On the advent of the Jewish Agency meetings scheduled in Jerusalem for February 26, Anshel Pfeffer wrote in Haaretz about the size of the salaries received by the head of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky as well as the chief fund-raiser Misha Galperin. He also discussed at length a number of the internal political issues within the Jewish Agency. The article addressed salaries paid my a number of other leading Jewish professionals whom the writer suggests– certainly in a time of serious budgetary crises and growing communal needs–are overpaid. The problem with this challenge is that it truly misses the point of the Jewish community’s institutional malaise. It is not the salaries of the officials that is the problem, but the existence of the very organizations.
The Jewish Agency was the Government for the Jewish people in Palestine before the existence of the State of Israel. Upon the creation of the State, the Jewish Agency should have closed its doors; mission accomplished. This is not to suggest that the work of the Jewish Agency throughout the past 63 years has not been important, valuable, and vital; but its work should have been taken over by the Government and not—as has been in some instances—duplicated by the Government or even worse in competition with the Government.
It is not only the Jewish Agency and the salaries of Sharansky and Halperin, who are discussed in detail, but others as well. John Ruskay, who is cited as well in the article for example, the CEO of the New York UJA-Federation is an exceedingly dedicated and hard-working Jewish official who works 24/6 and, it might be even argued, is not paid enough commensurate with the time and effort he dedicates to his job. The problem is the definition of his job and the structure and activities of the organization which are the question; so too with other groups.
Charitable contributions have sustained these organizations for years. There is a finite amount of money available, even from a wonderfully generous Diaspora Jewish community. Monies have maintained individual institutions which should have been funded by the Government or by a central charitable fund. Duplicate efforts in education, absorption, welfare, etc. have never made any sense. There are thousands of people whose jobs depended on the existence of organizations like the Jewish Agency and buildings and offices throughout the world which are maintained to sustain these organizations; but charitable resources need to be husbanded and not dispensed unnecessarily.
The Jewish community must consider whether it is time for a major restructuring of organizational life. It may even hold the key to the next generation’s willingness to continue to sustain Jewish life at the same financial level as their parents and grandparents.