Jewish Communal Services
Abstract and Keywords
The form and character of communal services provided under Jewish auspices have been shaped by religious teachings and traditions. Righteousness is achieved by fulfilling obligations to those less fortunate or in need. Acts of tzedakah, translated as justice, are the hallmark of Jewish philanthropy. The evolution, role, functions, and organizational structure of services are reflective of these obligations. While changing funding patterns and managed care have blurred the sectarian nature of many communal agencies, these agencies remain as key elements in the voluntary social services network of this country.
Foundation From Scripture and Teachings
The form and character of communal services provided under Jewish auspices have been shaped by religious teachings and tradition developed over a 4,000-year period. In the Jewish tradition righteousness is achieved by fulfilling obligations to those less fortunate or in need. The evolution, role, functions, and organizational structure of services are reflective of these obligations, and also of historic models of Jewish communal organization. Preservation and continuity of Jewish ideals and the Jewish people are the centerpiece of refugee assistance programs; formal and informal education, family services; vocational programs; services for the frail and elderly; and training for Jewish communal professionals. While changing funding patterns and managed care have blurred the sectarian nature of many Jewish communal agencies, these agencies remain as key elements in the voluntary social services network of this country (Gelman & Schnall, 1997). Judaism not merely posited a noble vision of a free, just, and compassionate society, but also translated this vision in detailed legislation of obligatory moral behaviors and acts of loving kindness. Contemporary Jewish communal service emerges from a religious and social tradition rooted in Scripture, the Talmud, and rabbinic dicta. Jewish religious practice is defined by mitzvoth, which literally mean commandments. The commandments are broadly separated into those that are largely ritual and ecclesiastical and those that define a vast array of social relations, including marriage, economic pursuits, child rearing, and care for the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the stranger. Thus, Judaism views personal charity as motivated by the value of mutual responsibility and part of a systematic network of social obligations, rather than a voluntary act of kindness (Bernstein, 1965).
As an example, the Bible enjoins that crops forgotten in the field or inadvertently left standing after the harvest remain for poor people. In addition, a corner of a farmer's field must be purposefully left uncut so that needy people may glean in private. Such prescriptions stand side by side with those that require employers to pay workers punctually and those that restrict creditors in their demands on debtors (Schnall, 1993).
Overall, two themes have remained constant over the years in both religious teaching and practice: First, one who extends a hand for assistance must never be turned away, and second, in helping someone else, the benefactor follows in the paths of righteousness and sanctity that characterize the Lord. In sum, although numerous Hebrew terms connote philanthropy and voluntary service, tzedakah, the most popular term used, derives from a word that is more accurately translated as justice or righteous giving. This epitomizes the classic Jewish attitude toward such an undertaking (Gelman & Schnall, 1997).
Past and Current History
Fundamental sources regarding personal obligations to needy people gave rise to discussions of the organization and structure of community services. This became especially important as largely autonomous Jewish communities emerged, first as part of a centralized monarchy in ancient Israel and later as Jews were dispersed throughout the Near East, North Africa, and Europe. By Talmudic times (that is, during the first centuries of the Common Era), Jewish communities were required to maintain systems of assessment and collection, with detailed prescriptions for the oversight and accountability of those who were trustees and administrators.
The dignity and self-respect of those who were recipients of communal beneficence were given primacy. Thus, the highest form of tzedakah, according to Maimonides (1965), a 12th-century Jewish philosopher and jurist, is that which provides poor people with the wherewithal to become productive and self-sufficient (for example, extending loans or providing assistance in finding a job or beginning a business). Second is a system of completely anonymous philanthropy in which neither recipient nor donor can be directly identified. This approach reduces embarrassment on one side and arrogance on the other. Maimonides suggested that the goal is best facilitated through a central kupah in which the process of donation is separated from disbursement.
