An Oldy but a Goody: The Continuing Relevance of the Federation Model

This article was adapted from the speech given by Annual Campaign Chair, Dr. Dena Schulman-Green, at the 2020 Mega Community Event.

Did you know that the first Jewish Federation was founded in Boston in 1895? Its mission was the same as it is today: to see to the needs of the Jewish community. Today, the Jewish Federation continues to function as an umbrella organization for the Jewish community’s agencies, schools, camps, and programs. 

Some people wonder if the Federation model is still relevant. They ask why they shouldn’t only give directly to the agency or program of their choice. The answer is that each agency, school, camp, and program cannot be an island. We are all part of the same community, and the Federation is the glue that holds us together, binding us with each other, with Israel, and with Jews around the world.

I’ll give you a few examples. When Ezra Academy and Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy needed a social worker, Federation funded a professional to service both schools. The recent tornado in Dallas has left their JCC and Federation buildings substantially damaged. Our community is poised to provide relief. Federation makes possible our Israeli emissary program, bringing Israel to life in our community. And recently in Germany, when gunmen attempted to enter the Halle synagogue, they were thwarted by newly reinforced doors and security cameras funded by the Jewish Federation.

Federation may be an oldy, but it’s a goody. The basic model and mission remain the same, but we adapt to the changing times and needs of our Jewish community. This includes promoting inter-religious and inter-racial dialogue, funding increased security needs due to rising anti-Semitism, developing programs for today’s active retirees, emphasizing health and wellness, creating STEM offerings for our children, and providing services to working parents, all in a Jewish space. The Federation mission and the means through which we carry it out are of today and for today.

When you give a gift to the Federation, you impact many. Donations to the Federation go to the JCC as well because we are one organization. They go to the Towers, to Jewish Family Service, to Camp Laurelwood, and to all of the vital organizations, programs, and services that comprise our Greater New Haven Jewish community.

The Federation not only supports the Jewish community, but also the Greater New Haven community. For example, our flagship volunteer program, the Jewish Coalition for Literacy, with 150 volunteers, works in the New Haven Public School System, partnering with at-risk students to eliminate illiteracy. Jewish Family Service's Food for Kids program, in partnership with Women's Philanthropy, likewise services students in New Haven by providing backpacks of food on the weekends to mitigate food insecurity. Kids from New Haven, including from refugee families, enjoy the summer outdoors at our JCC Day Camp. Others take the bus to participate in basketball programs in the safety of the JCC gymnasium.

So, does the Federation model sound relevant? Sticking together as a community will always be relevant. Our connections to each other will always be relevant. In these uncertain times, our need to support each other is of the greatest relevance.

The theme of the Annual Campaign this year is  “Powered by You”. To those of you who have already pledged, thank you for being philanthropic leaders. For those of you who have yet to make your gift, please consider generously powering this year's campaign now. Join me and Eric in demonstrating that you see the continuing relevance of the Federation mission. Now more than ever we have to see to the needs of our Jewish community. Thank you so very much.

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