JAFI’s Board meetings are usually dull. Not much takes place that has any effect except on those directly involved. This week’s winter session was a bit different as in some respects, the future of the Agency was very much up for discussion.

Out of the three meetings a year, the winter meeting has historically been the least attended. This year, according to a senior JAFI executive, attendance was down 35% from last February. The assumption is the economy played a huge part. Maybe yes, maybe no, but besides the lower total number, several key Federation leaders were noticeably absent. Hadassah, which usually sends a very significant delegation, had two registered – and they were the most invisible people in Jerusalem this week. From the Conference of President’s meeting thru JAFI, Hadassah’s senior leadership appeared AWOL.

As I posted previously, budgets were the keyword of the week. For JAFI, in addition to the $45 million they cut at November’s meeting, an additional $37 million was taken from 2009’s budget. This was partially due to an estimated $18 million shortfall to core income from the UJC/Federation system and $6.3 million from KH. Committees were unhappily tasked with prioritizing programs. In fact, the only good budget news is, at least as of now, the NIS/dollar rate is providing JAFI some relief.

Even though this was a JAFI meeting, the conversations invariably centered around the world economic climate, Jewish giving and organizational budgets in particular. The URJ, which had previously announced a 20% budget reduction, was the topic of considerable discussion and next month’s meeting of that Board is expected to elicit significant fireworks with the agenda including everything from office closings to vision.

Joining the list of organizations with short-term budgetary problems is the World Zionist Congress – which in an effort to save $5 million is considering postponing the 2010 Congress and therefore the elections that would normally take place. This effectively means whomever is elected this June as Interim Chair of the Executive of JAFI will serve at least two years, as opposed to the one year remaining on Zeevik’s term.

MASA’s senior staff looked like they were attending the funeral of a close friend.

And of course, the continuing discussion of UJC’s budget and what still may be cut in 2009 continues to be discussed by many.

But……all was not doom and gloom. In a most moving 10 minutes, the family who escaped from Yemen last week were welcomed with a standing ovation. There were very few dry eyes in the room as Sayid, his wife and seven children – capping a three month ordeal – were introduced; Sayid thanked us all for arranging passage, told us “we are very happy here now” and led the entire room in the Shehecheyanu. Even JAFI’s biggest critics recognized the sheer joy of the family coming home to Israel.

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