Federated giving makes stronger community

BY BARRY ROSENBERG

2007 was a year of progress and very significant achievements for Jewish Federation. Guided by a new strategic plan, Federation’s major goal is to significantly increase funds for Jewish needs in general and focus on three major areas — senior adult services, Jewish identity and engagement and Jewish unity and peoplehood. How did we do?

In a difficult economic period, Federation raised more than $26 million in cash and deferred gifts. That figure includes endowments, the 2007 annual campaign, capital and targeted gifts.

For the fifth consecutive year, Federation posted a significant increase in our annual campaign with a total of $11,033,935 from 7,504 donors. This follows many years where the campaign hovered around $10 million. We believe this reflects community confidence in the Federation mission and appreciation for the incredible impact and importance of the work achieved by Federation’s funded agencies.

2007 was our strongest year in new endowment growth, with 29 new gifts made to the Jewish Community Foundation (JCF). With JCF, we have re-shaped our endowment program to provide a resource for the entire community. It’s a place where individual donors and all local Jewish organizations can structure planned and deferred gifts. Today, the Foundation totals $127 million, including $16 million of funds we invest for other Jewish organizations.

Much has been written about challenges to federated giving. Clearly we face a more competitive, complex and individualized philanthropic environment. Yet, United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella of 155 North American Federations, announced total Federation fundraising exceeded $2.4 billion last year — including approximately $900 million to the 2007 Annual Campaign. Total Federation endowment assets now exceed $13 billion. Our local achievement, mirroring national results reflects a vibrant system that is working hard to adapt to new challenges.

However, fundraising is merely a means to an end. In each of our three priority areas, we have made major progress and achieved impressive impact.

The Naturally Occurring Retirement Community, our signature innovative aging-in-place program, has demonstrated its impact on seniors and their families. Faced with declining government funding, over 400 area residents have paid a new membership fee in order to access the full services of the NORC. Moreover, we are receiving requests to expand this model to un-served areas.

To better serve a rapidly expanding senior adult community, our Senior Service Integration Planning Commission issued a report and blueprint for the future. At its core is the creation of a centralized information, referral and intake capacity, to improve and simplify access to services. We are now working on implementation.

Inspiring widespread Jewish identity among the next generation will require new programs and opportunities for engagement. Although traditional formal and informal education works for many — they are not the solution for everyone. Birthright israel — funded in part by Federation — is one innovative program proving its ability to reach unaffiliated Jewish youth and inspire deeper Jewish identity and greater Jewish involvement. Already 120,000 Jewish youth, including hundreds from St. Louis, have experienced the magic of a free, first trip to Israel.

Last fall, Federation brought another proven program to St. Louis.

Through a financial partnership of Leslie and Michael Litwack and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, St. Louis families are already receiving a free monthly Jewish children’s book or CD. The program, integrated with community events, creates an early connection to Jewish education and activity in young families.

In a world threatened by Islamic fundamentalism, and with Jewish youth showing declining connection to Israel, it is imperative that the Jewish people rebuild a sense of collective peoplehood and unity. The Federation funded initiative, Focus Israel, is working to deepen understanding and connection to Israel. We are working intensively with four congregations to help them develop new ways of bringing Israel into congregational life. And in celebration of Israel’s 60th birthday, CAJE (with Federation fundraising) is coordinating Kaleidescope Israel — a year long calendar of events including a week of activities at the JCC and a May 13 concert at the Touhill Center.

Of course the prime way we express our collective Jewish peoplehood is through our support for Jews in need around the world. For example, 230,000 poor, isolated, Jewish senior adults, in the former Soviet Union receive food, medicine and supportive services because of our dollars.

In Israel, our partnership with Yokne’am — Megiddo has been a critical element in the turnaround of this formerly depressed and forgotten region. Over 13 years, we have made a wide range of investments in educational infrastructure, social and welfare services and community development. Today we are funding an intensive and comprehensive suite of programs to change the lives of 180 families with children at risk. Many are new Ethiopian emigrants. Hundreds of St. Louisans have visited and created a real sense of family.

Today Yokne’am is a vibrant science and technology center with exports of hi-tech and medical equipment. New shopping centers, apartment blocks and private homes are filling its rolling hills, population has grown, and there are many new educational, recreational and cultural facilities.

Recently, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres visited Yokne’am, including some of the Federation sponsored facilities and programs. Always eloquent, his words demonstrate our impact better than anything else:

“For many years, I prayed that Yokne’am would one day be like Israel. Now I pray that Israel one day might be like Yokne’am. Yokne’am in every way is a miracle.”

This is just one of the many miracles our Federation network of agencies perform each day. Thanks to each of you who helped make this possible.

Barry Rosenberg is executive vice-president of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis.

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