On Dec. 23, 1912, a group of Jewish New Orleanians signed a charter that would establish what has become the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans. While the Federation plans to celebrate its 100-year legacy and look forward to the next century throughout 2013, the celebration will kick off this month with a Centennial Jubilee on Jan. 15.
The 7 p.m. program, held in Henson Auditorium at the Isidore Newman School, will feature a conversation between Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and New Orleans native Richard Stone.
In June 2011, Stone became chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a central coordinating body that represents 50 national Jewish organizations. Conference Executive Vice Chair Malcolm Hoenlein said Stone “is a talented and devoted leader who has been involved in the Conference of Presidents for many years.”
A February 2012 profile in the Jerusalem Post said Stone is “rock-solid” and “knows how to pack a punch.”
Stone is on the faculty of Columbia University Law School, where he has held the Wilbur Friedman Chair in Tax Law since 1991. He is also a venture capitalist. He is the chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, which advocates for the Jewish communities in the 15 republics that emerged from the Soviet Union.
Stone was the chairman of the Institute for Public Affairs, the public policy arm of the Orthodox Union, from 1992 to 2002 and served on the board and Executive Committee of JCPA from 2005 to 2009. He currently serves as a member of the board of the Hebrew Free Loan Society, the America-Israel Friendship League, the American Zionist Movement and the New York Metropolitan Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty.
Telushkin was named one of the 50 best speakers in the United States by Talk magazine. He has written 16 books on a wide range of subjects, including the most widely selling book on Judaism in the last two decades, “Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People and Its History.”
The first volume of his monumental work, “A Code of Jewish Ethics,” was released in 2006. He co-authored “Why the Jews: The Reason for Antisemitism” and “The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism” with Dennis Prager, and “Jewish Humor: What the Best Jewish Jokes Say About the Jews” with Larry Gelbart.
A wine reception will precede the event, starting at 6:15 p.m. The celebration is sponsored by Herman, Herman and Katz.
The group of philanthropists that met in December 1912 wanted to consolidate the fundraising appeals of the many different organizations in the Jewish community, saying the frequency of the solicitations was no longer to the organizations’ advantage. A minimum membership of $5 was called for in the original “Federation of Jewish Charities” charter, though the signatories all pledged a minimum of $100, and three — J.K. Newman, Mrs. S. Gumbel and E.V. Benjamin — pledged $1,000 each.
On June 4, 1913, the Jewish Charitable and Educational Federation was incorporated and officially became the umbrella group for Jewish charities in New Orleans.
In 1924, the Federation gave its fundraising tasks to the Community Chest, becoming the central coordinating and planning body for affiliate agencies. In 1931, the Federation created the Jewish Welfare Fund to address out-of-town fundraising drives for national and international agencies, which were not under the purview of Community Chest.
In 1943, the organization changed its name to the Jewish Federation of New Orleans and the charter was changed to reflect its duties of administering charitable, philanthropic, and educational efforts for the Jewish community; coordinating programs and social services of affiliated agencies; and expressing the local Jewish community’s viewpoint.
A 1953 community study by the Federation and Fund showed overlapping of functions in the community. By 1962, there was a desire to consolidate the boards of the Federation and Fund, so one unified board was created.
With the community spreading beyond its original area, in 1977 the Federation changed its name to the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans. The extent of the community’s spread was examined in a 1984 community census.
The 1980s also marked a time of increased activity in the general community, especially with the repeated candidacy of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke for governor and the U.S. Senate.
The Federation’s role as the central planning agency was put to the test in 2005 as the entire community was evacuated in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that followed the levee failure. As it became apparent that it would be months before many could return to the area — if at all — the Federation set up a temporary home at the Houston Jewish Federation, and later in Baton Rouge.
The national Federation system raised over $20 million to keep New Orleans Jewish institutions viable as the community rebuilt, and the Federation had to look at short-term recovery and long-term rebuilding, both of institutions and population.
In an echo of the 1952 study, the Federation coordinated a community-wide effort after Katrina to eliminate duplication and promote cooperation among Jewish institutions and organizations, to help scarce dollars stretch farther.
Last summer, the Federation announced that the local Jewish population had topped the 2005 pre-Katrina figure, after being down almost one-third as the post-Katrina exodus bottomed out.