Friday, July 10, 2009


One of the legacies left United Jewish Communities in the merger that created it were the endowment funds of UJA and CJF. Throughout the history of the United Jewish Appeal an Endowment Fund of millions mainly from direct bequests destined for the JDC and JAFI (unless designated elsewhere); the CJF had a more modest endowment. Annually a Committee has determined the application of endowment income to JAFI/JDC programs. Over its decade of existence UJC has been unable to raise more than a few dollars for its own Endowment.

At a time in which the Joint and Agency are suffering huge deficits and enormous Budget cuts, UJC has demanded that its Endowment Committee consider grants -- none of which were intended for the Agency or Joint -- essentially "seed money" to fund the unspecified "future work" of the Center for Jewish Philanthropy. Remarkably, if the income were made available to their CJP, it, the Center, would decide where and how to spend it. No accountability, no transparency. So, just what did UJC want? A couple of responsible professionals filled me in.

1. In the proposed 2010 Budget UJC stipulated that a $250,000 allocation to one of its "partners" in Israel, Sheatufim, be dropped. I have noted that the 2009 Budget never included the "grant" to Sheatufim to begin with. No matter, UJC Israel and the UJC leaders had partnered in a single conference in Jerusalem sponsored by this organization -- where UJC's leaders spoke, of course. Sheatufim's civil society dedication is admirable, but certainly no more so than JDC's established project with the same focus for Israeli NGO's. And, never mind, these leaders (many of whom attended the Endowment Committee meeting in a transparent attempt to intimidate) demanded that the UJC endowment substitute its funding for that which came from the 2009 Budget with no authorization. I listened carefully to the leadership's lament over the "lost funding" for this program at the UJC Board. Here's what I heard: (1) UJC made a three year (although it may have been a five-year, as UJC's leaders have used varying terms for an agreement that was never processed at UJC) commitment to Sheatufim -- actually it was a "commitment" of KanferRieger and Toni Young, not of UJC -- except to the extent, as I have written before, that these leaders believe that "UJC and they are one;" and (2) Ms. Young plans to solicit for funds for this "partnership" (apparently as part of her duties as Chair of the Center for Jewish Philanthropy). A mess. Amiss. Amuck. As always, stay tuned.

2. And, you may remember a Post in which I cited an UJC Israel fund raising project -- the UJC Philanthropic Venture Fund or "10 x 10" -- where 10 Israeli philanthropists and organizations would be asked to each contribute $50,000 to be matched with 10 North American philanthropists contributing the same to fund social welfare programs and projects in Israel duplicating the partnerships already in place with JDC and JAFI. I speculated that UJC had neither the capacity nor the prospects to raise a single $50,000 gift in North America. Never mind; UJC now planned to raid its endowment for seed money -- no fund raising necessary.

3. Then, the third chutzpah/corrupt practice, if you will. UJC attempted to convert overseas endowment income to fund the overhead attributable to a program that exists on paper only called "the Passport to Jewish Life" (actually, like that infamous Alaska Bridge a "Passport to Nowhere" as the program doesn't exist)-- a transparent attempt to take $150,000 from the Endowment and convert those dollars into the payment of UJC overhead for a "Project" that exists only in a five page paper -- so critical to UJC that it could not find a place in the 2010 Budget. UJC argues that a change UJC made to the Endowment justifies expending income not only for Domestic programs but for the overhead thereof. Unfortunately, the Resolution (passed by the Committee and no other body) provides for funding only "programmatic" elements of a Domestic project.

Now, some of you naysayers may argue that with reduced allocations and the most severe Budget cutting deeply into the bone and marrow of the sacred work of JAFI/JDC, any endowment allocations should support their programs and projects (as was intended at the establishment of the fund); others might assert that instead of going to federations with bills totalling $800,000 to fund "Rieger's Folly," the relocation of Yemen Jewish families in Monsey, New York, at a time of incredible pain in our federated communities, that endowment income be used to reduce the federation costs. but, to whomever at UJC conjured up these schemes, this wasn't about doing what is right or needed or necessary; this was about the personal agenda of the small group running UJC in a manner so opaque that their responsibilities to the federations can be ignored with impunity.

But not this time. A strong lay Endowment Committee did the unthinkable -- they thought through the lack of rational basis for any of these proposals and they rejected them -- 1, 2, and 3. All income will be divided instead as was intended -- for the needs served by the Joint and Agency. But, wait one minute -- UJC "leaders" demanded a "revote" at a meeting yesterday. (Were Robert's Rules applied, a "revote" Motion could only be called by a person who was on the prevailing side of the original vote. Never mind.) And, not only were these proposals once again rejected by a Committee doing its work, some at the meeting suggested a third vote -- let's canvass those who weren't at the meeting. That "idea" was rejected emphatically; Two votes appeared to be enough. But, trust me, these folks will attempt to repackage these again and seek another vote just as sure as Purell sanitizes your hands.

My...our...great friend, Lester Rosenberg, who remains struggling to regain his health at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, will smile when he learns what the Committee he Chaired accomplished in that first vote, and then the second. One corrupt practice down.

But...another. The 2008 Budget included a $400,000 line item -- dedicated funding to "restart" of the Trust for Jewish Philanthropy. Inasmuch as no effort...none...was made to "restart" the Trust, just where did those dollars go? Michael Gelman: that's a question for you, Treasurer and Budget Chair. When you have the answer, let us know -- that $400,000, like so much else, could have saved a lot at UJC.

And where did that $400,000 go? It's your money, my friends, not theirs to do with according to their whim. One place those dollars did not go was to restart the Trust for Jewish Philanthropy.

A mess. Amiss. Amuck.


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