Turning Point in Jewish Philanthropy?
New Perspectives in Community Giving
Perhaps the most remarkable of all the institutions created on the American scene by immigrant groups and their children is the great complex structure of Jewish welfare agencies, with their supporting fund-raising and fund-distributing organizations. In the recent decade, under the impetus of the Jewish catastrophe in Europe and the struggle for the rebuilding of Palestine, huge sums were raised and expended, in an ever increasing flow. But now the volume of giving has begun to turn downward, and the American Jewish community and its agencies find themselves facing serious dilemmas of choice and decision as to the future. Hal Lehrman here reviews the present situation; his aim has been to report the facts and to outline the issues as they have been crystallizing, rather than to offer any evaluation of the merits of the different points of view.
At the dedication of a synagogue not long ago in a certain American city, a community leader prominent in overseas philanthropy arose and smote the congregation hip and thigh. He expressed the hope that the spiritual solace they might derive from the new edifice to God would compensate the worshipers for the guilt they must surely feel for spending on brick and mortar money which could have gone instead to save lives in embattled Israel.
Now there have been passionate disputes before in Jewish charity. Philanthropy is a realm where the benevolence of the aims does not seem to insure an atmosphere of kindliness and serenity. Year after year, for instance, the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the United Palestine Appeal (UPA) have dickered strenuously over their respective shares of the total raised by the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) for acts of mercy abroad. There has been a steady undertow of strain in the relations between local institutions and the community welfare funds which contribute to their maintenance, between the welfare funds and the national agencies which they support, among the national agencies themselves, and between them and overseas agencies. Who can forget the Silver-Montor struggle which two years ago nearly sent UJA, American Jewry’s major apparatus for support of Israel, crashing to the ground? And who except the incurably naive can fail to see that even now—behind a screen of honeyed words and amicable treaties—a stern jurisdictional contest is raging between the Jewish Agency and the government of Israel?
But these debates have been and are mainly struggles for prestige and growth. While apparently disputing over the allocation of funds, antagonists have actually been more concerned with the management of funds, or the independence of institutions, or the scope of agencies. So much money has been available that the argument, even when really about funds, was just for a little more advantageous share, never for survival. The conflict that has arisen during the past year, however, reflects a basic cleavage in fundraising centered squarely on the percentage of money to be distributed in the local community, as against the amount to be spent nationally or overseas. The reason: for the first time in over a decade of Jewish philanthropy, less money has been flowing into campaign treasuries.
Not that everybody had enough before. On an absolute scale, obviously, much more service could have been rendered by local and national agencies to their clients; overseas, the real need was always staggeringly larger than the fund-raising possibilities. But the money gathered met the specific, manageable requirements of the times, and left something over for expansion and reserves. And each year, the sum was greater than that raised the year before, permitting new agencies to be born and old ones to increase their budgets. Until last year. Then, suddenly, the curve of giving halted its upward swell—and dropped.
Expert readers of the graph took this to mean that American Jewry had finally embarked on its delayed postwar reaction, a bit later than the rest of America. As Jews, we had to confront additional emergencies: the crisis of the DP camps—first to help maintain them and later to empty them—the crisis of Israel’s birth, the crisis of the Arab-Israeli war. Only in 1949, when that war seemed won, did “normalcy” and our own particular postwar letdown begin.
Sufficient time has now gone by to permit us to peer at the blurred signposts of the future. Is the volume of giving still shrinking, and will it continue to decline? Is the Jewish state in Israel really secure, or has merely the drama of its crisis faded while the crisis itself still remains? Will givers and askers alike seek a new dream to substitute for Israel—a fresh appeal, perhaps closer to home, which would revive the zeal of the crisis years or at least stabilize it at a lower but still abundant level? Is the American Jewish “community”—or the bulk of its heterogeneous component parts—mature enough to respond to the moderate voice of its own enlightened self-interest with the ardor it showed in answering the anguished voices from far-off countries and distant battles?
After lengthy inquiry, this writer has uncovered two facts already evident to all professional workers in the vineyard of philanthropy: that life among the agencies is briskly belligerent, and that an outsider who pokes his reportorial nose into the agitated scene can get that nose chopped off. The purpose of the present essay being not heat but light—and then only for lay readers, since professionals will find little or nothing new here—we may obtain a useful result simply by setting down in some order the facts of a clouded situation and the various conflicting diagnoses and prescriptions.
The mechanism of Jewish fund-raising in the United States is as formidable as its history is complex. Over the half-century, the machinery has grown from a few scattered and isolated “federations,” whose gaze rarely lifted above the parochial limits of local social service financing, to a national constellation of “welfare funds,” “joint” appeals, “united” appeals, and miscellaneous agencies, soliciting the cash support of American Jewry for projects ranging from theological seminaries and national hospitals to countrywide civic protection and inter-faith tolerance to the rescue, relief, rehabilitation, and improvement of the remotest fellow Jew on the farthest continent.
