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Adjusting Our Lives

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The great variety of Jewish social-philanthropic societies and other communal organizations in the United States has brought about the recognition, on the part of the communal leaders, of the value of co-operation and coordinated activity.

In 1927, when the first official census of the Jewish communal organizations was taken by the director of the Jewish Statistical Bureau, Dr. H. L. Linfield, as agent of the United States Bureau of the Census, forty-one out of the 871 independent communities reported the existence of city federations for communal activities.

Seven communities had federations of congregations; one, a federation of educational-recreational societies; and nine, federations of social-philanthropic organizations, such as brotherhoods, sisterhoods, men’s clubs, etc. All of these nine, with one exception, were women’s organizations.

In these city-wide federations, each member society continues to maintain its officers, membership, and other prerogatives of an independent society.


In addition to this class of federation of local independent societies, primarily for the purpose of the discussion of common problems, there is another class of city-wide federations of much greater importance, which may be designated as the city-wide financial federations for philanthropic activities.

The second type of federation operates with a view to promoting economy in the collection of funds, to securing more adequate support for the work, and to increasing efficiency in the management of the work by avoiding overlapping and fostering cooperation.

In these city-wide federations, each constituent organization continues to exist as an entity and maintains its officers, but it agrees that its members shall become a part of the membership of the federation and that the right to solicit funds be vested in the federation. The latter, then, with the membership of the constituent societies as a nucleus, builds up a group of contributors whose donations go into a general fund to be distributed among the various societies.


The officers of the federations are elected at the annual meetings of the contributors or members of the federations, though in some cases a part of the board of trustees are designated by the constituent societies. At these meetings there are elected, by various methods, also the officers of every constituent society; and in some cases, the officers of the constituent societies are self-perpetuating; in others, they are appointed by the federation.

Contributions from the public, with a few exceptions as will be noted presently, received by the constituent societies, are turned over to the treasurer of the federation. The constituent societies, however, reserve for themselves certain sources of income, such as contributions from the municipalities and the states, payment for services, income from trust funds, special gifts and bequests. The treasurer of the federation is expected to cover the difference between the expenditures of the constituent societies and their “direct” income, if any.

Of the forty-two federations that reported in 1927, sixteen were independent ones, while twenty-six were members of Community Chests, that is, central organizations for the city as a whole.

The membership in ten out of these sixteen independent federations was 89,220, which gives an average of 383 members per 10,000 Jews in the community.


The organizations that are members of federations include health organizations, such as hospitals; organizations for the care of dependents (family welfare societies, child care societies, homes for the aged, societies for delinquents, societies for the handicapped, and so on); educational organizations (Talmud Torahs); educational-recreational organizations, such as social welfare settlements, and Jewish centers.

In the City of New York, the amounts contributed by the federations to educational organizations and to educational-recreational organizations are comparatively small, but outside of New York, the work of the local educational associations going under the name of Bureau of Jewish Education, or Department of Jewish Education, is part of the work of the federation. In fact, in the smaller communities the chief beneficiaries of federations are often those organizations maintaining the Jewish Center and the Talmud Torah.

The federations, as a rule, contribute to the support of national organizations, such as the National Farm School, the HIAS, and others.


Local Jewish welfare federations, at the time of the first official census seven years ago were reported by forty-one communities, New York City having two, one for Manhattan and Bronx boroughs, and one for the borough of Brooklyn. A total of about three and a quarter million Jews, or seventy-seven per cent of the total American-Jewish population, resided in the cities having federations. The number of constituent societies in forty-one federations in 1927, was 497.

The total number of contributing members in Greater New York is less than 50,000, or hardly three per cent of the metropolitan Jewish population. Only 232 of every 10,000 Jews in New York City were federation members, while in Philadelphia, the ratio was 815 to 10,000; and in two cities of the class of 2,000 to 8,000 Jewish residents, the federation membership averaged 1,596 to 10,000 Jews in the community.

These figures bear out the general view accepted among Jewish communal workers in America that it is more difficult to secure members for federations in the larger Jewish communities than in the smaller ones.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund