Council of Jewish Federations - excerpt from Lee O'Brien, American Jewish Organizations and Israel, 1986

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This page is an extract, reproduced with permission, from Lee O'Brien, American Jewish Organizations and Israel, Washington DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1986. [1]

  • Year established: 1932
  • President: Shoshana S. Cardin
  • Executive Vice-President: Carmi Schwartz
  • Address: 575 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10022
  • Publication: What's New in the Federations? (newsletter)

General Background

In its original form, a Jewish federation was a joint fundraising effort involving all the various local social welfare agencies in a given community; a welfare fund was a similar effort for national and overseas needs. The first federation was established in Boston in 1895, and the concept spread rapidly across the country. Eventually, CJF was founded as a national coordinating body, an 'Association of 200 Federations, Welfare Funds and Community Councils serving nearly 800 communities which embrace over 95% of the Jewish population in the United States and Canada.' [2]

While CJF began primarily as a fundraising coordinator, it developed into a central planning agency for organized American Jewry in the late 1940s and 1950s, when the amount of funds raised by the federations greatly increased, mainly in response to the needs of displaced Jews in Europe. The federations supported Israel from its inception for humanitarian reasons, since it was seen as the solution to the plight of European Jews. Especially after 1967, Israel became the means for soliciting millions of dollars from American Jews, even though the funds from the annual UJA-Federation campaigns go to both domestic and international needs. Since 1980, these funds have totaled over a half billion dollars a year.

As an umbrella body, CJF does not actually raise or possess the annual millions itself, but it coordinates, represents, and advises the hundreds of local federations that do and thus is granted a significant impact on Jewish communal life. (The process by which approximately two-thirds of the local Federations' fundraising' totals are transferred to the United Jewish Appeal (UJA), the United Israel Appeal (UIA), and then to the Jewish Agency and Israel is detailed in Chapter 3).

At the same time, CJF's close involvement with raising and distributing such large sums of money has inevitably led to a deepening of its relations with Israel, so that today CJF is a virtual partner of the Jewish Agency (JA), the official Zionist funding arm since before the establishment of Israel. This is how CJF describes its current relationship with the JA

To carry out collectively the same trusteeship for funds which go overseas as is exercised by Federations locally and to assure that the most important needs will be dealt with most effectively, CJF, in cooperation with UJA and its partner agencies, UIA and Joint Distribution Committee, has assisted the Jewish Agency for Israel to review its operations and structure. The Jewish Agency receives, through UJA and UIA, nearly two-thirds of all Federation allocations. Together with leaders of UIA and UJA, CJF leadership has made recommendations to the Jewish Agency to strengthen its fiscal planning and budget procedures, initiate new and coordinating arrangements in the activities of the Agency, and undertake changes in the administrative procedures, especially regarding immigration and absorption.

The involvement of American Jewish communal leaders was formalized in the 1971 reconstruction of the JA; Daniel Elazar notes in his 1973 study that since then, the JA has

Virtually coopted the federation leadership as its 'non-Zionist' representatives, creating an even tighter bond between the institutionalized representatives of the World Zionist movement and the American Jewish community than ever before. [3]

A prime example here is Martin Citrin, who, when president of CJF, also served the JA as a member of the board of governors, co-chair of the Commission of Jewish Education, and member of the Immigration and Absorption Committee and the Comptroller Committee; in addition he is on UJA's board of trustees and UIA's board of directors and executive committee.

Structure and Role

As their fundraising totals have grown, the federations have increasingly taken over the task of Jewish community planning. Local federations are responsible for allotting funds from the annual campaign to community projects such as hospitals, schools, and other institutions, many of which serve people outside of the Jewish community. While the funds allotted for domestic needs are only about 20 percent of the annual campaign total of over one-half billion dollars, they are still substantial.

As coordinator of the local federations and their affiliates, CJF acts as the overall budgetary, planning, allocating, and supervisory body of the organized American Jewish community. Its role is to be a national instrument to strengthen the work of local federations; to provide leadership to locals in developing programs; to be a forum for the exchange of experience; to provide guidelines for fundraising and operations; and to present joint national planning on common purposes dealing with local, national, and international needs. The services CJF offers to its affiliates within this framework include:

  • Community Services Committee and Consultants -Provides local federation activists with a ‘national perspective on major Jewish communal issues’.
  • Campaign Planning and Community Building-Long-range fundraising strategy based on demographic and sociological studies, development of leadership cadre, and pilot fundraising projects (coordinated through the CJF-UJA Liaison Committee).
  • Endowment Development-Intended to increase federation endowment funds, which totaled more than $600 million in 1981.
  • Washington Action Office-Assists local federations' to obtain federal funds for social services and cultural programs.
  • Communitv Planning-Assists local federations to improve structures and procedures, to provide liaison with national agencies, and to implement demographic studies.
  • Emerging Planning Areas-Consultation regarding targeted populations including the aged, Jewish singles, Jewish disabled, and child day care.
  • Long-Range Planning Committee-Develops a national data base and pilot projects for efficient long-range planning.
  • Jewish Education Service of North America-Provides recommendations and funding for projects.
  • CJF Task Force on Federation-Synagogue Relations-Coordinates work with the Synagogue Council of America, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and other national congregational bodies.
  • College Services-Administers the finances of Hillel (B'nai B'rith's campus organization).

