United Jewish Communities
United Jewish Communities
Sales: $1.5 billion (1998 est.)
NAIC: 81311 Religious Organizations
The United Jewish Communities (UJC) was created in 1999 through the merger of three of the largest Jewish charitable organizations in North America—the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF), the United Jewish Appeal (UJA), and the United Israel Appeal (UIA). Comprising 189 local Jewish federations, the UJC raises over one billion dollars annually. UJC’s funds support such diverse causes as the resettlement of Jewish refugees in Israel, care for elderly Jews in the United States, formal and informal Jewish education, and relief programs in the former Yugoslavia. Although UJC commanded a $37 million operating budget in 1999, it faces considerable competition from private foundations that have steadily gained a greater share of Jewish Americans’ charitable donations.
The Jewish Federations: 1895-39
The roots of the modern UJC date back to 1895, when various Jewish charitable organizations in Boston, Massachusetts, banded together for fund-raising purposes and formed the Federation of Jewish Charities of Boston. This federation conducted a single community-wide fund-raising campaign for Boston’s many Jewish charities, ranging from the Charitable Burial Association to the Hebrew Women’s Sewing Society. Individual donors gave their money to the federation, which in turn distributed it to community programs. The Boston federation’s chief advantage was that it eradicated duplicative—and often competitive—fund-raising efforts. Jewish communities in other American cities observed the Boston federation’s success and followed suit.
Although numerous Jewish federations were created during the early decades of the 20th century, each federation remained independent and locally-oriented, serving the particular needs of the Jewish community it represented. In 1932, however, the CJF was launched as an umbrella organization of American and Canadian federations. The CJF did not seek to control local federations but instead strove to foster communication between them and to strengthen their combined impact.
At the same time that the CJF built the framework for a national Jewish charitable organization, other Jewish philanthropic groups were focusing on international issues. At the close of the 19th century, for instance, a coalition of Zionist and non-Zionist Jews formed the non-political United Palestine Appeal (later renamed the United Israel Appeal) to provide humanitarian assistance abroad. In a similar vein, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) was established at the outset of World War I by a coalition of American Jewish groups to aid Jewish populations in war-torn Europe and Ottoman Palestine. In the 1920s and 1930s, the JDC funneled tens of millions of dollars to provide relief to Soviet Jews. Furthermore, in 1929 Chaim Weizmann and Louis Marshall launched the Jewish Agency to raise funds for the Zionist cause. (Although the Jewish Agency was short-lived in its first incarnation, the group was reconstituted in 1973. Weizmann himself became Israel’s first president in 1948.)
These varied Jewish charities were prompted to join forces in the 1930s, as Adolph Hitler’s National Socialist party in Germany became more virulently anti-Semitic with each passing year. The reality of Hitler’s campaign of terror against German Jews was driven home to Jewish Americans in November 1938, when Kristallnacht (the “Night of Broken Glass”) galvanized the American Jewish population to take action. In response to the widespread violence and destruction carried out against German Jews and their property that night, the leaders of three influential Jewish groups—the JDC, the United Palestine Appeal, and New York Association for New Americans—united to form the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) in January 1939.
United Jewish Appeal: 1939-90
UJA quickly emerged as the primary American fund-raising organization committed to Jewish causes outside the United States. From its outset, the UJA collaborated with the federations to provide relief to Jewish groups in Europe, sending abroad a portion of the revenue raised by the federations. Between January and December 1939, UJA raised $14 million to help German Jews escape the Nazis. After World War II—as American Jews confronted the tragedy of the Holocaust—UJA took a central role in bringing Jewish refugees out of Europe and resettling them in the United States. In 1946, the organization collected $100 million during one campaign alone, and in 1947, it oversaw the arrival of more than 25,000 Jewish survivors to the United States.
In 1948, UJA’s focus changed dramatically with the founding of the state of Israel. Instead of bringing Jewish war and Holocaust survivors to the United States, UJA raised $200 million in 1948 to resettle them in Israel. UJA also channeled donations from individual Jewish Americans into social services programs in Israel, supporting land reclamation, hospital construction, and schools. The survival of Israel quickly became the fundamental cause and the unifying force of much of American Jewry. As the Jewish Advocate explained, “the establishment and well-being of Israel were paramount for American Jewish philanthropists, and Jewish federations were the funnels of that money to Israel.”