This imposing structure, unmatched in size or ingenuity by any other religious and cultural group or any other country, developed largely from the pressures and shocks of outer events, foreign and domestic. The European pogroms and upheavals after World War I gave the first large-scale impetus to mass organization of aid for overseas Jewry and quickened the development of the JDC. The Palestine Foundation Fund joined the long-existing Jewish National Fund in an effort to raise money for the growing Jewish settlement in Palestine; in 1935 their two organizations created the UPA. Growing concern with the effects of anti-Semitism abroad sharpened the realization at the local and national level of the community’s stake in defense, educational, and other activities vastly broader than habitual works of charity. With the rise of anti-Semitism at home in the 30′s, came a steady expansion of such organizations as the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, and the Anti-Defamation League—the “defense” agencies.
The burgeoning of separate, independent fund campaigns for regional, national, and foreign causes led to their coalition during the late 20′s through the device of the combined welfare fund, uniting the various appeals, in each of a number of cities, into a single central campaign, much as the federations of an earlier day had centralized and coordinated the anarchic efforts of local charity campaigns. During the 30′s, while Hitler was consolidating his power in Germany, the major communities of America continued to develop the ingredients for local and general fund-raising on a scale suitable to the challenge, with a Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds (CJFWF) to provide a central consultative service.
The test of this structure came with the full impact of Nazism, initiated in the Berlin riots on the eve of World War II and climaxed in the annihilation policy of the Third Reich throughout occupied Europe. American Jewry, safest and richest on earth, rallied monumentally to the mission of saving what it could of its overseas brethren. Mixed heavily with the altruism was fear—a deep, scarcely spoken but aching fear of the Coughlinite-Silver Shirt menace and of the possible emergence here of the same brute forces that were destroying the bulk of world Jewry.
Under these twin impulses, old antagonisms within the community yielded to the universal urgency of efficient and maximum fund-raising. Zionists and anti-Zionists, immigrants and their English-speaking descendants, Orthodox and Reform, German Jews and East European Jews, and a multitude of other rival groups were miraculously welded into the welfare fund, which became virtually everywhere the dominant collection and budgeting organism for meeting of Jewish needs.
The postwar crises brought even greater consolidation. Membership in the CJFWF rose to 252 welfare funds, federations, and similar agencies encompassing, with their hinterlands, around 600 communities and more than 90 per cent of the total Jewish population. The national UJA, linking the JDC, UPA, and the United Service for New Americans (USNA) into a common fund-raising front for overseas needs, used these agencies as its campaign arm wherever available, and organized locally sponsored drives itself among several thousand smaller population centers. The combined efforts of UJA and other central campaign funds accounted for some 90 per cent of the total sums collected.
An arsenal of sharply pointed techniques was enlarged and perfected during the crisis years by American Jewry, for assault on its own purse strings and hearts strings. All the media of communication and persuasion were lavishly employed. Every variety of grouping and sub-grouping was recruited: divisions for men and divisions for women, for town, suburb, and neighborhood, for synagogues and landsmanshaften, for trades and professions, down to units of 26 osteopaths and 18 chiropodists. A new nomenclature for tactical operations came into common currency: top gifts, initial gifts, advance gifts, special gifts, general solicitation, “mopups,” etc. Year in and year out the unrelenting pressure · of such diversified stratagems—supplementing the continuous shock of world headlines—produced a unity in action on the part of American Jewry, despite the rich kaleidoscope of its inner diversity, beyond anything in its history. The ingenuity of the fund-raisers was matched by the inspired responsiveness of the fund-givers.
The proof lay in the magnitude of the collections. After 1939, according to a survey of the bulk of the welfare funds existing then, the givers increased around two and a half times, their aggregate gifts swelling tenfold. Even adjusting such calculations to the sharp rise in prices and costs between 1942 and 1948, the real purchasing power of Jewish philanthropy in those six years more than doubled. Initiating the sensational spurt which followed the end of the war in Europe and the Far East was the 1946 total from CJFWF-affiliated communities: $131,000,000, a sum 110 per cent more than the previous year. In 1947 there was a 20 per cent increase over 1946. And in 1948 the total amassed by UJA-welfare fund campaigns—not counting an additional 10 per cent raised through independent drives by unaffiliated institutions—reached the record mark of $193,000,000.
Virtually every field of Jewish activity bloomed under this tidal wave of giving. Taking 1939 as a base, national agency expenditures for health and welfare by 1948 are estimated to have increased two and a half times, community relations six times, religious activities seven times, cultural, national service, and overseas around nine times each. Overwhelmingly largest expansion on an absolute scale, of course, occurred in overseas work and in care of immigrants in the US, a phase of the overseas problem. Expenditures abroad, racing after the giant increase in need, mounted astronomically from $18,965,000 to $171,159,000.
Never before had so many given so much—voluntarily—for so many. The JDC alone in 1948 expended over $60,000,000, as contrasted with less than $20,000,000 only three years earlier. And never before was so much done—in every field of service at home and abroad. Again taking the JDC as an example, over 100,000 Jews in 1948 were transported to Israel with JDC aid and some 20,000 more to other lands of resettlement. Of those who remained behind, 110,000 were helped toward self-support by JDC loans, 49,000 by vocational training. Five hundred medical institutions were treating 103,000 individuals monthly by the year’s end. Of the 180,000 surviving Jewish children in Europe, the health, diet, and education of 140,000 were in large part cared for by JDC. Rehabilitation support went to 440 religious institutions. Some 61,000,000 pounds of JDC food, clothing, and other vital supplies were shipped abroad.
