University of Michigan Hillel, the campus organization famed for its Friday night Shabbat dinners and free “Jewish Penicillin” matzah ball soup deliveries for the sick, has caught its own case of the nation’s economic blues.
Officials from the organization said they might need to cut as much as $200,000 from their annual budget. They are now starting a grassroots fundraising campaign in hopes of avoiding staff and salary cuts or potentially ending popular programs before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
Hillel’s Executive Director Michael Brooks wrote in an e-mail that like many non-profit organizations in the country, the University’s Hillel is experiencing some tough economic times.
Brooks said the Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme didn’t affect Hillel as much as it affected many other Jewish non-profit organizations. But funding is down because parents and alumni have been less able to contribute because of lost jobs and tight financial times.
“Last year we had 3,500 annual donors, but we expect that number to be down this year,” Brooks wrote in an e-mail. “The students conducting our annual phonathon campaign this year have spoken with many of our supporters who are facing their own financial challenges and in some cases who have lost their jobs.”
Hillel officials recognize that part of the problem may be that the organization spread itself too thin, Brooks said, by supporting so many student groups and providing a variety of services.
“It’s also a function of Hillel having over the past several years so dramatically extended its range of services not only to the Jewish community but to the entire campus community,” Brooks wrote in the e-mail. “There are now about 50 student groups and organizations formally affiliated with Hillel and the number increases each year.”
Brooks said the worst case scenario would be staff and salary cuts. But programs like free Shabbat dinner, free chicken soup for sick and overwhelmed students and the Golden Apple Award — which honors outstanding teachers at the University — aren’t in immediate danger, though.
Many of the 6,000 Jewish students on campus frequent Hillel on a fairly regular basis.
Directors began to detect financial problems over the past couple months, leading the organization to take measures to turn the situation around.
On April 5, Hillel launched a Facebook campaign and mobilized other efforts to raise money for the organization.
Officials are trying to expand the organization’s base of donors who may be able to contribute larger sums to the Hillel. Students are also being asked to reach out to family and friends who have University connections and setting their Facebook profiles and pictures to encourage supporting the organization.
Neal Ashinsky, chair of Hillel’s student board, is hoping students will support the group and that Hillel will be able to continue to provide the same levels of service.
Though it’s possible Hillel may have some tough choices, Brooks said he is happy with the support the organization has received since announcing the campaign.
“It’s thus been all the more gratifying to see so many students, parents and alumni rallying to help Hillel not only sustain its level of service to U-M students but to help it continue to grow,” he wrote in the e-mail.