If Cor­byn be­comes PM will our char­i­ties col­lapse?

The fi­nan­cial im­pact of Cor­byn on our com­mu­nal struc­tures could be cat­a­strophic — but we have our heads in the sand

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY LIONEL SALAMA

IT’S THE start of 2069. There is still no con­sen­sus amongst com­mu­nal or­gan­i­sa­tions on how to mark next year’s 1,000th an­niver­sary of Jewish pres­ence in Bri­tain… some things never change. In­vited from France in 1070 by Wil­liam the Con­queror to sup­port his cash­flow, we’ve en­joyed good times here, pros­pered and made sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to all walks of Bri­tish life, to a scale that is dis­pro­por­tion­ate to our size.

But as leave this reverie on our fu­ture, I am more doubt­ful than ever that our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren will be cel­e­brat­ing this mile­stone.

My mood is ob­vi­ously coloured by the prospect of a Cor­byn gov­ern­ment. Last week’s JC leader, point­ing out the prob­lems for com­mu­nal char­i­ties if ma­jor donors leave, con­firmed what I have felt for some time: ear­lier this year, I wrote an ar­ti­cle for this pa­per, The prospect of a Cor­byn win should be ring­ing alarm bells for Jewish char­i­ties.

All of this has made more ur­gent a se­ries of con­ver­sa­tions I have been hav­ing with some ma­jor donors, lay lead­ers and char­ity pro­fes­sion­als about the need for con­sol­i­da­tion. Our com­mu­nity has too many or­gan­i­sa­tions to sup­port and it’s un­sus­tain­able. Every­one agrees with the prog­no­sis but no one seems able to ad­min­is­ter the medicine: rad­i­cal surgery.

Many of those I have spo­ken with also ac­knowl­edge that, in the event of Jeremy Cor­byn be­com­ing Prime Min­is­ter, enough mem­bers of our com­mu­nity will leave to put a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of com­mu­nal fund­ing in doubt.

As one ma­jor donor put it, “98% of the fund­ing is com­ing from 2% of the com­mu­nity”. That’s not an un­be­liev­able guessti­mate: 5,000 peo­ple (let’s say 1,000 fam­i­lies) pro­vid­ing the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of com­mu­nal fund­ing. In­deed it might ac­tu­ally be an over-es­ti­mate of the num­ber of fam­i­lies pro­vid­ing this ex­tra­or­di­nary sup­port.

So, it doesn’t take many of them to leave, to dec­i­mate the gen­eros­ity we have re­lied upon for decades.

We have been far too com­pla­cent, fail­ing to in­vest in de­vel­op­ing wider donor sup­port and en­gage­ment. It’s like a busi­ness without a strat­egy for grow­ing its client base, in­stead pre­car­i­ously as­sum­ing that the same clients will go on buy­ing for­ever — and in this case, that they will be pre­pared to spend more and more. Did no one think there might just be a rainy day? Ap­par­ently not.

A few weeks ago, I talked with a pro­fes­sional fundraiser at one of our ma­jor char­i­ties who said that it had no con­tin­gency plan for a Cor­byn gov­ern­ment.

But even if you think that the spec­tre of Cor­byn is overblown, the vi­a­bil­ity of our com­mu­nity is still very much in dan­ger.

First, this unique fund­ing struc­ture is un­likely to be sus­tained. There are al­ready signs that the his­toric bond of giv­ing first and so much to Jewish causes is break­ing. In con­ver­sa­tions with North Amer­i­can Jewish com­mu­nity rep­re­sen­ta­tives, I’ve al­ready heard the alarm bells ring­ing. As one phi­lan­thropy ad­viser ex­plained, a tril­lion dol­lars will trans­fer be­tween the gen­er­a­tions in the next 25-30 years and there is pro­found con­cern that those in­her­it­ing will not sup­port Jewish causes in any­thing like the same way that those who made the be­quests did.

I’m told some of this trend is al­ready be­ing felt in the UK. The ex­pla­na­tion lies in the sec­ond threat to the fu­ture of our com­mu­nity.

Twenty-five years ago, Rabbi Lord Sacks put the is­sue of Jewish con­ti­nu­ity on the com­mu­nal agenda. I was in­volved in the ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign that pro­moted the is­sue, which re­sulted in £12m of fund­ing and the ab­sorp­tion of the ini­tia­tive into the JIA (now UJIA). With hind­sight, it was prob­a­bly a mis­take for both the ini­tia­tive and its new par­ent. The for­mer has strug­gled to de­liver any se­ri­ous im­pact, as the lat­ter has strug­gled to marry th­ese ad­di­tional ob­jec­tives with its his­toric sup­port for Is­rael. In some ways, this is be­cause of gen­er­a­tional dif­fer­ences. The older one,

hap­pier to

sup­port the Is­rael it un­der­stands and is fa­mil­iar with; the younger one, acutely aware that the more se­ri­ous chal­lenge ac­tu­ally lies in Jewish con­ti­nu­ity here.

