takes a village

New JFNA campaign aims to support struggling Jewish communities

The Human Services Relief Matching Fund is seeking to raise $54 million


Eric Fingerhut

Backed by a number of the Jewish community’s largest philanthropic organizations, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) is launching a new initiative to raise $54 million to support local communities in providing assistance to those impacted by the novel coronavirus and its economic fallout.

The Human Services Relief Matching Fund, which includes a 50% match from major philanthropists, will direct fundraised dollars to local communities to allocate as needed to address issues including food insecurity, employment assistance, services for the aging and mental health programs. Funding for general human services began to slow in the spring as government-funded stimulus programs wound down.

“Public policy played a big role early in the crisis,” Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of JFNA, told Jewish Insider, noting the stimulus and unemployment checks that were distributed in the first months of the pandemic, but ceased after several months.

“The depth of the economic crisis became clear,” he said. “The number of people in our community unemployed became clear. The increased demand on our human services agencies became clear.”

According to Fingerhut, the $54 million target is only half of what is needed to provide the right support to Jewish communities in the U.S. and Canada.

The 2:1 match is being supported by the Maimonides Fund, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation; Crown Family Philanthropies; the Jack, Joseph & Morton Mandel Foundation, the Singer Family Foundation, Leslie and Abigail Wexner and the Wilf Family Foundation.

The launch of the new program is separate from the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund (JCRIF), which was launched in April to provide $91 million in loans and grants to assist Jewish organizations struggling to cover expenses in the early months of the pandemic. Several of the foundations backing JFNA’s new initiative also provided funding for JCRIF.

“When [the pandemic] started, it was a catastrophe. And then everyone basically said, ‘Well, if I can just get through the next few months, life will be back to normal.’ And then you get through a few months and your life’s not getting back to normal,” Mark Charendoff, president of the Maimonides Fund, told JI. “And for a lot of people, the new normal is you’re unemployed or you’re underemployed or one half of a couple is unemployed, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. And there’s a need for food, there’s a need for job training, there’s a need for all kinds of things that a lot of us in the Jewish community have convinced ourselves are historical problems and not current reality.”

The announcement comes amid concerns over the long-term effects of the pandemic. A Centers for Disease Control report released over the summer found that 31% of Americans struggled with mental health issues in the months following the onset of the virus’s spread.

“This is causing unbelievable stress. You’re talking about, first of all, if a family was under any kind of stress anyway, now it’s exacerbated. And you have this combination of economic stress… people can’t take care of themselves and their families, and the social isolation,” Fingerhut said.

Ultimately, Fingerhut is hopeful Congress will pass another relief bill to aid struggling communities.

“I am frankly shocked that they haven’t been able to bridge the differences that exist between the parties on this issue. I think they need to resolve them quickly,” Fingerhut said. “The human need out there is severe, there’s no way private philanthropy can fill the whole gap. And I believe they will, sooner or later, be compelled to take these steps. But the longer you wait, the more damage it does to families and to our economy and our community.”

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