This is not a new theme for my JewglePerth postings, but one that I would like to further explore.
A very important, professional, and effective organisation in the Australian Jewish community is the UIA. The reputation of Australian Jewry is greatly enhanced by their work. Over recent years the transparancy and the effectiveness of their fundraising and sponsored projects has greatly improved.
The UIA recently publised some very important information to support this. Notably more than $33 million was raised in Australia (assumed to be over an annual period). The cost of raising this money (administrative overheads to support staff and a professional organisation) was $2.1 million. The balance was remitted to Israel for a range of specific projects. With the realistic costs of administrative overheads, this is a very efficient and effective result. Most not for profits struggle to contain administration costs below 10%, and some of the bigger organisations allocate more than 20% of their revenue to their operations, so the UIA’s 6% overhead cost to sustain their national operation is an exceptional outcome.
I beleive it is time for a radical cultural rethink for the Jewish community of Australia. I think that the UIA funds should be redirected, not away from their purpose of supporting Israel, but towards growing the Zionist education of Australia, and in the process helping to avert what is a real crisis for the system of Australian Jewish education.
This can be achieved – it just needs the right context to be put around it. The priority need, and the win-win potential of this suggestion need to be further explored.
Firstly, the growing economy of Israel can easily sustain the $30 million of funding for its domestic projects. Many of the specific projects funded by the UIA in Australia could be supplemented by Government budgets (especially if the money currently used to fund Shlichim was redirected towards these projects, assuming that Shlichim could be better funded by a local committment). The $30 million dollar spend is but a drop in the bucket for the Israeli taxpayer. Not only that, but if the level of tourism and aliyah from Australia increased by even a fraction of its current level, then the economic return to the Israeli tax system would far exceed $33 million through expenditure on consumption taxes, trips to Israel and expenditure within the Israel economy.
In the meantime, Jewish education in Australia is in crisis. Each day there are thousands of Australian Jewish children who do not attend a Jewish day school, due to the financial pressure of private school fees . The flow on effect is that the size and strength of Australian Jewry is diminished from its full potential.
Now imagine this. If $33 million a year was redirected to Jewish education, what sort of a difference would it make? Firstly, the Zionist youth groups would have fully funded shlichim to deliver informal Jewish education. At the moment shlichim all over the country are barely funded, and at risk. We have no control over their selection, qualifications, or the mindless buracracy applied to their tenure by their Israeli agencies. Secondly, programs such as the Torah MiTzion Kollelim of Perth, Melbourne and Sydney could be funded, alongside Sherut Leumi tochniot for Jewish days schools. This would bring role models and experienced Israeli soldiers into our community – effectively importing the lifestyle and cultures of Israel to Australia.
Move beyond this and direct some of the funding balance towards the employment costs of Hebrew teachers, Jewish studies staff, and school Israel programs. This would lead to fee relief in the area of Jewish studies contributions, in an effort to increase the student base of our Jewish schools.
The UIA funding could cover the annual costs of several hundred educators and teachers into the Australian Jewish community. Across 20 schools and half a dozen youth groups, this is a capactiy enhancing resource base that would at least double the current level of representation.
If the impact of this activity lead to greater involvement and participation from our Jewish youth, then both Australia and Israel stand to benefit. Our community becomes stronger, there is greater involvement and a stronger sense of identity. The flow on effect is that Israel receives more support – moral, physical, and financial, from a stronger Diaspora. Australain Jewry wins directly, and Israel wins indirectly.
I realise that this conversation is controversial, and there is a stong culture amongst some of the more affluent supporters of the UIA towards ensuring their funds are applied towards the direct building of Israel. However perhaps it is time to question whether the indirect building of Israel is a more effective use of the UIA apparatus, without compromising the intention of the organisation to strengthen Israel itself.
Certainly a $33 million dollar annual philanthropic contribution to Zionist education in Austraila would make a significant difference. It would open up new possibilities, greatly enhance the number of Jewish children who are involved and educated in their Jewish heritage, and would also create a “cause effect” that could potentially lead to the collection of double or triple the amount of funds currently directed through the UIA. Local donors would be inclined to invest more into their local community development.
Sometimes charity begins at home. There is no doubt that critical social support is needed within Israel. However, Australia’s contribution is an economic aberration to the Israeli national budget, and comes at the cost of neglecting the critical needs of our next generation of informed Australian Jews.
The time has come for Australian Jewry to reassess its relationship to Israel. It is time for Australian Jewry to start strengthing Israel, firstly and foremostly by strengthening itself. Here is the concept: Take the UIA money and reinvest it into the provision of Shlichim from Israel. It would be a far more direct, efficient and effective use of funds.