In this way, Jewish federations emerged as the centerpiece of a complex web of charitable organizations. Although each federation remained independent, they all collaborated closely with UJA for the preservation of Israel. As they had for most of their history, federations conducted annual campaigns to raise funds in their communities. However, UJA partially supported these campaigns with a fund-raising effort of its own. Each federation then determined how it wanted to allocate its revenues. In the 1950s, most used about 40 percent of their funds to support local programs. The remaining 60 percent was given to UJA, which in turn allocated the money to international Jewish causes, primarily in Israel.
To accomplish this task, UJA relied on the Jewish Agency, the UIA, and the JDC. The UIA transferred UJA campaign proceeds to the Jewish Agency in Israel, and also served as the Agency’s representative in the United States. The Jewish Agency distributed the massive contributions garnered from UJA to Israeli organizations of the Agency’s choosing. The JDC usually received an allocation of UJA funds to aid Jewish groups experiencing hardship in foreign countries outside of Israel. The federations also received guidance from the CJF, which provided input on the allocation of annual campaign funds in the United States.
This system was an unparalleled success, making UJA one of the more illustrious charities of all time. UJA was especially effective in times of crisis, when Israel’s very survival seemed at stake. As the Baltimore Jewish Times wryly noted, “history shows there’s nothing quite like war in the Middle East to open people’s hearts and pocketbooks.” Together with the federations, UJA raised $175 million in the first month following the Israeli Six Day War in 1967 and a total of $308 million during the entire year. Even more impressive was the $100 million donated to UJA in the first week of the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
Just as these wars—and the threats of Arab leaders to drive the fledgling nation into the sea—prompted American Jews to increase their support of the federations and the UJA, so too did events in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The plight of Ethiopia’s Jews set in motion UJA’s Operation Moses, a 1987 campaign that ultimately led to a secret Israeli airlift in which 7,000 Ethiopian Jews—known as Falashas—were taken out of Ethiopia and moved to Israel. UJA also supported a number of programs that provided food, housing, and education to the relocated Falashas in Israel.
Even more compelling for most Jewish Americans was the fate of their brethren in the Soviet Union. As Communism collapsed and lost its centralizing authority in the late 1980s, anti-Semitism gained force in the Soviet Union. Attacks on synagogues and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries increased significantly. In 1989, UJA launched a special campaign to remove Jews from the Soviet Union and resettle them in Israel. Though this “Passage to Freedom” campaign fell short of its monetary goal, it still raised $50 million for the cause. In 1990, the UJA once again undertook another emergency campaign, Operation Exodus, which ultimately collected $900 million and allowed 800,000 Jews to emigrate to Israel.
Jewish federations across North America commit themselves to the renaissance of the Jewish people in North America, in Israel, and throughout the world. Thus, we articulate, in word and deed, the mission of this new entity to: Utilize our financial and human resources to improve the quality of Jewish life worldwide—honoring the covenant that “All Jews are Responsible One for the Other,” and that only through unified action can we solve our community’s most pressing problems; Nurture vital experiences of Jewish life and learning in North America to create a compelling culture of shared meaning, shared responsibility, and shared values as Klal Yisrael, one people in all its diversity, with a shared commitment to its future; Join in partnership with our fellow Jews in Israel in building unity and mutual respect and solidifying Israel’s central role in our Jewish identity and future; Inspire Jews to fulfill the mitzvah of Tzedakah, securing the financial and human resources necessary to achieve our mission of caring for those in need, rescuing Jews in danger, and ensuring the continuity of our people; Provide the strategic resources, assistance, and direction to help local federations fulfill their individual, regional, and collective responsibilities of Tikkun Olam, community building and Jewish renaissance; and Involve more of our fellow Jews in the work of our community and provide opportunities for a new generation of leaders to continue our sacred work of caring for one another.
Declining Donations to UJA: 1991-99
Escalating tensions in Iraq in the early 1990s had a similar effect on UJA’s annual campaign. After Saddam Hussein’s regime fired SCUD missiles at Israel in 1991, UJA and the federations had a record fund-raising year, gathering over $1.2 billion (which was more than the combined earnings of the American Cancer Society, CARE, and the March of Dimes.)
