A Jewish Federation (Jfed) is the secular primary Jewish nonprofit organization found within most metropolitan areas (or sometimes states) in North America that host a substantial Jewish community. Their broad purpose is to provide "human services", generally, but not exclusively, to the local Jewish community. All federations at least operate an annual central campaign then allocate the proceeds to affiliated local agencies. There are 148 Jewish Federations. The national umbrella organization for the federations is the Jewish Federations of North America.
With the early colonial settlement of the Jews in America starting in 1654 in New Amsterdam, the Jews promised to look after their own. Jewish federations mimicked Kehilla, the communal organization organized in Eastern European countries but formed under the authority of local governments.61-62
The first Jewish federation was founded in Boston in 1895 as Associated Jewish Philanthropies. Cincinnati formed its federation, United Jewish Social Agencies, the next year. Chicago founded its federation in 1900 followed by St. Louis. Federations were soon formed in many other cities with large Jewish populations. Initially (1895-1945) the federation system was focused on welfare needs of individual Jews with the goal of integrating them into the US. The Jewish federations inspired the 1913 formation of the forerunner of the United Way, the community chest in Cleveland, Ohio.
In 1932, an umbrella organization for the federations was formed called the National Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds.
The United Jewish Appeal (UJA) national campaign and organization was started in 1939. With the foundation of the Israel state in 1948, the UJA increased in importance.
Until the 1960s with the start of Medicaid and Medicare, federations allocated large portions of the campaign funds to Jewish hospitals.
Each federation is autonomous from federations of other cities and they tend to focus on local concerns. The federations typically have elected boards or trustees that are accountable to the community, paid staff, and volunteer leadership. Originally, the federations operated on volunteer only basis, but quickly turned to professional staffs. They engage in centralized planning for the needs of the local community, and may provide centralized administrative services for their constituent agencies.
Depending on the size of the community, the federation may provide services directly or fund another agency to provide that function. For example, the federation may have a local as an arm or function, if not provided by a separate federation funded agency.
Most local federations are either affiliated with or host a local Jewish Community Relations Council, which deals with local antisemitism, Holocaust education support, and inter-religious or interracial community functions and organizations.70-71 Depending on local preferences, the JCRC may be volunteer or professionally-staffed, and may have varying degrees of structural separateness from the federation itself.
Federations raise money for central, local campaigns that support the organizations of the entire local Jewish community. Historically, with a number of Jewish institutions running their own fundraising campaigns, Jewish communities leadership felt it could be more efficient to instead have a single campaign that could centralize gift-making.
Between 30 and 50 percent of Jewish households in the United States typically contribute to their local federation. Jfeds also raise money for the national United Jewish Appeal campaign that sends funding overseas and may combine the Federation annual and United Jewish Appeal into one campaign. The federations or the federation system may hold special campaigns in addition to the annual campaign.
Federation spending and efforts have adapted as the need for particular social services has changed—for example, from Jewish orphanage work in the early twentieth century to retirement homes in the late twentieth century.
A significant feature of the annual federation campaign is "Super Sunday", a day designated for community-wide phone banking, seeking contributions from members of the community.
More than half of all funds raised by federations are earmarked for various local Jewish social service agencies, with the largest single allocation to Jewish education, typically constituting 25 percent. After education, Jewish community centers, the local Jewish family and child services, homes for the aged, and campus Hillels are the next largest recipients of financial support. In some communities were the federation does not provide the service, a Jewish vocational service agency is usually funded to provide job related services.
As an example, in 2008, the Overnight Camp Incentive Program provided grant money to 18 campers to attend Pinemere Camp. The program is a joint project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the Foundation for Jewish Camp, and the Neubauer Family Foundation. The program provided grants of $750 to $1,250. The majority of the Pinemere campers who received grants chose to return the following summer.
Jewish federations can wield a sizable degree of influence in the Jewish communities in which they are located. Many of the local federations hold annual fundraising drives that are expected to raise most of the next year's budgeting for many community programs. In return, in many communities the agencies which receive funding from the federation agree not to engage in major fundraising for themselves for a number of months often called the "primacy period" when the local federation's fundraising has primacy. Decisions made by the local federations can have a great impact on the community, including the opening or closing of programs, staff hirings and firings, and land purchases and sales.
Jewish Family and Child Services (JFCS) is usually the general social service agency supported by the local federation. A JFCS may have other names like Jewish Family Services, Jewish Family & Children's Service, Jewish Family & Community Services, Jewish Community Services, or other derivatives. Similar to the federation, a JFCS may be a part of the federation, the only Jewish service agency in a community, or may be several separate agencies.
This new phenomenon was incorporated into campaign strategy, particularly through "Super Sunday," a day-long happening featuring marches on behalf of some special financial need and massive telephoning of potential donors in a more exciting carnival-like atmosphere.
In 1932 the National Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds (NCJFWF) united the Jewish federations across the country. In 1935 the organization changed its name to the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds (CJFWF), and in 1979 the name became the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF). [...] In 1999, the United Jewish Appeal and the Council of Jewish Federations merged to become the United Jewish Communities.
The Jewish Community Center receives a very substantial part of its funding from the local Jewish social-welfare foundation, which controls practically all relief and welfare agencies in every Jewish community. All told, there are about 200 such federations[...]. Because of its financial support for many of the community's basic services and institutions, the federation was very influential everywhere.