The COVID-19 pandemic has presented an unprecedented challenge to the Jewish community across the globe, said Eric D. Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America.
“There’s nothing like this that’s ever affected the Jewish community because we’ve never had a crisis that’s affected everywhere in the world at the same time,” Fingerhut told the CJN in an April 28 interview from his Washington, D.C., home.
JFNA’s government affairs office worked to secure federal funding for nonprofit agencies and has been involved in helping Jewish agencies across North America access that funding.
“While everybody understandably wants to know what comes next, we have to make sure that infrastructure in the Jewish community survives this crisis,” Fingerhut said. “We don’t really know when we’ll be fully able to reopen vital services. … I think we’re going to be in serious crisis mode for quite a while.”
Fingerhut said he is concerned about agencies across the board, adding that those that rely on Medicaid funding may be in a slightly stronger position than those that rely solely on philanthropy.
“Whether we’re talking about our synagogues, our camps, our Hillels, our day schools – we’ve got some real challenges ahead of us,” he said.
Fingerhut said he has been impressed with the work of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and of JewishColumbus, praising the leadership of Erika B. Rudin-Luria, president of the Cleveland Federation, as well as that of Joel Marcovitch, CEO of JewishColumbus, and Robert H. Schottenstein, board chair of JewishColumbus.
“Now, you see that you can’t know everything that’s going on in the community,” Fingerhut said. “You can’t possibly personally contribute to all the needs of a devastated community. And so collective giving I think is more important than ever.”
Fingerhut said federations are in the unique position of having a birds-eye view of the whole Jewish community in a way that individuals cannot.
“We have the added challenge that the typical way we bring people together to make the case has changed,” he said. “We’re not going to be in big events. We’re not going to be in the kinds of one-on-one conversations in cafes and Starbucks. So we have to approach this through different modes of communicating. But the need is great and the case for giving is greater than ever.”
On a personal note, Fingerhut said his son, Sam, has been accepted to The Ohio State University in Columbus as a freshman in the fall.
“So, I have a huge interest in what’s happening at Hillel at Ohio State,” he said. “And I know they’re staying in touch with their students.”
Fingerhut said he has been impressed with the response of the North American Jewish community to the pandemic.
“The fact that we’re responding to needs around the world even as we’re so concerned about our own condition is such a testament to the North American Jewish community,” he said. “This is the greatest diaspora Jewish community in the 4,000-year history of the Jewish people. We every day exceed what we’ve done before, and we’re going to come out of this strong and demonstrating our ability to support and help out. But let’s not underestimate the magnitude of the challenge.”