Ultra-Orthodox Sect's Fundraising Drive With Firms Falls Flat

TheMarker finds that not a single bank or company has yet to sign up to help sponsor Gur Hasidim's rally

Members of the Gur Hassidic sect attend a traditional ultra-Orthodox Jewish wedding in Jerusalem, Feb. 19, 2019.
AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

The Gur sect, the largest in the Hasidic world, is the midst of a huge fundraising venture and is asking Israel’s biggest companies to contribute. But despite the sect’s economic might, a survey by TheMarker found that none have so far agreed to pitch in, although three say they have yet to decide.

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The Gur Hasidim are seeking to raise 100 million shekels ($27.7 million) in the campaign, which will open with an event at an arena in Jerusalem being billed as “The Biggest Mass Rally Ever of the Haredi Public.” Not only will a large number of a Hasidim be attending but the rebbe himself, Yaakov Aryeh Alter, will be making a rare public appearance. For each outside contribution, the sect is promising that its followers will match it one for one.

Rallies like the Gur are staking are common in the Haredi world as a way of raising funds for their educational and other institutions. The Haredi news website Kikar Shabbat two years ago quoted Nahman Vidislavski, the administrative director of the Gur’s institutions, that the sect raised $50 million a year.

Sponsorship deals with big companies are a big part of the process. Although the Haredi community is poor, it accounts for between 8 percent and 10 percent of Israel’s population and its buying power is considerable.

Yaakov Litzman, the deputy health minister and effective head of the ministry, wields enormous power over the healthcare system and has led crusades against unhealthy eating that affect sales and costs for Israel’s food industry.

A promotional brochure for the sponsorship deals, which was obtained by TheMarker, touts the sect’s power. “The Gur community is the largest Hasidic power in the world. Among its followers are hundreds of key figures in the business world, politics and the rabbinical world. It’s no wonder that the Gur community has a strategic influence in all areas of Israeli society,” it boasts.

Nevertheless, a survey of potential sponsors for the rally queried by TheMarker found there was little interest in sponsorships. Among the four health maintenance organizations, one (Clalit) denied it had been approached for a sponsorship and the other three (Maccabee, Meuhedit and Leumit) said they had declined.

Israelis big banks – Leumi, Hapoalim, Mizrahi Tefahot and Union – as well as the country’s biggest food makers – Tnuva, Strauss, Osem, Unilever Israel and Central Bottling – said they would not be sponsoring the rally.

None said they would pay for a sponsorship, but three – the supermarket chain Shufersal, Mercantile Bank and the soft drink company Tempo – said they were still deciding.

Those who have turned down a sponsorship said the reason was the high price the Gur organizers were asking, which is for deals of 250,000 or 150,000 shekels.

For their part, the organizers said they are optimistic and said sponsors had been lined up – but declined to reveal who they were.

A reporter for TheMarker, who approached the official organizer posing as a representative for an unnamed overseas food company, tried to learn the name but only got hints. “I don’t like to be quoted but there are banks, HMOs and several food companies.” In a later call the organizer admitted he hadn’t succeeded in getting sponsors and the job had been given to someone else.

A call to his replacement, this time conducted as a reporter for TheMarker, revealed that some of the companies that had said they were not taking a sponsorship had, in fact, done so. Bbut the organizer said the sponsorship drive was just getting stated. “We working on it. We only decded three weeks ago there would be an event and began the work.”

Companies are being offered a “Gold” sponsorship for 250,000 shekels, which entitles them to be officially recognized at the rally, screen promotional videos on giant screens and distribute gifts. Only four companies can be designated Gold. Others can take the 150,000-shekel Silver option, which offers fewer benefits.