Convening the Jewish Community, Benefiting the Whole Community

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While it might seem obvious that the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans exists to serve the area Jewish community – which it does – its scope and impact definitely reach more broadly into the community as a whole.

“It’s over one hundred years old, and it is the umbrella organization for the Jewish community of greater New Orleans,” is how Arnie Fielkow, CEO of the federation, described the group. “But what’s changed in recent years is that we’ve broadened our outreach to include the non-Jewish community.”

Although it operates as an independent entity, the federation is one of 146 similar groups across the United States and Canada, affiliated under the aegis of the Jewish Federation of North America. But like so many other things local, the New Orleans version is unique.

Prime examples of this are two new centers of excellence JFGNO has opened recently. One is the Leventhal Family Foundation Center for Interfaith Families.

“Over sixty percent of the Jewish community is marrying out of the faith,” noted Fielkow. “We see this as a tremendous opportunity. It’s sometimes difficult for the family to navigate – raising the kids, keeping Judaism alive, respecting other religions. Our objective is to make people comfortable and to teach them about Jewish customs, traditions and holidays.”

The Center even helps couples find officiants for the marriage ceremonies, since within Judaism and some other religions, not all branches accept these unions.

The other new entity is the Goldring Family Foundation Center for Jewish-Multicultural Affairs. “We reach out to other faiths, other communities,” explained Brian Katz, Chair of the JFGNO board. “We build relationships and work together for the benefit of the entire city.”

“There was a time during the Civil Rights era when the Jewish and African-American communities were very close,” added Fielkow. “We’re trying to bring them back together again.”

Partners in this work range from WBOK radio station to local HCBUs Xavier, Dillard and Southern universities. One key component is a civil rights history program for young people that links the struggles of the past with the challenges of today.

In addition to this historic relationship, the Goldring Center also builds links with the Latino community, including collaborating on projects in Latin America. Another component of the Center is the Jewish Pride program, engaging and supporting the LGBTQ+ community.

Of course, central to the Federation’s work is serving the regional Jewish community. “The easiest way to understand the Jewish Federation is that we are the convener for many of the Jewish organization in the area,” said Katz. “The Federation provides funds for most of the organizations, then our programming fills in the gaps.”

In this category is the Federation’s JNOLA young leadership program. Each cohort consists of between 25 and 40 individuals, and begins with a trip to Israel. This is followed by 18 months of monthly sessions that include professional networking, volunteerism, educational programs, and social interaction, all for the purpose of helping build next generation leaders.

The international theme runs through several aspects of the organization, and has been at the forefront recently in response to the war in the Ukraine. JFGNO has raised more than $300,000 for relief efforts (the North American network collectively has raised some $60 million), and Fielkow traveled to the Polan-Ukraine border earlier this year to get a first-hand sense of the needs and the best ways to respond to them.

Crisis response closer to home is another hallmark of the organization. “Disaster relief is a big part of what we do,” Fielkow stated, citing the fundraising and volunteerism efforts after hurricanes Katrina, Laura and Ida.

“I’m very proud of the way we react to emergencies, locally, national and internationally,” concurred Katz, who noted that in addition to raising funds for the Ukraine, the Federation held rallies to raise awareness of the dire circumstances there. “We respond to these situations really well, we bring people together and raise funds for relief. It goes right back to being that convener.”

Underlying all of this is the Federation’s fundraising work, which builds throughout the year to its annual campaign. The contributions received enable the organization to do its own work as well as being a major funder of so many other Jewish organizations.

Still, Fielkow returned to the wider reach and impacts. “At its, the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans is a fundraising entity,” he stated. “And we use those funds to benefit the overall community, Jewish and non-Jewish.”


Categories: Neighborhood Biz