By Stephen P. Seiden and Gary Jacobs
The architecture of Jewish life here in North America counts among its many attributes, countless organizations and institutions established to support the needs of individuals and communities in every corner of the continent. These organizations and institutions provide us with spiritual homes, cultural outlets and a vast array of educational frameworks. They reflect our values, our determination to do good and our commitment to the service of others. They connect us with the State of Israel and with Jewish communities across the globe. They provide the means by which we express our commitment to something larger than ourselves; a commitment to community and a commitment to the Jewish people.
A pillar of that architecture here in the United States and Canada has been the network of Jewish federations whose annual campaigns have been largely responsible for the evolution of our communities and have provided the means for us to be there for one another across the street and around the world. For more than a century, that support has enabled North American Jewry to provide desperately needed relief to Jews and their communities in need, sometimes under the most dire of circumstances. It has been instrumental in fulfilling the Zionist dream of restoring Jewish sovereignty in the Promised Land, helping transform the realization of that dream into a thriving, beacon of progress and achievement.
Here in North America, the Jewish federations have banded together to support the national and continental infrastructure. By extension they have served with great dedication, the programs, initiatives and institutions in communities throughout the continent in a manner that complements the federations’ own local investments in Jewish life. Organizations such as Hillel, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) and others, support and enable networks of local counterparts to work collaboratively to maximize both individual and collective success in meeting the needs of our Jewish communities and fueling their growth, progress and development.
For many years, the federation system’s support for these national agencies has come through a National Funding Alliance, by way of which local federations contributed to a shared pool of funds, and allocated each year to leading national organizations whose missions are directly aligned with that of the federation movement. This Alliance, however, has eroded over time, with fewer and fewer federations electing to take part. With the recent announcement by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) to dissolve the Alliance altogether at the close of the current fiscal year, a significant chapter in North American Jewish history is coming to a close.
The implications of the Alliance’s demise reflect the unraveling of yet another central thread in the fabric of North American Jewish life; a fabric predicated on our mutual responsibility for one another, on our collective obligations to foster a stronger and more vibrant North American Jewish community, and on the premise that our shared stake in the Jewish future is best maintained in a shared manner.
We used to do better. We have to do better. And we can, with a Jewish town square that serves and brings together individuals and families across the continent.
This model already exists, in JCC Association of North America’s network of nearly 200 Jewish Community Centers and affiliated camps and agencies, which collectively see more than 1.5 million people through our doors each and every week; young and old, religious and secular, left and right, at every age and stage of life. This Jewish town square is where positive change, growth and development in Jewish life in North America will continue to unfold.
Of course, responsibility for this Jewish town square rests with each community, but it also rests with every community and with all of us together. If the National Funding Alliance’s day has passed, then a new partnership must rise in its place. JCC Association of North America is determined to partner with the broader Jewish community to strengthen the ties that bind us together.
We extend our thanks to JFNA, to the 25 remaining members of the National Funding Alliance and to the many others, led by UJA-Federation of New York, who have long invested in and who continue to support the critically important work being done on the national and continental organizational landscape. Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh BaZeh.
Stephen P. Seiden
The authors, Stephen P. Seiden of Livingston, New Jersey and Gary Jacobs of San Diego, California, are the current and next chairs of the board of JCC Association of North America. Seiden is the former vice chair of the National Funding Alliance and Jacobs has served as board chair of the United Jewish Federation of San Diego.