Interfaith group disbands Money woes cited

agency mourned

July 22, 1992|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Staff Writer

Unable to raise enough money to sustain its annual budget, the Maryland chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) has ended 65 years of interfaith leadership.

People both in and outside the organization saw its disbanding as a sad loss yesterday for interreligious cooperation.

"It's very discouraging that the kind of interfaith work we saw as so important isn't perceived by the community to be something to support," said Rabbi Ira J. Schiffer of Baltimore's Beth Am Synagogue, one of three clergymen on the 24-member board.

Arthur Abramson, director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, referred to the many years his group and the NCCJ have maintained "a close relationship as helpful partners" in fighting religious and ethnic bigotry and misunderstanding.

"The Jewish community is sometimes accused of having too many organizations," Dr. Abramson said. "But bringing different approaches, a variety of personalities, pluralism to these issues benefits the entire community. We're sorry to see them go."

Christopher M. Leighton, executive director of the Institute for Christian-Jewish Studies based in Baltimore, praised the NCCJ's various state educational and motivational programs for youth and adults, as well as its "sensitive mediation" in ethnic and racial conflicts in areas as diverse as the city's Hampden neighborhood and Howard County schools.

"I wish I could say that the need has diminished," Dr. Leighton said. "But I don't see [the local NCCJ's] decline as bespeaking a new and improved era in religious or race relations. Rather, we're seeing a drying up of funds. This is a real loss."

Arnold J. Kleiner, the WMAR-TV vice president and general manager who has headed NCCJ's Maryland board for about four years, blamed "insufficient corporate and public response to NCCJ's fund-raising and membership campaigns" which he said "made it financially impossible for the chapter to sustain both the local program agenda and the national organization's priorities."

Those priorities included a 15 percent "tax" on funds raised locally, amounting to $28,200 of the $188,000 received from corporations and individuals during the last two years, said Karen Wilson, the Maryland executive director, as she closed the NCCJ office yesterday at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Bolton Hill. The recent fund-raising came close to supporting a $100,000 annual budget, she said, but a $30,000 deficit inherited 10 years ago had slightly more than doubled since then. The national office has written off the debt.

In New York, Gillian Martin Sorenson, the national NCCJ president, expressed "deep regret at the demise" of the third-oldest of the organization's more than 60 regional offices.

"Under other circumstances, we would try to turn the situation around under new local leadership," she said. "But their eight-year struggle to reduce the region's chronic budget deficits convinced us that the Maryland chapter has made every effort to raise the funds necessary to meet its needs, hopes and obligations."

While some of the other regional offices have struggled to meet expenses during the recession, Mrs. Sorenson said, "this summer has seen some pickup in fund-raising" in those areas.

Ms. Wilson said she was hopeful that local corporate sponsorship will be found for two NCCJ programs:

* The Youth Leadership Institute, which in each of the last 30 years has brought between 35 and 50 high school students of widely varied backgrounds together for a "human relations retreat".

* The 25-year-old Dawn Patrol Community Breakfast, in which about 125 business, religious, law enforcement, neighborhood and academic representatives have studied and debated human relations issues.

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