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Jewish Federations of North America

The United Jewish Communities was incorporated in 1999 as a result of merger discussions held between representatives of the Council of Jewish Federations, (CJF), United Israel Appeal (UIA), and United Jewish Appeal (UJA). In October 2009, the UJC was renamed the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA).

Prior merger discussions began in 1948, both privately and publicly, by various representatives of sometimes two and three organizations. The new organization subsumed the functions formerly performed separately by CJF, UIA, and UJA. The structure established five pillars (the word used to describe various departments or divisions of UJC), one of which was closed a year or so after the United Jewish Communities began. The pillars still functioning are:

  1. Financial Resource Development
  2. Human Resources and Social Policy
  3. Israel and Overseas Needs, now called ONAD
  4. The Trust for Jewish Philanthropy Development

Financial Resource Development monitors trends in Jewish and general fundraising, provides consultation, various publications, and fund raising tools to local Jewish Federations in improving their fund raising.

Human Resource and Social Policy is devoted to addressing human and social needs of the Jewish community. Staff training and consultation is provided for local federations regarding planning and allocation of resources, staff development and staff placement. Through this pillar, UJC plays a significant role in Washington regarding government allocations for health and human services under local Jewish auspices.

ONAD assesses the needs of Jewish communities worldwide and aids in the educational process on the local level in enhancing the awareness of Jewish needs. The allocation of local federation funds, dedicated to overseas use is done through this pillar. Representatives work closely with the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), who are the major recipients of these funds.

The now closed philanthropic pillar was originally intended to evaluate the field of Jewish philanthropy by conducting Jewish outreach, provide consulting services to Jewish philanthropists and non-profits, and catalyze new ventures in American Jewish life.

Before being closed it developed two initiatives; one devoted to Jewish women and their career advancement in the Jewish community and the other to developing a coalition for service in the larger Jewish community.

Historical Context

What follows is a brief historical summary of the major national and international institutions which served the Jewish community from 1914 to 1999 until the formation of UJC. Included are two organizations that were not partners in the merger but are integral elements of the Jewish philanthropic and communal system – American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel.


In 1914, as the shadow of World War I began to spread over Europe, JDC was established. Its mission is "to serve the needs of Jews throughout the world, particularly where their lives are threatened or made more difficult." JDC's focus is on rescue, relief, and renewal of Jewish communities around the world to rebuild Jewish culture and religion while advancing Jewish continuity. In addition, JDC is committed to assisting Israel in providing social services to her vulnerable communities. JDC estimates that it has assisted millions of Jews in 85 countries through its efforts, starting with the distribution of $50,000 raised in 1914 to help Jews in Palestine and Europe from starving to death through to the respose to the current economic crisis faced by the Jewish community in Argentina.

At its inception, JDC focused on maintaining the vibrancy of worldwide Jewish communities and assisting them with rescue and relocation to Palestine when they were at risk of destruction. That stance changed with the formation of the State of Israel. The majority of JDC's annual budget came from UJA. Additional resources included grants from the United States Government for specific programs such as the resettlement of Jewish emigrants from the Soviet Union, individual private donations, donations from foundations, international organizations, and Jewish communities around the world.


Nearly two decades before the founding of JDC, the first federation was established in Boston. This model was believed to be a more efficient way to raise funds and address the needs in local Jewish communities. Almost 40 years later, a national organization was created to service the more than 200 local federations in the United States. It was originally named "National Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds." In 1932, it became known as CJF. Organizers aimed to develop standards, principles, and programming in social and communal welfare work for federations, welfare funds, and other Jewish communal service organizations in North America. The Council was primarily concerned with organizing resources to best serve the Jewish communities on local and national levels, without concentrating on issues abroad.


Created in 1925, to unify fundraising efforts of organizations including Jewish National Fund, Hadassah and Hebrew University, "United Palestine Appeal" was dissolved in 1930. But in 1936, it was revived. In 1939, it became one of the founders of United Jewish Appeal, and was its principal beneficiary. UIA was the main source of tax-deductible contributions from American Jewry to the people of Israel and was the primary source of funding for the Jewish Agency for Israel. By 1952 it became known as United Israel Appeal (UIA). In 1971, the Jewish Agency was reconstituted, and UIA's role in the Agency as representative of the U.S. fund-raising community was enhanced to encompass the monitoring as well as the transfer of funds. From its inception, UIA served as the sole fundraising agency for the *Jewish Agency for Palestine (Israel), and provided a link between the American Jewish community and Palestine (Israel). Though UIA had the smallest operating budget of the three organizations involved in the merger, its power and land holdings in Israel surpassed both CJF and UJA's influence on Israel.

The formation of UIA created the need for an agency abroad to allocate funds collected in North America, and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) was established. UIA distributed these funds raised by UJA/federation campaigns to JAFI for allocation. These funds accounted for three-fourths of JAFI's annual operating budget. Due to the funding UIA provided, its board had influence on JAFI's policies, including representation on JAFI's Board of Governors and Assembly. The composition of UIA's board changed over the years as various American Jewish organizations vied for seats in order to influence JAFI. From 1973, UIA annually secured and monitored grant money from the United States Government for the resettlement of Jewish refugees to Israel.


