When UJA Federation New York began meeting with individual donors in late August, they were concerned. The economic situation has changed significantly and no-one had a good crystal ball for the near term. So, you can imagine their relief last week when the kick off to the 2010 Annual Campaign garnered $43 million in pledges. This matched last year’s record breaking event, which took place prior to the worst of the economic collapse.

As expected, there were donors who could not make gifts and others who had to drastically reduce their pledges. Several major donors dramatically increased their gifts and invited others to join.

The evening’s keynote speaker was Natan Sharansky who spoke passionately about the role the Jewish Agency can play as the only forum that brings the entire Jewish people together to grapple with the challenges that face us. While acknowledging the Jewish Agency will always provide support for those who choose to make aliyah and will always be poised to undertake rescue if needed, he argued that the critical challenge facing world Jewry today is the lack of strong Jewish identity in the Diaspora and in Israel – and the attenuation of connection among and between Jews.

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