New Eruv List – a review (of sorts)

Yesterday’s Eruv List post made the people over at jrants come running, so I figured I should have a post that is actually about the Eruv List and not about me.

As Baltimore people know, the whole deal with the Eruv List has been topsy turvy.  First there was only the Eruv List, then the Eruv List alongside the Ner Israel Service League, then there was a tumult within the Eruv List and The Good Book came about, then the tumult was sorted out so we went back to only having the Eruv List, and finally, there was another tumult, resulting in the re-creation of The Good Book.  Through both tumults the Baltimore rabbi’s supported the Eruv List exclusively, writing letters saying that advertisers should support the Eruv List.

More recently, someone put out an ad in The Preview (competition to the Advertiser?) saying that the Eruv List’s finances weren’t up to par.  Of course, this caused an uproar, but the rabbi’s came through again with a very strongly worded letter saying that they personally reviewed the finances of the Eruv List, and things were OK, and that the ad was pure slander.

Don’t you love politics?

Anyway, I like Eruv List a lot.  I think it is well designed, and it has an awesome Eruv map.  The white pages have almost no ads, making it much easier to find the names I’m looking for.  Staiman Design really came through when this new format came out several years ago.  I don’t even know if there will be a Good Book this year (I think we got one last year, but threw it out), but they haven’t changed their design since the early 1990’s and frankly, looks horrible.

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22 Responses to “New Eruv List – a review (of sorts)”

  1. bots member Says:

    I haven’t seen “the preview” since the second copy came out.

    Here’s an idea for a blog topic – where are the public financial statements/disclosures of the charitable organizations in our city? What is required to be publically available and how does one obtain those documents? The Eruv claimed recently that the annual dues don’t cover their expenses. On who’s word should I take this and why?

  2. aishel Says:

    The ad actually appeared in their second copy. I have seen it since, but frankly, that may have been a bad move to approve the ad, since all the Rabbi’s have since said its not true.

    You’re right, that would be a good topic. To start you off, visit Guidestar.org. You have to register, but its free. Once registered, you can do a search on any non-profit organization, and you’ll be able to see their Form 990, which describes, in detail, what their expenses are, what the salaries are, etc.

    As an example, I did a search on Ahavas Yisrael. I found on the 990 that they had spent a total of $1,142,724 in 2004 and of that total, $1,093,461 were distributed directly to the poor. That means that less than $50,000 was spent on everything else. I’d say thats pretty darn good.

    I’m by no means an expert at looking at these things, but the information IS publicly available. I just checked, and the Eruv of Baltimore’s Form 990 is there for 2005. Feel free to look at it yourself.

    As to your last question, if Rabbi Hopfer is willing to sign his name and say that he trusts the financial integrity of the Eruv, I will happily trust him and believe him.

  3. bots member Says:

    Thanks. I will visit that site. No offense to anyone, but when it comes to money matters we shouldn’t trust the lone word of anyone. The Torah spent two parshiyos detailing where the money went to make the mishkan because even Moshe himself had to be publically accountable for money he accepted. If it’s true of Moshe then it’s true of everyone else. I don’t take anyone’s “word” for it.

    Also, and I haven’t looked at that site yet, but one thing that troubles me is that the Eruv claimed they are short money, yet I see their name as a sponsor on plenty of community activities (speeches and such). Well, I’m sorry, but the purpose of the Eruv is the eruv and nothing else. If they are short money it’s b/c of mismanagement like sponsoring non-eruv related activities.

  4. bots member Says:

    I just signed up. There are a few places I can’t find so far. Also, you need to be a premium member to find out the details of their financial statements. If a website service has access then it must be public information. I wonder if the charity would have to give it to you upon request or if the IRS would give it to you.

  5. aishel Says:

    Bots Member, what can’t you find? I’m not a premium member (no way I’d pay :)), but I’m able to see the 990’s. Are you finding the 990’s? You usually have to scroll down to find them.

    And I agree with you 100% that one person should not be overseeing the financial arrangments. I don’t know too much about the Eruv itself, but from my understanding, the money generated from advertising in the Eruv List goes to pay for the weekly checking of the Eruv, as well as repairs or anything of that sort. I don’t know anything about anything else. I’ll quote the letter that is in the Eruv List, as it looks like the whole ‘Vaad Harabanim’ signed it.

    June 27, 2006

    To the members of the Baltimore Jewish Community:

    The Vaad HaRabbonim of Baltimore strongly endorses the Eruv and the publication of the Eruv List Directory and Resource Guide.

    We are very satisfied with the financial integrity of this organization and strongly encourage advertising in this Book.

    [signed],
    Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer
    President, Vaad Rabbonim

    I’ll grant you that the letter is, in fact, pretty vague. But again, I trust the rabbi’s over some ad that seemed like libel over anything else.

