As I look back on the year I cannot help but marvel at our strengthened operations and programs. In many ways our Jewish Federation, Foundation and JCC have never been stronger. Our vision forged in the aftermath of the fire is alive and growing. The halls and spaces of our refurbished community building often overflow with participants and our membership continues to grow. We are reminded every day that our business of community building is still relevant and that our organizations matter.
Throughout our history, our community story has been crafted by innovators. Our leaders forged the bonds of community and built the institutions that have served us for several generations. We inherited their legacy and we are deeply thankful to them for what those institutions have meant to so many over time and especially during the times when our community was not welcomed into the broader community as full and equal participants.
However, our organization faces challenges - some mirror changes happening in Jewish communities across North America and some are unique to New Haven.
Here in Greater New Haven we continue to confront an era of declining annual campaign participation—largely due to hemorrhaging donors from death and moving away. Most of those donors did not arrange to endow their gifts or a bequest in their estates. And we must not forget that while emerging, we are still in the fiscal crisis caused by the fire and compounded by interior damages due to significant roof leaks.
Around us, we see affiliation in Jewish life shifting. The fight for Israel’s existence as a nascent state has changed to one where we are not fighting for Israel in chorus but rather fighting about Israel amongst ourselves. Intermarriage rates have soared. Divorce rates have soared. Being Jewish and participating in Jewish life has morphed from something you inherited and accepted as your responsibility to something that you choose to opt-in or out of.
The models of synagogue membership that built our great institutions do not have as much broad appeal to younger generations. Some seek ala carte opportunities to customize their Jewish experience. Households look different today with many more backgrounds and traditions represented and either embraced or ignored.
Younger people’s attitudes regarding philanthropy are different than past generations. While they care deeply and want to invest in their passions, they often have less available resources due to paralyzing school debt and professional positions with incomes less than those of prior generations. Young people are generous and wish to give but how they give is different. Many prefer to either give in a hands-on manner or in a very targeted way for a specific purpose.
Our two fastest-growing populations are those part of the Silver Tsunami of rapidly expanding seniors who have increased needs, wants and wishes and the Chabad community which is bustling with activity and growing young families which is breathing new life into the Beaver Hills neighborhood. Endless opportunities lie ahead as we strengthen our relationships to further our community’s goals to the benefit of all.
We have incredible treasures in our community. In addition to our congregations, our agencies deliver essential programs and services. The Connecticut economy coupled with reduced affiliation rates have stressed synagogue budgets. State funding that once poured into coffers at Jewish Family Service to serve the most needy have reduced to a trickle. The pressure of the economy coupled with the transient nature of the academic community has reduced the overall numbers of local day school students, especially those who can afford to pay full tuition. Having Jewish high schools in West Hartford and Stamford create barriers to long term commitments by observant families who desire a local option for their children.
All of our agencies and synagogues including our Jewish Federation have been financially challenged by the growing costs of security. These costs are permanent and rising. With the horrific murderous rampage at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the horrible shooting at the Chabad of Poway, we were painfully reminded how important security training and preparedness is today. We were also reminded of our power to comfort and heal when we come together as one community.
Our Federation/JCC is appreciative of the security grant funding made available by the State of Connecticut which is helping us to better secure our community campus. We are grateful to the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven for a generous grant provided to help us leverage state funds but are still about $50,000 shy of dollars needs to maximize state assistance.
To remain relevant and impactful in an environment of reduced financial resources requires a shift in our approach to revenue generation and communal investment. We are grateful to donors who care deeply about the future of our community and who are supporting a high-level planning process to help the Federation chart the pathway toward a sustainable future for our Jewish community.
The Jewish community of the near future may look and function differently than it has to date but with renewed focus guided by core community priorities, we will ensure that the Greater New Haven Jewish community will continue to thrive.