Last week, I participated in a conference call between Lonnie Nasatir, the new President of our Jewish United Fund (JUF, aka The Federation) and the rabbis of metropolitan Chicago. (Some of you will remember Lonnie from visits to B’Chavana as director of the regional office of the ADL, when he spoke to us about antisemitism.) The meeting was convened so that Lonnie could update us on the work that the Federation is engaged in and, likewise, to respond to our questions.
I want to share with you just a few of the points he made.
GENERAL COMMUNITY RESPONSE
The Federation has taken advantage of its campaign and its resources to advance money to Jewish agencies and organizations that have taken a hard hit. JUF leveraged its own resources to raise a new $25 million for aid.
During the period of March-June, millions of dollars have been used/leveraged to help The Ark, Uptown Café, Jewish Child & Family Services, Jewish Vocational Service and others. Those organizations have been able to continue their work because of this support, even while they’ve had to make cuts. Some of our members are taking advantage of the resources provided by these agencies.
Additionally, the Federation has put quite a bit of money towards emergency causes. It has made available over $200,000 from its Rabbinic Discretionary Fund to individual Rabbi’s Discretionary Funds like my own; I have utilized $7,000 of those grants to support members of B’Chavana. And, at the time of our conversation, the JUF was putting another six-figure amount into that fund.
The JUF has played an instrumental role in helping Jewish agencies and institutions – including B’Chavana – in navigating the government’s PPP program, which secured crucial funds for our operation and is helping other communal institutions remain open and serving the community.
Finally, JUF has carried out a comprehensive communal survey of more than 300 Jewish communal institutions to assess the emergency needs of those organizations (we have participated). This has led them to provide significant money to provide food and cash for people needing them; to provide personal protective equipment for agencies to give to their health care providers; and to invest in institutions in order to keep them stable for the future.
RESPONSE TO SYNAGOGUES
JUF staff members are using that same data to understand the new needs of synagogues in the areas of communication, fund-raising and technology. The Education Dept. is providing webinars and other programs to support the pivot to online education anticipated for the fall, particularly in the area of Hebrew education and early childhood education. And JUF plans to be ready to resume its student trips to Israel as soon as conditions permit.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Equally impressive is the fact that even while responding to immediate needs, JUF also is looking to the future – for itself and for the Jewish community. The staff is asking how JUF will adapt to this new world, being encouraged to act nimbly and think “outside of the box.” How will JUF and the rest of us leverage technology after this period of danger has passed.
Perhaps most insightful was Lonnie’s sense that this crisis, in encouraging people to think seriously about their lives, is reminding them of the myriad Jewish resources available to them – including a community like ours. Many rabbis have reported activity among people they rarely see and even people coming to shul who hadn’t been members anywhere for a long time.
To which I would respond: if you, members of B’Chavana, know people who would benefit from the friendship, hope and love found in our community, please invite them to try us. Loneliness, for example, is a national crisis that preceded COVID-19 and will persist after it (about that, more another time.) “Deaths of Despair” is the title of a new book that examines our American society.
Lonnie reported also that the JUF has been working closely with Mayor Lightfoot and Governor Pritzker regarding health issues and antisemitism and has found them to be eager partners. The Governor is especially proud of the JUF emergency initiative and what it says about our community.
During this critically difficult time, I encourage two things.
First, if you are in need of any of the kind of assistance provided by the Federation and the agencies that it supports, do not hesitate to reach out to them. If I can be of help – spiritually or financially – please let me know immediately.
Second, if you are fortunate enough that you could make an additional gift to support the Federation in this important work, please make it. The need is great, you know. But together, as a Jewish community and as a Chicagoland community, we will do what is needed and what we can, until this pandemic has passed.
These Jewish agencies are available to you:
The Ark: Engages the services of more than 2,000 professional and lay volunteers, who provide an array of medical, legal and social services for Chicagoland Jews in need.
CJE SeniorLife: Enhances the quality of life and facilitates independence of older adults by providing programs and services that include their families and support network.
Dina & Eli Field EZRA Multi-Service Center: Dedicated to tikkun olam, or “repairing the world,” and helping our community members live with dignity through advocacy and compassionate, collaborative care for those experiencing a crisis or isolation.
Shalva: Tends to the specific needs of Jewish families experiencing domestic violence by providing counseling, supportive services and community education.
Keshet: Serves over 1,000 individuals with disabilities and touches the lives of many more family members, peers, supporters, and other stakeholders around the globe.
JCFS: Provides help,healing, and caring services infused with Jewish values to strengthen lives in our community by enhancing social-emotional well-being for adults, children, teens and families.
To make a donation to the JUF: https://donatenow.juf.org/?source=JUFDEFAULTFooter