Judaism as a Consumer Good?


Writing for eJewish Philanthropy, I react to two Forward articles this summer by David Bryfman and Noam Neusner. Excerpt:

Bryfman argues that giving away major Jewish experiences for free devalues those experiences. “Why would people want to pay for a Jewish experience,” he writes, “if… they can get Jewish products for free? And for a community that prides itself on wanting people to become more responsible, invested and committed, the very notion that we are prepared to give away things sends a mixed message…"

But what is it, exactly, that we want Jews to value? Is it specific “Jewish experiences”, or the Jewish experience, writ large? If the latter, then we shouldn’t fear devaluing individual programs; they’re the means, not the end...

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely, whom Bryfman quotes regarding the strange things people will do when something is free, also writes about a different problem which perfectly describes the trouble with Bryfman’s approach. In his book Predictably Irrational, Ariely writes: “we live simultaneously in two different worlds – one where social norms prevail, and the other where market norms make the rules. The social norms… are usually warm and fuzzy. Instant paybacks are not required… The second world, the one governed by market norms, is very different… The exchanges are sharp-edged … When you are in the domain of market norms, you get what you pay for – that’s just the way it is.” Ariely illustrates the absurdity of confusing these worlds with the example of paying your mother-in-law for Thanksgiving dinner. Bryfman’s article makes this mistake, consigning Judaism to the world of market norms, when social norms are better-suited to meaningful Jewish commitment. Social norms do not preclude financial contribution, but Jewish communal contributions should be more like a married couple pooling their salaries for groceries, and less like a crowd of strangers ordering their own lunches. If this vision seems naïve, that’s because too many Jews lack a familial commitment to the Jewish people. Trying to change that by charging more fees is like trying to get kids to appreciate family dinners by having grandma collect admission at the door.

Read more at eJewish Philanthropy.

 The question of whether or not it's a good idea to treat Judaism as a market commodity is (naturally) not new. Here are some other publications of interest on this topic:

Understanding the Jewish Community Center Marketplace: A Celebration of Volunteerism and the Voluntary Process (1982) David Esekenazi:

Our agencies are heading into a very difficult period, largely because there are (and will almost certainly continue to be) fewer Jews. We will be going after a shrinking and a changing market. We will increasingly compete with other vendors who (in the minds of many of our potential customers) offer similar products.

Esekenazi changed his mind somewhat six years later, in Revisiting the Jewish Community Center Marketplace:

Some years ago in this Journal I argued for the need to redirect our normal noncompetitive perspective and move more in the direction of competing with "other vendors . . . [who], in the minds of many of our potential customers, offer similar products." In that article, I embraced the field of marketing as one of the most promising means of helping JCCs to better compete in the increasingly competitive and open marketplace. While I have not shut my eyes to the marketplace reality, I now wonder about the wisdom with which input from the field of marketing is being incorporated by many not-for-profit agencies. With hindsight, I would counsel more caution today in terms of how marketing ought to be used in a JCC. Unfortunately, I did not adequately consider at that time the effects of marketing upon basic institutional purpose, nor did I adequately distinguish in my own mind the fundamental differences between what I refer to in this article as "method" and "purpose."

Markets and More? (2001). Shari Cohen:

Surely any discussion of religion in public life needs to address the inexorable reach of commercialization into every aspect of human existence. We need to consider whether shopping and working are replacing social activism, civic duty or religious ritual as the boundaries between the roles of the customer, citizen, congregant and employee shift... By looking at five main areas – the market’s monopolization of our time and attention, its increasing role in creating our loyalties and identifications, its shaping of our modes of thinking about individual choice, work’s place in our lives, and the ways in which business might involve itself in critical aspects of social change – we can begin to sketch the crucial implications of these trends for independent thought, ethical sensibilities, collective action and human expression.

The Jewish Marketplace (2004). Chava Weissler

As we know, American Jewry is struggling with the decline of traditional loyalties to congregation and community. Like other Americans, Jews live in a commodity culture, in which consumption is the main means of self-expression. There is a realization that Judaism resembles other leisure commodities offered to consumers in the marketplace, and is judged by similar criteria...

Missing: the Vision and the Values (2004). Andrew Silow-Carroll:

[D]espite experience with marketing, Jewish communal institutions don’t seem very good at it. While some individual advertisements and campaigns have been clever or appealing, they always seem to address short-term goals: How do we get you to come to this service? How can we entice you into enrolling in this course, or give to this campaign? This exemplifies a “product-driven” model of Jewish life, as if our institutions offer only discrete services to consumers. What is often missing from Jewish communal marketing is a reflection of the bedrock vision of the institution behind the ad — the core values and purposes that the institution hopes to share with its members.

Advertising Judaism (2004). David Nelson:

Why do so many Jews have a visceral, negative reaction to the “commercialization” (by which we mean the selling) of Judaism? Some people feel that “selling” and “advertising” connote cheapness and lack of inherent worth. Should we sell Judaism like potato chips? Wouldn’t that cheapen and commodify our sense of Judaism? People don’t give up their lives, or stake their children’s future, on commodities. But there are also ads for universities and hospitals, ads to discourage drug use, or smoking, or to encourage people to use public libraries. These ads represent institutions and causes that affect our survival and our ultimate welfare. And they advertise because we live in a very crowded marketplace of ideas, images, and products.

Marketing Undermines Judaism (2004). Jay Michaelson:

To “market” Judaism, as Andrew Silow- Carroll and David Nelson suggest, contradicts exactly what makes Judaism worthwhile. Consumption co-opts our loves and energies to enhance our selfish desire (the yetzer hara), but Jewish practice reins in our selfish desire so that we can love and serve better. Marketing asks us to sublimate yearning into consumerism; Judaism asks us to restrain our consumerism and open up to yearning...

