NEW YORK, Oct. 28 (JTA) While U.S. charities struggled last year to cope with the first drop in charitable giving in 12 years, Jewish charities defied the national trend by increasing their fund raising. That finding, documented in The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of the 400 top charities an annual report that ranks charities by the private support they receive was welcome news for Jewish groups around the country. The Jewish group highest on the list was the umbrella organization of local Jewish federations, the United Jewish Communities, which raised more than $266 million from private sources and moved up to 32nd place from 41st on the list. In all, 29 Jewish or Jewish-related groups made the top 400, based on IRS filings and organizational documents. Jewish groups rose in the rankings largely due to fund-raising campaigns to help Israelis affected by terrorism, but also due to donations tied to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Chronicle’s editor, Stacy Palmer, said in an interview. Those events sparked a 7.5 percent rise in gifts to Jewish groups, Palmer said. The UJC’s Israel Emergency Campaign, the largest of the Israel-related drives among Jewish groups, has collected more than $250 million since it was launched after the start of the intifada, according to UJC spokeswoman Gail Hyman. “I sure hope Jews don’t read this and say, ‘I guess we’re doing a wonderful job,’ ” said Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, which helps Jewish foundations develop more effective philanthropy strategies. “Our ability to respond to a crisis doesn’t speak to our willingness to fund the ongoing growth and vitality of Jewish life in America.” “There is an amazing, remarkable resilience that the American Jewish community has, to respond to times of crisis, especially when that crisis is connected to Israel,” Charendoff said. “We’re less good at responding to more amorphous crises, like the crisis of Jewish continuity or the crisis of Jewish illiteracy. For our communities, that’s got to be a question that troubles us: If there wasn’t a crisis in Israel this past year, where would we be on that list?” Still, many officials in the Jewish philanthropic world, even those whose groups were not listed among the top 400, were heartened by the rankings. “Traditionally, Jews have given more money, Jews are more generous as a percentage of their net worth,” said Lisa Farber Miller, senior program officer at the Rose Community Foundation, a Denver-based Jewish foundation with a $220 million endowment. Noting the strong numbers for Jewish groups, she said, “Maybe they’ve dug deeper at a time when the community really needs them.” Among top Jewish groups, federations seem to have benefited most from increased Jewish giving. The UJA-Federation of New York was the second Jewish group on The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list, climbing to 51st place from 68th last year, with $198 million in private money. Among federations, New York was followed by federations in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and Boston, all of which moved up on the list. The federations in New Jersey’s MetroWest region, Philadelphia, and Miami also moved up on the list. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, which didn’t even make the list last year, ranked 294 this year, having raised nearly $43 million from private sources. The only Jewish federations to fall in the rankings were those covering the San Francisco Bay area, Baltimore, Cleveland, Atlanta and Florida’s Palm Beach County. Palm Beach dropped out of the top 400 altogether. Charendoff said the mixed news reflects the federations’ inconsistent ability to “stimulate or inspire their local communities to give either to domestic causes or to the needs of the Jewish people abroad.” A variety of other Jewish groups made the top 400, including universities and research groups, Hadassah, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish National Fund. The list of charities was topped by the American Red Cross, which raised more than $1.7 billion from private sources. The group was given a significant boost by donations related to the Sept.11 attacks, which were counted in the group’s 2002 fiscal year. Without those donations the Red Cross would have ranked seventh, and the Salvation Army, this year’s No. 2 group, would have ranked first. Overall, giving to international groups rose, while steep declines were seen in contributions to arts and cultural organizations and universities. Yet U.S. universities still were among the largest fund-raisers, with Harvard University topping the list at $478 million in funding from private sources, which put it at 13th place, down from seventh last year. Among organizations with Israeli connections, the highest-ranked charity was the American Friends of Bar-Ilan University, which raised more than $145 million from private sources and ranked 85th, up from 90th place last year. The American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science rose to 207th place from 262nd, with $65 million. Brandeis University ranked 213th, up from 224th, with more than $63 million. Yeshiva University fell to 246th from 148th place, with nearly $53 million. The Jewish Theological Seminary of America fell to 361st in the rankings from 334th, at $33 million. The Denver-based National Jewish Medical and Research Center came in at 376th place, with $31 million. It did not make the top 400 last year. Hadassah raised $75 million from private sources, climbing slightly in the rankings to 186th, from 195th. The ADL held at 262nd place last year it ranked 265th with $49 million. The American Jewish Committee rose to 359th from 395th, with $34 million. The Los Angeles-based Jewish Community Foundation raised about $45 million, rising to 285th place from 315th in 2001. Yet even the largest Jewish group ranked behind the largest Arab group, the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which came in at 30th place with $271 million. Jewish newcomers to the list included the Jewish National Fund, the National Jewish Medical and Research Center, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Only one other Jewish group that made the list in 2001 dropped out of 2002´s top 400 American Friends of Hebrew University.
Uriel Heilman is JTA's former managing editor. He is now director of business development at 70 Faces Media. Follow him on Twitter at @urielheilman.