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A tide of red ink is coursing through the hallways and balance sheets of Jewish charitable organizations, leaving slashed programs, reduced allocations and large staff layoffs in its wake.

But in the current economic and financial meltdown, the suites of top executives have in many cases stood on high ground, beyond the reach of the crimson lapping below.

The Forward surveyed 21 of the largest and most prominent Jewish organizations that have implemented layoffs over the past year in response to the economic downturn. Of those, only nine top executives revealed that they had taken a reduction in their own pay, and only seven were willing to specify how much of a cut they had taken. Another 10 said that they have not taken a pay cut, and three others declined to reply.

There was no consistent pattern to who had and had not taken a pay cut. Those who did, and those who did not, take salary cuts included some of the lowest and highest earners; nor was there any apparent relationship between salary cuts and the number of layoffs.

Rather, based on a series of interviews, the dividing line appeared to be philosophical rather than numerical. Those who did take pay cuts emphasized that they thought it was an important step to show leadership, or, as a number of executives put it, to share the pain.

"I just think it's fair," said Barry Shrage, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, who took pay cuts and furloughs totaling 7 percent of his salary, which in 2006-07 was $306,390. "People are looking to those who are supposed to be leaders to do their share.|

Shrage recently laid off nine of his 125 employees - about 7 percent of his staff - in response to declining revenues and endowment funds.

"It's not that it made it easier, but I think it would have been a lot harder to accept on the part of the agencies and everybody else if we weren't doing our share," Shrage said of the layoffs. "I think people would have been wondering where the leadership is."

To compile data for this survey, the Forward culled compensation information from federal IRS-990 tax forms, which charities must publish for public inspection. The figures come from 2007, the most recent year broadly available, which documents the 2006?07 tax year. The accompanying data chart includes only base salaries and excludes executive benefit packages, which can be substantial but can vary widely in category and kind, making comparisons difficult.