'It’s Hard to Raise Funds From Young U.S. Jews. They're Indifferent to Israel'

Arrivals / Departures: A U.S. rabbi visiting Israel says that separation of religion and state is what makes America work; a couple of Israelis returning from Greece share a 'When Harry Met Sally' moment.

Rabbi Daniel Allen at Ben Gurion Airport.
Tomer Appelbaum

Rabbi Daniel Allen, 66, lives in South Orange, New Jersey; flying to Newark

Hello, can I ask how you spent your time in Israel?

Certainly. I visited my mother, who has been living in Jerusalem since 1987. Both my parents lived here; my father died, and my mother is 94 and a half and is doing well. I also visited my daughter, who has lived in Jerusalem for 18 years, and my sister, who’s lived on Kibbutz Na’an for 45 years. I came here first of all to see them, and besides that I’ve been coming and going to and from Israel six-seven times a year for more than 25 years, because I was the executive vice chairman of the United Israel Appeal, which became the Jewish Federations of North America. All the money that’s donated to Israel passes through us – about $250 million a year. I am now the organization’s chairman emeritus.

How many years did you work for the organization?

A combined total of 16 years.

What sticks most in your memory?

The 1990s, with the huge aliyah [immigration] to Israel from Ethiopia and Russia. We made many efforts to ensure that the subject was publicized and covered by the media. That was meaningful.

Was fundraising harder then or now?

It’s harder to raise funds from young people now. Today’s young people don’t like Israel and don’t hate Israel. If you’re 70, you remember 1967, but if you’re 40 you don’t even remember the first Lebanon War, and if you’re 25 or 30 all you know is that there’s a dispute between the prime minister here and the president of the United States. That makes everything a lot harder. And irrespective of whether people love or hate Bibi, the second thing that hinders fundraising today is that our donor base consists largely of liberal, modern Jews. Not only are they not “Hardelim” [a combination of ultra-Orthodox and religious-Zionist] – they are secular, or Reform, or Conservative, and the government and rabbinate of Israel are not very nice to people who are affiliated with those denominations. They don’t assist them and don’t recognize them. 

How many rabbis are appointed by the Israeli government? Hundreds if not thousands. How many Reform rabbis among them? Six or seven, and even that only because the Supreme Court issued a ruling two years ago, and then only with a partial salary. There is no government support. Let’s leave aside the issues of marriage, divorce and burial for the moment. And yet despite the state’s approach, the Reform and Conservative movements, and the federations too, are all continuing to visit and support and worry.

Maybe if instead of giving support you turned off the faucet for a little while, something would change here.

We want change, but it’s hard to effect. There will be change at the Western Wall, for example, because of pressure from American Jewry. There are ways to do it. We do it the American way – meaning with patience and persistence. We’ve been involved in this for a long time, and we’re not giving up. But there’s a big difference between asking something from people you live with, and asking something from people who are your cousins. And Americans are also very polite, they ask for only a little, and it doesn’t exactly work like that in the other direction. Americans understand that there is a boundary, not a physical one, but a limit in regard to being a state. That must be respected. And they give. Out of love.

That’s the reason?

I can give you the sociology behind it, the social contexts, the issues that determine self-identity, but in the end it all comes down to love. People like me don’t only transfer money, we are public “interpreters.” There’s a culture here and there’s a culture there, both are Jewish, and we need for people to be able to connect between them. America is in a cool neighborhood, Israel is in a tough one. America has never fought a foreign war on its soil, America separates religion and state, and that’s the main reason that America works.

It doesn’t work here.

It will work, though. You have to be optimistic. You have no other choice if you’re Jewish. 

Lisa Meshtcherinov and Ben Dahan at Ben Gurion Airport.
Tomer Appelbaum

Lisa Meshtcherinov, 21, lives in Haifa, and Ben Dahan, 22, lives in Kibbutz Sde Nahum; arriving from Athens

Hello, can I ask if you’re a couple?

Ben: We met through a mutual friend a few years ago; we’re just good friends.

Lisa: We just reestablished contact.

Why did the contact stop?

Lisa: Because I had a tough boyfriend. Just kidding – I’m exaggerating.

Ben: Don’t mess with people.

Lisa: If there’s a partner, you won’t go on vacation with male friends.

Do you believe in friendship between men and women?

Lisa: Very much. I prefer ties with men, even though I have many girlfriends. I’m a sort of tomboy.

Ben: A man and a woman complement each other.

Lisa: That sort of conflicts with the idea of friendship.

Ben: It’s a matter of energies. A man can’t be a “balance” for another man.

Don’t you think that in the end someone always wants more?

Lisa: Yes.

Ben: Yes. 

Lisa: Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

Ben: We’ll hope.

Lisa: In any event, the trip was a pleasure and I’m depressed having to come back here. We were in villages in northern Greece, we stayed in a place called Metsovo.

Ben: We went through WorldVentures, an international tourist and lifestyle company that offers VIP holidays – five-star hotels at wholesale prices.

Lisa: Let’s call a spade a spade: It’s a pyramid company. 

Ben: It’s not. It’s “multilevel marketing.” You can use it for traveling and you can also work in the company.

Lisa: He works there and I take advantage of the groovy deals.

Ben: Don’t you know the commercial where people hold up posters: “U should be here”?

Lisa: Channel 10 did a report about it.

Ben: But in a slimy way.

How so?

Ben: It’s an Israeli syndrome to call a legitimate business that deviates from the social norm a “pyramid.” Multilevel marketing has a turnover of millions around the world, it’s a fast-growing company that operates in 30 countries and is just simply offering cheap prices.

Lisa: We stayed in a five-star hotel for five days, for which I paid a total of 1,000 shekels [$260], including massages, meals and wine tasting. Everything was taken care of. We went with 450 euros and boarded the return flight with 200 euros. That’s why we have all the duty-free bags, we said we had to spend the money, So this is how you persuade potential clients – by taking them on a vacation?

Ben: I tell people about it one at a time. There’s nothing like the recommendation of a friend. I show you a detailed presentation and you decide if you want the product or if you want to come in as an employee. I’ve been a concessionaire for half a year and this is my third vacation. And it’s a lot cheaper.

Stop selling already!

Ben: Want to see the presentation?

No! Tell me, do you make a living from it?

Ben: I work in an electronics factory. I don’t believe in the 8-to-5 format. In the future I see myself in the WorldVentures thing. I enjoy that work, I meet people. Before I joined, I didn’t fly anywhere, and since then I’ve been abroad three times.

What do you do, Lisa?

I’m starting a course for the psychometric exam [a prerequisite for university admission] and work as a reception clerk in a four-star hotel in Haifa. I learned a few things about service on this trip. People called me “Madame” all the time, which was very nice. There’s a big difference: In Israel everyone is always stressed – the first thing I heard at passport control here was, “Move along!”

Ben: In Israel people are also inclined to think that they’re being fleeced.

How much would it cost me to join?

Ben: A one-time payment of between $200 and $430, depending on whether you want to travel or be a concessionaire, and then a monthly payment of $11 or $50. You can eliminate that if you bring in other people.

Do people join?

Ben: It’s not easy. But in principle, the more people you make the offer to, the more will say yes.

Lisa: Now I’m thinking of joining after this trip. We met people abroad who came through WorldVentures and we met a couple who met through the company and who over the past four years have visited 26 countries. And they’re not millionaires, they’re totally average people. It’s a terrific thing.