December 22, 2010
Letters to the Editor: High-paid Jews, Children’s library, crazy bar mitzvahs
Highs and Lows of Nonprofit Salaries
None of the articles in your Dec. 17 issue on the salaries of Jewish leaders (“High-Paid Jew$”) so much as mentions, much less explains, the tax rules that govern compensation for leaders of tax-exempt organizations. These rules, known as intermediate sanctions because their violation leads to excise taxes rather than revocation of exemption, require that such compensation be reasonable. Under the applicable regulations, compensation is reasonable if it “would ordinarily be paid for like services by like enterprises under like circumstances.” The regulations permit boards or compensation committees setting these salaries to consider comparability data not only from tax-exempt organizations, but also from data from taxable organizations, if the organizations are similarly situated and the positions are functionally comparable.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking minority member on the Senate Finance Committee, among others, has questioned whether use of compensation data from taxable entities is appropriate. Nowhere, however, does the law permit compensation of the leaders of tax-exempt organizations to be based in any way on the economic circumstances of donors, as Julie Gruenbaum Fax’s article “How Much Is Too Much?” suggests is currently being done. I sincerely hope that the boards of these organizations have been made aware of their legal obligations in setting these salaries and would have expected The Journal to have done so as part of its detailed coverage.
John E. Anderson Professor of Tax Law
Loyola Law School
“Fat Cats?” “High-Paid Jew$?” (Dec. 17). The Jewish Journal looks more like the Enquirer.
What about doing a cover story on the 95 percent of those of us in the field of Jewish communal service who do not fit those descriptions?
At a time when the Jewish community, worldwide, is facing what may be the most challenging times in our history, for this story to get such “play” is beyond understanding. Unless, of course, the goal is to further damage a field of, for the most part, overworked and underpaid outstanding professionals that is already in trouble.
Reviewing the salaries list in the Dec. 17 issue, I ask myself why is Stephen Hoffman of Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland paid $687,043 and Barry Rosenberg of Jewish Federation of St. Louis paid only $258,818? Is Hoffman’s job that much harder? Most of the salaries are way out of line for nonprofits.
Children’s Library Closure Is Offensive
The story about the Slavin Children’s Library (“Children’s Library in Jeopardy,” Dec. 17) continues an unwise trend that began when the Federation gave away the over 60-year-old Jewish Community Library to American Jewish University while paying them for the privilege of doing so. This was a step that caused me to resign as director of the Jewish Community Library in 2008.
The idea of closing down the well-loved Slavin Library is nothing short of a tragedy. This is one of the few outlets in which The Federation interacts with the public in a supportive, warm and nurturing environment.
These moves to simply shutter the library that has served the community for so many years is appalling. The cost of running these libraries is relatively small and will not impact The Federation’s overall financial health; it will just make The Federation less relevant in the lives of ordinary people.
The cost of running the library is a fraction of the salary of Jay Sanderson, the current leader of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
The notion of shuttering an institution that serves the poor and others without access to books, movies and music so that bureaucrats can earn their bloated salaries is offensive.
Call the Jewish Federation and register your dismay.
Bat Mitzvah Shocker
As a former synagogue executive director, I have seen the excess and overindulgence at bar and bat mitzvah parties.
Olivia Gingerich’s piece on stripper poles at a bat mitzvah party finally shocked me though (“Bat Mitzvah Gone Wild,” Dec. 17). A religious experience and rite of passage for our community’s children should be more sacred than that. I hope more rabbis will question their congregations about their intended celebrations and strongly encourage families to tone down the celebration to something more appropriate.
After all, what room are they leaving to “one up” themselves when their children have wedding receptions?