Bracing for Cuts, Federations Hold Tongue on Taxes

As 'Fiscal Cliff' Looms, Worries About Social Service Spending

Cuts Looming: Jerry Silverman, chief of the Jewish federations umbrella group, is staying out of the fight over higher taxes for the wealthiest Americans.
ROBERT A. CUMINS/JFNA
Cuts Looming: Jerry Silverman, chief of the Jewish federations umbrella group, is staying out of the fight over higher taxes for the wealthiest Americans.

By Nathan Guttman

Published November 16, 2012, issue of November 23, 2012.
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But others in the Jewish community see no need to dive into the political dispute surrounding revenue sources even as they advocate for increased social services.

“My feeling is that the Jewish community should focus on the ability to provide service in an effective way,” said William Rapfogel, CEO of Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. “I don’t think we need to be in the other discussion.”

Details of social service cuts are still unknown, but the federation system has stated its support for a compromise — albeit without endorsing tax increases as a means to cut the national deficit. “JFNA wants to be part of crafting a middle-ground approach, and, to the extent that this is a bipartisan solution that recognizes tradeoffs, we want to be part of it,” said Daroff.

Steering clear of political disputes was the order of the day at the G.A., which, despite proximity to the presidential election, hardly discussed political issues. In one session in which the impact of election results on the Jewish community was debated, the concerns of participants focused more on President Obama’s policy toward Israel in his second term than on the economic and social issues that were central to the campaigns.

Still, the JFNA did try to convey its commitment to social justice by making a call for tikkun olam, Hebrew for “repairing the world” — or social justice — a centerpiece of the gathering. Organizers set up a special discussion track devoted to examining ways of engaging the Jewish community in helping developing countries. Other forums discussed programs devoted to helping the vulnerable in society.

Communal leaders described the tikkun olam as a concept that was as important for building Jewish identity as it was a way to help those in need. “This could be the biggest doorway for young people to be Jewish,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, told the Forward. In surveys, he noted, seven in ten Jewish Americans say their sense of Jewish identity is built on the core call of repairing the world.

Jacobs, who was this year’s scholar-in-residence at the G.A., delivered a passionate speech at the opening plenary, in which he described tikkun olam as the solution to the problem of declining interest among the younger generation of American Jews in communal involvement. “Against a secular culture that places each individual at the center of the universe, young Jews want to find a way to connect beyond themselves,” he told the crowd of 3,000.


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