Then came 1949, and the sharp decline in giving which made it an ominous year for the future of Jewish funds and causes. Nobody should have been surprised. To most observers, the really amazing thing was that the break had been held off so long.
Business generally was good around the nation, production high. The waiting lists for country-club membership and transatlantic staterooms suggested no poverty. But, analysts seeking to explain the philanthropic slump pointed out, the big givers—the kingpins of the campaigns in most communities—had with few exceptions built their wartime and postwar prosperity not in heavy industry but in mercantile, distribution, retail, and credit fields, such as wearing apparel, furniture, jewelry, and the like. And in these consumer sectors of the economy, prospects in 1949 seemed cloudy if not downright bleak compared with bonanza days. Big givers pledged their 1949 contributions cautiously, with an eye to reserves. Some were even declaring a moratorium on philanthropy for the year, using the time to catch up on their 1948 pledges. In the total number of givers, such “sabbatical leaves” were relatively few. But “two big givers going bad,” it has been indecorously said, “are like a stink-bomb in a theater.”
There was another deterrent, one which weighed on all contributors, large and small. It was fatigue. Since 1933 American Jewry had lived under prolonged tension, enduring a succession of severe traumatic shocks from abroad. The expected postwar letup had been postponed by new crises and new slogans. “Keep Them Alive!” had melted at white heat into “Bring Them Home!” The community had obediently marched through the “Tear of Survival” (1947) and the “Year of Destiny” (1948) without faltering; but by the “Year of Deliverance” (1949) it began to bog down. The European camps were closing, the Arabs were defeated, the immigrants were on their way. Ecstasy over Israel was giving way to a soberer mood. The realization was dawning that the Jewish state was not going to settle everything, after all. Attention was shifting strongly back to home. A deep desire was arising for peace and quiet.
When all the returns for 1949 were in, the count showed a 20 per cent drop from 1948.
The major victim of this drop was UJA. During the happy years of ever swelling collections, the welfare funds had awarded an increasingly giant share to overseas needs. Each year UJA received most if not all of the surplus over the previous total. In 1949, however, there was no surplus. There was a deficit. Accordingly, the communities this time felt UJA should take the largest part of that, too.
This was not universal policy. Some communities “remained loyal” and absorbed most of the loss by lopping off expenditures closer to home. But the general practice was the contrary. What hurt even worse was that numerous cities actually kept more for local programs, even though their total collections were less than 1948, thereby delivering a doubly staggering blow to funds for overseas. A survey of twenty communities—large, medium, and small—establishes that, although their total 1949 receipts were 18 per cent below 1948, local and regional allocations went up 17.7 per cent—much of this increase being spent, however, on new immigrants, the costs of whose maintenance and rehabilitation had risen phenomenally in the postwar years. National agencies took a 16.6 per cent cut—slightly less than the ratio of the over-all decline—but UJA went down a full 30 per cent, with other overseas organizations faring almost as badly on a 22.7 per cent cut. In 1948 from these twenty cities UJA received $26,827,984 (or 71.4 per cent of the total budgeted); a year later this dwindled to $18,790,045 (or 61 per cent).
In this situation there lay a paradox within a paradox. Jewry overseas had never before needed more help from America than in 1949, the year of the big reduction. On the other hand, not since World War II had Jewry overseas been so relatively safe. Hundreds of thousands of war-wrecked lives had been rehabilitated; the DP camps were becoming a memory; the American community’s mission in Europe was shrinking almost daily in urgency and scope. But because of the unexpected vast increase of immigration to Israel, and the even huger cost of settling the newcomers, more money was required than ever. Before the birth of Israel it had been reckoned that 100,000 might be transported there over perhaps two years. But that number had been exceeded long before the new state’s first anniversary, and 30,000 more were pouring in monthly.
This was a dilemma to try men’s souls, even in distant America. An angry UJA conference at Atlantic City in late 1949 demanded satisfactory pre-campaign agreements on its share of the 1950 total as its price for continued cooperation with the welfare funds. UJA general chairman Henry Morgenthau and others warned that hospitals, schools, civic defense—every Jewish need in America—must wait upon the more pressing needs abroad. Anti-Defamation League national chairman Justice Meier Steinbrink and others hurled the defiance back, announcing that “neglected” problems at home had now to be met and solved “if Jewish life in this country is to continue strong and healthy.”
In a high, philosophical sense, it was clear that local, national, and overseas needs were merely facets of an over-all need. Every Jewish need everywhere was “local”: distress in Israel or anti-Semitism in Germany or discrimination in the United States affected all American Jewry, just as damage to American Jewry affected all Jews in Israel and elsewhere. The problem was not to choose one need over another but to treat each according to its value, in relation to the total. But in the down-to-earth area of contesting agencies, the distinctions were sharp and practical. What needs were to get more, and what less, of the 1950 collections?
