Long-Term Needs In The Wake Of Disasters


The immense, costly damage caused by Hurricane Sandy last year continues to affect communities along the East Coast. Yet, as is common with severe disasters, after the initial shock and subsequent media coverage dissipate, so too does philanthropic support. Jewish families are not immune to this problem. With this understanding, the Jim Joseph Foundation board of directors awarded grants to help families return to a sense of normalcy by accessing the Jewish education experiences that are integral to their lives.

Throughout the grantmaking process, the Foundation learned considerably from the grantees – UJA-Federation of New York and Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), respectively. They provided key analysis to assess damage and to determine how to create the most effective grants. We relied on the grantees to report on-the-ground needs and to help develop the structure of this responsive philanthropy.

UJA-Federation of New York’s grant for $1 million is specifically for tuition/enrollment subsidies for Jewish day schools and Jewish residential summer camps. JFNA’s grant, also for $1 million, includes these educational settings, along with congregational schools, youthvolunteer activities, and social service programming needs. Seven Jewish Federations and twoJFNA Independent Network communities <http://www.jewishfederations.org/page.aspx?id=261369> will administer the grant in New Jersey and Connecticut.

To be clear, this philanthropy cannot replace the foundations and individuals responding to immediate, basic humanitarian needs of disaster victims – water, food, shelter, medicine, and similar services.

At the same, we know that recovery is not a month-long process. Arabella Advisors cites a Conrad N. Hilton Foundation report that within the first two months following a disaster, more than two-thirds of private giving is complete. By five or six months, almost all giving subsides.

In developing both of its Hurricane Sandy grants the Foundation Board was guided by two key principles: 1) Evaluation shows that effectively engaging and educating Jewish youth occurs in myriad settings; and 2) grants to established Jewish organizations that know their constituencies can provide support for Jewish educational experiences that families would otherwise have to forsake. 

For families that have had to relocate or allocate finances elsewhere, assistance after the initial disaster recovery stage helps continue engagement in meaningful Jewish learning – whether in day schools, camps, or other immersive settings. These experiences are critical in shaping strong Jewish identities of children.

This reality informed the Board’s grantmaking decision. While the Foundation does not award grants to individuals for direct tuition assistance, the Board understood the potential for deep and positive impact if it could award funding to organizations that in turn could direct dollars to individuals. In this regard JFNA and UJA-Federation of New York have assumed leadership roles to ensure that the funding is directed towards the families and individuals most in need.

As the umbrella organization for federations nationwide, JFNA conducted due diligence before the grant was ever awarded. By surveying 19 federations and three Network communities throughout NJ and CT to assess damage, JFNA reported each community’s greatest needs to the Foundation. Utilizing this data, the Board and JFNA together agreed that up to 55 percent of the funding will be allocated for school tuition (including day school, pre- and after-school programs, and other Jewish religious education); up to 25 percent for camp assistance; and up to 20 percent for “other needs” including an extensive Federation youth volunteer program and expanded social service programming needs.

In the wake of disasters – whether natural or financial – a variety of needs call for a diversity of intentional philanthropic responses. Jewish families look to our sector to help them in the immediate aftermath and throughout the month and often year-long recovery process. By collaborating closely with grantees to structure grants, we can meet these needs and help families access Jewish education experiences as they rebuild their lives.

Chip Edelsberg, Ph.D. is executive director of the Jim Joseph Foundation, which seeks to foster compelling, effective Jewish learning experiences for young Jews in the United States.