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Shabbat Shalom - Jeff's Blog RSS Feed
What Has Made You Most Proud?
Friday, September 14, 2018

I was interviewing a candidate for a vacant position at the Federation yesterday. I believe that interviews go both ways. We are interviewing the potential person to see if they have the necessary skills and equally as important, to see if they will be the right fit for our organization and its culture. At the same time, the candidate is interviewing us to see if we are a fit for them and their career goals. Therefore, I always provide ample time for the potential employee to ask whatever questions they would like. 

This candidate asked an interesting question I do not recall ever being asked: what thing you have done in your time at the Federation has made you most proud? I have continued to ponder that question but in a narrower time frame (the past year) and not about my personal accomplishments, but rather of our Federation. 

This summer, our Jewish Community Security Director conducted dozens of visits to area synagogues and day schools to ensure that they have the right protections in place for this year’s High Holidays and beginning of the school year. In the last year alone, 4,000 people were trained on how to respond in case a dangerous situation becomes a reality. 

Our Jewish Community Health Plan with twenty Jewish organizations and synagogues launched a wellness initiative to try to keep our Jewish communal professionals and their families healthy. Next Friday, a large health and wellness fair is taking place at the JCC for all of them. 

The Federation has taken initial steps in providing guarantees to allow Riverview Towers, in partnership with the JAA, to access nearly $17 Million in tax credit financing to fully rehabilitate their facility inside and out. 

The LIFE & LEGACYTM training and campaign for fourteen communal institutions was launched this year to encourage community members to leave a legacy for the Jewish institutions they have cared for during their lifetimes. Federation has funded this in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation so that all our agencies and synagogues will be empowered and equipped to hold conversations with long time committed donors about leaving a bequest or planned gift of some sort. Millions of dollars have already been secured in just the last year. 

The data and results from the 2017 Jewish Community Study has been shared with every interested Jewish institution in our region. All are wrestling with the findings. We continue to partner with them to utilize the data to make informed strategic decisions. 

We worked, hand in hand, with our three Jewish Day Schools to raise a record $5.9 Million in EITC funding to provide scholarships at these three schools and at all our Jewish preschools. 

All of these are just a sampling of what we have accomplished just in the past year because of your support. Much of the Yom Kippur liturgy is written in the plural and not in the singular. The Kol Nidre prayer begins with “All vows and things WE have made forbidden on ourselves”. The Unetaneh Tokef prayer begins with “WE shall ascribe holiness to this day…” When we hit our chest and recite the “Ashamnu” prayer, we are saying, “WE are guilty”.  The kind of initiatives I have shared above are only possible when WE work together collectively and collaborate as a unified Jewish community. 

Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Our results as a community speak for themselves. 

Shabbat Shalom. Wishing you an easy, but very meaningful fast.

P.S. The Federation has launched a special campaign for Hurricane Florence relief (this is separate and apart from the Federation’s Community Campaign). As we have in past natural disasters, all the money raised will go to relief efforts. I encourage you to join with the other Jewish Federations around the country to support the Jewish communities and others in the “eye of the storm”. You can do so here: https://jfedpgh.org/hurricane-florence

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Shana Tova u'Mesuka
Friday, September 07, 2018

Shana tova u’metuka!So many people I know, including myself, like to get together with friends and family to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and to observe Yom Kippur. Togetherness forms the core of our Jewish tradition. The Torah tells us that a group, a minyan, is required for public worship. Tradition teaches that every person in the minyan plays a critical role. Later, Hillel teaches us in Pirkei Avot, “Do not separate yourself from the community.”

The truth is that we do more when we work together. I see that truth every day at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. Let me give you a few examples:

  • Recently, Riverview Towers qualified for almost $17 million in government tax credits to renovate their facility. The project will bring more Jewish-inspired housing to low-income seniors. The Jewish Federation worked with many participants to make this dream a reality. Our government relations specialist worked with state legislators, and we provided a grant to fund an expert to navigate the myriad U.S. Housing and Urban Development regulations. In addition, the Federation Board of Directors recently voted to guarantee the construction financing—a step crucial for Riverview to fully utilize these tax-credit dollars.
  • This year, the Jewish Federation, with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, launched the Grinspoon LIFE & LEGACYTM program, to create endowments for 14 Jewish institutions. The program trains and supports these Pittsburgh organizations to work with donors to create endowments through a will, trust or estate plan. Endowments will help these institutions, including our Jewish Federation, serve our community long into the future. In other words, the community of today is coming together to meet the needs of the community of tomorrow—needs that we can’t even foresee today.
  • We are working together under the direction of the Federation’s Jewish Community Security Director to learn how to keep our community safe. He has visited 50 Jewish locations, to assess their security needs. He has trained thousands of Jewish communal professionals and community members, to respond to security threats and potential life-threatening incidents. He has worked with Pittsburgh-area law enforcement and first responders, to ensure that they have building blueprints and the information about our organizations that they need to respond quickly and effectively.
  • Through the Jewish Federation and our collective giving, we were able to fund two programs brand-new to Pittsburgh: OneTable and Honeymoon Israel. Both programs will bring young adults together to foster their connection to Judaism in a way that is meaningful to them. OneTable fosters an enduring Shabbat practice through shared Shabbat dinners. Honeymoon Israel takes Jewish couples and interfaith couples to Israel to stimulate conversations about raising Jewish children. Both programs encourage togetherness as a way to connect.

We come together to make a difference because we love Jewish Pittsburgh. The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is the heart of the Jewish community—bringing people together through giving, learning and volunteering. By joining together through the Federation to take care of everyone in need, we help more people than we could alone. And we all benefit by keeping Jewish Pittsburgh a great place to live.

 As you gather with your family and friends this time of year, I invite you to think about how much we have accomplished by working together. Educating our kids. Helping neighbors in need. Instilling in our youth the values our parents taught us. We are building a stronger Jewish Pittsburgh and rescuing Jewish communities around the world.

Shana tova u’metuka—wishing you a happy and sweet new year, 
Jeffrey Finkelstein
President & CEO

FED Talks: Ideas to POWER an Inspired Community
Friday, August 31, 2018

Instead of writing this week, I’ll let our Annual Meeting speak for itself. If you were not present last night, I encourage you to watch the video below. You will hear from our Board Chair Meryl Ainsman with updates on our Federation, experience award presentations to deserving recipients Cindy Shapira and Nancy Zionts, and be inspired by our three Fed Talks speakers featuring Eric Fingerhut (CEO of Hillel International), Rabbi Jeremy Weisblatt (Temple Ohav Shalom in Allison Park) and Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin (Baltimore Orchard Project).  

The hot and humid weather this final weekend of summer gives a great excuse to sit inside and watch.  

Shabbat Shalom!

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Embracing Change and Responding to Our Jewish Community's Needs
Friday, August 24, 2018

FED Talks: Ideas to Power an Inspired Community | August 30, 7:00-9:00 PM | Kelly Strayhorn Theater

I am so excited for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Annual Meeting next Thursday. We have fully revamped the format of the program presenting our own “Fed Talks” modeled after the highly successful Ted Talks that have appeared online for many years. Three uniquely positioned speakers will present their ideas in very short and powerful presentations. Eric Fingerhut, the CEO of the CEO of Hillel International, will present on how to turn a legacy organization around to address the needs of modern college students. Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, a renowned Jewish educator and activist, will speak about creating a welcoming community. And Rabbi Jeremy Weisblatt, the new Rabbi at Ohav Shalom in Allison Park, will talk about outreach in the Jewish world. 

We at the Federation hope that many in our community will attend to be inspired and maybe learn some new ideas that can be implemented in our own organizations to better serve our changing community. You can read more and register for the Annual Meeting online.

We will also be honoring Cindy Shapira with the Federation’s Emanuel Spector Award and Nancy Zionts with the Doris and Leonard H. Rudolph Award. 

This Annual Meeting, taking place in a new location, is our kickoff for Federation’s year of fundraising, planning and programming. All these changes we are instituting set a tone for our organization that just doing things as they have been done in the past is not enough. Embracing change and responding to our Jewish community’s needs of 2018 is how we can and will best serve the nearly 50,000 Jews of Greater Pittsburgh.

See you Thursday at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater!

Shabbat Shalom. 

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh


Wexner Heritage Program Hones Jewish Leadership Skills
Friday, August 10, 2018

I just returned from Aspen, Colorado where I had the incredible opportunity as a guest of the Wexner Foundation to be with our latest Wexner Heritage Program cohort. The mission of the Wexner Heritage Program is “to expand the vision of Jewish volunteer leaders, deepen their Jewish knowledge and confidence and inspire them to exercise transformative leadership in the Jewish community”. It is an two year course of study with 18 classes during the year here in Pittsburgh and three intense summer retreats. This is the third time Pittsburgh is sponsoring a class. As you look at the forty alums of the prior two classes (and their spouses/significant others), you see past Federation Campaign and Board Chairs, past synagogue Presidents, past agency presidents and others who are involved in multiple ways throughout our Jewish organizational landscape. 

While I would say that everyone chosen for the program already has natural leadership qualities, the course of study helps to flesh out and hone their skills, and better cement their Jewish knowledge to help them not just be a good leader, but to lead Jewishly. 

I was lucky to attend a few classes this week. I heard my friend Rabbi Michael Paley discuss how time plays a role in Jewish life through the Jewish calendar. Rabbi Naomi Levy taught a class entitled “A Journey into the World of the Soul”. She was able to not only teach the content from our ancient texts, she moved us to a deeply spiritual place at the same time. Deborah Lipstadt, the great Holocaust scholar, spoke about anti-Semitism in our world. And Les Wexner addressed the group with his own personal thoughts about leadership.

I have a “Rocky Mountain High” from what I saw in Colorado. Watch out Jewish Pittsburgh! We have some fired up and committed Jewish leaders ready to make Pittsburgh the best Jewish community it can be. Here is our 2018 Wexner Heritage class:

Jonathan Bernstein
Beverly A. Block
Shoshi Butler
Joshua M. Farber
Jeremy Feinstein
Rachel Firestone
Deborah F. Graver
Tammy Hepps
Rebecca Hurowitz
John Katz
Rona Kaufman
Kristen Keller
David Knoll
Mollie Lang
Scott E. Seewald
Yael Silk
Marcie Solomon
Scott Tobe
Jonathan Weinkle
Marla Werner

I want to thank so many of our Wexner alumni who have already stepped up to financially support this new cohort. You should all feel fantastic.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

ReJEWvenating Experiences of Jewish Summer Camp and Keshet Inclusion Curriculum
Friday, August 03, 2018

There were two powerful moments I personally experienced this past week that I will briefly share in this message.

  1. I joined a group of Federation staff and volunteers at Emma Kaufmann Camp, along with our colleagues from the JCC, to meet with and to evaluate three different programs supported by our Federation and to learn about the One Happy Camper program supported and managed by Federation:
    1. Staff in Training (formerly known as CIT’s) Israel experience – SIT’s traveled to Israel for their first month of camp. They spent a week in our Partnership2Gether communities of Karmiel and Misgav. They have now returned to camp inspired by their Israel experience. 
    2. Israeli Shlichim (emissaries) – staff from Israel who infuse the camp with Israel content.
    3. Campers from Karmiel and Misgav – a group of 14 and 15 year old teens who attend the second session of camp along with our own Pittsburgh/American kids.
    4. One Happy Camper – through $1,000 grants funded generously by the Papernick Family Foundation and the Federation’s Centennial Fund for a Jewish Future, these first time campers are incentivized to choose a Jewish camp experience.

      I returned from West Virginia to Pittsburgh completely reJEWvenated. It was remarkable to see how we help make Jewish camping so powerful with added connections to Israel and have successfully encouraged young Jews to select a Jewish camping experience over any other.

  2. Earlier in the week, our Federation staff participated in a two hour LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning) sensitivity training session. The core of the curriculum was developed by Keshet, a national Jewish organization that works for LGBTQ inclusion in Jewish life.

    It was educational and eye opening for many of us as we tried to better understand terminology like “Orientation”, “Bisexual”, “Pansexual” and “Cisgender”, to name a few of our now better understood vocabulary. We learned in chavruta (in small groups) and as an entire staff. We began to discuss how we as a Federation can internalize our learnings. The LGBTQ segment of our community appears to be growing with around 10% of our Pittsburgh Jewish young adults identifying as part of it. As a Jewish Federation dedicated to the entirety of the community, growing our own understanding is critical if we are to be truly inclusive.    

My pronouns are He/Him/His. And I wish you a Shabbat Shalom.  

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Jewish Moments, Courtesy of PJ Library
Friday, July 27, 2018

PJ Library

A group of staff from the Federation and the JCC met this week to discuss our PJ Library program. PJ Library is funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. The JCC, through Federation funding, carries out high quality programs to connect PJ Library families. 

Before I continue, let’s make sure everyone knows what PJ Library is. Every month, children ages 6 months-11 years old receive free books with Jewish content. Harold Grinspoon’s vision in establishing this program was grounded in his belief that Jewish parents read to their children, so why not send them books with Jewish content to inspire those families Jewishly. It has grown to be one of the most successful and largest Jewish programs in the world! In Pittsburgh, we take it several steps further by supplementing the books with family programming through a local coordinator and four Jewish Federation PJ Library Ambassadors. These Jewish Federation PJ Library Ambassadors sit in and conduct their programs in four different geographic areas (Fox Chapel, Wexford/Allison Park, South Hills and the City of Pittsburgh). 

Here are some of the absolutely amazing objective results. A year ago, we had 1,374 subscribers. Today, we have grown to 1,744. Over the last twelve months, 228 unique families attended at least one PJ Library program. Since I do not like to write long articles, I will not share the breakdown of the geography of where the subscribers are and who attended the programs, but needless to say, our trend lines are fantastic. 

What more can we do? We want more subscribers and more participants in programs. We want to try to encourage these families to consider Jewish Early Childhood Centers, Jewish Day Schools and Religious schools. We want to show these families the beauty of Jewish camping. We would love to see more of these families considering adding more Jewish traditions to their home life. The Federation and JCC staff is working collaboratively on implementing strategies to achieve all of these goals.

As Shabbat begins this evening, I know that Pittsburgh children are going to be sitting on the lap of a parent or even a grandparent being read a book about Shabbat or Tzedakah or some other Jewish concept. It may be THE Jewish moment in that house this week or it may be one of many Jewish moments in that house. Either way, it is helping these families on their Jewish journeys.

Shabbat Shalom. 

P.S. If you know someone who might be interested in signing up for PJ Library, direct them to https://shalompittsburgh.org/pj-library/ where they can click through to the PJ Library website to register for the books and see upcoming events.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Where Do I Begin?
Friday, July 13, 2018

Riverview Towers

I was trying to think about what I should write about this week. Should it be about the high level Federation Board informational meetings we are holding to delve into the approximate $17 Million in tax credits Riverview Towers has been granted? Should I write about the fact that a group of Israeli teens from Karmiel and Misgav arrived today to Pittsburgh and will be campers at Emma Kaufmann Camp starting next week? Could I write about the Past Chairs of the Federation who met this week to not only hear from Meryl Ainsman, our current Chair, about what is happening but also to give their own input? Should I talk about the meeting of professionals from several organizations that focus on young adult engagement that we convened to help us all work together even better than we do already? What about writing about the Jewish Community Health Plan Trustees meeting where talented professionals and volunteers are working with our brokers to best position important benefits for those who work in and for our Jewish community?  

That paragraph above contains only a small handful of the things that went on at or through the Federation this week. It is a stunning in both its breadth of activity and its reach. That is Federation! It is what makes being involved with this organization exciting, impactful and meaningful.  

None of what Federation does could happen without our amazingly talented, hardworking and friendly staff. I want to thank them for all they do and for juggling so many diverse balls at one time.  

Shabbat Shalom!

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Children and Young Adults Experience Israel through Various Federation Programs
Friday, July 06, 2018

The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) Board of Governors meeting took place in Jerusalem a week ago. Natan Sharansky, one of my personal Jewish heroes, completed a nine year term as the Chairman of the Executive and Isaac “Bougie” Herzog was unanimously elected to take over that role. I recommend reading about his election, his background and his interests in this Times of Israel article. JAFI is one of our Federation movement’s historic overseas partners and is one of the main ways for worldwide Jewry to work together on global Jewish issues.

During my few days in Israel, I had the opportunity to attend an Onward Israel mega event in Tel Aviv. Approximately 2,000 college aged young adults swarmed the Tel Aviv Cultural Center for an evening of inspiration and entertainment. Onward Israel has its roots right here in Pittsburgh where the Shapira Family conceptualized a post-Birthright Israel, more extended experience in Israel through a resume building internship program. Seven years ago, there were less than 250 participants from around the world and in a short period of time, it has grown more than tenfold. In fact, we are really proud that this summer, Pittsburgh has 45 participants - its largest cohort ever! I was lucky to spend some time with the few I could track down at the mega event to hear firsthand about their time in Israel and their internships. They could not have been more positive! Our Federation subsidizes about 30% of the costs of this trip because detailed research on the impact of Onward shows the positive Jewish identity building it has on this generation.  

Jeff Finkelstein with Onward Israel participants in Israel - July 2018

While I only had the opportunity to interact with some of our Onward Israel participants, Federation has a hand in many more young Pittsburghers experiencing Israel this summer. The twenty Diller Teen Fellows landed last week. The Emma Kaufmann Camp Staff in Training Israel program, underwritten by a Federation endowment fund established by the Philip Chosky Charitable Foundation, is there. There are dozens of Birthright Israel (Federation funds Birthright) buses zipping around Israel with our Pittsburghers. And many more are participating in other teen experiences, all of which Federation subsidizes through our Israel Scholarship Program. 

My first Israel experience was on a teen trip in 1986. It was absolutely life changing and began my strong attachment and love of Israel. It gives me goosebumps thinking about how many young Jews we are providing with this incredible opportunity at this very moment. 

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom. 

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Proper Conduct Precedes the Torah
Friday, June 22, 2018

I asked Josh Sayles, our Community Relations Director, to write this week’s piece. Community Relations (CRC) work is critically important for both bridging relationships within our Jewish community and for building our relations with other diverse communities throughout our Greater Pittsburgh region. 

Almog ElijisThere are a handful of American Jews who believe Israel can do no right, a few more who believe it can do no wrong, and most of our community lies somewhere in between. It is part of the Jewish Federation's mission to engage the entire spectrum of our community, provided we agree on two principles: Israel has the right to exist in the world as a Jewish and democratic state; and derech eretz kadmah l'Torah, translated "proper conduct precedes the Torah." In other words, civility and mutual respect are essential, even in the midst of a heated argument.

Tuesday evening was not the first time we had a small number of mostly young Jews protest an Israeli diplomat we brought to town. It likely won't be the last. Unfortunately this group did not and has never adhered to either of the two principles laid out above. The tactics they used, which included shouting over the speaker on several occasions (creating anxiety for many of the elderly audience members), were intended solely to disrupt and not to dialogue. Then again, this is the same Jewish organization who earlier this week set up tables in JFK Airport and verbally accosted Birthright participants as they were checking into their flights.

It is worth stating the obvious: We will never sever ties with Israel or the Israeli government, regardless of whether that government is rightwing, leftwing or centrist. First and foremost, as the representative of the Greater Pittsburgh organized Jewish community, it is our responsibility to remain connected to the only Jewish state in the world. And secondly, if we are not connected to the Israeli government, how are we going to advocate for issues our community cares about, whether it's egalitarian prayer at the Kotel, Jewish conversion in the diaspora, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

The silver lining is that while this group is disruptive and divisive, they are also largely ineffective. Mollie Serbin, a young progressive Jew (the organization's target audience) and Community Relations Council intern, writes:

"I don’t know (their) exact intent in the interruption; I can only assume that they wanted exposure and for the more moderate people to join them. … They did not convince me of anything and saying their name now leaves a bad taste in my mouth."

An Op-Ed by Mollie detailing her experience with the group will run in the June 29 edition of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. In the meantime, we look forward to civilly continuing the conversation about Israel within our community.

Shabbat Shalom.

Josh Sayles, Director
Community Relations Council

A Passion for Jewish Education
Friday, June 08, 2018

When the Agency for Jewish Learning decided to cease operations as an independent agency, the Federation divided the dollars being invested there into two parts: teen work for our community through the JCC and Jewish educational capacity building at the Federation. That led to the development of a new department for Jewish Education and Engagement at the Federation. Since that time, we have been able to launch new initiatives for Pittsburgh including Honeymoon Israel and OneTable. Federation also took on the responsibility of facilitating the Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Jewish Education for our Pittsburgh Jewish community. 

Sharon SerbinThis year’s teacher, like all predecessors, is a stellar educator. Sharon Serbin has been a force for our Jewish children for decades. In her speech, she discussed the role that her own Jewish foundational experiences through youth groups and Jewish camping inspired her work. It was an incredibly powerful speech by one who lost her own ability to hear at a young age. I encourage you to watch the video about Sharon below that was presented at the ceremony.

At the program sponsored by the Barbara and Lester Parker Fund in the Federation’s Community Foundation, I tried to remind all of us that there are many “Sharon Serbins” in our community - our educators, caregivers for our seniors, social workers, administrators, fundraisers, programmers, planners, counselors, group workers, accountants, HR professionals and career counselors who make such a difference in the lives of thousands every single day. It is our financial support that allows them to work their magic in taking care of the needs of every member of our Jewish community. 

Thank you to all those who work day in and day out as Jewish communal professionals in making this such a special community.

Shabbat Shalom.  

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh 

Pittsburgh Pluralism at its Best
Friday, May 25, 2018

How many take what our Pittsburgh Jewish community has for granted? Probably most of us. 

This past weekend, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh coordinated (in partnership with the JCC), the largest ever community wide Tikkun Leil Shavuot since we began this venture about a decade ago. We estimate that 450 adults and 100 teens participated in late night Jewish study. To put this into perspective, that is more than 1% of the Pittsburgh Jewish community coming out at 10:00 pm on a Saturday night to study Jewish teachings. The part that strikes me every year is the Jewish diversity we are able to assemble in both the background of the instructors and in those attending.  

With 22 separate classes, the teachers come from a variety of Jewish frameworks: Chabad, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist. One class was co-taught by a Conservative and Reform Rabbi. Another was taught by a Jewish priestess. Some of the teachers work in congregations while others work specifically in the area of Jewish education within other institutional frameworks. The participants backgrounds were just as diverse including those who are “just Jewish” and do not affiliate with a specific movement. 

On Shavuot, I went for a walk in Squirrel Hill with my daughter. I ran into one of our young leaders from the Modern Orthodox community. He shared with me that he attended the class with a Jewish priestess. He commented that he doesn’t often have the opportunity to learn with those who come at Judaism in a different way and he appreciated hearing her perspectives. I also ran into someone who is a member of a conservative congregation who attended a session run by the head of our Kollel. While they should be, these interactions are not normative in American Jewish communities.

We must not take this for granted. While our Pittsburgh Jewish community, according to our recent Jewish Community Study, has grown by 17% since 2002, we are still small in numbers compared to the greater population around us. Only by working together, focusing on our collective needs despite our differences, can we create the most thriving, vibrant and engaged Jewish community to which we aspire. We will best be able to care for those who need extra help and support with life and inspire Jewish journeys.

Shabbat Shalom. 

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

What Keeps You Up at Night?
Friday, May 18, 2018

Tikkun Leil Shavuot | Mary 19, 2018 | 10 pm to 1 am | JCC Squirrel Hill
Saturday night begins the holiday of Shavuot. I wrote about the holiday a few weeks ago in anticipation of tomorrow’s community wide Tikkun Leil Shavuot. My suggestion back then to attend our program has become even more amplified to encourage each of you to consider attending this unique to Pittsburgh Jewish experience. With 22 different opportunities to learn with the diversity of Pittsburgh’s talented educators, this is THE not to miss Jewish educational experience of the year. Visit jfedpgh.org/shavuot to see the complete line up of learning opportunities beginning at 10:00 pm and running until 1:00 a.m. on Sunday (including specific sessions for teens). 

Love Is Kosher Pride Equality MarchLooking forward, I hope many of you will mark your calendars to join the Federation’s Community Relations Council in marching in the Pittsburgh Pride EQT Equality March on Sunday, June 10th. Last year, our first in organizing a delegation, over 125 people joined us. I hope to have many more this year (and you get an awesome t shirt while supplies last). According to the Federation’s recently released Jewish Community Study, approximately 10% of our Pittsburgh young adult population is part of the LGBTQIA+ community. This past week, Federation convened a diverse group of LGBTQIA+ individuals and allies from our Jewish community to discuss how the community can be more welcoming and specifically what the Federation can do to provide leadership for that effort. It was a remarkable gathering and we are already working on follow up. Register online to join me and our growing delegation on June 10th.

This Pittsburgh Jewish community is more diverse than ever. This Federation will continue to strive to be audaciously welcoming and inclusive of that diversity. 

Shabbat Shalom. Chag Sameach. See you on Saturday night!

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

The Book of Ruth: Pittsburgh-Style
Friday, May 04, 2018

We are in the middle of a period in the Jewish calendar called the Omer when we count the days from the second day of Passover until the beginning of Shavuot. Yesterday was Lag Ba’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer. Traditionally during the Omer we refrain from certain activities like listening to live music but on the 33rd day, we are able to make an exception.

Last night on Lag Ba’Omer, a group of more than 60 extremely talented members of our Pittsburgh Jewish community put on a self-written and self-produced show entitled “The Book of Ruth: The First Community Wide Shavuot Shpiel”. There is a lot in that last sentence to explain like “shpiel” and why the Book of Ruth is important this time of year. I will leave it to you to use what I heard someone refer to as “Rabbi Google” if you want to understand any of these more than you might already.

Book of Ruth: A Community Wide Shavuot Shpiel

Steeltree, a fund managed by Federation young adult donors to inspire creative ways to engage other young people in Jewish life, along with our own Community Campaign dollars were granted to make this dream a reality. I attended the first of the two performances and I, along with the packed house at the JCC in Squirrel Hill, laughed and learned together. The creativity to tell the story of Ruth and why she is such an important figure from our tradition had real resonance. It was fun to listen to the music and hear the great one-liners and through this medium there was deep Jewish learning.  

The Book of RuthSunday at 3:00 pm will be the final performance. Get your tickets or more information online. 

Let’s Go Pens. To all the runners in the Pittsburgh Marathon, good luck. Shabbat Shalom. 

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Big News for Riverview Towers and Cheesecake Lovers
Friday, April 27, 2018

Volunteer Serving Resident at Riverview TowersOften, the Federation has a hand in making important and historic things happen in our community and it goes unseen.  For instance, a news story in this week’s Jewish Chronicle highlights the tax credit financing granted to Riverview Towers.  As the article says, “In 2018, Riverview Towers accounts for about 10 percent of the total affordable housing units that will be made possible through the PHFA Low Income Housing Tax Credit.”  That’s pretty remarkable.  Congratulations to Riverview Towers leadership and many thanks to our political leadership, especially to Jay Costa for making this happen.  All Federation donors should know that our Foundation granted $125,000 to help in the application process and our joint task force of Federation and Riverview Towers leadership paved the way to put the application in for consideration.  

While it is still a few weeks away, one of my most favorite programs of the year is coming up on Saturday, May 19th from 10 pm-1 am. The Federation, in close partnership with the Jewish Community Center, will hold our annual Tikkun Leil Shavuot.  The holiday of Shavuot celebrates the receiving of the Torah and the tradition is to study all night long.  While our “Tikkun” ONLY goes until 1 am, it offers all of us a chance to learn from some of our community’s greatest teachers and Rabbis on a variety of topics.  For me, what is always powerful is seeing the diversity of our Jewish community “doing Jewish” all together:  a member of an Orthodox synagogue learning with a Reform Rabbi, a “Just Jewish” Jew studying with a Conservative Rabbi, and so on.  It is what makes this community, Pittsburgh, so unbelievably unique and special.  So, check out the lineup of teaching below and mark your calendars now.  Please register online so we know how much cheesecake to order.  And if you have a teen, bring them along for the Teen Tikkun. 

Shabbat Shalom and GO PENS!

Tikkun Leil Shavuot | Mary 19, 2018 | 10 pm to 1 am | JCC Squirrel Hill

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

The Honeymoon is Never Over
Friday, April 20, 2018

I asked Rabbi Amy Bardack, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Director of Jewish Life and Learning, to write this week’s message about Honeymoon Israel. Please read through as you may know some couple that would be perfect to participate in this incredible opportunity. 

Amy BardackAs we have learned from the 2017 Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study, young adults make up a growing proportion of our community. We have thriving offerings for this population through Federation's Young Adult Division, Shalom Pittsburgh, J'Burgh, and community partners such as Moishe House and Repair the World, in addition to Jewish Life and Learning's new initiative, One Table, which has supported 875 seats at in-home Shabbat tables in its first nine months. PJ Library, funded by Federation, does a wonderful job engaging families with young children. At the same time, the majority of millennials are not connected to synagogues or Jewish early childhood centers where they could be supported in more intense and specific exploration of Jewish family identity. Furthermore, we learned in the community study that interfaith families are not involved in Jewish life, relative to data from other cities. How can we better support the Jewish exploration of both interfaith and Jewish-Jewish couples? How do we help couples figure out their Jewish journey, in these critical years when they are in permanent relationships and deciding how they want to shape their lives and raise their children?

About a year and a half ago, I attended a conference on engaging interfaith families and learned about the impact of Honeymoon Israel. Honeymoon Israel provides highly subsidized, immersive trips to Israel for couples with at least one Jewish partner, early in their committed relationship. Couples participate as part of locally-based cohorts. Both during the trip and in follow-up programming, Honeymoon Israel engages couples in open-ended inquiry into how they connect to the Jewish people and how they will incorporate Jewish values and traditions into their families. Couples stay involved with their cohort upon return, serving as a supportive community of peers with whom to discuss and experience their Jewish journeys. Within its three years of existence, Honeymoon Israel has a proven record of success in reaching couples in this demographic who are not connected to our institutions, and nurturing them in a process toward exploration of Jewish life.

