JFSA Campaign returns to pre-recession goal of $4 million

Shelly Silverman
Shelly Silverman

The 2016 Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Community Campaign is now underway. “Do More Than Before, Give With Your Heart” is the theme of this year’s effort, which seeks to connect personally with community members about the future of Jewish social and educational services in Tucson and beyond.

The official launch is slated for Nov. 18, when the Federation will host a talk by Ambassador Dennis Ross, author of the new book “Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama,” at Congregation Anshei Israel. The goal of the campaign is to raise $4 million to fund a wide variety of organizations and projects, locally and globally.

Shelly Silverman is the chairperson of the 2016 campaign and is leading her committee to partner with the community as they reach out for contributions.

“When someone says, ‘Just put me down for what I did last year,’ it’s not that it’s not a wonderful gift. But I want to engage in a real conversation about what the money does, why the money’s important, and how it will change the community,” she says. “If more people understood the lives their gift affects, they would be much more eager to participate at higher levels. “I want people to be able to say, ‘I really know what I’m giving to.’”

Silverman is a natural fit for this campaign, says Stuart Mellan, Federation president and CEO.

“She’s willing to work harder, stretch her own personal giving, reach out to community leaders and friends, and she’s not afraid to ask them to challenge themselves to do more, because she feels like she’s doing it for the community,” he says. Mellan knows Silverman’s family and says they “made philanthropy, and made Jewish community, a priority.”

Silverman hopes to inspire others to echo that sentiment and to prioritize Jewish giving.

The Tucson Jewish community has a tradition of philanthropic leadership and the Federation plays a key role, Mellan says.

“We work very closely with our agencies to understand where they are, how they’re doing, so that we can make really informed decisions,” he says.

Roughly 20 percent of funds raised are distributed nationally or internationally, and 80 percent are distributed locally.

“If it’s a situation where globally, there are thousands of Jews that are displaced right now in Ukraine, it’s through the Federation that we know that we are taking care of them,” Mellan says. “And we also know that in Tucson, there are roughly 500 families who are facing emergency financial situations each year. We’re talking about situations where people are at risk of being evicted, or having their utilities cut off … dire situations, Jewish families.”

The last time that the Federation reached $4 million in support was in 2007. Since then, efforts have been inching forward to reach that level. The $3.5 million raised in 2015 was the closest an annual Federation campaign has come to matching that previous record, but was still $500,000 short of meeting annual commitments.

Falling short of an annual goal means that the more than 20 planning and allocations committee members who consider how to distribute funds will need to make some tough decisions.

“You can look around the community and every area you see, you see services that really should be functioning at a certain level that aren’t,” Mellan said. “A family that has an emergency need, maybe they’ll get helped once, but if they have a second time they need help that year, we may or may not be in a position to be there for them. “Or, if a scholarship at the JCC is needed, maybe we can only provide 90 percent of what’s really needed. Or, if there are kids who want to go on Birthright, we know there’s a waiting list because we haven’t been able to fully fund every kid who wants to go on Birthright,” he says, referring to the program of free trips to Israel that federations help fund, along with the government of Israel and private philanthropists.

Silverman knows that not everyone can give at the same level, but is committed to challenging others to embrace the spirit of helping those in need.

“There are people who make a $100 gift to the federation, and it’s a huge stretch for them,” she said. “It’s just as meaningful as someone who gives a six-figure gift. I really just want to have Jewish conversations with people about the awesome responsibility and opportunity to participate in a campaign that truly changes lives.

“This community is really ready to be whole again, to be able to provide all of the services and programs that our community needs so much, and all over the world.”

Michael Miklofsky is a freelance writer living in Oro Valley with his wife and three daughters. He also is a Realtor® with Realty Executives Tucson Elite and director of administration for The Shoe House, Inc.