However, the massive amounts raised that year proved to be the final time in the century that UJA could so galvanize American Jewry. Cracks began to appear in the once impenetrable wall of UJA. Contributions to the federation system flattened—and then dropped—in the mid-1990s. In 1994, for example, the federations raised $797 million, well below the $820.3 million collected in 1989. More troubling were broader trends. Although about 75 percent of Jews over the age of 65 continued to support federations and the UJA, less than 35 percent of those under the age of 35 did so. Instead of donating to the federations’ generic annual campaigns, younger Jews were apt to send their philanthropic dollars to a new generation of Jewish charitable foundations, which allowed donors to target certain causes or geographic regions.
Ironically, younger Jews disassociated from UJA and the federations in part because these venerable institutions had accomplished their goals. The state of Israel was prosperous and secure, and peace in the Middle East seemed a likely prospect. As a result, American Jews were less willing to fund federations, which allocated such a sizable percentage of their proceeds to the UJA—and thus Israel. Federations steadily decreased the portion of their funds going abroad, but many younger Jews felt as though the federated system was still doing little to address the issues confronting Jews in America: “assimilation, loss of Jewish identity and lack of Jewish education,” according to the Jewish Advocate.
As a result of declining contributions, the CJF commissioned a $500,000 study to investigate the state of Jewish philanthropy in the United States and to explore the possibility of merging CJF and UJA. Tensions between the two charities escalated. UJA continued fiercely to lobby federations to allocate hefty percentages of their funds to international causes. “We are the surrogates for overseas, the stand-in for the Jew in Armenia or Ashdod, who can’t stand at a federation allocation meeting to represent his or her viewpoint,” one UJA official proclaimed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. On the other hand, the CJF advocated that federations take care of local problems and local causes that interested community members, such as funding Jewish day schools or sending students to Israel.
A potential merger between UJA and CJF remained a topic of discussion from 1994 to 1996. “We began looking at the changing environment here and in Israel,” UJA national chairman Joel Tauber told the Baltimore Jewish Times. “What we concluded was our current structures don’t really meet the needs of the new environment.” As many observers noted, what drove the conflict was a deeper question: “What’s most important to American Jews about being Jewish?,” as the Wall Street Journal asked.
In May 1997, UJA and CJF agreed to form a joint operating partnership in an attempt to bring donors back to the federations. Although each organization would maintain its own board of directors, the partnership sought to eradicate the conflicts between the two groups. Further negotiations continued with the eventual goal of formally merging the two charitable groups. One of the driving forces behind the merger was now-former UJA head Tauber, who argued that uniting the groups would diminish the layers of bureaucracy between the individual donor and the ultimate recipient of the funds. (As the Baltimore Jewish Times noted, “to the layperson and the giver, the list of agencies may as well constitute a new line of kosher alphabet soup”). Merging the UJA and CJF would deliver annual savings of about $3 million by eliminating overlapping efforts.
United Jewish Communities: 1999 and Beyond
After six years of discussions, UJA, CJF, and UIA (which had joined the partnership in May 1998), pledged to merge into one entity in 1999. In November of that year, this new organization named itself the United Jewish Communities (UJC). The federations emerged as the dominant players in UJC. Not only were they given legal “ownership” of the UJC (though what “owning” meant was not clearly defined either before or after the merger), but they were also given more direct control over determining the international causes to be supported by UJC. Instead of federations giving a portion of their revenue to UJA, which gave these to the Jewish Agency, which in turn decided what causes to support, UJC established a process it labeled the Overseas Needs Assessment Distribution (ONAD). In this distribution process, a committee representing 18 federations met annually to hear pitches from the Jewish Agency and the JDC about specific programs and needs. ON AD then determined which overseas services were “core” and which were “elective.” The shift was a radical one. “The era of Israel putting out its hand and having Diaspora Jews fill it is over,” Steve Hoffman, director of the Jewish federation of Cleveland, asserted to the Jerusalem Post on November 16, 1999.
