our national institution. Read the article and contrast Kanfer's outrageous conclusions with the actions being taken by UJA-Federation of New York and the Chicago and Washington D.C. Federations.
The entire article can be found at www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1078130.html and is worth reading just to note the courageous and painful responses to the crisis by three federations -- three federations of the 156 (apparently Joe's federation can be excluded) who are struggling with the crisis that "...Kanfer believes...is not as bad as many make it out to be." As my Professors used to say "Compare and contrast" the outrageous rhetoric of a Chair who should know better but doesn't, and federations leaders in the trenches confronting the challenges 24/7.