Honeymoon IsraelI shared my excitement about Honeymoon Israel with the Jewish Life and Learning volunteer leadership. It was clear to them that Honeymoon Israel fulfills one of our Federation’s strategic priorities of engaging minimally-connected Jews in their 20s and 30s with depth and substance. Thanks to Federation funding from both the Community Campaign and the Jewish Community Foundation, we are launching our first Honeymoon Israel Pittsburgh cohort with a trip scheduled for November 29, 2018. We hosted over 28 couples at information sessions earlier this week!

I hope you will spread the word about Honeymoon Israel to people you know who fall within this targeted demographic. Applications are open through May 23 at www.honeymoonisrael.org.

Shabbat Shalom and Go Pens!!!

Rabbi Amy Bardack
Director of Jewish Life and Learning


CRC Leads Campus Ambassadors on Educational Israel Mission
Monday, April 16, 2018

I asked Laura Cherner, the Assistant Director of the Federation’s Community Relations Council (CRC), to write about her recent experience in accompanying our community’s Campus Ambassadors from our local college campuses. We equip a cohort of students to conduct pro-Israel programming on campus and prepare them to fight the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement. This program is funded through Federation by some generous donors. 

2018 Campus Ambassadors in Israel

Last month, 11 students from Pitt, CMU, and Duquesne spent a week in Israel on the Campus Ambassadors Mission. Done in partnership with Hillel JUC, the goal of this educational, policy-intensive mission is to expose students to all aspects of Israeli life, society, and politics so that they return to their campuses to create a more Israel-friendly environment.

The truth about Israel often feels drowned out by false narratives. The Campus Ambassadors Mission is a way to educate and empower students to fill the gap of misinformation. Students were given the opportunity to learn from experts in politics, military strategy, and security, as well as interact with Israelis and Palestinians across the political spectrum, who experience the conflict firsthand. Additionally, they learned about aspects of Israeli life and culture including LGBTQ+ rights, the environment, business, technology, and so many other opportunities that Israel has to offer. 

After the mission, students are tasked with creating a pro-Israel campus project based on their unique passions and experience. Our goal is to guide them to transform their passion into action and positive change. The Federation and Hillel JUC provide the students with a network of support to allow them to be successful. 

Next week, we will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel. It is more important than ever to empower the next generation to engage with their peers and create a more informed culture about Israel. 

Shabbat Shalom.

Laura Cherner
Assistant Director
Community Relations Council

P.S. We hope to see you on Tuesday evening for our Yom Hazikaron commemoration and on Thursday for our Yom Haatzmaut celebration.

Pittsburghers Visit Jewish Communities in Morocco
Friday, March 23, 2018

This week’s Shabbat message is written by Becca Hurowitz, our Federation’s Senior Campaign and Mission Manager.  Photos by Joel Weinberg

The Jewish community of Morocco, at one time 350,000 strong, is now reduced to a mere 3,000 Jews throughout the country. In several mass migrations in the 19th and 20th centuries, this historic Jewish community fled economic uncertainty and lack of opportunity for Israel, France and Canada. In Morocco today, the majority of Jews are located in Casablanca – a community that, with only 2,000 Jews, supports 25 active synagogues, 5 Jewish day schools, 12 kosher butchers and 3 Jewish bakeries. 

Last week, 35 Pittsburghers visited the cities of Casablanca, Fes, Rabat and Marrakech as part of the Jewish Federation’s Mission to Morocco. Together, we visited synagogues, mosques, palaces and markets. At every turn, the Jewish community greeted us with warmth, conversation, and lots of mint tea!

Pittsburgh Mission to Morocco

Pittsburgh Mission to MoroccoIn Casablanca, we watched Jewish children sing Hebrew songs – not a standard sight for a Muslim country like Morocco. Thanks to the support of Federation’s overseas partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), this and other Jewish schools in the community are providing Jewish knowledge and identity for the next generation.

Other parts of our visit were not as hopeful. At the beautiful, mosaic-tiled home of a Jewish community leader in Rabat, we heard the sadness and resignation in his voice as he talked about how their once-thriving community has dwindled to just 75, and that he knows his children will never again live in Morocco.

Pittsburgh Mission to MoroccoThe Pittsburgh Jewish community, by comparison, is growing and expanding, according to the Federation’s recent Community Study. We are nearly 50,000 strong, with a thriving system of Jewish day schools and camps, Jewish Community Centers, support services for the aging, and engaged synagogue populations. Much of the success of our community is due to the backbone of support provided by the Jewish Federation’s Community Campaign. 

Visiting Jewish communities around the world always makes me treasure our exceptional Pittsburgh community. I hope you will consider joining us for future mission opportunities to meet our global Jewish family, to destinations such as Israel, Russia, Australia and India. Mission experiences, such as our recent visit to Morocco, help us to understand the rest of the Jewish world, and strengthen our own community at home.

Wishing you and your families a Happy Passover.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rebecca Hurowitz, Senior Campaign & Missions Manager
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Houston Jewish Community was Hit Especially Hard
Saturday, March 10, 2018

How many people remember that the city of Houston was ravaged by Hurricane Harvey in August? With our fast moving news cycle, it may seem like a blur in the past. That hurricane did major damage to Houston. As an email from our national Federation system stated:

Harvey dumped a trillion gallons of water over the course of just a few days. More than 2,000 Jewish homes were flooded, and seven major Jewish community facilities were significantly damaged or destroyed. 70% of the Jewish community lives in parts of the city that experienced severe flooding – including nearly 12,000 Jewish elderly. Schools and portions of the JCC and synagogues closed for weeks. The nursing home moved half of its residents to a higher floor to escape the flooding. Many in Houston lost everything – and it all happened in an instant. Unfortunately, traditional insurance doesn’t cover flood damage. Flood insurance only covers 5 to 10 percent of the costs – at best. In short, this was the largest loss ever by a single American Jewish community.

Steve Halpern, a Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh Executive Committee member, wrote this after his experience visiting Houston in January:

Picture this. You live in a strong, vibrant American Jewish community of 60,000 Jews. Like Pittsburgh and Squirrel Hill, many of these Jews live in or near a single neighborhood. The community and neighborhood are home to a thriving JCC, several large synagogues with hundred year histories, multiple day schools with 1,400 total students, a well-established Jewish nursing home and the operations of the local Federation and Jewish Family Service. Impressively, the communal professionals and lay leaders collaborate very well with each other, and take a thoughtful approach to the future of their ecosystem in an increasingly diverse and changing world.

Why am I writing about Houston? Several of our top volunteer leaders like Steve participated in recent missions to Houston (in fact, Cindy Shapira chaired one of the missions) to learn about the damage and what the community is doing to recover. They returned with deep insights and emotional connections. They learned, for instance, that Jewish Houston residents are dealing with their own personal losses and damage and are therefore unable to keep up with synagogue and JCC memberships as well as donations. It’s truly a double whammy for the institutions with unmet capital needs and diminished revenue to support a now needier community. 

Our Pittsburgh group is exerting its leadership in serving as a catalyst to help raise awareness within our Federation system to the needs of Houston. Additional missions have been scheduled. Approaches to new potential donors have taken place. My colleague Jason Shames from the Northern New Jersey Federation and I have taken the lead with our Large City Federation colleagues to encourage “loaning” the Houston Jewish community top professional assistance from other large Federation shops. Six professionals are lined up to spend significant time on the ground helping the Houston Federation in the weeks ahead. 

Why do I share this with you? Because all of this clearly demonstrates the power of our Federation collective in vivid color. Because of your support of the Community Campaign, the Federation system was able to jump into action immediately. We are able to be there after a disaster because we were positioned the day before the disaster even hit. 

Our Pittsburgh community has already raised over $100,000 for the Houston hurricane relief effort (which you will remember was during a time of repeated hurricanes in the Caribbean and southern United States). Our Federation is preparing to contribute another $10,000 from Emergency Funds we put aside every year for such disasters. If you want to do more to help Houston, we would appreciate your support OVER AND ABOVE your generous support of our Federation’s Community Campaign. You can give here. 

I encourage you to watch this video about the Houston Jewish community to give you a real taste of the sustained impact.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Jewish Community Study Results are Big News
Friday, February 23, 2018

I’ve written enough (for now) about the 2017 Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study funded by the Jewish Community Foundation of the Federation. Instead, I’ll let our local media share their insights with you:






WTAE-TV -- https://youtu.be/qF5i3ZisJGU

KDKA-TV -- https://youtu.be/nJhIdkg3TjU

In the words of Matt Boxer who is one of the key researchers at Brandeis University with whom we worked closely: “We have finished the hard part. Now it’s time for the hard part.”  This next hard part is taking what we have learned, identifying trends and areas for improvement and making appropriate changes to best address the needs of our Jewish community of 2018 and beyond.  

The Federation is looking forward to working with all interested parties!

Shabbat Shalom.

P.S.  You can download the entire study here.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Spoiler Alert: Jewish Community Study Reveal
Friday, February 16, 2018

I am a bit obsessed. I have written multiple times about the release of the Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study, funded completely by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Foundation. Tuesday is THE day that our first data collection since 2002 will become public. 

This past week, two major U.S. communities released their own studies, Washington DC and the Bay Area. After reading both of the executive summaries of their reports I firmly know one thing, if you’ve seen one Jewish community, you’ve only seen one Jewish community. In other words, while there are some similarities, there are also stark differences and qualities that make each community unique. I was truly stunned to learn in the DC study about the growth of the Jewish community in the northern Virginia suburbs. In San Francisco, I was very surprised to learn that the Bay Area has grown to 350,000 Jews!

For those of us who have been in Pittsburgh for a long time, we have a tendency to think we know what’s happening here. Last week, the Federation held three programs in Florida for our snowbirds. I said to many people that in 2002 we counted 42,200 Jews. I then asked them how many do we have today. While not universal, the overwhelming majority of people answered that we have less – some said 40,000, others 35,000. If you come on Tuesday at 5:30 at Rodef Shalom, you will actually hear a number that is pointing in the exact opposite direction (sorry, you have to come to hear the actual total). 

We need to make informed decisions for our community using facts and data. Doing so may cause us to change some of what the Federation, our agencies and our community synagogues currently do. And, the data contained in the study will also point to things that we are doing well and we should think about how we can do more of certain activities. The real key is that we all need to be open minded and open to the possibility of change if we are going to effectively take care of the needs of the Pittsburgh Jewish community of 2018. 

Hoping to see many of you on Tuesday. 

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Moving Forward
Friday, January 26, 2018

Change is so hard. What one is accustomed to (a house, a building, a route to work, etc) becomes ingrained into our memories and into our actions. Yesterday morning, as an example, my intention when leaving my house was to stop to buy a cup of coffee on my way to work. Without thinking, I went into “automatic pilot” and unconsciously started driving right to the Federation office. I had to remind myself of the change in my routine to actually get that much needed morning cup of coffee. 

It’s so human to get into rhythms and patterns. Disrupting them takes effort. We know that doing the same thing over and over again typically gets the same results. That’s why change is so important, especially at a time like now of rampant change and adaptation. 

Yesterday, the Federation completed the sale of its building on McKee Place. Since 1958, for exactly 60 years, our Federation has been situated on this same spot in Oakland. In that time period of over half a century, Pittsburgh Jewish history has taken place here: successful campaigns, the launch of a Jewish Community Foundation and the raising of dollars to build agencies and to secure Israel. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised and expended on critical needs. Thousands of volunteers and staff people have walked through our front doors.

Our Federation needs have changed since 1958. The scope of Federation work has expanded, and the idea of what a modern office looks like to be a collaborative and friendly environment has shifted. And, it’s just a building! It is merely a place to make all our good works happen. The building is not “what” we do. 

In this week’s parsha, Beshalach, the Jewish people are making their way through the desert with Pharaoh and the Egyptians in hot pursuit. The Israelites say to Moses:

“What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt?

Isn’t this the thing about which we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, leave us alone and we will serve the Egyptians, because we would rather serve the Egyptians than die in the desert.”

Change and the unknown is hard. There is definitely risk involved. 

Community StudyOn February 20th the Federation-funded Jewish Community Study will be released to the entire Jewish community. Demographic trends will be revealed in the form of objective data. We all have emotional connections to what we’ve been doing, but are they the right things for the Pittsburgh Jewish community of today and tomorrow? Will our community, our agencies, our synagogues and our Federation have the strength to be able to look at the facts and determine changes that are necessary to move our community forward? 

Stay tuned….

Shabbat Shalom.

P.S. You can register for the February 20th session here: https://jfedpgh.org/unveiling-the-findings.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Supporting Extraordinary Life-Saving Efforts
Friday, January 19, 2018

Lion of Judah & Shofar Societies Appreciation EventAt a Federation program last night, Arielle di Porto, the Director of the Aliyah Division of the Jewish Agency for Israel, spoke about her work in helping Jews from areas of the world under distress and/or danger escape to Israel. The Jewish Agency’s efforts in this area are extraordinary and life-saving. They are monitoring the situation of Jewish communities in countries like Iran, Venezuela, Yemen, Ukraine and Turkey. They devise plans to help those Jews who so desire, to make their way to new and free Jewish lives in Israel.  

Like most of you, I am not constantly thinking about the safety of the 20,000 Jews in Iran or the 5,000 Jews of Venezuela. But each of us can sleep soundly because with our support of the Federation’s Community Campaign, we enable the Jewish Agency to do so on our behalf.  

Shabbat Shalom.

P.S. Also this week, David Schizer, the CEO of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Federation’s other historic overseas agency partner, penned an article about the valiant work by one of its employees during the Shoah (the Holocaust) – Isaac Giterman. I invite you to read it here on Tablet Magazine to be inspired.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Jewish Federation in the News
Friday, January 05, 2018


Mitzvah Day at Riverview Towers | Dec 25, 2017

December 25, 2017 – A volunteer serves meals on Mitzvah Day at Riverview Towers so regular staff can be home for the holiday.    

– Photo by Josh Franzos

Federation’s Mitzvah Day was an unbelievable success by all measures: number of volunteers, number of organizations impacted and numbers of people helped by our volunteers. For those that have not seen some of the media about our impact and reach, I direct you to these two links:

Pittsburgh Jewish Federation Lends Helping Hand On Christmas 
   – CBS Pittsburgh

Mitzvah Day brings cheer, activities to community during holidays 
   – RabbleVid

Sticking with local media, the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle just published an article about OneTable and its newly hired Hub Manager. Federation is the local funding partner and we are really excited to be bringing this cutting edge program to inspire and engage millennials in Jewish life right here in Pittsburgh:

Steel City native paves new way for millennials to do Shabbat in Pittsburgh 
   – Jewish Chronicle

Don’t you love some good news?

Shabbat Shalom. Keep warm!

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Help Guide Where Your Contributions Go
Thursday, December 21, 2017

Last week, I wrote a “P.S.” to my Shabbat message and I want to reiterate it here as my main message.

The tax plan has been sent to the President for his signature and he will sign it into law, according to news reports, in early January or possibly before. Whatever your politics and your feelings about this major overhaul of the tax code, there may be opportunities for some community members to take advantage of in this current tax year.

As you may have seen on multiple news shows and in the written media (the New York Times, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, etc), it may benefit some to make charitable donations in the current tax year because of the doubling of the standard deduction. Annual campaign donors may want to “prepay” their next year’s contribution. What might be a great opportunity for some is establishing or adding additional funding to a Donor Advised Fund (DAF), also known as a Philanthropic Fund.  

What is a DAF?  Here’s what the IRS’s website states:

Generally, a donor advised fund is a separately identified fund or account that is maintained and operated by a section 501(c)(3) organization, which is called a sponsoring organization. Each account is composed of contributions made by individual donors. Once the donor makes the contribution, the organization has legal control over it. However, the donor, or the donor's representative, retains advisory privileges with respect to the distribution of funds and the investment of assets in the account.

This allows a donor to make a donation in the current year but have the ability to help guide where contributions go in the future. Our Federation Foundation’s DAF’s are able to contribute to every Jewish organization and synagogue as well as other “non-Jewish” nonprofits both locally and nationally.  

A DAF can be especially useful if individuals have appreciated stocks or mutual funds. When those assets are transferred to a nonprofit like the Federation’s Jewish Community Foundation, the donor receives a deduction on the value of the stock, and the Federation, as a nonprofit, does not pay capital gains taxes when the shares are sold.  

The number of new DAF’s that have been established already in the Federation Foundation in the last week has been impressive. You still have time if you and your financial advisor think it may make sense for you (we always recommend that you speak with your own advisor/accountant). Our staff will be here through the end of the year to help.  

I know that I typically write about the impact of your philanthropic dollars through the Federation. We hope that shining a light on this potential opportunity may help you to be even more supportive in the future.  

An early Shabbat Shalom!  Looking forward to seeing the more than 1,200 volunteers signed up for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Mitzvah Day on Sunday and Monday.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Interpreting the Future
Friday, December 15, 2017

This Shabbat we will read, Mikketz, my Bar Mitzvah Torah portion from 35 years ago. Joseph is asked to interpret to Pharaoh what his dream of seven fat cows eating seven lean cows and seven fat ears of grain swallowing seven lean ears of grain means. Joseph explains that there will be seven years of great harvests followed by seven years of famine. Joseph advises Pharaoh to “appoint officials over the land and prepare the land of Egypt during the seven years of plenty. And let them collect all the food of these coming good years…”

Joseph had the ability to interpret the signs in Pharaoh’s dreams and advise Pharaoh on what actions he should take to protect his citizens.  

For our community, interpreting data, rather than dreams, will be so important in the months ahead. In early 2018, the Federation will release the findings from our latest Jewish community study. It will provide the Federation, our community agencies and synagogues with data points such as the numbers of Jews in Greater Pittsburgh, where they live, what their financial security is like, and about their Jewish connectedness. When we learn these facts, the question will be whether we will we do as Joseph and Pharaoh and develop a strategy, or do we “put our heads in the sand”? Will we realize that our community today does not look exactly like the community of 2002 when we last conducted a study? 

Let’s get ready to not be defensive, but to be reflective and action oriented. Our Pittsburgh Jewish future will take more than a Chanukah miracle or even a dream. It will take strategy and actions informed by solid data that may result in doing things differently than we have done in the past.  

Shabbat Shalom. Happy Chanukah. Go Steelers!

P.S.  I want to encourage everyone to especially consider end of the year giving given both the growth in the stock market and potential tax changes in the coming year.  One tool you can use is a Donor Advised Fund (aka Philanthropic Fund) in our Jewish Community Foundation. One can transfer appreciated securities or cash directly into a fund where you maintain a right to recommend where donations will go in the future.  You get an immediate tax deduction in this current tax year (and if you transfer appreciated securities, there is no capital gains tax to be paid). Please call our expert Foundation staff: Dan Brandeis at (412) 992-5220 or Sharon Perelman at (412) 992-5224. And make sure to consult your own financial/tax adviser.  

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Jewish Federation: Local & International
Sunday, December 10, 2017

My message this week is in the form of a short video. Federation’s reach is both local and international. Too often, we lose sight of the kind of impact all of us has on the Jewish world outside of the 412 and 724 area codes.

This video will highlight the kind of social service and Jewish identity building programs your campaign dollars make possible in Israel and in dozens of countries around the world. I hope you will take the few minutes to view it. If you have any questions about any of the programs, please be in touch with our staff.

Shabbat Shalom.  Go Steelers! 

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Finance and Audit Committee Members are Superheros!
Friday, December 01, 2017

Our Federation is so completely focused on having the kind of positive and transformational impact on our community and Jewish world that every one of our donors expects. At the same time, we strive to be a top functioning and highly effective nonprofit organization. This week, we held both a Finance Committee meeting and our closing Audit Committee meeting.  

Both of these committees are filled with some of the most accomplished, talented and knowledgeable financial minds in Greater Pittsburgh. They take their roles of fiscal oversight with the highest sense of responsibility. For those of us on staff, we welcome their partnership. They make the Federation the best it can be.  

Our Finance Committee reviewed a new, easier to understand budget format while ensuring that we are within our budget framework. The Audit Committee met with our independent auditors to both review that our accounting practices are solid and to ensure that we are counting our assets and liabilities correctly.  

Donors need to know that their contributions are making a real difference. They also need to know that their hard earned dollars are managed appropriately, efficiently and effectively.  

Thank you for entrusting your “tzedakah” to us.  

Super SundayI invite you to participate in this Sunday’s Super Sunday at the JCC in Squirrel Hill. Come and make phone calls to other community members asking them to join you as donors to the 2018 Campaign. Visit jfedpgh.org/supersunday for more information on shift times. The more money we raise, the more we have to count on our Finance and Audit committees to follow the dollars. Let’s make their jobs tougher!

Shabbat Shalom. See you Sunday! Go Steelers!!

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Thank You for Being Part of Our Collective Actions
Friday, November 17, 2017

A group of about 20 Pittsburghers were in Los Angeles this week for the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly. The GA gives us an opportunity to learn about the deep impact our Federation system has on the Jewish world.  

At the opening plenary, members of the Houston Jewish community talked emotionally about the devastation to their own personal property and to Jewish communal infrastructure. There wasn’t a dry eye among the thousands in the hotel ballroom. We heard how the nearly $18 Million raised by the Federation system along with the planning skills of the JFNA staff helped the community to put a plan in place for their future. This is all a result of our collective actions.

In a private briefing with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) for our Pittsburgh delegation, we heard stories about older adults, 110,000 of them throughout the Former Soviet Union, to whom we provide food and medicine. These are some of the neediest Jews in the world today. This is all a result of our collective actions.

In another private briefing, this time with World ORT, we learned about the network of STEM schools throughout the world that attract Jewish students because of the high quality education provided, and in turn, bring these families closer to the Jewish community. This is all a result of our collective actions.

The Jewish Agency for Israel shared with us an initiative to build thousands of units of low income housing for seniors in Israel. With real estate prices in Israel rising at a rapid rate, the need for this type of housing is also rising. This will become a reality because of the power of our collective actions.

Thank you for being part of our collective actions.

Shabbat Shalom.

Pittsburgh Federation Give and Gets Inspiration at JFNA General AssemblyP.S.  If you want to see a picture of Natan Sharansky (former Refusenik and now Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel) holding a Terrible Towel with our Pittsburgh delegation, click the thumbnail image to the right. It obviously had a huge impact on the outcome of last night’s game!

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh Transitions to the JCC
Friday, November 10, 2017

I asked Rob Goodman, who has served as the founding Director of South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh, a program of the Jewish Federation, to write this week’s message:

Rob GoodmanAs Jews, our lives are tied to the calendar – our festivals, holy days, and Shabbat all are reflective of a combination of the lunar and solar cycles. This week we marked an important secular change, the clocks were pushed back an hour and we adjusted our tasks and thinking to this new schedule. At Federation. we are marking an important change as well. South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh, which began as an idea for a suburban community engagement initiative five years ago, will be transitioning to the JCC over the next several months. 

South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh (SHJP) is an example of what Federation does best. A South Hills donor came to us to assist with building a concept to not only better engage the South Hills Jewish community, but also to reach out to under engaged and unaffiliated residents, while also increasing connections to the city. The donor invested both their time and money, working with Federation to develop a plan that is bearing fruit today. Through grant funds, programming efforts and robust communication platforms, SHJP has increased awareness and engagement of South Hills residents with its partner institutions, as well as the Jewish Federation. Along the way, they have also done the unthinkable – encouraged city residents to cross a bridge and travel through a tunnel to attend unique programming opportunities and events only available in the South Hills! To date, SHJP has been involved with more than 150 events, drawing more than 15,000 people over the last three years! 

The JCC presents SHJP with opportunities to engage South Hills residents in new and exciting ways while still continuing the relationship with Federation. What was once perhaps a time-limited program now has new energy and the blueprint to sustain itself well into the future. 

While the days are getting shorter and the temperatures are dropping, we are certain you will see an increased light at the JCC and throughout in the South Hills. The synergy created through this partnership will provide added warmth and activities for many years to come.

Shabbat Shalom!  

South Hills Jewish PittsburghRob Goodman,Director
South Hills Community Engagement Initiative

Federation Partnership2Gether Programs Improve Lives
Monday, November 06, 2017

Last Shabbat I was in Jerusalem. There is nothing like being there as the streets quiet down, the sun sets over the Old City and you see families spending time with each other walking to their synagogues, walking to the old city, walking to a park for a picnic or to a restaurant. The purpose of my trip was to attend the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Board of Governors meetings and to see some of our Federation funded projects in our Partnership2Gether Region of Karmiel and Misgav.  

Kibbutz EshbalOne of those projects I went to see is Kibbutz Eshbal in the Misgav Region. Our Federation has proudly funded Eshbal for many years. This educators’ kibbutz provides a home for about 40 at-risk 15-18 year-olds mostly of Ethiopian origin. They come from underprivileged communities and have often suffered from educational and emotional neglect, and been expelled from the national school system. Crime, drugs and alcohol abuse are also key problems.

Kibbutz EshbalIn a peaceful and nurturing environment, the teenagers have the chance to learn, to talk through their experiences and take part in unique therapeutic activities like caring for horses and dogs, which have a huge impact on their self-confidence and wellbeing.

Beyond the kibbutz, about 4,000 young people benefit from Eshbal’s activities every year in a range of projects aimed at narrowing social gaps and helping the young people of the Galilee.

Our Federation funds a “mechina” program, a preparation course for the army, so that these young people can have an opportunity to be drafted and to succeed in the IDF.

Kibbutz EshbalIn addition, we are funding a project to build a new educational campsite to not only expand their mission related work but also to provide a source of income for Eshbal (this is real social entrepreneurship at work). Some of the programs at this site include bringing Jews and Arabs together and providing a location in the north of Israel for school groups. This campsite is the ONLY one in the Misgav region so it is a magnet to attract other Israelis to explore the area.

If you haven’t seen some of the incredibly powerful projects you help to make a reality and/or if you want to experience a Shabbat in Jerusalem, consider joining us next November on our “Israel Your Way at the G.A.” mission. We will be visiting Karmiel and Misgav and will participate in the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly (the G.A.), where you will hear from some of the top thinkers in the Jewish world. Learn more about Israel Your Way at the G.A. and the other programs funded by the Jewish Federation in Israel.

Shabbat Shalom.

P.S.  Remember to change your clocks!

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Federation is Everywhere
Friday, October 20, 2017


I see Federation everywhere.  

When this week’s Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle arrived (now being sent for free to every identified Jewish household due in large part to support from the Federation), I read a story about the Pittsburgh visit of the Israeli Consul General for Israel. Federation put together the public gathering with Dani Dayan and several other private meetings.

Then, I looked at my Facebook feed and there was a photo from Community Day School with the following post:

"Today we bid "Buon viaggio!" to Community Day School Admission Director Sarah DeWitt as she embarks on a 10-day seminar in Italy with 12 early childhood professionals from across the Pittsburgh region led by Carolyn Linder. In Italy, Sarah will deepen her understanding of the pedagogy of the Reggio Emilia Approach and connect her learning to the values and content of our Early Childhood program at CDS."
Local participation in the seminar was made possible thanks to the generous support of The Dr. Solomon and Sarah Goldberg Memorial Endowment Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Next, I read a post in the “Jewish Pittsburgh” group on Facebook with the announcement that the Derekh program of Congregation Beth Shalom is bringing in the Israel group, Yonina, in November. Partial funding for this came from several sources but one of the major ones was the SteelTree Fund of the Jewish Federation.  

When I drove down Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill, I saw a sign at the future home of the Seymoure and Corinne Krause Commons of Jewish Residential Services. Right there on the signage is the Federation’s logo.  

Everytime I pass by Riverview Towers, I see that a giant mound of dirt has been removed and a new parking lot has been developed. Federation worked with government officials and donors to secure funding to make this a reality.

Federation is like that slogan for Intel that says “Intel Inside”.  We are “inside” our day schools, synagogue religious schools, the JCC, Jewish Family and Children’s Service, the Jewish Association on Aging, Riverview Towers, the Hillel Jewish University Center, Penn State Hillel, Moishe House and JBURGH, the teen activities at the JCC (the Second Floor), PJ Library, the Jewish Community Security Director, Federation’s Israel Scholarship Program, the Diller Program, and so much more.

Federation is everywhere.

Shabbat Shalom. Go Steelers!

P.S. We are expecting well over 300 people this Sunday at our Jewish Community Foundation Fall Event featuring Pittsburgh’s own Bari Weiss, Editor and Writer for the New York Times op-ed section.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

No Overhead Taken from Donations to Hurricane Relief
Friday, September 29, 2017

One would probably expect me to write about Yom Kippur this week, but I will leave that to our skilled and inspirational Rabbis at our Pittsburgh area synagogues. I had planned to write about last night’s Shore Whitehill Award, an award established by the Federation that “celebrates volunteers who promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in the fabric of Jewish life through advocacy or direct service to individuals and families”. I also had planned to write about this past week’s Ben Gurion Society (BGS) dinner at a private home in Squirrel Hill. BGS is for our young adult donors who contribute a minimum of $1,000 to the Federation.  

Instead, I want to call your attention the fact that the Federation has several “mailboxes” open for Hurricane relief. Our national system has alerted us that the damage to the Houston Jewish community is extensive to both Jewish communal infrastructure as well as to the personal property of the Jewish community. If you have not yet contributed, I direct you to our website at www.jfedpgh.org. If you have already contributed, consider giving more. No overhead is taken off these donations by our Federation or the Jewish Federations of North America. We and our national system are able to do this because of your support of our Annual Campaign.  

Hurricane Harvey Relief FundHurricane Irma Relief FundHurricane Maria Relief Fund

Wishing you an easy but meaningful fast and a Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

L'Shanah Tova
Friday, September 15, 2017

L'Shanah TovaThere is so much I could write in depth about this week. There is a Shabbat dinner taking place tonight for young adults with many of our young adult community programs in collaboration. The Apples and Honey Festival put on by Federation this past Sunday at the Waterfront drew hundreds of families. Our Federation Draft Day took place where our volunteer fundraisers learned new skills for the 2018 Community Campaign.  

