Jewish Foundation Hosts First In-Person Meeting Post-Pandemic, Unveils New Strategies

On Nov. 6, the Jewish Foundation hosted its first in-person public meeting since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The session introduced updates to the board and trustees and detailed the foundation’s structural revisions. In a bid for greater transparency, the event featured a Q&A segment for the first time, marking a new phase of openness in the foundation’s approach to funding decisions.

The evening event presented an opportunity to welcome the incoming Chairperson Walter Solomon, and to honor the outgoing chairperson, Jon Stein. 

The gathering also acknowledged the current conflict in Israel as the third significant challenge faced by the community following the sale of the Jewish Hospital, which has substantially contributed to the trust fund managed by the foundation.

“The Jewish Foundation was very proud to contribute $1 million to the emergency campaign [Swords of Iron Fund],” said Brian Jaffee. “And we’re also proud to join many individual donors in contributing an additional sum to help boost Safe Cincinnati and local Jewish communal security efforts.”

A large portion of the meeting was an open panel discussion with Jaffee, Solomon, and Stein moderated by Jackie Congedo, the chief engagement officer at the Holocaust and Humanities Center. 

The introduction of the new structure of the foundation was a large portion of the evening. In particular, the foundation is attempting to move in the direction of trust-based philanthropy. 

“We’re trying to really lean into understanding that the organizations [we are funding] have knowledge of the community, and they know their needs,” said Jaffee. 

The panel discussion transitioned into a Q&A session with the audience, where concerns were raised about the need for increased security funding and if funding was being spent on efforts to increase anti-stigma training and coalition building. This follows reports from the ADL of an unprecedented rise in antisemitic incidents. The foundation reaffirmed its commitment to community safety, underlining its decade-long investment in Safe Cincinnati. And that many of Cincinnati’s education institutions would be able to handle the task at hand. 

“We have every faith that, you know, Federation and those institutions [JCRC, Holocaust and Humanities Center, and the AJC], are going to keep working in the community relations space and that aspect of Jewish security,” said Jaffee. “ We’re ready here to provide financial resources if they are needed.”

In the final part of the Q&A session, a participant questioned the foundation’s funding of synagogues. The foundation’s report shows that synagogues in Cincinnati are among its major recipients. The attendee also expressed concerns about continuing to fund these traditional institutions, citing multiple surveys indicating their challenges in attracting millennials and Generation Z. Going on to ask whether a community plan existed to consolidate existing synagogues. 

The panel answered, referring to the trust-based philanthropy model, that the foundation is not here to tell organizations how to run their affairs. 

“The foundation staff and board are not here to tell rabbis how to run their congregations or congregants how to worship,” said Stein. “That is just not the right role for the foundation.”

The evening also highlighted the extensive scope of the foundation’s funding initiatives. New Chairperson Walter Solomon succinctly captured this in his remarks.

“I think our community is blessed by the fact that we have this manna from heaven, called the foundation, that is accountable to its bylaws to the community,” said Walter Solomon.