Monday, July 13, 2009

Tzohar's falling donations forces hard choices.

The model for financing many necessary services has been to rely on charitable donations. However, that model is fast disintegrating. As a community, we are going to have to decide what our priorities truly are, and allocate funding accordingly. So far, way too many boards and trustees have been suffering from the "we've always done it this way" mentality. These Rabbis have realized that "pay as you go" is more the order of the day than the "waiting for money to fall from the sky" strategy. And their organization is a worthy one.

Jerusalem Post Online
Jul 12, 2009 23:32 | Updated Jul 12, 2009 23:35
Tzohar rabbis begin charging for services

A group of modern Orthodox rabbis that has earned the esteem of secular Israelis by offering free religious services such as weddings, counseling and High Holy Day prayers, is now being forced to start charging to fight financial demise.

Though not directly affected by the Bernard Madoff scandal, the Tzohar Rabbis, a group of about 600 religious Zionist, moderate-minded spiritual leaders, has seen nearly one-third of its NIS 6 million budget cut this year alone...

It's interesting that the writers at JPost think that the Madoff scandal and other similar scandals are a primary reason for the decline in charitable giving. Apparently they think if those scandals had not happened, there would be nothing wrong with financing for charities. The reality, however, is that the middle-class, who comprise the bulk of charitable giving, are simply too cash-strapped to give as much as they have in the past, if they can give anything at all. The real reason for the donation crisis is the issue of 1970s income (inflation adjusted) while dealing with 2009 expenses. Something was going to break eventually - it was inevitable, and scandals had nothing to do with it.

...This year, Avi Chai cut NIS 700,000 from Tzohar's budget as part of a gradual phase-out of support, after nearly a decade of supporting the organization's activities almost single-handedly.

In addition, private donations have dropped from NIS 500,000 to just NIS 100,000, and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, which supports Tzohar's work with new immigrants, has delayed a NIS 700,000 transfer.

In response, Tzohar has been making deep cuts in salaries, as well as instituting fees for some of the services it once offered for free.

This week, Tzohar announced that it was discontinuing the publication of its influential periodical, which deals with contemporary issues in Halacha.

Tzohar's executive director, Moshe Be'eri, said that additional projects were in danger...

The main problem with this type of scenario is that, especially when dealing with Chereidi or UO organizations, what they think is an "important priority" would generally not be what is in the best interests of the community at large. While not so much an issue in this case, seeing as this particular organization is modern (though many other so-called "modern orthodox" organizations are so far right as to be nearly indistinguishable from UO ones), the underlying problem is large and unacknowledged. Chereidi priorities are often actually counter-productive to wider community priorities.

Over 300 neighborhood, city and settlement rabbis are payrolled by the state to officiate at weddings, answer halachic questions, lead prayers and provide other rabbinic services. However, in many cases, these state-salaried rabbis are unable or unwilling to reach out to secular Israelis, either because they have no economic incentive or because they are culturally alienated from secular Jews.

Tzohar's success has been in recognizing the need for rabbis who can identify and answer the needs of secular Israelis.

"I believe we have improved the way the Chief Rabbinate operates by providing an option and introducing a little bit of competition," said Be'eri.

But the Chereidi and UO don't want competition. In fact, one of their goals is to squelch the civil rights of non-UO Jews and force them to deal with the UO and Chereidi organization so they can be coerced into either adopting UO practice or be declared "not Jewish" if they refuse. So trusting them to correctly prioritize the donations they receive is foolish in the extreme.

In the end, each person needs to carefully investigate the organizations to which they give money and make certain that organization is not teaching or promoting policies that are counter-productive to the economic, spiritual, and educational well-being of Israel and non-UO Jews. Only if you are confident such is not the case should you give them money.

In the case of Tzohar, they appear to be an organization that respects people's basic civil right to freedom of religious practice and freedom to marry, so they are likely worthy of receiving some of your charitable dollars. Even a small donation in US dollars goes a long way for Israeli charities, so don't be bashful if you have only a little to give. And, of course, God appreciates every effort, no matter how seemingly insignificant it may be.

To donate to Tzohar, please click here.


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