The following letter was sent yesterday to Federation executives across the country:
TO: FEDERATION EXECUTIVES
FROM: DR. IRVING A. SMOKLER, PRESIDENT
STEVEN SCHWAGER, CEO
CC: JDC BOARD OF DIRECTORS, FEDERATION CAMPAIGN, MARKETING AND ISRAEL & OVERSEAS DIRECTORS
RE: URGENT NEEDS OF OVERSEAS JEWRY
DATE: AUGUST 20, 2009
August 21 corresponds this year to the beginning of the month of Elul in the Jewish calendar, leading us to the High Holy Days. Our Traditions teach us that during Elul, we reflect upon the past year, searching our hearts and asking forgiveness for wrongs done to other people. Elul reminds us that Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze Lazeh -- Jews are collectively responsible one for the other. And recognizing that responsibility surely reminds us how tumultuous the last year has been for Jews, locally and overseas.
Tumultuous may be an understatement for Jews and Jewish communities that JDC serves in Israel, the former Soviet Union, and in over 50 other countries throughout the world. Significant reductions in Campaign and overseas allocations have translated into a serious decline in the services we provide to Jews in dire need without alternative sources of assistance. Additionally, the economic downturn in many of the countries where these Jews reside is deeper (and will last longer) than in North America. Most importantly, in most of the countries where the poorest Jews live, there is no social safety net -- no unemployment compensation, no Social Security, no Medicare/Medicaid. Inflation overseas in many countries is unchecked, with local prices increasing by more than 10%. As a result, thousands of Jews throughout the world, whom JDC helped in past years with the assistance of the North American Federation system, are now living below the poverty line.
Because of the significant decrease in overseas allocations and the financial problems in these countries, JDC’s ability to respond to urgent human needs in the field today has been severely compromised.
As we begin the New Year and you prepare to launch your 2010 Annual Campaign, we share with you our most pressing issues and priority unmet needs. We ask that you, in turn, share the serious plight of these poor Jews with your donors.
Former Soviet Union (FSU)
In almost 3,000 cities, towns and villages that span 11 time zones, JDC continues reaching out to each Jew – young and old – who needs basic welfare services of food, medical assistance, homecare, and winter relief. But our ability to sustain these critical welfare programs has been impacted negatively by two developments: (1) Jewish Federations, our largest supporters of welfare services to non-Nazi victims, have collectively reduced unrestricted core overseas allocations by at least 14% (or $5 million); and (2) Because of inflation, the local cost of “doing business” has increased dramatically. The cost of basic services has skyrocketed, but pensions have not kept pace with those increases.
- Who could imagine that today, thousands of destitute Jewish elderly wake up each morning and must decide between eating food or taking medicines?
- Who could imagine that the cost of a whole chicken in Minsk ($1.18 per lb.), for example, would be roughly twice what it is in most US cities? The same is true of virtually all sources of protein. Therefore, poor elderly and too many families with children are forced to live on nutritionally unhealthy diets of carbohydrates – bread, rice, potatoes, kasha – and in insufficient quantities.
- Who could imagine that today over 60,000 indigent elderly Jews are turned away from any Hesed services, and over 20,000 children living in poverty do not receive support from Jewish Family Services, simply because we no longer have sufficient funds to provide for them?
- Who could imagine that $17 monthly food package deliveries to Jews in remote areas would be replaced by deliveries only once every three months, but with 33% less food?
- Who could imagine that we would have no choice but to close over 20 Hesed welfare centers in 2009 -– the only central Jewish address in many smaller cities -- with more closings scheduled for 2010?
- Who could imagine that we would reach the point where the best we can do for our non-Nazi victim clients, who typically must live on a $5 pension per day or less, is to provide them with less than $1 per day in additional critical services?
Surely we can do better.
Thankfully, Holocaust restitution funds are stable in the short-term, so that JDC can provide basic services to Nazi victims who qualify for restitution funds at dignified, minimally adequate levels. We cannot say the same for other very poor elderly, most of whom are survivors of both World War II and decades of repressive Communist regimes, who are not eligible for restitution support.
At the same time, the development of Jewish community life in the FSU has also been effected by the downturn. Local donations and other revenue sources are seeing major contractions. Jewish schools have closed or scaled back services such as transport, meals, and extra hours.
