Haaretz Kanfer downplays federation trouble and Chicago distributes money through rabbis


In the wake of significant budget cuts and the announcement of impending layoffs, Joe Kanfer, the chairman of the United Jewish Communities, the Jewish federation system’s umbrella organization, tried to quell the fear that the federation system is on the verge of collapse in this Haaretz story.

"I didn’t hear about federations on the verge of bankruptcy," he said. "The federations are fundraisers and fund dispersers. Our income may be down 5 percent or 15 percent, maybe in some very bad cases 20 percent, but there still is plenty of money there, it has just to be spent wisely."

But the story mentions an interesting project that the JUF/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago is running.

Apparently, the federation there is trying to alleviate some of the crunch that its local service organizations have felt as the recession has taken grip, and is instead giving cash to synagogues so that rabbis can provide social services.

As the federation’s CEO Steve Nasatir explains in the story:

Nasatir says the rabbis in Chicago’s hundred-plus synagogues are given money and wide leeway to disburse it as they see fit, with very little bureaucracy.

"We are also focusing on trying to get people jobs so we have a vocational service," he said. "But it’s not simple in a bad economy – and it’s a very bad economy. It’s more difficult to raise money at the annual campaign, when people lost their job or their wealth. The Jewish community has great wealth, but in Israel people sometimes don’t realize that we have our poor too. In Chicago, about 20 percent of our population is at the federal poverty guideline. When journalists are visiting our community and we take them to places where we feed people and subsidize houses – they are stunned. Now, when some people lost 20-50 percent of their wealth, it doesn’t mean they are automatically poor, but they are less willing to donate."

"The community centers, daycare – many people are struggling to pay the bills, and I’m talking about the middle class that usually make a pretty decent living and even give a gift for a federation during the annual campaign. There are reports of distress and abuse, dysfunctionality of families. What do you do with your mother that needs an additional assistance, how are you going to pay for kids’ college? There is a weight on the middle class in the Jewish community. We’re in the process of cutting back our own costs."

I’d like to find out a little more about this.

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