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March 30, 2006

United Jewish Communities/the Federations of North America allocated $8 million this week to help rebuild and sustain the Jewish communities of Baton Rouge, Biloxi and New Orleans, and for projects assisting the general community.

Much of the aid, approved by UJC's Emergency Committee this week, included a two-year, $7 million "stabilization" plan for the Jewish Federation of Greater Baton Rouge, Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and the Biloxi Network Community, in addition to $1.4 million recently approved for those communities.

"This was a historic meeting, as this was the largest single allocation to date for Katrina relief," said UJC's Senior Vice-President, Barry Swartz, who has spearheaded the UJC/federation system's Hurricane Katrina effort.

UJC/the federations have raised more than $28 million to date for Hurricane Katrina relief in the Jewish and general communities. Until this latest $8 million grant, the emergency committee had already allocated $9.4 million, from $18.5 million available that was either donated directly to the UJC Disaster Relief Fund or transferred from federations to UJC.

The two-year stabilization plan calls for a total of $20 million that these hard-hit Gulf Coast communities determined they will need to restore communal services and absorb returning evacuees. In New Orleans, the allocation will sustain Jewish institutions and their daily operations; fund capital expenses not covered by insurance or other aid; and replace material such as books, computers and furniture damaged or lost in the disaster. In Baton Rouge, the funds will sustain a federation that expanded to support a booming population of Katrina evacuees, while in Biloxi the funds will assist the Beth Israel Congregation.

"Since the most horrific days of Hurricane Katrina, our federation system has reached out to those in need in both the Jewish and general communities," said UJC Emergency Committee Chair, Carol Smokler. "Whether delivering emergency aid in the storm's aftermath or helping affected communities continue to provide social services, we have been there."

The latest allocation "reflects our confidence that, despite having endured the unimaginable, these communities are rebuilding and looking forward, not only to survive but to thrive."

Adding another powerful boost toward the $20 million goal, the Goldring-Woldenberg Family Foundation of New Orleans issued a challenge grant that will match 20 cents for every dollar, up to $3 million, for the New Orleans Jewish community, said Alan Franco, trustee of the foundation.

"The Goldring-Woldenberg Families are third-generation New Orleans families, and we firmly believe that, in spite of the tremendous tragedy that's taken place, New Orleans in general and the Jewish community specifically will rebuild," Franco said.

"While we may be a little smaller, we're willing to invest, because we believe in the future of the community."

Allan Bissinger, president of the New Orleans federation, said the two-year plan will "allow local synagogues, agencies and Jewish organizations to regroup and give us the breathing room we need."

With "so many unknowns right now about what our community will look like, what people really need is stability," he added. UJC's stabilization plan will maintain those services that offer "a bastion of sanity" amid uncertainty, he added.

Meanwhile, UJC is working with the Jewish Funders Network (JFN) to identify family and private foundations, who along with a host of other Jewish communal organizations are working to help meet the remaining Katrina relief needs of the two-year stabilization plan.

"UJC, national organizations and private foundations have established a transparent and open clearinghouse of information about requests from the communities and resources being made available to the communities," said David Altschuler, a consultant working with UJC, funders and Gulf Coast communities.

"This may become a model for emergency relief: the system and funders outside the system ensuring Jewish communal needs are being addressed."

UJC's Emergency Committee also approved a plan by UJC and the UJA-Federation of New York to aid the general community, with UJC contributing $1 million and the New York federation to contribute an amount to be determined. The projects include providing revolving, no-interest loans through the Jewish Fund for Justice; helping the Children's Health Fund in Baton Rouge; and launching a counseling and trauma initiative with Gulf Coast agencies to offer counseling and to train mental health professionals to provide such counseling.

In addition, the UJC committee also approved nearly $80,000 to fund 126 students from 11 college chapters of Hillel: the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, who during March rebuilt homes, and built two new homes, in the Gulfport, Miss., area.

"UJC has really taken the lead, both in raising an enormous amount of money, and in coordinating resources" for Hurricane Katrina relief, Altschuler said.

Part of the UJC/federation relief effort has included coordinating in-kind donations. In the past few weeks, UJC led an effort dubbed the "Cinderella Initiative" that collected hundreds of prom dresses and tuxedos for Gulf Coast students who lost their belongings during the disaster. To inquire about in-kind donations, and UJC's virtual inventory, email

Among those working alongside UJC and the federations to help storm victims are: the JFN; the American Jewish Committee; B'nai B'rith; the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; the Association of Jewish & Family Children’s Agencies; the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; the International Association of Jewish Vocational Services; the JCCs of North America; the Jewish Education Service of North America; the Jewish FundS for Justice; the American Jewish World Service; Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger; Hadassah; Hillel: the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life; CLAL - the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership; the Orthodox Union; the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; the Union for Reform Judaism; Chabad; and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

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