The global recession has hit hard in several countries, especially in the Baltic States, Hungary, and Romania. Developing Jewish communities, and in particular large portions of the Jewish middle class, are suddenly poor. For example, Latvia’s export driven economy is suffering what economists view as a depression worse than what Argentina experienced in the aftermath of its 2001-02 collapse. Many European Jewish families are now turning to JDC for assistance to feed their children and to avoid becoming homeless. And elderly Jews who receive meager fixed incomes are increasingly at-risk, like their brethren in the FSU.
JDC’s ability, in partnership with the Israeli government, to forge social innovations in response to poverty is being significantly tested. Every unrestricted $1 that is cut from our Israel budget means the loss, on average, of $4 that is leveraged from our Israel government partners. What does this mean?
- For Ethiopian-Israeli pre-school children, we have fewer dollars to prepare them educationally for first grade. If not, the “catch up” costs will be much, much higher.
- For teens in trouble and on the streets, it means substantially less capability to reach out and effectively reverse the course of their lives. Without our help, many will live in perpetual turmoil and may turn to drugs and crime.
- For post Army graduates from poor immigrant families, it means reduced community resources that will help them get jobs and become financially self-sufficient.
- For the disabled, it means a much slower progress in overcoming barriers to independent living.
In places like Argentina, where there is no prospect of international help if the economy collapses again, the political environment continues to be unstable. JDC will complete its phase-out of crisis assistance in 2010, assuming no sudden deterioration in the situation. In Venezuela, economic uncertainty is compounded by the government’s hostility towards Israel, making the community feel less secure. Thousands of Jews have already emigrated; if the situation deteriorates, many more may decide to do so in 2010.
And so the bottom line for JDC, as we enter the 2010 Campaign year, is that we truly face a crisis in the field. We cannot adequately feed those who need food. We cannot provide sufficient medicines and medical care for those who are sick. We cannot provide enough hours of homecare for those who are homebound. We cannot provide enough nutrition to children who depend on us for proper nourishment. We cannot sustain our ability to partner with Israel in responding to its pressing social needs of its most vulnerable citizens.
JDC’s 95-year history reminds us that we are morally bound to care for global Jewry. But we do not have sufficient means. We have already cut, via attrition and retrenchment, our global staff in 70+ countries from 948 persons to 766, a drop of 24%, with further cuts likely in 2010. We have reduced JDC administrative expenses down to 3.9% of our global budget (and were recognized by Charity Navigator for a second straight year with its 4-Stars ranking). We also will spend down 10% of our unrestricted endowment funds ($11 million) this year, just to avoid an utter disaster in the field. That rate of endowment spending is not sustainable over the long term without compromising our ability to meet unexpected new needs.
Finally, we face the frightening prospect of terminating Jewish renewal initiatives in those places where we have made significant progress in developing the next generation of leadership so that there will be future Jewish communities. Cutting these programs would be short-sighted, but we may have no alternative in order to sustain welfare services globally.
We know you understand. We need you, our Jewish Federation partners, to help us with a significant infusion of new dollars, collectively from your Campaign and/or individually from your donors. In just the FSU alone, if we want to stabilize the reversing fortunes of poor elderly and children, restore last year’s cuts, and make it possible for everyone to receive equivalent levels of welfare services based upon individual circumstances, we have an unmet need which approaches $50 million. That is an enormous amount of money to us; but for poor Jews, the unmet needs translate to under an additional $1 per person per day.
We, along with our professionals who work most closely with Federations -- Michael Novick (Michael.Novick@jdcny.org), Jennifer Kraft (Jennifer.Kraft@jdcny.org), and Solly Kaplinski (SollyK@jdc.org.il) -- stand ready to assist in any way possible to help reverse this situation. We are prepared to visit your communities, to host your leadership in the field or in New York, to organize conference calls with field staff –- to do whatever it takes to change what is a very negative picture.
As Elul approaches, we are determined to be proactive and persevere through these difficult financial times, as we have done for 95 years. In the eyes of the Jewish world, North American Jews are the lifeline that never fails them. Through two World Wars, through the great Depression, overcoming every obstacle, we are the extended helping hand that never closes completely. We are confident that, with your passionate support, we will continue on this path for as long as we are needed. And as we enter the month of Elul, there is no better time to make that commitment together.
Irv and Steve