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Major changes ahead at major Jewish charity

Federations not the only ones seeking to keep donors on board

 
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Sociologist Peter Frumkin, just back from speaking before a Hebrew University conference on philanthropy and public policy in Israel, told The Jewish Standard that the challenges federations are facing are part of a broader social trend: “Disintermediation, removal of the middle man. You see it in financial services” as well as in the charitable world, he noted.

“It’s a huge generational problem,” he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “The old-time donors would give unconditionally to the federations and trust the professional managers to make the decision about the highest and best use of philanthropic funds,” said Frumkin, who is professor of public affairs and director of the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

Younger donors, he continued, “want a higher level of engagement,” perhaps serving on an organization’s board. “They also want a sense that they are doing more than just writing checks.”

Community foundations in the secular world are facing the same challenge, he said: “How do you maintain the donor base?”

In the community foundation world, he went on, “there’s been a concerted effort to reinvent the models, making them more centric to the needs of donors.”

He cited the successful Kansas City Community Foundation, which “invented a whole suite of services for donors designed to meet their needs,” as the “poster child for the community foundation world.”

Another universal challenge in the field of philanthropy is that donors want “evidence of impact.” There’s a “heightened sense of attention paid to evaluating results, measuring performance, and reporting on impact.”

This emphasis, he said, “stems from a kind of ethos of investing. You want to have some kind of sense of what the impact and the results [of your investing] are.” But while “the metrics we use to measure financial performance are very precise, the metrics we use to measure philanthropic performance are much less precise.”

It is difficult to measure, for example, whether a donation intended to foster Jewish identity does just that.

A particular challenge for Jewish charities is that younger donors “interpret philanthropy as healing the world,” not necessarily the Jewish world. “Their idea is tikkun olam, helping people and changing the world for the better. They are not so deeply aligned with Israel and Jewish causes” as their elders.

“Now that I’ve been to Israel,” he said in an aside, “I’ve seen the case for [donations to Israel] more clearly. Jewish identity is not exclusively wrapped up in the rituals of the faith. It’s also in this historic identity. You have to have a broad interpretation of what it means to be Jewish and a broader interpretation of what it means to heal the world.”

“The clever federations are reinventing themselves,” said Frumkin. The author of “Strategic Giving” (University of Chicago Press, 2006) — about effective philanthropy and how donors can develop a charitable agenda — he has some suggestions about how to do that.

First, he said, federations should create opportunities to engage and involve donors.

They should “build the tools for evaluation and performance measurement.”

And they should “serve as a vehicle for learning and donor development.”

Those are the three most important things, in Frumkin’s view, that federations can do “to ensure that the next generation of donors remain committed and interested in their work.”

 

More on: Major changes ahead at major Jewish charity

 
 
 

“We want to be an organization that is nimble, responsive, fast, not what people perceive as a federation,” said Alan Scharfstein, president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. His words conjured up contrasting images: a sleek racehorse versus an unwieldy, slow-moving mammoth.

And we all know what happened to the mammoths.

To do its work well in an evolving communal landscape, UJA-NNJ must evolve as well, Scharfstein said. In an interview last month at its Paramus offices, he and federation officials outlined sweeping changes, changes designed, he said, “not only to manage funds but to engage the next generation.”

 
 
 
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Jersey City Boy

Mayor Steven Fulop tells his story — and his immigrant parents schep naches

The story of the new mayor of Jersey City is a goulash — a rich, highly seasoned, aromatic stew, full of disparate ingredients that somehow blend together.

This variant is kosher.

And for added authenticity, it’s Hungarian.

Steven Fulop’s story is both as deeply American and as fully Jewish as one person’s story could be — it is our own 21st-century version of the great American dream.

Cooking alongside it is the story of Jersey City, the state’s second largest, with a century-long history of corruption and bossism that Mr. Fulop is well positioned to turn around.

Mr. Fulop’s story starts with his grandparents. All four were born in Transylvania, the heavily wooded, mountainous, lushly beautiful region that has changed hands between Hungary and Romania. As this story begins, it still was part of Hungary. World War II came late there; his mother’s parents, the Kohns, were taken from the ghetto toward its end. His grandfather, Alexander, went to a transit camp, and his grandmother, Rosa, was on one of the last transports to Auschwitz in April 1944.

