At a recent national conference on
the subject, the experts agreed that
Jewish fund-raising is facing a crisis
ARTHUR J. MAGIDA
Special to The Jewish News
"No one knows how much I put in the
pushke [the Jewish charity box' and no one
knows how many prayers are in my heart."
— Traditional Orthodox saying
A schnoor [aJewish beggar' once knocked
on my grandmother's door and she yelled
at him, "You're a disgrace. You're a
disgrace to the Jewish community. You're
a disgrace to yourself. There's lots of work
out there for people like you."
As the schnoor started walking away,
grandmother said "Wait, wait. You are a
disgrace. But inside, you have a beautiful
soul. 7h that soul, I'll give a quarter."
— Arthur S. Goldberg,
City University of New York
or centuries, Jews' commitment
to tzedakah, or charity, has been the pride
of the Jewish community. Throughout the
ages, one keystone of Jewish communal life
was providing for the poor, assuring
dowries for indigent brides, and guarantee-
ing education, hospital services, old-age
homes and free burials.
Early rabbis stipulated that Jews should
give 10 to 20 percent of their income to
aiding the needy. In modern times, only
the most Orthodox — or the most affluent
— observe this proscription. Yet, Jews have
been among the most generous of Ameri-
can ethnic groups. In the early 1970s, for
example, American Jews contributed
FRIDAY, OCTOBER14, 1988
about $736 million to Jewish charities, and
about $1.1 billion to all charities in the
United States. Jewish generosity was
disproportionate to the proportion they
comprised of the American public: Com-
prising only 2.5 percent of the U.S. popula-
tion, Jews gave five percent of all philan-
thropy in the nation.
But by the mid-1980s, claim some re-
researchers, Jewish contributions to
all U.S. charities shrank until they
were closer to the Jews' proportion
of the American population. And
of each Jewish dollar going to
charity, only one-half went to
Jewish causes — down from
two-thirds in the early 1970s.
The balance went to non-
Jewish, secular causes.
This diminishing Jewish
generosity prompted the recent
convening of a two-day confer-
ence in New York on "Jewish
Philanthropy in Contemporary
America." The conference was co-
sponsored by four components of the
City University of New York: the North
American Jewish Data Bank, Center for
Jewish Studies, Institute for the Study of
Modern Jewish Life and the Center for the
Study of Philanthropy.
In the context of the conference, "philan-
thropy" meant not the $100,000-plus con-
tributions associated with the word, but
any contribution — the lowliest to the
most magnanimous — from any Jew for
any reason, whether it be for a new JCC
building or to the United Way.
The conferees — sociologists,
economists, communal organizers — all
agreed that Jewish fund-raising is facing
a crisis. Gone is the time when Jews, said
Mid-19th century charity box. Collection of
Baltimore Jewish Historical Society.