Pro-UJA advocates charged that, in effect, local budgeters were “hi-jacking” for their own pet projects large sums which rightfully belonged overseas. Whose methods and techniques, they asked, had raised the huge sums? Who had supplied “big-name” and effective speakers, imaginative promotion, stirring literature, dramatic radio hook-ups, and experts to coach the local talent? The UJA, of course. And what message in 1949 had moved the givers most? Why, Israel of course—the tragedy of the tent camps on the barren plains, the drama of the world exodus to the Promised Land, the epic of an ancient commonwealth’s magnificent rebirth. When communities needed a speaker to push their campaign over the top, they usually clamored for a Golda Meyerson, an Aubrey Eban.
If more hospitals or community centers or synagogues were so urgent, why not run a separate campaign for them after the main drive was completed instead of undercutting the collection for overseas?1 How, moreover, could one justify keeping money idle in banks for some future building fund while overseas agencies were so short of cash they were unable to meet their current bills? Was money better spent, so overseas partisans argued, on the competing community-relations and other social “science” agencies? Besides, during the recent years of valiant campaigning for foreign aid, had not domestic programs feasted and grown fat from moneys collected on the strength of the need abroad?
And, moreover, was it not a grievous fact that, much as American Jews were giving for the immigrants, it was much less than the people of Israel were giving? The Israeli government’s 1949 budget for immigrant relief, resettlement, and absorption was $154,000,000—as compared with only $56,000,000 received in aid from the whole of non-Israeli Jewry. That budget was met mostly from taxes on the Israeli people, already drained by the fabulous cost of war and the infant state. One million Jews in impoverished Israel, it was contended, had paid three times as much as five million Jews in opulent America.
On the other side of the debate, tempers responded with equal vociferousness. The UJA, they charged, which had been founded to serve the people in the communities of America, was now seeking to dictate to those communities. What right did a board in New York controlled from Tel Aviv have to tell Jews in Kentucky or California not to build an orphan asylum? Existing asylums, hospitals, old-age homes, and the like were ancient firetraps, or situated in neighborhoods turned into slums during the years when all the funds were going overseas, or had fallen into shameful disrepair. Wherever possible, capital fund campaigns were being conducted separately from the main drives. The many new synagogues were a sign of the community’s continuing devotion to its own Jewishness, and the new community centers helped young people realize their full stature as Americans and Jews; then, too, both of these institutions would constitute a guarantee of America’s ability to respond in the future to Israel’s needs.
Yes, it was admitted, the allocations for most local agencies had increased over the years. But so had their operating expenses. Moreover, local allocations had improved at a puny rate by contrast with the vast acceleration of overseas allocations. In fifty representative communities, the latter had gone up by an average of 960 per cent since 1941 while local allotments had increased only 125 per cent.
As to who was responsible for the record-breaking campaign collections of 1946, 1947, and 1948, advocates of local needs answered that the money was raised nearly everywhere by local personnel and local techniques, and that when UJA was first organized it had to borrow personnel from local federations and welfare funds to get started. If local causes weren’t prominent during recent UJA drives, it was because the tons of canned UJA literature didn’t mention them. Far from simply ignoring them, UJA spokesmen sometimes actually talked down non-overseas activities, discouraging many givers who could not agree that Jewish interests had to be in a foreign country to be legitimate.
The national-service and community-relations agencies like the Jewish Welfare Board (servicing Jewish centers) and the Joint Defense Appeal (the fund-raising alliance of the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee) were caught in the middle between local versus overseas enthusiasms and felt aggrieved in both directions. UJA, friends of these agencies often thought, behaved as if American Jewry at large had no intrinsically American problems at all—and local budgeters had chopped their allocations in 1949 as if these national agencies had previously been receiving almost as much as the overseas. The percentage assigned to JDA was so infinitesimal that in certain cities a contributor would have to give $20,000 to the welfare fund before JDA could receive $200. The important work of safeguarding civil rights and the Jewish identity, it was protested, was too often hampered by indifference or undermined by false accusations of mismanagement. Reduced funds for the security, education, and advancement of the American community had abolished many activities and paralyzed others.
In Groping through this argument, one inevitably encounters the decisive question: How do the contributors want their money to he spent?
Exploring this, one discovers that there is no accurate way of finding out. No systematic machinery exists by which givers, as such, can even register their desires and discontents—except, of course, by ceasing to be givers.
Consider, first, the spending of funds by national organizations either for domestic or overseas programs. Organizational structures may vary, with larger or smaller boards selected and influenced to greater or lesser degree by subsidiary membership groups or ad hoc committees organized by the various agencies. But in no case does the mass of givers have any direct voice in determining the precise or even general manner in which its money is to be expended.
JDA, for instance, turns over its collections by pre-agreement to the AJC and ADL, which disburse thereafter according to the best judgments of their own governing directorates. UJA does likewise with its component member agencies. Of the latter JDC and USNA (like the independent overseas agency HIAS) are operational bodies which at least retain control of their budgets, but UPA is a “holding company” and surrenders its share to its component agencies, whose operative decisions are made practically in toto by directorates in Israel. Communities, through their centralized-fund organizations, have long been seeking effective participation in UJA at the top policy level. Lately, the CJFWF has been permitted to present its views on JDC-UPA contract negotiations and review the final agreement. But the community representatives have no vote and little scope beyond mere liaison and consultation.