I know that some say we have to be “realistic.” We live in a society of constant marketing, they say, and to not participate will make Judaism a religion without adherents. And Judaism has always marketed itself, from the original purpose of the Hanukkah menorah to Chabad’s use of it in American public squares. But we undermine Judaism by dumbing it down, dressing it up as “cool” or oversimplifying what Silow-Carroll calls the Jewish vision of “success.” We can and should invite Jews to learn about and love their tradition. But to treat Judaism as something to be consumed is to start down a spiritual path on the wrong foot. A real religious life is not something that one buys or sells. If Judaism is to transform, it will require full participation, a yearning heart. If you can buy it, it’s not holy.

Most relevant to Neusner's article is this Sh'ma article from just this February: Synagogue Membership: What's the Deal? Sara Moore Litt:

[I]f you are a Jewish consumer looking for value in any traditional cost/benefit sense, don’t join a synagogue. It is expensive and you can get almost all the benefits synagogues purport to offer members either for free or at a much lower cost if you buy them a la carte... But what keeps all of us renewing our memberships despite the complaints is that we have found a place where we can confront the central questions of our existence. When that happens, the synagogue becomes a place where we connect to something larger than ourselves — to our community, to ideas that can transform our world, and even to a transcendent experience. If you join that kind of synagogue, membership dues are a bargain and not a burden. They become, in consumer language, a value proposition. These intangible benefits of membership are the only ones that make the high dollar cost of being a synagogue member “worth it.” Anything less is a bad deal.

Now What?


Interested in American Jewish identity? Concerned about the waning support of quality Jewish art and culture? Enjoy free events?  Us too! Check out “ Now What? The future of New Jewish Culture”, a town hall-style event taking place on May 15 at 7pm, hosted by the 14th Street Y. Ten experts at the forefront of Jewish culture will discuss topics including funding, identity, innovation.

Now What? The Future of New Jewish Culture takes a critical look at the New Jewish Culture movement of the last ten years and its precarious position today. This town hall-style event takes place May 15 at 7pm and is hosted by the 14th Street Y. “Now What?” is the first event presented by Speakers’ Lab, a new public programming initiative of the Posen Foundation U.S., and is presented in collaboration with The Jewish Daily Forward.

 After a decade of flourishing Jewish creativity, major Jewish cultural enterprises are being forced to scale back operations or close entirely. Using recent funding cuts as a springboard to examine the most pressing issues facing new Jewish arts and culture, “Now What?” addresses:

--- New perspectives on American Jewish identity
--- Waning support for quality Jewish art and culture
--- Strategies for cultivating Jewish art and culture in the future

Among the panelists are Jewish artists, funders, presenters and critics, including: Alana Newhouse, Editor-in-Chief of Tablet Magazine; Jody Rosen, music critic for Slate Magazine; Elise Bernhardt, President and CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Culture; Ari Roth, Artistic Director of Theater J; Peter L. Stein, former Executive Director and current advisor and consultant to the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival; Stephen Hazan Arnoff, Executive Director of the 14th Street Y and LABA: The National Laboratory for New Jewish Culture; Daniel Sieradski, organizer of Occupy Judaism; David Jordan Harris, Executive Director of Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council; and Rokhl Kafrissen, Yiddish arts critic. The discussion is moderated by Dan Friedman, Arts and Culture Editor at The Jewish Daily Forward.”

Seating is limited and pre-registration encouraged. Sign-up at www.speakerslab.org or by calling 212-564-6711 x 305.

Event and Venue Info:
The Theater at the 14th Street Y
344 East 14th Street (between 1st and 2nd Avenues)
New York, NY 10003
May 15, 2012 7pm

Personally, I would love to find out the speakers’ views on why Jews aren’t supporting Jewish arts and culture, given that Jews have a high track record of giving to other philanthropic causes. Why the funding cuts, and why now? Did we as Jews take a group vote and decide that Jewish magazines and music are suddenly irrelevant? Does this imply that the future of Jewish arts and culture is a bleak one?

A Nonprofit Leader Who Really Did Shut It Down

Ephraim Gopin, writing for eJewish Philanthropy:

I read with great interest the point-counterpoint by Robert Evans, Avrum Lapin and Seth Chalmer featured on eJewish Philanthropy recently. As someone who has recommended to a nonprofit Board to cease operations, I feel I have a unique perspective on the issue...

...There are too many nonprofits and institutions in Israel. I firmly believe that merging nonprofits with similar missions will create a more stable, vibrant sector where long term well-being and strategy are dominant, as opposed to the pettiness of “kavod” – honor – taking center stage...

...Israel has 40,000 registered nonprofits – 5-10,000 of which are active at any given time. We all know that a great percentage of them depend on overseas funding for survival. With the world recession and federations keeping more funds at home, we should be REDUCING the number of nonprofits here seeking funding overseas.

I am well aware of the dangers of merging – job and salary slashing being the worst. However, we should encourage this behavior because the alternative is worse: nonprofits who are debt-ridden, can’t pay salaries or suppliers, may have to shut down. In that case, everyone is out of a job. Donors and foundations should be pushing similar mission-oriented nonprofits to merge, as a means of survival if nothing else.

Lest you say I talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, here’s my story: I recommended to the Board of a nonprofit I headed to cease operations.

When I settled into the CEO chair and began looking over the financials, I was shocked: the organization was in major debt. When I sat with the CFO, we tried every which way to avoid the “cut, slash, burn and trim” method of nonprofit management. To no avail; the pit was too deep.

