Prioritizing Jewish Communal Needs

The Jerusalem Post may be an Israel-based publication, but their Web traffic from North America is by far greater than their reach within Israel. Here are some excerpts from an editorial in today’s paper – clearly aimed at their overseas audience:

Charity begins with priorities

The economic crisis notwithstanding, the top priority for America’s estimated 6 million Jewish people is continuity. From a sociological perspective, Jewish affiliation in the 21st century is a matter of choice. Cohesion comes more naturally to those whose Jewishness revolves around religious observance and/or who look to Israel as the cultural center of their lives.

Some 47% of US Jews marry out. So there is an urgent need to anchor affiliated Jews within the community and entice others back.

All this requires, foremost, a vibrant leadership capable of raising funds and establishing coherent program and budgetary priorities.

The trouble is that the community has grown so hyper-pluralist that coherence doesn’t come easy. There are too many organizations and there is too much competition for resources. No organization dares admit that it’s superfluous. Rich people, along with just plain folk, can always be convinced to part with their money – sometimes for worthy causes and sometimes not.

No one knows when the global financial crisis will finally end. Nor can anyone tell the wealthy how to spend their money. Still, we would urge communally responsible philanthropists to focus their support on charities and causes that aid the broader community. When times are good no one begrudges an affluent person their philanthropic dalliances. But these are not ordinary times. And the needs of the many deserve priority.

In order for money to go where the community most needs it, Jewish benefactors ought to do a better job of communicating, coordinating and networking. This may require a willingness to partner with existing philanthropic structures.

Capital is accumulated in the free market, but prioritizing Jewish communal needs necessarily involves an element of collective decision-making.