Directing Federation Funds to Israel


Despite limited resources, the local Federation has kept up a steady stream of funding to programs related to Israel and other global Jewish communities. Here's how it will distribute this year's $3.2 million in unrestricted funds. 

A safe house for abused children. A mural arts project to give voice to budding artists and entrepreneurs. A trip to Israel for young professionals and another one for interfaith families.

These are among the 20 programs and agencies related to Israel and overseas that will be funded once again by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

The allocation of $3.2 million to Israel and international programming represents just under a third of the $10.3 million in unrestricted funds for 2014-2015, approved by the Federation’s board of trustees at its June 26 meeting.

The allocations come as Federation, like many of its counterparts around the country, struggles to meet the needs of the local and international Jewish communities. But despite limited resources — this year’s funding represents a roughly 10 percent decline across the board — Federation has kept up a steady stream of funding to programs related to Israel and other global Jewish communities.

The Philadelphia Federation also grapples with balancing donations to the general Jewish community fund with those from donors who want to designate their contributions to specific projects. Including those designated gifts, Federation will distribute a total of $25.6 million. But it only has control of allocating the $10.3 million in unrestricted funds, which it divides among the three centers that oversee communal dollars.

In addition to $3.2 million to the Center for Israel and Overseas, $3.6 million went to the Center for Jewish Life and Learning and $3.5 million to the Center for Social Responsibility, which funds local programs for seniors and the disadvantaged.

The allocations are determined through a lengthy process involving the professional staff and lay members of the center boards and the Federation’s Policy, Strategy and Funding Committee, which makes the final recommendations to the Federation’s board of trustees.

Communal funding for Israel has declined dramatically over the past few decades as federations nationally have shifted their priorities to local needs, both for Jewish-identity building and safety net services for the poor and elderly.

“Israel is by no means being abandoned by the Philadelphia Jewish community but it has certainly been eclipsed by more visible local concerns,” like hunger and Jewish education, said Betsy Sheerr, who serves on the policy committee known as PSF.

The $3.2 million, combined with some $1.7 million designated by donors for specific Israel-related projects, represents about 21 percent of the approximately $23.5 million in funds available in the new funding cycle for programs and projects at home and abroad. (That calculation excludes about $2 million designated for the centers’ operating budgets.)

Nearly two-thirds of this year’s funding for overseas programs is going to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee ($775,000) and the Jewish Agency for Israel ($700,000 for core needs in Israel, $460,000 for Philadelphia’s partnership community in Netivot-Sedot Negev and $25,000 for programs for disadvantaged youth in the Netivot region.)

Another chunk goes to programming that connects Philadelphians to Israel, primarily through trips to Israel and cultural programming. These grants include $175,000 for Taglit-Birthright Israel and $140,000 for Israel360, a highly subsidized trip for young adults that Federation runs. The last category of funding from this pot goes to projects in Israel that provide a safety net for those suffering from food insecurity.

“Traditionally, our connection to Israel, the young nation-state, was based around tzedakah and funding for support service to help alleviate need,” Jeri Zimmerman, the director of the Center for Israel and Overseas, told Federation staffers last week.

Today, especially amonger younger donors, there is a desire to connect with Israel as a “startup nation,” she said. That has led to a growing emphasis on partnerships and people-to-people connections, such as the “creative entrepreneurship” program in Philadelphia’s partnership community of Netivot-Sedot Negev, she said. There, Philadelphia is helping to develop artists, connecting the community with Jane Golden’s re­nowned Mural Arts Program, among other projects.

With fewer dollars, the center’s leaders have sought to become more strategic, Zimmerman said. The Federation has partnered with groups like Orr Shalom and Atidim, which provides scholarships for disadvantaged youth to  train to become civil engineers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Federation this year granted $100,000 for the program.

Zimmerman also cited the $50,000 designated for a program called Tech Career, which helps Ethiopian teens train in the army for careers in technology. Philadelphia funds supported the first graduating class of 14 “and has now opened the door for others to follow suit,” she said.

Since about 2004, when Philadelphia established a list of funding priorities that included at-risk children, Federation saw Orr Shalom doing “cutting-edge work,” Zimmerman said, and figured, “Why not partner with the best in the field?”

