UJF sets up continuity fund to address Jewish apathy

UJF sets up continuity fund to address Jewish apathy

Daniel Shapira made three things very clear about his two-year stint as chairman of the United Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh: 1) he loved the experience, 2) they accomplished a lot, and 3) he hates Baltimore.
Actually, make that four things: The UJF finally set up an entity to support Jewish continuity — an idea Shapira has touted for years and is now finally off the drawing board.
Speaking Wednesday, Sept. 30, at the UJF Annual Meeting at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill, Shapira announced the formation of a new and separate campaign, run through the United Jewish Federation Foundation, which will support projects and activities that encourage Jewish continuity from one generation to the next.
He specifically identified camping, education and trips to Israel as “critical aspects in maintaining Jewish continuity.”
The United Jewish Federation Foundation Fund for a Jewish Future, as the campaign is called — co-chaired by Cindy and David Shapira — is already under way. In fact, $7 million in commitments are now in, Cindy Shapira told The Chronicle Monday.
Daniel Shapira also indentified other achievements over his two-year term: increased revenue for the Holocaust Center, particularly from non-Jewish sources: a partnership with The Chronicle that will result in a quarterly magazine on Jewish life in Pittsburgh, and more than $25 million raised through the past two community campaigns — $12.8 million in 2008 and $12.6 million in 2009.
Though the Community Campaign was down slightly this year, Shapira noted it was still a remarkable achievement given the deep recession gripping the country.
“We will do better than every other federation in the country except Baltimore,” he said. “I hate Baltimore.”
The need for a fund for Jewish continuity is great. According to the 2002 Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study, an estimated 75 percent of the Jewish adults ages 22-39 are either not engaged in the Jewish community or minimally engaged.
Speaking to an audience largely composed of people 50 years of age or older, UJF President and CEO Jeffrey Finkelstein described “the growing apathy of Jews towards their Judaism” as one of the “biggest tasks we have” as a community.
“If we do not instill the feeling of belonging to the Jewish people into future generations of Jews,” he said, “this room could be much less filled in the future.” 
The purpose of the new campaign, Cindy Shapira said, will be to support programs and activities using the three-step guideline brother-in-law Daniel identified at the meeting — education, camping and trips to Israel.
The campaign goals are to raise $25 million by the start of the UJF’s centennial year in 2012, she said. The ultimate goal is $50 million.
“We seek to use these funds to make [activities that encourage continuity] much more affordable,” Cindy Shapira said, “and work on quality initiatives so people who have a choice will choose to make the Jewish choice.
“We want to make Pittsburgh literally the most affordable place to live Jewishly,” she added.
Back at the annual meeting, Daniel Shapira recognized his family and UJF staff and lay leaders, before thanking the capacity audience in the Levinson Hall for his two-year tenure as chairman.
“Thank you for the opportunity to have so much fun,” he said. “I worked as hard as I possibly could and I left nothing behind.”
William Rudolph succeeds Shapira as UJF chair.
Also Wednesday, the winners of this year’s Emanuel Specter Award for exemplary service to the community and Doris and Leonard H. Rudolph Award for Jewish communal professional service, accepted their honors.
In accepting the Specter Award, Edgar J. Snyder emotionally recounted how he became motivated to work for the community. He recalled a 1991 mission to Israel in which he and other participants were bused to the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport at 3 a.m. There, they saw Russian Jews deplaning to make aliya.
“I remember them getting off and kissing the tarmac,” Snyder said. “And I remember them singing Haveynu Shalom.”
He described the scene as “a mind-blowing experience.”
Snyder, who traveled the world with his wife Sandy on Jewish missions, thanked her from the podium for not only making it possible for him to serve, but sharing the experience with him. He said they were “a team.”
Speaking of teams, Finkelstein, in accepting the Rudolph award for his own work at the UJF, stated an interesting fact: the number of volunteers serving on UJF committees comes to 577, and that doesn’t include people who volunteer to man the phones during campaign drives.

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at leec@thejewishchronicle.net.)

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