Given the heavy emphasis in Jewish texts on religious education as equivalent to all other mitzvoth combined, it is no surprise to find that public education also was an area of special concern to early Jewish communities. Jewish sources further established the communal obligation to create local structures of governance and to provide for refugee aid, hospitality for wayfarers, funeral and bereavement assistance, and mediation of civil and domestic disputes (Schnall, 1995). The scholarly literature of the period recorded active debates about public participation and the scope of the franchise in communal decisions, including in the choice of leadership. This dynamic continues to inform much of what has been established in the United States over the past 350 years (Elazar, 1995).
Although rooted in Scripture, the pattern of Jewish welfare organizations is distinctively different from that of other sectarian groups. For the most part, Jewish social services have developed apart from the synagogue. Although the beginning of American Jewish philanthropy took place at the synagogue, the sudden and massive influx of Jewish immigrants created needs for which a synagogue alone could not provide (Reid & Stimpson, 1987). Jewish immigrants formed literary societies for recreation and “landsmanchaften” for mutual aid and self-help. These organizations facilitated the acculturation of émigrés to their new land and assisted in caring for those in need, facilitating their independence and self-sufficiency.
It is estimated that 5.2 million Jews currently live in the United States. Just as their numbers have increased since the original 23 Jews debarked in New Amsterdam in 1654 with special permission from the Dutch West India Company, so too has there been growth in the number of social organizations that provide for health, welfare, recreational, and spiritual needs (Berger, 1980).
Poverty is still a very real problem among Jews. In New York City, the city with the largest Jewish population in the United States, 226,000 individuals have incomes that fall below 150 percent of the federal poverty standard. The majority of these individuals are older women and children. One-third of those in need who are considered to be of working age work full or part-time. More than half of working-age individuals have no education beyond the high school level (Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty, 2004; Rapfogel, 2004).
The Role of Communal Service Agencies in the United States
a. delivering basic social services to indigent members of the Jewish community, b. resettling refugees and helping Americanize both the immigrant and the second generations, c. responding to international crises, d. fighting anti-Semitism.However, beginning in the l960s, changing demographics, growing identification with the developing state of Israel, newly established governmental funding streams designed to expand service options and opportunities, and interest in specialized therapeutic interventions delivered by highly trained professional personnel led to a reordering of organizational priorities. The overview provided by Berger (1980) is enlightening:
These changes not only resulted in the dramatic expansion of social services provided under Jewish auspices (Blum & Naparstek 1987; Gibelman, 1995; Smith & Lipsky 1993) but also led to a real blurring of what had been the historical distinction between sectarian and nonsectarian agencies (Levine, 1998; Ortiz, 1995). Jewish agencies currently exhibit a great degree of autonomy from religious authority and are largely nonsectarian in client intake. Many Jewish agencies, particularly in large metropolitan areas, have high percentages of non-Jewish clients and other service users.
The 1990 and 2001 population surveys produced disturbing findings of an American Jewish community with high intermarriage rates and growing levels of alienation and disengagement, particularly among the younger population, from Jewish tradition and commitments. The organized Jewish community, through its federation network and a growing number of private foundations, has mobilized to address these continuity concerns through a dramatic shift in funding priorities toward Jewish identity building and education services (Edelsberg, 2004, 2005; Goldman, 2005; Schwager, 2005).
The Jewish Federations
The Jewish federations are the central fundraising organizations within individual Jewish communities, raising and distributing hundreds of millions of dollars to local community agencies, Israel, and Jewish communities around the world. The 155 Jewish community federations in the United States are autonomous, voluntary organizations that engage in or provide a series of functions for communal affiliates that include the following:
• Joint or coordinated annual fundraising
• Endowment development, planned giving, special and emergency campaigns
• Allocations and central budgeting
• Centralized research and community planning
• Leadership development and training services
• Initiation of new services
Jewish agencies increasingly apply for, receive, and use public funding for the benefit of the Jewish and general communities. Although one can debate the nature of the change created by the acceptance of public funds by these historically sectarian agencies, it is clear that the number of units of services delivered to the Jewish community, as well as to the general community, has increased dramatically as a result of the acceptance of this support (Solomon, 2005).
