Steven Frank

A Shanda for the Jews

During this fateful time for Israel and American Jews, where are the rabbis and Jewish leaders and institutions? Aside from pro forma declarations condemning campus unrest, what are they doing?

Not much. It’s a shanda for the Jews.

Every year these same leaders and organizations mount elaborate, expensive solicitation campaigns seeking donations for their laudatory causes to fight antisemitism at home and assist Israel abroad. According to a report by the Forward magazine, such groups spend $93 million on their annual galas alone.

It is not for lack of resources that American Jewish leaders and institutions are relatively silent during this critical time for Israel and the American Jewish populace. According to The Forward’s analysis of the assets of major Jewish organizations, “the Jewish community’s federations, schools, health care and social service organizations, Israel aid groups, cultural and communal organizations, and advocacy groups report net assets of $26 billion.”

The Forward notes “that’s more than the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns casinos all over the world. It’s about the same as the CBS Corp. which owns 29 TV stations, 126 radio stations, the CBS Television Network and Simon & Schuster. The Jewish communal network of tax-exempt groups employs as many people as the Ford Motor Co.” The Forward reports that this extensive network “requires vast resources to support itself, spending $2.3 billion a year on management and fundraising alone.”

As we speak, Israel is in the fight of its life. College campuses have been taken over by blatant anti-Semites who interfere (forcefully in some cases) with Jews (whether Zionists or not) attempting to peacefully attend their classes.

What are our leaders doing during this existential crisis? Mostly silent on Israel (too controversial) and mostly issuing dime a dozen blanket statements generically condemning campus violence. Statements. Schmatements. What are they actually doing besides meekly shaking their heads at Zabars over coffee and lox and bagels?

[In all fairness, it should noted that one brave sole, Adam Lehman, president and CEO of Hillel International, fearlessly pronounced: “Jewish students, and all students, deserve better”].

A well-known rabbi, Rabbi Elie Buechler, director of the Orthodox Union-Jewish Learning Initiative at Columbia urged Jewish students to “return home as soon as possible’’ and stay away from the university until safety conditions have improved. Yes, the diaspora mentality for Jews to run and hide lives on. Unfortunately, as history shows, running and hiding has not proved to be a paradigm for Jewish safety.

Aside from seeking more donations during a time of crisis (as is their habit), what are these groups doing? Where is ADL (with annual revenues of $68 million and under whose watch there have been more than 2,000 antisemitic incidents reported in the United States since the October 7th Hamas massacre)? Where is the Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA) (which represents nearly 400 independent Jewish communities, and raises and distributes more than $2 billion annually)? The Jewish National Fund ($113 million in annual revenue)? Hadassah ($85 million)? Hillel ($58)? The American Jewish Congress ($68 million)? The American Jewish Committee ($54 million)? [these figures are publicly available on the organizations’ Form 990 filed annually with the Internal Revenue Service]. And where are family foundations too numerous to mention with their names plastered all over synagogues, museums and hospitals?

It is likely that the relative silence of these organizations on these existential issues grows out of concern for losing their progressive donor base by taking a firm stand on these controversial matters in a divisive atmosphere. Specifically, they fear offending progressive Democrats who have increasingly adopted the anti-Israel rhetoric of Israel’s enemies. As has been said in another context: “it’s all about the Benjamins, baby.”

What, one may ask, could these organizations do to counter the well-financed, well-organized pro-Palestinian propaganda machine turning Israel into a pariah state and running our children off their college campuses? They could try organizing counter protests and marches (a million Jew march on the National Mall); purchasing massive ad time on national television and space in newspapers to remind people that Israel did not start the Gaza war to commit genocide but to overthrow the regime responsible for the worst pogrom against the Jewish people since the Holocaust; buy air time to remind viewers of the lives of hostages still being held under horrendous conditions by Hamas; use their influence in an appropriate manner to take back college Jewish studies and Middle East programs from pro-Palestinian propaganda professors; organize and support Americans who want to go to Israel to aid in volunteer efforts during the war; hire lawyers to fill Title VI lawsuits against universities (Title VI is a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin and religion (based on perceived “shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics”)); set up large screens on college campuses (within the rules of the university) to show Sheryl Sandberg’s hauntingly brilliant new documentary “Screams Before Silence;” pour millions more into “Birthright” type programs for all Jews; lobby Congress for appropriate legislation such as the Antisemitic Awareness Act which just passed the House. There is no shortage of ideas. There is a paucity of will.

My email box is full of solicitations for donations callously exploiting these horrific times. My response: “you go first.”

About the Author
Steve Frank is retired after a 30-year career as an appellate lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. His writings on Israel, the law and architecture have appeared in numerous publications including the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish News Syndicate and Moment magazine.
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