26 Billion Bucks: The Jewish Charity Industry Uncovered

Part I — Donors Give More to Israel Than to Education

Kurt Hoffman

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published March 24, 2014, issue of March 28, 2014.
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Cash for Israel

The largest share of donor dollars ends up with organizations that focus on Israel.

Of the $3.7 billion in donations that the functional agencies of the communal apparatus receive in a year, 38% goes to Israel-focused groups. That’s more than any other category, including education, which gets just 20% of donations.

Education groups’ cut drops to 16% if Brandeis and Yeshiva universities are excluded from the count. The remaining groups, mostly Hillels, day schools and summer camps that focus primarily on Jewish, rather than secular, education, receive $617 million in donations per year — $807 million less than Israel-focused groups.

“It is quite striking that donor contributions to Jewish education… appear to be quite small, relative to other sectors,” said Theodore Sasson, senior research scientist at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute, at Brandeis.

The high proportion going to Israel-related groups, Sasson said, is “further evidence… that American Jews are deeply interested in Israel even as they take a variety of different positions with regard to contentious political issues.”

The 619 Israel-focused organizations include advocacy agencies, like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; groups that send money to Israel, like American Friends of The Hebrew University, and hybrids, like Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

American Jews give other money to Jewish institutions that isn’t reflected in this breakdown: dues and donations to synagogues, tuition fees to Jewish day schools. But the $3.7 billion represents the philanthropic discretionary spending of American Jews, the money that they choose to give after their obligations to synagogues and other fees are met.

Health care and social service groups receive 20% of this pot, while culture and community groups get 12% and education groups get 20%.

The tilt toward Israel-related causes is also reflected in the grants that the network makes overseas.

All told, Jewish groups make $1.9 billion a year in grants overseas. Charities no longer need to report the specific destination of their overseas grants, so it’s impossible to say what proportion of these dollars went to Israel. Still, half the overseas grants come from Israel-focused organizations, and it’s fair to assume that a significant proportion of the money granted overseas by communal fundraising groups goes to Israel, as well.

Those overseas grants make up 15% of the total program expenses of the network. The Jewish communal fundraising groups, meanwhile, report spending 25% of their total program expenses on overseas grants.

Money in New York

The financial center of the Jewish communal network is located firmly and disproportionately in New York. New York State is home to just a quarter of America’s Jewish population, but $7.2 billion of the $14.6 billion in annual revenues reported by the network go to organizations based there.

The second-largest state by revenue is California, with just $1.2 billion a year, while Massachusetts comes in third, with $930 million. The network is totally absent from Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and North Dakota.

Groups located in Chicago have net assets of $1.6 billion, more than any city but New York City. San Francisco comes in third, with $1.1 billion, followed by Waltham, Mass., where Brandeis University is located.

Most of the largest organizations in the network by any measure are located in New York City.

Yeshiva University spends the most in a year of any Jewish group, followed by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which distributes funds from the German government to Jewish individuals and charities. Other top spenders include Brandeis, the New York-based American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Beth Abraham Health Services, a Bronx-based health care organization that is a network agency of UJA-Federation of New York.


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