Conservatives Slap Fund-raising Group

By Jennifer Siegel

Published October 07, 2005, issue of October 07, 2005.

A fledgling American nonprofit group seeking to raise money for non-Orthodox congregations in Israel is meeting stiff resistance from a fund-raising arm of the Conservative movement.

The new group, Kehillot B’ Yachad (“Congregations Together”), said it has compiled a 15,000-person e-mail list from contacts listed on synagogue Web sites. KBY is using the list to raise money for Reform and Conservative synagogues in Israel.

Earlier this summer, however, the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel sent a letter to the movement’s rabbis, urging them not to send money to the new group and citing concerns about confusion between groups and duplication of efforts. The New York-based Masorti Foundation advised Conservative rabbis to channel funds for the movement’s Israeli synagogue solely through the foundation.

David Lissy, the Masorti Foundation’s executive director and CEO, sent the letter to the Conservative rabbis.

Lissy’s public criticism of the novice nonprofit group comes as the Conservative movement in America struggles to improve its disappointing fund raising for the movement’s congregations in Israel. In June, Rabbi Ehud Bandel, longtime president of the Israeli branch of the movement, agreed to step down due to a severe budget crisis.

Lissy, a former business executive, was tapped early this year to serve as the Masorti Foundation’s executive director and CEO to help boost the group’s fund-raising efforts. In recent years, the foundation raised annually only $250,000 to $500,000 in addition to the $500,000 that American donors channel through the organization to specific congregations in Israel for the past several years. In contrast, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the movement’s congregational arm in North America, so far has raised $17 million for a major center in Jerusalem that caters to American Jews visiting Israel. The center opened last fall.

“All of our constituencies are saying they get solicited from too many directions and too many sources,” Lissy told the Forward. “So getting another group out there trying to raise money from the same field doesn’t help you at all. It just confuses people further.”

Lissy said that the Masorti Foundation’s warning came in response to the mass solicitation e-mail sent by Kehillot B’ Yachad to the same American synagogue leaders who constitute the core of the Masorti Foundation’s donor network.

KBY founder Jeff Macklis, 55, told the Forward that he had compiled a mailing list with more than 15,000 names. He had accomplished this task by visiting the Web site of each and every Conservative and Reform synagogues in the United States and Canada and downloading the e-mail addresses of synagogue leaders and members. The process, Macklis said, took him about one month and left him with “one finger that has repetitive-stress injury.”

“Who would have thought that KBY might be remotely controversial?” Macklis asked in a September 29 mass e-mail — the second such communication from the group. It stated that since the summer’s initial fund-raising e-mail, the group has “held off with other outreach efforts because of conversations we have held with the Masorti Foundation and the World Union for Progressive Judaism,” the international arm of the Reform movement.

A spokesperson for the World Union for Progressive Judaism could not be reached for comment.

Macklis, a semi-retired software designer who splits his time between a home in New York and one in Jerusalem, said he believes that KBY is taking a unique approach to supporting congregations in Israel. The organization, which was incorporated in 2004 but only started raising funds this past summer, is soliciting medium-sized donations from American donors and allowing the donors to choose specific projects at individual Israeli congregations. On the Israeli side, KBY assists smaller Conservative and Reform organizations that want to reach out to American Jews. The group’s Web site, www.joinkby.com, lists about two dozen Israeli congregations as affiliates and almost 20 people who have given donations of $360. The group is pledging that 100% of the donations will be directed to the specified congregations, with other donors covering KBY’s overhead expenses.

Lissy said that KBY’s efforts are duplicative, because the group is soliciting the same pool of donors who are already targeted by the Masorti Foundation and because American donors can already direct their donations to specific Israeli congregations through the foundation.



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