Less than two weeks before the start of the High Holy Days season, when large Yom Tov meals hosted in most Jewish homes increase the work of Jewish anti-poverty organizations who distribute food to the needy, some of the shelves of the food pantry at the Queens Jewish Community Council in Forest Hills are nearly empty.
The last replenishing delivery, under the auspices of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, arrived last month; the next one is expected next Friday; distribution of Rosh HaShanah food supplies is set to start on Sunday, Aug. 25.
The delivery “will come as usual,” despite the unexpected management change this week at Met Council with the firing of Executive Director William Rapfogel, said Cynthia Zalisky, executive director of the JCC. “We have been assured by Met Council that there will be no disruption of services. I take them at their word.”
The long-term impact of the scandal in terms of future grants and contracts if the organization becomes a political “hot potato” may not be seen for months, or even years, as details of the investigation of admitted wrongdoing by longtime CEO Rapfogel emerge.
But in announcing Rapfogel’s termination Monday, Met Council’s board vowed to find a replacement quickly and said, “In the meantime, there should be no disruption to Met Council’s day-to-day operations. The Board has the utmost confidence in the talent and dedication of the current executive staff, which will continue to manage the organization’s various programs that provide food, shelter and care to thousands of New Yorkers in need.”
Met Council’s local network includes some two dozen Jewish anti-poverty agencies, Zalisky and other heads of agencies in the Met Council told The Jewish Week.
Zalisky’s JCC supplies food to 1,500 homes per month through its food pantry, and delivers kosher meals to another 150 people per week.
Several executives at JCCs and other organizations in the Met Council network, cautioning that it was too early this week to determine the exact long-term or short-term effect of the Met Council controversy, said that indigent members of the Jewish community who depend on food pantries or food deliveries for their daily meals will not be threatened by the Met Council change.
“I have not heard that we’re not getting food,” said Paul Engel, executive director of the Flushing JCC.
“We intend to continue working with the Met Council staff to ensure that people get services,” said Brad Silver, executive director of the Bronx JCC.
“No disruption of services whatsoever,” said a staff member of the Staten Island Council of Jewish Organizations who asked not to be identified. “As far as I know it will be business as usual.”
According to the “Special Report on Poverty,” released two months ago by UJA-Federation of New York as the third and final part of its 2011 population study of the greater New York Jewish community, Jewish poverty here has risen dramatically in the last decade; that number rose from 180,000 to 360,000, with about 90 percent of those households located in New York City. Poverty in the suburbs grew 82 percent since 2002, the report said. Approximately 200,000 Jewish households are poor or near poor, and 45 percent of the children in Jewish households now live in poor or near-poor households, the study stated. Some of the rise in poverty can be attributed to the growth in the city’s fervently Orthodox population.
The report was commissioned in consultation with Met Council.
A change in Met Council’s government funding (the majority of its $24.4 million in contributions and grants in 2011, the last year for which figures are available) or its dealings with its network agencies is unlikely, said Ester Fuchs, a former adviser to Mayor Michael Bloomberg who now serves as professor of public affairs and political science and director of the Urban and Social Policy Program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
“As long as there was no wrongdoing on the contracting side, there will be no cutoff of funds,” sad Fuchs.
Agencies in the Met Council network “don’t have to worry” about a reduction in funding, she said. “There’s not going to be a change.” Met Council “has an operational infrastructure in place. They have a competent staff.”
Might private donors turned off by the Met Council controversy be less likely to contribute in the future?
“That you can’t predict,” Fuchs said.