This week, I put all that aside to just wish everyone a Shanah Tovah. May it be a year of great success for our community and good health to all.  

Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Organizing Support on All Fronts
Friday, September 08, 2017

I was speaking yesterday to one of my colleagues from the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). He had traveled down to Houston as part of the ongoing effort by our national Federation system to help with the clean-up and relief effort there. He shared with us the devastation impacting the Jewish community, both to individual’s homes and to its institutions. There is a deep sense of resilience, but the Houston Jewish communal leadership is understandably worried about its future. As of yesterday morning, our Federation system had already raised more than $7.5 Million towards relief and that is what brings the JFNA staff team on site to work with the local community on developing and implementing communal strategy.  

Concurrently, we’ve been watching the news about Hurricane Irma barreling its way to South Florida, what I believe to be the second largest concentration of Jews in North America. I have spoken to several of my counterparts in Florida this past week to wish them well and to let them know to be in touch if we in Pittsburgh can help in any way. They are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.  

Times like these exemplify the need for strong Jewish Federations. No other organization can organize an entire community and give it the supports it needs in these challenging times. In Houston, the Federation along with its social service agencies, are working on the rebuilding required after such a devastating natural disaster. In Florida, Federations have taken the lead on the preparation before the storm.  

Federations can do those things that no single organization can do on its own. It’s what we do in Pittsburgh with our Jewish Community Security program, our Jewish Community Health Plan for employees of Jewish organizations, our Community Relations Council that develops relationships with diverse communities in our region, or the soon to be launched Life and Legacy effort that will train volunteers and staff from twelve Jewish organizations on how to have conversations with their constituents about leaving a legacy in support of those institutions.  

My thoughts this Shabbat will be with our colleagues and friends in South Florida. And, I would make the point that while our attention may turn to Florida and the potential impact of Irma, we cannot lose sight or attention towards the Houston community. A new natural disaster does not “zero out” the prior one’s impact.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

That IS Federation!
Friday, September 01, 2017

I have to mention four things that happened this week. I will be brief with all, but I think all deserve mention:

  1. Hurricane Harvey – The national Federation system opened a mailbox over the weekend to collect donations to help flood victims including those in the Jewish community. Our Federation, through emergency funds that we put aside every year and dollars collected, has already wired $25,000 to this effort. The national Federation system approved $500,000 in distributions already. If you want to participate, you can do so at our website at www.jfedpgh.org. No dollars are taken for overhead.  
  2. Our Annual Meeting on Thursday night was a celebration of what our Federation has accomplished this past year. Deep gratitude goes to our volunteer leadership, especially our Board and Executive Committee, for leading us to another successful year.  
  3. I attended the opening session of our Wechsler Young Leadership Institute on Tuesday night at the home of our newly minted Chair of the Board, Meryl Ainsman. This dynamic group of young adults has begun their yearlong journey of learning about the Federation, its Beneficiary and Overseas agencies and how the Federation works to build a thriving, vibrant and engaged Jewish community. I asked the group a series of questions: who is from Pittsburgh/not from Pittsburgh; who would consider themselves Orthodox, Reform, Conservative or Reconstructionist; who lives in the North Hills, South Hills or city; who went to Jewish Day School, religious school or had no formal Jewish education. Hands went up for each category. To me, that, IS Federation! It is the full diversity of our Jewish community coming together collectively to take care of our communal needs. I walked away from this evening so inspired and excited for our future.
  4. Birthright Israel announced this week that the 600,000th person has now participated in this groundbreaking experience. Our Federation is one of the proud funders of this life changing program.  

And, to next week:

Join us on Wednesday at 7 pm a the JCC in Squirrel Hill to hear from the fantastic Avraham Infeld as he discusses “Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People”. He will be touching upon many issues and topics including those around the Western Wall and conversion in Israel.  

Avraham Infeld Israel - the Nation State of the Jewish People
with Avraham Infeld
September 6, 7:00 – 9:00 PM

Shabbat Shalom!

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Building Our Future History
Friday, August 25, 2017

On Tuesday of this week, our entire Federation staff came to work in old t-shirts and shorts for a day of cleaning out. In fact, our garbage and recycling bins are literally overflowing right now. We felt it was important to be able to determine what really needs to be kept, what can be scanned and what can go to the Rauh Jewish Archives.

Disbursement to AgenciesWe found many treasures that show the Federation’s history. One such item was a hand typed ledger of accounts and payables by the Federation that we think must be from the 1930’s or 40’s. As I flipped through the book I saw some of the more mundane items like insurance and safety deposit box information. But there also were disbursements to our agencies. To the right is a copy of the table of contents.

While we are a forward looking organization striving to build the optimum Jewish community of the future, we cannot and will not lose sight of our history that got us here. This ledger contains one bit of that history.  

I hope to see a huge turnout at the Jewish Federation's Annual Meeting at 7 pm on Thursday at the JCC in Squirrel Hill where we will celebrate our Federation's accomplishments over the past year, recognize the winners of the Spector and Rudolph Awards, thank our outgoing Board and top leadership and welcome a new group of leadership of our Federation. We will also celebrate a top volunteer leader from over 40 of our communal institutions, individuals who give of themselves for the betterment of their organization and our entire community. And while we celebrate all that has happened, we will also discuss important projects and initiatives the Federation has taken on to build our future history.  

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Invest in the Power of the Collective
Friday, August 11, 2017

Security Training
Last Sunday, the Federation's new Jewish Community Security Director conducted the first of two training session for staff and volunteers of area congregations in preparation for the upcoming High Holidays. Over 100 attended and this Sunday morning at the second session, we are expecting over 90 participants.  

This newly created position of Security Director, conceptualized and made possible financially by the Jewish Federation, is to ensure that all our Jewish institutions have the security protocols in place as well as the right physical security precautions. This position demonstrates a critical part of the Federation’s value proposition. We do those things that have broad impact across the entire Jewish community and often times, what most individual institutions could not accomplish on their own. It shows the value of working as one collective community despite differences we may have with one another.  

EJewishPhilanthropy.comAnother example of our collective voice was captured in a piece published this week in ejewishphilanthropy, a widely read, international Jewish blog. Brian Eglash, our Chief Development Officer, wrote about how important our collective voice is in matters in Israel. I encourage you to read his piece.

The word “b’yachad” in Hebrew means “together”. One can see the root of that word contains the Hebrew word “echad” or “one”. B’yachad is literally doing things “as one”.   

B’yachad, we make a bigger difference.

Shabbat Shalom.  

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Buncher Family, JDC and Federation: Investing in People
Friday, August 04, 2017

Wednesday evening, in a small program at the Heinz History Center, a group of us gathered for the launch of the publication of a book entitled Buncher: 25 Years of Investing in People. The Buncher Family from Pittsburgh has been a driving force in Jewish communities around the world in training and cultivating both professional and volunteer leadership for over 25 Years. The Buncher Leadership Program of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) was launched in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and JDC to address a critical need for high quality leadership. With hundreds of graduates in dozens of countries, “Buncherians”, as they are called, are using their skills to build Jewish community.

At the event, we heard from Agata Rakowieck, the Director of the Jewish Community Center of Warsaw. This young, dynamic person shared her work to build Jewish community and care for Jews in need in a relatively new Jewish community (since the fall of communism). She is a product of our Federation’s good works. She attended the Szarvas Jewish Summer camp in Hungary. She made Aliyah. And now, she is using skills that the Buncher Leadership Program and the JDC (funded by Federation) provided to her to give back in her native land.  

While the CEO of the JDC was here in Pittsburgh for the event, we hosted him at the Federation to speak to our staff about the work they accomplish with our financial support. Feeding over 100,000 elderly seniors across the Former Soviet Union, strengthening Jewish communities like in Warsaw and monitoring Jews in dangerous places like the 6,000 Jews of Venezuela, JDC’s reach is immense. Each Federation donor can feel good knowing that we are an important part of JDC’s mission.

There is a line that really has been used around the environmental movement to “Think Globally, Act Locally." As you can see, Federation thinks and acts both locally and globally all the time.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Free books. Free books!
Friday, July 21, 2017

PJ Library

Last week's Jewish Chronicle covered a Jewish Telegraphic Association (JTA) story about the powerful impact of the PJ Library program.

Our Federation has been funding this incredible program in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation for many years. With over 1,300 current subscribers locally, the impact has been profound. While this article shares nationally aggregated data, we have received our own Pittsburgh-centric results and our impact is just as strong.  

In addition to the books, the Federation funds staffing at the JCC to engage families who participate in the PJ Library program in Jewish life. Again, we have great metrics not only for the number of people who have participated in this programming but also about the number of people who have participated more than once. We are looking to achieve both breadth and depth.  

Do you know someone who should be receiving PJ Library books (families with children ages 6 months to age 8 are eligible)? If so, please send the families to our website, ShalomPittsburgh.org, where they can click through to sign up.  

This is just like those old television commercials: There is no obligation. And the books are totally free!

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Our 100 Year Old “Startup”
Friday, July 14, 2017

Shiny new objects. Babies and even those of us a little older are attracted to shiny new objects. For some of us, it’s the latest piece of technology. For others, it could be a new watch, a new piece of clothing or even a new and exciting person. In philanthropy, many donors like funding the new and latest craze. Sometimes they are successful and other times they are not.  

Our Federation is all about finding those new shiny objects and figuring out how to bring them to scale while at the same time taking care of the ongoing needs of our community by giving important financial support to the institutions that feed our hungry, inspire Jewishly, care for our elderly and connect all of us with each other.    

Over the next months, two innovative and entrepreneurial programs will be brought to Pittsburgh. Both have received wide recognition in Slingshot, A Resource Guide to Jewish Innovation. One is called “One Table” and the other is called “Honeymoon Israel”. 

One TableOne Table uses Shabbat dinners as a platform to engagemillennials with their own Jewish identity and with each other. It provides the tools for hosts to bring together other millennials and break bread (or probably challah).

Honeymoon Israel Honeymoon Israel takes a cohort of newlyweds or those in very committed relationships through a program, the highlight of which is a “honeymoon” to Israel as a cohort from Pittsburgh. We will write more about the details of both of these as they launch.

It’s great that we in Pittsburgh are going to be only the 15th community in the country to adopt Honeymoon Israel and the first Federation in the country to be the main sponsor of One Table, which is only currently in seven other cities. It shows our ability to be innovative. At the same time, we are supporting our communal infrastructure so that once participants in either of these frameworks want to engage more deeply, they have a place to do so. In other words, the young adults who participate in One Table can get involved with the Federation’s Young Adult Division, Shalom Pittsburgh, JBURGH or Moishe House, all supported by the Federation.  

Years ago I was asked in a mostly non-Jewish setting of nonprofit CEO’s to describe what Federation is. I said we are a 100 year old “startup”. Balancing the need for innovation while sustaining critical components of our community is the formula for an excellent Jewish community.

Shabbat Shalom.  

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Response to New Developments in Israel
Friday, June 30, 2017

I returned from Israel on Thursday having participated in the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) Board of Governors (BOG) meetings. JAFI is our overseas partner and essentially the arm of Federation in Israel. These meetings made the international media because on Sunday, the Government of Israel made two very important and divisive decisions:

  1. The Government of Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation gave approval for a draft bill that would for the first time ever give the Chief Rabbinate a monopoly on conversion in Israel. (See the attachment from the Jewish Federations of North America with background)
  2. Press reports announced that the Government had reached a decision to suspend or freeze the Kotel resolution. In follow-up communication, the PM’s Office clarified their position. The agreement contains three major components: management of the site, renovations of the physical space, and construction of a new joint entrance to the entire Kotel site. The government will move forward immediately with enhancing the physical space while suspending the other two elements of the agreement. (See the attachment from the Jewish Federations of North America with background)

The Jewish Agency responded strongly to both decisions (the Jewish Agency Board comprises 30% representatives of the Jewish Federations of North America, 20% representatives from Keren Hayesod and 50% from the World Zionist Organization. It is very representative of worldwide Jewry.) Natan Sharansky said it best in his communication on Sunday:

As Chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel, and on behalf of our partners, I must express my deep disappointment at today's decision by the Government of Israel to suspend the implementation of its own decision to establish a dignified space for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.

Five years ago, the Prime Minister asked me to lead a joint effort to bring about a workable formula that would transform the Western Wall into, in his own words, ‘one wall for one people.’

After four years of intense negotiations, we reached a solution that was accepted by all major denominations and was then adopted by the government and embraced by the world's Jewish communities.

Today’s decision signifies a retreat from that agreement and will make our work to bring Israel and the Jewish world closer together increasingly more difficult.

The Jewish Agency nevertheless remains staunchly committed to that work and to the principle of one wall for one people.


On Monday, the Jewish Agency Board of Governors met and unanimously adopted a resolution that you can read here: http://www.timesofisrael.com/full-text-of-jewish-agency-resolution-on-western-wall-decision/. The decision was also made to cancel a planned dinner for the BOG that evening with the Prime Minister at the Knesset. The following day, JAFI placed Hebrew and English language ads in five of the major Israeli papers detailing their disapproval (see English version attached).

Federation leadership led the coalition to reach the original agreement and was deeply involved in this response and continues to participate as new developments occur.

Similar events have unfolded in recent history. Many will remember the “Who is a Jew?” issue that also caused a rift between the Government of Israel and Diaspora Jewry until it was resolved. Each time, we have raised our voices. Along with the Jewish Federations, the Conservative and Reform Movements, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the AJC and so many other organizations have made statements opposing these actions by the Israeli government. Media reported that AIPAC sent a delegation that met with the Prime Minister yesterday over these issues.

Cindy Shapira and I have already sent our Israeli Consul General a letter expressing our disappointment on behalf of our Federation. What can you do? You can write letters and emails. You can speak to your friends in Israel and explain to them the importance of these issues to Jews in North America. Educating the Israeli public is critical. As we have more suggestions, we will pass them along.

While I am personally upset with these decisions by the Government, I remain steadfast in my love and support of Israel, the ONLY Jewish homeland. While in Israel, I visited a program that we help to fund that helps Israeli victims of terror to recover; I also visited with the 32 Onward Israel participants from Pittsburgh. Those on Onward Israel said that they have grown closer to Israel and understand Israel much better. I can tell they feel much more connected to the Jewish people. 

I am so proud of the work of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Agency for Israel, one of our key overseas partners, in their leadership on these issues. It visibly demonstrates the power of our collective voice. 

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.

P.S.  Since I drafted the above, there are some updates we received just now from the Jewish Federations of North America:

The Conversion Bill

The Government of Israel has agreed not to move the controversial conversion legislation forward for six months. The Reform movement has agreed to freeze their Supreme Court petition on the matter for six months (assuming the court will agree), and the prime minister will set up a committee with all parties, to be charged with discussing the issues and challenges and delivering a resolution.

We still have a lot of work to do. There are still differences. But we are hopeful that we will be able to come to a solution so that we do not have to face this again. You can read more about it in the Times of Israel.

The Kotel

Unfortunately, last Sunday the Government of Israel’s Cabinet decision to freeze the January 2016 agreement to establish an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel remains in place. However, our efforts — together with The Jewish Agency, the Reform movement, the Conservative movement, and Women of the Wall — will remain bold and strong. 

The Government of Israel has clearly communicated its intention to immediately move forward with building the prayer plaza; however, the site governance and entry area parts of the agreement remain on hold. Looking ahead, our efforts will be focused on supporting all three areas of work and, hopefully, bringing all parties to the table to move forward together.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Government of Israel's Actions on Sunday, June 25, 2017
Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Dear Friends, 

We are writing today from Israel, where we have been attending the Board of Governors Meetings of The Jewish Agency for Israel, one of the Federation system's longtime overseas partners.

As you may have read, the Government of Israel made two unexpected decisions on Sunday, which -- unless reversed or significantly modified -- will have serious and negative implications regarding the nature of Israeli society in the future and its relationship with Diaspora Jewry. As a result of pressure from certain factions within the governing coalition, a decision was made to suspend the hard-fought compromise regarding the accessibility of the Kotel (Western Wall) to Reform and Conservative groups wishing to use the space for prayer. In addition, the Cabinet made the decision to allow a piece of legislation to advance, one which would have the effect of giving the Chief Rabbinate the exclusive right to control the conversion process in the State, a significant and troubling change from the status quo.

As a result of these decisions, The Jewish Agency leadership revamped the entire agenda of our meetings, focusing almost exclusively on determining the most effective means of encouraging the Government to reverse or amend its decisions. Remarkably, a resolution was passed unanimously (not a common occurrence at Jewish Agency meetings!). Multiple meetings also have already taken place with various elected officials -- including the Prime Minister himself, and yesterday there was a memorable meeting with more than 25 Members of Knesset -- members of the Lobby for Strengthening the Jewish World -- in which MKs from both the coalition and the opposition voiced regret for the decision, understanding its importance to our work in the Diaspora. They pledged to work with us to find a constructive and satisfactory path forward on both issues.

We are gratified to report to you that all these meetings have been characterized by tremendous respect and complete civility, and the depth of engagement and dialogue is a positive sign for the future. That said, the struggle against the delegitimization of the religious identification of the overwhelming majority of American Jews requires both these kinds of short-term interventions as well as long-term strategies. The Jewish Federations of North America has been extremely active on the issue and is fully supportive of the position of The Jewish Agency, and especially of its Chairman, Natan Sharansky, who has provided moral authority and an influential voice in dealings with the Government and in representing the interests of the Jewish world -- and especially the next generation of Diaspora Jews -- to the Israeli public.

Below are links to PDFs, in English and Hebrew, of full-page ads published this morning by The Jewish Agency in six Israeli newspapers, including The Jerusalem Post. We are also sharing an update sent to Federation executives from JFNA President and CEO Jerry Silverman about the Government of Israel's actions on Sunday, June 25. We will continue to keep you updated on the situation.

הארץ עברית - הסוכנות היהודית  (English version)
הארץ אנגלית - הסוכנות היהודית 
Background of the June 2017 Kotel Decision
Background of the Proposed Israeli Conversion Law
Updates from Federation executives from JFNA President and CEO Jerry Silverman about the Government of Israels actions on Sunday June 25


Cynthia D. Shapira                                                          Jeff Finkelstein

Cynthia D. Shapira
Chair of the Board

                                                   Jeffrey H. Finkelstein 


So Much to Celebrate
Friday, June 23, 2017

Last night, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh held its final Board meeting for this term. We took the opportunity to look back at our accomplishments over the last two years. We are really proud to have launched our Jewish Community Security Director position and have been impressed with all that he has accomplished in such a short time. We implemented a process to look at new business models using an “out of the box” consultant, much like startups do. We’ve grown our annual campaign and our Foundation to record levels. Truly, we have so much to celebrate.

At the same time, we did not shy away from all those things we still need to work on as we move into the future. How will we respond to the results of the Community Study being conducted right now? How do we better engage Jewish young adults? How do we make our community more efficient? How do we ensure we have the very best human resources in both volunteer and staff members? And so many more questions.

It’s always good to celebrate what one has done, but the minute you only look at your accomplishments and not at how much more work there is to do, you lose your relevance. We are committed to pushing the Federation and our entire Jewish community towards our vision of a “thriving, vibrant and engaged Jewish community." 

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and looking forward to writing you next week with some thoughts from my time in Israel at the Jewish Agency for Israel Board of Governors meetings.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Jewish Federation Honors the Best Educators
Friday, June 09, 2017

Unsung Jewish HeroesSunday morning, the Federation will honor Unsung Jewish Heroes. These Unsung Heroes are some of the best Jewish educators from throughout our region who inspire and instill a strong Jewish identity in our community's youth. This program, which was instituted by the Agency for Jewish Learning, now sits within the Federation's Jewish Education and Engagement unit.  I invite you to click through to see the listing of those being recognized.

Many others who work in other important areas of service within our agencies and synagogues, just like these Jewish educators, “give it their all” day and night to care for, to educate, to assure and to heal our fellow community members. While this program on Sunday applauds our amazing educators, in my mind, ALL those who work on behalf of the community are unsung Jewish heroes.  

Congratulations to those being recognized this Sunday and I extend deep heartfelt appreciation to all our Jewish communal professionals for all that they do.  

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Community Tikkun Leil Shavuot
Friday, May 26, 2017

Tikkun Leil Shavuot
I wrote about this a few weeks ago, but with the holiday of Shavuot beginning on Tuesday night, I would be remiss to not again promote our community wide Tikkun Leil Shavuot. Shavuot celebrates the Jewish people's receiving of the Torah. Because of that, the tradition is to stay up all night long studying Torah.  

Our community conducts our “Tikkun” AS A COMMUNITY. With a series of study sessions taking place at the JCC in Squirrel Hill commencing at 10 pm and running until 1 am, we have lined up teachers and Rabbis representing all the streams of Judaism. Special thanks to each of them for giving of themselves so generously.

I hope you will join me at this extraordinary demonstration of unity and of commitment to Jewish learning. Whether you come for just an hour or spend all three with us, this is something not to be missed, and we have free cheesecake. Read about all the topics and teachers.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, an early Chag Sameach for Shavuot and a Happy Memorial Day as we remember all those who gave their lives for our country.

And….Keep the Cup! Go Pens!

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Leaving a Legacy
Friday, May 19, 2017

I want to share a beautiful story about a recent bequest made to our Federation’s Jewish Community Foundation. I asked Brian Eglash, our Federation Chief Development Officer, who worked with the executors of the estate to share this act of tzedakah and appreciation. 

Recently, we received a bequest from a man who arrived here from Poland as a teen. He and his parents, who had both survived the Holocaust, moved to Pittsburgh with very little to their names. The Jewish Federation’s partner agencies helped his family resettle, and when he reached working age, a Federation volunteer from our local National Young Leadership Cabinet helped him find his first and only job. 

For decades, support from the Jewish Federation touched and enriched his life. He decided to express his gratitude by giving back to the community, leaving a legacy to Federation. 

Because he did not have any immediate family, his former employers, who themselves are extraordinarily generous and passionate around the Jewish community, became the trustees of his estate. They facilitated establishing his wonderful bequest as a Legacy Fund, a permanent endowment to fund Jewish needs each year both here at home and in Israel, through our Jewish Federation’s Foundation. 

This man started out in Pittsburgh with nothing. Through the Jewish Federation Foundation he will give back in perpetuity to the same Jewish community that helped him so much during his lifetime. 

This gentleman’s bequest was far from being an amount of money that would capture headlines in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. However, it is a stunning illustration of generosity and appreciation to our community.  

It demonstrates that we all can leave a legacy. As Brian writes above, Federation has launched an effort to encourage donors to endow their annual campaign support, called Legacy Funds. There are many techniques and strategies to establish such funds - from a simple bequest, through the purchase of life insurance (where Federation can match the premiums), or using sophisticated planned giving tools (Charitable Remainder Trusts, Charitable Lead Trusts and Annuities) to minimize taxes. Our expert staff is happy to help you find the best way to leave a lasting legacy for our amazing Pittsburgh Jewish community, a community that enriches all our lives.  

Shabbat Shalom.  

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh Celebrates Israel
Friday, May 05, 2017

South Hills Jewish PittsburghI attended the Yom Ha'atzmaut celebration that was coordinated by our Federation initiative, South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh, at the South Hills JCC. It was fantastic seeing so many young families having fun and celebrating Israel. Every South Hills congregational Rabbi was in attendance. This sense of collaboration in the South Hills is helping the community reach out and engage more people in Jewish life. 

Our Jewish Federation PJ Library Ambassador who works in the South Hills was there yesterday conducting programming and signing up more of our youth for the PJ Library program. PJ Library allows some of the youngest members of our community (from 6 months old) to receive free Jewish books on a monthly basis. In addition, there are four Federation PJ Library Ambassadors that the Federation funds through the JCC: one in the South Hills, one in Fox Chapel, one in the North Hills (Allison Park/Cranberry) and one in the city. They conduct programming for families with young children to help connect them with each other. It has been held up as a national model by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, our fantastic and creative partners, who developed and generously support PJ Library internationally.

With over 1,300 PJ Library subscribers in the Pittsburgh region, we have a broad reach through this program. If you or someone you know might be interested in subscribing or finding out more, visit PJ Library online. To see upcoming PJ Library programs here in Pittsburgh, you can visit their Facebook page.  

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom. Good luck to everyone running the marathon and Go Pens!

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Celebrate Israel
Friday, April 28, 2017

“If you will it, it is not a dream.”

The above famous words by Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, regarding the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people were written in 1902. Fast forward to next week, and we will be celebrating 69 years since the declaration of the State of Israel.  

Last night, the Jewish Federation sponsored a fabulous program called "Israel Story". Accompanied by music, stories about real Israelis showing the diversity and complexity of Israeli society were read in a style similar to the show “This American Life”. With about 300 people in attendance and a preshow five-year reunion of our Centennial Mega Mission, it served as a fantastic way to kick off this week of Israel related programs.

On Sunday night at the JCC in Squirrel Hill, Federation will hold its annual Yom Hazikaron gathering to honor Israel's fallen soldiers and victims of terror. Every year, this program is powerful and moving. While I understand going out on a Sunday night at 8 pm may be challenging for some, I cannot encourage you enough to attend and allow yourself to be deeply moved.

Tuesday afternoon and evening brings the Federation's annual Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) celebration. Taking place at the field of Community Day School, the program will involve fun activities for the entire family ending with a headliner concert with the talented, and well known - Matisyahu!  Join us to celebrate Israel with this free event.

Federation is proud to bring our community together to stand with and celebrate Israel.

Shabbat Shalom.  

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

AgeWell Pittsburgh Wins National 2017 Collaboration Prize
Friday, April 21, 2017

For this week's message, I'm going to let two articles tell the story about what our community is able to accomplish when institutions are able to truly put clients’ needs first and collaborate not just to say they collaborate but to really achieve amazing outcomes.  

According to Kate Dewey, the President of the Forbes Funds, who encouraged Agewell Pittsburgh to apply for this prize, this is the first time that Pittsburgh nonprofits have received this recognition. Mazel tov to Agewell Pittsburgh and all the agency partners: the Jewish Association on Aging, the Jewish Community Center and Jewish Family and Children's Service (all Beneficiary Agencies of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh)!

AgeWell Pittsburgh recognized with $150,000 grant

2017’s Collaboration Prize Winner Can Teach a Thing or Two

Aren’t we all lucky to be part of such an amazing Jewish community?

Shabbat Shalom!

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Takes Good Deeds Day to a New Level
Friday, March 31, 2017

Good Deeds DaySunday brings the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh Volunteer Center's Good Deeds Day. Good Deeds Day was started by the Arison family of Israel to encourage individuals to engage in volunteerism on a single day. To give you a sense of its scope and reach, I share with you a quote from the Good Deeds Day Wikipedia page: "In 2016, Good Deeds Day’s 10th anniversary, approximately 1,500,000 participants from 75 countries volunteered, making it the largest and most global day yet. To celebrate, project organizers held mega events in New York City, Sao Paulo, Brazil and Rome, Italy."

This year, our Federation's Volunteer Center reached out well beyond the Jewish community by working with neighborhood associations as well as religious and non-religious nonprofits to recruit volunteers. We already have exceeded prior attendance records and while I apologize that registration is closed for this Sunday, I hope you share my excitement for the fact that our Federation is the organizer of a day that involves broad Pittsburgh engagement and support.  

I have not mentioned Federation’s fundraising progress in quite some time. I am happy to report that our 2017 Annual Campaign has now reached $11 Million. We are running ahead in pace and dollars towards our lofty goal of $14 Million. Thanks to everyone who has already committed to this year’s effort and a special thank you to all our volunteer fundraisers who are reaching out and asking our fellow community members for their participation.

Shabbat Shalom. Have a good week of Passover cleaning!

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Recognizing the Fruits of Collaboration
Friday, March 24, 2017

What is collaboration? The dictionary defines it as: “the action of working with someone to produce or create something”. That seems pretty simple to define, yet difficult to pull off successfully. Collaboration like any relationship takes real work. It means sometimes thinking about the other(s) with whom you are collaborating and what their needs may be. Collaboration means that it's not about you, it's about everyone involved in the collaboration. Collaboration's intent in the nonprofit world is about focusing on the clientele and how to best meet their needs.  

Our Pittsburgh Jewish community is full of wonderful collaborations. Two Sundays ago, South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh (an initiative funded by Federation and private donors) collaborated with Temple Emanuel, the South Hills JCC, Chabad of the South Hills, Beth El Congregation and BBYO to put on a single Purim Carnival at the South Hills JCC. I went to see it in action with hundreds in attendance and a feeling of shared ownership of the endeavor. The goal was to engage more Jews in Jewish life and undoubtedly it was achieved and exceeded.  

AgeWellAnother fabulous collaboration in our community is Agewell Pittsburgh. I invite you to read the story in the Jewish Chronicle about the fact that “Agewell”, a collaboration of the Jewish Association on Aging, Jewish Family and Children’s Service and the Jewish Community Center, along with Federation support, is now a finalist for a national collaboration prize. Over 350 applied and “Agewell” is now one of 8 finalists.

There are so many other Pittsburgh Jewish collaborations like the JJEP Program (the combined religious school of Congregation Beth Shalom and Rodef Shalom), JLINE (the community wide Jewish high school), or even things the Federation runs on behalf of the community so that each organization does not need to expend resources on their own (our Jewish Community Foundation, our group healthcare plan for employees of Jewish organizations, our Jewish Community Security Director, etc.).  And I know there are many more we can hold up high as models.

What more can we do?  Where can we join up and collaborate more, not just to say we collaborate, but to actually have bigger impact?  How can we increase the number of collaborations in order that more of our scarce communal resources can positively impact our Jewish community members?  One of our Federation volunteer leaders has been saying for years that we have “too many copiers” in the Jewish community. How can we become more efficient and reduce redundancies?

Lots of questions….

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.  

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Share and Celebrate Our Heritage and Identity
Friday, March 10, 2017

Our Talmud proclaims that “When the month of Adar begins, we increase our joy”. Well, we are now into the month of Adar and one of our great, joyful Jewish holidays, Purim, begins on Saturday night. I encourage everyone to find a place to hear the Purim story by listening to the reading of the Megillah of Esther. Synagogues throughout our Pittsburgh area will have all different types of experiences.  

