Know Your Jewish Philanthropy: the Federations, the Joint, and the Jewish Agency

Prom Dress

As a Jewish fundraiser there are two major events of the year: the semi-formal and the prom. And by this, I mean the General Assembly of United Jewish Communities in Nashville in November and the Jewish Funders Network annual conference in Jerusalem in March.

Alas, my love has eyes for another.

The GA is too far for travel and the JFN conference is for donors only. Therefore, with my nose to the glass, I will eagerly await all media on these seasons highlights.

In the meantime, there are three pieces of critical knowledge about Jewish fundraising that you simply cannot live without. You must know the difference among the United Jewish Communities, the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and the Jewish Agency.

  • The United Jewish Communities (also known as the UJC or federation system) is the primary fundraiser for capital in the Jewish world. It is the largest Jewish organization in the world and typically raises $2 billion through its Annual Campaign.
  • The Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (also known as the JDC or “the Joint”) responds to and supports Jewish communities in crisis, as well as non-Jewish communities in times of catastrophe (natural disaster, etc)
  • The Jewish Agency for Israel (also known as JAFI or the Sachnut) does Israel and worldwide Jewish and Zionist education, as well as supporting immigrant absorption and major Israel programs

Hungry for more? Keep reading.

The United Jewish Communities

The UJC is the largest Jewish philanthropic organization in history. It provides community services and acts as a fundraising conduit between Jews in North America and the rest of the world.

The UJC was created as an umbrella organization out of three primary Jewish organizations to form a unified fundraising and support body:

  1. United Jewish appeal
  2. United Israel Appeal
  3. Council of Jewish Federations

It’s founding mission was the following:

  • To improve the quality of Jewish life worldwide
  • To nurture Jewish learning
  • To care for those in need
  • To rescue Jews in danger
  • To ensure the continuity of the Jewish people

The federations are staffed by a number of key individuals who take on subject areas (e.g. Israel, women’s philanthropy, overseas giving). The rest of the work is done by laypeople. There are 189 Jewish federations serving 400 Jewish communities in North America.

The UJC’s primary donation destinations are:

  • Strengthening and sustaining local federation offices– local community initiatives to revitalize Jewish communities in North America
  • Emergency relief to Jewish communities in need (the UJC raised significant funding last year to aid Israel in the time of war)
  • Support for JAFI and the JDC
  • Support for Jewish communities around the world
  • Israel advocacy

The Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

The JDC’s mission is to serve the needs of Jews throughout the world, particularly where lives are threatened or challenged. The JDC provides primary support in the way of relief, rescue, and renewal to the Jewish communities most in need in the world.

Note its primary actions in the last 15 years:

  • Rescue: 15,000 Ethiopian Jews in the early 1990s
  • Relief: food, clothing, and medicine to 25,000 Holocaust survivors in the Former Soviet Union in the early 1990s
  • Renewal: revitalizing Jewish communities in the Former Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War to present day
  • Israel: supporting vulnerable populations, children at risk, struggling immigrant populations, the elderly, and disabled
  • Non-Jews: emergency relief in times of war, famine, and natural disaster in the spirit of tikkun olam (healing the world)

The JDC was founded in 1914 to help Palestinian Jews (ah, those were the days) and Jewish communities in distress worldwide. They have an amazing history of rescue and relief which I very much recommend learning about further. This article is a good start.

The Jewish Agency For Israel

The primary purpose of the Jewish Agency is to support Jews in making aliyah (immigration to Israel), facilitate immigrant absorption, and provide Zionist and Jewish education programs to Jews in Israel and around the world.

They have a broad list of programs under their umbrella and if you’ve been to Israel under the age of 30, you’ve likely benefited from their services. The Jewish Agency sponsors ulpans (Hebrew language classes), youth programming and volunteer opportunities (learn more in my upcoming second installment of “Get Thee to the Holy Land”), and academic study programs for foreign students.

