State of the Federation


There was a time in my life when I was an active scholar of the American Jewish community in general and Jewish Federations in particular. My doctoral dissertation was called “Machers” and talked about the critical role fundraising plays not just in supporting the Jewish community but, in some fundamental ways, creating that Jewish community.

My argument was that if you really want to see who is “inside” and who is “outside” our community, look to see who gives money to any Jewish cause- your Federation, synagogue, ADL, Hillel, whatever. If you give, you’re stepping up and saying you’re a member of the community. If you’re not, well… maybe you should.

I bring this up not to talk about fundraising but to talk about what holds us together as a community. Because while I have long thought of fundraising as something that draws a boundary around the community, it’s not what holds us together. People don’t give their hard-earned dollars for the sake of belonging, you give those dollars because something is speaking to you, compelling you to do so.

In fact, one year ago, my State of the Federation address was about exactly that. I spoke about Simon Sinek’s famous axiom that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. You support the Federation not because we do various programs and activities, you support the Federation because those programs and activities exist for the purpose of perpetuating the Jewish community. It’s the why.

On October 7, everything changed. For 9 months now, we have watched not just a horrific war rage in Israel- but other wars that are being fought on social media and in the news and on college campuses and at the UN. At both an individual and collective level, Jews today are under attack. Historically speaking, this is nothing new. Maybe antisemitism has been in hiding or “unfashionable” since the horrors of the Holocaust, but I don’t think anyone would deny that it’s back.

These days, hardly a day passes when you don’t hear a major headline story on the news involving Jews. And since October 14, it’s not been in a good way. I don’t need to tell you that antisemitism is up 400% and anti-Zionism is, well, not even measured.

This year, we’re talking about external forces pushing us together. Whether it’s the Goyim Defense League on one side or Students for Justice in Palestine on the other, we are being identified as the evil perpetrator. It’s having the effect of both scaring us but also uniting us.

In addition, today’s scholars are calling it a “surge” as more and more Jews are seeking out one another and looking for ways to connect with their Jewish community. We’re seeing it here as well. Every program we seem to do these days pulls in a crowd of people, and often people we’ve never seen before. Our leadership development programs and 36 Under 36 are swelling with applicants.

And finally, an update on the state of your Federation. We’re strong. Our mission to engage and support the community is clear. Our vision for the long-term health of Indianapolis Jewry is coming into sharp focus. We are committed to being an Indianapolis Jewish community, not just Jews who happen to live in Indianapolis.

We know now that we can only count on ourselves, but we are united in our conviction to do so.

It’s going to be a big year ahead. A lot of the building blocks that we’ve been putting in place in terms of volunteer and professional leadership, growing our Annual Campaign, and developing relationships across our system are starting to pay off. We’re going to capitalize on the surge and do everything we can to let it propel us forward.


Add Comment