The Purim story commemorates the saving of the Jewish people by Queen Esther, making this a truly happy holiday. The critical point in the story when the Jewish people’s fate turns from annihilation to preservation is when Queen Esther proudly proclaims her Jewish identity to King Ahasueros who then puts an end to the proclamation to kill the Jews.  

Rabbi Danny Schiff, our Jewish Community Foundation Scholar, spoke about this concept of Jewish identity as part of his presentations at our Snowbirds events. I think about it in light of the bomb threats that have been targeting JCC’s and other Jewish institutions for the past few weeks (which Cindy Shapira and I wrote about last week in a community wide message). In fact, my hometown synagogue in Framingham, MA where my siblings and I became a Bar/Bat Mitzvah was one of this week’s targets (and was highlighted in a story in the New York Times). This makes all of these bomb threats, now numbering 140, very personal to me.  

This is a time when we need to be out front and proud to be Jewish. This is a time to show resilience. Over the past week, I have been mesmerized and a bit maniacal in watching the World Baseball Classic taking place in Seoul. Team Israel, a 200-1 underdog, won their third game in a row on Thursday beating the Netherlands.  

Israeli Baseball TeamAt the World Baseball Classic, national anthems of the two teams competing are sung prior to the first pitch being thrown. When the Hatikvah (Israel’s national anthem) was played, the entire Israeli team removed their baseball caps revealing Israeli Baseball Team kippot. Not all the members of the team consider themselves Jewish and yet they stood proudly in front of a predominantly non-Jewish crowd both in person and televised around the world with that obvious Jewish symbol perched on their heads.

Let’s be more like Esther and the undefeated Israeli Baseball team. Now is the time to share and celebrate our heritage and identity.

Shabbat Shalom. Happy Purim. Go Team Israel!!!!
Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Inspiring Jewish Journeys
Friday, February 24, 2017

We just completed a phenomenal week of Snowbirds Events in Florida. With over 200 in combined attendance at three events (Boca Raton, Naples, and Sarasota/Longboat Key). It was great to reconnect with our donors who winter down south. Rabbi Danny Schiff, our Jewish Foundation Scholar, spoke masterfully at all three about the perceived threats facing our Jewish people and what he believes is an actual threat.  

About a week ago, I stopped by our Jewish professionals Melton Class. Pittsburgh is one of the top communities in the world when it comes to graduates of this international immersive Jewish educational program. This specific class, co-taught by Rabbi Danny Schiff and Danielle Kranjec (the Senior Jewish Educator at the Hillel Jewish University Center), is focused on individuals who work within our Jewish community. Synagogue and agency staff members are participating. It serves several purposes. The first is that it provides these professionals with deeper Jewish content enabling them to be better Jewish connectors and “teachers” in their daily work. Secondly, the class helps each person deepen their own personal ties to and knowledge of Judaism. Finally, it provides a platform for those who work in diverse parts of our community to get acquainted with one another through Jewish study. That could lead to unforeseen and positive collaborations.

Onward IsraelThis summer, many young people in our community will travel to Israel on programs such as Birthright Israel, teen programs and Onward Israel (all three of which receive funding from our Federation). Onward Israel is worth highlighting for a moment. Onward provides college aged students with an internship in the field of their interest in Israel while also giving them Israel and Jewish educational experiences. It is highly subsidized by national donors and our Federation making it very reasonably priced (only about $600). It was developed to tap into the need of this age cohort to participate in internships to build their resumes for work or graduate school. If you know someone that might be interested in exploring the possibility of spending this summer in exciting Tel Aviv, please send them to this link: www.OnwardIsrael.com/category/pittsburgh.  

From Florida to Pittsburgh and to Israel, our Federation is inspiring Jewish journeys. 

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Talented Volunteers Begin Work on Community Study
Friday, February 10, 2017

One of the meetings I attended this week was for the preparation of our upcoming Community Study. A remarkable group of volunteers from academia, technology, business and longtime community leaders invested serious time deliberating and deciding on not only which questions to ask but how to ask them. In fact, there was so much detail to cull through that we scheduled a follow up meeting.  

This may seem very tedious (and it is); but it is critical to making sure that our Federation, our agencies and synagogues have the data they will need to guide future decision making around strategy and tactics. At the same time, we know we can't ask too many questions because people answering those questions will not give unlimited time. Making sure the questions are focused is really crucial.

Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) contains of one my favorite lines in Jewish text. It says, "Without suffering, there is no reward". It reminds us that hard work, getting into finite details, arguing with other smart people to get the best results and a being a little uncomfortable is often necessary to getting the right outcome. This example of our preparation for the Community Study is how so much work gets done at our Federation. When it comes to the continuing strength and vitality of our Jewish community, a little suffering is absolutely worth the reward.

Snowbird EventShabbat Shalom

P.S.  We are looking forward to seeing all our Federation Snowbirds in just over a week. Events are being held in Boca Raton on February 19th, Naples on February 21st and Longboat Key/Sarasota on February 22nd. All events will feature our Jewish Foundation Scholar, Rabbi Danny Schiff. Learn more...

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Life Annoying vs. Life Threatening
Friday, February 03, 2017

What a challenging week when it comes to one of our basic necessities - water. If you live in or work in the city of Pittsburgh, you may have experienced the so called "flush and boil" order. At our Federation offices, we had to purchase bottled water for our meetings and cover up all our water fountains so no one would mistakenly drink from them.

Our inconveniences ranged from having to boil pots of water, being unable to use our dishwashers, not being able to brush our teeth with tap water, etc. It got me thinking about how, in the scheme of things, this inconvenience was just that - an inconvenience. My wife often would tell my children when something would negatively impact them that it was “life annoying” but not “life threatening”. It was to help them realize that we shouldn’t “sweat the small stuff”. 

In the Former Soviet Union, we are helping to feed over 160,000 elderly Jews. Some of those I've visited in the past live in homes that actually lack running water. In many cases, we are able to provide home care to assist them, but not for everyone. Can you imagine having to go outside in the Russian winter to pump water as an older adult? In Israel, we helped renovate bomb shelters in Karmiel several years ago so that if/when they need to be used for a period of time, they are more comfortable for everyone. Here in Pittsburgh, through Jewish Family and Children’s Service, we help fund a program to financially help some of the neediest in our community. These are clear examples of addressing the life threatening. 

In reality, because of your support, we assist with both the life threatening and the life annoying, trying to make life and Jewish life a bit more accessible and easier for everyone in our community. 

Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.   

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Events Bring Us Together
Friday, January 27, 2017

In just a month, the Federation's Young Adult Division will hold its annual Campaign event entitled "Stand Up for Giving:  Make Pittsburgh Laugh Again".  Professional comedian, Noah Gardenswartz (who has appeared on Last Comic Standing, Conan and Comedy Central) will be performing.  At the same time, we will be highlighting the miraculous work accomplished by Federation and giving every young adult in attendance the opportunity to support the 2017 Annual Campaign.  

 Why do I write about a social evening that is still a month away?  These moments that combine fun and meaning and bring Jewish young adults together have the power of connecting so many more to our Jewish community.  Knowing that many who read my messages are not part of this age cohort (22-45 year olds), why would I write to you?  Because you have the power and ability to help spread the word and encourage as many to attend as possible.  You can pass along my message to your friends or relatives or post a link to our webpage with all the information on your Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram feeds.  Imagine if every person who reads this passes it along to just two young adults.  Imagine what impact that could have on each of those who attend and on our community.  

The website with all the information can be found here: Stand Up for Giving  

You really can help connect a young person to Jewish life in Pittsburgh.  Attending Stand up for Giving might just be an entry point that leads someone to deeper engagement in our Jewish institutions and in their own personal Jewish journey.  

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEOJewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Inspired and Energized
Friday, January 06, 2017

I haven't written in several weeks and during that period our Federation has had a ton of activity. Our Annual Campaign crossed $7 Million, making this one of the quickest paced campaigns in my 18 years here. December resulted in millions of dollars in contributions to our Foundation. The cash donations we have been working to secure for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program that benefits scholarship needs at our Day Schools and Jewish preschools have started to be collected.  

Mitzvah DayThe dollars are not the ultimate goal of our work, but rather, what we do with those funds. One such activity that Federation dollars enables is our Annual Mitzvah Day that took place on December 23 and 25. This year we broke all previous records with over 1,200 volunteers at 115 different locations across our region. This was a logistical feat managed by our Federation's Volunteer Center. I visited several sites over the two days and witnessed our Mitzvah Daycommunity members doing real work and making a real difference. From the South Hills Interfaith Ministries where volunteers sorted donated clothing, to a United Way sponsored activity at Hillel Academy, to making sandwiches at the JCC and making lasagnas at Shaare Torah for our Squirrel Hill Food Pantry, I was inspired and energized. Whatever I was feeling, I know the volunteers felt in an even stronger way.

Thank you for your support.  Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and GO STEELERS!
Mitzvah Day
Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Community Study Kickoff
Friday, December 02, 2016

This was an exciting week as we kicked off the process to conduct our Jewish community's first community study since 2002. Yes, it will give us demographics, but more importantly, it will tell us trends and help us—and by us I mean every Jewish institution and synagogue—to plan accordingly. This project is being fully funded by the Jewish Community Foundation of the Federation as a service to the entire region.  

I recall in 2002 that one of the  major findings was that we, in fact, had a ton more young adults than anyone knew. The Federation used that data point to completely refocus our Shalom Pittsburgh program on outreach to young adults already living here. Other organizations used other learnings to shift their own priorities and programming in the same way. We absolutely know one thing going into the study – things have changed since 2002.  

Vodka LatkeThat same Shalom Pittsburgh program is hosting its 11th Annual Vodka Latke – a "Party with a Purpose". This incredibly fun and social program is open to all young adults and is taking place Saturday night from 8 pm–midnight at the Waterfront in Homestead. Hundreds typically turn up. This year’s theme is “I Love the 90’s”. If you know someone that might be interested, please share this link with them www.shalompittsburgh.org/vodka-latke.

Looking forward to seeing lots of young people on Saturday night!

Shabbat Shalom.  

P.S.  I want to remind everyone that you have an opportunity to help Israel recover from the devastating fires of last week. While flames have subsided, the fire’s impact will be felt for a long time. Federations have opened a dedicated fundraising effort.To join with us, donate here.  

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

It's About Unity, Not Uniformity
Friday, November 18, 2016

This week, the Jewish Federations of North America held its annual General Assembly in Washington, DC. This GA, as it is commonly called, was really special for those of us from Pittsburgh. It was chaired by Cindy and David Shapira and we brought a great delegation of 42 participants, the largest in my time in Pittsburgh.  

The theme of the entire GA was "Jewish Journeys Start Here". Our Pittsburgh group of volunteer leaders and professionals both learned from and shared our expertise with others. The opening plenary featured our own Cindy and David sharing their personal Jewish journeys that brought them to where they are in their commitment to making the Jewish world a better place.  

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks implored us about the need for Jewish unity in a time when our nation and world has become so polarized and divided. I continue to reflect deeply on his powerful speech when I think about our Pittsburgh Jewish community. We luckily have that diversity and cooperation. I experienced it just last night at our Federation Board meeting with younger and older, city and suburban, Democrats and Republicans, Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and non-denominational Jews represented. All came to work together and to think about our Pittsburgh Jewish community and our Jewish people.  

We must model what Rabbi Sacks said. We have too much to do for our Jewish world to allow this polarization to seep into our Jewish community. And as I like to say, it’s about unity, not uniformity.

Shabbat Shalom.  

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Encouraging Developments for Israel
Friday, November 04, 2016

It's been a week filled with Israel for me. The beginning of the week I was in Jerusalem for the Jewish Agency for Israel Board of Governors meeting. The Jewish Agency (JAFI) is our largest recipient of dollars from our Annual Campaign. Their work around the world is nothing less than stunning. While much of this meeting dealt with the operations of running the largest Jewish nonprofit in the world (the budget, strategy, etc), we still could feel the impact.  

At the closing JAFI plenary, a remarkable young man spoke. He was at a bar in Tel Aviv last year when a terrorist gunman opened fire. He was hit twice -  once in his stomach and also in his leg, nearly killing him and leaving him without the ability to walk without a cane. He loves being athletic and was working as a physical trainer prior to the accident. With the support of the Victims of Terror Fund of JAFI, and after many surgeries and physical therapy, he opened a gym directly across the street from the bar where he was shot. He says that he tries to go everyday after work to that same bar. What an inspiration!

Signing HB2109 on Nov 11, 2016Today, I traveled to Harrisburg to join Governor Wolf in signing HB2107 into law. This legislation, passed with an overwhelming majority from both Houses, prohibits the Commonwealth's Department of General Services from entering into a contract with an entity that is engaging in an economic boycott against Israel. This strong anti-BDS commitment from our state is a great show of support for the one and only Jewish state. Pennsylvania is the 14th state to adopt such a law. I want to thank the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition (an entity funded by our Federation and the other Jewish Federations of Pennsylvania) for taking the lead on encouraging this through the system. I also want to thank our Western Pennsylvania legislators who voted for this and Governor Wolf for not only signing it into law, but for verbally expressing his support of Israel. I encourage everyone to thank our legislators and Governor Wolf for standing with Israel. 

Am Yisrael Chai!

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Stay Connected - Stay Informed
Friday, October 21, 2016

Much of our Federation’s communications are handled through social media, such as Facebook. These platforms allow us to quickly and quite often, communicate about things happening in our community and our Jewish world. If you are not on Facebook or if you do not follow the Federation on Facebook, you may have missed these few items:

1. A wonderful video our Community Relations Council worked on with the Black Empowerment Project and the City of Pittsburgh to encourage everyone to vote in this very important election. You can check it out here. View Larger on YouTube

2. UNESCO passed a terribly slanted and biased resolution regarding Jerusalem and Israel. Our Jewish Federations of North America issued the following statement:  

"Today, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted a resolution that aims to change the status quo of the Temple Mount... and declare the Western Wall a part of the al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Jewish Federations are bitterly disappointed that UNESCO would seek to fan the flames of religious and cultural conflict.  

The resolution is an affront to the Jewish people and our over two-millennia connection to the Western Wall and the Temple it once supported. By acknowledging the holy sites both on and around the Temple Mount solely by their Arabic names, this resolution seeks to invalidate any claim the Jewish people have to our holiest site. The result of this aggressive effort will be to heighten the already palpable religious tensions in Israel and the surrounding region. At no point does the proposal acknowledge a Jewish association with the Wall, one that clearly dates to ancient times. Instead, it ignores a Jewish connection to the site altogether. This gross attempt to erase history by UNESCO is unconscionable.  

We urge the United Nations to see this for the anti-Israel attack that it is, to consider the damaging effects this change will have on Israel and the entire Middle East, and to condemn it in absolute terms."

3. We are now in Day 29 of our 100 Days of Giving where our Facebook page brings you a short piece about how you make a difference. In the past week, we’ve learned about the overseas work of ORT, about an upcoming Young Adult Event called Sukkahfest, about the upcoming Jewish Residential Services building development, and about a Holocaust Center program.

If you are on Facebook, follow us to stay connected. Our Facebook page is called “Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh” and can be reached here.  

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a happy Sukkot. Go Steelers!

P.S.  Simchat Torah is coming up next week either on Sunday or Monday night depending on your practice. Federation encourages you to find a place in one of our welcoming Pittsburgh area synagogues to celebrate the annual completion of the reading the Torah and our start back at “In the Beginning”.   

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Opportunities and Challenges in the New Year
Friday, September 30, 2016

Opportunities and challenges. That’s what I see as we close one Jewish year and enter another. It’s the same every year. We have to look at where we can make a positive impact while also keeping an eye on pressures that can work against us as a Jewish community and as a Jewish people.

As we begin this New Year, our Federation is working on launching an effort to take a macro view at planning for our senior population. We are looking at how we can best engage young adults. We are working with other religious and ethnic groups in our region to promote harmony and to make Pittsburgh the best it can be. We are looking at how we can best care for our region’s Jewish cemeteries. We are trying to encourage more people to participate in intensive Jewish study and engagement. We are working to fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that strives to demonize Israel. We are going to connect more people to Israel through missions, Partnership2Gether programs and opportunities like Birthright Israel, Onward Israel, teen travel to Israel and MASA (longer term trips) programs. We are working to make our community more inclusive so that those with disabilities are fully accepted and integrated into what our community offers. We are hiring our first ever Jewish Community Security Director to help and support all our Jewish institutions. We are developing strategies to raise more money for our 2017 Annual Campaign, our Jewish Community Foundation and the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program. We are beginning to lay out new strategies around how to provide the best in Jewish education. We are beginning work to undertake a demographic study of our Jewish community for the first time since 2002. We are helping our PJ Library programs expand to more Jewish families. We are working to become more data driven in our decision making.

Each of these are our opportunities to combat challenges. Whether that challenge be apathy towards being Jewish, a lack of resources to “purchase” Jewish services, or the singling out of Israel among the nations of the world, we have the ability to impact them with the right strategies and the resources to invest in them. As we enter 5777, I look positively at how we address these challenges. We can and will do so, as a community.  

This was a very sad week with the passing of Shimon Peres. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been in his presence many times during my career. It was a true honor to know him and to hear him speak. As I looked at all my friends’ and colleagues’ posts on Facebook, I noticed one Peres quote that immediately jumped off the screen at me:

“Optimists and pessimists die the same way. They just live differently. I prefer to live as an optimist.”  

I hope you share with me that same sense of optimism that Peres had until his death.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a very happy, healthy and optimistic New Year. Shanah Tovah.

Jeff Finkelstein,

Apples & Honey for Everyone
Friday, September 23, 2016

Apples & Honey Fall FestivalThis Sunday, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh's Shalom Pittsburgh program that conducts outreach and engagement to young adults will hold its 6th Annual Apples and Honey Festival in Schenley Park. The weather forecast looks absolutely fantastic. For those coming in from the South Hills – traffic should be much lighter than it has been during the week. The programs that have been put in place by the Federation and all our partner institutions look terrific.  

My message is simple. Come out, bring your children or grandchildren, and let lots of other people know about the event. It is a great way to involve our young adults and their children in Jewish life in preparation for Rosh Hashana. In addition, it will give everyone opportunities to learn more about ways to engage in our community throughout the entire year.  

Just click here for more information.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

International Lion of Judah Conference
Friday, September 16, 2016

I thank Becca Hurowitz, Federation’s Senior Campaign and Missions Manager, for sharing her thoughts in this week’s message:

International Lion of Judah Conference 2016This past week, I had the experience of being surrounded by women who are inspired to be a part of something bigger than themselves. I traveled to Washington, DC with a group of 20 women from our community to be a part of the International Lion of Judah Conference, which convenes more than 1,300 women who are significant supporters of the Federation Annual Campaign in their community. The conference, co-chaired by Shelly Kupfer (daughter-in-law of former Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh Chairs Barbara and David Burstin) raised a record-breaking $31 million from Jewish women in North America and Israel. 

We heard from a truly impressive roster of speakers – political all-stars with fascinating insights into this election season, including Madeline Albright, Nicole Wallace, and a group of women who serve in Congress. They talked about how they support one another across party lines, and fight for equality for women and girls in our country. They encouraged more women to run for public office and not to wait until they feel more prepared.

Inspiring women at the highest levels of industry and philanthropy – Lieutenant Commander Alexa Jenkins (currently serving as the Commanding Officer for USS Tornado) is the first woman to command a ship in the United States Navy – and she is Jewish! Alexa told us that, when she marches in parades, she will march for miles in a skirt and heels, so every little girl watching knows that she is a woman, that she is in charge, and that they can be too someday.

Strong women who have suffered unimaginable tragedy and persevered, including Bat-Galim Shaer, whose son, Gilad, was one of the three Israeli teens murdered in 2014. Bat-Galim spoke about how, despite this unspeakable tragedy, she moves forward every day to provide an example to her five daughters.

I was most inspired by the Pittsburgh women I traveled with. These women understand the importance of being a part of something bigger than themselves. They set an example for the women and girls in their lives – including me. They work tirelessly to make our world a better place – through their commitment to the Federation's Annual Campaign, through their work as volunteers and through their unfailing support of one another. We have a truly exceptional Lion of Judah community here in Pittsburgh, and I was proud to join them to represent our city. Please consider joining this wonderful community in the future.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Unity -- Not Uniformity
Friday, September 09, 2016

Five members of Knesset (MK’s) have been in Pittsburgh for the last day. They came as part of a program of the Jewish Agency for Israel (one of our main overseas partners) and the Jewish Federations of North America in order to expose Israeli lawmakers to Jewish North American life. They visited Toronto, Cleveland and Detroit prior to their arrival in the Burgh.  

We held a private meeting with community Rabbis from Reform, Conservative and Orthodox synagogues. It was a frank, open and direct discussion. I think my colleagues who work in the Rabbinate share my feeling that the MK's learned a ton about our communities, our religious movements (of which they were, in general, highly uninformed), challenges of keeping our next generations Jewish, what we do to fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) and the role Israel plays in boosting Jewish identity. At the same time, the fact that we could have Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Rabbis all sitting around one table in Rodef Shalom, the home of the Pittsburgh Platform of Reform Judaism, with a kosher catered meal under the supervision of the Va’ad Harabonim of Pittsburgh was in itself striking to the MK’s. That sense of unity, but not uniformity, is something very special in our town.  

The MK’s also attended the Federation’s 2017 Campaign Draft. Over 50 volunteers who take their time to ask other community members for their support of our Campaign attended this draft to choose who they will each speak with this next year. One of the MK’s, Nachman Shai, a friend for many years, commented how impressed he was with the number of people who “toil” for our community.  

The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish Federations of North America have sponsored this trip several times and each time, it has this sort of impact on the participants. We are proud that they chose our community to help educate the MK’s. Each MK leaves Pittsburgh with a deeper knowledge about diaspora Jewish communities, an appreciation of what we do every day to strengthen our Jewish community, an understanding about how we strengthen our connections to Israel and Terrible Towels!

Shabbat Shalom! Go Steelers!!!!

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

A Magical Meeting
Friday, September 02, 2016

Jewish Federation VideoWe had a magical Annual meeting this year. Just as we do every year, we honored over 35 volunteers from organizations and synagogues. These individual dedicate their time and talent to strengthen those institutions and to help further their missions. In the end, each helps us reach more Jews and serve their needs.  

In addition to the presentation of the Spector and Rudolph Awards (for our top volunteer and communal professional), we honored three long time executives from three Federation Beneficiary Agencies:  Rachel Marcus (JCC), Aryeh Sherman (JFCS) and Debbie Friedman (JRS). Each has made a tangible and positive impact on our community, an impact we will feel for decades to come. I invite you to watch the video here that we produced and presented at the Annual Meeting. Thank you Rachel, Aryeh and Debbie.

Honoring this triumvirate was followed a few days later with the launch of this year's Wechsler Young Leadership Institute. Approximately 20 young adults are beginning their journey towards gaining a deeper understanding about what makes our community "tick". I barely knew a single person in this year’s cohort and that makes me really happy. A new generation of future leaders of our Federation and other organizations are on their way! With our Annual Meeting, we signal the beginning of a new Campaign year. The 2017 Campaign is now underway. Your support allows us to take care of some of the most critical needs in our local Jewish community, and Jewish communities around the world and in Israel. The 2016 Campaign achieved an all-time high of $13,650,000. With your help, we can assure this accomplishment stands for only one year!

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Renewed Beginnings
Friday, August 26, 2016

In just a few weeks, several members of Knesset will be traveling to Pittsburgh as part of a delegation of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish Federations of North America. They will visit Toronto and Detroit, in addition to Pittsburgh. The goal of this journey is to educate Knesset members about our Jewish lives here in North America and how Israel plays a role in our community. We are really pleased that our Pittsburgh Jewish community, and specifically our Federation, was handpicked as part of this initiative.  

On a totally different note, working in the Oakland neighborhood of the city has some wonderful benefits and some drawbacks. Both took place this week with the moving in of students at Pitt and CMU. Traffic has been a nightmare with out of town parents driving down Forbes and not knowing where to go. At the same time, I’ve been watching the Facebook feed of our Hillel Jewish University Center with all their events welcoming new students and welcoming back old ones. Those same parents lost on Forbes were in the Hillel building learning about the depth of activities that our Hillel has to offer their children. By the end of this work week, the parents will be gone and traffic will get back to normal, but those students will be left here by their families for our Hillel and our community to care for them. They are in great hands! (I will be watching the Facebook feed from our Day Schools over the next week as these students return to the classroom.)

As someone about to drop off my first child at college, I wanted to share what I thought was a beautiful piece by Rabbi Ed Feinstein on this move of our children from High School to college. I hope you will share it with your children and grandchildren marking this major milestone.

I hope to see all of you on Tuesday at 7 pm at the JCC in Squirrel Hill for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Annual Meeting. We have much to celebrate, to showcase and to be thankful for. We will honor some special volunteers and thank some great professionals.  

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh



Annual Life Changing Work
Friday, August 05, 2016

This week, I am proud that Jessica Smith, our Director of Campaign and Financial Resource Development, has asked to share thoughts about an experience she had this summer:

Jessica Brown SmithThe interesting thing about the Annual Campaign is that it is, by its very nature, ANNUAL. It is cyclical. It is virtually, the same each and every year. I have often been asked – "Doesn't running an ANNUAL Campaign get boring? As Director of the Annual Campaign, you must do the same thing year in and year out." Nothing could be further from the truth.

Many summers, I have the privilege of attending JFNA’s Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission and have the opportunity to witness, first-hand, the work of the Annual Campaign. Trust me; it is anything but cyclical or boring. Rather it is inspiring, emotionally uplifting and re-energizing. This year from July 10 – 18, I travelled to Paris and then on to Israel with Campaign Chair, Meryl Ainsman; Women’s Philanthropy Chair, Ellen Teri Kaplan Goldstein; and Women’s Philanthropy Director, Rachel Lipkin. I returned home with a keen understanding that continuity, security and resilience are challenges faced across the Jewish world.

As I travelled from Pittsburgh to Paris to Israel and back, I was struck by the similarities of these issues across all three countries.  

In Paris, I had dinner  with a 27 year old woman named Aureli. Four years ago she had little to no Jewish identity. She knew she was Jewish, but little else. However, she was curious and at the age of 23 - she went to Facebook (of course) - and found Moishe House. She raised the money with the help of the Jewish Agency to found the first Moishe House in Paris. Within weeks of opening - she met her now husband and became immersed in all things Jewish. She is about to have her first baby and, like many other Parisians who no longer feel safe in their own homes, is considering Aliya to Israel with her young family. As I sat across the table from Aureli, I could have been sitting across from any of the hundreds of young adults we engage through the myriad of young adult programs in our own community including Moishe House, J’Burgh and Shalom Pittsburgh.  

In Israel I had lunch at a restaurant in Kiryat Gat that is considered a "social business" and is supported by the JDC through our annual campaign dollars. This restaurant employees adults suffering from PTSD as a result of Operation Protective Edge; when rockets rained down on Southern Israel for an entire summer. This is a safe space for these individuals to be productive members of society, while participating in therapy and recovery from PTSD. The similarities to our local Club House were amazing. 

Pittsburgh, Paris, Israel. Jews helping Jews, Jews supporting Jews, Jews protecting Jews. Together we are creating a vibrant and resilient global Jewish community.

The bedrock upon which all of this is built is the Annual Campaign. Yes. It is annual by nature. Yes. It is cyclical. YES. It was here yesterday. It is here today. And it will be here tomorrow. 

I am proud to have already made my increased commitment to the 2017 Annual Campaign and I look forward to all of you joining me as we embark on this annual, cyclical, life-changing and life-saving work.

Shabbat Shalom!

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Panoply of Passions
Friday, July 15, 2016

I've been writing pretty much weekly for the last 12 years. I enjoy taking a little bit of time as Shabbat approaches to reflect on what I experience and to share my impressions and thoughts about our Federation, our Jewish community and our Jewish world.

Often times, I receive feedback, luckily, almost always positive. It's usually someone saying, "I really liked your message this week".  In a week when I write about our work with seniors, I hear from those passionate about that issue. When I write about Day Schools, I hear from the strong Day School advocates. When I write about Israel, I hear from those passionate about the welfare and security of our Jewish homeland. When I write about recent events like the horrific terrorist action in France yesterday, I hear from those interested in international affairs and terrorism.  

The great thing about our Federation is that we touch all these areas and even more. We work on our Jewish community's relationship with the Black community, inclusion of those with disabilities, caring for Jews in poorer parts of the world and engaging community members in volunteerism and much, much more.  Federation impacts a panoply of important areas. At the same time, our community includes members who have specific passions. Federation stands at the intersection of those passions and all of those areas of service and impact.  

In this week’s message, I mentioned many areas where Federation invests time, money and energy. I expect to hear from most of you!

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Many Happy Campers
Friday, July 08, 2016

I love this time of year. Sure, the weather is pretty nice and the number of night meetings/events in the Jewish community drops over the summer, but what I really love is seeing Jewish camp updates all over my Facebook feed. From the camp where my son is, to the Jewish camps where my friends' kids are, the pictures show children smiling and "doing Jewish together".

Jewish camping is one of those powerful, identity building experiences. I see pictures on Facebook of Jewish kids at Shabbat services, doing Israeli dancing, studying Jewish texts, singing Jewish songs and frankly, just having fun with each other. 

I am really proud that with the generous help and support of the Papernick Family Foundation and the Centennial Fund for a Jewish Future (an important initiative within our Jewish Community Foundation), we provide One Happy Camper incentive grants to encourage families to choose a Jewish camp experience. The $1,000 grants we provide are proven by research conducted by the Foundation for Jewish Camp to be effective tools that get our kids into this positive Jewish environment.

Let's keep encouraging our young families to choose a Jewish camp. Who knows, maybe like me, they'll be lucky enough to meet their spouse there!

Shabbat Shalom.  

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Je Suis Juif
Friday, July 01, 2016

I spent about 5 1/2 days in France this past week. The first few days were spent in Sarcelles as part of a seminar for a group of Federation CEO's and the second part was in Paris as a participant in the Jewish Agency for Israel's Board of Governors meetings.  

