Raising funds for Israel has always occupied a prominent if segregated role in Diaspora communities. In the United States, some $400 million dollars is allocated each year to the Jewish Agency-World Zionist Organization by the United Jewish Appeal (UJA). In recent years, there has been a slow but discernible change in aims and objectives contrasting with the often uncritical, emotional approach of earlier times. Stanley B. Horowitz, the current UJA President, recently wrote:
There has been a perceptible change in Israel’s image in the aftermath of the Lebanon campaign called the “Peace in the Galilee”, the development of the “Peace Now” movement and the growth of extremist elements. Internally, Israel, like any dynamic modern society, will continue to experience social and economic strains such as those now reflected in population changes caused by aliyah and yeridah, and the balance between Jews and Arabs; in the struggle over religious pluralism among Jews which almost approaches the level of internecine warfare; and in the society’s inner tensions between the advantaged and the disadvantaged, the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim, and the political parties. Of even more direct concern to the American Jewish contributor is the continuing need to define and redefine the Jewish Agency, whose role has been so decisive in linking the Diaspora with the people of Israel. In short, Israel, while remaining the central fact of Jewish existence, will attract American Jewish financial support based not only on the positive and even passionate instincts of the contributors but also on the judgment of her merits. (Judaism, spring 1987)
In 1979, a younger generation of philanthropists who became increasingly aware of the seriousness of Israel’s problems—the reality rather than the dream—created the New Israel Fund (NIF) in the San Francisco Bay area. In the past eight years, there has been a proliferation of NIF branches in the US, a Canadian section and an operational end in Jerusalem. This has attracted many who had hitherto never given money to an Israeli cause. Recent recipients include: the Association of Ethiopian Immigrants ($31,000); Hilai Centre for the Creative Arts ($5,000); Israel Women’s Network ($4,000); Organization for Assistance to Agunot ($10,000); Tel Aviv Rape Crisis Centre ($10,000); Ir Ganim and Kiriat Mcnachcm Jerusalem Neighbourhood Improvement Scheme ($7,000); Haifa Battered Women’s Shelter ($13,500).
Groups such as the League for Human Rights which provides free legal aid, Mitzvah which seeks to find solutions to family crises within the Halacha, the movement for Direct Elections and the Oz V’Shalom religious peace movement are able to carry out their activities because part of their running costs are now met by this enlightened philanthropic organization.
The New Israel Fund is now accepting donor-advised contributions for the Israel AIDS Task Force which provides support and campaigns for better services for victims. This is a far cry from the days when Israeli public figures would direct meaningless admonitions to Diaspora Jews to support Israel. The relevance of NIF’s activities are striking a chord with an increasingly aware audience who arc concerned with the future of Israeli society.
Jewish Quarterly Autumn 1987