Newsdesk September 30, 2005

Lulav Shortage Eyed

An Orthodox Jewish organization and a New York congressman were working with the government of Egypt this week to forestall a shortage of ritual palm fronds, called lulavs, as the holiday of Sukkot approached. The Washington representative of Agudath Israel of America, Abba Cohen, and Rep. Gary Ackerman, a Queens Democrat, were working with American and Egyptian officials to restore importation of the palm fronds, one of the four species used in ritual Sukkot ceremonies.

Egypt’s agricultural ministry stopped the harvesting and shipment of lulavs to Israel, the United States and other countries, claiming that the cutting of branches was damaging the trees. The halt in imports of the fronds in the weeks before the holiday threatened to cause a shortage because Egypt is the main exporter of the plants.

“If we are unable to persuade the Egyptian government to let the regular shipment go through this year and, if necessary, work out the problems over the course of the next year, we will be looking at a very serious shortage of lulavim for this Yom Tov,” Cohen said in a statement.

Ackerman, the ranking Democrat of the House International Relations Committee’s subcommittee on the Middle East, raised the issue during a meeting this week with the ambassador to Egypt, Francis J. Ricciardone.

Hasid Eyed in Sharon Plot

An American Jew was arrested in Israel on suspicion that he planned to assassinate Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Police said they planned to deport Shen’or Zalman Hatzkolevitch, a member of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement from Brooklyn, N.Y. It would mark the first time that a Jew was deported from Israel for security violations.

Groups Approve Merger

A merger will bring together two leading progressive Jewish organizations. The Jewish Fund for Justice and the Shefa Fund will join together to form a new organization, the Jewish Funds for Justice, with a yearly operating budget close to $3.8 million.

Both organizations have fund-raised in the Jewish community and used the money to give grants and loans to low-income, mostly non-Jewish communities. In merging, the groups have bucked the trend of progressive Jewish organizations, which frequently cling to their independence, according to Simon Greer, president of the new organization.

“It’s unfortunate in progressive circles that mergers often aren’t prioritized,” said Greer, who was previously the CEO of the Jewish Fund for Justice. “It’s better to build bigger organizations that have more capacity and skilled staff rather than an array of small organizations.”

Both organizations were founded around 20 years ago and focus on domestic poverty and inequality. The Shefa Fund, which is based in Philadelphia, has built up a reputation in the investment world, advocating for responsible investing, and helping establish grant-making programs for wealthy funders. Currently, they make $1.6 million in donor-advised grants. The Jewish Fund for Justice has focused on raising money and giving grants to poor communities.

Greer was on the Shefa Fund’s board until he was selected to become the president of the Jewish Fund for Justice four months ago. The two groups have been in merger talks since then and finalized the merger this week.

Jeffrey Dekro, president of the Shefa Fund will become the senior vice president of the new organization. Dekro, who founded the Shefa Fund 18 years ago, said he was eager to pass on the leadership to a member of the young generation.

Jewish Republican Tapped

A former chairwoman of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Cheryl Halpern, was chosen to lead the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Halpern was elected by the corporation’s board Monday to replace Kenneth Tomlinson, whose term as chair expired. As a corporation board member, Halpern has been critical of Middle East reporting by National Public Radio, which the board oversees. “We have a duty to provide the public an explanation for the kind of work we do,” Halpern said in Washington after being elected. “And we must honor the principles clearly stated in our charter, to encourage objective and balanced programming.” Halpern is a New Jersey attorney and real estate developer, and is an influential Republican donor. In addition to the RJC, she is active with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Anti-Defamation League.

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Newsdesk September 30, 2005

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