Summer 2003

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MERCAZ USA Newsletter — Summer 2003

MERCAZ Advocacy Helps Restore JAFI Funding

Faced with a proposed cut of more than 18% in the Jewish Agency's $4.26 million "stream funding" allocations line for 2003, MERCAZ USA, together with its Reform counterpart ARZA, swung its community advocacy into action and succeeded in forcing the restoration of most of the proposed budget decreases.

While caught off-guard by the preliminary recommendation this past fall to cut the stream funding line for the first time since it was instituted more than fifteen years ago, the Conservative Movement's leadership, including President Vernon Kurtz, began lobbying key U.S. federation leadership about the importance of maintaining the traditional levels of allocations for the three religious movements in Israel so as to prevent, as indicated in the joint Conservative-Reform letter "the unity of spirit and commonality of purpose that have characterized our efforts in North America during the past two years [from beginning] to break down."

As Rabbi Kurtz expressed, "the stream line in the JAFI budget was never meant as charity. It was an affirmative action initiative undertaken by American Jewry to offer tangible support towards the goal of establishing full religious pluralism in Israel and to prevent the North American movements from being pressured into establishing independent fundraising campaigns that would run in direct competition with those from the federations. The proposed reduction of $200,000 to the Masorti Movement could force drastic reductions in the activities of our Movement in Israel."

Finally, after three months of intense lobbying, complete with letter-writing and widely publicized articles in the Anglo-Jewish and Israeli press, the Jewish Agency at its February Board of Governors meeting agreed to restore $305,000 to the stream allocations and pledged to raise an additional $197,000 for the religious streams.

Since 1998, the Jewish Agency's stream funding for Conservative/Masorti Judaism provides annually about $700,000 to the Masorti Movement, $400,000 to the Schechter Institute, $400,000 to the TALI Education Fund and $100,000 to United Synagogue's Israel programs, in addition to smaller amounts to Camp Ramah Programs, Moshav Shorashim and Kibbutz Hannaton.

A second MERCAZ victory at the Jewish Agency occurred when the Chairman Sallai Meridor was forced to accept a rotation agreement among MERCAZ, the "Confederation" and MERETZ regarding one of the WZO's voting seats on the JAFI Executive.

A third MERCAZ success occurred when plans were announced to set up a new WZO unit that would provide religious services to non-Orthodox Diaspora communities. The new unit, which is to begin functioning with an annual budget of more than $500,000, will be charged with training Conservative and Reform rabbis and teachers for South America and Europe.

"It is clear that only by sitting at the table," said Rabbi Kurtz, "does the Conservative Movement, through MERCAZ, have access to the tremendous world Jewish community resources concentrated in the hands of the Jewish Agency. With the direct stream funding allocations and similar indirect programming grants, which provide for our Shlichim in North and South America and Europe and for excellent projects such as the MERCAZ-USCJ 'Team Israel', our Movement has important resources to continue its growth in the 21st century."


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