Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt of the remarks delivered by Sherrie Savett, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, at the Federation’s main fundraising event in Center City on Nov. 4.
All of us here represent a true collective — a collective voice; a collective passion; and a collective hope for our community. Being here represents our unequivocal and our unwavering support for our Philadelphia Jewish community.
As investors in our Federation and our community, you need to know that the state of our Federation is strong. Your investments are being used wisely to fulfill our community’s most pressing priorities: providing a safety net and support for the most vulnerable in our community, perpetuating and enhancing Jewish life and Jewish identity, and assisting Jews in Israel and around the globe. Among our achievements over the past year:
• 1,000 children received day and overnight camp scholarships to Jewish camps;
• More than 950 children received scholarship assistance to attend Jewish day schools;
• 1,000 young adults between the ages of 18 and 26 received a free 10-day transformational trip to Israel through Birthright Israel;
• 3,000 children between the ages of 1 and 6 received monthly mailings of beautiful Jewish-themed books and CDs published by the PJ Library;
• 80 young adults between the ages of 26 and 40, the post-Birthright age group, received a virtually free 9-day leadership building trip to Israel called Israel 360.
The Israel experiences, Jewish day schools, Jewish camping and children’s Jewish-themed books, which are read to them by their parents or grandparents at bedtime, all have a concrete, long-lasting effect of instilling and enhancing a strong Jewish identity.
More than 250 of our community members will participate in our upcoming multigenerational mega-mission to Israel this December. More than half of those traveling on this mission are going to Israel for the first time, which those of us who have visited Israel know is a life-changing experience. Our Federation has highly subsidized this trip to make it available to families and individuals who could not otherwise afford a trip to Israel.
Women’s Philanthropy is exploding as more and more women of all ages are participating. We are building a tremendous cadre of young leaders. Through the Renaissance Group and the Hillels we support at our local colleges, thousands of young people are networking, forming committees, engaging in Israel advocacy, Shabbat dinners and hands-on social services.
Our young real estate tigers, engaged in the Jewish Federation Real Estate Group, boast a membership of over 300. Their primary mission is to invest in real estate-related solutions for our Jewish community. To date, they have funded real estate projects to repair and clean up homes of some of our most needy elderly.
Our Federation is on the cutting edge of programming in certain key areas such as food distribution for Jews facing food insecurity. A recent study on this subject revealed that over 11,000 members of our community experience daily food insecurity.
The Choice Food Program, the virtual supermarket inside the Klein JCC that we are building in the Northeast thanks to generous donors, will enable the less fortunate in our community to have dignified access to healthy foods they can choose as opposed to the traditional method of distributing food to the needy where participants receive a prepackaged assortment of the most basic non-perishable foods. The frail elderly will be able to order by phone or computer and have these healthy foods delivered. This project will take us a long way to eradicating hunger among low-income Jews in our region. Our model is already being replicated in Israel, and Jewish leaders from all over the country are asking for our road map.
I am proud to announce that for the year of 2012 that ends in December, our total revenues will exceed $52 million, the highest that our Federation has ever achieved in its 111-year history. About half of our revenues are legacy gifts, endowment funds that will ensure that we can support our community’s needs in the future. Our campaign gifts, which make up the remainder of the 2012 revenues, are expected to meet our $24.5 million target.
We have certainly achieved a great deal together, but we are bucking some daunting statistics that face Jews in Philadelphia and throughout the Diaspora. The key facts, revealed by our 2009 population study, are that 50 percent of Jews age 40 or younger intermarry, and only 35 percent of them raise their children Jewishly. And 40 percent of those 40 and under have little or no interest in Israel and some perceive Israel in a negative way.
While our overall Jewish population in the Philadelphia region increased slightly to 220,000 Jews, we have 16 percent fewer Jewish children than we had 10 years before, when the prior study was done. You don’t have to be a demographer to see where we are heading unless we apply extreme creativity and open-minded thinking, and we raise the funds to reverse these damaging trends.
We will not let our Jewish community shrink and wither. We will reverse these trends. As committed leaders, we know that we still have lots of work to do. We must not turn away any poor or needy Jew who seeks our assistance. We must eliminate the Birthright waiting list, which is 50 percent, so we can send every young adult who applies on this life-altering trip.
We want to send PJ Library books to 6,000 Jewish children, double the number who receive the books now. We want to send every Jewish child who applies for camping assistance to camp. We must welcome intermarried families to be part of our community and embrace them. We must find new and existing ways to engage people and touch their hearts and minds.
We want to help Jewish people to identify with Judaism, not because they have to, but because participation in Jewish life provides meaning and purpose.
With your support, we will continue to make inroads on these huge issues. In Philadelphia, we will continue to stand in the forefront of effective solutions to help Jews in need and to connect Jews to our beautiful and rich heritage.