Describing the Elephant Isn't the Challenge

You may know the story of the six blindfolded people who are asked to touch different parts of an elephant. The one who touches the leg declares it a pillar, the one who touches the tail calls it a rope, the one who touches the trunk thinks it’s a snake and so on.

For most people, the part of Jewish Federation that’s most visible is fundraising. True, Federation is an extremely efficient and effective fundraising organization - mobilizing more than $3 million annually for Jewish needs, with about $2.25 million coming from our annual campaign alone. But fundraising isn’t our sole mission, and that’s not all we do. And focusing on our fundraising loses sight of the programs we fund.

Federation is committed to the ongoing development and enhancement of a thriving Jewish community, locally and abroad. We achieve that in many ways – primarily through the funding of high quality services provided by an international network of Jewish organizations. So, if you’re a JCC member and send a child to day camp or day care, or if your child is enrolled at the JDS, or if you seek counseling and case management at JFS, you are a beneficiary of Federation funds. Even if you pay membership dues, activity fees, and tuition, your participation is made more affordable because of unrestricted funds Federation grants to these agencies. Frankly, even reading this column in HAKOL is made possible for you by the Federation and its annual campaign.

Most people will acknowledge that Federation does “good work.” Yet many still have trouble answering the question, “What’s in it for me? Why should I care?”

If your child or grandchild participates at a synagogue family life education program in the Lehigh Valley, we’ll take some credit.

If your teen seeks a scholarship to go to a Jewish youth group leadership program or to compete in the Maccabi “Jewish Olympics” program, they come to us.

If your granddaughter, nephew, or son traveled to Israel on Birthright Israel, Federation funds played a big part.

If you just moved to the Lehigh Valley and you attended a Young Adult Division mixer, you’ve met the Federation.

If you’re a young parent and a volunteer stopped by with a wonderful “Shalom Baby” gift bag, Federation funds are at work.

If you’re deepening your own Jewish knowledge through the Yachad University adult education programs on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at the JCC, we’re helping you learn.

If you want to send your child to a Jewish resident camp but find the costs prohibitive, chances are you encountered a Federation camp scholarship program.

If you found yourself in a precarious financial situation and visited Jewish Family Service for emergency financial assistance and help from the food pantry, that’s also Federation dollars at work.

If your child faced anti-Semitism in their public school and you sought out assistance to work with the school and the school district, we were able to assist because of our annual campaign.

But the Jewish world doesn’t end at the Lehigh or Delaware rivers. Federation is your agent – meeting Jewish needs in Israel and around the world. We are bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel, feeding destitute seniors in Belarus and Lithuania and getting Jews out of Tunisia and Yemen. For the past few years our system, made possible by this and other Jewish Federations, has devoted millions of dollars of services to aid Jews in war-torn Ukraine. And as you read this, our system is partnering with the Israeli government to insure that Ethiopian Israelis receive necessary educational support services to enable the educational success of their children.

And through our Community Relations Council, and partners like ADL, we are advocating for Israel, fighting boycotts and de-legitimization and countering bias. We are lobbying in Harrisburg and Washington for stronger senior services funding and the protection of the tax-favored status of charitable donations and nonprofit organizations.

Nor do we serve only Jews. Most Federation-funded agencies are open to all. The Holocaust Resource Center helps public and private school teachers develop curricula on the Holocaust and delivers custom programs which, this past year, engaged over 2,000 students at their schools. And the IJCU’s Prejudice Reduction Workshop uses lessons of the Shoah to promote tolerance and fight racism to nearly 1,200 middle and high school students each year.

Federation does this and more by bringing people together, shaping a communal vision, assessing needs, devising programs to meet those needs and raising the funds to implement them. Whether it’s services to seniors or Jewish education, Federation’s leadership and collaborative approach makes us more effective by working together.

So, like an elephant – it may be hard to get your arms around Federation. And describing just the piece that you might come across simply does not do justice to the totality of your Jewish Federation.

But accurately describing the elephant is not the challenge.  We will be closing our current annual campaign in about 30 days. However, we can’t accomplish the items listed, and more that are not listed, unless we raise sufficient funds. Without sufficient funds, the challenge is not describing what we do, but deciding what we do without.

Please call us at 610-821-5500 or go to and make your increased commitment to our annual campaign. Our need at this time is a pledge, a commitment to make a contribution. Your contribution is not due for some time. But we need your pledge by the close of our fiscal year to count in our allocations process.​


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