Jewish Journal


November 20, 2008

Worsening economy takes further toll on Jewish nonprofits



I was tied up last week writing a cover story about what the bad economy means for the Jewish community:

These are tough times for all Americans. The drama working its way through the economy—surging gas and food prices, crises in the housing and financial markets, climbing unemployment rates and a dismal overall outlook—has been written into the American Jewish story, too.

That paragraph, however, was the nutgraph for a cover story I wrote about the economy only four months ago. It’s amazing how much worse it’s gotten since then.

The stock market, which closed under 8,000 yesterday fro the first time since 2003, has been so schizophrenic that it’s been up 500 points in the morning only to close down 200 or more. Everyone, Americans and those abroad, are being affected. Nonprofits have less money coming in the front and more demands knocking on the back door. And we’re not even technically in a recession yet.

Already, though, people are praying for help:

Something needed to be done. Something maybe only God could do. So the leaders of Israel’s largest seminaries designated Nov. 13 a day of prayer for Jewish philanthropists—“a united effort to storm the gates of heaven and plead for the financial health of Jewish philanthropists, so that they can continue to support Torah institutions in Israel.”

No one has gone unscathed by the convulsions of the global economy. Even the wealthy are losing money—and if they cut their charitable giving, it is likely to ripple across the Jewish nonprofit sector.

Birthright Israel appears to be an early victim.

The charity, which sends Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 on all-expenses-paid 10-day pilgrimages to the Jewish state, had a sugar daddy in casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who gave a combined $60 million in 2006 and 2007—about a third of the program’s operating budget. Since October 2007, the value of Adelson’s company, Las Vegas Sands, has plummeted from a stock price of $138 to just above $5 on Nov. 12. Adelson personally has lost more than $30 billion.

Not coincidentally, Birthright announced this month that it is slashing its budget by $35 million, down from $110 million. Next year, the organization plans to send only 25,000 young Jews to Israel, compared with 42,000 this year.

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