I learned a tremendous amount about this proud, vibrant Jewish community - the third largest in the world with a population of approximately 500,000.  

Some of the negatives:
Anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activities are real (I have a copy of the 2015 Report on Anti-Semitism published by the Jewish Community Security Service on my desk highlighting every incident last year). We heard firsthand about the 2014 anti-Israel riots in the town of Sarcelles from its main Rabbi. At a dinner in Paris with my cousins, they shared with me that their children are not allowed to wear anything Jewishly identifiable in public anymore. While the Jewish community of France is less than 1% of the overall French population, Jews are 50% of those targeted by hate crimes. Outside the synagogues I attended for Kabbalat Shabbat services on Friday night and for lunch on Saturday afternoon, French military were patrolling the perimeters with automatic weapons. Last year, aliyah to Israel (that we help to facilitate through our Federation's support of the Jewish Agency) spiked.

Some of the positives:
There are 286 Jewish Day Schools and 48 JCC’s in France. Observant Jews walked the streets of Sarcelles openly. In Paris, we learned that approximately half of the French Jewish community travels on vacation to Israel annually. Membership in Jewish youth movements is the norm. While I do not speak French, I was able to communicate with many community members in Hebrew as many of them seem to be fluent. There are more kosher restaurants in Paris than Tel Aviv or New York!  

What's the future of French Jewry? I can honestly say that after my time in France, I just don't know. Several French Jews with whom I spoke talk about planning to make Aliyah to Israel. Many of the volunteer leaders of the Jewish community already have children living in Israel, and several people with whom I spoke talk about planning an eventual aliyah. Yet, the situation is complex. It's hard to leave the wonders of France, where Napoleon gave Jews incredible freedom and rights. It's hard to leave a society that gives so much vacation time from work, pays you 80% of your salary for two years if you lose your job and has a rich healthcare system (you will see shops for eyeglasses everywhere because eyeglasses are fully covered).  

This week's Torah portion, Shelach, contains the story of the spies who go to the land of Canaan. Ten return saying the land is unconquerable and two say that it is. I feel like I just “spied” on the land of France and on its Jewish community. Unlike those twelve spies who each had a definite opinion to give to Moses, I do not. There are too many variables including the upcoming French election, Brexit and its impact on Europe, the continuing inflow of immigrants from the Muslim world and their absorption into French society (reportedly a growing number of them are returning to France from Syria with ISIS training) and the state of the economy, to name just a few.  
Last Shabbat I was hosted in a home in Sarcelles with a family of six. The parents were both born in Djerba. The homemade Sephardic food was exotic and delicious. We talked about the future of France, their children, their neighborhood and their professions. We talked about their connections to and love of Israel. We talked politics, both French and American (they had fascinating views on our own Presidential election). They love their lives in France. When I asked about their future, they responded that they are planning for their children to complete their education in France and then for each to move to Israel. Once the last one has left France, the parents will follow. Is this the plan that many Jews in France have? Do most have a plan? I just don’t know.  

What I do know is that our Federation support has enhanced security in the Jewish community, helps provide for Israeli Shlichim (emissaries) to work in schools and provides both short and long term Israel experiences for young people to strengthen Jewish identity. Kol Yisrael Arevim zeh BaZeh – All Israel is Responsible One for the Other.  

Shabbat Shalom. Je suis Juif.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Building Community
Friday, June 17, 2016

The Federation's Vision Statement exclaims that we are striving “to build a thriving, vibrant and engaged Jewish community”.  Another way to say that is we are trying to build a strong Jewish community.  

This past Saturday night, we were able to build community by bringing the diversity of our community together for our annual Tikkun Leil Shavuot night of study.  We estimate that somewhere around 400 individuals turned out between 10 pm and 1 am.  A special thank you goes out to all our congregational Rabbis and other educators who inspired and provoked us late into the night.  I can honestly say that I saw people I know who belong to Conservative, Reform and Orthodox congregations.  I saw people who do not belong to a congregation.  I saw people from the city, the Eastern Suburbs, the South Hills and Fox Chapel.  There were teens, young adults and members of our Lev Society (donors to the Federation of over 32 years).  It was awesome!

As we celebrated the holiday of Shavuot this past weekend, our hearts were in Orlando with one of the worst mass shootings in American history.   The Pittsburgh community held a large gathering that took place on the second day of Shavuot so many of us could not attend.  The Federation’s Community Relations Council has put together an opportunity for us to assemble for an evening of solidarity with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community in Pittsburgh.  I hope you will join us on Thursday, June 23rd at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill from 7-8 pm.    For more information, please click here:  https://jfedpgh.org/orlando2016.

While the Tikkun was a chance to come together for celebration, this Solidarity evening is focused on our sadness and anger.  A strong community provides opportunities to come together for both.

Shabbat Shalom.  

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

All Night Learning
Friday, June 03, 2016

I will not be writing a message next week so I want to take this opportunity to alert you about an important and wonderful activity taking place next Saturday night (June 11th). The Annual Tikkun Leil Shavuot will take place at the Squirrel Hill JCC from 10 pm until 1 am. This comes from a  tradition to stay up all night long studying Torah on the holiday of Shavuot which celebrates our people’s receiving of the Torah.

Our “Tikkun” brings together all aspects of our vast Jewish community. I strongly urge you to CLICK HERE to review the schedule with the full listing of extraordinary study sessions. I must say that it gets better and better every year. I want to thank the JCC for its partnership and all the Rabbis and teachers from synagogues and institutions for lending their expertise. This is another one of those events that we in Pittsburgh take for granted but is truly unique and special. I don’t know any other community that comes together in this way.

Come!  Learn!  Experience studying with someone you do not typically interact. See you next Saturday night!

Shabbat Shalom.



Investing in People
Friday, May 27, 2016

When I received my Master’s Degree from Brandeis University in 1993, it was in Jewish Communal Service. At the time I began my career, I became a member of the Jewish Communal Service Association.  I “Googled” the definition of the word service and this was the first to appear in my web browser: “the action of helping or doing work for someone”. 

I believe that in many ways, my training both in the classroom and in my fieldwork was focused on this area of service. However, there has been a major shift since that time. A few years ago, our Federation and the Agency for Jewish Learning brought a program to Pittsburgh from the Spertus Institute of Chicago that granted about a dozen individuals working for Jewish organizations with a Master’s Degree in Jewish Professional Studies. The program I attended at Brandeis is now called the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program. And that organization I belonged to back in the early 1990’s called the Jewish Communal Service Association is now called JPRO.

This shift is not just one in nomenclature, it is about the role of the professional. We are looked at as a profession, one that has a body of knowledge and practice. Our volunteers do not just look at us to “serve” them, but also to help advise and guide them with our professionalism and knowledge. 

This week, 14 of us from multiple Jewish agencies in Pittsburgh attended the JPRO conference in Columbus, OH. We learned together, we grew together and we got to know each other better. We will be debriefing in a few weeks to determine what learnings might have application to Jewish Pittsburgh. 

The reason I bring all of this up is to say that we as a community, like any private or public company that wants to grow, need to invest in our most critical and important asset - our Jewish communal professionals. We must give them the time to learn and the time to reflect and we must make sure that we have the financial resources to help them grow. One such way to effectuate this will be the relaunch of our local chapter of JPRO in Pittsburgh over the coming year. Through this vehicle, we will be able to bring serious content to our professionals and create a platform where professionals from different organizations and synagogues will get to know each other. Building these relationships are critical because through them, trust is built and collaborations can form. 

Shabbat Shalom. Have a great Memorial Day Weekend. Let’s go Pens!

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO

Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh


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Do You Qualify for EITC ?
Friday, May 20, 2016

I warn you right at the outset of this week's post – THIS IS A SOLICITATION.

Do you own a business that pays income tax to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania? Do you know someone who owns such a business (they don’t even have to live in Pennsylvania – the company just has to be here)? If so, such companies can quality for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program.

Our community has been able to secure over $36 Million since the inception of this program to support families in financial need to access our Jewish preschools and Day Schools through the EITC programs.

July 1 is the next time for companies to apply so our job as a Federation is to get the word out. The companies that qualify and make a two year commitment receive a 90% tax credit towards their state taxes and also qualify for a federal charitable deduction.

Click here for an outline of the program. Please read, please share, and be in touch with us with any questions. We can help you through the entire application process.

Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom - May 13, 2016
Friday, May 13, 2016

This week's Torah portion, Kedoshim, begins with:


And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, You shall be HOLY (Kedoshim), for I the Lord, your God am holy.


It then goes on with a listing of things we should do (and not do) in order to strive for this sense of holiness. As I read through the parsha, I began to see how the work you make possible through Federation ties in so beautifully.


“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not fully reap the corner of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you collect the [fallen] individual grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.”  Our Federation supports the needs of those who lack food and money and require scholarship and support.  We welcome newcomers to our community especially through our Newcomers Initiative through Shalom Pittsburgh.  


“You shall rise before a venerable person and you shall respect the elderly.”  Our Federation supports the needs of our seniors through our network of agencies and programs in Pittsburgh, in Israel and around the world.  


“You shall not curse a deaf person. You shall not place a stumbling block before a blind person.”  Our Federation supports services for those with special needs and strives to treat everyone with respect and dignity.


“You Shall observe my Sabbaths.”  This is all about Jewish traditions.  Our Federation makes major investments in formal, informal and experiential Jewish education.  


“You shall possess their land, and I shall give it to you to possess it a land flowing with milk and honey.”  Our Federation connects our Pittsburgh Jewish community to the land and people of Israel.


Thank you for what you make possible. Shabbat Shalom.


Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh


Israel Week - Something for Everyone
Friday, May 06, 2016

Israel Week offers everyone in the community some way to personally connect to Israel. Thank you to all the organizations and synagogues that are playing a role to make this a reality!

This Israel Week is a celebration of twenty years of Partnership2Gether that couples Pittsburgh to Karmiel and Misgav. Thousands from our community and thousands in Israel have connected with each other through this groundbreaking initiative. You will see our P2G connections highlighted throughout the week's activities.

Instead of my selecting a few events to mention, I just share with you the page of activities for Israel Week - CLICK HERE. Hope to see you at many of the programs.

Shabbat Shalom and Am Yisrael Chai!

Jeffrey H. Finkelstein
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Chag Sameach
Thursday, April 28, 2016

We are still in the midst of the holiday of Passover, celebrating the freedom of the Jewish people.  I write to you today about a program taking place next Thursday that commemorates one of the most tragic chapters in Jewish history – the Shoah (the Holocaust).

Yom HaShoah will be commemorated on Thursday, May 5th at 7 pm at the JCC in Squirrel Hill.  This powerful evening provides us with the opportunity to remember those who were brutally murdered and appreciate those who tried to save them.  It is a time when our entire community can come together as one.  I encourage you to make time to participate in this annual program that the Holocaust Center has been coordinating since 1981.  This year’s will feature presentations by six teens who participated in a Classrooms without Borders program in which the teens interviewed survivors about the personal experiences.  Both the Holocaust Center and Classrooms without Borders are programs affiliated with the Federation.  For more information, please click here.

Wishing you a Chag Sameach and an early Shabbat Shalom. 

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO

Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh


Can a united community still work miracles? Ask the Yemenite Jews.
Monday, April 18, 2016

Typically, I take some time to share my thoughts about our Federation, our Jewish community and issues impacting the Jewish world.  In place of my typical writing, I present to you a wonderful piece by my counterpart from the Jewish Federation in Chicago, Steve Nasatir, that appeared in this week’s Jewish Telegraphic Association news blast.  

Thank you for partnering with our Federation to bring Jews like these from Yemen to freedom.

Wishing you and your families a very happy Passover.



Can a united community still work miracles? Ask the Yemenite Jews.

By Steven B. Nasatir 

An orthodox Jewish family from Yemen arriving in Israel at Ben Gurion International Airport, August 14, 2013. (Moshik Brin/The Jewish Agency/Flash90

A Jewish family from Yemen arriving in Israel at Ben Gurion International Airport, Aug. 14, 2013. (Moshik Brin/The Jewish Agency/Flash90)

(JTA) — Passover is a time for family, for tradition, and for festive celebration. It’s also a time to fix a paradox.

As we read the Haggadah, we reflect on our past travails and miraculous redemption as a Jewish people. But if we look only at the past we risk overlooking the incredible ways in which the cycle of Jewish history continues today. Only at our peril can we ignore the continuing Jewish story of persecution, redemption, and extraordinary achievement, or fail to recognize the role each and every one of us plays — individually and collectively — in the ongoing saga.

A poignant reminder of this was the clandestine final rescue and immigration to Israel, or aliyah, of 19 Yemenite Jews completed on March 20. Among them was the rabbi of the Jewish community of Raydah, who brought a Torah scroll believed to be more than 500 years old, and the son of Aharon Zindani, who was murdered in an anti-Semitic attack in 2012 .

Steven B. Nasatir

Steven B. Nasatir

This wasn’t the first nor the last time, given the dangerous era we live in, when unified, collective action through a strong and effective federation system meant the difference between life and death for Jews in peril. In this case it was the Jewish Agency for Israel — an organization funded and governed by almost 300 Jewish community federations worldwide in partnership with the government of Israel — that took the lead, with help from Israeli intelligence and the U.S. State Department.

Our liturgy says of the Exodus, which we celebrate at Passover, that God rescued the Jewish people “with a strong hand and an outstretched arm …” When it comes to rescuing Jews from jihadist terror and Muslim sectarian war in Yemen, from discrimination in Ethiopia or from a gathering storm of anti-Jewish violence in Europe, we know it is our duty to lend our own strong hands and outstretched arms.

Thank God we have the strength, unity and Jewish independence needed to take our fate into our own hands to the extent that we can. The rescue of the Yemenite Jews is one case in point.

Which brings me to another Passover paradox: What is the meaning of the “wicked son” — the person who stands aloof from the story, separating himself from the collective — in this time of fraying Jewish unity?

To me, today’s wicked sons are the men and women who, knowingly or not, dismantle the very unity that enables the noble work of Jewish rescue and redemption, and the building up of the land, to continue.

Disagreements among Jews, while nothing new, are becoming more frequent, visible and potentially more costly than ever. Jews not only are mirroring the increasingly partisan and contentious discourse of our broader American body politic, but also are finding additional reasons to squabble and snipe — accusing one another of not caring about what is best for Israel, having the wrong Jewish values or having no Jewish values whatsoever.

These reactions, which both reflect and fuel the divisions among us, can’t be healthy for a minority that represents just 2.2 percent of the U.S. population. This divisiveness is making Jewish communal life more stressful and threatens to paralyze our ability to act collectively, our most potent mode of action.

If there is one lesson we need to learn from the recent Yemeni rescue, it’s the need to preserve that most at-risk Jewish value and asset: communal unity.

No single community, no single donor, not even the State of Israel, on its own could have rescued the Jews of Yemen. It took a global Jewish community to do it. A global community that, despite all our differences, still feels inexorably connected to one another and acts upon that unity in life-saving ways.

This Passover, as we sit down to seder with family and friends, let’s remember that the work of redemption is not complete, and that the work requires not only divine grace but also our own strong hands and outstretched arms. Let us strive to be wise, not wicked, in our attitudes and dealings with one another. Let us be mindful, as the rescue of our Yemenite brothers and sisters shows, that our actions have consequences.

(Dr. Steven B. Nasatir is president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and an associate member of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors.)

Big Data
Friday, April 08, 2016

We read often about how companies are using "Big Data".  Every time you go to a website and search for an item to buy, that same item seems to appear on other website you visit as an advertisement.  Every month, I seem to receive a booklet of coupons from Giant Eagle and guess what, it's for items I tend to buy or consider buying.  This all comes from the use of data and algorithms.

Data are a powerful tool when used appropriately and intelligently.  They can show you trends you would not normally see.  They can help you set goals.  They can help you determine the effectiveness of a strategy.

Our Federation and our agencies launched the Community Scorecard as a way for all of us, all agencies and synagogues, to measure how we are doing on a macro level as a community.  It is our first effort to collect data from across the entire Jewish community.  (You can visit the scorecard data at www.jewishscorecard.org ).

On Monday evening, we brought Brian Hayden, a principal with the firm Collaborative Strategies, to town.  Brian is our new consultant on our Community Scorecard and has worked extensively with both Hillel International and the Jewish Community Center Association in the past.  His visit this week was to provide every Jewish institution with some tools to consider in collecting and using data.  With about 70 people in attendance and with a great representation from our communal institutions, Brian showed us how each of us can start, even in very small ways, to adopt the use of data as a planning and management tool.

We are just a few weeks from our Passover Seder where we will recount 10 plagues, drink 4 cups of wine, tell the story of 4 sons and start the story of our people’s 40 years in the desert.   As you can see, data have always been a part of preserving our Jewish tradition.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Shabbat Shalom: Friday, April 1, 2016
Friday, April 01, 2016

Concurrently, in one 2 hour block on Tuesday morning, three meetings took place involving Federation volunteers and staff.  I think it can gives a good snapshot or sense into some of what we are working on to support our community.

1.  David Bernstein, the new Executive Director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (the umbrella organization for all Community Relations Councils and other Jewish advocacy groups) was in town and briefed us on the continuing battle against the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement on our college campuses and elsewhere.  We have done much in this area already as a community and are seen as national leaders and thinkers.

2.  The committee working on the Jewish Community Scorecard met (http://www.jewishscorecard.org ).  This project which has received major national attention is our community's effort to measure who we are and what we do, and eventually set goals for future achievement.  It pushes us to be a more data driven community.  This meeting was intense and engaging as we are working on defining some broad goals for what will define us as an "Excellent" Jewish community.  I would just mention a quote I heard recently:  "Excellence is a journey, not a destination". 

3.  The Jewish Community Health Plan was formed over 10 years ago so we as a Jewish community could jointly purchase and manage health care for our staff at our Jewish institutions.  Today, there are 20 Jewish organizations participating with over 600 employees.  A group of staff and volunteers met with our new brokers to discuss how we are going to move forward as a group to continue to control costs while doing what is right for our Jewish communal employees.

This was just a snapshot in time of our Federation efforts.  From Jewish and Israel advocacy to major planning for the future vibrancy of our Jewish community to controlling costs so that our dollars can go further, all are critical and are examples of the kind of activity you help to make possible. 

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO

Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Shabbat Shalom: Friday, March 25, 2016
Monday, March 28, 2016

While most of us were sleeping on Sunday night, the Jewish Agency for Israel rescued 17 Jews from the country of Yemen.  The Jewish Agency has conducted these kinds of missions for decades, bringing Jews at risk to safety in the only Jewish country in the world.  Specifically from Yemen, the Jewish Agency has moved over 50,000 Jews to Israel.  I share with you several articles about this historic rescue:



Why could this operation take place?  Because donors support our Federation and we in turn give financial support to the Jewish Agency.  The Jewish Agency staff facilitated all the details before the families were taken from Yemen including all the logistics and now they will take care of the absorption process into Israeli society.   While I do not know all the intricacies of this operation, I can assure you that the above articles make it seem much simpler than it actually was.

One of my colleagues says that Federation has been there at some of most important moments in Jewish life.  This is just the latest example.

Wishing these 17 new Olim (immigrants to Israel) a wonderful and safe Shabbat in Israel.

Shabbat Shalom.  

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Shabbat Shalom - Friday, March 11, 2016
Friday, March 11, 2016

Purim is one of the great celebratory holidays of the Jewish calendar. It rejoices in the victory of the Jewish community of Shushan over their planned destruction by the Evil Haman.

What are our "Hamans" today? What or who is trying to destroy or endanger the Jewish people? One answer is that there are none – that we live in an amazing time in the course of Jewish history. Israel exists as a homeland of the Jewish people. Jews in America have achieved levels of influence and acceptance (A Jew is running for President) never seen.

Even with these historically significant achievements, there are threats.

This past week we saw the multiple attacks in Israel by Palestinian terrorists, one of which tragically took the life of an American citizen. Another attack against Jews took place in Uruguay.  Anti-Semitic graffiti was found on a synagogue in Los Angeles.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement continues to try to discredit and demonize Israel. This movement is especially active on our college campuses, where our emerging Jewish adults are exposed to these initiatives.

One of our most troubling "Hamans" today is the apathy too many Jews have about their own Judaism and their connection to the Jewish people and community.

Our Federation is working to fight and counter all these areas. We fund the Victims of Terror Fund in Israel that cares for those directly impacted by acts of terrorism. We work in combatting the BDS movement both on our local campuses and through our support of the Israel Action Network, a national approach towards fighting BDS. We generously support Day School education, synagogue religious school education, preschool education, young adult engagement, adult education, Jewish camping, Israel travel (including Birthright Israel), youth groups (including BBYO and synagogue movement groups) and so much more all to help bring Jews closer to Judaism.

In the story of Purim, the leaders of the community did not remain passive. Today, donors to our Federation are the "Esthers" and "Mordechais" against our modern day "Hamans". On behalf of the thousands impacted by your support, THANK YOU.

Shabbat Shalom.

P.S.  Purim begins on the evening of Wednesday, March 23rd. Be part of your community by attending your synagogue's Purim celebration. If you don't belong to one, don't let that stop you. Just show up!  And, you can show up on Sunday, March 20th when NextGen:PGH and lots of co-sponsors including the Federation, take to the streets, literally, to celebrate Purim. You can read about it and other Purim festivities by clicking here.

Shabbat Shalom. Like....Totally.
Friday, March 04, 2016

Did you hear that the twins, Ben and Becca, had a B'nei Mitzvah party this past Saturday night?

In an attempt to try something different for our young adult Federation donors, we overhauled what had been our Young Adult Main Event. Instead of a speaker, the Federation worked with a Hollywood writer and produced a 1980's/1990's mock Bar Mitzvah party. All the attendees were part of the show. During the cocktail hour, actors playing the roles of party attendees (the B'nei Mitzvah kids, the parents, the grandparents, the friends, etc) all schmoozed with us. We then went into the Ballroom for the candle lighting ceremony and the partying.  Limbo anyone?

It sounds like a lot of fun (and it was), but what's the tie in with Federation? Throughout the evening we learned about Ben and Becca's mitzvah project. They were raising money to support the Federation. Our young adults learned about some of the great things the Federation Annual Campaign supports. The evening was entertaining, inspiring and informational. With about 250 in attendance, we believe we had a great success.

We have to keep changing. This event is one example of how our Federation is trying new things. Sometimes they work (like this time). Other times they do not. We know for sure that engaging this young adult cohort takes great creativity. And while we are being creative, we need to ensure that our programming contains real content.

Mazel tov Ben and Becca! Thanks for letting us all join you in your celebration - a celebration of our community.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO

Returning from Israel Inspired
Friday, February 26, 2016

I spent much of this past week in Israel at the Board of Governors meeting of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Topics of Aliyah (immigration) from France and Ukraine, engaging our young people in Jewish life and using Israel as a prism to do so, engaging more Arabs and ultra-Orthodox in the workforce, discussions about the unity of the Jewish people and the recent Israeli decision to create a prayer space for non-Orthodox Jews at the Kotel (the Jewish Agency has been a driving force in these discussions) and the overall security situation in Israel were all discussed. We also honored the Jewish Agency’s Chairman, Natan Sharansky, for celebrating his 30th year since his release from Russian imprisonment. Most of these discussions took place in the basement of a hotel in Tel Aviv. When the meetings were complete, our Federation Chair, Cindy Shapira, and I traveled north to our Partnership 2Gether Region of Karmiel and Misgav.

In the region we visited several projects where Federation dollars are having a gigantic impact. As their flier states, “Krembo Wings is the only youth movement in Israel for children and young adults with special needs, providing weekly social activities for young people with all types of mental and physical disabilities together with the able-bodied peers.” We met with a thirteen year old boy with autism who shared the impact the program has had on him. His father described the remarkable progress his son has made especially in terms of socialization and interpersonal relationships since joining this group. It was fantastic!

Another project of the Federation is our Loan Fund. This Fund was started over 10 years ago with proceeds from an Israel Emergency Campaign. We leveraged our money with a bank in Israel to create a pool of capital to help small businesses in our region to expand (nearly 97% of the low interest loans have been repaid). One of the businesses we visited was the Stern Winery in Misgav. Our dollars not only helped them expand the business to produce more wine, it has also produced more jobs. Stern Wines has won several awards in the United States already and as someone who was “forced” to taste them, I can attest to them being absolutely delicious.

Federation is doing so much in Israel through the agencies in which we invest our communal dollars. Each of those recipients is carefully vetted and chosen by our Overseas Funding and our Partnership2Gether volunteer leadership to give us the most bang for the buck.

I returned from Israel just yesterday so I should be jetlagged, but instead, I’m just completely inspired and motivated.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Challenging the Status Quo
Friday, February 05, 2016

I thought that I would let some press about the Federation speak for this week's email. 

First, our Super Sunday had great successes in raising important dollars for the campaign, involving members of our community and by engaging donors in our powerful work.  Click here for the story.

Second, my colleague Rabbi Aaron Bisno and I wrote a thought piece around the news last week of five different Jewish Day School organizations coming together as one.  Perhaps, there are local implications from this major national change?  Click here for the story.

Finally, our Foundation Scholar of the Jewish Community Foundation, Rabbi Danny Schiff, writes about the current wave of terrorism striking Israel, but through a different prism, that of Israeli restaurants.  Click here for the story.

Rabbi Schiff will be the featured speaker at events in Sarasota, Naples and Boca Raton next week and I am sure he will continue to push and challenge our thinking around what is happening in the Jewish world.  By the way, we have well over 200 Pittsburghers registered for our Snowbird Events!

The theme through all three of these published pieces is challenging the status quo.  Our Super Sunday was a new model we employed in place of Fundfest.  The piece I co-authored is all about rethinking how we can best serve our Jewish community’s interests.  Danny Schiff makes us look at an issue through an atypical lens. 

Let’s keep pushing change, not for change’s sake, but for the sake of creating the best Jewish community possible.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Super Sundays!
Friday, January 29, 2016

Last week, I wrote about Super Sunday taking place this Sunday (January 31st). Our turnout is looking terrific, but we still have some limited space in our afternoon and evening sessions. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do so here.

Sunday, February 7th will be our first Snowbirds event of 2016 in Longboat Key, FL. That will be followed by an event in Naples on Monday, February 8th and in Boca Raton on Wednesday, February 10th. Rabbi Danny Schiff, our Federation Scholar, will be our featured speaker. If you are going to be in Florida at that time and would like more information, please contact our Foundation offices at pdziekan@jfedpgh.org.

Our Federation with the support of some very generous donors launched what is called “South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh”. This effort is aimed at reaching out and engaging more Jews in the South Hills in Jewish life. Since its inception, new programs have launched and other existing programs have received support to help them grow and achieve more. 

On Sunday, February 21st, from 1-4 pm at the South Hills JCC, South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh is hosting a Jewish Camp Fair. Over a dozen Jewish camps and a few Jewish travel options for teens have agreed to be present to show what they do and how they do it. This is a great opportunity for EVERYONE from our region, not just the South Hills, to learn about the options available for their children. In addition, a representative from the One Happy Camper program, funded by the Papernick Family and the Centennial Fund for a Jewish Future, will be available to discuss how first time overnight Jewish campers can receive $1,000. For more details on the Camp Fair, please click here.

It’s clear that during the next several weeks, there are many Sundays that are Super, being kicked off by Super Sunday. Our Federation doesn’t need the NFL to make Sundays so important!

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Shed a Little Light
Friday, January 15, 2016

During the last week of December, my wife and I traveled to Washington DC with the sole purpose of being tourists for two days. I have been to DC countless times, typically for meetings or for lobbying on the Hill, but haven’t been a tourist there in over 20 years. We took time to walk and experience the magnificent monuments. All of them, the ones I had seen previously and the newer ones, were striking and inspiring. Our final stop on our walk around the monuments was at the one for Martin Luther King, Jr.. While we were exhausted, we took the time to read and soak in all the quotes from MLK chiseled into the stone walls. It was exhilarating. Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It’s a time for all of us as Americans, as Jews, and as American Jews to reflect upon the civil rights movement, its successes and its successes yet to be realized. With all of that as background, I thought it was great to see that the Maccabeats, a Jewish a capella group, released a YouTube video performing James Taylor's "Shed a Little Light". 

Many organizations in the Jewish community are conducting programming coinciding with Martin Luther King Day. I hope you can find a way to learn and connect. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeffrey H. Fineklstein

A Tzedakah Story this Shabbat
Friday, January 08, 2016

On Wednesday, Cindy Shapira (our Federation Chair of the Board) and I experienced one of the most beautiful expressions of tzedakah in our recent memories. 

As Cindy and I were completing a meeting in our Federation offices, we walked into the lobby to see Erin from our accounting staff writing up a receipt for a short, Russian speaking woman who had traveled to our building. Erin shared with Cindy and me that every year, this woman stops by to donate cash to the Federation’s Annual Campaign. The woman emphatically shared her appreciation for the work of the Federation and said that she will always give to the Federation. I did not get to speak with her in depth but my assumptions are that we helped her family resettle to Pittsburgh from Russia, we helped them learn English and perhaps helped her children get a Jewish education. She still may be receiving support from our agencies. She probably does not have a checking account so she gives cash. She either lives in Oakland or took public transportation to get to our office.

In our Talmud in Massechet (Tractate) Gittin, it says that even " If a man sees that his livelihood is barely sufficient for him, he should give charity from it, and all the more so if it is plentiful" and that "even if a person subsists from tzedakah, they should give tzedakah".  This woman donated $5 and another $5 for her sister.  These $10 may be some of the most memorable, important and meaningful dollars in our 2016 Campaign as we strive to reach our goal of $13.7 Million.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Shabbat Shalom
Friday, December 25, 2015

I visited several Mitzvah Day sites all over town. Everyone, over 1,000 strong, seemed to  be having fun while making a difference in our Pittsburgh community. This was something special to experience.

