If the headquarters of Jewish institutions seemed unusually quiet this week, it was because Jewish leaders from across the country had traveled en masse to Los Angeles to attend the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.
It is likely that few American Jews know of the JFNA, and fewer still know the organization annually gathers together the best and the brightest from North American Jewry and Israel. The G.A. (as it’s known) is the largest gathering of its kind, with thousands of Jewish community professionals and lay leaders flocking to attend the workshops, plenaries and shmooze fests.
Our report from the G.A. this week focuses on one of the serious themes explored this year, that of expanding religious pluralism in Israel. But it’s worth remembering that more than anything, the G.A. highlights the key role played by Jewish federations in cities across the United States and Canada.
We have four superb examples here in the Bay Area, with the federations based in San Francisco (and serving the Peninsula and North Bay as well), the East Bay, Silicon Valley and Sacramento all doing the vital work of sustaining different aspects of Jewish life.
Not only do the federations raise funds and disburse them to Jewish organizations and agencies in need, they also serve as community conveners and as a home for thought leaders in mapping our collective Jewish future.
This has been true for more than a century. There was a time when everyone knew their local federation was the “central address of the Jewish community.” Arguably, federations were at their peak during Israel’s Six-Day War in 1967, when the Jewish world united as never before to support the besieged Jewish state. Federations collected millions of dollars to help Israel cope with the aftermath of that pivotal event.
In more recent years, things have changed. Like many other nonprofits, Jewish federations have been reinventing themselves to meet the changing needs of their communities and those they serve. But they still raise millions every year to help support Jewish life at home and abroad, including support for cutting-edge programs in Israel that are working to make the Jewish state more democratic and inclusive.
So as the time of year-end charitable giving approaches, it’s well worth considering your local Jewish federation as a cause worthy of support. It may no longer be widely known as the central address, but the federation’s work is no less central today.