Federations, JCCs and agencies retrench in the face of economic crisis
By ERIN ELLIOTT /Â Community News Editor
At a May 18 luncheon sponsored by Newsweek magazine, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the U.S. economy was beginning to stabilize, but cautioned that consumers will still feel the pain of the current downturn for some time.
“It’s not going to feel better for a long time for millions of Americans,” Geithner said, according to Reuters.
The Twin Cities Jewish community is feeling the pain, too. Local organizations are instituting unpaid furloughs, restructuring programs and offering pay-what-you-can memberships in an effort to adapt to current economic conditions.
The Minneapolis Jewish Federation also has announced a new schedule. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Federation offices will be closed every Friday “in an effort to reduce costs during this challenging economic time.”
In an open letter to the Minneapolis Jewish community, which ran in the May 15 edition of the AJW, the Federation said that this year’s Annual Campaign achievement would be “significantly lower,” due to the “economic climate as well as financial scandals that have impacted so many members of our community.”
“This decrease will have an enormous impact on the tens of thousands of people helped annually through the organizations that benefit from these dollars — even as the demand for basic services continues to grow,” the letter said.
The Federation added, however, that it has created the Emergency Family Assistance and Recovery Fund, and will continue to provide grants in a variety of areas through the Federation’s Jewish Community Foundation.
- (Photo: iStockphoto.com)
The Federation’s reference to “financial scandals” is understood to mean the Bernard Madoff investment scam (12.19.08 AJW), which decimated the assets of many philanthropic Jewish families in the Twin Cities. Local Jewish institutions are feeling the losses by individuals and family foundations.
Â (The American Jewish World also has been hit by the unfolding economic crisis, specifically, a downturn in advertising that has affected all newspapers. The AJW moved to biweekly publication in May. Also, in another expense-trimming move, the Jewish World offices now are closed every other Friday, on the date of each paper’s publication.)
In the St. Paul community, shuls are reaching out to congregants in distress.
The rabbis of Beth Jacob Congregation, Mount Zion Temple and Temple of Aaron sent a letter to the St. Paul Jewish community. In the letter, Rabbis Morris Allen, Lynn Liberman, Adam Stock Spilker, Esther Adler and Alan Shavit-Lonstein reminded community members that spiritual support is always available.
“Jews are used to reaching out to their rabbis when they have lost a loved one; we want you to know that we can offer support in the face of other losses as well,” the rabbis said. “With tough financial times come all kinds of losses — of employment, career, insurance, community, a place to go each day — and less tangible losses like security, self-esteem and confidence. The tough financial times have touched everybody in one way or another, and it is important that we reach out to each other.”
In the letter, the rabbis compared the economic situation to that of our ancestors who are remembered during the period of the Omer (counting the days between Pesach and Shavuot).
“We remember that our ancestors had to wander in the wilderness before they could really enjoy the blessings of liberation and receive Torah,” the rabbis said. “Wandering in the wilderness wasn’t easy, to be sure, but we also remember that there was always manna to sustain us. The support and comfort of community may be the manna that will get us through the economic wilderness we now traverse. It can sustain our souls, if not our bodies.”
The rabbis directed those requiring additional services to Jewish Family Service of St. Paul and Jewish Vocational Services, and encouraged community members to contact the St. Paul JCC, which is offering reduced fee or no-cost temporary memberships to help people “stay connected and healthy — in good times and in bad.”
The St. Paul JCC’s program, Somaych Nofim (Supporting the Fallen), is discreet and confidential. After being referred by a rabbi or JCC staff member, individuals and families can simply pick up a membership packet at the front desk.
“These tough financial times have touched everybody in one way or another — many of us know of someone who, or even ourselves, has been directly impacted by a loss of employment, investments, insurance and community in the process,” said a JCC statement. “The St. Paul JCC is defined by Jewish values and culture, so nurturing the physical, intellectual, social and spiritual growth in others is at the core of who we are.”
For information, contact a local rabbi or the JCC at 651-698-0751.
Similarly, the Sabes JCC in St. Louis Park is offering “pay-what-you-can” memberships to recently unemployed Twin Cities residents. The Whole Health Plan (WHP) grants full membership privileges to anyone from the general public who is recently unemployed, plus free or low-cost opportunities for cultural, social and vocational enrichment.
“The Sabes JCC, in being true to our mission of inspiring life balance and bringing the community together, is proud to be offering the Whole Health Plan,” said Stuart Wachs, Sabes JCC CEO. “We felt this was an opportunity for us to reach out to the entire community and provide these needed services and enriching experiences. Our partnership with Jewish Family and Children’s Services will help us also provide counseling and job search services. This program speaks to the great impact the Sabes JCC has on people’s lives and on helping build community.”
According to a press release, WHP is the first known program of its kind in the nation among other community centers and health clubs. For information, contact Steve Kitsis, membership director, at 952-381-3414 or: email@example.com.
As a result of the economic downturn, other community programs have been completely restructured. One example is the Jewish Singles Collaborative (JSC), which has served hundreds of singles in Minneapolis and St. Paul for the last 12 years.
The JSC was a program housed and managed by the St. Paul JCC. The loss of a major funder, plus potential significant cuts from other organizations, led to the transition of it becoming an independent, volunteer-managed program.
“Unfortunately, we also saw no new funding sources on the horizon, which made it a difficult decision,” Penny Schumacher, St. Paul JCC program director, told the AJW. “I’m really proud of the work that the Singles Collaborative has brought to the community. There have been some amazing initiatives and opportunities for singles to connect with each other.”
As of May 31, the Jewish Singles Collaborative will no longer be agency-affiliated or have a paid staff person, and its e-mail address and phone number will be disconnected. The JSC Web site, www.jewishsinglescollaborative.org, will continue to serve as the central location for contacts, programs and more.
Volunteers have stepped forward to coordinate activities for singles in three age groups: Schmoozle, for ages 21-35 (firstname.lastname@example.org); B’Yachad, for ages 30s to 40s (email@example.com); and Chaverim, for ages 50 and older (firstname.lastname@example.org). For general information, e-mail: email@example.com.
“I’ve had a wonderful run and I’ll miss collaborating and working with a lot of the professionals at the synagogues and other organizations. There’s some really great, dedicated people working on behalf of us,” said Matt Levitt, who was the JSC coordinator for the last two years. “My hope is that Jewish singles continue to be served in a meaningful way by the Jewish community and that they continue to receive support from synagogues, community centers and other local institutions.”