For its part, Orr Shalom staff members see Philadelphia as a critical partner in the work they do even though its annual grant is only a small part of the group’s $16 million budget. Of that total, 80 percent comes from the Israeli government, the rest from donors from Israel and around the world.

“Philadelphia Federation has been one of Orr Shalom’s most steadfast and generous supporters in the past five years in several key programs,” according to Michael Fisher, the group’s vice president for development and public relations. The Philadelphia Federation “chooses to partner with us on projects and programs which have tangible, lasting impact and effect real change.”

He cited the seed money to create what he termed “a paradigm shift in the way foster families and house parents are recruited, screened, trained and supported. That program is now incorporated into Orr Shalom’s work, and key elements have been adopted by Israel’s Ministry of Welfare as policy.”

He also cited this year’s grant of $180,000 to provide continuing funds for the group’s newest initiative, Beating the Odds Graduates Program for those who have aged out of the traditional foster care system.

Orr Shalom is not alone in valuing the Philadelphia Federation.

“Our partners see us as innovative, creative, cutting-edge, willing to try new things and test the waters with new projects,” which other federations are not always willing to do, said Tali Lidar, who for the past five years has served as the Federation’s full-time staff person on the ground in Israel.

At the same time, Philadelphia has returned to funding “the core” of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel, two organizations that have long served as on-the-ground partners for the North American federation system. The core funding allows the JDC and JAFI to designate where the dollars go rather than having Philadelphia fund specific projects.

Whereas Philadelphia funding for JDC over the past several years was targeted for a project for disadvantaged youth in Israel and a separate program to provide welfare for elderly Jews living in Siberia, now the local Federation has granted nearly the same mount of money, $775,000, for JDC’s “Global Core.” JDC determines how to distribute these funds among its humanitarian assistance and Jewish education and renewal programs to struggling communities in nations all around the world.

“We couldn’t really say we were the Israel and overseas committee when the only thing we supported” outside of Israel was welfare for impoverished elderly in Siberia, said Michele Levin, co-chair of the Center for Israel and Overseas.

Zimmerman said that funding to some extent always went to JDC’s core, but it was restricted. But those involved with the shift say the change now enables Federation to instill the same trust that it seeks from its own donors.

“We are going to trust them to allocate funding the way we ask our community to trust us,” said Shari Odenheimer, who just completed a three-year term as chair of the PSF committee.

As the decision-makers continue to wrestle with what and how to fund, some might question whether Israel, with its economic prowess and growing philanthropic sector, still needs American Jewish support.

To that, Zimmerman has a quick response: Even in the United States, “we are taking care of the elderly and the poor; we’re still taking care of the Jewish people who are in need. The same is true of Israel.

“Jews worldwide are dependent on one another,” she added. “That goes with our mission of klal yisrael.”

The Federation’s Center for Israel and Overseas is distributing $3.2 million in unrestricted grants for 2014-2015. An additional $1.7 million in restricted gifts is going to projects such as Taglit-Birthright Israel and Atidim, and $568,000 to the center’s budget.

The largest recipients of the unrestricted overseas funds include:
▶ American Jewish Joint Distribution
Committee: $775,000 for global core;
▶ Jewish Agency for Israel: $700,000
for core needs, $460,000 for Philadelphia’s partnership community in Netivot-Sedot Negev, $25,000 for programs for disadvantaged youth in the Netivot region;
▶ LATET: $105,000 for food for Holocaust survivors in Israel;
▶ Leket Israel, National Food Bank: $75,000;
▶ ELI, Safe House for Abused Children: $100,000; and
▶ Friends of Atidim: $100,000.

Programs aimed at increasing Jewish identity through Israel experiences got the
following funding:  
▶ Taglit-Birthright Israel: $175,000;
▶ Israel360: $140,000 for a highly subsidized trip for young adults;
▶ Jewish Federation: $110,000 in scholarship funds for students and others who need assistance to participate in Israel experiences;
▶ Chevra Israel Road Trip: $40,000;
▶ InterfaithFamily: $40,000 for an Israel trip for Interfaith families; and
▶ Jewish Federation: $40,000 to support programming that brings Israeli culture to Philadelphia, such as the Israeli Film Festival and the Israeli Jazz Festival.


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