Sunday, May 24, 2009


As readers of this Blog know, without any...any...approval from any UJC governance bodies, UJC's leaders determined that they knew, even if no one else did, that the remnant Yemenite Jewish population needed to be "relocated" (their current descriptive term) to North America. How did they know this? They knew it because HIAS had learned from a Satmar rebbe or two that this was so -- there was no UJC due diligence, no UJC prior consultation with the Israel Foreign Ministry, with the Jewish Agency for Israel or with JDC. Nonetheless, Howard Rieger, with the apparent complicity of at least UJC's Board Chair, set UJC down the path of a "partnership" with the Satmar community, whose political clout with a new administration in Washington engaged the U.S. State Department in the process.

Rieger sent out at least one hysterical (not in the "hysterical funny" sense) e-mail to a Large City Executive, demanding federation participation and threatening that a failure by federations to partner in this (then a "rescue") relocation effort, would prove that the federation movement had lost its way. The facts, it would turn out, suggest that UJC had totally lost its way.

For, within days...literally just days...of the news of UJC's intent to ask the federations to support a multi-million dollar "relocation/rescue" effort to bring Yemeni Jews to Monsey, New York, where they would be held by the Satmar, UJC's anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, "partner," a Study Group made up of among others, the Israeli Foreign Ministry and a leader of the UJA-Federation of New York, but with no UJC representation, travelled to Yemen, met with the Government, tribal sheiks and the Yemenite Jewish community itself, and effectively did the due diligence that UJC never did. They did not find a Jewish community cowering in fear behind locked doors, they found a Government offended that it was being portrayed as holding Jews against their will, and determined that Yemeni Jews would be issued passports to leave for whatever destination they desired.

When we recall the aliya of Jews from the Soviet Union and our mishpacha from Ethiopia, we recall a spirit of cooperation and understanding that with the Jewish State that we helped and help to build, Jews were no longer refugees without a homeland. For the Jews of what is now the FSU, North America would be their destination for "family reunification" and the numbers were determined by explicit agreement. The federations, at least for a time, contributed to a pot to assist those communities in North America which were disproportionally impacted by immigrants from what is now the FSU under a program titled "equitable collective responsibility." There was discussion, there was heated debate and there was resolution. The Ethiopian olim were not impacted by such discussions -- although some federation leaders, sensing that Israel was dragging its feet, told me "...if Israel doesn't take the Ethiopians, we'll bring them here." UJC leaders unconscionably have tried to compare the aliya of millions to their "relocation" of 25 families; apparently comparing their total lack of process, lack of discussion and lack of due diligence today to the engagement of federations and their national organizations then. Truly pitiful.

And, then, without a word of advocacy for federation collective responsibilities or for greater allocations for JDC or JAFI, UJC, it has been reported in the press, has been lobbying the Government of Israel for a further "relocation" of Ethiopians to Israel, its prior agreement to end that trans-migration ignored. It is as if UJC lives and works in a Jewish World freed from the burdens of raising the dollars, freedom from caring for those for whom it advocates, and washing its hands of all matters after a few pious pronouncements.

In light of all of this, UJC proceeded in its "relocation" efforts. It invited favored federation executives to meet with the U.S. State Department, it downplayed Satmar involvement, it hid the fact that the Rockland County Federation (the "host federated community") had not paid its UJC Dues (or an allocation) for an extended period of years, it "negotiated" with FEGS, the successor agency to NYANA, to front and fund a significant portion of the relocation with federation dollars, and with a new party involved -- a Williamsburg, New York, social welfare arm of the Satmar (but not disclosed as such) -- still with no UJC governance action, Kanfer/Manning/Rieger asked federations for a sliding scale share of an aggregate $800,000, the "reduced price" to bring 25 Yemeni families mainly to Monsey in just a matter of a few weeks.

While all this was on-going, not once did UJC reach out to the Jewish Agency to discuss a matter that is the focus of our system's partner for aliya -- a partner which had just cut its budget by $75 million yet pledged to bring every Yemeni Jew to the Jewish homeland at no additional our federations. At a moment in time when many federation leaders are committed to bringing a truly authentic Zionist voice to the leadership of the JAFI Executive, not a thought seems to have been given to, nor a word spoken about, our national organization "partnering" with an anti-Zionist, anti-Israel religious group for a "cause" that seems not even to exist.

UJC has outright refused to advocate for allocations to the Joint and Jewish Agency over the past 4 years. Its leaders never fail, however, to advocate for unapproved plans such as this "relocation," the impact of which, if supported by the federations, would collectively drain another $800,000 from allocable funds at a time of drastically reduced overseas dollars. Are there other uses for $800,000? Sure. Just reread the impact of Madoff's fraud on scholarship aid for students in the arts in Israel as reported in The New York Times last week? Could $800,000 have been leveraged with the Government of Israel and, perhaps, the Jewish Funders Network? Could $800,000 have eased even a little the huge budget reductions keeping JDC/JAFI from doing their work on our behalf? And, so much more. But, nowhere did that debate take place? Nowhere. Instead, our...we own it you know...our national organization went off on another frolic of its own, talking only to itself and sending out a bill. And, I am not making this up.

When I first wrote about this "relocation," I was viciously attacked by those hiding behind "anonymity" (although everyone who read the "anonymous" comments advised me that they knew exactly who wrote them) suggesting I was, among other things, putting lives in jeopardy. Now, UJC's three leaders went "public" with no apparent concern whatsoever. very sad. After four and three years, these leaders still can't connect the dots.


No comments: