The unkind cuts of United Way

Last year, the United Way of the Bay Area gave Jewish agencies $458,000. That funding helped finance care for Alzheimer's patients, day care for children from low-income families, psychological counseling and emigre services.

Last week, the results of the United Way's dramatic reorganization were announced. The Jewish community came away with a meager $88,748 — out of a $17.6 million pot.

The cuts are painful.

We can understand the United Way's desire to rethink its priorities. But this sudden upheaval seems unjustified.

In the past, only the United Way's 289 beneficiaries, including Jewish groups, were eligible for money from its central fund. Under a new policy, any nonprofit group can apply for the grants, adding to the competition for funding.

Jewish agencies aren't the only groups suffering. Other community pillars, such as the Girl Scouts, Catholic Charities and American Red Cross, also lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in one fell swoop.

Some Jews are asking a reasonable question: Should we still give to the United Way?

It's not as if Jews have expected their donations to just get recycled back into Jewish agencies, but the drastic drop makes one wonder what value United Way places on the Jewish community's social service network.

We nevertheless believe Jews still should give money to the United Way.

The Jewish tradition of charity doesn't end at home. The principles of tzedakah include helping strengthen our larger communities.

We can be a bit selfish about this too, knowing Jews always do better in healthy, viable communities.

And don't forget that United Way donations can be earmarked to any nonprofit agency. In the past, Jewish leaders did not encourage this practice. Perhaps it's time to rethink the strategy.

In addition, to help in the short run, please write a check directly to your favorite Jewish agency.

Among the Jewish agencies funded last year by United Way: Jewish Home for the Aged in San Francisco, both the East Bay and S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children's Services, most Bay Area Jewish community centers, and both the East Bay and S.F.-based Jewish federations.

Do a mitzvah. Give to the United Way next year, but don't forget that Jewish agencies are hurting right now.