Frequently Asked Questions: What is the Jewish Federation?

Defining the Jewish Federation Movement


Q: What is a Jewish Federation?


A: Your Federation is the heart and soul of North American Jewry's philanthropic and humanitarian activities. It embodies a 3,500-year-old tradition of caring that goes back to the giving of the Torah and sustains us in the bold pursuit of Jewish community, Jewish values and Jewish peoplehood. Federation is the people who care enough to want to perfect an imperfect world. Federation is the passion of commitment, where tzedakah and a sense of social justice can make a difference in someone's life. Each local Federation is represented nationally by The Jewish Federations of North America.


Q: What does the Federation do?


A: Federation builds and strengthens Jewish community; from your hometown to our homeland, from the homebound to the homeless, from elderly Jews in Russia to North American teens discovering their birthright in Israel. Whether the task is reducing Jewish poverty and hunger, rescuing and resettling new immigrants, or spurring Jewish renaissance worldwide, Federation is committed to seizing this moment in Jewish history to ensure the continuity of the Jewish people.


Q: What is The Jewish Federations of North America?


A: The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) is the largest single Jewish philanthropy in existence. JFNA represents and serves North American Jewry's primary fund-raising and service-providing agencies, a network of 153 Jewish federations and over 300 smaller independent communities. These organizations, raising an annual total of $2 billion, are dedicated to improving and enriching Jewish life around the world. JFNA was created by the merger of three venerable Jewish institutions — United Jewish Appeal, United Israel Appeal, and the Council of Jewish Federations; the merged organization was called United Jewish Communities until 2009.


Q: What does the Federation do compared to other Jewish organizations?


A: Federation is the one place that belongs to every Jew, the place where philanthropy, volunteerism and shared commitment come together to make a difference, to repair the world. As part of a continent-wide system, Federation has the capacity to reach every Jew in need with a social-service network unparalleled in the world. These resources and the experience and reach of its two preeminent overseas partners – the Jewish Agency for Israel and American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee – enable Federation to bring life-saving and life-sustaining caring to all Jews in need. And it brings North American Jews into direct, personal, meaningful partnerships with the people of Israel through many innovative programs. Among them: Partnership 2000 community-to-community programs; Birthright Israel, providing free first-time trips to Israel for Jewish youth; OTZMA volunteer opportunities in Israel for recent college graduates, and much more.


Q: What is the mission of JFNA?


A: JFNA was established to chart a new course for the Jewish community: to improve the quality of Jewish life worldwide, nurture Jewish learning, care for those in need, rescue Jews in danger, and ensure the continuity of our people. The Federation movement is committed to meet today's and tomorrow's challenges with a bold new model of Jewish community and philanthropy, a framework for new opportunities and new partnerships that will challenge the Jewish people to continue the traditions of education, leadership, advocacy, and responsibility that have inspired the world.


Q: What is the North American Jewish community's relationship to Israel?


A: A strong, secure Israel is the bedrock of the global Jewish community. Through our overseas partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, JFNA and North America's federations have played – and continue to play -- a pivotal role in Israel's remarkable story of immigration, renewal and growth.


Fundraising: Where do the Dollars Go?


Q: Where does my money go?


A: A gift to our Annual Campaign provides unrestricted funds to meet urgent, ongoing humanitarian and social service needs of the global Jewish people, to encourage and support Jewish education and Jewish community, and to strengthen the relationship between North American Jews and the Israeli people. Part of the Annual Campaign money goes to meet overseas needs through our partners, JAFI and JDC. These dollars help build the Jewish homeland and rebuild strong Jewish communities in over 60 countries around the world.  A substantial portion of your gift remains right in your own community, helping to strengthen your Federation, a premier provider of programs to safeguard and enhance Jewish life at home. These Federation funds go to support a wide array of local needs including care for the elderly and those struggling to put food on the table, and building Jewish identity through events, Israel programs and and facilities. Many of North America's premiere Jewish organizations receive substantial operating support from the Federation movement, including the Association of Jewish Family and Children's Agencies, HIAS, Hillel, Jewish Community Centers, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, JESNA, JTA: The Global News Service of the Jewish People and the Foundation for Jewish Culture.


Q: How are funding priorities in Israel and elsewhere determined and met?


A: To meet ongoing needs as well as support programs that benefit diverse populations and circumstances, JFNA has put in place a revolutionary approach to overseas funding -- an overseas needs and assessment system. This system ensures that funds are spent efficiently and effectively, and that a significant amount of the money allocated for overseas purposes will be provided for core services, such as rescue, immigration and absorption, with an increasing amount in the future earmarked by the Federations for other specific, creative projects.


Q: Can I designate where I'd like my money to go?


A: The Annual Campaign is the primary means of meeting the ongoing needs of the Jewish community worldwide. Beyond the Annual Campaign, a number of other Federation-affiliated philanthropic opportunities offer a wide variety of programs and projects that stress people-to-people connections in supporting unmet social and human needs in Israel and Jewish communities globally. Supplementary giving opportunities include everything from domestic abuse centers and day care centers to hospitals and universities. Endowment gifts enable donors to support a general or specific area of interest. And participating funds allow donors and their families to partner with the Federation in funding those areas of the federation mission most deserving of additional support. Please contact the Federation if you're interested in supporting a particular area of activity.


Current Federation Activities


Q: What are you doing to mobilize the community in support of Israel and against inaccurate, biased media reporting on Israel?


A: Both in the local community and across North America, the JFNA Federation movement has been strongly proactive and vocal in support of Israel and its desire for peace: rallies have been staged; petitions and letters sent to government officials; fact sheets, briefings, updates and press releases produced and distributed, and top-level speakers from Israel dispatched throughout the continent. Importantly, JFNA is also sending solidarity missions to Israel, allowing thousands of North American Jews to show their support by being there at this critical time, and speaking out on Israel's behalf when they return.


Federation Involvement


Q: How can I get involved?


A: Federation is the place that builds community and you are the spark that builds Federation. By volunteering, you can play a pivotal role in relieving an older person's hardships, affirm for a child the powerful values of Jewish tradition and continuity, and help others do the wonderful mitzvah of saving Jewish lives and Jewish life. Contact us at the Reading Federation and express your particular interests. We will identify appropriate opportunities for you to contribute your time, expertise, ideas, and leadership.