It's important to remember that while the Federation has sponsored Mitzvah Day for 15 years, there are 364 other days that have the potential as "Mitzvah Days". You can find an ongoing volunteer project through our Volunteer Center, for example.  And all of us who donate to the Federation's Annual Campaign make special things happen every day by supporting agencies in Pittsburgh and around the world.

As we go into the end of the calendar year, I want to remind everyone who is making those final charitable donations for this tax year that our Jewish Community Foundation has opportunities that can help you. If you have appreciated securities for which you may have to pay high capital gains taxes, you can use our Donor Advised Funds (also called Philanthropic Funds) to put away dollars now for charitable purposes in the future. These are easy to set up with a simple agreement to sign and a minimum of $5,000. You can give to both Jewish and general community nonprofits through these funds and we handle all the check writing and the paperwork. If you are interested, please be in touch with our Foundation Department.

Over the last few weeks, our Federation has engaged through our direct programming and that of agencies that receive funding from us, literally thousands of individuals. Mitzvah Day (over 1,000), Vodka Latke (approximately 400), PJ Library at the Zoo, several different Chanukah celebrations, three study sessions around Chanukah with Rabbi Danny Schiff that each attracted over 70 people, a Federation phoning, and so much more brought our community together time and time again.

Thank you to everyone who made Mitzvah Day such a success. Special thanks to our Federation staff who were out in force and all the volunteer site captains who took charge to give all participants a positive experience.

Until next year...Shabbat Shalom.

Jeffrey H. Finkelstein

Highlights from Argentina, Volunteerism, the State Budget Crisis: Shabbat Shalom, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015
Friday, December 18, 2015

I have three topics this week I want to highlight.  Please accept my apology for writing a slightly longer message than usual.

1. Last week, I joined a group of Jewish Pittsburghers on a mission to Buenos Aires.  I am not going to write a travelogue, but I do want to share some highlights and takeaways.

We visited an ORT High School (ORT is one of the overseas agencies we help to fund).  This highly sophisticated, technically oriented school literally amazed all of us.  It had high level scientific and math education with Jewish and Israel content along with a Hebrew language curriculum.  We experienced the Le Dor Va Dor senior center, an institution as good as our own JAA.  We were reminded of the tragedies that have impacted the Argentinian Jewish community by visiting the site of the Israeli Embassy that was bombed in 1992 and the AMIA Building (similar to our own Federation) that was bombed in 1994.  One of our highlights was an invitation to attend a celebration on the last night of Chanukah at Conservative synagogue with a “rock star” Rabbi.  With over 500 people in attendance, our Pittsburgh delegation was invited to light the fifth candle.  The Rabbi turned to us and said that "this is your home in Buenos Aires".

For me, this trip was highly personal.  Not only did I reconnect with cousins I hadn't seen in over 35 years (whose children attended the ORT School), I also was reminded of the work our Federation did in the early 2000's as a dire economic crisis struck Argentina.  Our Federation system gave additional financial support to help this community through one of the most difficult chapters in its history.  This was a community that prior to the economic collapse mirrored ours with a strong middle class.  Then, literally in just a day, members of the community who were generous donors and supporters of Jewish life became the recipients of food from soup kitchens.  On this trip we saw that because of our support at that time, they have generally rebuilt themselves (while our money still is helping many who live in the poorer areas outside of Buenos Aires).

Often on missions we are moved to see the clients we directly help.  I think we were inspired to see that our help in the past made such a difference to get this community to a place of strength.  Maimonides, a Jewish thinker from the 12th century writes about the eight levels of Tzedaka.  “The greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others“.  While the Argentinian Jewish community is still somewhat reliant on our support, it is a fraction of what it was during that trying time in the early 2000’s.

2. Next week, the Jewish Federation's Volunteer Center will present our 15th Annual Mitzvah Day.  We have more sites lined up than ever before and just yesterday, we achieved an all-time high of 1,000 people registered.  You can read more about Mitzvah Day in an article in NextPittsburgh by clicking here.

3. We are almost halfway through the state’s fiscal year without an approved budget.  This is very scary for many nonprofits that rely on state support to address critical needs throughout our region, including most of our Federation Beneficiary agencies.  Several weeks ago, our Federation conducted a postcard writing campaign to Governor Wolf in all our Jewish Day Schools and our Jewish pre-schools that receive support from the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC)program to urge the passing of a budget so that the EITC dollars can be released.  Last week, our Federation Chair, Cindy Shapira, appeared as part of a panel of civic leaders to express our concern and outrage.  You can read an article in the PG about it here.

Take a moment and call your State Representatives and Senators.  Write to the Governor.  Enough is enough!  This is hurting real people in real need.

Shabbat Shalom.  Hope to see many of you at one of the Mitzvah Day sites next week!

Jeffrey H. Finkelstein

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah
Friday, December 04, 2015

Sunday night, the Jewish world will begin the holiday of Chanukah. Our agencies have been and will be "getting their Chanukah on." I know that the Chanukiah (some refer to it as a menorah) will be lit in the Jewish Association on Aging and Riverview Towers Facilities for the hundreds of our seniors who make their homes there. Our three Jewish Day Schools will be celebrating and learning about the holiday.  The Hillel Jewish University Center has already begun with their Chanukah programming. The Jewish Community Center will be hosting a community Chanukiah lighting and a program for teens. Also connected to the JCC, but a program fully funded by the Federation, PJ Library has a lineup of small programs to engage young Jewish families.

I hope each of you finds some way to connect to our community using Chanukah as a great platform to do so. Perhaps even more importantly, you can guide someone else who may be desirous to find a place to connect to our community through one of the above or other communal  or synagogue programs.

And if you know someone who is a young adult who wants a fun evening to connect with other young Jews through the Chanukah prism, Saturday night is Shalom Pittsburgh's (a Federation program) Annual Vodka Latke Celebration.  This is THE PARTY of the year that no young adult wants to miss.  For those of you on Facebook or Twitter, you should have seen our effort to encourage the Jewish comedian, Amy Schumer, to show up at our event after her concert in Pittsburgh tomorrow night.  I hope she answers the call.

Here's to wishing all of you a happy Chanukah.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Channeling Outrage Into Productive Ends
Friday, November 20, 2015

A horrific attack in Paris. An attack targeting Jews in Marseilles. An inspiring Federation event for alumni of the Melton program with 150 in attendance. Several terrorist attacks targeting Jews in Israel. Our staff "mitzvah day" volunteering at the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank. Other terrorist attacks in different countries. A great event sponsored by South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh (a Federation program) as part of the Global Day of Jewish Learning.

I have been pondering all week long about my weekly message in light of all that took place. It has been a week of ups and downs in our Jewish community, the Jewish world and the world in general. I am writing this on Thursday evening having just heard that Ezra Schwartz was brutally murdered by a Palestinian terrorist and I cannot get this news out of my head. Ezra, a year older than my eldest child, went to the same Jewish summer camp I attended, where I met my wife and where I now send my children. I'm sure I walked by him at some point as I was dropping my kids off or picking them up at camp. I did not know him but my children did.

I went to Ezra's Facebook page and saw the posts from his friends, and pictures of Ezra at my camp. Ezra's sister was a counselor in my youngest child’s "aydah" (their age unit). I'm heartbroken near tears. I can't imagine what Ezra's parents are going through. I did not know Ezra personally but I'm taking this all very personally.

A colleague put a post on Facebook with a link to one of the stories about Ezra's murder. He wrote, "May the memory of Ezra Schwartz be for a blessing. And may we channel our very justifiable outrage toward productive ends."  After Shabbat, I know all of us, Federation volunteers and professionals, will do just that and channel our very justifiable outrage toward productive ends.

Shabbat Shalom and please, please let there be Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Making a Difference, One Person at a Time
Friday, November 13, 2015

There is so much I could write about this week since a great delegation participated in the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Washington DC that had many memorable moments. Pittsburgh was in a position of prominence as many of our Federation’s initiatives were highlighted at several sessions.  To get a taste of the GA, I invite you to watch the video of David Gregory speaking at the Opening Plenary.  Just so you understand, with thousands in the room, there were thousands of tears.

Wednesday night, our Federation held its second annual Men's Night Out with guest speaker, Henry Winkler. I could tell you about the amazing turnout of male members of our community who are generous supporters of the Federation. I could also highlight the comments that "The Fonz" made. Instead, I want to let you know what our staff did because this program coincided with Veteran's Day. They reached out to a 91 year old Veteran who lives at Riverview Towers and invited him to attend as our guest. He was introduced along with the other veterans in attendance and we all burst into a several minute standing ovation. This veteran, Stanley, was escorted and cared for by our staff. The next day he called and left a glowing voice mail thanking those staff members for making him feel so absolutely welcome. Stanley is the person with Henry Winkler in the picture here.

Thousands in a room at the GA. Hundreds in a room at Men’s Night out. What most moves me is how we can make a difference in the life of just one deserving individual.

Shabbat Shalom.  

Jeff Finkelstein
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh



Weathering the Storm until a Budget is Passed
Friday, November 06, 2015

There has been much in the press about the lack of a Pennsylvania state budget and the impact that has on the nonprofits that serve some of the neediest in our midst.  This budget impasse impacts many of our Federation agencies that work in the social service area.  Our Federation made an offer to all our Beneficiary Agencies (mimicking what our partners at United Way have done) to advance their cash on their campaign allocations.  I must say that our agencies are on top of their cash flow needs and are continuing to deliver uninterrupted and excellent services to their clientele.

Another area that has been impacted by this budget holdup is in the field of education.  We keep reading about public school systems needing to take loans or draw on lines of credit in order to keep providing education.  While they are able to do so, there is a financial cost to them with interest payments, payments that were not included in their own budgets.  In our own Jewish community, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program that supports scholarships at our Jewish Day Schools and Jewish pre-schools has been held up.  Hundreds of needy students rely on this support annually.  Again, our schools have been able, up until now, to weather this storm.

Here at the Federation we will continue to monitor this situation, assist our agencies and keep you informed.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Shabbat Shalom: Friday, October 30, 2015
Monday, November 02, 2015

“Talk the talk and walk the walk”.  This expression is used to say that if you are going to say something you actually have to believe and do it.  Our Federation leadership has been talking about our commitment to Jewish identity building and Jewish education for many years.  And, I think we have done some amazing things for our community.  This week, our staff began the process of actualizing the "walk the walk" for ourselves.

With our Jewish Community Foundation's investment in engaging Rabbi Danny Schiff as the Jewish Federation Scholar, we have made the commitment of providing serious Jewish learning for our staff.  We kicked off 18 hours (a nice Jewish number) of Jewish study over the next year.  Our staff is incredibly talented and despite all of our skills, each of us can grow Jewishly.  Through these classes, we will gain deeper knowledge about Jewish history, text, culture and tradition.  As Jewish Communal Professionals, these skills will help us in our day to day work with each other and with the countless volunteers and donors with whom we engage.  As we work on issues of caring for our seniors, feeding the hungry, building a strong Jewish community, supporting those with disabilities, engaging people Jewishly, connecting to the global Jewish community and specifically with Israel,  and providing Jewish education, we will do so with a deeper grounding in Jewish thought, philosophy and ethics.

One hour down…seventeen to go!

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Shabbat Shalom: Friday, October 23, 2015
Friday, October 23, 2015

It's hard to pick just one memorable moment from this frenetic week to highlight.  There was the opening of the new Holocaust Center space on Sunday with a huge crowd in attendance including, most importantly, our local Holocaust survivors.  The first session of this year's Wechsler Young Leadership program began with an overview of the Federation and a lesson from the Federation’s Jewish Scholar on how to prepare a D’var Torah.  The volunteers who work hard on the campaign by calling upon community members to donate met at our “Draft” to choose who they would each have the honor of soliciting.

One constant presence through all of the above is the Jewish Community Foundation.  At each program, our Foundation was highlighted.  The Holocaust Center is funded in part by an endowment they have built over the years.  The Wechsler Young Leadership group heard about how important the Foundation is for our community and how they, even as young people, can participate in the work of the Foundation.  In addition, the Wechsler program is named as such because of the generosity of the Wechsler’s in establishing a fund in our Foundation so that the Federation can make this serious investment in our future leaders.  At our Draft, all our volunteer solicitors learned how they can not only present the needs through our annual campaign to our donors, but also how they can open conversations with them about how they can leave a legacy through our Foundation.

Our Jewish Community Foundation provides incredible impact and opportunity.  That opportunity comes from working with our talented staff to determine a tax advantageous way to leave a lasting legacy on our community.

I hope to see all of you on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the JCC to hear directly from the Israeli Consul General from Philadelphia about the ongoing terrorism in Israel - CLICK HERE FOR MORE.  Our Community Relations Council is proud to present this opportunity to not only learn, but to come together as a community in support of Israel.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein
President/CEOJewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

A Hope for Quiet in Israel
Friday, October 09, 2015

The news from Israel has been so disturbing this past week.  I kept reading about each terrorist incident targeting Israelis and Jews.  This violence has shaken all of Israel.  Our national organization, the Jewish Federations of North America, sent an update yesterday to the Federation system reporting:

In one tragic attack, gunmen shot and killed Eitam and Na’ama Henkin in front of the couple’s four young children. Eitam, who holds American citizenship, is also the son of Rabbanit Dr. Chana Henkin, a well-known American Jerusalem educator who heads the Nishmat Institute, an Orthodox seminary noted for breaking boundaries on behalf of Orthodox women.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled his planned trip to Germany marking 50 years of diplomatic relations this week in light of the deteriorating security situation. Police and other security has been significantly boosted, particularly in Jerusalem. In a highly unusual move, security forces have restricted entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City to Israeli citizens, tourists and Old City residents, thus preventing outside Palestinians from entering the area.

While the situation remains tense, Israeli citizens are by and large continuing to go about their daily lives, but are aware of the increased police presence; a regular background of helicopters, ambulances and other sirens; the return of security guards at public venues; and other subtle changes.  This morning, many schools in Jerusalem are closed as parents have organized to demand additional security measures be put in place.

Our thoughts and prayers go to all those families who have suffered at the hands of these terrorists.  And we all join in the hope that quiet will once again fall upon Jerusalem and all of Israel.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO

Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh


Supporting Our Survivors
Friday, October 02, 2015

A news story came out in the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Association) entitled, "Obama Administration Earmarks $12 Million for Holocaust Survivors".  The article goes on to say, "The allocation from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Jewish Federations of North America, to be disbursed over five years..." I invite you to click here to read the whole story.

This initiative that our national system launched has also secured funds from private sources.  These Holocaust survivors are a dwindling part of our Jewish community and I would submit, are some of our greatest living Jewish heroes.  Our Federation system is trying to make sure they can live out their lives with dignity and with the supports they need. You helped to make this happen!  Yes, you.  I know you may not feel like you did anything, but you did by being a donor to our Federation.  You help to support the work of our national Federation office in Washington DC and because you are a donor, our system is able to advocate saying that tens of thousands of donors like you are behind this effort.

Thank you!

Shabbat Shalom and an early Chag Sameach for Shemeni Atzeret and Simchat Torah next week.  I hope you all find a wonderful, fun and meaningful place to celebrate.

P.S.  This is only a “P.S.” because I wrote the above message earlier, not because it is an afterthought.  Our hearts go out to all the families who lost loved ones in yesterday’s tragic shooting in Oregon.  We also send our condolences to the family of the young Israeli couple that was killed in a terrorist attack.  

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Shabbat Shalom
Friday, September 25, 2015

While sitting in my synagogue during Yom Kippur services, I reread the “Al Cheyt” prayer in English. As you probably know, during this prayer we ask for forgiveness for the transgressions WE have made. They are recited in the plural, not the singular. It is done so because we are a community apologizing for our collective sins, not just for our own personal sins.

As I read them, I was drawn by the one that says, “For the sin which we have committed before You in business dealings”.

As I struck my chest, I not only thought about our community and me personally, I thought about our Federation. I know we always try to be the best we can by being honest and transparent. Yet, at times, I know like any individual or entity, we make mistakes. I like to say that we are allowed to make mistakes, but we must learn from them in the hope of never repeating them.

Last night, the Federation celebrated amazing accomplishments at our Annual Meeting. We reviewed many of the impacts we are having in our community in the areas of children, young adults and seniors. We announced the greatest and most successful year in fundraising in all areas including our Foundation, Campaign and the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program. And yet, I know we can do better and we can be better.

Thank you for trusting us as we continue to strive for the ever impossible goal of perfection. I know we’ll never achieve that elusive goal, but know that it is where we endeavor to be.

Shabbat Shalom and an early Chag Sameach for Sukkot beginning on Sunday night.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO

Break Your Fast and Bridge the Future
Friday, September 18, 2015

On Wednesday we fast for Yom Kippur.  On Thursday at our Annual Meeting, our Federation will celebrate accomplishments for the past year and look towards the challenges we hope to conquer in the coming year.  And the only comparison I’ll draw between the two is that, in a sense, Yom Kippur is the Annual meeting of the Jewish people and of each Jewish person where we can look back and look forward.
I hope each of you has a spiritual home where you can spend Yom Kippur.  And I hope many of you will be able to join us on Thursday night at 7:00 pm at the JCC in Squirrel Hill for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Annual Meeting. There, we will celebrate the Volunteers of the Year from over 40 different Jewish organizations and congregations.  We will announce impressive results for our Federation and community.  We will discuss some of the issues we continue to address.  We will install a new Board and thank our outgoing volunteer leadership for all they have done.
One thing  I can promise you about our Annual Meeting:  unlike your Kol Nidre services on Tuesday night, we’ll have refreshments!

Shabbat Shalom.  Wishing you an easy but very meaningful and inspiring fast.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Thinking about the New Year, Remembering 9/11, on this Shabbat
Friday, September 11, 2015

9/11, Shabbat and Rosh Hashana are all smooshed together in my mind.

I’m thinking about the New Year with new possibilities.  The apples and honey and my wife’s honey cake will all be devoured starting on Sunday night in the expectation of a sweet year.  But today, hours before the restfulness of Shabbat settles in, I’m haunted by my memories of 9/11.

Fourteen years ago, I was sitting in our Federation building with the other Federation staff doing our normal work.  Then, we heard a news blast that a plane had hit the Twin Towers in New York.  We turned on televisions to watch.  We weren’t sure what to make of it, but it became clear quickly.  I remember so many of our staff hurried out to grab their children from preschools and schools to hold and hug them.  My memories will be forever seared by that day.

“On Rosh Hashana it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed”.  Those words will be recited in synagogues throughout the world.  It is declared with the hope that we will all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.  The “Unetana Tokef” prayer continues as we ask the poignant question, “Who shall live and who shall die” in the coming year.

None of us truly knows what our fate might be.  One thing we can all do is to try to make this world a better place while we are here.

Thank you to all of our donors, volunteers and staff for working with the Federation to try to achieve our vision for a thriving, vibrant and engaged Jewish community – as we try to make this world a better place.  We wish you a Shana Tova u’metukah, a good and sweet year.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Looking at all sides of the Iran Deal
Friday, September 04, 2015

Iran.  The last month and a half has all been about how to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  Our Federation has taken a very deliberate approach to provide information representing all sides around the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to the community.  We do so within the following context that was established by our Community Relations Council:

  • Iran should not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon and Israel must have the right to defend itself with American backing;
  • Elected officials should look at this deal with the United States' security and Israel, our closest ally in the region, clearly in mind as critical primary foci of decision-making;
  • We call for severe and immediate enforceable consequences that are  delineated now ahead of time should Iran breach the agreement;
  • We see with concern Iran’s pattern of continually elongating negotiations and making un-kept commitments to inspections, and we believe that sanctions should NOT be lifted until compliance is proven and long-term sustainable commitments are kept consistent with provisions of the agreement;
  • Members of our community need to call their elected representatives to express their opinions about the deal.

Almost every Federation donor I have heard from concurs with our approach.  Those donors come from all perspectives around the JCPOA, those for it and those against it.  Yet, some just couldn’t help themselves.  Here are a few lines, without attribution, from emails we received at the Federation (I have made no edits to the original email language):

In response to our email about the President Obama webcast:

I hope that you are receiving money to help Israel for this.  Iran wants to destroy Israel and President Obama want to help Iran.

Another about President Obama:

Really?  We're supposed to listen seriously to the man who says he knows better than the Israelis what's good for them?  Did Federation sponsor talks by Neville Chamberlin?

In response to Senator Toomey speaking next week:

Skip, Thanks but , No Thanks, Its tool ate The  deal is won and  Toomey is a Tea Party Republican Hawk and anyhow Casey just came out for it positively

An old friend of mine who lives in a different community put a comment on my Facebook page when I posted information about the webcast with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  He wrote something to the effect that the Federation system is in bed with Bibi (my friend was obviously in favor of the Iran agreement).  I removed that comment from my page but because I am transparent, I did send my friend an email to let him know I had done so.  Over the following weeks, as I posted similar announcements of webcasts with the Secretary of Energy and President Obama, there was no comment thanking Federation from my friend.   This is what I witnessed over the last several weeks.  When people disagreed with a speaker being presented, they criticized us.

In Hebrew we talk about conducting ourselves with “Derech Eretz”.  Derech Eretz translates literally as “the way of the world”.  What it really means is acting with common decency.  Over the last few months, I have witnessed a real decline in Derech Eretz.  As we enter this season of the Yamim Noraim (the High Holy Days), I hope we can get back to “the way of the world”.

Our Federation is here to build a strong Jewish community. We strive to be the place where we can all come together to help our fellow Jews and to try to achieve our stated vision of building a “Thriving, Vibrant and Engaged Jewish Community”.  Let’s make sure we always focus on that ultimate goal.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Over $25 Million is quite a feat in a single year. But, those four young people are what we should be celebrating.
Friday, August 28, 2015

Photo: David Bachman

At our Foundation Annual Meeting this week, we announced the most successful year in our history, adding over $25 Million to our assets under management.  We distributed more than $13 Million back to the community from our Foundation.  By all accounts, this was a truly remarkable year of success.

While the announcement of this record breaking achievement was made on Tuesday night, the most powerful part of the evening was hearing from a few individuals impacted by that $13 Million in distributions.  We heard from four young participants on Israel connected programs:  Birthright Israel, Onward Israel and the Emma Kaufmann Camp CIT Israel trip.  They each spoke passionately about how their Jewish identity was positively impacted.  Some never really connected Jewishly before their Israel experience and are now trying to figure out their place in our community.  (I invite you to click here to see a video highlighting the impact of Onward Israel on one Pittsburgher).

Our Foundation’s official name is “the Jewish Community Foundation”.  It’s all of ours and we all have an opportunity to be part of it, to leave a lasting legacy for our Pittsburgh Jewish community.  When an endowment is established within it, the assets are managed so that, in general, we can use 5% of the value every single year to support important programs and projects in our community.  It doesn’t take millions of dollars to establish a fund, just a minimum of $5,000.  If you care about our seniors, Jewish education, helping the disadvantaged, ensuring that your Annual Campaign support is maintained or anything else you can dream of, we want to work with you.  Our professionals are experts at helping to do so in a tax advantageous way.

Over $25 Million is quite a feat in a single year.  But, those four young people are what we should be celebrating. 

Shabbat Shalom

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO

We Can Be Smarter! Shabbat Shalom - Friday, August 21, 2015
Friday, August 21, 2015

I was so upset when walking to Jewish Heritage Night at PNC Park on Tuesday night to see the Jews for Jesus group on the Roberto Clemente Bridge (on what would have been Roberto Clemente's 80th birthday).  I wasn't that upset that they were there.  What makes America great is that they have the freedom to be in public space and do what they want to do.  What caught my attention was what a poorly conceived strategy they had.

Think about it - Jewish Heritage Night - attracting Jews who are proudly identified as Jews.  As I walked around the few blocks of seats reserved for Jewish Heritage Night, I saw members of our community involved with Jewish institutions, synagogues and Jewish education.  What kind of potential does Jews for Jesus really have in recruiting any of them?  I would guess none whatsoever.  Can't they come up with a better strategy?

We are coming up on the Jewish High Holy Days, the Yamim Noraim.  What can we as a Jewish community and we as individuals do to strategically outreach to bring those in who are less engaged Jewishly?  Perhaps each of us can identify someone not so connected or someone brand new to Pittsburgh and invite them for a holiday meal or to join us at synagogue or to attend the Federation's Apples and Honey event (a program of Shalom Pittsburgh).  Let's make it personal and reach out in a quality way to make someone less engaged feel comfortable and welcome. 

I know we can be much smarter and more effective than what I saw on Tuesday night.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO

Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

The Far-Reaching Legacy of the Grinspoon Foundation
Friday, August 14, 2015

Brian Schreiber of our JCC and I were truly blessed to take part in a retreat sponsored by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation during the last week.  Approximately 40 professionals, mostly from Federations and a few JCC's, all of whom lead organizations involved with PJ Library, participated.  The purpose was to brainstorm ways that each of us can better utilize PJ Library and to help the national Foundation in its work of both expanding and fine tuning the program.  For those who do not know, PJ Library provides free Jewish themed books to families with children up to age 8.  You can read more about this fantastic program by  clicking here

Brian and I presented on an initiative we run here called the “Jewish Federation PJ Library Ambassadors Program”.  Through it, we provide stipends to an individual located in four distinct geographic areas (Fox Chapel, Allison Park/Wexford, the South Hills and the East End of the city) to conduct programs for families of children receiving these books.  I can attest that of all the presentations at this retreat, we received the most questions and comments.  It is obvious that Pittsburgh is on to something really big. 

Perhaps, the best part of this retreat was some of the less structured time.  During those moments, we had the chance to get to know other colleagues and share ideas that go beyond PJ Library and into the inner workings of Federations and JCC’s.  We, as professionals, do not often get these kinds of experiences that allow us to take a step back from the grind of our day to day work to really share and think.  I thank Harold Grinspoon and his Foundation for making this gift to us possible.  Harold is a remarkable person who built up an extremely large real estate business.  He recently signed Warren Buffet's giving pledge.  I know Harold’s pledge (attached below) is a  longer read than my normal weekly piece, but I urge you to take the few minutes to do so.  

While most people reading this may never amass the wealth that Harold has, all of us can be philanthropists by leaving a legacy to our Jewish community.  I hope Harold’s words about his own thought process around philanthropy inspire you as they did me. 

Shabbat Shalom.

Dear Warren,

It is truly a pleasure to be joining the "Giving Pledge." One seldom takes time away from the "busyness" of life to reflect on the character of who we are and the importance of the legacy we will leave behind.

I grew up in the 1930s and '40s in a poor family in Auburndale, MA, where we were the only Jews in the neighborhood. My family was secular but the neighborhood kids didn't let me forget that I was Jewish. "Jew boy" and "kike" were typical greetings I received in the school yard. I didn't know much about being Jewish except that life would certainly be easier if I weren't. These personal experiences were followed by the horror of learning about the Holocaust where one-third of the Jewish people were slaughtered. At this time, my Jewish identity was formed as a response to anti-Semitism.

As a young child peddling vegetables from my father's garden or eggs from my uncle's chickens, I knew I had a bent for entrepreneurship and a strong desire to someday achieve financial success. After a couple of unsuccessful business ventures, I bought a two-family house and then a three-family house with a goal to acquire enough real estate so that someday I would owe the banks $50,000. I dreamed of the day I would finally pay off this debt. Sixty years later, I am still a significant partner in the same real estate business, which is now a leading national company in the multifamily industry.

Twenty-five years ago, I had cancer of the tongue and came to the realization at that time that life is about more than making money. I started to think about what my legacy would be. Inspired by my wife, Diane Troderman, and my friends, Michael Steinhardt, Rabbi Irving Greenberg, and Jeremy Pava, I began to explore my Jewish roots. I discovered that I was part of a people whose culture, traditions, and values have sustained them and enriched society for over 3,500 years. Judaism brought joy, meaning, and purpose into my ancestors' lives: a thirst for knowledge, a passion for justice, a commitment to care for the weak and oppressed, and a desire to make the world a better place. For me, experiencing the richness of Jewish life and absorbing Judaism's message to engage and improve the world was a life-changing lesson. Being Jewish was an incredible gift and I was not going to squander it.

However, as I observed the world through my new Jewish lens, I recognized that while life in America has improved dramatically for Jews, our improved status has created a new, demographic challenge. Thankfully, my grandchildren do not suffer in the schoolyard as I once did, and they are readily accepted into universities, clubs and social groups in ways I could not have imagined in my youth. Among younger Jews, however, our newfound social acceptance has led to a decreased connection with their Jewish heritage. It has resulted in a significant percentage of Jews marrying people of other faiths; and with each passing year, fewer intermarried couples are raising their children with any connection to their Jewish heritage. This trend is of great concern to me because it poses a threat to the Jewish future.

To address this challenge, I decided to create the Harold Grinspoon Foundation to engage Jews in the richness of the Jewish tradition. Our mission is to enhance the vibrancy of Jewish life in our home in Western Massachusetts, in North America, and around the world. We believe that together with our many philanthropic partners, we can strengthen and grow the Jewish community through welcoming, engaging and stimulating opportunities for connection with our Jewish culture. We take a very hands- on approach to philanthropy. Our flagship PJ Library® program, for example, currently distributes 380,000 free Jewish children's books per month, connecting families around the globe to their heritage. The Foundation partners with donors in over two hundred communities to fund PJ Library® and works with community implementing partners on program implementation. In Israel, the Foundation partners with the Ministry of Education to fund and operate the program. What a powerful moment when a child and parent snuggle together reading a book at bedtime, experiencing the joy of learning Jewish values and culture! We know that this program is educating not only children but their parents as well. In the 21st century, I believe that for Judaism to continue to have an impact on families and society, Jewish living and learning must be actively cultivated. That is why I am committing nearly all my assets to my Foundation to pursue this goal.

The sense of mission and accomplishment that I get through my philanthropy energizes me every day. I feel most privileged that my daughter-in-law, Winnie Sandler Grinspoon, serves as President of the Foundation and that my long-time business partner, Jeremy Pava, serves as a Trustee. I know they share my values and their service will ensure the Foundation's continuity. I am honored to join the Giving Pledge and encourage others to join as well.