Finally, after all options had been exhausted, I sat with the Board and told them unequivocally: We need to cease operations immediately, declare bankruptcy and try to find another nonprofit to take over operating the facility... In this manner, we hoped to save as many staff jobs as possible and work on an arrangement where the nonprofit who takes over would repay the debt to suppliers.

I know there are too many nonprofits, too many institutions in Israel. Some are in debt, are behind in paying staff and suppliers and yet they refuse to shut down. I also know that upper management would never “fire themselves.” But something has to be done because, when a recession hits, the whole sector suffers enough. The problem is compounded when, in reality, a little forethought would have made the sector stronger, not weaker.

Gopin's perspective and unique experience is a welcome addition to the conversation, and a welcome reminder that waste and redundancy truly are present and problematic.

It's worth noting that the nonprofit sectors in Israel and the United States are quite different. The American combination of unprecedented commitment to private charity along with a comparatively meager government social safety net makes the US nonprofit sector rather a different beast from its counterparts not only in Israel, but really everywhere else, at least in many ways.

For the Jewish nonprofit sector in particular, it is also of great import that in America, voluntary associations, congregations and nonprofit organizations constitute the entirety of Jewish communal expression, whereas in Israel the very State itself is a Jewish organization.

These two differences -- in the relationship of nonprofits to the State, and in the relationship of Jewishness to the State -- are bound to affect the ways in which each country's Jewish nonprofit sector conceives of itself, and is likely to affect questions of efficiency, redundancy, ideological diversity, and more.

For more reading on charitable sector leaders intentionally putting themselves out of a job, I suggest reading up on the AVI CHAI Foundation's decision to spend down and sunset itself.

I'll Put Down My Institution if You Put Down Yours

Writing for eJPhil, Robert Evans and Avrum Lapin point out that we have, in the United States, "Too Many Jewish Institutions".

As a community, we have funneled untold billions of dollars and other human capital into constructing Jewish institutions – museums, hospitals, social service agencies, arts and cultural entities – that in too many cases would be more suitable as smaller components of larger facilities rather than as “stand alone” entities...

... It is not our role to state which institutions hold the most value, reputation or prestige. That is the role of stakeholders, constituents and leaders. However, our logic tells us that if your city already has millions of dollars invested in a Jewish art museum, you probably don’t need to build a new institution nearby that could feature exhibits and collections housed elsewhere.

We should also address the specialization of each institution. If there is a strongly-supported American Jewish history museum, does there need to be a Russian-American Jewish history museum, a European-American Jewish history museum, a Spanish-American Jewish history museum or can we cover them all under one set of four walls?...

...Why not a Jewish Arts Center in a synagogue complex built to include a Holocaust Remembrance wing? By putting these entities all into one building, we are preserving precious resources and reflecting on cooperation and other efficiencies.

I can just imagine the meeting between all those "stakeholders, constituents and leaders." Somebody starts the meeting off noting that a lot of the institutions represented in the room, in the words of Evans and Lapin, "would be more suitable as smaller components of larger facilities." "Sure," another leader will respond, "some of us need to be subsumed. Fine. You go first." The egos of leaders can be annoying, but the egos of leaders do not constitute an entirely harmful force. When leaders feel like big shots of organizations, they're more invested. Spreading around the ego-boost is a very real way to spread around engagement.

But this isn't really about leaders' egos. Another quibble: the authors seem to assume the existence of a certain, stable-sized pot of funding which can either be divided among many institutions or given to fewer of them in larger portions. This is a false assumption. Perhaps there are certain donors who will donate generously to a Russian-American Jewish history museum, but who will not give anything at all for an American Jewish history museum. In such a case, the separate museum is not necessarily as inefficient as one might assume. How much of the redundancy really represents money that could be consolidated, and how much represents money that will be spent either redundantly or not at all? It would seem quite difficult to say.

Let me not belabor this point, however. I fully concede that inefficiency is rampant in American Jewish communal life. The real problem is that human life is not all about efficiency. The most efficient meal would be a perfectly calibrated nutritional concoction delivered intravenously, but I think most of us would rather have a nice meal. Consider: how many of the best days of your life could be best described by the word "efficient"? I don't mean to say that efficiency counts for nothing -- just that it only counts as much as it counts, because other things count too.

Some of those things that count are the vast diversity of views and ideologies in American Jewish life -- differences that sometimes require institutions with divergent missions, values, and operational guidelines. To the authors' rhetorical question, "Why not a Jewish Arts Center in a synagogue complex built to include a Holocaust Remembrance wing?" I answer: what kind of synagogue complex? Whose shul gets the community's art, and what does that say to the people who daven across the street?

The countless throngs of Jewish organizations that have sprung up from generations ago to the present tell the story of a people unlikely to fall suddenly into lockstep with one another, and I'm not ready to say that's a bad thing. Evans and Lapin make a point worth considering, and I'm sure there are many cases in which they're right. But in a world of declining civic engagement, do we really want to say that fewer of us should be starting organizations? Maybe we do. Maybe we need more joiners, more humble servants, and fewer egotistical leaders. But I do hope we conduct the conversation rightly started by Evans and Lapin on grounds far broader than efficiency alone.

From the J-Vault: Is "Federation" a Dirty Word?

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This week, from the J-Vault: Miscellanea: Should Social Lending Agencies Affiliate With Federations? (1928)

In this exchange of letters, published in the Jewish Social Service Quarterly (predecessor to the Journal of Jewish Communal Service), the director of a Federation-affiliated independent agency in Philadelphia (in this case, a social service microfinance agency) complains to the research director of Cleveland's Jewish Federation that the Federation brand makes Jews reluctant to take advantage of the agency's services.