- The Council of Jewish Federations (CJF) is created to serve as an umbrella organization for local American and Canadian Jewish federations.
- The United Jewish Appeal (UJA) is formed through the merger of the fund-raising campaigns of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the United Palestine Appeal (later United Israel Appeal), and the New York Association for New Americans.
- UJA raises more than $100 million in a single campaign.
- State of Israel is founded.
- UJA launches the Operation Exodus Campaign and raises $900 million.
- UJA and CJF form joint operating partnership.
- United Israel Appeal (UIA) joins the partnership.
- United Jewish Communities is created through the merger of UJA, CJF, and UIA.
At its first General Assembly, UJC elected Canadian business leader Charles Bronfman (co-chairman of the entertainment and beverage titan The Seagram Company Ltd.) as its chairman, Stephen Solender as its president, and Louise Frankel as executive vice-president and chief operating officer. By this time, the UJC had also adopted its mission statement and had established the four content areas—or “pillars”—that would guide donation decisions: Jewish Renaissance and Renewal; Human Services and Social Policy; Israel and Overseas; and Campaign/Financial Resource Development.
In its first year, UJC adopted several new initiatives that sought to increase donations to the federations. Foremost among these was the creation of a new trust that would allow donors to give to a specific cause, instead of contributing solely to the overarching annual campaigns. It was hoped that this trust would help UJC fend off competition from the more issue-specific foundations. The UJC also sponsored Generation J, a web site targeting young Jews, and instituted other unique ventures in partnership with federations that were intended to bring wealthy, young Jews into the federation fold. For instance, UJC identified over two dozen Jewish high-tech entrepreneurs who did not contribute to Jewish philanthropies and invited them to participate in a discussion about the meaning of Judaism.
Despite its many efforts, the ultimate success of UJC remained uncertain. Many specific issues had not been resolved, such as how much each federation should pay into the UJC system. “We think we’re becoming something new, but we’re in uncharted water,” Solender told the Wall Street Journal. “The end game isn’t so clear right now.” Nevertheless, many indications were positive. The UJC’s 1999 annual campaign raised $790 million, up from the 1998 total of $765 million. “More and more people now realize that the annual campaign is our most effective vehicle for responding to urgent needs at home, in Israel, and in 60 other countries,” a UJC spokesperson asserted.
“$25 Million Increase Seen in 1999 UJA-Federation Drive; $790 Million Predicted in Fifth Consecutive Record Year,” PR News-wire, June 25, 1999.
Feiden, Douglas, “Foundations Gaining Lead in Underwriting Innovation,” Forward, November 17, 1995.
Gardiner, Beth, “Jewish Charities Adapting to New Trend in Giving,” Albany Time Union, November 27, 1999.
Gitell, Seth, “Baby Boom Putting UJA in a Pickle: New Study Stirs Hope, Concerns,” Forward, May 23, 1997.
Henry, Marilyn, “Jewish Agency Heads to Plead for Funds from U.S. Jewry,” Jerusalem Post, November 16, 1999.
——, “GA Ends with United Body, Divisive Issues,” Jerusalem Post, November 21, 1999.
Littman, Ruth, “Jewish Agencies May Merge by 2000,” Baltimore Jewish Times, August 4, 1995.
Mendelsohn, Martha,” ‘A Prince of the Jewish People’: UJA-Federation Pays Tribute to William Rosenwald, a UJA Founder, at Memorial Service,” The Jewish Week, December 13, 1996.
Miller, Lisa, “Can a Venerable Jewish Charity Make a Comeback?” Wall Street Journal, January 19, 2000.
Rabinovitz, Barbara,” ‘Bleak’ Future Seen for Fund-Raising by Jewish Federations: Local Consultant Says U.S. Jews Living in ‘A Post-Federated World’,” The Jewish Advocate, July 30, 1998.
Serwach, Joseph, “Tauber: Force for Unity: Local Exec Prime Mover in Charity Merger,” Crain’s Detroit Business, January 10, 2000.
Stark, Ellen, “To Curb Costs, UJA Lets Local Groups Raise Funds,” Money, December 1, 1994.
Yudelson, Larry, “CJF Approves Study That Could Lead to Big Changes in Relationship with UJA,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, April 20, 1994.