The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles began the process of disbanding its Israel and Overseas Department this week, letting go the director, Lois Weinsaft, who has worked for Federation for more than 26 years.
The tasks of the department, which had fewer than 10 staff members and directed funding decisions and programs related to Israel and world Jewry, will now be integrated into other Federation departments.
“Our support for Israel has never been stronger, but our investment in Israel needs to be evaluated like everything else to make sure we’re making the maximum impact in Israel and recognizing that Israel’s needs are evolving like our local needs are evolving,” said Jay Sanderson, Federation president.
Sanderson said Federation’s investments in the Jewish Agency for Israel and in other programs remain intact. The Federation’s Israel office, which oversees programs on the ground, will take on increased functions.
The move comes as part of a greater restructuring Sanderson presented to the board earlier this month that will channel Federation’s focus into three general areas — the Jewish future, serving Jews in need and interacting with the wider community.
Sanderson said integrating Israel activity into other departments is a good example of how the institution, whose annual budget is $50 million, will better utilize its professional staff and funding.
“Israel is at the heart of everything we do, and by segregating it, we haven’t allowed it to be at the heart of everything we do,” Sanderson said. Now, programs dealing with poverty in Israel will be handled by the department focusing on Jews in need, while the Jewish future will encompass all educational programs, both in Los Angeles and Israel.
But some wonder if the integration model is too simplistic.
“It’s easy to say we’re going to join education with education, but there are big differences between educational issues here and educational issues around the world, particularly in Israel,” said Herb Glaser, a past chair of the Israel and Overseas Department and a founding chair of the Tel Aviv/Los Angeles Partnership. Glaser said he has not yet fully analyzed the intent and implications of the decision to dismantle Israel and Overseas.
Glaser is one of several lay leaders who will serve on a new Israel Advisory Committee, which Sanderson said will look at big-picture strategy related to Israel and will reevaluate, among other things, the singular focus on Tel Aviv, as a result of the Tel Aviv/Los Angeles Partnership.
Sanderson also recently hired a new chief operating and financial officer for Federation, Ivan Wolkind, who has served in top executive positions in high-tech companies and is a lay leader in the Jewish community.
“People in this community are saying that they want this Federation to run more cost-effectively and more efficiently, and the only way we can do that is by looking at the way the business is being run and asking where we can do things differently. Integration is part of that, so as a result, there will be some functions in this building that will go away, and by doing that we will be able to give more money to places we support, and we will be able to do it in a more meaningful way,” Sanderson said.