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2017 Annual Assessment

As in the Sherlock Holmes story of the dog that did not bark, perhaps the headline regarding Jewish communities in North America, and more generally abroad, is that there have been no large discontinuities on the financial front. Despite dire predictions, generational change, the emergence of new forms and methods of both Jewish and general philanthropy, and dramatic changes in technology and communication, the primary Jewish financial story remains one of remarkable continuity. North American Jewish institutions appear to be weathering the multiple transitions to new patterns of Jewish philanthropy exceedingly well.

But this is not necessarily going to be true moving forward. There may be aspects of transition already underway, not currently detected nor necessarily being looked for, that might prove to be deleterious over time. As JPPI has urged in prior Annual Assessment examinations of the sources and uses of Jewish wealth in pursuit of Jewish people goals, it behooves us to enhance our ability to observe and gather information on the underlying phenomena. This is a pre-requisite to applying the analytical perspective that would allow us not only to fully understand change, but perhaps gain early warning capabilities as well. Several measures would be of value in allowing this more informed stance.

  • Gain greater understanding of the streams of Jewish philanthropy supporting the institutions where most Jews experience Jewish life: Synagogues, JCCs, Hillels, summer camps, Jewish day schools (as well as the national organizations that support these institutions: denominational bodies, national Hillel; JCCNA, etc.) and national Jewish advocacy organizations.
  • Evaluate how North American Jewish philanthropy has been re-contextualized by the remarkable growth and success of the Israeli economy. While no longer significant in amount, it still does good in Israel. But how has the diminution of Israel’s centrality as a project wrought indirect changes in the financial basis of North American Jewish people concerns?
  • Seek to elaborate in detail and in aggregate the mix of funding streams for major North American organizations and institutions. In particular, gain insight on the changing streams of user fees, membership dues, philanthropic support from members, Federations, family foundations, government (federal, state, city) and other evolving sources.

Ideally, we would like to be able to track and evaluate changes over time. Hence, it would be useful to gain sufficient data to benchmark 10-year intervals beginning in the 1990s. The challenges are large. Accessing financials of synagogues and Jewish day schools, for example, is difficult when not required to file public documents. Denominations may have information on synagogues; boards of Jewish education on day schools. But as JPPI has pointed out in the past, not even those with publicly available financials, such as federations, use a common taxonomy for how income and outflow is denominated. This, in effect, further reduces transparency. Once again, an important step toward gaining the understanding and perspective needed to ensure matching Jewish funding and Jewish people needs in the future would be for North American Jewish institutions to take steps allowing for greater transparency and sharing of vitally important information.