Three local federations contribute to Israel campaign

Money can’t buy you happiness, but it sure can help repair the pockmarked infrastructure in the north of Israel.

With fundraising initiated only moments after the first Hezbollah rocket landed in Israel, the northern American federation system has garnered more than $320 million in pledges from the Jewish community.

The Israel Emergency Campaign of the United Jewish Communities and local federations already has collected more than $100 million in cash. Of that $100 million, $94 million has been allocated and $54 million has been paid out, according to the UJC.

The Bay Area’s three federations have pitched in their fair share. The Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay led the way with a $1.3 million donation to the UJC fund, and the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley raised just over $165,000. The S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation added $250,000 (as well as $4.5 million raised directly for Israeli partner agencies).

When it began in July, the campaign was meant to take care of the immediate needs of those in Israel’s battered north — outfitting bomb shelters with air conditioners, lighting and televisions, moving some 40,000 Jewish and non-Jewish children to summer camps out of the range of Hezbollah’s rockets and providing psychological help for those affected by the attacks.

Now that the rocket fire has ended, the focus of the fundraising campaign is to make the northern region more inhabitable and draw people back to the area.

“People have left the north,” said Howard Rieger, the UJC’s chief executive officer. “We will address some of the longer-term needs.”

As the UJC gets set to announce a second round of allocations, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee — the UJC’s nongovernmental partners in Israel — stand to see significant increases in their budgets this year.

The JDC has already seen a boost of $25 million, according to its executive vice president, Steve Schwager, and it could see a doubling of its roughly $100 million budget for Israel next year, he said.

The new allocations will be decided by a professional and lay committee made up of representatives from small, medium and large federations from across North America based on proposals from Israeli agencies and the government, officials say.

The allocations will go to improving the education system in the north and to help rebuild the area’s economy, said Doron Krakow, the UJC’s senior vice president for Israel and overseas.

The Jewish Agency is seeking funds to give scholarships to Israelis to draw them to universities in the north, said the chairwoman of its board of governors, Carole Solomon.

And the JDC has been working to improve several schools in the north, bringing in consultants to help teachers and administration, and to help with structural improvements. The organization is now asking for $8 million to expand the program to more than 50 schools.

Some of these initiatives do not appear to be directly war-related, but those involved draw a link.

“This war revealed that the north needed strengthening and needed to upgrade the level of services it could provide,” Schwager said. A portion of the funds are being allocated to help Ethiopian Jews.

The UJC’s Rieger said that the scope of the campaign — which he said does not have a specific dollar goal in mind — has not changed since its inception over the summer. He dismissed critics who say the federation system is trying to use the war to fill in fundraising gaps.