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Citing Madoff losses, American Jewish Congress suspends operations

July 26, 2010

NEW YORK

The American Jewish Congress (AJC), a national advocacy group that has argued for church-state separation on prayer in public schools, has laid off most employees and suspended operations.

The 92-year-old organization lost $21 million of its $24 million endowment to Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, which devastated a range of Jewish groups, including Yeshiva University. As with other nonprofits, the economic downturn has also hobbled fundraising efforts, officials said.

Once a prominent organization in combating anti-Semitism and promoting women’s rights and other progressive policies, the AJC has struggled in recent years to distinguish itself from the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, said Jonathan Sarna, an American Jewish history professor at Brandeis University.

“Once it lost almost all of its endowment, its days were numbered,” Sarna said. “The wonder is that it held on as long as it did.”

The economic downturn and shifting priorities have prompted several Jewish groups with similar missions to join forces, including the recent merger of the national gay rights groups Keshet and Jewish Mosaic, or to scale back efforts.

In a statement, AJC president Richard Gordon said the group will operate “with a skeletal staff over the next few months” while weighing its options. Its website, is still active and accepting donations.

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