With Super Sunday approaching March 3, The Journal spoke with John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, to get his impressions on this year's daylong phone-a-thon.
Fishel, who hopes to raise another $3 million to $5 million in the coming year in response to crises in Israel and Argentina, just returned from a six-day stay in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where he met with the Jewish Agency for Israel to discuss how to best address both situations. Fishel also visited various Federation agencies and projects based in Israel. Since the intifada began, The Federation has been active in supporting services that aid victims and emergency professionals affected by Middle East violence.
Jewish Journal: What will be the big difference between this year's Super Sunday and those of years past?
John Fishel: You've got a major Jewish world crisis in Argentina, where there's an enormous need, and the federations are being asked to react quickly and generously. With Argentina, that means in terms of both making aliyah and providing relief to people who need food and shelter.
JJ: What did you see on your trip to Israel this time around?
JF: A very heightened concern for community, and veritably no tourism. They're really experiencing some significant financial problems, high unemployment, over 10 percent. There are almost daily attacks and violence. Although you don't physically see it, you feel it. They need to feel that we're with them.
There are a lot of incidents occurring. But I saw nothing in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv that makes us have to fear for our lives. It's a question of not only giving, but being there. I can't think of a time when people over there were happier to see people from the Diaspora. The hotels and restaurants there are just empty.
JJ: Are there any indications to believe that the residual effect of the Jewish Community Centers crisis and the way unfolding events were perceived by the community and by the press will affect Super Sunday contributions?
JF: No, I don't believe they will. I'm sure that there'll be people who, as always, will question supporting us, but the vast, vast majority of people understand it's a campaign that touches many Jews here and abroad. They believe in the system, and they'll contribute accordingly.
JJ: What are some of the changes and new directions that we can look forward to in 2002 from The Jewish Federation?
JF: We would like to see if we can facilitate a more extensive and successful effort to reach teens here in town. We're beginning to talk to a bunch of organizations in town to see how best to expedite this.
JJ: With the dissolution of ACCESS, what will happen in terms of young leadership?
JF: ACCESS has not been dissolved. The staff has been reassigned. You've got multiple entities under The Federation auspices -- entertainment division, legal, apparel. The idea is to build the framework for young leaders in the community, not just for The Federation, but for our agencies and lots of other Jewish organizations.
What I am also hoping for will be an expansion of senior housing -- Menorah Housing -- an opportunity for a very significant expansion in terms of those who are older and need a place to live, not necessarily in a nursing home, but in a quality home where they're able to live in dignity. That's going to become more and more important.
JJ: Any other thoughts on Super Sunday?
JF: It's a great event. It engages people from throughout the community and we believe that even in the midst of an economic slowdown, people still believe in the community and in coming together.