"There is a definite place for a social lending agency in the community structure," writes William Hirsch. However:

[I]t is best that the lending agency should not be a part of the case working agency... The Federated Loan Association is only nominally a Federation agency. We receive no funds from the Federation. We are organized under a separate charter, incorporated in this State, and have entirely independent funds...

...We are not associated with the Federation, but since our name, "The Federated Loan Association," smatters very strongly of federation, our growth has been materially hindered. We have had any number of complaints about the name, from our clients and prospective clients, and invariably the inquiry over the telephone indicates a confusion in the mind of the inquirer as to our connection with the Federation. In fact, it is so serious that we will be compelled shortly to change our title. We know definitely of a large number of prospective clients who would not come here because "Federated" appears in the name... It is only after we have interviewed our clients and they learn definitely that we are not a part of the Federation, certainly not associated with the Jewish Welfare Society, that we are able to get co-operation.

John Slawson responds -- perhaps understandably a tad coldly -- questioning whether this association between Jewish Federations and charity (or, the taboo of being "a charity case") holds true in every community:

I should like to suggest that the attitude is conditioned in a very large measure by the type of federation and the type of case work agency in any given community.

If a federation is avowedly a centralized social instrument designed specifically for the care of the miserable and needy—the pauper, the sick, the maimed—then, of course, there is ample justification for the feeling of dependency upon an association with an instrument of this nature.

However, if a federation interprets its mission as that of serving the entire Jewish community, in all of its communal needs, regardless of the economic status of the group served... not limiting its activities to cure, nor even to prevention, but functioning with the object of positive enrichment of the social life of the entire community—then affiliation with the federation simply implies a joining with a central instrument for the purpose of rendering the most effective mutual service in the community.

Hirsch takes up his pen once more:

Dear Dr. Slawson:
After reading your letter twice I cannot quite seem to agree with you...

...The federation is "avowedly a centralized social instrument designed specifically for the care of the miserable and needy." In addition, however, federation would like to be a preventive instrument and would like to serve those whom it can aid through guidance, advice and information. True, federation does try to serve the entire community, but just so long as the entire community, or that part of it that can afford it, supports federation with a view to helping those who are in need, you may rest assured that it will not be appealed to by persons financially independent. After all, the financially independent, in the main, are the supporters of the federation. They are the ones who talk federation, who take part in the campaigns and who have to support it by word of mouth against attack. You cannot say that the federation is primarily for the help of those who support it.... Certainly, were we to eliminate the helpless, the sick, the maimed, the cripple, the mentally deficient, and the pauper, there would be no need for maintaining any sort of a federation. If it were to be purely a public service organization to help at a nominal charge or free of charge, without the pauper problem, you could not very well organize or maintain such an instrument in the community.

It would seem to me that the federation you have in mind would embrace also the work of public school guidance and civic aid. The work that you have in mind is not purely Jewish work and as such should be done by the city's various bureaus...

...[T]he Federated Loan Association is hampered by its name and is injured by its very remote association with Federation to the extent of being unable to reach those who today are being bled by the usurer and the commercial lenders.

If Slawson responded again, his response was not published in this article. It appears, however, that Slawson's vision of comprehensive Jewish Federations as incorporating far more than social services, has long since won the day.

Download the complete article.

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From the J-Vault: When Government Cuts Social Services Funding

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"What price will we pay for state aids to religiously sponsored institutions and agencies?" asked Philip Jacobson:

What effect are these aids likely to have on our voluntary institutions? Is there a danger here for the American Jewish community...?

...Will federation boards come to take for granted the continued availability of tax dollars, and devote funds to other purposes?... What will happen if and when these tax dollars are no longer forthcoming?

This week, from the J-Vault: Community Relations Implications in the Use of Public Funds by Jewish Services (1960)

Today, Congress attempts to cut federal spending drastically. In 1960, writing in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service, Jacobson warned that for religious institutions, accepting public funding for social services was a dangerous game. Most of his argument leans on a strict interpretation of the First Amendment; he worries that Jewish and other religious social service agencies will either be complicit in eroding the separation of church and state or in eroding their own sectarian missions in order not to do so. But Jacobson also worries that in accepting  public funds, Jewish (and other sectarian) agencies will set themselves up for a hard fall if those funds were to be cut off.

However, "I am not an advocate of abrupt withdrawal," he writes. "[T]he patient has been addicted to heavy injections for some time and the cold turkey
treatment does not seem to be warranted."

Download this publication.


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Tragedy as Fundraising Fodder

The Jewish Week reports on an email AIPAC sent following last week's terrorist attack in Jerusalem, treating the bombing as an opportunity to raise funds. Critics were quick to pounce: Matt Duss of ThinkProgress.org called it "crass". “It is disgraceful," he wrote, "that AIPAC’s first response to this tragedy is to try and monetize it.” Within hours, AIPAC sent an apology, saying that "it was wrong of us to mention this terrible tragedy the same day it occurred in the context of this email."

What, in particular, was wrong with this email? As Steve Lear, founder of the Jewish disaster response organization NECHAMA, told the Journal of Jewish Communal Service in a 2009 interview, "When disaster strikes, people want to help, but they need an avenue by which to do so." Furthermore, it surely can't be the timing; as the Jewish Week notes, American Friends of Magen David Adom and ZAKA both created similar emails mentioning the attack, on the very same day. Was there any outcry related to their fundraising pitches?