Her story is so painful that when her son-in-law, Arthur Fulop, tells it, his eyes fill, even though it is a story he has been telling for decades.

 

Take my kidney. Please…

Local cantor is living donor for beloved congregant

It’s fairly easy to say “I hope you feel better” to a sick friend.

It’s much harder to put your kidney where your mouth is, but Cantor Eric Wasser of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center did.

On February 19, he donated a kidney to his friend, Harvey Jaffee of Garfield.

Mr. Jaffee was in what his doctors “were starting to call end-stage kidney failure,” he reported. He now has a functioning kidney and will be able to resume his life, and Cantor Wasser will be able to return to his. Both, they say, feel enriched and ennobled (if temporarily weakened) by the experience.

Mr. Jaffee’s kidneys had been failing for some time, and he had trekked from doctor to doctor as he tried to get on the registry for a transplant. The screening process is extraordinarily thorough. “It’s one of the most daunting things in the world,” he said. “They send you to doctor after doctor, to check every orifice you have — and some that you don’t. Sometimes I was seeing four or five doctors a week.

 

The essence is to wake us all up

Ikar founder Rabbi Sharon Brous and local leaders talk about building a living Jewish community

Rabbi Sharon Brous radiates intensely concentrated passionate hummingbird energy in almost tactile waves.

It is hard to imagine how anyone could have done what she did — created and maintained a Jewish community that has grown wildly, attracted devoted members, brought disaffected Jews back to Judaism, juggled the tensions between tradition, innovation, accessibility, and fidelity — but once you meet her, you can see that if anyone could have undertaken that impossible-sounding feat, it would have to be her.

Ikar, the Los Angeles synagogue that Rabbi Brous imagined and shaped 10 years ago, is now a 580-plus family shul, with a 150-child preschool, a multigenerational membership, and a growing future. Rabbi Brous has garnered so much recognition and so many awards almost off-handedly — on the Forward’s 50 most influential Jews for years! On Newsweek’s Top 50 rabbis list for years, once as number one! Giving the benediction at Barack Obama’s second inauguration! — that it is hard to realize that she is only 41.

 

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The Jewish people’s 911

Local archivist collects a century of JDC photographs

Twenty-six serious men sit around the table.

Two of the men have long beards; half wear mustaches. Scattered between them are two women, one of whom, of course, is the stenographer, known only as Mrs. F. Friedman. The other is the comptroller.

The year is 1918, and the men are leaders of the Jewish community. Most, like the host of the meeting, banker Felix Warburg, and his father-in-law, banker Jacob Schiff, are Reform Jews of German origin. A couple, including those with beards, are Orthodox and from Eastern Europe. Some are rabbis; one is novelist Sholem Asch. The comptroller is Harriet B. Lowenstein.

Meet the founders of the Joint Distribution Committee of American Funds for the Relief of Jewish War Sufferers, the organization now known as the American-Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and variously as JDC or “the Joint” for short.

 

The case of the family tree

Local rabbi solves genealogical mystery

Move over Sherlock Holmes. There’s some pretty good detective work going on right here in Bergen County.

Putting together clues and puzzle-like pieces of information, Rabbi Benjamin Shull has solved what he jokingly refers to as his “semi-obsession” — the search for more branches on his family tree.

In the process, he has discovered previously unknown relatives, uncovered a direct link to a renowned Lithuanian rabbi and Musar activist, and come into possession of a beautiful, illuminated honest-to-goodness family tree.

Rabbi Shull, the religious leader of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake, has written a memoir, “Uprooted,” detailing his journey.

His story begins in the early 1990s, at the cemetery in Philadelphia where his father’s family is buried.

 

The little house in the big woods

Artist’s family remembers growing up in Fort Lee

The three children grew up in the middle of the woods.

There were acres of land all around the house; waterfalls tumbled from the rocky hills and splashed down in their rush toward the mighty color-shifting river far below. There were trees to climb, trails to blaze, rocks to scale. For half of the year, glorious canopies of trees shaded their view; when the leaves fell, the children could see the river, and the ships that steamed silently upriver to unload and then headed back south again, out to sea.

It was a perfect pastoral scene, the backdrop for a bucolic 19th-century childhood.

Then pull the camera back a bit. You’ll see that the river is the Hudson, the time the second half of the 20th century, and the town is Fort Lee.

 
 
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