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Coming Out on Top

The Jewish Federation closes its 2001 campaign drive with one of its biggest totals.

by Michael Aushenker

January 24, 2002 | 7:00 pm

After what has been a turbulent year for Los Angeles' Jewish community, some happy news came in for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Despite a downturn in the economy, 2001's United Jewish Fund (UJF) general campaign closed at $45 million, ahead of the previous year. By comparison, 2000's UJF campaign had amassed $42.5 million. The $45 million does not include an additional $1 million raised for the Sept. 11 designated Victims of Terror Fund.

The campaign succeeded despite what Bill Bernstein, The Federation's executive vice president of financial resource development, termed "a very shaky economy and a very tragic event that upset many charities. We also had the intifada drawing people's attention away from the local community. Nevertheless, we still had one of the best campaigns in our history."

The lion's share of that $45 million is already in The Federation's coffers.

"Our pattern," Bernstein said, "is that we collect 80 percent and the balance -- the last 20 percent --is collected over a two-year period."

In addition to General Campaign's diligent leaders and staff, Bernstein credited the campaign's success to an 11th-hour stock market surge.

"That certainly helped to restore confidence," Bernstein said.

The last financial quarter has not been kind to Jewish organizations, which were forced to lay off employees because of the economy. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles laid off some 30 workers in December. "We took a serious look at the entire operation and said, let's be very thoughtful about the impact of the economy. We're in a time of great challenge," Federation President John Fishel had said at the time. The Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) also sustained the layoff of 49 employees. JCCGLA received the largest Federation allocation of any local agency -- $3.2 million in 2001.

Michael Koss, 2001 Campaign chair, said that Federation layoffs in such departments as Campaign did not come until after he had wrapped up his fundraising drive. "I don't think anyone was laid off while I was a campaign chair," Koss said.

Bernstein and Koss said the media portrayal of The Federation's campaign woes was misleading. They dismissed the idea that part of the confusion came from ads The Federation took out in this paper, which labeled Federation programs, "endangered."

"We were always ahead in our entire campaign," Bernstein said. "What we were trying to illustrate in those ads was that we wanted to reach a goal, and unless we reached those goals, certain programs would be endangered."

Koss, who labeled the press reports "unfair media coverage," focused in 2001 on increasing gifts from established donors.

"In all of the years of solicitation," Koss said, "I rarely run into people who over-give. So I said if they can, they should give more. At virtually every event, people did."

At the Women's Campaign, Laurie Konheim helped fundraise through the division's seven branches, which included the Chai Emerald Zahav, Lion's Circle, L'dor V'dor, Business and Professional Group, Kolot and Sephardic.

"Women are a huge power and influence in the community," Konheim said.

Now in her 50s, Konheim has been an active Federation participant since she attended a young women's luncheon at 32.

"The community at large that gives to UJF has always been there and is truly loyal," said Konheim, whose main emphasis in 2001 was with young Jewish professionals.

"My big push was really for young leadership," Konheim said, "and we needed to build on that and educate the next generation and teach them to give."

Koss will continue as 2002's Major Gift Chair, campaigning at Brentwood, El Caballero, and Hillcrest country clubs, which collectively, he said, "40 percent of all money in the community comes from."

He looks forward to a healthy 2002 drive.

"Jake [Farber, incoming Federation chairman] has a tremendous amount of commitment," Koss said, "and a very good understanding of the inner workings of the Federation process."

"It's the most wonderful feeling to see what's going on," Konheim said. "It's just the most satisfying and gratifying feeling to be a part of this community."

Konheim, who maintains her Women's Campaign chair seat for her second year, believes that she is even more prepared for 2002.

"I understand how things work," Konheim said. "I know who the players are. My goal this year is to strengthen the unity between the General Campaign and the Women's Campaign. To work together as a team for the same cause."

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