When your mission is the vital task of absorbing immigrants to Israel, budget shortfalls can't stop you from doing your job. That's the position the Jewish Agency for Israel has found itself in recent years as allocations from its traditional funders — Jewish federations — have diminished.
The reason for that is simple. Federations must provide local services for the elderly and the poor, as well as to help fund Jewish education here. That means a greater percentage of funds raised must go to local causes, as opposed to overseas ones. And a decline in Jewish fundraising has meant that although the agency's needs are not declining, the pot from which it's funded is getting smaller.
Where can the Jewish Agency go for help? As it turns out, at least a part of the answer was a source about which many Jews feel rather uncomfortable: Evangelical Christians.
The Chicago-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews has raised money for Jewish causes for years from an overwhelmingly Christian donor base. The contributions, mostly in very small amounts, are sent in by evangelicals and conservative Christians that have little or no contact with Jews. But that hasn't stopped the fellowship from raising millions that go straight to the Jewish Agency. Moreover, unlike allocations from many Jewish sources, this money comes with no mandates for specific spending.
Donors to this fund do not have all of the same reasons for helping Israel as Jews do. But they care enough to give what they can to what they believe is a righteous cause. This year, they sent $15 million. That's not as much as the $140 million that came from federations via the United Jewish Communities, but it's not exactly chump change either. As a result, the fellowship will now be able to appoint members to the agency's lay-leadership boards.
All of this should lead us to rethink some of the assumptions that many American Jews have about evangelicals. Most of us disagree with them about social issues. Others don't like their religious motivation, and think it renders their generosity suspect.
But in a world where the Jewish people and Israel have few friends, can we really afford to snub those who — without much of a welcome or even a thank you from the organized Jewish world — are prepared to help do what is supposed to be our job: caring for Jews around the world and in Israel who are in need?
We needn't agree with the fellowship donors on their politics, but the least we owe them is some appreciation for stepping up and doing what, unfortunately, many American Jews are not doing these days: remembering the obligation to help Israel.