The Jewish Week quotes Jeffrey Solomon as explaining the difference thus: "there must be a connection between the mission of the charity and the immediate reaction. … The response is usually to help those affected by the tragedy, and that is the disconnect in this situation.” But is there really a disconnect? Those who disagree with AIPAC may believe that AIPAC's lobbying activity does not provide immediate and vital assistance to the victims of this attack, but I imagine AIPAC and its supporters would say otherwise.

In fact, the text of the offending email itself included this sentence:  "This recent upswing in terror attacks reminds us why it is so important that we work to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship and help keep our ally Israel safe and secure." The assertion seems to be that the political work AIPAC does is just as necessary to help traumatized Israelis as is medical attention. One may agree or disagree with that assertion, but it is disingenuous to claim that AIPAC is not trying "to help those affected by the tragedy". The only matter of real debate is whether the kind of help they provide is really the kind of help that is necessary, and I doubt anyone's opinion on that question really hinges on the timing of an email.

Imagine a parallel situation: what if it had been J Street who sent out a fundraising letter that day, arguing that this attack makes it ever more urgent to pursue peace? AIPAC supporters would have gone mad criticizing them for crass opportunism, but one can easily imagine that many dovish Jews may have had precisely this reaction to the terrible news. Is there really any basis for declaring one pitch crass and the other vital, other than the observer's pre-existing political beliefs? And if both sides are thinking these "crass" thoughts anyway, are we just asking them to shut up about it? If so, for how long? One day? Two days? What, precisely, is the half-life of "crass"?

As David M. Pollock noted in 2007, Jews have always treated catastrophes as opportunities to build something of greater, transcendent meaning -- whether spiritual projects for the religious, or more earthly and political projects for Zionists, for example. Does good taste and sensitivity demand that our responses to these tragic events must not be controversial or divisive in any way? And if so, are we willing to extend this principle to our own side of these difficult issues, or only to those crass opportunists on the other side?

As always, these points reflect my own musings; the BJPA itself takes no position. But in addition to the two JJCS articles linked above, you can browse other BJPA publications on the topics of Disaster Management and Fundraising.

Proportions of Giving: A Tiresome Argument

eJewish Philanthropy is highlighting selections fromThe Peoplehood Papers #6 (available in full via the Nadav Fund site), dedicated to the tension between the principles of charity toward the stranger and charity to help one's own. A number of articles appear, with some arguing that the Jewish community must put Jewish needs first, and others arguing that Jews must look to the needs of all people.

This is an argument we have seen before. I think immediately of an exchange last year between Prof. Jack Wertheimer, who argued that Jews give enough to nonsectarian causes and should spend more enhancing Jewish knowledge and engagement, and Rabbi Jill Jacobs, who argued that meeting Jewish needs and meeting other people's needs is not a zero-sum game.

This argument is tiresome for two reasons. First, each side argues mainly against straw-man versions of the other. Listening to the more particularist voices, one might conclude that all outward-directed Jewish philanthropy is undertaken by people and organizations completely uninterested in meeting Jewish needs. On the other hand, listening to the more universalist voices, one would think that anyone who believes in prioritizing Jewish needs wants actually to abandon non-Jewish needs completely. In fact, thank God, neither of these characterizations is true. This is an unnecessary spat between two groups of good people, both of which are full of integrity and compassion. People on both sides of this debate actually agree that Jews should help both Jews and non-Jews.

The only substantive difference over which to bicker is the proportion: should 90% of our funds go to help Jews and 10% to help non-Jews? Or vice-versa? Or 50-50? Maybe we should make a complex actuarial formula that will tell us, conclusively, that 43.79% of communal funds should go to helping our fellow Jews...

And that brings us to the second reason this argument is tiresome: why are we so picky about the proportion? Aren't there better uses for our time and energy than sniping at one another about proportions of giving? We could, for example, spend that time actually helping someone instead. Any time a donor or volunteer or organization steps up to make a difference, we shouldn't wag our fingers at them because they are [too / insufficiently] insular and should be helping [Jews / non-Jews]; we should congratulate them with a big "yasher koach" for doing something at all.

If I may wax ironic for a moment: we have been blessed with an abundance of need. There is a great mass of physical and spiritual poverty; there is great need for both religious and sociopolitical education. If we are ever faced with the terrifying conundrum of not enough needs to be met, then we can indulge ourselves in frittering away our time arguing about the "proper" proportions.

Meanwhile, in the face of such a voluminous and diverse pool of needs, let everyone give where her/his inclinations tend, and it will all be to the credit side of the moral ledger. When our inclinations differ, what of it? The organization which focuses on Jews out of familial love, and the organization which focuses on people who do not happen to be Jewish out of universal love, are both doing essentially the same thing: helping people. When we keep that in mind, the differences ought to take on a secondary importance, at most.

Holocaust Survivors: Still Poor

 The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation recently announced[pdf] a $10M grant for an emergency fund to serve the needs of Holocaust survivors living in North America.

The situation of Holocaust survivors is troubling:

It is estimated that there are more than 500,000 Holocaust survivors worldwide, with more than 144,000 victims living in North America. The remaining Nazi victims live mostly in Israel and the Former Soviet Union. The average age of a Nazi victim is 79 years with nearly one-­?quarter of victims 85-­?years-­?old or older. One in four aging survivors lives alone in the U.S. and an estimated 37% live at or below the poverty level, a level that is five times the rate of other senior citizens in the United States.