  6. Warren Says:

    I remember the ad asking the Eruv List to release all its financial numbers. Perhaps the form 990 that you speak of only gives part of the picture?

    And if the Eruv is truly in the black as it claims ( I am not disputing this claim), the best way to prove it would be to release a balance sheet or something similar, instead of getting letters from Rabbanim. It seems counterintuitive.

  7. aishel Says:

    Perhaps. I have no idea what the 990 has that other forms don’t have. I’m just not a financial maven!

  8. Warren Says:

    What do you think about what I wrote in the 2nd paragraph above?

  9. aishel Says:

    I think you are right. They have to put out something that the lay people (read: me) can understand.

  10. bots member Says:

    I couldn’t find a few shuls – suburban orthodox, (the shul at the) lubavitch (center), or the baltimore mikvah. I assume those places are charitable organizations so either they file differently or the website doesn’t have access to all the information.

  11. aishel Says:

    IIRC, shuls actually don’t have to file publicly because they are a ‘church.’ At least that was the message I got when I did a search on Ner Israel Rabbinical College.

    Yes, this is a flaw in the system.

  12. bots member Says:

    I found shomrei and how do you explain the absence of the mikvah?

  13. aishel Says:

    I have no clue. I have never claimed to understand the process.

  14. nirc1 Says:

    I’m pretty sure the NI Service League came first.

  15. SephardiLady Says:

    If an organization is part of a church/synagogue (which doesn’t really mean they are, but on paper), I don’t believe a 990 needs to be filed. Unfortunately, many schools, etc, do this and it is near impossible to get good data.

  16. SephardiLady Says:

    If an organization is part of a church/synagogue (which doesn’t really mean they are, but on paper), I don’t believe a 990 needs to be filed. Unfortunately, many schools, etc, do this and it is near impossible to get good data.

    Oh, and speaking of good data. . . goodluck. I’ve seen plenty of things that I question.

  17. Good Book fan Says:

    I am impressed at the level of misinformation regarding this topic.
    The only rabbi who signed the letter endorsing the Eruv’s financial integrity was Rabbi Hopfer and he got all his information second hand from the Eruv people themselves – not an independant auditor. Furthermore the ad in the Preview which was characterized as slander was merely a petition asking that Eruv provide financial documentation to Rabbi Heinemann – something they had not done for over 55 days. In January, 2005 the Eruv treasurer told Rabbi Heinemann that the Eruv List doesn’t make any money. In July 2005, the Eruv president told Rabbi Heinemann that the 2005 Eruv List would make $30,000 net profit. In January 2006 he denied that he told Rabbi Heinemann that it was $30,000 and insisted that it was $15,000. Rabbi Heinemann now says that the profit is substantial but he will not disclose the magnitude of the profit. Why all the secrecy? I am personally curious to know how many cents of every Eruv List advertising dollar actually goes to support the Eruv. According to the latest available form 990, the Eruv List loses money. If we believe the rabbis letter, then, the tax return is fraudulent. If we believe the tax return, then some person or persons deceived the rabbis.

  18. LN Says:

    Got the Good Book last night. Ich. And they don’t have the Staiman map this year. 😦
    But we didn’t get the Eruv List. Are we still not in there? We get mailings based on their list, so we assumed we were on there 😕
    I guess The Good Book had to come out this year since people had paid for ads…I wonder about next year though. And it needs some serious updating. They had the same exact “fox warning” as last year, and I didn’t hear of any fox spottings or issues this year. But it is fun to read, at least.

  19. aishel Says:

    GB Fan, I assume that we’re both looking at the same form 990 from 2004. Perhaps I’m a bit slow, but where in the 990 do you see that the Eruv is actually losing money like you claim? Things look good to me there. As for the rest of your post, it is pure conjecture. I see no basis for anything else you have written.

    LN – I agree, the good book’s layout is way too out of date and hard to follow. I don’t remember if it was last year or the year before, but they still had their children’s list, with names of people who have gotten married and have kids of their own!

  20. GB Fan Says:

    Aishel,
    If you take the figure for gross income from the Eruv List and subtract off the cost for printing and publications, postage, and telephone (to the extent that those costs are not attributable to the physical Eruv), the eruv list will be seen to run at a loss.
    Further, the loss becomes a great loss when you realize that approximately $8,000 of the employee cost is attributable not to the inspection and maintenance of the phyiscal eruv, but instead to the production of the directory.
    I find it difficult to understand how the Eruv organization can have slightly less money today in its accounts than it had in October 1994 after selling over $750,000 in eruv list advertising and realizing a profit of dues over physical eruv expenses of $100,000 to $150,000 over the same time period.

  21. LN Says:

    This year as well it has some married people in it. But, good news, the Eruv List came last night 🙂

  22. GB Fan Says:

    Watch out! The new Eruv List carries the wrong calendar for the month of October – all the times are wrong, as Eruv published the October 2007 in its place.


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