Soviet Jewish Resettlement Project-Administered by the CJF, with funds from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Joint CJF UJA Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) Task Force on Television, develops a weekly television program to focus on issues relevant to the Jewish community. CJF-UJA Regional Public Relations Institutes-Provides day-long workshops on innovative ideas and techniques for public relations.

Leadership Development-Part of CJF's Human Resources Development Department, whose aim is

Recruiting outstanding leaders who have attained high positions in business and the professions but who have not become part of the leadership cadre of the Federations. There is also a Young Leadership program and a Women's Division

An important CJF service is the Large City Budgeting Conference (LCBC). Most Jewish community organizations, from national groups like the AJC and ADL to local agencies, receive funding from the LCBC, which

Includes 29 of the largest Federations working together to analyze the programs and finances of 30 national and overseas agencies and to develop joint recommendations on funding them. It is housed in CJF and serviced by CJF, while its basic expenses are met by dues from the participating Federations. CJF also issues budget digest reports on over fifty agencies, which are used to assess budget allocation. This control over financial resources is the base of CJF's power in the community.

CJF is governed by three bodies: the year-round delegates, the board of directors, and the executive committee. The year-round delegates represent local communities and participate in the annual General Assembly, where they elect officers and board members and help plan the coming year's agenda. They also serve on various committees and task forces and provide the effective link between CJF and the local federations.

There are 720 such delegates, from whose numbers come the board of directors. The executive committee is appointed each year by the president, with agreement of the board. Financially, CJF is supported by dues from its constituents; these are set on a sliding scale.

According to CJF's 1982 Annual Report-Charitable Organization filed with New York State Department of State, its total revenues were $9,266,520. Of that, $4,075,171 went to member services, $3,896,145 to Soviet Jewish resettlement, $23,641 to student aid, $95,684 to LCBC administration, and $700,876 for general management.

Israel Support Work

According to CJF's 1982 Annual Report

'American understanding and support for Israel is a priority concern to CJF. It is approached in conjunction with a number of organizations but primarily through the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC), whose responsibility is to coordinate central planning strategy and programs of the national Jewish community relations and local community relations agencies. In order to bolster U.S. Administration and Congressional support for Israel, as well as America's understanding of Israel's vital role, the Council has organized meetings with Administration and Congressional leaders in Washington, which have been attended by Federation presidents of major cities, to discuss foreign affairs.'

Since the 1973 war, CJF has actively pressured Jewish community groups to make Israel support work a priority on their community relations agendas. At that time, CJF formed an Emergency Advisory Committee on Community Relations in the Middle East and sponsored meetings with NJCRAC and the AJC, AJ Congress, and ADI. The result of these meetings, announced at the November 1973 CJF General Assembly, was the formation of the special NJCRAC Israel Task Force to channel funds to the community relations agencies for Israel support projects; its initial budget was over one million dollars, with the funds allotted from the annual UJA-Federation campaign revenues. [4]

CJF's grassroots network of local affiliates provides a direct link to the general Jewish community that is unmatched by any other single organization. The nature of their activities can be gauged from the CJF newsletter, What's New in the Federations? Among the activities noted in the February and July 1983 issues, for example are:

Cleveland, Ohio- A comprehensive information program on Israel aimed at non-Jewish community leaders. Organized by the Cleveland Federation Israel Task Force and financed by CJF's Federation Endowment Fund, the program included special missions to Israel, such as a March 1983 trip for business leaders; a June 1983 meeting that brought former U.S. Undersecretary of State Joseph Sisco together with more than one hundred community leaders; and a local newsletter, FYI: Israel Update.

Rochester, New York-A month-long celebration of Israel's thirty-fifth anniversary sponsored by the Rochester community federation. Events included a special philharmonic orchestra performance, a screening of Exodus, and a thirty-second public-service TV announcement showing footage of David Ben-Gurion and the first Jewish settlers.

Denver, Colorado- The Leadership Roundtable, a program sponsored by the Allied Jewish Federation of Denver for outreach to leaders in business, industry, and the professions. Their first briefing session on the Middle East was addressed by former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Maine- Israel and the U.S.-Promise and Fulfillment, a four seminar series organized by the Southern Maine Federation. Aimed at church and service groups, the seminars covered Zionism up to 1948; Arab claims to Palestine and the Arab national movement, with emphasis on Israeli options for the refugee situation; oil, political power, and the development of U.S. policy; and public relations and the emergence of pro-Arab lobby groups.