Not only are Holocaust survivors poorer than their age peer cohort, they also often face distinct challenges in terms of their needs and care. Lucy Steinitz's research on Psychosocial Effects of the Holocaust on Aging Survivors and Their Families (1984) noted that even where good quality institutional care is available, those who can prefer to keep their survivor parents out institutions

"because of the parallels—however benign and unintended—between the total institution of a hospital ward or nursing home and that of a concentration camp...a colleague once told me about an elderly survivor in a New York institution who confused the nursing home bathrooms with the gas chambers in Auschwitz."

Caring for Holocaust Survivors: Rethinking the Paradigms is a useful resource that includes a brief survey of the history of attitudes towards Holocaust survivors and their needs, from post-war onwards. It tells the story of how those attitudes have shifted while nevertheless continuing to perpetuate important blind spots - as they tend to be more reflective of the needs of the current generation than of the survivor generation.

One program that aims to serve the needs the  needs of Holocaust survivors is the Montreal Cumming's Jewish Centre for Seniors, whose Services for Holocaust Survivors include the centre profiled in A Drop-In Centre for Holocaust Survivors: Inspiring Hope, Meaning, and Purpose

This new grant will be administered by the long established and experienced New York based Claims Conference, which already has a structure in place to efficiently distribute the funds to survivors on an emergency basis for needs including medical equipment and medications, dental care, transportation, food, and short--?term home care.

(More information on survivors in Israel - Health Problems and Socioeconomic Neediness Among Jewish Shoah Survivors in Israel - and the world Jewish population  - Review of Relevant Demographic Information on World Jewry). 

"New Thinking on the Day School Affordability Crisis"

In this newly published article, Allen Selis and Elena Weinstein, self-described "loyal supporters of Jewish day schools," offer two main suggestions for dealing with the cost of day schools:

  1. Bail faster - get more money into Jewish day schools
  2. Focus on where it matters - if  twelve years of Jewish education are not affordable, focus on the six years of middle school and high school


I wonder - who is this funding really for? Is our goal universal day school education or is it to create a cadre of educated, committed Jews who will be in the position to provide leadership to their communities?

The conventional wisdom is that Jewish day school education has a positive impact on future Jewish commitment, which seems plausible even though so far the research on the ground is thin: A Study of the Effects of Intensive Jewish Secondary Education on Adult Jewish Lifestyles: Secondary School Graduates, Philadelphia, PA, 1976-77.

Even if so, it seems that children of parents so highly motivated as to choose financially lucrative careers *and* to choose to spend their remuneration on day school are the most likely to be able to take advantage and reap the benefits of what Steven Brown called 'other forms of gateways into Judaism'. If liberal and modern orthodox communities (because right wing orthodox communities are already the most successful at achieving universal or close to universal day school education) really believe in the day school system as the solution to creating 'mass', continuity, it doesn't make sense to direct our attention to already highly invested families - where is the public relations campaign to marginally affiliated families? Where is the theoretical work on what it would mean for American Jews to segregate themselves out of the public education system?

Are we in a chicken and egg situation, where, given the high expense of day school, we've just given up on the possibility of persuading rank and file Jews to invest in Jewish educations, yet as long as there's not broadbased participation, we'll continue to lack the funding to make a day school education attractive and feasible for that same community?

The authors offer anecdotes of parents who are highly motivated to send their children to day schools and willing to make significant financial sacrifices to do so. The implication is that such families shouldn't be excluded from the benefits of the day school system. But what about children whose parents don't care that much?  In an admittedly different financial climate, Yosef Abramowitz suggested that day schools get funding by borrowing against future Jewish giving (Federation endowments) on the bet that increased funding for day schools now will increase donations later. Yet even in that article, the 'progressive' school financial aid policy to not permit cost to be a barrier to Jewish education leaves his family in the position of not saving enough for the future, which is acceptable to him because "the investment we're making in our children's souls is priceless." I don't see that balancing equation easily finding broad universal acceptance among less affiliated Jews.

The funding option that seems to offer the most potential for broadbased participation in Jewish education by families who don't already prioritize their children's religious education over their retirement funding is 'school choice', government funded vouchers for private religious schools. As it is, however, Jewish political support for public funding for religious education is found, nearly exclusively, in the same elements of the Jewish community that already spend their own assets on day schools. It will be an uphill battle to persuade the broader liberal Jewish community that not only are vouchers for religious schools not problematic from a religion and state angle but that it is also in their own interest. Again - where is this theoretical and persuasive material? Where are standards of 'affordability' and 'accessibility' that will feel progressive to parents not willing to consider jeopardizing their vacations, let alone their retirement, for a Jewish day school education for their children?

The reality underneath the rhetoric seems to be that a relatively small portion of the liberal Jewish community is working very hard to create and fund a Jewish educational system that is capable of creating a Jewishly-educated elite drawn from families that are already (at leas t mostly) on the wealthy side of the spectrum (some families don't have vacations or luxuries to give up) and already highly committed to Judaism and full time Jewish education. In fact, there's nothing wrong with that. It's possible that that is in fact the way forward to getting the most efficient return on investment in full time Jewish education. It would be nice to have an open conversation about what that means, and how day schools and the communities that support them could best be organized to get maximum benefit from that model.

 For more information, see the BJPA materials on day schools, the YU Institute for University-School Partnership resources on day school affordability, and the PEJE series on affordability.

Negotiating Civil Liberties: Inclusion for Some

Last week, Lynn Schusterman, chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, wrote an op-ed, "Embrace LGBT Jews as vital members of the community" calling on Jewish organizations to enact non-discrimination hiring policies that specifically mention sexual orientation, and called on funders to make their support contingent on the adoption and practice of such policies.

