Ask the Expert: Organizations for All Jews

Who are the major players in worldwide Jewish life?

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Question: As Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Jews are so divided in so many aspects (like Torah from Sinai, and “Who is a Jew” among others), which are the most important institutions that bring together all the Jews to defend collective rights and provide for the needs of the Jewish community?
–Yosef, Spain

the expertAnswer: Despite our many differences of opinion, Jewish communities are usually pretty good at coming together to ensure that the community as a whole is taken care of, Yosef.

The biggest transdenominational Jewish organization in any given place in North America is likely to be the Jewish Federation of that area. Federations are umbrella organizations that collect and distribute funds to smaller organizations in the Jewish community. A Federation might underwrite part of the costs of a Reform pre-school, ensure that low-income Holocaust survivors have access to adequate food and health care, subsidize the childcare costs of  ultra-Orthodox families, and support many other causes. Most Jewish federations have a three-pronged approach, allocating resources to local Jews in need, local Jewish education, and Israel.

Outside of North America, the Jewish Agency acts as a connection between many different sectors of the Jewish community, and supports a variety of smaller groups in each area. However, the Joint Distribution Committee (often referred to as “the Joint), is probably the closest thing to an international Federation-type organization. The JDC focuses on bringing relief to Jews in need, helping to renew bonds to Jewish identity and Jewish culture, and helping Israel overcome the social challenges of its most vulnerable citizens, both Jewish and non-Jewish. The Joint also provides disaster relief and long-term development assistance in poverty-stricken countries around the world.

Hillel International is another transdenominational organization. It aims to enrich the lives of Jewish university students around the world,, no matter their affiliation. You can find Hillel houses and Hillel programming everywhere from Ole Miss in Mississippi, to Dublin, Ireland, to Belarus.

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