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June 17, 2020 1:14 pm

Israel Bonds Raises Goal, Rethinks High-Holiday Appeal in Response to Pandemic

avatar by Ira Stoll

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Israeli bank notes. Photo: Pixabay.

Israel Bonds is on track to increase its bond sales sharply this calendar year to help the Jewish state deal with the fiscal fallout of the coronavirus, the organization’s president and CEO, Israel Maimon, told The Algemeiner in a phone interview this week.

The group’s usual annual sales goal of $1.1 billion in the US has been increased to $1.5 billion for 2020 to help Israel meet the fiscal gap created by increased health costs and the economic consequences of the pandemic.

“This is what we are committed, ourselves, to do,” Maimon said.

“It’s a very challenging goal,” he noted. “Everyone is facing the same issue.”

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“We are working full speed ahead, literally from morning to night, in order to secure the additional capital that is needed,” Maimon added.

He said he was working “very closely” with Israel’s Finance Ministry.

“Every month we are measuring together what is the deficit,” Maimon stated. “According to that, we know what are the needs.”

Maimon acknowledged that there is a “lot of uncertainty,” about the economic effects of the virus. “There aren’t any models to learn from or to copy,” he said.

At many synagogues, an appeal to buy Israel Bonds is part of High Holiday services. Maimon said such sales remained “a substantial part” of the annual campaign, but recalled that the organization had already moved in the past two decades to alter that approach.

With in-person High Holiday services in doubt in some places because of the pandemic, and synagogues also under financial strain, the campaign will adjust further.

“We are listening,” Maimon said. “It’s a partnership. I’m putting a question mark. Already we are working with the congregations, with the rabbis, with the presidents, how can we do it different?”

One possibility is a national event on Zoom including many congregations. Another option would be a regional event, or marketing directly to congregants.

“We are saying, ‘Hey, guys, Israel needs you,'” while also being sensitive to the fact that the synagogues, too “have great needs,” he said.

According to Maimon, the organization has sold $1.07 billion, well ahead of pace for a US campaign that usually reaches $1.1 billion at the end of the calendar year.

“We are in a good place after six months,” he said. “I’m very encouraged, because we are able to see the strength.”

Bond purchases come from Jews, non-Jewish supporters of Israel, and also from states, counties and municipalities.

The state of New York, Maimon said, had added $100 million this year to its Israeli bond investments. He also mentioned Ohio, Arizona and Florida, whose governor, Ron DeSantis, visited Israel in 2019.

“We are having great relations with treasurers, with CFOs,” he said.

Because the dollar is the world’s reserve currency, the US has unusual, if not entirely unlimited, latitude to print money to cover deficit spending. However, other countries, including Israel, have to finance deficit spending by finding people or institutions willing to lend the government the money, which is essentially what they are doing when they are buying the bonds.

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