Harold Grinspoon

May 8, 2015


Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO

Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh


Getting Schooled
Friday, July 31, 2015

I have the title of President/CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.  I want to admit something.  I don't know everything happening in our community where Federation has a hand in it.  This week, I “got schooled” about some of our communal impact.

Tuesday night, the Federation distributed checks to college students to assist in funding their education as part of the Central Scholarship and Referral Service, administered brilliantly by Jewish Family and Children's service.  I have known for years the fact that our Central Scholarship program is the largest of any Jewish community on our continent.   What I learned is that over 275 individuals will benefit from it this year.  That is an impressive number.

Wednesday, a group of us met with the professional and volunteer leadership from our three Jewish Day Schools.  These schools have worked so collaboratively over the years that other communities are jealous.  I learned something I hadn't known.  In order to enroll as a student at any of our Day Schools, a child must be up to date with all inoculations.  Someone made the point that while in some places students can acquire a religious exclusion from inoculations, our religious institutions are demanding them.

Thursday I met with a few staff at the JCC about our PJ Library program.  PJ Library provides Jewish books to children ages 8 and younger on a monthly basis.  In addition to the books, the JCC is conducting programming for the parents and children.  A new initiative that started this past year called the “Jewish Federation PJ Library Ambassadors” places an individual in our suburban and urban Jewish communities (Fox Chapel, South Hills, North Hill and the East End) to conduct programming for PJ families.  We have seen a 31 % increase in the number of subscriptions to PJ Library and have nearly quadrupled the number of families engaged in the programming just this year.

I'm sending this email before I learn some new things Friday afternoon.  I am taking a donor to visit the Jewish Association on Aging, the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry/JFCS and the JCC.  I can't wait to once again be amazed at all we make possible.

Shabbat Shalom.

P.S.  I will not be writing next week. 

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Our Work in Israel is Strong - See For Yourself in 2016!
Friday, July 10, 2015

I know I haven't written in several weeks.  My lack of authoring this weekly piece is not a reflection on the quantity and quality of work being done by our Federation.

During the last few weeks, I was in Israel as part of the Jewish Agency for Israel's Assembly and Board meeting.  The Jewish Agency is one of the largest recipients of the Federation movement's support.  Those in attendance learned about the work being done right now in preparing and enabling immigrants to make their way to Israel from Ukraine and France.  We learned about the work of the Jewish Agency, on our behalf, to strengthen the sense of unity among the Jewish people as it works on issues such as conversion in Israel.  We were told about the work of the Jewish Agency to fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement around the world especially through the use of Shlichim (Israel emissaries).

While in Israel, I experienced two fantastic moments that demonstrated the power of our Federation's reach through the Jewish Agency.  The first took place in Tel Aviv where I met with our community's Onward Israel participants.  These college students are spending their summers doing internships in Israel with added programs on Judaism and Israel.  We help subsidize every participant, but our impact is even greater than that.  I asked the group how many of them were on Birthright Israel.  Almost every individual raised their hand.  We make Birthright possible through our support.  And then, for those from our Pittsburgh campuses (some of the participants are Pittsburgh born, but in college elsewhere) we asked how they heard about Onward.  Nearly everyone mentioned the Israel Engagement Coordinator of the Edward and Rose Berman Hillel Jewish University Center, a position funded by our Federation.   Take a moment to watch a video we produced showing the impact that Onward Israel has had on someone from Pittsburgh.  Click here to see it.

Then, I made my way “home” to Karmiel and Misgav for a celebration of all that Partnership2Gether (P2G) has accomplished.  Those accomplishments are many and wonderful, but for me, the true highlight was seeing my friends from the region.  Hugs, kisses and handshakes were “flying” the whole evening for people who have invested so much of their own energy to make our Partnership one of the best in the world.  In a speech I gave that night, I commented that during a single month period this summer, over 100 people from the Pittsburgh region would be making their way to Karmiel and Misgav (Onward Israel, Birthright, the EKC CIT group, etc).  This partnership makes an impact on this region in Israel, and we get equally as much return right here in Pittsburgh.

I encourage you to consider seeing, witnessing and experiencing all of this and even more on the Federation’s Outdoor Adventure Mission taking place from March 27, 2016-April 4, 2016.  For more information, click here.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.

P.S.  No message next week!


Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Diversity, Inclusion, and Working Together as a Community
Friday, June 19, 2015

We focus so much of our work on the planning, fundraising and financial oversight role of the Federation.  In fact, at yesterday’s Board meeting, we approved over $9 Million in allocations from our Annual Campaign and Foundation.  That happened because of the planning, fundraising and financial oversight we do so well.

Sometimes, we have to focus on some of the stuff we don’t want to spend time on.  On Wednesday, our Federation staff dedicated 4 ½ hours to security training.  The Department of Homeland Security and the Pittsburgh Police joined us so that we are better prepared in case of an incident, specifically about an active shooter.  We learned about putting good plans in place for the organization and about how each of us has to think about our own personal plans in case of an emergency.  The DHS representative and the Pittsburgh Police were clear that there are no imminent threats and that we already have good security procedures in place along with a good physical infrastructure.  Now, we must have evolve those plans and practice those plans.

It’s easy to think that some of the evil we see on television will not happen here.  Wednesday night, after the training, we all went home to awake on Thursday morning to hear about nine people murdered at the Emanuel A.M.E Church  in Charleston, South Carolina.  Our hearts go out to their families and to that community, victims of a disgusting hate crime.

This Monday, the Federation is a lead sponsor of the Corporate Equity and Inclusion Round Table taking place at Duquesne University.  Hundreds of local corporate, political and civic leaders will be discussing why diversity and inclusion are critical for a profitable, positive, and high performing organization and why it is necessary for our region's economy.  I call your attention to the HillDistrict.org website and Vibrant Pittsburgh’s website where the program is framed and the Federation is highlighted.

This program will not be the fix for the hate and racism that some in our society have.  But maybe, just maybe, it will help.

Shabbat Shalom.

P.S.  No message next week.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Is Being a Spy Smart Business?
Friday, June 12, 2015

What do you think about spying on others?  This week’s parshah contains the famous story of Moses sending the twelve spies into the land of Canaan.  Ten of them return to falsely describe how terrible the land is in order to scare the people from wanting to travel there.  Two, Caleb and Joshua, appropriately and correctly say that the land is conquerable.

Sending out emissaries to explore possibilities is smart business.  Next week, a group of us are traveling to Detroit to learn about how their Federation has successfully put a model in place to engage young adults.  We do a terrific job in this area in Pittsburgh (through the Federation Young Adult Division, Shalom Pittsburgh, JBURGH, Moishe House, synagogues and Repair the World) and should be extremely proud.  At the same time, we can always learn more and perhaps can take those learnings and apply them to our own practice.  I know our trip to Detroit would not be considered true spying (it is all coordinated with their Federation), but it is all about going into a “distant land” and to do as Moses instructed the spies, “You shall be courageous and take from the fruit of the land.”

Being a learning organization is critical to success.  It is easy to rest on our accomplishments, and we have so many.  To learn from those successes and to continue to evolve is how an organization, company or individual can always stay ahead and not become stagnant.

Our Federation has been sought out by others as a source of learning.  Our Community Scorecard has intrigued so many across the country as a model for becoming a data driven community.  Our Fundraising strategy and structure has been highlighted at national conferences.  Several communities have wanted to understand how we operate our Volunteer Center.  Our allocations process has been held up as a model.

We promise to continue to be “spies” into other communities and to allow other communities to “spy” on us.  Not only will we help strengthen our Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, we will help make the North American Jewish Federation system the strongest it can be.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh


The Ira and Nanette Gordon Award - The Jewish Community in Emily's Words
Friday, June 05, 2015

Yesterday, the Federation presented the Ira and Nanette Gordon Award to Emily Richman, the Federation’s Assistant Campaign Director.  The Gordon Award is presented to a professional from the Federation or one of our ten beneficiary agencies who is in the early years of his/her career.  Instead of writing to you this week, I want to share what Emily so beautifully said to all of us in attendance at the award ceremony.  I think she encapsulates not only why she works at the Federation but why this is such a great Jewish community.  Shabbat Shalom.

Thank you for the very kind introduction and thank you all for being here this morning.

When I was named the recipient of the Ira and Nanette Gordon Professional Achievement Award, I felt honored for so many reasons. Obviously it is wonderful to be recognized for my professional achievements.  It is also special to be included amongst past recipients whom I hold in great esteem.  But I was particularly honored to receive an award established by Ira and Nanette Gordon, a couple whose lifetime commitment has enhanced our Pittsburgh Jewish community in so many ways – and with whom I have had the opportunity to work closely with over the years.

The Gordon’s established the award that I accept today to say thank you to the professionals in our community who help sustain a vibrant and enduring Pittsburgh Jewish experience from cradle to grave.  We provide a diverse array of services to our community: from childcare and Jewish education, to Jewish philanthropy and volunteerism, to care for the aging…and so much more! Each one of us plays an important role.

My path to Jewish communal service was unexpected. Nearly 12 years ago, I happened upon a job posting for the Shalom Pittsburgh Associate. The position involved planning events to engage young adults who weren’t connected to the Jewish community. It was a perfect fit as I was one of those young adults. I applied and, thankfully, I was hired.

This single event changed the course of my life both professionally and personally.

Professionally, I have had the opportunity to help build a thriving, vibrant and engaged Jewish community.  Personally, I have seen how impactful our work can be.

As many of you know, I met my husband, Rob, at a Shalom Pittsburgh happy hour – several years after I finished staffing Shalom Pittsburgh. Two years to the day after we met, we married and shortly after that, we traveled together to Israel on the Federation’s Centennial Mega Mission, a trip designed to inspire the next generation of community leaders. During the mission, Rob put a note in the Western Wall praying for a child when the time was right.  Approximately 9 months later we welcomed our daughter Addison.

As you can see, my Jewish professional life has had a profound impact on my personal life.

As my family has grown, the influence of our work has become even more apparent to me. Our daughters, Addison and Reagan, attend the Early Childhood Development Center at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill.  Almost daily, we read books to our girls provided by PJ Library, a Jewish family engagement program.  As a family, we have celebrated many holidays with our Jewish community, including Tot Shabbats at Temple Sinai; Purim at the Squirrel Hill Purim Carnival; iFest celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut; Lag B’Omer and Shavuot with Chabad Fox Chapel; Rosh Hashanah at Shalom Pittsburgh’s Apples and Honey Fall Festival; Hanukkah at Shalom Pittsburgh’s Vodka/Latke; and, of course, the Volunteer Center’s Mitzvah Day and Good Deeds Day.

These events create an invaluable community fabric that is enduring and deepens our connection to our Jewish traditions.  And as an event planner, I know that these programs are only possible through the hard work of our Jewish communal staff.

But the Jewish community isn’t just there for the good times. During challenging times, my family was not alone thanks to the compassionate care provided by the Jewish Association on Aging and Sivitz Jewish Hospice and Palliative Care. My husband and I are deeply appreciative for the services provided to our grandparents as their health declined.

Throughout history, the Jewish people have found strength in Torah and in the community.  Our community was there for us when we needed a helping hand and I find that our greatest strength lies in our connection to each other. This underscores the teachings in our Torah and the importance of our work.

Our life as Jews compels us to perform Tikkun Olam, to repair the world. It is truly remarkable how our collective mission statement not only helps us to build a stronger community.  I believe it also leads to a more complete and content self.  This has been my experience and I am so grateful that my professional life allows me to help others while instilling the values and honoring the traditions that I have grown to love and cherish.

What started out as a job 12 years ago has become not only a career, but a passion. I have had the incredible opportunity to work with and learn from so many other Jewish communal professionals.  Collaboration has not just been a buzzword for me – it has been my motto. And as I look out into this room, I see so many people who I've collaborated with in one way or another over the years. I thank each of you for dedicating yourself to our Pittsburgh Jewish community and for making a difference in my life and the life of my family. I share this award with each of you.

Thank you again to the Gordon Family and to each of you for joining me here today to celebrate.  And, of course, a very special thanks to my husband and family for their love and support and for encouraging me to do the work that I love.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

A Snapshot on YOUR Federation
Friday, May 29, 2015

A snapshot on your Federation:

  • The 2015 Annual Campaign now sits at $12.3 Million towards our $13.7 Million goal.
  • We have secured $4.9 Million in EITC funds for our Jewish Day Schools and Jewish preschools, a $600,000 increase over last year.
  • Our Foundation has added over $23.5 Million in new and additional funds, already exceeding our goal by $5 Million.
  • Our Allocations process is almost complete after a year of hard work.
  • Our Federation has developed a new template and mechanism to better track our budget.

    I usually talk about the impact of what the dollars we distribute enables in and for our community, both in Pittsburgh and around the world.  Once in a while, it's worthwhile to take a step back to talk about our financial and planning accomplishments (I only listed a few) and just "kvell". 

All of this is the result of hard work by great volunteers and staff.  I want to thank each of them for what they do through their investment of time and their expertise. 

Shabbat is a day of rest so I hope all these staff and volunteers take advantage.  Sunday begins a new week!

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Coming Together for Tikkun Leil Shavuot
Friday, May 22, 2015

This week's Parsah, Bamidbar, has a description of the twelve tribes and how their camps were structured. While each tribe had its own location where it's members lived, they all shared in something important, being members of the Jewish people.

Saturday night begins the holiday of Shavuot, one of the three pilgrimage holidays in the Jewish calendar. Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah and one of the ways Judaism celebrates that important moment is through an all-night study of Torah called a Tikkun Leil Shavuot.  For many years, the Federation, the Agency for Jewish Learning and the Jewish Community Center, along with many of our area synagogues, have assembled a community wide Tikkun Leil Shavuot.  Beginning at 10 pm at the JCC in Squirrel Hill, classes run until 1 am followed by all night learning at many local synagogues. CLICK HERE for more information on the event.

That three hour period at the JCC is like the description of the tribes in this week's portion.  Yes, all of us have our own ways of connecting to Judaism; we are all part of our own “tribes”.  Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, cultural and post denominational are all labels describing affiliations in the Jewish world. Saturday night all of these and more I haven't mentioned will join in learning from Rabbinic leaders who themselves take on many of these labels (CLICK HERE for a schedule).  We all come together as one Jewish community proudly with our own feelings about how we connect Jewishly.

Join me.  Typically between 300-500 people make the late night trek out to participate.  It's something special. While in New York last week for a  national meeting,  I mentioned this community wide Tikkun Leil Shavuot to Jewish leaders from other North American communities.  They were astounded to hear what we in Pittsburgh are able to do in a true sign of achdut, "unity".

Take a nap on Saturday afternoon and see you on Saturday night!

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Do You Have to be a Millionaire to Set Up a Fund?
Friday, May 15, 2015

The Post Gazette printed an insert magazine on Thursday titled, "In the Lead".  While nearly all of it is dedicated to the private and public businesses of our region, one page talked about nonprofits.  On that page, there is a list of “Top Foundations”.  This list is not ordered by asset size, but by the amount of grants handed out in 2014.  Ranked eighth is the Jewish Community Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh with $17.1 Million distributed.  This is a tremendous amount of money and it comes from over 1,100 funds including those held and controlled by synagogues and Jewish agencies.

The ability to distribute such a remarkable amount of money is due to two main factors.  First, we have been able to produce a strong return on the investment of those assets as we benchmark ourselves to other Foundations our size (actually, our Investment Committee met just this past week to review our returns).  The second is that more and more people are establishing funds in our Foundation to achieve their philanthropic goals.

Do you have to be a millionaire or multi-millionaire to set up a fund?  No.  A fund can be established with a minimum of $5,000.  Those funds can be financed with cash, appreciated stock and business interests or through sophisticated estate planning and charitable trusts that can be used to minimize taxes and maximize giving to philanthropy.  Our Foundation Staff are experienced lawyers and estate planners and they would be happy to speak confidentially with you about how you can leave a legacy to your synagogue, Jewish agency and especially the Federation, or even how to centralize and systematize your philanthropy .   Feel free to be in touch with our Foundation Director, Dan Brandeis (dbrandeis@jfedpgh.org) or our Associate Foundation Director, Sharon Perelman (sperelman@jfedpgh.org).    As we hear on tv ads for many companies, there is no cost for the call or email!

I appreciate the fact that the list of Foundations is printed in descending dollar order by the amount of grants provided versus the corpus of each Foundation.  Yes, we have $225 Million under management, but that is not so important.  The $17.1 Million that is distributed is the real story because those dollars relate directly to impact in our community.

Shabbat Shalom.


Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh


What does it mean to be a leader?
Friday, May 08, 2015

Leadership is all about....leading. 

I'm really proud of a meeting that took place this week in our offices on McKee Place.  Many Federations across the country use the same database and website platform.  The product we are using is relatively new to all of us.  It has incredible capabilities.  Our marketing and Information Technology (IT) staff understood that within these programs, there are processes we could use to minimize manual work and functionality that we have not yet utilized.  As it would be expensive to bring the experts to our community for only our use, our staff reached out to other Federations to see about sharing the costs and conducting training collectively. 

One of our meeting rooms was populated for several days this week with staff members of the Houston, Baltimore, Denver, St. Louis, Washington DC, Palm Beach and Los Angeles Federations.  Our Federation took the lead in helping to make this a reality.  And I was told just this morning that our Federation has already begun using what was learned to make us much more effective.

On the topic of leaders, we can’t forget about our ultimate community leaders - Happy Mother's Day to all the moms!

Shabbat Shalom. 

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

A Marathon Week of Activity at Federation
Friday, May 01, 2015

It's been a marathon week of nonstop activity.

At the beginning of it, over 30 Pittsburghers who graduated from the Wexner Heritage Program as well as recipients of the Wexner Fellowship descended on Columbus, OH to celebrate the Wexner Foundation's 30th Anniversary.  This wasn't just a party of 1,200 people from around North America and Israel, it was a conference of inspiration and learning.  We watched David Gergen interview Shimon Peres.  We had breakout sessions with inspiring speakers.  I attended one with Rabbi Ethan Tucker from Machon Hadar in New York where he reframed the way I think about how we approach pluralism.  We can be proud that the graduates of our two Wexner Heritage Program classes have taken on some of the biggest and most important lay leadership responsibilities for our community.

The next leg of this week's race brought together our Founders of the Centennial Fund for a Jewish Future.  This campaign has secured $23 Million in commitments, over $10 Million of which have already been paid.  Over $500,000 is making a difference this year in our community because of the generosity of many donors.

Making our way towards the finish line, the Board that oversees the distribution of Educational Improvement Tax Credit Dollars (EITC) to our Jewish Day Schools met.  Due to a great year of securing donation by corporations, millions of dollars are flowing to our three Jewish Day Schools to support scholarship needs.  Anyone who is involved with a corporation paying Pennsylvania corporate taxes should be in touch with us to learn how to apply and further help our schools at no or little cost!

Partnership2Gether (formerly Partnership 2000) is having an extremely active week of programming.  The reason for my marathon references is not merely because the Pittsburgh Marathon is taking place this weekend.  This year's race will feature runners from our Partnership2Gether (P2G) region of Karmiel and Misgav.  Federation and these runners will be prominent in the marathon.  You can join us to cheer on all the runners at the Community Day School-P2G Cheer Station (click here for more information).  To all the runners, B'hatzlacha (good luck).

Finally, thousands in Pittsburgh have been impacted in some way by Partnership2Gether since its inception 20 years ago.  From the Diller Program, EKC's CIT trip to Israel, Community Day School’s 8th grade trip, Federation and synagogue missions to Israel, housing teens from the region, the Children’s Village, Yom Hazikaron ceremonies, Yom Ha'atzmaut celebrations, and on and on, this program has truly been a “living bridge” between our Pittsburgh Jewish community and the people of Israel.  Sunday night, our P2G relationship will be celebrated at a reception at the JCC in Squirrel Hill at 7 pm.  Please join us.  For more information click here.

Shabbat Shalom.

P.S.  While this week has so much going on in our Jewish community, we cannot forget about world events.  I remind you that the Federation has opened a mailbox for Nepal relief and we invite you to join in our communal response by clicking here.  Our overseas partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, arrived in Nepal on Wednesday to begin their intense work.

In addition, I lived for five years in Baltimore prior to moving to Pittsburgh.  I hope that peace quickly falls on that great city. 

Jeff Finkelstein

Yom Ha'atzmaut Continues in the South Hills This Weekend!
Friday, April 24, 2015

I remember in the late 1970's, my parents saved up enough money to take their first trip to Israel.  When they returned, they gave me and my siblings gifts.  I remember I was given a t shirt that said "Israel Is Real".  I know it sounds a little corny today, but it was a big deal for me back then.

For all of us in Pittsburgh, Israel has been real this week.

Monday night, the Federation's Women's Philanthropy held a program with JFILM featuring the movie "Above and Beyond" and its Director, Nancy Spielberg. The film told the story of the beginnings of the Israeli Air Force and what some Americans did in making it a reality.  For those who haven’t seen this film, it will be on iTunes and On Demand in the very near future.  You will be moved. 

The Federation held its annual Yom Hazikaron remembrance on Tuesday night.  Hundreds turned out in the JCC Katz Theater.  There, they saw disabled Israeli veterans lower an Israeli flag to half-mast.  Individuals with familial or organizational connections to those who have lost their lives in war or as victims of terror lit candles in memory of them.  Gregg Roman, our Community Relations Council Director, shared a very personal story about a childhood friend who lost his life.

Thursday afternoon and evening, the Federation's Annual Yom Ha'atzmaut Celebration was held at the JCC.  So many fun activities for kids including face painting, games and a concert by Rick Recht took place.  There was a tasting of Israeli wine produced at Kishorit, a remarkable nonprofit institution, supported in part by Federation, for individuals with special needs located in our Partnership2Gether Region of Karmiel and Misgav.  The movie, "Under the Helmet", was shown in cooperation with JFilm.  The crowds were remarkable as we came together to celebrate.

This Sunday, you have one more chance to celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut at the South Hills JCC from 12:30 pm-3:30 pm (see the banner below).  Sheldon Low, another great Jewish performer like Rick Recht, will be there along with other entertainment and fun for everyone. This is a program by the Federation’s South Hills Initiative that is trying to engage more Jews in Jewish life in cooperation with the great Jewish institutions and synagogues working in the South Hills.  For those of you who do not live in the South Hills, you are also invited! Let's show everyone that bridges and tunnels are not so scary! 

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein
President/CEO, Jewish Federation

Honoring Holocaust Victims, Fallen Soldiers, Israeli Independence, and So Much More
Friday, April 17, 2015

Passover ends and immediately the activity in the Jewish community starts to move at a frantic pace.  The number of events, programs and meetings is beyond belief and is a testament to the kind of engaged and interested community we have.

I would only mention one such event from this past week, the Yom Hashoah commemoration that the Holocaust Center organized Wednesday evening at Heinz Hall.  Hearing survivors tell their own stories and corporate and civic leaders speak about the work of non-Jews during the Holocaust to save Jews was truly inspiring.  I could literally hear people in the crowd trying to hold back their tears.  We must remember what happened to our people so that it will never be repeated, not only to our people, but to anyone.

Next week, the Federation will host a Yom Hazikaron ceremony (for Israel’s fallen) on Tuesday at the JCC in Squirrel Hill at 8 pm and a Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) celebration on Thursday afternoon at the JCC.  Both give each of us an opportunity be together as a community to mourn and to celebrate.  I hope to see many of you at one or both.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

We Do So Much, So Well
Thursday, April 09, 2015

A quick story about something that happened to me this week…

My daughter is participating in a teen trip to Israel this summer.  I called the office of the organization running the trip to let them know that our Federation subsidizes every teen going on a teen trip to Israel (when you have attended a Bar/Bat Mitzvah in the region, the child receives a certificate from the Federation for that scholarship).  When I shared that the amount is $1,750, the staff person on the other end said that it is an extremely generous amount and far more than most other communities.

We know that Israel experiences for our young people are very powerful in strengthening Jewish identity.  Our investment in this way will have a powerful impact.

One of the things that always strikes me is that we in Pittsburgh take a lot for granted.  We do not usually realize how well we do things.  This generous subsidy is but one example.  The fact that we have the largest Jewish college scholarship program (Central Scholarship) in the country is another.  The fact that Agewell Pittsburgh has been both locally and nationally recognized is another.   The fact that in the Federation world, our Campaign and Foundation are highly ranked in terms of per capita giving.

While I know far too well that we have many areas in which we can and must improve, let’s make sure we do acknowledge and celebrate the fact that we, nevertheless, do so much good so well.  And we do so because of each donor, volunteer and staff person in our community.

Wishing you a Chag Sameach and an early Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Re-reading the Text, Re-finding the Story. Happy Passover.
Friday, March 27, 2015

I know I drive my family crazy when I sit down and watch the same movies over and over again.  The Shawshank Redemption, Fletch, Forrest Gump, any Star Trek movie and Star Wars are all part of my repertoire.  If one is being broadcast on TV, I'll watch it (until someone in my family starts complaining). 

Every time I rewatch these and other movies, I get emotional at the same scenes, laugh at the same witty lines and I always notice something I hadn't seen before.

Next Saturday night, I'll experience my 90th formal reading of the Haggadah (I'm assuming two seders/year). And reading this same story is like rewatching one of my movies.  The same family jokes happen at the same point of the Seder every year.  I have memories of my grandparents at different points that make me emotional.  And we always try to find new ideas from the living text.  This whole concept of rereading the same text and finding deeper meaning within it is truly part our Jewish legacy of learning.

I encourage you to not only read the Hagaddah at your seder, think about it.  Ask one of our incredibly talented and knowledgeable communal Rabbis for suggested readings.   “Google” some modern or traditional analysis and share it with your table.  Make the story - no, make our Jewish people's story - your own.

Passover is all about the quest for freedom.  Through your Federation support you help release members of our local and global Jewish communities from the shackles of apathy, poverty and emotional hurt.  Thank you for all you do and for your confidence in Federation.

I won't be writing next week, so I take this opportunity to wish you and your families a happy Passover.  

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Young Leadership and the Future of Community
Friday, March 20, 2015

Wednesday was a great day.  It started with a meeting and ended with an event.

The morning meeting, a two hour gathering of a great group of committed lay leadership, engaged the group in serious discussion about our community and how to best address one of our communal priority areas in order to get the best ROI (Return on Investment).  The evening event at a private home brought together current, past and prospective members of the National Young Leadership Cabinet.  Both highlighted our Federation's investment in young adults.

The recruitment event's young adult focus is obvious.  The morning may be less apparent as it was not a discussion about young adults.  Rather, it included so many of our young adult leaders as well as products of our Young Adult programs.  Of the eight volunteers around the table, two are current members of the National Young Leadership Cabinet and four are alumni of the Wexner Heritage Program.  It was easy to see both the reason why all of these individuals were chosen for these exclusive leadership development programs and the impact those programs have had on their leadership skills.

This all comes full circle to the evening's recruitment effort.  Ensuring a constant flow of well-trained and motivated younger volunteers will have enormous impact on our community.  It will result in having more talented leaders sitting around our tables making critical decisions now and into the future.

Hoping to see many of you next week when the University of Pittsburgh hosts “Global Venturing Israel: MedTech and Inclusive Innovation” Conference.  Our Federation has played in integral role in helping to plan and execute this important venture.  For more information, click here.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

The Plight of Jews in Ukraine
Friday, March 13, 2015

I take much of the language in this week's Shabbat message from a correspondence I received from our national system, the Jewish Federations of North America.  I know that for many of us our "Jewish attention" has been focused on our local Jewish community, on the Israeli elections and on growing anti-Semitism across Europe.  I think it is important to not lose sight of the plight of Jews in Ukraine. 

Nearly a year has passed since pro-Russian separatists began battling Ukrainian forces in the eastern party of the country.  Since then, over 5,000 civilians have died and 12,000 others have been wounded.  While this violence has thankfully not specifically targeted the Jewish community, thousands of Jews have been swept up in the turmoil of a political and military conflict which continues to unfold.

The Jewish Federations of North America has responded generously to this crisis providing nearly $3 Million in emergency financing in 2014 to address new urgent needs in addition to enabling a wide range of vital ongoing programs to continue operating. Our Federation provided its “fair share” towards this effort.

Cities in eastern Ukraine have become combat zones where near constant shelling has brought normal life to a standstill. Most Jews from Donetsk, Lugansk and the surrounding areas have fled, but some 5,000 elderly and disabled Jews who were unable to leave the area are trapped in place – cut off from the rest of the country. 

In a shocking development, between 1,500 – 2,000 Jews have become displaced from their homes and, unable to find safe havens elsewhere, now live as Jewish refugees on European soil for the first time since World War II. In addition to providing essential humanitarian assistance, our partners are stretching to ensure uninterrupted help for those seeking to make aliyah to Israel and continuity of vital educational and community programs.

For our brothers and sisters in eastern Ukraine, this aid means the difference between life and death, between despair and hope.  I know we will be asked to provide additional resources as those that have been contributed are running out. 

As you celebrate Shabbat tonight with your families, keep those in Ukraine in your thoughts.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Esther did not sit idly by
Friday, March 06, 2015

The buzz this past week has been about Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech in Congress.  Admittedly, there is a divide both within and from outside the Jewish community as to whether the Prime Minister should have given the speech at all.  There is debate about the right way to eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat.  One thing is clear, the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel is real.

As part of the Prime Minister's speech in Congress, he referred to the holiday of Purim.  In our Purim story, we read about a Jewish community in Persia (today called Iran) that was threatened by its ruler.  The parallels to the present day are uncanny. 

We can feel proud that as a Federation we continue to support the people of Israel through programs like Partnership 2Gether, connecting us with the communities of Karmiel and Misgav.  We help to support the social service needs within Israel, where over 30% of children are living below the poverty line.  We enable Aliyah (immigration) and Klitah (Absorption) of new immigrants, which has increased greatly this year from places like France and Ukraine.  Locally, we connect our community with Israel through programs like Birthright Israel, Onward Israel and Israel Scholarships for our teens. 

