After more than a century of service in Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa and Solano counties, the Jewish Federation of the East Bay will dissolve on July 1, with core programs and operations to be absorbed into the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.
The East Bay’s Jewish Community Foundation will at the same time begin the transfer of $136 million in managed assets and operations to San Francisco’s Federation and Endowment Fund.
“It’s not a merger, because it’s not two organizations coming together,” said Danny Grossman, S.F. Federation CEO, in a conference call with J. senior staff. “One is going out of business, and the other is saying, how can we work together.”
Leaders emphasized to J. that the move is intended to better support Jewish communal needs on both sides of the bay, and that services will not be interrupted.
“We’re excited about the prospect of the Bay Area Jewish community coming together in this way,” said Grossman. “There’s been a lot of collaboration in recent years that has pointed in this direction, and the next step at the Federation and Foundation levels is to collaborate more closely.”
“The core work of the East Bay Federation will continue under the auspices of the [S.F.-based] Federation,” said Kerry Philp, its senior director of strategic marketing and communications.
The current East Bay Federation and Foundation office in Berkeley will remain open as a satellite, albeit with a smaller staff. “The idea is for donors to have a seamless experience and give them continuity,” said Sue Reinhold, S.F. Federation’s managing director of philanthropy.
As the assets are transferred, donor and account administration, finance, asset management, grant-making and grant management will be overseen by the San Francisco Federation, which also covers the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma counties.
Further cementing ties between the two regions, according to Grossman, is a plan to add representatives from the East Bay to the S.F. Federation’s board, endowment committee and investment committee.
In addition, East Bay grants will continue to be funded by the S.F. Federation for up to three years, thanks to the East Bay Foundation’s permanent endowment and an individual donor. According to East Bay Federation interim executive director Rabbi Andrew Kastner, “the funds that will support three years of granting have been secured.”
East Bay Foundation director Lisa Tabak said key community priorities such as Jewish summer camps, youth Israel trips travel and the like can continue to count on financial support. “All our designated and special interest funds will still be honored,” she said.
The two Federations have been moving in this direction for years.
“We see ourselves as part of a regional community,” said Kastner, “and as that changes, regional philanthropy needs to adapt to a more network model.”
Reinhold said this model better suits today’s Bay Area Jewish community.
“When these [Federations] were founded, the Bay Bridge didn’t even exist,” she said. “They were separate communities. We don’t have that now. We’re about moving resources and people to where they can have the biggest impact.”
Tabak said she and her board had been working on the transition for months. She is looking forward to the changes.
“We will be dedicated to the East Bay Jewish community and to East Bay philanthropy just the way we always have,” she told J., “except now we won’t be managing all the operations. That will be in San Francisco. They have a robust team of seasoned, experienced and skilled professionals who can handle the transactions we do here, freeing up [East Bay staff] who will be providing white-glove service.”
The decision to dissolve the East Bay Federation did not come about lightly. Stakeholders launched what they called a “revisioning” task force two years ago. They ultimately determined that the East Bay Federation was not “serving our community in the best way it could,” according to Tabak.
Kastner said the task force’s big takeaway was recommending “as a first step in enhancing the resiliency of Jewish community philanthropy in the East Bay to begin the process of exploring the coming together with San Francisco.”
East Bay Federation board president Steve Goldman had been pushing for at least a year to have his organization folded into the San Francisco Federation, and he’s glad it‘s finally happening.
“This is an evolution in a process that takes us to a better place than we’ve been before,” he said, “because it really allows the East Bay to continue to provide service to the East Bay Jewish community, but with a more powerful group of philanthropists. We’re going to be part of a bigger organization that sees an opportunity to provide for the needs of the Jewish community in the entire Bay Area.”
He noted that reaction to what will be an unprecedented realignment within the local federation system has been mixed among East Bay Federation donors and others he has spoken with.
“You get a full panoply of emotions from existing donors,” he said. “We’re getting some trepidation on the part of some, some happiness and joy, some asking why it took so long. Others used to the idea of having a separate Federation may wonder how it’s going to be. We’re getting reassurance from San Francisco about how they are approaching a ‘we’ approach.”
The East Bay Federation began life in 1918 as the Jewish Welfare Federation. Its Foundation incorporated in 1988. Before ceasing operations, the organization will mark its centennial at a June 19 celebration at Berkeley’s David Brower Center.
Sad as it may be for a venerable institution to fold, leaders are looking on the bright side.
“I’m really excited, because this is really going to elevate the whole community and unify us,” Tabak said. “It’s going to be more efficient and allow more focus put on the East Bay. We do some things really well here, and this will be a real sharing, and hopefully a wonderful two-way street.”
According to the “Portrait of Bay Area Jewish Life and Communities” demographic study published last year, the Bay Area’s Jewish community is the fourth largest in the United States, with some 350,000 Jews and 123,000 non-Jews living in 148,000 households. A third of them live in the East Bay, totaling 122,000 in Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano counties.
Despite a growing Jewish population and numerous thriving synagogues, other Jewish institutions have struggled in the region. The Contra Costa JCC abruptly closed its doors in 2011, although it still exists as a “JCC without walls.” Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito shuttered last year, and the Reutlinger Community, the East Bay’s Jewish senior residence and assisted living center, announced in March that it would be taken over later this year by a nondenominational Sacramento-based nonprofit.