NOLA Federation expands definition of membership

Members of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans approved an “extremely limited” measure that expands the definition of Federation membership.

The change, approved at a March 16 meeting at the Goldring-Woldenberg Jewish Community Campus in Metairie, amends the Federation’s by-laws and charter to allow non-Jewish spouses and domestic partners of Federation members to be considered as members of the Federation if they contribute to Federation and are supportive of its mission.

The revision does not allow non-Jewish donors who do not have a Jewish spouse to become members. It also does not mean that board slots will be filled by non-Jews — while a non-Jewish spouse would now be eligible, he or she would have to go through the same vetting and nomination process as everyone else, including being voted upon at the annual meeting.

The newly-revised Article III Section 2 reads “All persons of the Jewish faith, their spouses, domestic partners (as defined in the By-Laws), former spouses or former domestic partners and who are over the age of majority, support the Mission and Purposes of the Corporation, and contribute to the Corporation’s Annual Campaign shall be Members of the Corporation from the date on which the contribution is made through the end of the fiscal year succeeding the fiscal year during which the contribution is made. Members shall be entitled to vote beginning July 1 of the year after the contribution is made.”

Before the vote, Federation President Morton Katz said it is important that the community knows that this is a very small change in the by-laws. It came about when Tulane Hillel expressed a desire to recognize a significant non-Jewish supporter with a board position. Federation guidelines require that all constituent agencies must have only Jewish board members.

The measure would allow the constituent agencies decide for themselves whether or not they want to have non-Jewish board members, “and some have decided not to,” Katz said.

As that discussion unfolded, Federation leadership considered how the recent Pew study stated that 72 percent of non-Orthodox Jews who have married since 2000 are intermarried.

For the current class of Lemann-Stern, the Federation’s young leadership development program, there were 120 applicants and 20 were chosen, mostly couples. Of those, Katz noted, three were non-Jewish spouses who “are willing to go through two years of training” and educational sessions.

“If that’s the case and we don’t include those people in our membership,” Katz said, “we’re going to lose a lot of those people down the line.”

He noted there are many communities across the country that do this, and in Richmond the Federation hasn’t had the word “Jewish” in its bylaws for 75 years.

At the Federation’s annual meeting in September, there was a passionate discussion on this topic and the wording of the change. “Any change, people are concerned,” Katz noted. The concerns brought up at the meeting were discussed by the task force, which was chaired by Alan Franco. When the final result was presented, the board overwhelmingly voted in favor on Jan. 22.

Katz isn’t surprised that this discussion originated with Hillel. “They know what the young people are doing,” and there are plenty of non-Jewish boyfriends and girlfriends active in Hillel.