Kathy Manning just made her first address as the new chairwoman of the Jewish Federations of North America, telling around 3,000 people gathered for the closing plenary of the federation system’s annual General Assembly conference.
In noting that the federation system is the Jewish world’s largest franchise, she said that she knew that she would have challenges as the system’s top lay leader.
She had three goals when she took over: She wanted to get the right CEO in place, which she thinks happened when the search committee she chaired selected Jerry Silverman. She wanted to get the president to address the GA, which would have happened if Obama had not backed out last minutes to attend a memorial service for the 13 soldiers shot to death in Fort Hood, Texas. And she wanted to make sure that the system chose the right name, when it ditched the name “United Jewish Communities.”
She believes that the Jewish Federations of North America is the right name, as every one of the 157 federations out there can easily adopt it as part of their own names.
But she did poke fun at what most of us in the Jewish journalism world already have – that it is a bit unwieldy, especially in short form.
“Jewish Federations of North America is appropriate. It is descriptive and it just rolls off the tongue – Jifna, Jafona, J-fed, Jewfedna,” she joked. “OK so we have to work on the nickname a little.”
The federation system does have serious problems she said. It has to figure out how to reach young people where they are, and it has to become “the system we can depend on to kick into action when times are tough and we are living in very tough times,” she said. “The needs in our Jewish community are dire. People are struggling to put food on table, they are their jobs, they are losing health insurance and losing their homes.”
There are some positive signs, she said, as the Jewish Federation of New York, the country’s largest federation just raised $43 million at a major donor event that is the kickoff to this year’s annual campaign. And the federation in Chicago, the country’s second largest, asked its top donors to double their pledges and raised $32.3 million at its recent major donor event, including $9.6 million in new money.
But, “we cannot rest on our past achievement,” she said. “There ere needs we are not meeting and people we are not reaching.” More than 60,000 elderly people in the Former Soviet Union are not getting help from the system’s overseas partners not because they had to cut costs. And while 770,000 children in Israel live in poverty, now 25,000 of them can not attend after school programs because the system cannot afford it anymore.
“These are not ordinary times and the challenges that face us are enormous,” she said. But if the federations work together and learn how to leverage funders, build new affinity groups support education, develop “the best young professionals,” build federations for the next generation, “Imagine what we can accomplish, imagine where we can be as a system in 10 years, and imagine the good we can do for Jews here and around the globe.”