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Jewish Journal

Federations Send Aid to Argentina

by Rachel Pomerance

March 7, 2002 | 7:00 pm

The United Jewish Communities has pledged more than $40 million this year for the rescue and relief of the Jews of Argentina.

Most U.S. federations say they are committed to meeting the goal that the umbrella organization has set to aid Argentine Jews, whose country has been hit by a severe economic crisis in recent months.

"There is a broad recognition that responding to the crisis of the Jewish community in Argentina is precisely the reason why the federation system exists -- to be able to make certain that people have food and medicine and to make certain that those who want to leave can do so," said John Ruskay, executive vice president of the UJA-Federation of New York.

Of the $40 million pledged for this year, $35 million will be allotted to the Jewish Agency for Israel to manage aliyah (immigration to Israel). The figure is based on an estimated 5,000 Argentines making aliyah to Israel this year.

The remaining funds will be directed to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to provide food and medicine. There are approximately 200,000 Jews in Argentina, thousands of them now reported living in poverty.

"The entire situation is very fluid," according to Richard Bernstein, co-chair of the UJC's Argentinian Response Task Force.

An increase in dollars to meet an increase in demand is entirely possible, he said. The task force will monitor the situation to adjust the budget accordingly and create new budgets each year for at least the next few years.

"If we do the job right with the first families that come to Israel, more will come because the situation in Argentina isn't going to get better for a very long time," said Stephen Hoffman, UJC's president.

Despite the situation in Israel, Hoffman said, "aliyah is a real viable alternative for people to consider."

Local federations have until the end of the calendar year to turn over what has been designated as their "fair share" of the total. Each federation's percentage will be determined by the size of its annual campaign as it relates to the sum total of all of the federations' campaigns -- a figure that is approximately $900 million.

Chicago, for example, based upon a campaign last year that raised $67.2 million, is expected to contribute nearly $3 million to the Argentine fund.

Around the country, federations are just beginning to determine how to raise the money. Some reported that they will conduct separate campaigns for the Argentine Jews, while others will take the money from their regular campaign funds.

Chicago, which is being asked to contribute the second largest amount after New York, plans to fold the Argentina package into its annual campaign drive. The city is already 15 percent ahead of its mark last year, according to federation officials, and plans to dedicate all the funds that top its goal to, "all the special needs Israel is encountering," which includes the Argentine aliyah.

While most federations expressed full support for the amount pledged by the UJC, some had questions. Martin Abramowitz, vice president for planning and agency relations of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, expressed some concern over the UJC calculation.

Although Abramowitz said his federation "will respond in some positive way" to the request and expressed deep respect for the work of the UJC's overseas partners -- the Jewish Agency and the JDC -- he said Boston required a "better understanding of the Jewish Agency's prediction" of costs.

He specifically questioned the Jewish Agency's projection that it would cost $7,000 for each person to arrive in Israel and be absorbed -- and how that figure relates to the package of benefits that the Israeli government is offering a family of four.

David Sarnat, executive vice president of the Jewish Agency's North American section based in Atlanta, cited some specific costs, including $1,950 for employment training, $1,630 for transportation to Israel and $235 for health care. He said it cost $6,000 to bring each Ethiopian to Israel 10 years ago, when Israel conducted a major program specifically for them.

Sarnat said the UJC approved the numbers after a fact-finding mission to Argentina last month and study of the costs.

"It's a satisfactory accounting that leaves no questions unanswered," Hoffman said. The Jewish Agency submitted its analysis of past and future funds, and the UJC will be sharing those details in the coming weeks, he said.

Ruskay said this year's request, which will cost the New York federation nearly $7 million, is a substantial but moderate one. The real test will be if the numbers continue to grow, which would suggest that the requests for aliyah in January and February were only a blip after December's economic crash, he said.

In Cleveland, federation officials have already built the Argentine crisis into their campaign. "The bottom line is we are committed to this," said Michael Bennett, spokesman for the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland. "It's just what we do as Jews -- help Jews who are in trouble," he stressed. "I don't see this being any different."

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