Berenbaum asks if federations have lost their way

Michael Berenbaun, the head of the Sigi Ziering Institute of ethics and the holocaust studies and a theology professor at the American Jewish University, asks why it is that donors should give to Jewish federations in this Op-ed in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.

Federations, he says, have lost their way. Instead of acting as the central fundraising organizations that fund the infrastructure of the Jewish community, they have become institutions that create their own parallel infrastructures.

Why not sidestep the federations and give directly to the organizations the federations  themselves are sidestepping, Berenbaum asks.

Why is a gift to The Federation this year different from all others?

In the past The Federation assumed responsibility for its constituent agencies, for their basic infrastructure and for underwriting the services they provide.

The Board of The Federation made important judgments as to the overall needs of the community and a gift to The Federation provided for the basic infrastructure — from rent to staffing, to programs and services — of such important agencies as Jewish Family Service and the Bureau of Jewish Education as well as to the overseas needs of the Jewish community through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the United Israel Appeal, among others. It also supported important national efforts and national committees, assessed the merit of claims for such support, and made the appropriate allocations.

One could quarrel with the conclusions of The Federation’s leaders, but the process was somewhat clear and somewhat transparent, and the purpose was both clear and important. A gift to The Federation was essential to maintaining the infrastructure of the Jewish community, the many essential and worthwhile — and oftentimes unglamorous — activities that a Jewish community must undertake and the responsibilities we bear for local, national and international Jews.

As I understand it, this is no longer the case.

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