MaNishtana? Why is Federation Different from all Other Jewish Charities?

by Cathrine Fischer Schwartz

Passover is, arguably, the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday. As I was preparing this year, I began to think about “the four questions” and, in turn, the subject of questions in general. In my position as the CEO of a local Jewish Federation, I’m asked A LOT of questions. The most frequent being, “Why should I give to Federation when I can give directly to the cause I care about most?” I think what people really want to understand is, “Why is Federation different from all other Jewish charities?

We have a Successful Track Record. Federation is a social movement based on an innovative, perhaps audacious, concept: TOGETHER, we have the power to change the Jewish world. Over the past 65 years, we created and maintained a vital Jewish community locally; we helped build the Jewish state and now Israel is a ‘start-up’ nation without peer; we saved Soviet Jewry; we rescued Ethiopian Jewry and brought them into freedom and modernity; we created a local and national advocacy system to ensure that Jews are NEVER AGAIN without political power; and we developed a seamless local and global network of educational, social and human services that ensures the future of the Jewish people. Whenever and wherever there is a crisis or challenge, the Jewish Federation is there to help.

We believe Community Matters. The Jewish Federation is committed to caring for the WHOLE Jewish community and for ALL Jewish people. That’s why we are the region’s leading authority on identifying, communicating and efficiently addressing the needs of our local and global Jewish community. At Federation, the Jewish values of Tzedakah, G’milut Chasadim, Tikkun Olam, and Clal Yisrael are not simply ideals to which we aspire. They are, in fact, what we do every day. We believe people want to be part of something bigger than themselves and make a far-reaching impact with their philanthropy.

We are the Story Arch rather than the Episode. A community is made up of many people and organizations with, at times, competing interests. There is a delicate balance that must be achieved and maintained in order for the community to meet the current and future needs of the Jewish people. We support a wide range of critical local and international organizations and programs that are the keystone for a rich Jewish life. While other organizations may have a narrow focus, the Federation doesn’t have that luxury. We adopt a long range, community based view, taking into account societal and demographic shifts. Often, tough decisions are necessary for the long term, overall health of the community.

We have ‘Skin in the Game’. We have made a promise to the Jewish people and our Jewish communities that we’ll look out for their interests; that we’ll protect their values; that we will rescue them if they’re in peril; that we’ll educate their children; that we’ll feed them if they’re hungry; that their parents will live in dignity; that we’ll ensure that all Jews have a place in our Jewish community; and that we’ll work for the safety and security of Israel. It’s an awesome responsibility – one we do not take lightly.

Yes, the last few years have been tough and we face many obstacles. This is not news to us. Still, we believe the challenges pale in comparison to the opportunities. At Federation, we remain unabashedly optimistic about the future of the Jewish community. We believe our best days are ahead of us. We know that the unity of the Jewish people is a powerful force for good, for change and for hope. We are certain there is nothing we cannot accomplish TOGETHER.

Those who want to support their favorite causes and charities should do so. The Federation is not all things to all people. The Federation IS all essential things for the Jewish Community for ALL Jewish people. If you believe in what we believe – that Community matters more than the Individual – then Federation is for you. Like us, you have a stake in the Jewish Community and a role to play in its future. Dayenu!

Cathrine Fischer Schwartz is the President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford.