Twenty-five million dollars seems like a lot of money — until you realize the many needs those dollars are supposed to support.
That is the total amount of funds, both restricted and unrestricted, that the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s board of trustees approved last week for disbursal to dozens of programs at home and abroad.
As outlined in this week’s cover story, it seems like a dizzying array of numbers, but they are worth sifting through. For what lies beneath the numbers are the values and priorities that define our organized community.
In 2009, the Exponent began publishing the annual allocations because we believed it was important for the wider community to understand where the money raised by our central fundraising body goes; in other words, what your contributions support. With the Federation leadership’s blessing, the Exponent has gained limited access over the past several years to the process and the discussions that take place as the professional staff and lay volunteers engage in the arduous task of determining which programs to fund and how much to allot to each.
That process, outlined in more detail in our story, involves countless hours of earnest, thoughtful discussions as those tasked with making these critical decisions weigh the many and varied needs: How do we sustain a safety net for our elderly and poor? How do we educate our youth, engage our young families, and connect college-age and young professionals? How do we best link our community with Israel and help support populations at-risk there and elsewhere overseas?
From time immemorial, Jewish communities have centered around institutions that support and nurture the basic and even not-so-basic needs of our people. This notion of collective responsibility speaks to the heart of who we are; it’s an eternal tenet of being Jewish and being part of a Jewish community.
The system may not be perfect; some agencies may justifiably worry that their piece of the pie will not be large enough to meet the needs they serve. Others may wonder whether it makes more sense to revert to the model of funding agencies rather than programs, as it used to be. Others are grateful that their portion has risen or that the powers that be were willing to take a risk on a new endeavor.
But even as that process is being re-evaluated, one thing holds true: We all have a stake in raising more funds and providing for the needs of our community. We also have an obligation — and the right — to understand the process that goes into these vital decisions.
This week, when Tisha B’Av forced us to reflect on the tragedies of our past, is the perfect time to look also to the future, to recommit ourselves to tzedakah, using our charitable dollars to help sustain and grow that which we hold dear— our Jewish community.