Adopting formal non-discrimination policies -- and ensuring their implementation -- will help us achieve two goals: 1, they will indicate to LGBT individuals that the Jewish community is committed to full LGBT inclusion; and 2, they will guarantee that our institutions are walking the talk when it comes to being welcoming and diverse.

This week, Nathan Diament, director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Orthodox Union, wrote a response, "Don’t exclude in the name of inclusion", arguing that the religious values of Orthodox organizations require them to practice discriminatory hiring based on sexual orientation. Therefore,  Schusterman's suggestion, if fully enacted, would result in a severe reduction of funding to Orthodox institutions.


As it happens, the government of the United States of America has this same problem!

For over a decade, some in Congress have been trying to pass ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act), an act that makes sexual orientation and gender identity protected grounds for non-discrimination. As Schusterman, notes, thousands of Jews have lobbied in support of that act. As Diament notes, some of those Jews lobbied in support of an exception for religious organizations to permit them to keep legally discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (That exception is incorporated into the current version of the act).

According to Diament, that exception "protects the right of religious communities to make their own employment decisions in this sensitive area.” In contrast, Schusterman's proposal to Jewish donors would "admittedly in the private sphere, champion gay rights over religious liberty without even acknowledging the competing values, let alone trying to strike a balance between them" and "expand some civil rights at the expense of others." In effect, he accuses Schusterman of hypocrisy.

In fact, several Jewish organizations (Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and the National Council of Jewish Women) recently collaborated on an amicus brief[pdf] (in a case about whether universities that receive government funding could provide support to student groups that practice discrimination), and specifically mentioned the spectre of the exemption of religious organizations that receive federal funding from non-discrimination requirements as an outcome to be avoided (in that case, discrimination based on religion, as opposed to sexuality).

So Shusterman is advocating for the same policy for Jewish funders as these Jewish organizations advocated for government funders. On the other hand, the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America and Agudath Israel of America supported the opposing amicus brief[pdf].

I don't see hypocrisy here - I see different (and consistent) views on how the balance between religious liberty and gay rights (as Diament puts it) should be struck. The ADL, JCPA, and NCJW strike in favor of gay rights, and the OU and Agudath Israel strike in favor of religious liberties.

Because what Diament obscures ("The Orthodox Union is on record supporting carefully crafted initiatives that seek to ensure principles of tolerance, anti-discrimination and the fair treatment of all citizens") is that only one value can predominate. In both cases, CLS v. Martinez, and in the case of Shusterman's proposal, the OU is on the record supporting religious liberties over gay rights.

The OU's consistent position, whether with regard to public or private funding, makes it less surprising that would Diament would uncritically equate an act of the federal government to the act of a private organization. One key difference, of course, is that if Schusterman's proposal were enacted, Orthodox institutions could continue to seek funding from Orthodox donors whereas religious organizations could not so easily escape the jurisdiction of the American government.

But there is an even bigger problem with Diament's conflation of the religious liberties of religious organizations versus the government and the religious liberties Orthodox organizations versus private Jewish funders:

Diament is in fact arguing is that religious liberty should allow Orthodox Jews to discriminate against gays and lesbians, but that private Jewish (non-Orthodox) funders should not have the religious liberty to 'discriminate' in favor of civil rights for gays and lesbians.

This position holds water if you believe that Orthodox Judaism represents a legitimate religious conviction worthy of protection and non-Orthodox Judaism does not.

Diament also makes an ethical/fraternal argument that Jews who donate to Jewish organizations (whether $5 to their local federation or $2M in the care of their own foundation) have an obligation to support Orthodox institutions that discriminate against lesbians and gays - not doing so would "inflict real harm upon many already underfunded schools and other charities and those they serve [and] would drive a wedge through the heart of those institutions designed to bring our diverse community together." Yet, he makes no argument that Orthodox funding should support Jewish GLBT organizations and is actually arguing that Orthodox institutions must have the right to discriminate against lesbian and gay Jews.

This position holds water if you believe that supporting and including Orthodox Jews is more important than supporting and including gay and lesbian Jews.

I (personally) would suggest (beg, plead, shout, implore) that Lynn Schusterman and others not accept Diament's closing instruction that they must, "if their real goal is liberty and justice for all," follow the example of the Orthodox Union.

(Finally, I invite you to peruse some of BJPA's materials on religious liberty and human rights and LGBT issues which cover a fair variety of perspectives, whereas the opinions here are mine alone).

[Cross-posted at Jewschool]

Is the fundraiser the new social worker?

In an earlier post, I surveyed some of the history of the development of Jewish communal service as a profession and of the institutions of learning developed in the service of that profession.

That was then, this is now. In her recent piece in Contact Magazine, The Elusive Fundraiser: A Complex Situation with Simple Solutions," Amy Sales discusses the causes of the shortage - increased demand for fundraisers; high turnover due to low job satisfaction, high burnout, and professional poaching; and a lack of organizational understanding of how to work with a development professional - and offers simple - and familiar sounding - solutions.

"Increase the talent pool... Support for continuing education and professional development"

2010, Sales: Increase the talent pool. With support, Jewish communal service and professional leadership programs could train more students for careers in development. Funded scholarships for advanced degrees with a specialization in development would attract and prepare more professional fundraisers in the Jewish community. Their degrees would put graduates on a level with other executives and accord them the respect and power they merit and need in order to do their jobs. Funded internships would give Jewish young adults an opportunity to try out a career in development, gain experience and skills, and build their resumes...
1958, Arnulf Pins, The Jewish Social Work Student: Some Research Data About Him and Their Implications for the Shortage of Jewish Community Center Workers: Do whatever possible to increase the quality of our service and the competence and compensation of our present professional staff. This will help attract and keep professional staff. 2. Provide meaningful and well-supervised work experience for our summer and parttime staff. This will do more than anything else to recruit people for our field.