They also support weak populations in Israel, such as:

  • Adolescents at risk via the Youth Futures program
  • Ethiopian immigration via Operation Promise
  • Gush Katif (Gaza) evacuees– yes, this is still a major problem for the Israeli economy and society
  • Sderot residents, particularly children with summer camps and holiday programming– if you don’t know about what his happening in Sderot, you MUST educate yourself. I recommend starting with YNetNews or the Jerusalem Post
  • Sudanese refugees (see my post on “Jewish News and Jewish Responsibility”)


It is also crucial that you know about MASA. MASA is a branch of the Jewish Agency that provides Jewish programming to 18–3o year olds. It has had a huge facelift in the last year and is being relaunched with full force. If you want to get to Israel for free or very little money, MASA is your destination.

Well, that’s the central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, and spine of Jewish philanthropy. I hope this post has been useful in providing essential material on this subject.

Links for Further Reading

Want to learn more? Click on these links.

Please comment with other things you always wanted to know about Jewish philanthropy. I am at your service and look forward to discussing these issues with you further.


14 Responses to Know Your Jewish Philanthropy: the Federations, the Joint, and the Jewish Agency

  1. Andy Neusner says:


    Nice blog. I’m looking forward to seeing how it grows — and if you add a feedblitz or feedburner e-newsletter feed I promise I’ll sign up. I’m brand new at UJC (after five years at the JTA news service, which was also a Jewish nonprofit), and I’m definitely looking forward to my first UJC GA. I’m not sure what one does there when you’re not seeing Israeli leaders or motivational speakers do their thing onstage. This year the event’s in Nashville, so I’m working up a vocabulary of nice things to say about country-western music.

    Oh, and one small nag from the editor in me — JTA stands for Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

  2. thenewjew says:

    Hi Andy,

    Thanks for your comment. I’ve actually read your work before and found it quite enjoyable, which I’m glad to be able to tell you in person.

    You are now my inside man at the GA so I expect to hear good things from you. Are you blogging right now or focusing your writing on your official assignments?

    Good luck with your new job. I’ll be sure to let you know as soon as the Feedburner is functional (I think you can subscribe as is, but let me know if you are having difficulties).



  3. Andy Neusner says:

    Hey, Maya. Always nice to have someone who’s read my work. I wish I’d had more time to write at JTA; there were fascinating and fun topics aplenty, but I was just too busy managing people, technologies, etc. So far, I’ve been doing way more writing here, though on a narrower range of topics. Anyhow, I’ll be happy to let you know what happens at the GA, or at least the narrow slice of it I see.

    Oh, and at this point, I’m not blogging much. I’m expected to start posting to external blogs and flying the UJC flag where we have something useful to add (though hopefully I can do that without sounding like a tool) and we’ve got a UJC blog function about a month away from being added to the UJC/Federation sites so we can start up some blogs too.



  4. thenewjew says:

    Hi Andy,

    The subscriber feed is now functional.

    I look forward to reading you more– in whatever capacity I encounter.


  5. […] you are not an insider in the formal world of Jewish philanthropy, you may not be familiar with the Lion of Judah pin. Boy, are you ever missing out. And you thought […]

  6. […] For more information on the Federation system, please see my post, “Know Your Jewish Philanthropy: the Federations, the Joint and the Jewish Agency.” […]

  7. […] The best place to read about the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is here: “Know Your Jewish Philanthropy: the Federations, the Joint, and the Jewish Agency.” […]

  8. […] “Know Your Jewish Philanthropy: The Federations, the Joint, and the Jewish Agency” (MASA is included) […]

  9. Howard Meyerowitz says:

    My wife and I are trying to connect with a philanthropic organization to sponsor a program of family education we have been part of for the past twenty years. The idea for this program would be difficult to describe in this small space, but it would be worth while to have someone contact us.

  10. […] “Know Your Jewish Philanthropy: the Federations, the Joint, and the Jewish Agency” […]

  11. Harvey Ziff says:

    Are you the howard myerowitz I travelled with to Israel in 1983?

  12. […] The best place to read about the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is here: “Know Your Jewish Philanthropy: the Federations, the Joint, and the Jewish Agency.” […]

  13. barham says:

    Good day sir today incoming join you yes I want to immigrate to Israel., Live and work there, please contact me any information or anything, please contact

  14. Martin Shane Goldstein says:

    I need help! Who my I contact?

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