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Federation budget cuts to end two programs, merge two others
February 26th, 2009
Continuing the difficult work of cutting expenses in light of income reductions associated with the global financial crisis, the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s executive committee voted Feb. 10 to end the Jewish Chaplaincy Program and the Wisconsin Jewish Conference.
It further voted to restructure its Israel programs by merging the Partnership 2000 program with the Israel Center, rather than continuing to run the two programs separately. These changes will take effect July 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year.
Federation president Bruce A. Arbit, in a telephone interview from Israel where he is participating in the community mission, said although these were wonderful programs that were meaningful to the fabric of Jewish life, we can no longer afford them.
“Maybe someday we will be able to afford them again, [but for now] we need to learn to live with less.”
Arbit emphasized the positive aspects of the Milwaukee Jewish community saying, “It’s easy to concentrate on the programs we can’t afford and be sad about them, but we are fortunate to have the programs that we do have.”
He noted that our federation is strong and that our community has a larger variety of high quality programs than many similar-sized communities. “We are lucky and we need to count our blessings,” he said.
Federation executive vice president Richard H. Meyer explained that the committee thought deeply and considered its options thoroughly as it made these decisions. And it is making these changes well in advance of the fiscal year to give the community time to prepare, he said.
Committee members strove “to make certain that [they] looked at everything through an appropriate lens,” Meyer said.
Fulfilling the federation’s core mission, representing its Jewish values and creating as little dislocation as possible were central to that effort, he said, explaining the federation’s central community-building goals of fundraising, planning and outreach.
He also noted it is important to continue to provide support services, such as marketing, accounting and management services, as well as maintain the upkeep of community properties.
The executive committee considered the costs of its programs, making sure not to cut those that were self-sufficient and/or brought in revenue. And while “we are not going to stop campaign and leadership development activities, we will do them smarter and more efficiently,” Meyer said.
“A substantial portion of the federation’s reduction in expenditures will have to come from reductions in salary and direct benefits to our current employees,” which, as with all Jewish communal organizations, account for more than 70 percent of the federation’s budget, he said.
The federation has informed its staff of salary and benefit reductions.
The Jewish Chaplaincy Program, currently directed by Rabbi Leonard J. Lewy, has for more than 40 years provided pastoral care, including visits to hospital and hospice patients and nursing home and group home residents, and conducted programs around the Jewish holidays for special needs adults.
The program has monitored the policies of institutions to ensure that they meet the needs of their Jewish patients and has provided pastoral care training.
Meyer said the federation will try to work with appropriate service providers to maintain the special needs programs and some of the other services heretofore provided by the chaplaincy service.
The Wisconsin Jewish Conference was established in 1987 to represent the interests of the Wisconsin Jewish community in the state capitol, said Madison Jewish Community Council Executive Director Steven Morrison. Federation leaders in Milwaukee and Madison hired lobbyist Michael H. Blumenfeld to monitor and influence legislation, and form coalitions with other faith, ethnic and social welfare organizations at the state level in ways that could be helpful to the Jewish community.
Morrison noted that over the years the conference has been involved in establishing a state hate crimes law and an Israeli trade office, among other things. It has recently worked on the issue of a minimum wage for camp employees, an important issue to the Jewish community,
“Again, here we are going to discuss who can do some of these things with the Madison Jewish Council and the Milwaukee Jewish Council for Community Relations,” Meyer said.
Keith Lindenbaum, chair of the federation’s Israel & Overseas Committee explained that in the coming year, in addition to a reduction in funds from the federation, our community is also facing a reduction in funds from the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Noting that Milwaukee has had a long-term commitment to its shlichut (emissary) program and partnership relationship with the Sovev Kinneret, he said that the federation decided to combine the two programs so as to maintain both programs within the available budget.
As a result, the next shaliach (Israel emissary) will run the Partnership 2000 program as well as the Israel Center. Lindenbaum said he is optimistic that Milwaukee will have a strong Israel program.
“We believe we have the opportunity to strengthen both programs by combining them,” Lindenbaum said.