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Rising Streams: Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel

The IMPJ’s (Reform Movement in Israel) reported a yearly budget of NIS 24.5 million in 2017. According to its annual report: 25 percent of this came from private donations, mostly from the U.S.; 15 percent from North American Reform organizations such as ARZA, RIA and the WUPJ; 18 percent came from Foundations and North American Jewish Federations; 23 percent from semi-official institutions such as the Jewish Agency, JFNA and JNF; 9 percent from the Israeli government in the form of support for specific programs, support for synagogue construction and salaried rabbis; and roughly 10 percent from self-generated income, such as pay-per services, the Reform preschools and kindergartens and the movement’s hostels in Jaffa and Jerusalem. This means that close to three-quarters of the Movement’s funding comes from North American sources.

This sum does not include what the individual communities manage to raise on their own, which in all, can reach more than twice that amount. The communities manage to raise funds in part through a pay-per-services model. Thus, for example, a wedding ceremony costs NIS 1500 (Reform), a conversion course and ceremony can cost up to NIS 1000 (Reform) or NIS 1700 (Conservative) and a bar/bat mitzvah preparation course and ceremony can range between NIS 2000-3000.

Beit Daniel, the umbrella organization for Reform Movement activity in Tel Aviv, conducts over 200 bar/bat mitzvah and between 300 and 400 wedding ceremonies a year. Between its fees for service model and its system of kindergartens, as well as a hostel it operates in Jaffa which hosts 60,000 tourists yearly, it is able to raise a budget of NIS 13 million in total, only 20 percent of which comes from fundraising (and another 2 percent comes from membership fees and government support).106 Rabbi Meir Azari, who heads Beit Daniel, is convinced that this funding model, which relies on entrepreneurial and energetic leaders, is the only way for non-Orthodox Judaism to survive in Israel so long it does not receive considerable government support. Rabbi Azari is also convinced that as communities in the Diaspora struggle to adapt to a new reality of decreased membership among the younger generation of Jews, this sort of pay-per-service model, that organizations like Chabad already employ, could be the future of fundraising.

The Reform Movement (IMPJ) reports that it spends 30 percent of its budget on IRAC for legal and public advocacy work, 33 percent on congregation and youth programming, 16 percent on its relations with world Jewry and tikkun olam projects, 13 percent on education, and 8 percent on administrative fees. It also helps support smaller communities while larger ones are more self-sustaining.
The movements have managed to obtain some government funding in recent years for individual programs. The Reform pre-army mechina (academy), for example, receives NIS 1.1 million a year, while the 8 government-funded Reform community rabbis bring in roughly another 1 million shekels in government funding. The movement also receives another NIS 300-400 thousand annually for educational initiatives and another million shekels a year for its Domim cooperative project from the Diaspora Affairs Ministry. This project seeks to connect between Reform communities around the world and those in Israel.

The Conservative Movement’s 2017 budget amounted to NIS 25 million in all, including related operations, such as the education center at Kibbutz Hannaton and the kindergartens. This number is comprised of NIS 15 million in core budget for the Masorti Movement (Conservative), another NIS 4 million raised by the communities through the Movement, and another NIS 6-7 million raised directly by the individual communities. Sixty percent of the funding comes from foreign donations, 25 percent from Israeli donations and the Israeli government (7 percent), and 15 percent from self-generated income, mostly from the lifecycle services the movement conducts.

It is important to point out that these sums are paltry compared to the few billions of shekels granted Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox groups and causes each year.107 As there is no single Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox movement or umbrella organization, it is difficult to estimate just how much government funding supports these movements, organizations, and causes, but allocations come from a myriad of government agencies. Kariv estimates well over a billion shekels; others estimate as much as 3 billion. A study released by Haaretz and Be Free Israel (Yisrael Hofsheet, an activist organization that seeks separation of religion and state), which took into account subsidies, direct funding, tax breaks, and more, put this number as high as NIS 8 billion in the 2016 budget allocated by various government ministries including the Religious Services Ministry, Chief Rabbinate, rabbinical courts, and the Education, Culture and Sports, Justice, and Agriculture Ministry.108 Panim, the umbrella organization for pluralistic Jewish organizations, estimates this statistic to be exaggerated and puts the figure at around NIS 2-4 billion.109

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