On average, federation network agencies receive more than 40% of their total budget from federal, state, and local government sources. UJA-Federation of New York, which conducts the largest federation campaign in the world, raised more than $388 million from its annual campaign, planned giving, endowments, and other sources in 2006 (UJA Federation of New York, 2007).
The following examples of Jewish communal services agencies are presented to provide a sense of the mission, scope, and program involvement of such agencies.
International and Refugee Services
The primary mission of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) is to help Jews whose lives and freedom are endangered. Since 1880, HIAS has been the worldwide arm of the American Jewish community for rescue, relocation, family reunification, and resettlement of refugees and other migrants. Its mission is derived from the biblical teaching “Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze Bazeh,” which means “all Jews are responsible, one for the other.”
During 2004 HIAS resettled 41,445 immigrants, including 7,565 Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union, into communities throughout the United States (HIAS, 2004). Its 2004 budget exceeded $13 million, with more than 53% of its funding coming from contracts with the U.S. government (HIAS, 2006). Since the mid-1970s, when barriers to immigration were eased in the former Soviet Union, HIAS has assisted in the resettlement of almost 400,000 individuals (HIAS, 2006). HIAS is shifting its focus from resettlement of Jews from the former Soviet Union to serving a more nonsectarian client base using money from Jewish funders committed to the Jewish resettlement tradition. During fiscal 2006 HIAS resettled 1,754 refugees in the United States, 713 from the Former Soviet Union, 698 from Iran, 241 from Syria, and 102 from Southeast Asia (HIAS, 2007).
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee was formed by a merger of three agencies in 1914 and serves as the overseas arm of the American Jewish community, sponsoring programs of relief, rescue, renewal, and helping Israel address its most urgent social needs. Over the course of its history it has assisted hundreds of thousands of Jews and non-Jews in Europe, Israel, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa through humanitarian and development efforts. Its goal is to develop systematic solutions to social problems through research and development, pilot demonstration projects, and strategic interventions working collaboratively with international organizations such as the UN, the World Bank, and U.S. Agency for International Development. For example The Joint provides basic life sustaining services, including food assistance, medicine, fuel, and social contact, to the large elderly Jewish population in the former Soviet Union. It is also involved in a variety of community-based activities in the former Soviet Union ranging from educational programs for children, college students, and adults, community outreach and family camps, to leadership training seminars in Jewish academic studies in universities (jdc.org).
Jewish community centers (JCC) and Young Men's and Women's Hebrew Associations provide cultural, recreational, educational, and social opportunities for members of the community. JCCs today are committed to supporting Jewish cultural activities, Jewish identity-building initiatives, and enabling Jews of all ages and backgrounds to engage in the joys of Jewish living. Although under Jewish auspices, these community-based centers and their affiliated camps serve populations that are ethnically diverse, fall along a continuum of religious observance, and vary by age from early childhood to senior citizens.
Local JCCs are affiliated nationally with the JCC Association, the successor organization to the Jewish Welfare Board, which came into being during World War I to provide welfare, morale, and religious service to men and women in the armed forces. JCC Association strives to strengthen Jewish life in North America through research and publications, human resources development, conferences, direct service and consultation, and special continent-wide programming. JCCs across the country are known for their early childhood programs, health and wellness centers, teen programming, senior adult services, adult Jewish learning, special needs programming, camping programs, and cultural enrichment activities. The Association has more than 350 affiliates (JCCA, 2006). Through its Jewish Chaplains Council (formerly the Jewish Welfare Board), the Association serves Jews in the armed force of the United States.
Jewish family service (JFS) agencies have been a mainstay of the Jewish communal network since the 19th century. There are more than 140 agencies affiliated nationally with the Association of Jewish Family and Children's Agencies, which employ trained social workers and other professional personnel who specialize in clinical work and case management (Association of Jewish Family and Children's Agencies [AJFCA], 2006). JFS agencies are recognized for their clinical expertise and innovative approaches to current challenging mental health issues (Abramson, 1994). Many of these agencies provide adoption services, foster care, group homes for people with developmental disabilities, and geriatric services under contract with government agencies. Services address individual and family concerns, including the mental health needs of recent immigrants. JFS agencies provide the Jewish and non-Jewish communities with high-quality mental health services sanctioned by the Jewish community (Abramson, 1994). In 2003, Jewish Family and Children's Services affiliates spent more than $530 million to assist a broad range of children, adults, and the elderly (AJFCA, 2006).