"Build support" - helping organizations develop a "culture of fundraising"

2010, Sales: ..the network of colleagues is perhaps the greatest benefit of the program. Indeed, development directors have little contact with others in their profession and few trusted people to turn to for support and advice when the going gets tough (as it frequently does). In this vein, much could be done to create communities of inquiry, a professional association or regular gatherings of development professionals in the Jewish community 1975, David Dubin, The Social Work Function in the Jewish Community Center: 6) The JCC should clearly define its social work function, identify its social work staff clearly, and project this in­ formation to the center's constituency. 8) Social work principles are reflected in the administrative relationships and procedures which govern the delivery of social work services. 10) Membership and participation in appropriate professional associations should be encouraged. 13) The Center should encourage social work staff to develop and maintain communication with other social work­ers in the community.

"Change the mindset"

2010, Sales: ...executive directors and boards of trustees of Jewish organizations need to understand that fundraising is everyone's job, not just that of the development director...Changing the mindset also entails the study of Jewish teachings that underlie the work of the fundraiser. Study reminds the development professional and top leadership of the importance of this work and its profound purpose and meaning.
1975, David Dubin, The Social Work Function in the Jewish Community Center: 1) JCC's should require that all social workers, includign the agency executive director and assistant executive director carry ongoing direct practice responsibilities with  members (Boards, committees and supervision are not direct practice!)... 8) Social work principles are reflected in the administrative relationships and procedures which govern the delivery of social work services.
1981, Bernard Reisman, The Jewish Component in the Training Programs of Jewish Communal Workers: Values are important in all professions both to provide guidelines for the work of the practitioner and to engender confi­dence by the recipients of the service in the judgment of the professional. A value orientation is particularly vital in Jewish communal work.

So - did whatever we did before work? Is it time to do it again? For fundraisers?

Broad-Based Philanthropy

The JTA reports that Eli and Edythe Broad of Los Angeles recently pledged to give away 75% of their estimated $5.7 billion total wealth, either during or after their lifetimes. Sadly, their heirs will have to get by with an inheritance of merely $1.4 billion. (I jest, of course. Kol hakavod to the Broad family for this remarkable and noble act of philanthropy.)

No word on how much, if any, of this beneficence might be given to Jewish causes. It doesn't look enormously promising for explicitly Jewish causes, to judge from (only a cursory glance at) The Broad Foundation's website. The Foundation's mission is "to advance entrepreneurship for the public good in education, science and the arts." (These are wonderful causes, and all Jews should applaud this quintessentially Jewish spirit of tzedakah that demonstrates care for all people.) The Broads do support Jewish causes, albeit in smaller amounts; according to this 2003 article from the LA Jewish Journal, they gave a total of $350 million in 2002, of which $2 million (just over half of 1%) went to Jewish causes.

The Broads' giving pattern seems to be typical of the general trend in Jewish philanthropy. As the JTA article notes, a 2003 study of Jewish "mega-gifts" by Gary A. Tobin, Jeffrey R. Solomon and Alexander C. Karp noted that while "American Jews are generous well beyond their community numbers," contributing 22% of American mega-gifts, "Jewish organizations received a minute proportion of Jewish mega-dollars." Most such gifts go to "education, health, and arts/culture." The Broads, then, are broadly representative.

Jewish organizations do not wish (heaven forbid) to stifle this kind of universalistic spirit of giving; many Jewish communal leaders do, however, tend to wish that such Jewish mega-donors would spend a little more than half of a percentage point of their giving budgets in helping their fellow members of the tribe, or even to help the non-Jewish needy under publicly Jewish auspices.

But then, one mustn't make predications or assumptions. It remains to be seen what projects the Broads' generous pledge will fund. Whatever causes they turn out to be, the Broads' philanthropic spirit should be honored and emulated.

Strong-Arming the Denominations

A new education grant that is forcing inter-denominational collaboration for teacher training on the MA level raises some interesting questions.

Tablet magazine reported on a recent Jim Joseph Foundation grant that requires the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform universities whose Education MA programs it supports to fund collaborative joint-teacher training endeavors. Meaning that for at least some portion of their education, future Orthodox-trained, Conservative-trained, and Reform-trained educators will themselves have studied and trained together.

The danger for the liberal Universities is that as their ideology seems to move closer and collaboration increases, the distinction between them and need for distinct organizational structures and identities weakens. For Yeshiva University, the threat seems to be more of brand dilution and credibility within the larger, more splintered orthodox world. According to Tablet's characterization, Richard Joel,head of Yeshiva University, "took pains to minimize its significance in an interview."

Economically difficult times do and always have lead to compromises (and hopefully innovation). The current wave of research, articles like,

The Unfolding Economic Crisis: Its Devastating Implications for American Jewry and Doing More With Less: Can Jewish and Other Nonprofits Turn Crisis Into Opportunity? (2009)

echoes over and over again: 

Jewish Communal Service and the New Economy , Managing Jewish Communal Agencies in Difficult Times: Cutting and Coping (1992),

A Jewish Communal Response to the Current Economic Crisis (1983).

The Foundation seems to be using its economic leverage to (attempt to) bring Jews, or at least Jewish educational institutions, closer together. Personally I think that's a good thing, but it is another example of the power of money to set the agenda for Jewish organizational life.  I do think it's ironic that after what seems like so much angst and ink spent on the impact of the 'new trend' of independent minyanim on the established denominations, apparently anti-establishment pressure can come from arguably the most established place of all - wealth.