To champions of the grass roots, this may smack of “dictatorship,” a cry periodically raised against the “big fellows” barricaded in their New York headquarters. But the CJFWF and its affiliated fund-raising units, presumably the most faithful reflection of internal community opinion extant, are similarly abused and denounced. Occasionally, the complaint is that the welfare funds, by raising such huge sums mainly for overseas, have gained an excessive and possibly distorting influence over general community planning. Poale Zion and Zionist Organization of America spokesmen, on the other hand, have lately asserted that the welfare funds are virtual puppets of the CFJWF, where professionals with anti-Zionist ideologies designate the nation-wide allocation of funds. Only recently, on another front, it has been charged that the existence and independence of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency were jeopardized through the allegedly arbitrary withholding of money due from various welfare funds at CJFWF instigation. The American Jewish Congress currently sees a “deterrent to democratization” in centralized fund-raising where “a small group of rich individuals” can sometimes control the funds of an entire community. And in the main bout raging since 1949, UJA has steadily intimated that the CJFWF and its affiliates, instead of representing the will of the contributors, thwarts it.
One is compelled to ask, therefore, how much “representativeness” resides in the CJFWF or, more pertinently, in the fundraising units from which that association is constructed?
On first inspection, it appears that there is a great deal. Each unit is a kind of community council or senate, composed of its professional executive, certain “prominent individuals,” delegates of miscellaneous religious, cultural, and political groupings, plus deputies from the variegated local and national agencies pooling their forces in the common fund-raising effort. And each budgeting committee is in effect a representative board of arbitrament which rules on allocations, theoretically after full study of the various needs and consultation with their advocates.
In cold practice, however, these are senates born of elections which are so indirect that they frequently are equivalent to no elections at all. Few, if any, constituent organizations take a general membership vote on delegates to the central funds or on allocation policy. Indeed, a good percentage of givers have no organizational affiliations whatsoever. The targets of fund-raising—the individual givers—are too dispersed in too diffuse a mass to permit government by referendum.
The truth is that democratic government of funds—in the sense of action based on the will of the givers formally recorded—cannot exist unless American Jews miraculously shed their variegated diversities, as has lately been urged in some quarters, and become a monolithic, uniformly thinking, “democratic” society—a metamorphosis which would have unhappy consequences of its own. Such a singleminded community could conceivably dispose of its funds by majority vote; it might also levy taxes instead of merely appealing for contributions.
At present, the fund-raising “tax,” even though the individual feels himself required—by custom, instinct, or moral coercion—to give regularly and repeatedly, is self-imposed, voluntary. The one all-important control on the welfare fund is the taxpayer’s ability, sometimes theoretical, to “vote with his feet” by walking off if he is dissatisfied with the way his money is being handled.
This element of free will is the essential difference between the fund-raising community and any political community. The latter can make laws binding upon its members. The welfare fund cannot. And perhaps it is just as well that it should not. In any case, it is following the American pattern, according to which ethnic and other special interest groups carry forward their activities through voluntary associations, rather than through governmentally appointed bodies or quasi-governmental structures, which is the Central and Eastern European mode.
The American Jewish community, lacking a central administration, budget, or definitive public opinion, is thus really a voluntary federated “union” of independent voluntary societies which “tax” themselves, recognize no allegiance to any of several rival national “executives,” and vigilantly defend their “states’ rights.” They nevertheless deliver up funds to various national “treasuries” with very few checks and balances—and sometimes none—on the use of the money.
Who are the decision-makers in this community? In a perfect world, they would be all the givers and workers. Do these exercise this franchise? A great many of the givers do not because of apathy and indifference—the same reasons which keep voters away from any polls. Such contributors give ignorantly, out of habit, vanity, social-economic competition or other fuzzy instincts, not knowing—and sometimes not caring—how their money should be distributed. A great many more do not speak up because, as we have seen, there is no way for them to cast a ballot. And perhaps most do not because, again in the American pattern, members of voluntary philanthropic associations find voluntary leadership quite satisfactory, and feel sufficiently represented without election.
But isn’t undue influence exerted by those who give big money and whose views cannot be snubbed short of risking the loss of their contribution; and those who, because they belong to compact groups contributing a large combined sum, can also implement their will? Actually, are such givers a clique of vested interests blocking the vaguely expressed desire of the mass? Or do they, by some peculiar osmotic process, represent a tolerably fair cross section of the attitudes behind the whole of the money collected?
Perhaps surprisingly, these influential givers do seem to reflect much more of the total impulse in the contributions than their relatively small numbers would suggest.
Firstly, they pay in their own right the substantially larger part of the total. In a study of the 1947 contribution pattern for 103 federation and welfare-fund campaigns, it was found that 3.2 per cent donated 63.4 per cent of the total. Second, the years of high prosperity and high-pressure campaigning have extensively widened the middle and upper levels of the collection pyramid: the number of contributors who gave $5,000 or better in 1947 was sixteen times as great as in 1939; those who gave between $1,000 and $5,000 increased eight times. Finally, the same years have changed the composition of the pyramid’s apex. The long-settled families who used to be the top givers have long been outstripped by the immigrant newly-rich. Wealth based on investment revenue has been overtaken and passed by wealth based on profit. Not the German Jewish hierarchies of the investment banking houses and the great department stores, but the East European newcomers who made good in manufacturing and distribution, are the present titans of philanthropy.
