In a campaign reminiscent of one undertaken during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Israel's survival was at stake, the North American federation system is hoping to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for Israel in the coming months.
Robert Schrayer, chair of the United Jewish Appeal Federation Campaign of the United Jewish Communities (UJC), said the situation in Israel now "may be even more drastic than things were in 1973."
"It's different because it's a different kind of conflict, but just as serious, if not more so," he said.
The UJC's board of trustees is expected to vote Sunday to approve an emergency campaign for various needs as Israel engages in its war against terrorism. The funds are expected to aid victims of terrorism, rebuild infrastructure damaged in terrorist attacks, and support crisis management and other social services. Most of the UJC's existing $42.5 million campaign for Argentine Jews will be folded into the new campaign, dubbed Israel Emergency Campaign, with most of the money going to resettle Jews who immigrate to Israel as a result of Argentina's economic crisis.
The campaign will officially be launched with a special leadership mission to Israel leaving Monday. Another UJC mission will be leaving for Argentina at the same time.
The new campaign, unanimously approved by the UJC's top leadership, comes on the heels of a relentless spate of suicide bombings and in the midst of a major Israeli military initiative to root out Palestinian terrorists.
Officials say the Israel Emergency Campaign will be larger, more centralized and more forceful than UJC efforts on Israel's behalf that started earlier in the 18-month-old intifada.
The previous effort, called Israel Now, has raised $90 million since September, with each federation deciding independently whether to do extra fund raising for Israel and how to allocate it.
UJC leaders are in ongoing meetings with officials at the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Israel's Ministry of Finance to determine how the new dollars will be allocated, Hoffman said.
However, while national leaders are forcefully pushing for full participation and a centralized allocations approach, it is not yet clear whether every federation will agree to participate.
In recent years, issues of "fair share" -- or how much each federation is obligated to contribute for national and international needs -- have been a major sticking point in the functioning of the UJC, which is an umbrella for more than 189 Jewish federations.
Hoffman said he does not expect federations to object to participating in the campaign. He also said he thinks their fundraising goals will likely be exceeded.
As for collective decisions about how to spend the emergency money raised, Hoffman said, "At the end of the day, every community is always entitled to decide how it wishes to allocate funds, but we're going to give them some very compelling options."
In addition to fundraising, the campaign will also includes efforts to mobilize American Jews to advocate on behalf of Israel. Several major federations, including ones in Washington, New York, Boston and Los Angeles, have already intensified their fundraising efforts for Israel in the past few days.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is calling for Jewish unity in Israel's struggle against terror. In a conference call with Diaspora leaders on Monday, Sharon said the "unity of the Jewish people" is Israel's "primary strategic asset."
"Each and every Jew" is "now required to make a supreme effort to contradict the claims made by those who question our right to the land of Israel," he said.
"In these times, we need you more than ever. We need you to express your public support for Israel," he said.
"Join us here, demonstrate your love and support," he told those on the call, which was sponsored by the United Jewish Communities, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Agency for Israel and Keren Hayesod.
"This struggle is going to be long, difficult and complex," he said. "It requires unity, determination and faith in the justice of our cause. -- Rachel Pomerance, Jewish Telgraphic Agency