The Emergency Response Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia will disburse a total of $250,000 to rabbis at every congregation and Chabad across Montgomery, Chester, Delaware, Philadelphia and Bucks counties in the next week.
Rabbis at 90 synagogues and every Chabad will receive a check, based on the size of their congregation, to disburse among their congregants as they see fit.
The one-time grant, announced to those rabbis on June 1, is called the Congregational Rabbis Emergency Fund.
“This is a very different way in which we are releasing funds into the community,” said Abbey Frank, director of program operations at the Jewish Federation. Though the exact details are still being worked out, the committee hopes to send the checks out next week.
The funds sent to each rabbi will be determined based on the size of the synagogue’s membership. The committee is still in the midst of creating a bracket system to determine the precise dollar amount that will go to differently sized synagogues.
The committee identified and researched similar methods of community relief undertaken by the Jewish Federations of Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. What it found, according to Frank, was near universal success in those other cities, and a “favorable reaction of the rabbis in those communities.”
“We looked at those models and thought it would be something really valuable to bring to Philadelphia as well,” she said. Though associated agencies like JEVS Human Services, Jewish Family & Children’s Service and Jewish Relief Agency are able to provide assistance and services to many in the region, there are some needs that can slip through the cracks.
Holly Nelson, chair of the committee, explained the thinking behind sending checks directly to rabbis, many of whom already maintain a small fund to distribute to congregants in need of quick cash assistance.
“Many Federations across the country are noting that people in their congregations are also in need, and may not have the ability to get what they need through agency partners,” Nelson said. “One way that we could really have an impact on the entire community in Greater Philadelphia would be to empower our congregational rabbis to distribute funds to those congregants who come to them specifically asking for help with basic needs.”
“We’re really entrusting our rabbi partners throughout the region to distribute the funds and allocate then appropriately to their congregants, who will really benefit from this grant,” she added.
The only expectations for the rabbis is that the money will be given to individual congregants who come to them with requests for assistance. According to a letter sent to the rabbis, this covers needs like “food, medical assistance, rent/mortgage payments and/or medical expenses.”
“When distributing these dollars to individuals in your community,” the letter continues, “we ask that you refer to the guidelines set by your denomination and synagogue board of directors for the proper use of discretionary funds.”
The committee does not require the rabbis to make the money that they receive last for a particular amount of time, nor to give the money out to a particular number of people. All they ask is that the rabbis use it specifically “for individuals in need,” as Frank put it.
In addition, when the money has been disbursed, the committee is asking that the rabbis compile a summary of their efforts, sans names or any other identifying information. Their individual reports will include the total number of people helped, the total dollar amount disbursed and the needs that were cited by the assisted families.
Rabbi Eric Yanoff of Temple Adath Israel of the Main Line, was consulted prior to the announcement. Yanoff, who also serves as co-president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia, praised the Jewish Federation for its various relief efforts during the pandemic, and said that it was smartly taking advantage of the “infrastructure of trust” built by rabbis in their individual communities.
“I take that trust incredibly seriously, and I think most rabbis do,” Yanoff said.
Nelson said the committee found that congregants in need of assistance with a personal matter will often approach their rabbi before, say, the president of the synagogue, or an executive committee. Thus, the decision was made to send money to the rabbis specifically.
“We’re saying, to the rabbis and the leaders in our community, we trust you,” Frank said.
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