The latter do not have the chasm between themselves and the bulk of immigrant or second-generation Jewry which separated these from the old stock. They have the same origins and, by and large, the same cultural background and ideologies as the great majority of the community. The Jewish causes they prefer and the Jewish interests they foster—apart from economic—are the causes and interests of the great majority. Thus, although “votes” in the fund-raising community may be weighed by dollars instead of counted by noses, the result is a reasonable facsimile of cross-section opinion.
Similarity of attitudes between top givers and general population, however, does not imply uniformity of attitudes: both groups are heterogeneous in their preferences. After the welfare funds had announced their allocations in 1949, no overseas, national, or local agency could rightfully assert that the will of the people—or of the big givers—had been either vindicated or betrayed. There was a variety of “wills,” and no tabulator existed to prove that the percentage of them that supported any specific program corresponded to the percentage of funds allotted to it.
But absence of any way of measuring the will of the people did not deter rival factions from endorsing, with considerable heat, the accuracy of their own estimates. Professional fund-raisers accused their opposing professional colleagues of holding views convenient for their careers and personal security. Some disgruntled “lay leaders”—big givers active in campaigns—protested that locally minded welfare-fund professionals were arbitrarily disposing of money without the contributors’ consent. Conversely, other givers complained that small pro-UJA groups, under cover of democratic slogans, were pressuring welfare funds into making allocations unrepresentative of broad community sentiment. Local supporters were particularly wrathful against UJA’s so-called “Minute Men” or “shooting stars.” These were prosperous laymen of recent vintage, burning with zeal for Israel and imported briefly into different communities to whip up enthusiasm for overseas. In the undisguised opinion of their critics, these invaders were men lacking any sense of kinship with their own communities, men who had never before possessed the money or inclination to develop their neighborhood institutions but who, having suddenly struck it rich, were peremptorily demanding that supporters of the worthiest community causes abandon them in favor of Israel.
It is agreeable to report that all factions calmed down somewhat during the first half of 1950. A partial truce to mutual denunciation permitted closer attention to the main task: cooperative effort for maximum fund-raising, and for budgeting and dividing the sums raised in each community.
Budgeting, especially in a time of reluctant contributions, has been defined as an “unequal distribution of injustices.” Acutely aware of this, CJFWF—while standing firm against budgeting by “ultimatum”—also stressed that all available information on the competing programs be rigorously weighed to insure the fairest possible allocation. This year has been notable for increased participation in budget conferences. Many welfare funds moved the problem into full executive session instead of the restricted budget committees. Some called special meetings of campaign leaders to advise the allocations committees of the welfare funds on distribution.
In earlier years, when collections were soaring annually, UJA had been cool to the fixing of percentages for each agency prior to the fund-raising campaign—because it expected and received the bulk of the increase. This time, however, with the 1949 “axing” in mind, UJA was taking no chances. Arguing that local programs had helped themselves first in distribution of the diminished funds available, UJA now demanded that it be assured specific percentages of the 1950 total—a guarantee against having to sustain the full loss of any unsuccessful campaign. As a starter, also, UJA in most communities wanted the percentage to be better than its 1949 share. If not satisfied, UJA indicated it might break away from the central fund in any stubborn community and stage its own separate campaign.
Among knowledgeable professionals this threat was recognized as a tactical bargaining point unlikely to be tested in a showdown. For of the three UJA member agencies—JDC, USNA, and UPA—only the latter had a sufficiently strong nucleus of organized adherents in the communities, the Zionists, capable of providing the indispensable lay support for an independent campaign.
In Chicago, UJA was ready to run full-page ads announcing a separate campaign. In Richmond, UJA hired a hall for a scheduled independent speech by Vice-President Barkley and planned to set up an exhibit of Israeli immigrant tents in the middle of the old Confederate capital. But in every instance UJA stepped back from the brink of secession, satisfied finally that it had obtained the best trade possible under the circumstances.
Such a method of negotiation may be called power-pressure lobbying, or it may be called a democratic marshaling of one’s strongest arguments and supporters. UJA admittedly had the advantage because of sheer size and the ability of its staff to turn up nearly everywhere at once. But other competing agencies trundled out whatever big guns they had too; the JDA also indicated its readiness to conduct separate campaigns. The main point is that the issues were thrashed out with a degree of clarity, every group mustered what strength it could in each community, the contending factions had their day in court, and compromises were reached which perhaps came closer to approximating the real desires and preferences of the givers—at least of the articulate givers—and, all things considered, this was about as democratic and reasoned a process as could be obtained.
UJA-minded leaders claimed they had won the argument. Those less favorably disposed to UJA read the results rather differently. From the sidelines, however, the results of the pre-campaign negotiations seemed like a Mexican standoff. In certain contingencies UJA would do better than previously, in others worse. Everything depended on the final campaign figures.
