With vaccine distribution underway, there’s good reason to believe we’ve turned a real corner. At long last, a return to some semblance of normalcy is within sight.
However, the optimism we feel about the medical breakthrough should be tempered by the fact that we’re in the grip of a social services crisis that likely will stretch on for years. There is no vaccine on the horizon to address massive food insecurity, unemployment, mental health needs, and so many other social service challenges. And with deep cuts expected in government funding, it will increasingly fall to philanthropy to help our community recover.
It’s against this backdrop that on Monday, for the fifth time since March, our board voted to authorize emergency funding — over and above our regular budgeted allocations — to support critical needs. In this latest round, we allocated $11.6 million — almost entirely from UJA’s endowment — to support financially distressed Jewish community centers and help the most vulnerable in Israel. With this latest round, UJA has to date allocated $64 million in grants and interest-free loans for Covid-related emergency funding.
Sustaining Our 22 New York-Area JCCs
Jewish community centers are the places where children learn Shabbat songs. Where Holocaust survivors find connection and comfort. Where immigrant families can learn English. In short, JCCs are integral to the well-being of our community. Not only are JCCs anchors of Jewish life, they also provide vital human services for diverse local communities. For that reason, we typically budget approximately $20 million annually to the 22 JCCs located across the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, and Long Island. But this was no typical year. When the pandemic hit, JCCs were forced to close revenue-producing programs, like gyms and daycare centers. Even when the lockdown was lifted, restrictions remained and many JCC members were wary to come back. At the same time, the social service needs only grew.
To address this challenge, since March we’ve allocated an additional $14.3 million in a combination of grants and interest-free loans to help sustain JCCs, as well as the Jewish summer camps they operate. With an eye to boosting JCCs’ overall fundraising efforts, this latest allocation includes matching grants to incentivize increased communal giving.
Helping the Most Vulnerable in Israel
Supporting the most vulnerable in Israel has long been one of UJA’s core priorities, and we allocate tens of millions of dollars annually — much of it through our largest overseas partners, the Jewish Agency and JDC — to do exactly that. However, because New York was the epicenter of the crisis back in the spring, and the infection rate in Israel much lower, the primary focus of our emergency funding was to meet the staggering needs here in New York. The situation has since dramatically worsened in Israel, with infection rates spiking and multiple lockdowns precipitating a severe social and economic crisis. One data point: Latet, a UJA grantee, and one of the largest national organizations for food distribution in Israel, reports that some 50,000-80,000 new families have fallen into poverty, and that the number of requests for food aid has doubled.
Early on, we allocated approximately $1 million in emergency funding to Israel. Now, in response to growing needs, we’re providing an additional $3.5 million in emergency grants from our endowment. Funds are being used to help the new poor, support struggling small businesses, provide services for at-risk children and teens, strengthen leadership and volunteer networks, and develop technological solutions to Covid-related challenges. And to leverage our funding to combat food insecurity, we’re including challenge grants to spur increased philanthropic giving in Israel.
We’re now two weeks from the end of 2020 — a year we’d like to forget, though never will. What will we say when we look back? Each family, each person has their own story about this year. Stories of grief. Lost jobs. Missed milestones. Loneliness and heartache. But there are also uplifting moments we’ll never forget. Cheering at 7:00 pm all those nights to honor the heroic health care and essential workers. Volunteers who donned PPE to deliver food to the isolated elderly. Our nonprofit partners who worked tirelessly to ensure indispensable services when everything shut down. And our donors who saw the immense need and gave more generously than ever before.
May 2020 go out gently. And may 2021 be a healthier, happier, brighter year for us all.