Knitting a thriving Jewish community

JFed Executive Vice President; Contract ends in 2013

JFed Executive Vice President; Contract ends in 2013

Barry Rosenberg

Reflecting on the growing trend toward self-directed philanthropy, an editorial in the Dec. 28 Jewish Light argues that a Jewish community needs three strands to thrive. It requires high quality specialized organizations and professionals providing excellent services. It needs passionate advocates who volunteer and contribute to their favorite causes. But it also requires an ability to knit these strands together, collaboratively, for the strength and well-being of the community as a whole.

The Light is right. For 110 years Jewish Federation of St. Louis has been the Jewish community’s main organization for doing just that-convening, mobilizing and weaving the diverse strands of our community together, so we achieve more by working together. No organization has done it more successfully… or in so many ways.

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Today, the Federation-led “Create a Jewish Legacy” effort is training and helping 18 congregations and agencies build permanent endowments through bequests. Already the initiative has secured 120 commitments with a potential value of $12 million. The new Millstone Institute for Jewish Leadership is recruiting and training volunteer and professional leaders for all our community organizations. The Federation-managed insurance program is saving organizations-large and small-hundreds of thousands of dollars. Federation funded Jewishinstlouis.org is a dynamic web portal enabling all members of our community (and those outside it) to find and connect with every local Jewish organization. And our concierge for young families with children is helping people identify the congregations, organizations and activities that will best meet their individual needs.

Working with 150 sister Jewish Federations across North America, we bring the power of collaboration to big causes like the miraculous rescue of Ethiopian Jews or Birthright Israel-the most successful innovation in Jewish identity building in decades. And Federation takes on needs that are critical to the well being of us all -like the Federation-created Secure Community Network, which works with national law enforcement agencies to provide real-time intelligence on terror and extremist threats to Jewish institutions.

Though not our mission, the central way Federation achieves impact is through broad community-wide fundraising and allocations to 60 different organizations and programs that we all depend on for a truly thriving community. We do it at a cost far lower than any organizations’ independent fundraising. We leverage state and local government dollars. And we incorporate careful need assessments, ongoing evaluation of outcomes and an insistence that beneficiaries exercise best practice governance and management. Through this process, some of the most important innovations in our community have emerged, such as the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry, Elderlink St Louis, the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community and JProStl. These and more began through Federation efforts.

Unfortunately, support for the Federation annual community campaign is shrinking-particularly among young Jews. That’s not surprising, considering they are the I-Pod and Starbucks generation. They listen to music and drink coffee tailored to their specific tastes. But it is also occurring among older community members, who seem to have lost recognition of the enormous power of collaborative community efforts.

As the Jewish Light editorial notes, in 2012, Jewish Federation will expand opportunities for donor-designated giving. We are not blind to the cultural trends. But at the same time, we urge each community member to also reinvest in the annual community campaign and the strength of Jewish Federation. Like United Way, it works for all of us. And it’s there when we need it. Federation is a precious resource that we can’t afford to weaken.