At this writing, the returns from the 1950 campaign add up to bad news. It is conservatively estimated that, the total drop below last year will be at least 15 per cent. A better performance is expected in the fall, for unhappy reasons: mobilization, as a result of Korea, will increase taxes and business, two factors which usually stimulate philanthropy. But the fall campaign is a minor, tail-end part of the year’s fund-raising efforts, and expert observers see little hope that the drastic over-all slump in pledges will be appreciably diminished. If so, we are likely to witness a fresh outbreak of passionate competition over curtailed funds. The overseas need is not going to decrease suddenly and accommodatingly to fit the reduced purse of American Jewish philanthropy.
In fact, even before the 1950 campaign was fully under way, calculations of planned expenditures for Israeli immigration were swept aside by the emergency evacuation of over 50,000 poverty-stricken Jews from Iraq. It is costing only an extra $2,500,000 to bring them to Israel; but it will cost a painfully larger amount to feed, shelter, and—nobody knows quite when—permanently house them. On the heels of Iraq comes Rumania, whose government has now abruptly agreed to permit the exodus of 70,000. From Israel’s political and demographic point of view, redemption of such a large number of Jews who were previously almost given up for lost behind the Iron Curtain is a windfall. Efforts to get them out speedily will be fully justified. But, even with curtailment of immigration from less crucial areas, the already intolerable financial strain will be grievously accentuated.
Hope has long since been abandoned for any large reduction of the numbers in Israeli immigrant camps in 1951. A substantial part of the 1949 arrivals have still not been removed. When the Iraqi crisis broke, there were already over 90,000 sitting in the tents. The estimated total of immigrants during 1950 was then lifted to 180,000. The maximum expectations for new housing for the current year are for 30,000 units, putting a roof over 120,000 camp-dwellers. This would still have left 150,000 in tents by the end of 1950. There are now 70,000 more—the Rumanians—to be reckoned with. The mere cost of the food consumed—$20 a month per person—suggests the astronomically expensive burden of non-productive camps for some years to come on Israeli and world Jewry. Moreover, one should not lose sight of the debts outstanding on UPA loans made to cover last year’s deficits; of the dead-weight expenditures for the old and incurably sick “hard-core” immigrants to Israel; of the program for the schooling, healing, and vocational training of North African Jewish youths and children; of the rising costs of increased immigration into the US, thanks to Congressional loosening of restrictions against DP’s. The shortage of dollars just for Israeli immigration is so acute, in fact, that responsible officials estimate the money to pay even the Iraqi-Rumanian transportation expenses will stretch only into October. After that, it is being desperately calculated despite official denials, the highways to Israel may have to be narrowed unless and until fresh funds are forthcoming.
Can the Israeli people increase their own staggering contribution to immigrant financing if American philanthropy does not make good the new deficit?
It would mean a crushing rise in taxes and increased sacrifices of living standards. Theoretically, Israel could seek loans abroad to relieve the emergency. But apart from the extreme unlikelihood of finding foreign government or private lenders for such purposes, that kind of borrowing would have a pernicious effect on Israel’s future. The incurring of debts for the stop-gap feeding of a nonproductive camp population would seriously retard Israel’s slow and painful progress toward economic stability. It would be like lending a destitute man just enough to ward off starvation and then expecting him to go into business with the same dollar and start paying the money back.
Israel certainly needs foreign economic aid—considerably more than the $100,000,000 American loan and the feeble capital thus far ventured by private foreign investors. But this money should go to expand Israel’s industry, commerce, and agriculture. She needs foreign exchange not to support camp residents but to buy machinery and raw materials. The immigrant problem is a crisis of unemployment, not of tents. An expanded economy would automatically solve the crisis by putting the newcomers gainfully to work, eliminating the public costs of relief feeding and housing.
Issuance of Israeli government bonds could possibly relieve the foreign exchange shortage. Earlier soundings in this direction found little support among American banking interests, who judged the terms and the prospects unfavorable, or among fund-raising leaders, who feared the adverse effect of bond-purchasing upon contributions to UJA. However, talk about a bond flotation is currently being heard again, and the device may yet win enough advocates to be given a trial. The real answer to the increasingly crucial foreign exchange shortage, as all agree, is robust importation of capital by overseas in vestors; but against this the economic—and ideological—uncertainties of the Israeli market have set up a high barrier until now.
It has become customary, in any candid discussion of the baffling Israeli economic impasse, even for technicians to fall back on the same solution which created the Jewish state and defeated the Arab armies: miracles. This is a standard reply, given with such cheerfulness that it communicates confidence.
Somehow or other, it is felt, Israel will muddle through the next few years and reach a less turbulent period when immigrant camps will at last be shrinking instead of expanding, when the flood of immigration will recede into a thin stream, and when the increased population, having incorporated itself into the productive life of the country, begins turning into an asset instead of a liability. At that moment, Israel’s primacy as a fund-raising appeal—already weakening but still powerful enough to induce a great response from American Jewry—will really begin to wane.
This is not to say that Israel will stop needing or Americans stop giving aid. Help must continue for an indefinite number of years. In the event of a major disaster, such as a new Arab war, the American community would meet the emergency wholeheartedly.
