The New York Jewish Film Festival - January 14 - 29

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Obligations For Tough Times
Tue, 11/02/2010

Economists may proclaim the Great Recession over, but a great many people in our community are still hurting. And for large numbers of them the health and human service programs funded through the Jewish federation system are an indispensable lifeline.

But as delegates convene for the group’s annual General Assembly in New Orleans on Sunday, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), representing 157 local federations around the country, could be about to face a new perfect storm: impending cutbacks in Congress on social service funding at a time when Jewish philanthropic giving is down.

Fundraising may be improving from the levels seen at the depths of the recession, but there’s little question Jewish givers have less to give, and new bumps in the economy could exacerbate the problem.

Tuesday's impressive Republican wins in congressional midterm elections won't necessarily lead to drastic spending cuts. But you’d have to be living under a rock not to understand that voters sent a clear message that they want reduced government spending and smaller programs (although, predictably, many will howl if the programs serving them are cut).

That will add to the pressure on every human service grant program. Cuts are coming; the only question is how much.

Many JFNA member agencies, including UJA-Federation of New York, are already working intensively to prepare for that change.

They recognize the need to develop more cost-effective ways of providing services and building on the good work done by the JFNA office in Washington, which is fighting a multi-front battle to maintain acceptable levels of funding in a fiscally terrible environment.

They are casting about for new ways to tap the generosity of a still affluent Jewish community in an era when many donors are uncertain about their own economic futures — and in which many are being far more selective about where they give their money.

That leads to the responsibilities of the rest of us. Giving is hard when times are tough and economic futures are clouded, especially for those of us who are far from the mega-giver category coveted by most Jewish organizations.

But the Jewish health and human service network is a reflection of a core Jewish value — caring for the needy and the vulnerable among us through community-based institutions. Government grants will remain a critical element in the funding mix. But the effort to preserve that funding in this new political era does not free us of the obligation to personally support the services upon which so many in our community depend.

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