A re­cent study amongst Euro­pean com­mu­nal lead­ers and pro­fes­sion­als, car­ried out by the Amer­i­can Joint Dis­tri­bu­tion Com­mit­tee, con­cluded that the big­gest per­ceived threat to the fu­ture of Euro­pean Jewry is not an­tisemitism but dis­en­gage­ment from Jewish life.

There is one great ex­cep­tion to this: the Charedi com­mu­nity. Ac­cord­ing to JPR, by 2030 half the chil­dren born will be from this group. For the rest of us — the main­stream com­mu­nity — the prospects are bleak: at best, a stag­nant birth rate. Add to that the dis­en­gage­ment theme and you have a recipe for dis­as­ter.

It also doesn’t help that many of our com­mu­nal of­fer­ings seem stuck in a time warp, slow to re­spond to the need to change. The ex­plo­sion in Jewish sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion is a fan­tas­tic suc­cess but why are we only now com­ing to terms with the need to en­sure knowl­edge of Is­rael is ramped up be­fore teenagers ar­rive on cam­pus? And when they get there, are we re­ally do­ing enough to sup­port them? UJS is 100 years old this year but lacks the fund­ing to make the ne­c­es­sary im­pact at what, for many, is the fi­nal fron­tier.

Time on cam­pus has al­ways been im­por­tant but it is now of fun­da­men­tal sig­nif­i­cance. Lose them at uni­ver­sity and it will be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble, to re­con­nect with them later. We need a ma­jor fo­cus on prevent­ing dis­en­gage­ment be­cause a lack of in­volve­ment in Jewish life and its in­sti­tu­tions will also be a di­rect chal­lenge to fu­ture fund­ing. A much broader and ex­per­i­men­tal menu than cur­rently on of­fer is needed, all the way from the age of 12 to prob­a­bly 32.

Ac­cord­ing to New Phi­lan­thropy Cap­i­tal, our com­mu­nity has a to­tal an­nual bud­get of £1bn. Would a com­pany with such an an­nual in­come op­er­ate without a strate­gic plan for sus­tain­ing its po­si­tion?

And if such a com­pany were faced with threats to its con­tin­ued ex­is­tence, wouldn’t we imag­ine it re­spond­ing quickly, look­ing for ways to in­no­vate, to stay ahead of the game? We are not short of good com­mu­nal lead­ers but this lead­er­ship has more suc­cess­fully man­i­fested it­self on the fi­nan­cial front — fab­u­lously so — than in strate­gic think­ing. Some might say this is be­cause Bri­tish Jews are an in­her­ently con­ser­va­tive bunch, loathe to act un­til it gets re­ally se­ri­ous. Last sum­mer’s strong re­sponse to the ris­ing tide of an­tisemitism in the Labour Party be­ing a case in point.

For­tu­nately, our Amer­i­can cousins are al­ready on the case. Recog­nis­ing the pro­found chal­lenges to the fu­ture of their com­mu­nity, some en­light­ened in­di­vid­u­als have started to bring the prin­ci­ples of the busi­ness world into the Jewish char­i­ta­ble sec­tor. Or­gan­i­sa­tions such as Up­start are seek­ing to in­spire the de­vel­op­ment of in­no­va­tive ideas, to find new ways of en­gage­ment. Of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est, is the way in which the con­cept of Jewish risk cap­i­tal is be­ing de­vel­oped. Like the com­mer­cial world, fund­ing is be­ing pro­vided for a num­ber of new com­mu­nal ven­tures on the un­der­stand­ing that there is a high risk of fail­ure. Pre­cisely be­cause this isn’t fund­ing the sta­tus quo, it at­tracts some tra­di­tional donors hun­gry for in­no­va­tion and helps to bring on board new ones who won’t fund the es­tab­lished in­sti­tu­tions.

This new think­ing is cer­tainly wor­thy of our ex­plo­ration. In­deed, we rarely con­nect with the rest of the Di­as­pora to learn from their ex­pe­ri­ences. Jews in Lon­don, Paris, Syd­ney and San Fran­cisco are all fac­ing sim­i­lar chal­lenges. Sim­ple tech­nol­ogy could en­hance this con­nec­tion and per­haps we could also find some Jewish risk cap­i­tal of our own and cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where those with in­no­va­tive ideas for our com­mu­nity will bring them for­ward?

Hillel’s ‘If not now, when?’ has of­ten been used as a call to ac­tion, most fa­mously for the Soviet Jewry Cam­paign. But we can­not af­ford our­selves the lux­ury of wait­ing, we must take ac­tion now. We’re call­ing it Achshav — the He­brew for ‘now’ — and we’d love to hear your thoughts at www.achshav.org

Jewish risk cap­i­tal is be­ing de­vel­oped’


Lord Sacks


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