Jewish Leaders Rally Against Orthodox Control of Religion — and Waning Faith Practice

Federation GA Shies Away From Strident Iran Call to Arms

The Jewish Federations of North America capped their convention in Israel with a march to the Western Wall. Their prayer at the egalitarian prayer section of Robinson’s Arch was symbolic of their push to ease Orthodox control of religious affairs.
jfna
The Jewish Federations of North America capped their convention in Israel with a march to the Western Wall. Their prayer at the egalitarian prayer section of Robinson’s Arch was symbolic of their push to ease Orthodox control of religious affairs.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published November 13, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 4)

But the debate over that new agenda—over questions of economic and welfare policy, as crucial to the federations’ work as any topic imaginable—never happened. Like the peace process, economics and poverty were discussed only in how-to sessions on techniques for coping with the current dismal reality. The tax, regulatory and welfare policies that underlie Israel’s dilemmas—and America’s—were off the table.

Blandness and conflict avoidance are often blamed for a much-discussed malaise plaguing the federation system. The malaise is starkly visible in the network’s central mission, raising funds to support the many educational, cultural and social-welfare institutions under the federated umbrella. The annual fundraising campaign had close to 900,000 individual donors nationwide at its peak in the late 1980s. Today it has half that number, some 450,000.

Revenues are declining, too. The annual campaign peaked in 1974, following the Yom Kippur War, at $683 million. That’s equivalent to about $3 billion in today’s dollars. The next year, with the war crisis over, it dropped to $465 million, equivalent to about $2 billion today. From there it rose steadily, but more slowly than inflation. This year’s total will be around $900 million. Even ignoring the 1974 postwar emergency, that’s a drop of more than half in real dollars in four decades, despite an explosion in individual Jewish wealth.

With its donor base aging and fewer young Jews coming forward, federations have made up the difference by building massive endowment funds. They currently hold some $14 billion in assets, yielding about $1.4 billion yearly in interest income for programs in addition to the $900 million in donations.

On top of their other troubles, the federations face a decline in the appeal of Israel. Israel was for decades the federations’ calling card and received between half and two-thirds of their combined revenues.

Today Israel is a first-world country, less desperate for aid than it once was. Its share of federation campaigns is down below one-fourth. Moreover, debates over its policies make it as often a divider as a uniter. Paradoxically, while the federations’ task in supporting in domestic welfare and Jewish education is more critical than ever, but they lack the simple mobilizing message they once had.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.