U.S. Jews Rethink Donations to Israel Orthodox Assertiveness Seen as an Affront

Article excerpt

Many American Jews are thinking twice about giving money to Israel because of a growing assertiveness by Orthodox groups over the question of who is a Jew.

Reform and Conservative rabbis are asking constituents to send a message with their checkbooks. Liberal and apolitical Jewish charities are getting more donations than ever before. And traditional conduits for Jewish philanthropy - like the United Jewish Appeal, which finances social services regardless of religious affiliation - are hearing from donors who don't want their dollars going to anything with Orthodox ties.

One beneficiary of this trend has been the New Israel Fund, which supports civil rights groups, battered women's shelters, environmental activism and even burial grounds for non-Orthodox Jews in Israel. "Several people have told us that they're shifting their gifts . . . in order to send a message that they are unhappy about the very heavy influence that the ultra-Orthodox are having in Israeli political life," said Gil Kulick, spokesman for the New Israel Fund. The organization raised $13 million last year, 20 percent more than the year before. Virginia Greenwald of Pittsburgh, who in past years donated stock to her local UJA federation, said that she was "absolutely dedicated to switching my contribution because I feel the New Israel Fund is funding things I believe in. …