Weathering The Storm
Timed to coincide with the various events these two weeks, the Israeli press has had a significant uptick in North American Jewish philanthropy and financial ‘doings’ related stories. Here are a few links, just some of the news stories appearing in Haaretz these past few days:
When some people, who want to do cool and interesting things, approach the organized Jewish communities and federations, more often than not they get resistance – in terms of money, in terms of support, in terms of anything.
Perhaps the ultimate example of targeted giving came in the form of the cash-stuffed envelopes in which Long Island businessman Morris Talansky donated funds directly to Ehud Olmert.
(eJP note: for an update related to this story, see our post KKL and JNF (U.S.) at Peace)
Although 2008 has not quite come to a close, it seems clear that this year’s fundraising figures for the Jewish National Fund in the United States will make grim reading. The downturn was already evident last year, when fundraising stalled at about $44 million – down from between $50 million and $60 million just two years before.
The malaise that has been eating away at JNF-USA donations is not just an outgrowth of the global financial illness – it is a gradually worsening side effect of a bitter legal feud between the Jewish National Fund’s historic base in Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, and its two oldest and largest affiliates, the JNF branches in the United States and Britain, over who has the rights to the JNF trademark.
The question is whether Israel can continue to swim as the second wave – the impact on real economic activity, like continued layoffs, declining manufacturing and consumption, and pain felt in every pocket – reaches its shores. Ask Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, and he will tell you that yes, Israel can.
The annual conference of Civic Leadership, an umbrella organization for Israel’s third sector, was supposed to take place next month at Kfar Maccabiah, as it does every year. But after executive director Yaron Sokolov was unable to get concrete commitments for funding there, he decided to move it to Tel Aviv University.
“Most of the groups are putting things on hold,” says Sokolov. “Businesses I’m in contact with are not making decisions. They aren’t saying that they won’t give, but they’re waiting until the situation settles in early 2009. Among other things, they want to see whether the crisis has already hit rock bottom.”
Israel has yet to feel the wrath of the global economic crisis. Despite fearsome warnings in the business pages, the actual implications of the world’s financial meltdown on the Israeli economy have so far been marginal. No Israeli bank or major company has collapsed, sparing the government from the need for economic first aid. By and large, Israelis are anxious about the coming crisis, which follows an unprecedented boom, and are waiting for a much-expected decline in real-estate prices.
Over the last few years, a wide-scale interest in reducing social gaps has turned local philanthropy into something of a trend. This could be a good thing for those who need donations now more than ever.