Strengthening and Advancing the Jewish Human Service Sector

By Sandy Muskovitz Danto

A major change is occurring in the Jewish human service sector. Community building is transforming among agencies, simultaneous to the creation of a global cooperative community structure. This positive, non-isolationist approach is improving service delivery to thousands of clients and staffs.

Let me introduce you to the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies (The Network). The Network’s mission is to, “advance the Jewish human service sector through advocacy, best practices, innovation and partnerships”. Only 3 years old, the Network is advancing goals that are authentic to Jewish values and the shared visions of social service professionals and agencies.

The Network is extraordinarily well led by its founding CEO Reuben Rotman. The organization currently boasts a 140+ membership, primarily from the U.S., but also Canada and Israel. A small, highly professional staff operates alongside a well constituted international board of human service agency CEO’s and lay leaders. Member agencies include community based providers driven to address Jewish human service needs including JDC-Israel, HIAS, Israel Elwyn, over 100 Jewish Family Service and Jewish Vocational Service agencies, as well as other organizations supporting a range of specialized focus areas including older adults, food insecurity, addictions, at risk youth, persons with disabilities and Holocaust survivors., The Network hosts an annual conference and an executives’ forum that offers topical expert guidance and knowledge exchange; an opportunity for senior staffs, lay leadership and CEOs to discuss common challenges and find innovative solutions.

The Network repeatedly and quickly has confirmed its value and importance. Since the onset of the Pandemic, The Network has: 1. developed a collaboration which led to the sourcing and group purchasing of $ 2.5 million essential PPE for over 120 Network member agencies, 2. offered over 200 webinars in just 100 days to assist over 4,000 professionals and lay leaders struggling to effectively and efficiently help clients, 3. successfully advocated alongside the team of the Jewish Federations of North America DC office to ensure priority coverage for tele-mental health services and SNAP beneficiaries, 4. engaged in capacity building with a growing list of national Jewish organizations addressing the impact of COVID-19, 5. advanced diversity, equity, and inclusion for its membership, and 6. provided ongoing agency consultation on governance models, service responses, and new programming and staffing.

I have the honor of serving as a member of the Board of Directors of the Network. My roots are in the Detroit Jewish community. My volunteer career is extensive and includes a three year presidency at Metropolitan Detroit’s Jewish Family Service, a 2½ year stint as Federation’s Campaign and Community Development co-chair, and service on the boards of the Detroit Federation, JVS, Jewish Senior Life, Hebrew Free Loan, Jewish Women’s Foundation, Michigan State University Hillel, and the Mission & Purpose Foundation. I also currently serve as an executive board member of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, an executive committee member of JDC-Israel, and chair of Eshel, JDC-Israel’s division for the elderly. I earned an M.A. in counseling.

My background is worth noting for only one reason. Throughout my volunteer service to these organizations, I have always longed for a centralized organization that could coordinate, support, facilitate collaboration, and yes, even encourage commiseration. I hoped one day there would be an organization that would offer a digital resource library, shared knowledge and information gathering, a national/international jobs’ board for professionals seeking employment, and a home for Jewish human service sector college students to expand their education and experience among seasoned and future peers. I also envisioned an organization that could chaperone donors, particularly Foundations, who seek, not just local impact, but broad-based improvements on universal issues in a multitude of locations.

This is the Network and much more. The Network hosts over 24 active affinity groups that meet regularly and then pursue conversations individually. There are recorded webinars, shared videos and written materials, an employment site, and student memberships. For the second year, a prominent Jewish Foundation seeking creative solutions to reducing Jewish poverty, has engaged the Network’s Grants and Opportunities Committee to review RFP’s, interview prospective agencies, and award select North American Jewish human service agencies. Those selected work with a consultancy team and pilot innovative approaches to poverty reduction in the Jewish community. These agencies then share their methodology with the entire Network, aiming to expand and adjust their programs into different regions. Donor dollars have the potential to reach far, delve deep, and achieve greater positive impact.

The Jewish and non-Jewish world are fraught with crises and challenges. The Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies breaks down unintentional silos, making it possible and desirable to work towards solutions together. Ability is of little account without opportunity. The Network offers us greater opportunities to utilize our joint abilities to help those in need.

Sandy Muskovitz Danto is from Detroit. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, a member of the Executive Committee of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Chair of the JDC-Israel Eshel division, a member of the JFNA National Pandemic Coalition, and is active with Magen Dovid Adom. In Detroit, she serves on the Jewish Family Service, JVS, & Michigan State University Hillel/ HCAM boards, the Federation board of governors, Jewish Women’s Foundation, and the Mission and Purpose Foundation.