The New York–based Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services, a UJA-Federation network agency, is one of the largest nonprofit mental health and social services organizations in the nation. It serves over 65,000 New Yorkers annually from all religious, ethnic, and economic backgrounds through 185 comprehensive community-based programs, residential facilities, and day treatment centers (jbfcs.org). This agency has taken a leadership role in responding to the managed care environment and provides a highly sophisticated training program for its professional and line staff.
Hospitals and Services for Elderly People
The development of sectarian hospitals, nursing homes, and specialized geriatric utilities in American communities is a tradition that dates back to the 19th century. Homes for elderly people have been the primary source of service to Jewish older people since the early 20th century. Since the 1930s, Jewish geriatric facilities and JFS agencies have been innovative in providing a range of community-based services. According to Shore (1995/1996), these innovations include the provision of meals to shut-ins; independent and assisted living arrangements; and health services and the introduction of outpatient physical, occupational, and speech therapies. The Jewish community has also been instrumental in the development of hospice-based care for patients in the final stages of terminal illness.
In addition to serving a humanitarian purpose, these facilities were established to provide kosher food for patients or residents who observe traditional dietary laws. Although these facilities have historically received support from benefactors, self-pay and third party sources, and federation subsidies, they are predominantly dependent on government Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for the services they provide. The services of these organizations are available to all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religious identification.
Jewish vocational services (JVS) agencies were founded by federations to address specific communal needs in the areas of employment. “Founded on the concept of ‘parnosah,’ JVS agencies had an obligation to help Jews secure a source of income so they could raise a family, remain independent, live in dignity, and continue to be a vital and productive part of the Jewish community” (Miller, 1995/1996, p. 88). They supplement the efforts of public employment services, with special assistance being provided to physically and mentally handicapped individuals and to recent émigrés who are in need of retraining. Services include vocational testing; individual and group counseling; job placement; educational support; training programs for people with developmental disabilities, mental illness, and dual diagnoses; and economic development services. These programs are designed to assist individuals in becoming self-sufficient. FEGS (Federation Employment Guidance Service) in New York serves more than 100,000 people each year at 300 locations with an annual budget in excess of $200 million (FEGS, 2005).
Community relations are an integral part of the Jewish communal service agenda, something that is reflected in the work of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, and the national and local community relations councils. These agencies are concerned with issues of church–state separation, anti-Semitism, human and civil rights, immigration, equality of women, cultural relations, Jewish identity and education, and relationships among various religious and ethnic groups. These agencies are also engaged in advocacy and education for Israel's security and peace with its neighbors as well as the safety of Jewish communities worldwide.
Jewish Communal Service Association
The current Jewish Communal Service Association was originally founded in 1899 as the National Conference of Jewish Charities and has evolved over the years in terms of membership and functions. It is the primary professional association for a wide range of professionals employed in Jewish communal agencies. It conducts professional development seminars and workshops and publishes the Journal of Jewish Communal Service, the leading journal in the field of Jewish communal services. Affiliated professional associations include the Association of Jewish Aging Services, the Association of Jewish Center Professionals, the Association of Jewish Aging Services, the North American Association of Synagogue Executives, and the World Council of Jewish Communal Service.
Education for Jewish Communal Service
Jewish communal service is not a unitary profession but a field of practice bound by a series of shared attributes in which workers are personally committed and responsible for the following:
• Developing and deepening Jewish consciousness based on knowledge and emotional commitment
• Excellence in professional competence, management, interpretation, and planning
• Leadership through initiative and service as educators and models for emulation and inspiration
• Participation of laypeople
• Effective use of human and financial community resources (Goldman, 2005).
