August 12, 2004
Reading the article, "Federation Faces Underfunded Pension," in your July 30 issue, I found it to be needlessly alarmist and selective in providing facts on a highly complex subject. Most disturbing is the inaccurate lead. The Federation is absolutely not directing funds away from social services to fund its pension.
Pension policy within The Federation system is guided by professional actuarial opinions. The Jewish Federation is fortunate to have a lay retirement committee made up of experienced volunteers, including those who are well-versed in investments, actuarial science and pension plan management.
The article presents a misleading picture by comparing the L.A. experience to the plans at other selected federations. Comparing the financing of defined-benefit plans to defined-contribution plans is like comparing apples to oranges
For example, the Atlanta plan covers 60 employees. Boston has not had a defined-benefit plan since 1992. Even those federations with defined-benefit plans represented in the article and charts cover only direct federation employees and in smaller Jewish communities. On the other hand, the L.A. plan covers almost 1,000 current members, of which less than 20 percent are Federation employees. Many of the non-Federation employees' salaries are funded by third-party sources, including public funding, not through the United Jewish Fund.
Federation and its affiliated agencies are well aware of the need for cost control. This is reflected in our annual balanced budget. By the same token, we all offer human services. High-quality human service programs are a function of recruiting and maintaining quality personnel. Personnel costs normally reflect 80 percent of the costs at human service agencies.
Using limited community resources allowed the community to avoid further reductions in program staff and to ensure that the best and brightest staff remained during the horrible recession of 1992-1993. No organization was ever forced to close services or avoid expansion of their programs to their participation in The Federation pension plan. It is a major distortion to suggest this.
Obviously, no one disagrees that it is urgent to examine the future philosophy and benefit structure of the pension plan. That is why Federation, on behalf of itself and its agencies, has put a proposal on the table in negotiations with the union to move to a defined-contribution plan for new employees.
I wonder if The Journal did more to confuse the public on a tremendously complex issue through its selective reporting and innuendo in the article.
John Fishel, President The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles
Faith and Folly
I am a physician and a clinical professor of pediatrics at Loma Linda University who, like Rob Eshman, maintains a firm belief in the merits of stem cell research ("Faith and Folly," July 30).
Stem cell research will continue regardless of President Bush's current position, since the companies involved are multinational and research will be conducted abroad until the issue is sorted out in the United States. Some will move their labs to locations where they can carry out this most-needed research.
The United States is not the only country involved in this area. Validated discoveries, which translate into new cures, will be available to the world.
The research will get done. But even if that was not the case, is this the most pressing issue before us today?
I was also an elected delegate to the 2000 Democratic National Convention, but since Sept. 11, I am relieved that my opinion was not persuasive.
I believe the war on terror is the most important issue facing our country today.
I disagree with Eshman's statement that, with regard to Israel, "most Jews would be hard-pressed to find a lot of light between the president's position and John Kerry's."
Bush has a proven record of action, denying the so-called "right of return," supporting the isolation of Yasser Arafat, supporting Israel's right of self-defense, etc.
Politicians can say anything and not be held accountable for broken promises. Kerry -- who feels so strongly about appeasing France, the European Union and the United Nations, who refuse to support Israel and sanction only Israel in a world full of corruption and inhumanity -- cannot be relied upon to defend Israel to the degree that the Bush administration has demonstrated.
There was no mention of Israel in Kerry's speech at the Democratic Convention.
Dr. Charles J. Hyman, Redlands
Contrary to Rob Eshman's argument, stem cell research will not be the key deciding factor for the Jewish vote in the upcoming election. It would serve the readers well to be informed that stem cell research is still in its infancy.
President Bush is the first president to provide the federal funds for it, while at the same time limiting such funding, pending review of the relevant issues involved.
Dr. Ron Saldra, Founding Member Beverly Hills Jewish Republicans
Our cover story "Rebirth in Russia"(Aug. 6), neglected to state that the writer's trip was sponsored by Chabad, whose activities were largely the subject of the story as well. The Journal's policy is to always disclose such relationships. We regret the omission.