For 75 years, the Jewish Federation of the North Shore raised money to help support and subsidize organizations that helped create a vibrant Jewish community. But after going through several executive directors in the last two decades, and with donations down in recent years, the federation on July 1 will merge with Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston.
CJP, the largest Jewish charity in New England, raises about $48 million a year to allocate to Boston-area groups, compared with the $1.3 million the federation raised this year. After the merger, the CJP will begin to work with North Shore volunteers on boosting its fund-raising.
Gil Preuss, CJP’s executive vice president, said the planned CJP North Shore office would be funded by donations for at least the next two years.
“Our success is going to be completely dependent on engaging the community, finding new people, and really kind of showing people the impact of what their giving could do,” said Preuss.
Since the Revolutionary War, there’s been a Jewish presence north of Boston. The federation began in 1938 in Lynn. After World War II, Jews began to move north from Chelsea, Malden, Revere, and Winthrop, and settled in Swampscott and Marblehead. There, they joined other Jewish families from Lynn and Salem, making the two towns one of the most heavily populated Jewish areas in the state.
But locals say intermarriage, a drop in affiliation at area temples and at the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead, and a lack of participation in other activities has made for an uncertain future for the Jewish institutions that dot the region. The federation’s influence has declined steadily in the last two decades. In 1989, it raised $2.9 million, and this year it will raise less than half that.
Perhaps the hardest hit Jewish organization in the area has been the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore. Over the last five years, it has faced a recession and the opening of a new YMCA less than 2 miles away, which drew thousands of its members. It has weathered a financial storm, losing over $2 million and forcing the sale of its Middleton camp.
About a month before the CJP is set to take over the federation, it faces a potential conflict with the JCC in Marblehead. The JCC was supposed to receive about $140,000 a year in allocations from the federation. But in February, the federation froze its monthly subsidy after contending the JCC had not met specific financial benchmarks, said Kimberlee Schumacher, the federation’s interim executive director.
Schumacher — who formerly worked for CJP — declined to comment further on the decision. But Marty Schneer, the JCC’s executive director, criticized the federation’s decision and said it had met its financial benchmarks.
Schneer said the subsidies helped keep the 102-year-old organization open.
“It’s critical for the federation to demonstrate to people on the North Shore who care about the JCC that they’re fulfilling their pledge,” he said.
Other leaders said there is an air of uncertainty among area Jewish institutions that receive funding from the federation. Barbara Schneider, publisher of the Jewish Journal, which mails 12,500 newspapers every two weeks to subscribers in 60 cities and towns, mostly north of Boston, said it received $42,000 from the federation this year, half of the $84,000 it received in 2004.
“Everybody is very anxious about their allocations,” said Schneider, a past JCC president. “The truth is we don’t really know yet what it will mean to the community. There’s certainly a lot of potential for future development, and there’s a concern that we’re going to be ignored. And we don’t know which way it will play out.”
Over the years, philanthropist Robert Lappin has been the biggest single supporter of the federation, donating tens of millions since 1948. He said poor planning and an ill-fated 2006 program that called for overhauling the federation and local Jewish committees pushed away about 900 donors, many of whom have not returned. Lappin said he is sad to see the merger, but believes its time has come.
“I’m sorry to see it happening, but I think it’s a blessing for the community,” he said. “I think that CJP will do a much better job raising funds, and I think they will support and introduce programs that will be beneficial to the community.”
One of Lappin’s greatest accomplishments is the area’s Youth to Israel summer program.
It began sending teens to Israel in 1971, and in 1996 he made it a free, fully subsidized program. His concept was considered a model for the nationally known Birthright Israel program, which sends Jewish college students on free trips to Israel.
Lappin, who lost much of his fortune in the Madoff investment scandal, still heads a nonprofit foundation that offers the free trips. Last year, the federation donated more than $100,000 to the program. “My hope is that it will continue,” he said.
According to the merger documents, CJP plans to maintain a North Shore office through October 2016. The merger documents, however, permit CJP to close the office earlier.Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg@globe.
com. Follow him on Twitter @WriteRosenberg.