For the last two decades, at least, there has been a widespread perception in some circles that Jewish federations were on their way to becoming dinosaurs, the victims of declining attachment to Jewish organizational institutions in general and centralized giving in particular, and accelerated by the serious decline in the economy. That may all be true in some communities, but not in New York, where UJA-Federation continues to set the standard not only for dollars raised but for exemplifying the kind of reach and depth that only a communal charity of its size and savvy can command.
Figures released this week show that UJA-Federation raised $145.3 million in the annual campaign that closed June 30, an increase of $8.6 million over last year, according to the charity. If you add in bequests, endowments, capital and special gifts and the $6.5 million that came in for Hurricane Sandy relief, the total amount raised for the year was $206.5 million.
Approximately 56,000 people, about the same as last year, donated to the annual campaign, chaired by Jeffrey Stern (a member of The Jewish Week board of directors) and Marcia Riklis.
Beyond the impressive dollar figures is the fact that those monies helped thousands last fall who suffered from Superstorm Sandy here at home as well as thousands in Israel who were under rocket attack from Gaza militants, and countless other people, here and around the world.
“This has been an extraordinary year of both challenge and opportunity,” said John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of UJA-Federation, who noted that funds went to address crises here and in Israel as well as to help “complete the rescue of Ethiopian Jewry” and issue “a pivotal demographic study of our community.”
Jerry Levin, whose term as president of UJA-Federation ended June 30, said: “We were able to help the community in so many different ways.”
Capable of quick response, UJA-Federation made available $10 million from its endowment for relief efforts within days after Sandy struck, and took in and allocated another $6.5 million for ongoing efforts.
Alisa Doctoroff, the new president of UJA-Federation, paid tribute to “the legions of volunteers and professionals” who, through raising funds and finding solutions to communal problems “lead our community in developing a wide array of high-quality services.”
The federation faces major challenges in dealing with a community that, as its recent demographic study indicated, is moving to two opposite extremes: more Orthodox on the right and more “just Jewish” on the left, with a diminishing core in the center. But as UJA-Federation looks to replace its highly respected top professional executive, Ruskay, who will retire a year from now, it is committed to continuing its efforts to serve all of its constituents, who in turn should redouble their efforts to support this unique charity.