When the East Bay and San Francisco-based Jewish Federations announced in the spring that they would consolidate and become one organization, with the East Bay folding most of its assets and operations into the S.F.-based agency, there were a lot of questions from both sides of the bay.
How would shifting operations affect East Bay donors and grantees? Would they receive the same attention as before? Who would be in charge of what, and would that change over time?
Today, four months after the process began, CEOs of both Federations say they’re pleased with how quickly and easily it has progressed.
“The integration has been nearly seamless,” S.F. Federation CEO Danny Grossman told J. in a recent joint interview with Rabbi Andy Kastner, interim CEO of the East Bay Federation. “We give a lot of credit to lay leadership on both sides. After years of looking at this thing, and figuring they couldn’t tackle it, they brought [a lot of] goodwill and creativity, and said, we’re going to do it. It’s time.”
In May, J. reported that the Jewish Federation of the East Bay would begin transferring its core programs and operations to the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund on July 1. Concurrently, the East Bay’s Jewish Community Foundation would begin transferring its $136 million in managed assets, as well as its operations, to San Francisco.
The impetus for the reorganization was twofold. First, and most pressing, while the East Bay Foundation was robust, donations to its Federation had been declining for years. Revenue from donations was so low that, as one lay leader told J., it was basically going to overhead rather than grant-making.
The East Bay remains the place to be for Jewish life in the Bay Area. But now we have the interest and collaboration of the entire Bay Area.
The consolidation also reflected demographic reality: The Bay Area population is mobile, with people working in one community and living in another. Maintaining separate agencies no longer made sense.
The move was not a merger, however. It was an integration of the East Bay operations and assets into the much larger JCF headquartered in San Francisco.
No other Jewish federation has tried that before.
Mark Gurvis, the New York-based executive vice president of the Jewish Federations of North America, which oversees the 147-strong national federation system, told J. that a few federations around the country have merged, when they covered adjacent communities and were roughly the same size. A number of others have formally dissolved. But as in so much else, what the Bay Area planned to do was something new.
As of mid-October, Grossman reported, things were moving along with alacrity. All but three of the East Bay’s 155 donor-advised funds and all eight supporting foundations had moved over to the S.F.-based Endowment Fund, which already managed more than $2 billion in assets.
“One funder told me, we opened our fund because we want to support Jewish life in the East Bay,” said Lisa Tabak, former executive director of the East Bay Foundation who now fills the same role as the S.F.-based Federation’s philanthropy director for the East Bay. “I said, yes, you are supporting the East Bay, but now within the context of the entire Bay Area. I want to be as transparent as possible, to make people feel comfortable with what’s changing.
“The East Bay remains the place to be for Jewish life in the Bay Area,” said Tabak. “But now we have the interest and collaboration of the entire Bay Area.”
The integration of the two Federations has virtually been completed, Grossman said. Though most of the East Bay staff had to be laid off, four key staffers remain at their posts, including Kastner and Tabak.
In response to those who worried that the East Bay would get the short end of the financial stick, Kastner pointed out that three programs are opening in the East Bay, all run as joint Federation initiatives.
That’s one of the opportunities presented by the consolidation, Grossman said. “It allows us to take what works on one side of the bay and bring it to the other.”
The first, called PJ Connectors and launched this past week, has placed Jewish engagement personnel in four areas of Contra Costa County, the East Bay region with the fastest-growing Jewish population, according to the 2017 Federation-sponsored demographic study. A collaboration of the Federation, the Rodan Family Foundation and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, which runs the popular PJ Library program, these “connectors” will “leverage the success of PJ Library, which already enables families to create Jewish experiences in their home, by taking the next step of creating a sense of community among families with young children who live near each other,” Kastner said. Communities served will be LaMorinda, El Cerrito/Richmond/El Sobrante, Concord/Clayton/Pleasant Hill, and San Ramon.
A second program expanding to the East Bay is One Happy Camper, which will give needs-blind scholarships to East Bay children who have not yet attended a Jewish summer camp. The plan is to offer 110 scholarships next summer and then grow the program.
Finally, the S.F.-based Federation has extended its in-house security program, run by its director of Jewish community security, Rafael Brinner, to East Bay synagogues and Jewish agencies. Several trainings have taken place, and Brinner has begun to create an East Bay security team.
These are the programmatic aspects of the ongoing consolidation. But both Grossman and Kastner freely acknowledge that much of the challenge is more ephemeral, having to do with feelings and perceptions — that the East Bay Jewish community not be seen as a poor cousin of its West Bay relative.
That’s why East Bay programs are the first beneficiaries of the new relationship. And why a series of “listening sessions” took place this summer where East Bay Jewish agencies and lay leaders had an opportunity to express their needs and concerns to Federation leaders, who took careful note, Grossman said.
The four remaining staffers from the East Bay Federation continue to work from Berkeley. “We collectively feel it’s important to maintain an office and a team in the East Bay,” said Grossman. “And we recognize that while we might say the East Bay is another series of counties like Sonoma or Marin, at least in the short term we recognize this is different, and we’re going to treat it differently.”
In September, a celebratory party cruise was held for some 200 donors, agency heads and Federation staffers from both sides of the bay. That cruise took place, of course, in the middle of the bay.
“We were thinking of an event to honor our donors and leaders, and we said, should we do it in San Francisco, in the East Bay, on Treasure Island?” Grossman said. “Then we said, let’s have people in the West Bay get on a boat, go over to the East Bay, greet the East Bay team and celebrate them as they come aboard with a lot of clapping and blowing of shofars, and then sail to the middle of the bay to come together.
“I think everybody got the symbolism, that we were floating in the middle of the bay together.”