In 1929, World Zionist Organization (WZO) created the Jewish Agency for Palestine, which today is known as JAFI. Before the birth of Israel, JAFI was recognized by the League of Nations as the official representative of World Jewry in forming a Jewish National Home in Palestine. It was the de facto government for the territory before the State of Israel was created. After the State of Israel was recognized, JAFI remained in place to finance and organize mass immigrations and to welcome and initiate settlement of those moving to Israel. Its Board of Governors is equally composed of members of WZO and Diaspora Jews. JAFI's mission is dedicated to rescuing Jewish communities at risk, resettling new immigrants' to Israel, encouraging and assisting those who make aliyah, building new settlements, bolstering Israel's economic development, providing local and worldwide Jewish Zionist education, promoting Israeli culture, enhancing Jewish unity and identity, supporting health services in Israel, and strengthening Israel as a home for all Jews. JAFI is as concerned about the well being of American Jews as it is about Israelis since so much of its own and Israel's funding comes from the United States. JAFI remains influential in both effecting Israeli politics and maintaining American-Israeli relationships. Before 1999, JAFI was the major recipient of CJF, UIA, and UJA funds raised or transmitted for Israel. Any exceptions were locally selected programs and organizations in Israel to which a number of local federations had begun to provide direct funding.


UJA was formed in 1939 in order to unite fundraising efforts with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the United Palestine Appeal as principal partners and with the National Refugee Service as a beneficiary for efficient fundraising to help European Jews in response to Kristallnacht. It was preceded by United Jewish Appeal campaigns in 1934 and 1935 for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and for the Keren Hayesod, and by a similar joint effort in 1930 by the Allied Jewish Campaign. Over the following decades, UJA grew to become the "largest voluntary philanthropy in Jewish history." Part of the impetus for the merger came from CJF, pressuring the organizations to unify their fundraising efforts to reduce the strain on the American Jewish community in deciding which overseas efforts to support.

From the beginning, UJA decided it would implement its campaigns through the local federations. It had a profound impact on how federations raised money. Under the leadership of Rabbi Henry *Montor, American Jews were challenged as never before to give and to increase their contributions in support of the Jewish State. This drive forever changed how federations raised funds. Their combined efforts in overseas and domestic campaigns helped to bring Zionism to the American Jewish community, while at the same time strengthen Jewish communities in America. After World War II, UJA's fundraising assisted in the resettlement of Holocaust survivors – some 370,000 Jews to the United States, Canada, and France – and aided Israel and Jewish communities, worldwide. It grew to provide leadership development, educational programs, twinning of American and Israeli communities, and various missions to Israel (Davis, 1994).

From 1939 through 1966, the United Jewish Appeal distributed $924 million to the United Israel Appeal and to its predecessor United Palestine Appeal, $582 million to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, $55 million to the United Service for New Americans and its predecessor the National Refugee Service, $29 million to the New York Association for New Americans, and $4 million to United HIAS Service. Over 200 Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds, including the New York United Jewish Appeal, provided about 95% of United Jewish Appeal income. The remainder was secured directly by United Jewish Appeal in hundreds of small communities where federated appeals did not exist The chairmen of the United Jewish Appeal included Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, Rabbi Jonah B. Wise, William Rosenwald, Rabbi James G. Heller, Charles J. Rosenbloom, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Edward M. Warburg, Morris Berinstein, Philip M. Klutznick, Joseph Meyerhoff, Max Fisher, and Edward Ginsberg. The executive vice chairmen of the United Jewish Appeal included Isidor Coons, Henry Montor, Joseph J. Schwartz, and Rabbi Herbert A. Friedman.


Today, JFNA represents 146 Jewish Federations and 300 independent Jewish communities across North America, which raise and distribute more than $3 billion annually and through planned giving and endowment programs to support social welfare, social services and educational needs. 


P. Bernstein, To Dwell in Unity: The Jewish Federation Movement in America Since 1960 (1983); M. Davis (ed.), UJA Memoirs: Irving Bernstein: An Oral History Anthology (1994); D.J. Elazar, Community & Polity: The Organizational Dynamics of American Jewry (1976, rev. 1995); M. Golensky and G.L. DeRuiter, "The Urge to Merge: A Multiple-Case Study," in: Nonprofit Management & Leadership, 13:2 (2002), 169–186; A.J. Karp, To Give Life: The UJA in the Shaping of the American Jewish Community (1981); M.L. Raphael, A History of the United Jewish Appeal 19391982 (1982); J.R. Solomon and S.H. Wachsstock, "Reflections on the UJC Merger: Issues Faced and Lessons Learned," in: Journal of Jewish Communal Service, 79:1 (2002), 23–27; E. Stock, Partners and Pursestrings: A History of the United Israel Appeal (1987).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
Jewish Federations of North America, Wikipedia.