Paul Simonson: The Jewish Federations of North America

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Florida-based certified public accountant Paul Simonson supports various Jewish organizations and causes. This article will look at the work of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), an organization that represents almost 400 independent Jewish communities raising and distributing more than $2 billion in funding annually.

Following the values of Torah (Jewish learning), tikkun olam (repairing the world), and tzedakah (charity and social justice), JFNA protects and enhances the wellbeing of Jews all over the world. The organization ranks among the top 10 charities in North America today.

JFNA lobbies in Washington D.C. to secure tens of millions in public funds that flow to Jewish communities each year. This vital funding supports thousands of agencies providing vital services to families, including family and children’s service agencies, vocational training programs, nursing homes, hospitals, and community centers. The organization also partners with the Government of Israel and various agencies to secure the Jewish State, supporting vulnerable groups including Holocaust survivors and immigrants, strengthening and rebuilding Jewish lives all over the world.

Specializing in the fields of healthcare, disability, aging, caregiving, homeland security, and foreign policy, JFNA is made up of thought leaders and advocates. At a time when Jewish communities are less politically and economically secure than just 10 years ago, JFNA is committed to providing assistance by rapidly raising and distributing funds.

In the wake of man-made and natural disasters around the world, JFNA has provided immediate aid and long-term assistance to both Jewish and non-Jewish communities, helping people in Haiti, Japan, Houston, the Philippines, and Ukraine. The organization delivers services to build capacity of local Jewish communities, helping Federations to learn from each other, building affinity groups, and providing collateral materials, training, and seed funding for innovation.

JFNA was created in 1999 when two important and historic organizations joined forces. The merger of the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) with the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF) culminated in the creation of a strong national umbrella for Jewish Federations across North America.

Since it was established in 1939, UJA has been venerated for its achievements and lifesaving missions. UJA was created through the amalgamation of several organizations with the goal of raising and distributing much-needed relief to distressed Jewish communities across Europe. During the war years and beyond, donations helped to save Jewish lives, feeding survivors living in Displaced Persons camps after the Holocaust. UJA’s fundraising efforts also provided a vital lifeline for Israel, as well as the global Jewish community. Today, JFNA continues UJA’s critical work, galvanizing fundraising for Israel and other Jewish communities overseas.

Founded in 1932, CJF was created to unite Jewish Federations across the United States and Canada. One of CJF’s principal goals was to foster communication across Federations regarding common problems and interests, providing Jewish communities around the world with a united voice and strengthening their combined impact on global needs. Today, JFNA continues that mission, bringing Federations together to make decisions on important policy issues of the day.

Since the UJA and CJF merger in 1999, the purpose of JFNA has evolved beyond the organizations’ original goals. Today, JFNA provides guidance and thought leadership to Federations, helping them to learn from each other and delivering services that build on the capacity of Jewish communities.

According to the New York Times, JFNA mounted the most ambitious and comprehensive effort to protect Jewish life in the United States in 2018. In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, JFNA raised $100 million in federal grants as well as $62 million through fundraising with the goals of securing every Jewish community across the North American continent. Overseen by the JFNA Secure Community Network, the scheme saw 93 Jewish Federations appoint full-time security directors, representing a four-fold increase over five years.

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