Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Federation is relevant-here's why


As I speak to people in the community, I am often asked “Is Federation relevant?” The answer is a resounding, “Yes.” There’s probably no better time or place to explain my answer than this edition of The Heritage.

As with any organization, Federation’s relevance depends on periodic adaptation to changing times. And the times are definitely changing. But our mission continues to be building and strengthening the Jewish community of Central Florida, which manifests in many ways.

In 2008-09, when the economy took a bad turn, Federation’s campaign dropped drastically. There is a widely-held opinion that once the Federation stopped making significant allocations to the local agencies, it ceased to be relevant to the Jewish community. Yet, at the same time, I hear that the Federation must solve all of the problems facing our Jewish community.

Indeed, just a few years ago Federation allocated almost $1.5 million locally and overseas and almost $1 million stayed in the local community. At the same time, the Federation created and supported two community campuses.

We have been and continue to be responsible for the mortgage on the Maitland campus. We are now discussing a plan to reduce or eliminate this debt.

For many years the Federation has been managing the Maitland campus where the JCC, the Holocaust Center, and the Jewish Academy of Orlando are tenants. Many people ask me what that means. The simple answer is that the Federation, in its “landlord” capacity, makes sure that the campus functions smoothly and efficiently, that the water flows, the roofs are repaired, the trees are trimmed, the grass is mowed, the air conditioning works, agencies’ insurance policies are current, and campus security is in place. Of course, the tenants pay rent, but the Federation contributes additional resources, including campaign dollars and staff time. By doing so, the Federation subsidizes the agencies on the campus to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars annually. You may call it “hidden allocations,” because they are not often recognized as such.

At the same time, the Federation continues to carry on its mission of building and serving the Jewish community through leadership development, community relations, outreach and engagement, and Jewish education. Our ongoing programs such as Bornstein Leadership Development Program, JCRC, Beit Hamidrash, Our Jewish Orlando, to name a few, are an integral part of the Federation and represent a significant portion of its budget, both in direct dollars and in staff time.

Today, as the economy is getting back on track, and we re-tool our business model, we look forward to strategically and purposefully growing the annual campaign back to and beyond its best achievements. We have to get out of the business of being a landlord and get back to the business of being the Jewish Federation—the convener of the community, steward of our communal assets that recognizes the interests of us all. As such, our fundraising efforts need to reflect innovative platforms that are collaborative, versus competitive with all community agencies (on or off campus) with the goal of growing our total community pie.

What will a thriving annual Federation campaign mean for this community? We will provide Jewish education scholarships subsidizing tuition at Jewish pre-schools, day and supplementary schools; expand outreach efforts to young people and families; send more young people to Israel and bring community-wide Jewish educational and cultural programs; and allow us to focus on gaps in services for the elderly and financial assistance to needy families.

Over the years, the Federation has supported start-up efforts such as UCF Hillel, Kinneret senior apartments, and the Rosen campus that have become cornerstones of our Jewish community. This year, we are doing it again by starting RAISE, a program providing job experience to adults with special needs.

With thriving campaign we can increase support for projects in our partner community in Israel, Kiryat Motzkin, and participate more fully in JFNA global initiatives in Israel and around the world.

The Jewish Federation is the big tent where we can forget our political affinities and work together to better the Jewish and general community and support Israel as the home of the Jewish people. We have been doing all this and much more for generations and we must and will continue to do it with your help.

There is an inspiring quote from the Talmud that hangs at the Federation office, “I found a fruitful world, because my ancestors planted it for me. Likewise I am planting for my children.” The Federation is the one force that can unite the community to leave a fruitful world for our children.

So, is the Federation relevant? You bet!

Michael Soll is the president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando.


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