On the national level, CJF's General Assembly, which is billed as the largest annual gathering of Jewish organizational life in America, has become the major annual event of the organized Jewish community. According to Melvin I. Urofsky

The real power in Jewish life is found at the community level. If one wants to see the nearest thing to a truly representative Jewish parliament, the place to go is the General Assembly of the CJFWF. There the gut issues of the day are dealt with, as problems of quotas, allocations, community relations and programming are hammered out and the communal agenda set. [5]

The General Assembly also provides the thousands of local activist federation members who attend with specific programs, training and political direction for Israel support work. The participation of other national organizations, such as AIPAC, WZO, NJCRAC, ADL, and AJC, further increases the effectiveness and scope of this process.

Among the presentations at the 1979, 1980, and 1981 General Assemblies were:

  • ‘Making Israel a Living Experience: Community Involvement with Israel Programs, Information Desks and Aliyah Activity,’ with speakers from the Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) and the World Zionist Organization (WZO).
  • ‘Inside the Arab World’, a forum arranged by the American Professors for Peace in the Middle East (APPME).
  • ‘Community Relations Priorities in the 1980s: Three Issues-Israel and the Middle East, Urban Affairs, Interreligious Activities’, with speakers from NJCRAC,

AIPAC, ADL, AJC, and AJ Congress.

  • ‘College Youth and Faculty: Arab propaganda on the college campus, an informal discussion’, presented by Hillel.
  • ‘Strengthening Links Between the North American Jewish Community and Israel- a panel discussion with Americans who have gone on Aliyah’, sponsored by JWB, the Israel Aliyah Center, and the North American Aliyah Movement.
  • ‘Revolutionary Changes in the Islamic World’, arranged by APPME.
  • ‘Israel as an Educational Resource: Principles and Programs- An Exploration of Formal and Informal Approaches’, prepared by the Jewish Agency and WZO.
  • 'Israel and the Arab World: Changes and Challenges, Post-Sadat Implications’, prepared by APPME.
  • ‘Peace in the Middle-East-The Role of North American Jewry’, with participants from NJCRAC, AIPAC, and AJ Congress, as well as Dan Patir, advisor to former Israeli prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin.
  • ‘Israel-Diaspora Relations: Strengthening Links with Israel through North American Oil’, presented by the Israel Aliyah Center. At the 1982 General Assembly, a number of workshops addressed the conflict in the community caused by the Lebanon war:
  • ‘North American Jewry and Israel in the Post-Lebanon Climate: Assessing Consequences of Recent Events and Their Implications For Communities’.
  • ‘New Challenges of the Media: Improving Governmental Relations. Making the national-local network more effective and improving the hasbara [information] effect’, presented by AIPAC, NJCRAC, AJC, AJ Congress.
  • ‘Community Relations Issues of the Middle East: Opportunities for Expressing and Dealing With Differences of Opinion Within the Jewish Community’.
  • ‘Arab Propaganda on the College Campus: Impact and Response. Arab propaganda is in high gear on the campus and is undermining Jewish student self-acceptance and the academic commitment to Israel’.
  • ‘The Jewish Community Newspaper’, stressing the importance of developing a newspaper in each community since recent events have shown that the general media is unreliable on Israel.
  • ‘Successful Student Programs’, including a report from the Campus Friends of Israel Task Force. CJF's role as the foremost national forum for pro-Israel politicking in the United States also emerges most clearly in the General Assembly.

With more than two thousand participants from virtually every major Jewish community and Zionist group in the United States, it is the most desirable platform for both Israeli and American leaders who desire to touch base with Jewish grassroots and leadership. Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was scheduled as the keynote speaker in 1980 and 1982 (although he was forced to cancel his appearance in 1982 because of his wife's death). In 1981, Moshe Arens, then a member of the Knesset and chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee (and later Israeli defense minister), presented an analysis of the Saudi peace plan. In 1983, Israeli President Chaim Herzog timed his visit to the States to coincide with the General Assembly and spoke there, as did U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, who presented a major policy statement on the Middle East.

Among the political resolutions passed at the 1983 General Assembly was one on the situation in Lebanon, said to

Demonstrate anew that Israel is America's sole stable and dependable ally in the region and hence, the necessity for strengthening United States-Israeli cooperation. [6]

Other resolutions urged continuing and increased U.S. aid to Israel, including ‘the technical and financial means to independently build the Lavi fighter aircraft’- a request granted by the Reagan administration shortly thereafter. Significantly, certain issues under debate within the Jewish community were not put to a vote at the General Assembly: a resolution proposing a freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, for example, was tabled despite reported support from a number of delegates. [6]


  1. This page is reproduced by permission of the Institute of Palestine Studies, granted on 25 February 2014. The Institute retains copyright of all material.
  2. , CJF 51st General Assembly Program, 1982 Annual Report
  3. Daniel J. Elazar, Decision Making in the American Jewish Community, in American Jews/A Reader, edited by Marshall Sklare. New York: Behrman House Inc., 1983
  4. Schiff: 187
  5. Melvin 1. Urofsky, American Jewish Leadership, American Jewish History 70/4 (June 1981): 415-416
  6. 6.0 6.1 Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 23 November 1983.