As I've been at different events throughout the community this week or on the phone with Federation donors, almost every person wanted to talk about "the speech" and about Iran.  I'm glad to see the interest in, as Netanyahu said in his speech, "the one and only Jewish state".   Now, we must not only keep up the interest, but more importantly, the support and advocacy for Israel.   Just like in the Purim story, Esther and Mordechai did not sit idly by.  They spoke up to protect their people.  We must do the same.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Community Building in Action - It Gives You Wings!
Friday, February 27, 2015

A little over a week ago, a donor had asked to see some of our agencies "in action".  Our Planning staff, who work on a daily basis with our ten Beneficiary Agencies, helped assemble the itinerary.

We visited Jewish Family and Children's Service, the Jewish Community Center and the Jewish Association on Aging.  We learned about the increase in the client base at the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry, a program of JFCS. We saw the Early Childhood Center in full action at the JCC and then walked by an exercise class of seniors directly across the hallway.    At the JAA we not only saw the physical presence of the new resident centered dining hall, we experienced the residents mingling and socializing in a beautiful, social environment.

Being able to witness the work our Federation dollars help to make possible is more energizing than Gatorade, Red Bull and a shot of espresso all blended together.  It's a reminder to me that we help to make the impossible possible.

Thank you for making all this and so much more a reality for our Pittsburgh Jewish community.  I invite you to get out and explore our agencies to get the same burst of energy.

Shabbat Shalom.

P.S.  You should also be aware that you make things possible around the world.  On February 11th, the JDC (one of our two main overseas partners) conducted a rescue mission in Ukraine that took 130 Jewish elderly, children and families from Donetsk to Dnepepetrosk.   Jews like everyone else in that part of the Ukraine are at risk and we are helping to care for our people.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Donating for All the Right Reasons
Friday, February 13, 2015

In last week’s New York Times Magazine, “The Ethicist” had a question posed to him.  The question raised was, “During a pledge drive for a public-radio station, an on-air personality made an accusation I’d never heard:  that regular listeners who never contributed were behaving unethically.”  Is it unethical?

The Ethicist responded that it was not unethical for someone to listen to the radio station as non donors.  The ethicist said that “You can’t offer something free and then argue that anyone who accepts your offer is unethical.”
This same question is one I struggle with.  When I think about the millions of dollars the Federation raises and transmits to the Jewish Community Center, Birthright Israel, our three Jewish Day Schools, the Jewish Association on Aging, our synagogue schools, Jewish Residential Services, Hillel Jewish University Center, the Holocaust Center, JFILM, the Volunteer Center, Onward Israel, our youth groups, PJ Library, One Happy Camper, Moishe House, JBURGH, Diller Teen Fellows, Agewell Pittsburgh, Central Scholarship, Jewish preschools, Israel scholarships for teens, and so on and so on, I have to admit that it bothers me just a little bit that some of those who partake of these programs and agencies choose not to support the Federation.

The end of the article says “…they should donate money – not for ethical reasons, but for practical reasons.”

In other words, if all the users of the services that the Federation helps to provide appreciate them and want them not only to exist but to thrive, they should want to give.  I hope that as we educate and inform our community about the impact the Federation has on our own individual lives, the lives of our families and the lives of those around us, that more and more will come on board as supporters of this incredibly powerful enterprise.  You, as someone who is already engaged and understand our collective power, can help us spread that word.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Building Relationships, and Being a Mensch in Hollywood
Friday, February 06, 2015

Debbie Winn Horvitz, the CEO of the Jewish Association on Aging, spoke at a meeting of the Federation Beneficiary Agency Executives.  Debbie mentioned that at a recent session of the Wechsler Leadership Development Institute (Federation's Young Adult leadership development program), one of the attendees was very taken by an aspect of the work of the JAA and offered to help "open some doors" for the JAA help grow JAA's reach into the community.  That offer became action and has resulted in a very positive new relationship between the JAA and another community health provider. 

Too often, the Federation is perceived as only a fundraising organization.  But, as I like to point out, our real power and ability to impact our community comes from the relationships we build.  Whether those relationships be between and among agencies and synagogues, or those relationships be between individuals from different religious observance or different geographic parts of our region, relationships allow us to make a bigger difference. 

This past Saturday night, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh's Young Adult Division hosted its Main Event (click here for pictures!).  This program is a fundraiser and featured a private reception for our Ben Gurion Society members (young adults who give $1,000 and more).  Everyone in attendance was asked to make his/her commitment to our 2015 Campaign. 

Our speaker, Josh Malina, a star of the show Scandal and previouslystarring on The West Wing, talked about being a mensch in Hollywood.  Malina, a day school graduate from a traditional Jewish home, expressed his love of Judaism, being Jewish, and of Israel.  He described how Judaism is part of his daily life from reciting the "Modeh Ani" with his children in the morning and the Sh'ma before they go to sleep.  He belongs to a Reconstructionist synagogue and he loves and defends Israel from delegitimizers both privately and publicly. 

Not only did the Main Event inspire and raise money, it built new relationships between and among young adults and with the Federation.  Who knows what impact these new relationships will have on our amazing Jewish community?

Shabbat Shalom.

P.S.  I am looking forward to seeing all our East Coast Florida Snowbirds Sunday morning at our annual Snowbirds Event in Boca Raton.  

Jeff Finkelstein
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

The Foundation of our Foundation
Friday, January 30, 2015

A tremendous Fundfest took place this past week. Despite some tough weather, hundreds came to the Federation offices to get on the phones to reach out and connect with other fellow community members to ask for their support of our 2015 Campaign.  Fundfest has propelled our campaign to $6 Million and added many new donors to our communal endeavor.  Thank you to every volunteer.  Thank you to every donor.  Thank you to our staff who worked hours well beyond the norm (and our norm is not normal).

I was in Florida for part of this week participating in the Jewish Federations of North America Board meeting and visiting some of our snowbird donors.  Every single donor I met with was interested in learning how our Federation is doing.  They wanted to know about the campaign (which is doing well), about how we are doing in engaging young adults (tomorrow night is our big Young Adult Campaign Event-The Main Event), about the money we secure through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program for our Jewish Day Schools and preschools (now at a record $4.7 Million) and about the planning we are doing for the Pittsburgh Jewish community of the future.  And every individual made sure to ask about our Foundation

I was able to report that our Foundation is doing extremely well.  With assets of over $210 Million and over 1,000 individual funds, donors continue to invest their philanthropic dollars with us.  Our investment return continues to be extremely strong while maintaining a portfolio with lower risk.  As I was sharing all this positive news about the Foundation this week, I learned of the passing of Art Jaffe, the first Foundation Director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh (then called the UJF). 

I only met Art a handful of times.  Those who knew him well described Art's visionary leadership and "mentschiness".  While he only served as our Foundation Director for our Federation for about 5 years in the 1980’s (he went on to be the first Foundation Director of the South Palm Beach Federation), the fact that he was here and got things organized and started with a committed group of volunteers is part of the reason we are where we are today.  In essence, Art built the "foundation" of our Foundation. 

Baruch Dayan Ha-emet.  May the name of Art Jaffe be forever as a blessing. 

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Funding Great Things
Friday, January 23, 2015

The Centennial Fund for a Jewish Future, our Federation's initiative to secure permanent endowment dollars to fund Jewish identity building programming, has had exceptional progress since its inception just five years ago.  To date, approximately $24 Million in commitments have been secured and with much of those commitments already being paid by generous donors, we are already making an impact. 

At a meeting of the Founders of the Centennial Fund for a Jewish Future, we reviewed the effect of some of the programs that are being funded.  One, a new initiative at the Hillel Jewish University Center, is a newly created position,  the Israel Engagement Coordinator.  An article in the Jewish Chronicle last week (click here to see it) highlighted Mike Feinberg, the impact Israel experiences have had on him and the impact he is now having in this new position.  At a time when Birthright Israel has experienced a slight decline in registrations nationally, we have had incredible growth in our numbers.  And because Michael is in this role, we are well equipped to do quality follow up with these Birthright participants upon their return to Pittsburgh.  

Another program, that is funded generously by the Papernick Family Foundation along with the Centennial Fund for a Jewish Future, is One Happy Camper.  OHC provides $1,000 incentive grants to first time overnight Jewish camp participants.  The data shows that our retention rate (meaning campers returning for a second year when there is no incentive) is well above the national average.  And we know from the research by the Foundation for Jewish Camp that a high percentage of those receiving these grants chose a Jewish camp because of the One Happy Camper program. 

We fund great things that make us all feel good.  And it is reassuring to know that we are tracking measurable outcomes to know with certainty that feel good programs are actually resulting in intended outcomes.  

If you are interested in learning how you might establish a permanent endowment fund within the Jewish Federation’s Foundation to support the Centennial Fund for a Jewish Future or any other aspect of our Jewish community, please email us and one of our experts in planned giving will be in touch with you. 

Finally, and perhaps most timely, this upcoming week is Fundfest.  It gives a chance for every member of our Jewish community to get on the phones to call others to support the incredible work of our Jewish Federation.  Even if you haven’t yet registered for a session, I promise we’ll have a phone for you, nosh and plenty of people to contact.  Click here for the times and dates of all the sessions this week. 

Shabbat Shalom. 

Jeff Finkelstein
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Je Suis Juif - Shabbat Shalom, Friday, January 16, 2015
Friday, January 16, 2015

I had intended to write today about a visit during my family’s December vacation in Atlanta at the Ebenezer Baptist Church.  I wanted to tie that into this Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend when we recall King’s struggle for civil rights in this country.  However, recent events have unfortunately redirected my message.

Nearly three years ago I was in Israel for Jewish Agency for Israel meetings.  While there, the shooting at the Jewish school in Toulouse, France took place, killing four people.  I had the true honor to represent our Federation system with Becky Caspi, the Director General of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Israel office, at the funeral in Jerusalem for school children murdered by a terrorist.

It was a powerful moment.  I recall the hot sun, the frustration with the wall to wall traffic, the hike we had to take from where we parked our car to the grave site and the sea of hundreds of thousands who came to show their respects.

Then, last week, another instance of Jews being targeted in France at the Kosher market in Paris - just for being Jewish.  My memories of that funeral in March 2012 stirred inside me as I watched the funerals from Jerusalem from this latest murder plot.

Woody Ostrow, our Chair of the Board, and I wrote a letter to the leadership of the French Jewish community to express our community’s condolences.  Amazingly, in the midst of all that they have to deal with, we received a letter back two days ago.  It begins by stating:

We have read your words of solidarity and would like to sincerely thank you. We are deeply touched.  Thank you for standing with us.

The letter goes on to state that their major communal need right now is improving and increasing security at Jewish institutions.  Our Federation system, in complete coordination with the French Jewish community, has launched an effort called the France Emergency Fund.  We invite you to donate now to be part of our collective approach to assist a proud Jewish community in its time of need.  In addition, you can send a letter of support to the French Jewish community’s leadership.  All of the details can be found by clicking here

The increase in Aliyah from France to Israel has been widely reported in the general media (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NBC News, etc).  Our overseas partner agency, the Jewish Agency, sent us a communication stating:

The work of French Aliyah has taken place without special campaigns and fanfare.  We have dramatically increased our staffing in both France and Israel to accommodate the rise in inquiries about and applications for Aliyah.  We have conducted numerous Aliyah fairs.  And we have adapted our “klitah” (absorption) programs in Israel to meet the needs of rising numbers of French Jews.  We have supported Masa trips for ever larger numbers of French young adults, many of whom are making the decision to remain in Israel.  We have done this, in large measure, with the collective funds we receive from the federations.

The financial assistance to help those who choose to make Aliyah is there because of your support of our 2015 Annual Campaign.  Thank you.

Je Suis Juif!  Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh



A Powerful Collective
Friday, December 19, 2014

Over the past few years, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has sent several missions to Cuba.  We witnessed a small yet vibrant Jewish community and saw the work our dollars make possible with our own eyes.  As part of those missions, we visited the American Intersection.  As you know, the United States has not had diplomatic relations with Cuba so there is no American Embassy there.  The Intersection serves that role.

In our meetings with the staff of the Intersection, we learned about the United States relationship with Cuba and we advocated for the release of Alan Gross.  Alan's release on the first day of Chanukah brought out strong emotions from many of us who have been involved in encouraging his freedom.   During the last few years, many of you may have signed an online petition that was sent out by our Community Relations Council (CRC) asking our community (and CRC's in communities across the country did the same) to lobby for his release.  In Alan Gross' speech, upon his return to the United States, he said:

“To the Washington Jewish community, Ron Halber in particular and his staff at the Jewish Community Relations Council, all of the executive directors, staff and volunteers of participating JCRCs, federations, synagogues, schools, and other Jewish, Christian and Muslim organizations nationwide, God bless you and thank you.  It was crucial to my survival knowing that I was not forgotten. Your prayers and actions have been comforting, reassuring, and sustaining.”

This same week we heard the announcement of the passing of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act by Congress.  As the JTA reported:  "The act...would allow anyone with a disability and their families to save money for education, housing, transportation, employment support and health..."  It goes on to credit Federations and the Reform Movement for their advocacy.  A group of us from Pittsburgh traveled to DC in the spring and visited with our Representatives in Congress to advocate for this important piece of legislation to assist many in our community. 

We are in the midst of Chanukah.  We reflect on the many miracles that are part of the Chanukah story.  Are these two examples miracles?  Maybe, but for sure, they demonstrate the power of our Federation system and of how much we can accomplish by working together.

Happy Chanukah.  Shabbat Shalom.  And thank you for being part of our powerful collective.

P.S.  With over 700 people already registered for Mitzvah Day next week, we already know we are in for a successful day!

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

What a Week!
Friday, December 12, 2014

Sunday night was the graduation of this year's cohort of Diller Teen Fellows.  This group of 20, who have been together with a group of teens from our Partnership2Gether Region of Karmiel and Misgav as part of a leadership development program, will travel to Israel in a few weeks.  Their originally scheduled trip this summer had to be rescheduled due to Operation Protective Edge.  We all should be excited for what they are about to experience.  What a great investment in our teens by our Federation! 

Monday night, a group of Federation volunteer and professional leaders met with the residents of our Moishe House.  The Moishe House on Murray Hill Avenue is a rented home with four “twenty something year olds” who program for other “twenty something year olds” in our Jewish community.  Sitting with them and hearing the number of programs and the reach they have had to both supplement and collaborate with our other young adult outreach programs (Shalom Pittsburgh, the Federation's Young Adult Division and JBURGH) was inspiring.  What a great investment in our community's young adults by our Federation! 

Thursday night, the members of the Steeltree Fund met to decide on new allocations. Steeltree is for young adult donors who make an increase to their campaign commitment.  Their mission states: “Donor-directed funding of social entrepreneurship projects that benefit the next generation and strengthen the continuity of the Pittsburgh Jewish community”.  The way they came together at their meeting through a deliberate process demonstrated a sophisticated approach towards grant making.  What a great investment in our community's young leaders by our Federation! 

I feel so energized after a week like this and I've only mentioned some of the things I experienced firsthand.  I did not mention the workshop training by our Community Relations Council and the Israel Action Network on how to combat the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel.  I did not mention the Wechsler Leadership Development Institute participants who learned about the work of the Jewish Association on Aging and Jewish Family and Children’s Service.  I did not mention the meeting the Federation held with our largest organizational participants in our Jewish Community Health Plan.  I didn't mention the meeting we held with the Executive Directors of the Federation’s ten Beneficiary Agencies where we talked about important issues to each of our institutions and our community. 

All of this and even more in just the past week.  I can't wait for next week to come. 

Shabbat Shalom.  Hope to see you or your children or grandchildren at Vodka Latke tomorrow night. 

P.S.  I used the hyperlinks above so you can click through to see more information about all of these Federation funded programs. 

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Our Jewish Future is Inevitable - Make it Bright!
Friday, December 05, 2014

I write today about our Jewish future and about two ways our Federation is looking and preparing for that destination.

Monday was the first Pittsburgh Jewish Community Scorecard Roundtable.  Approximately 65 volunteer and professional leaders in our community came together to review some of the findings in our first round of collecting data as part of the Scorecard (I invite you to click here to read more about the Scorecard and to see the first round of data from our communal agencies and synagogues).  In small table conversations, groups discussed the data to try to coalesce around a few key areas in which we, as a community, should focus energy.  It was a great process and should lead to good planning for our future.

On Saturday, December 13th, Shalom Pittsburgh (the young adult outreach arm of the Federation) will hold its annual Vodka Latke party.  Last year, approximately 450 young adults, most in their 20’s and 30’s, filled the venue at this great December event.   This really fun evening will bring our community's future together for a fun night of socializing.  It will help to connect many people to the Jewish community and to our Federation.  It will also create and renew relationships and friendships for this important group of young adults.  Your job, if you are in the young adult age cohort, is to show up.  If you are outside of the age parameter, your job is to share the website link (http://www.shalompittsburgh.org/event-vodka-latke-2014) with anyone you know who is.

The future is inevitable.  If we plan for it, it will be as bright as can be for our Pittsburgh Jewish community. 


Shabbat Shalom

Jeff Finkelstein

What a Men's Philanthropy Event! And Pittsburgh Jews in the National Spotlight - again!
Friday, November 21, 2014

Last night, we held an incredibly successful, first ever, Men’s Night Out event.  A crowd beyond our expectations came out to hear ESPN star Herm Edwards.  The evening was fun and inspirational as we talked openly and directly about the needs of our Jewish community and the ways that these men can make a difference. 

Last Sunday, the Federation held a meeting of 19 different Jewish organizations to discuss ways to maximize communal real estate: can underutilized space in one institution be used by another in need of space?  The program facilitated by outside experts seemed to get the conversation going.  This, once again, proves that one of the key roles for Federation is as convener.  We can bring the diversity of our community together to discuss important issues. 

Finally, I, like many others, subscribe to the daily ejewishphilanthropy blog.  It contains some interesting and important articles about the Jewish world.  Yesterday’s caught my eye and I am sharing it with you now - CLICK HERE.  As you read through the articles, take note of the authors.  The first, Charles Cohen, was part of our Federation Planning staff and now serves as the Executive Director of Palm Beach’s version of our AJL.  The second is by Carly Zimmerman.  Carly got her start as a student at our Edward and Rose Berman Hillel Jewish University Center and then as a staff person there.  While in Pittsburgh, she was one of our community’s participants in the Spertus Institute’s Master of Jewish Professional Studies program.  Today, she is the Executive Director of Challah for Hunger.  The final article about Jewish adult education is written by our former Community Scholar at the AJL, Rabbi Danny Schiff.   

Pittsburgh was named by Forbes Magazine as the second smartest in the United States (click here to see the story).  Yesterday’s ejewishphilanthropy blog demonstrates that fact in our own Jewish communal professionals.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein

The GA - Our Impact in Action
Friday, November 14, 2014

In my message last week, I mentioned that I was going to be at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.  The GA made international news with a panel discussion with two Jewish Supreme Court Justices, a session with Marlee Matlin “speaking” about inclusion for individuals with special needs, a live video address by PM Netanyahu and a live speech by Vice President Biden. 

While all these big plenaries were inspiring and informative, all of us in attendance from Pittsburgh also learned in smaller breakout sessions.  We learned about strategies to increase fundraising, how to fight the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement against Israel and new models of allocating dollars and measuring impact of those investments. 

However, despite all these learnings, I think the biggest takeaway for all of us was that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves or even our local Pittsburgh community.  The reach and impact we have as a continental system is immense.  During this summer’s Operation Protective Edge, our Federation system secured well over $50 Million for needs in Israel and brought our leaders to Israel on solidarity missions.  Currently, our Federation system is committed to raising much needed dollars to assist the Jews in Ukraine to stay safe and warm this winter as violence lingers in the eastern part of that country.  There has been an exponential increase in Aliyah from both Ukraine and France this past year and we are helping these Jews make the transition to a new life in Israel.   Our work to best integrate new Olim, especially those of Ethiopian descent into Israeli society continues.  We have helped to bring Jewish life back to the Former Soviet Union since the collapse of Communism.  And I can go on and on.

I know that personally, I return from such gatherings refreshed and reinvigorated.  Next year’s GA will once again be in Washington DC and I urge you to mark your calendars now for November 8-10, 2015!
Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Sharing Pittsburgh with the Broader Jewish Community at the GA - Something to Be Proud Of!
Friday, November 07, 2014

Sunday is the beginning of the three-day Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly.  Volunteer and professional leaders from all 153 Jewish Federations and 300 Network communities from throughout North America, along with representatives of both national and international Jewish agencies, will be on site to learn, network and be inspired. 

We are really proud that two Pittsburgh activities will be put on display to the Jewish world.  Our 2015 Campaign plan and strategy will be highlighted during a gathering of development professionals and volunteers.  It caught the eye of the National Campaign Chair when she visited Pittsburgh earlier this year so she asked that it be shared with others.  In addition, the Pittsburgh Jewish Community Scorecard (something quarterbacked by the Federation but truly a collaboration with all our agencies and community synagogues) will be presented as a new model of measuring community impacts. 

Of Pittsburgh's close to 30 participants, 7 are current members of the Jewish Federations of North America National Young Leadership Cabinet.  We understand that approximately 40 "Cabinet" members in total are attending the GA from throughout the continent.  The disproportionate participation from Pittsburgh is a statement about the quality and commitment of the young adults engaged and involved in our Federation.  We are so lucky!

Looking forward to sharing a thought or two from the GA with you next Friday…

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein
Jewish Federation of Greater PIttsburgh



Outreach - Connecting to those who've left their native land
Friday, October 31, 2014

I am writing on Thursday night having just left Buffalo Blues in Shadyside.  Our Shalom Pittsburgh (the Federation’s outreach programming arm for 22-45 year olds) effort holds lots of bar nights for our young adults.  I have been to many.  This week, four of our community efforts to reach out and engage Jewish young adults joined forces in a unified bar night.  Shalom Pittsburgh, Moishe House, Repair the World and JBURGH collaborated on making last night a success.  It was the largest turnout I've seen for one of these.

As I walked around, I introduced myself to people I did not know and had the opportunity to hear their stories.  One was a recent transplant from Chicago who came here for work in marketing.  I saw how our talented, gregarious staff has already developed a relationship with her and are working to engage her in the community.  Another young couple I spoke with moved here this summer.  He is a graduate student at the Tepper School and she works in marketing.  They relocated from New York City and mentioned to me that they are already talking about the possibility of staying in Pittsburgh once he finishes his Master's Degree in 2 ½ years. 

These four outreach programs work to connect young Jews with each other and to deepen each individual’s sense of connectivity to the Jewish people and our Jewish community.  With the exception of Repair the World (which is funded by big national Jewish foundations), the other three are all funded in part or completely by our Federation.  We invest in all these different types of outreach programs with the recognition that for some young adults, JBURGH programming is the most compelling and for others it may be through Moishe House.  There is no thing as "one size fits all" and our experience tells us that trying to fit everyone neatly into a single category will result in failure.  Failure is not an option.

This week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, begins with G-d instructing Abram to leave his native land.  Isn’t it great that when our young people have left their “native lands” of New York and Chicago to arrive in Pittsburgh, we make them feel welcomed and embraced.

Shabbat Shalom and Go Steelers!

P.S.  A few reminders:  1.  Change your clock  and 2.  GET OUT AND VOTE ON TUESDAY!

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Remembering Mollie
Friday, October 24, 2014

Sunday, I carried the coffin and helped fill the grave of my last remaining grandparent.  My father's mother died at the age of 98 on Simchat Torah.  She was the youngest and the last living of 11 children born in Rumania.  She lived those early years without running water or electricity.  She emigrated to this country, married, raised a family and at her death leaves behind 8 grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren.  Two of those grandchildren have made Israel their home.  Two work for the Jewish community.  Of course, as a Jewish grandmother, she’s probably most proud of all the lawyers and doctors. All are Jewishly committed and connected.  What a legacy!

While all of my siblings and cousins really never realized it while we were young, my grandparents had very, very little.  After moving from their apartment in Chelsea, MA, they lived in a Jewish sponsored HUD building, just like our Riverview Towers.  When my grandmother could no longer live on her own and her dementia got to be too powerful, she moved into a Jewish nursing home, just like our JAA.  Her quality of care and her being in Jewish environments made her life meaningful and rewarding.  It makes me so proud to be a donor to our Federation.

When I was early in my Federation career, I remember calling my grandmother to say hello.  She told me that the Boston Federation had just solicited her for the campaign and asked her to go from $18 to $36, and she did so (if only my solicitations today were so easy).  Remember, she had very little.  She was so proud to make that increase and I think even more proud to share that fact with me.  My grandmother stretching to give more is a lesson for all of us about what is really important in life. 

Shabbat Shalom.  May the name of Mollie Finkelstein (z"l) be forever as a blessing.  

Jeff Finkelstein
President/CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Home Away from Home
Friday, October 03, 2014

Earlier this week, our Federation staff divided up and went to three of our local agencies:  Riverview Towers, the Jewish Association on Aging and the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry of Jewish Family and Children's Service.  At each site, we volunteered our time to assist clients.  This was all part of our effort to kick off the 2015 Campaign among our staff.

I was assigned to the JAA where our group witnessed a number of residents doing karaoke.  It was great seeing them singing along to songs from their youth.  What was even more beautiful was seeing the staff encouraging the residents to sing and even helping some of them out of their wheelchairs to dance.

This week, I participated in a meeting with the Executive Directors of the Edward and Rose Berman Hillel Jewish University Center, Penn State Hillel and the Hillel of Central Florida.  All are participating in an initiative through Hillel International to help them improve their operations to better achieve their missions (and they are already terrific).  The dedication and devotion of these Directors and that of their staff was stunning.

The JAA and the Hillels serve as homes away from home.  At the JAA, our seniors are given a home with the supports they need to live quality lives.  At the Hillels, our young college students are given a Jewish home on their campuses. 

As so many of us go to our synagogues for Kol Nidre tonight, know that our seniors and our college students will be doing the same at their homes away from home.  We all play a role in making that possible.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and an easy, yet very meaningful fast.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh
Twitter:  @jfedpghceo

What an Impact!
Friday, September 19, 2014

At the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Annual Meeting on Wednesday night, we announced our financial achievements for the year. Our Campaign goal of $13.5 million, the highest ever for our community, was attained. Our Foundation, now with over $200 million under management, added over $18 million. Our work to raise Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) dollars for our Jewish day schools and Jewish preschools hit an all-time high of nearly $4.4 million. When one adds in dollars from other generous funders -- including our partners at the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, who provide us with a $900,000 block grant for health and human services -- your Federation secured over $38 million.

With all that being said, I related in my Annual Meeting address that, while we may seem like a fundraising organization, we are primarily a fund-distribution and community-building organization. Our efforts are not just to raise money for the sake of raising money, it’s all about the impact that those dollars make. And they are making quite an impact!Thanks to each and every one of you for your financial support and, more importantly, your trust and confidence in your Federation to carry out critical work for our community both locally and internationally. I look forward to many more successful years in fundraising so we can have an even bigger impact in the future.Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tova (Happy New Year).

I wish each of you and your families a good, healthy and fulfilling year.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

A Sweet and Prosperous Time of Year
Friday, September 12, 2014

On Sunday, Shalom Pittsburgh will hold its Fourth Annual Apples & Honey Festival, in Schenley Park. Literally hundreds show up every year for this great program. If you have a young family or grandchildren in town, you don’t want to miss this. If you know of a young Jewish family that would like a Jewish program that is completely welcoming to all, let them know about it.

Next Wednesday at 7 p.m., the Federation will hold its Annual Meeting at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill. While we will have some business to complete, the majority of the meeting will be dedicated to celebrations. We will celebrate the Federation's accomplishments this past year (there are many). We will celebrate some amazing volunteers throughout our community (there are many). And we will celebrate our communal professionals. Most of all, we will celebrate our remarkable Pittsburgh Jewish community.  

I hope you will indulge me as I think I have shared this story before: When I was starting off in the Jewish communal service field, at the Federation in Baltimore (it is difficult to write about Baltimore after last night’s horrendous Steelers' loss to the Ravens), my boss came to me after staffing my first Super Sunday. She praised me and told me what a great job I had done. She then instructed me to take the next 10 minutes, savor the feeling and then get back to work. Our Annual Meeting will give us that chance to appreciate what we all together have made a reality this past year. Upon completion of the meeting, we'll get back to the task at hand: building a thriving, vibrant and engaged Jewish community. 

Wednesday night will be great. Thursday morning, it's back to work!

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Lazeh
Friday, September 05, 2014

A fabulous JCC with state-of-the-art exercise equipment, seniors playing mahj, a preschool with adorable children, and a memorial to the Holocaust. A day school with Hebrew words and Judaica covering the walls. A gorgeous facility for seniors, with shared kitchen facilities in every unit. I could be describing our Pittsburgh Jewish community's renowned institutions. In this case, I am actually highlighting the Youngstown, Ohio, Jewish community.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to travel to Youngstown to meet with and train volunteer campaigners. More than 30 people turned out in a community of fewer than 1,700 individuals! Their dedication and devotion was awe-inspiring.

In Pittsburgh, I have the sense that our community may be growing and, for sure, we are attracting young adults. Youngstown is quite the opposite as it continues to shrink, with very, very few young adults joining the ranks. Despite this reality, the dedicated volunteers of Youngstown commit themselves to doing everything they can to work toward what our own Federation's vision statement says: "A thriving, vibrant and engaged Jewish community."

In our solicitation training, we talked about the difference we all make in the world. We often see what is happening in our own “neck of the woods” but sometimes lose sight of the impact we are having in the lives of Jews in far-off countries. One such place is Ukraine. We have all been watching the news about the conflict in the eastern part of this country. There are many Jews there, and our system of agencies is working to help them. Instead of my writing about our support, I encourage you to read this article, which appeared in yesterday’s Times of Israel: http://www.timesofisrael.com/jewish-communities-decimated-in-eastern-ukraine/.For most Americans, the story in Ukraine is just a news story. For each of us, we need to remember that it impacts our people. Thank you for supporting the Federation, through which you remember that Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Lazeh (All Israel is responsible one for the other).

Shabbat Shalom.

Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

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