Jonathan Sarna: Jewish agencies forced to downsize

Madoff, economy have big impact

Source: Boston Globe, 5-22-09

Jewish organizations in Boston and beyond are going through a significant downsizing as a result of a combination of the down economy and the Madoff scandal. Combined Jewish Philanthropies, an umbrella organization that helps finance several hundred local Jewish groups, gave preliminary approval yesterday to a 15 percent cut in the amount it will distribute next year. The organization had already cut its budget by 15 percent, laid off about 10 percent of its workforce, and imposed a 7 percent pay cut on senior managers and a one-week furlough for everyone making over $45,000.

The Reform Jewish movement plans to close its regional office in Needham next week. The Bureau of Jewish Education, in Newton, is debating whether to close after Combined Jewish Philanthropies cut 80 percent of its funding. Multiple organizations, from the Anti-Defamation League to Hebrew College to Facing History and Ourselves, have laid off small numbers of workers, and many others have trimmed salaries, benefits, or programs.

“The American Jewish community has probably lost 30 percent of its wealth, and we have no idea how to cut the costs of the Jewish community by 30 percent,” said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University.

Sarna said that across the nation, there are unusual signs of the impact: In addition to widespread cutbacks, a few Jewish organizations are merging with non-Jewish organizations, and some Jewish community centers are closing.

“It’s a very tough time, and we’re at the stage now where everybody is defending their turf,” he said.

Opinions differ about whether the Jewish community, which has over the last decades established and funded an extraordinarily diverse network of schools, synagogues, and community organizations, is going through a major shakeout or a temporary belt-tightening….

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