The first attempt to prepare Jewish communal workers in a university setting occurred at Yeshiva University in 1957, with the founding of what was to become the Wurzweiler School of Social Work. Wurzweiler has continued to serve the Jewish and general communities in the preparation of Master's level and doctoral level social workers.
There has been a continuing dialogue since the early 1970s as to whether Jewish communal service is a field (Pins & Ginsburg, 1971), a profession (Reisman, 1972), or both (Bubis, 1994; Bubis & Reisman 1995/1996). More recent writings have provided recommended steps to develop consensus on the knowledge, values, and skills to raise Jewish communal service to a professional status (Bubis, 2005). Currently there are close to a dozen different universities in North America with programs that specifically train individuals for careers in Jewish communal agencies; nine of these are linked to the Federation Executive Recruitment and Education Program of the UJC.
Jewish Population Studies
Since the 1960s, Jewish communal organizations have attempted to better understand their constituencies and their evolving needs, evaluate their services, and plan for future service needs through a series of systematic statistical profiles and local community surveys. The most ambitious and influential of these surveys is the National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS), sponsored by the United Jewish Communities and the Jewish federation system.
NJPS data are the most comprehensive and authoritative and have the most traction in public discussion and policy planning. The 2000–2001 Survey shows a U.S. Jewish population of 5.2 million, a decline from the 5.5 million reported in 1990. Two new population studies estimate the American Jewish population at over 6 million (Saxe, Tighe, Phillips, & Kadushin 2007; Sheshkin & Dashefsky 2006).
Most significant of all the findings for communal policy makers and educators were data regarding Jewish identity and engagement in Jewish life and patterns of intermarriage. The intermarriage rate rose slightly from the record high 1990 level. Rates of intermarriage have increased by generation, with some 87% of those married before 1970 choosing a born or converted Jew as a marital partner, compared with only 53% of those married between 1996 and 2001 (United Jewish Communities, 2003).
Jewish Identity-Building Initiatives
The 1990 NJPS made it clear that most Jews in the United States considered themselves well accepted in the general society and integrated within a largely secular arena. The community would have to prove “worthy” of their support by providing initiatives that instill a sense of belonging, affiliation, and inspiration independent from those of their ancestors.
Against the backdrop of this finding and the alarming evidence of waning levels of Jewish affiliation and dramatic increases in intermarriage rates, the federations declared “Jewish continuity” to be the primary and foremost mission of Jewish communal and social services efforts. The call was to “reinvent” community and create a strategic vision of Jewish life that accounted for the realities of its constituents, both actual and potential.
In response, throughout the 1990s local Jewish federations, especially those from larger cities with a substantial Jewish population, established continuity commissions and launched a slew of Jewish identity-building initiatives targeting different groups, including children, teens, young adults, and outreach to the intermarried. These federations undertook to establish goals and objectives for this mission, with particular focus on Jewish education, the vitality of the Jewish community including the educational offerings of synagogues and temples, and individual Jewish identity building. Community endowments and other funding sources were created to support new programs of outreach, family education, professional training, and study or travel to Israel. Collaborations were encouraged between local institutions already involved in such activities, and efforts were made to win support from donors and activists for this redirection of communal priorities (Dashefsky & Bacon 1994).
Beginning in the mid-1990s and accelerating in the current decade, new funding partnerships spearheaded by leading Jewish philanthropists and family foundations have emerged to engage unaffiliated and marginally affiliated young Jews in Jewish life through ambitious and intensive Jewish experiences. The following are among the most prominent of these entrepreneurial initiatives:
• Taglit—birthright Israel—Inaugurated in 2000, birthright Israel offers a free first-time 10-day trip to Israel for Jews around the world between the ages of 18 and 26. Created by a handful of megadonors in the American Jewish community with matching support from the federations and the State of Israel, the primary goal is to give young people their first Israel experience. Over 100,000 young people from 40 countries have participated in a birthright trip. Research has pointed to heightened positive feelings among participants toward being Jewish and stronger commitments to support and be involved with Israel (Saxe et al., 2004).
• Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE)—Launched in 1997, PEJE is a collaborative initiative of major philanthropic donors whose goal is to strengthen the Jewish day school movement by increasing enrollment in Jewish day schools in North America. PEJE carries out its mission through a Challenge Grant program with schools, advocacy and conferences, and provision of expertise to day schools.
Trends in Jewish Communal Services
The future of Jewish communal service in the United States is intertwined with efforts by Jewish communal professionals, alongside their volunteer leadership, to play a central role in helping shape the Jewish identity and engagement of large number of America's Jews and ensure the vitality of its traditional and emerging institutions. The contours of American Jewry have been dramatically altered in the last 25 years, with high levels of geographic mobility, significant changes in the Jewish family, lesser attachment and connectedness to Jewish life and full integration within the American mainstream now the norms for the bulk of American Jewry. Long-held notions of lifetime Jewish affiliation and membership, once sin qua non for American Jewry and the lifeline of its institutions, no longer hold the same meaning and appeal for younger generation of Jews. However, the most innovative and far-reaching initiatives to intensify Jewish connectedness and engagement have been launched outside the organized Jewish communal agency network. Most prominent are the roles played by individual megaphilanthropists and major private foundations that have created new innovative approaches and launched bold and ambitious identity-building programs with enormous impact on Jewish life, particularly for American Jewish youth and young adults (Bubis, 2005). Their undertakings have reshaped the communal world. Many of these megafunders and other Jewish family foundations and independent funders are affiliated with the Jewish Funders Network, an umbrella organization dedicated to promote the quality and growth of philanthropy rooted in Jewish values. This network provides its members valuable information about philanthropic trends, offers training in grant making skills and practices, and offers innovative Matching Grant Initiatives to help foundations effectively leverage their grant-making.
Simultaneously, there has been a growth of new Jewish organizations and initiatives dedicated to translating the value of Tikkun Olam (healing or repairing the world) into action by mobilizing groups of Jews to provide material aid, empowerment assistance, and advocacy for oppressed and beleaguered populations in America and around the developing world. The American Jewish World Service, motivated by Judaism's imperative to pursue justice, is engaged in a wide range of international development projects in Africa, Asia, and South America. It promotes the values of global citizenship within the American Jewish community through strong advocacy and material assistance on behalf of the endangered tribal populations in Darfur, Sudan.
The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and local Hillel chapters organize student missions to respond to natural disasters in America (for example, rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina) and to community development challenges in South America and elsewhere. Avodah, the Jewish Service Corps, launched in 1998, integrates work for social change, intensive Jewish learning, and community-building. With programs in New York, Washington, DC, and Chicago, Avodah provides young, dedicated Jews internships to work for social change with disadvantaged communities in inner-city neighborhoods, within a Jewish framework.
Finally, there has been a proliferation of alternative Jewish service providers to cater to the particular needs of specific populations within the Jewish community. From experimental educational approaches, small and intimate transdenominational prayer groups, spiritual and learning retreats to creative outreach initiatives and service programs for heretofore underserved groups such as special needs children and adults, gay and lesbian groups, interfaith couples, Orthodox Jews, young adults, and new immigrants, the Jewish community has adopted more inclusive and targeted approaches to respond to the diverse service needs and interests of American Jewry.
This more diversified landscape of both traditional communal agencies and a host of new service providers and funding sources provides a greater variety of opportunities for professional practice. Many communal service professionals who start their careers in traditional communal agencies have later found more challenging opportunities in some of the newer alternative service models. A growing number of young professionals seek out these alternate agencies at the outset of their careers, drawn to their more entrepreneurial approaches and less bureaucratic organization (Bubis, 2005).
The Jewish community like all ethnic and religious communities is faced with change. How the Jewish community deals with issues of choice and diversity as well as changing demographics are reflected in the organizations that are created to meet these changes. Lessons learned can serve as a model for responsive service delivery.
I was given assistance by Rebecca Ackerman.
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