Barring this, however, not even UJA and all its power will be able to persuade a majority of the givers to remain ardent with an emotion they can no longer feel. One may approve or disapprove of this diminishing zeal, but one cannot ignore its inevitability—and the fundamental effect it must have on the pattern and slogans of American Jewish philanthropy. Already the trends of the future are beginning to occupy the minds of thoughtful men. All privately agree that the volume of giving will continue to recede from the peak of 1948, and all also agree that the descent will not take us back as far as the 1939 levels. But to what level will it take us? And for what purposes? On this there is as much divergence as there are established fields of community welfare and undeveloped areas of experiment and aspiration.
This writer lacks the space and the knowledge for a blueprint of American Jewry’s ideal objectives in the fund-raising drives of the next quarter-century. It may perhaps suffice to point out that there has been a steady trend toward wider community horizons.
Charity has long ceased being the arch and keystone of our philanthropy. Even in the classic charity categories—hospitals, asylums, old-age homes—the tendency is away from alms and toward service. City, state, and federal welfare programs have absorbed much of the cost of primary relief. General improvement in economic status has reduced the number of non-paying cases. Jewish institutions now seek to provide care, not so much for the poor as such, but for the community and everyone belonging to it—including the contributors. The giver has become the receiver. Emphasis is upon increased facilities, higher quality. That is why institutionalized Jewish medicine, for one, is burgeoning with experimental procedures: in psychiatry, in pediatrics, in family counselling for middle-class groups on a fee basis, in improved old-age treatments, even—notably in New York under the influence of Federation—in the gradual but revolutionary transformation of divisional chiefs of hospital staffs from a galaxy of high-priced private practitioners to an elite of full-time doctors and surgeons dedicated exclusively to community service.
A glance at any miscellaneous list of social welfare, cultural, religious, and civic causes supported by the average big-city community will show how far we have traveled since the turn of the century from our original eleemosynary perspectives. The growing diversity means that Jewry is becoming not more fragmented but more cohesive, as an increasing number of facets of Jewish personality stop being the projects of particularized groups and are recognized to be a basic interest of the community at large. At the same time a parallel process of refinement is at work, a mounting awareness of the individual in the community and of the community in society. So, for example, we have been turning recently from the negative fight against anti-Semitism to the positive pursuit of higher techniques in the art of human relations. And there is an increasing consciousness of the need for expanded cultural and educational activities to carry forward the Jewish heritage meaningfully.
It would be easy to draw up a list of “needs,” a catalogue of present programs to be expanded or new programs to be invented. Every worker in the already richly ploughed fields of community endeavor could supply a dozen favorite projects and dreams upon demand. The subtler, immeasurably more difficult task will be to find the unifying motif for all these activities, to discover the theme which can fire the community’s imagination with some of the fervor previously concentrated on the rescue of European Jewry and the resurrection of Israel. One thing at least we know: whatever its specific direction, the new appeal must be firmly established in the context of an enhanced dignity for the Jew and Jewry in a free society; it must be informed with a vision of heights to which American Jews can aspire as individuals and as a community in this country.
The search will be more difficult because self-help as an objective of fund-raising is much less stirring than help for others—especially when addressed to Jews, with their instinct for tsedaka, for benevolence toward others rather than toward themselves. Hitherto, in the main, giving has been a spontaneous—almost automatic—response to an external appeal. It will be necessary to find a new élan of giving which will strengthen, and in turn be strengthened by, the giver’s deliberate consciousness of his own inseparable personal relationship to the community at home and in the world.
The search will also be the more complex because the variety of Jewish background and foreground here makes agreement on a common denominator elusive. But there is a kind of American Jewishness taking shape in our times, though it is not yet tangible enough for clear allegiance. The mission of the coming decade will be to sharpen the outlines of this new emerging vision and win the support of communal Jewry for its development.
Meanwhile there is more immediate work to be done: the adaptation of present fund-raising techniques to the changing temper of the givers. A guide may be found, perhaps, in the stress placed by welfare-fund budgeting conferences this year on full study of all community needs. Might it not be useful to go one logical step forward, and call the totality of the community needs to the attention of the givers as well? This trend is already discernible in some advanced communities; it could with profit be intensified and extended across the entire map of Jewish philanthropy.
Heretofore, the overwhelming emphasis of the campaigns has been on the single appeal from overseas. Other needs and interests were glossed over lightly, if not ignored or even denied. The strategy may have been proper for the time—it certainly raised funds—but that time seems now to be passing. A broader and more positive attack by campaigners seems indicated for the future. The general range of community interests—including Israel as an essential and enduring element in the pattern—may well possess a sum total of mass attraction and a dramatic quality of its own which might yield sturdy results if enthusiastically evoked.
Such a change in approach could put new vigor into the fund-raising mechanism. It would at least begin to prepare American Jewry for the challenge of the future. It might conceivably also be better for Israel.
1 In New York, where local and overseas-national needs are met by two separate fund-raising organizations, Federation raised for its capital building fund the sum of $30,000,000 in addition to $60,000,000 for the current maintenance costs of its 116 agencies in the past five years; during the same period New York UJA raised $175,000,000. Here under separate campaigning, local needs received a much larger proportion of the total funds given in the community than in most cities, but there is little agreement on the significance of the fact for the issues debated in this article.