Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Where's the Beef?

No one, and I mean NO ONE, has any idea just how much money it takes to support the various institutions, organizations and other parts of the frum infrastructure. Some of this is because many groups have no transparency when it comes to their finances. But I suppose that basically it boils down to nobody having the interest or time or access to undertake such a massive hunt for the money.

So, let's work backwards and see if we can discover anything about the money it takes to support our groups. In 2008 The American Jewish Yearbook published demographic figures for the Jewish population of the US, first state by state, and then broken down by location within the state. http://www.jewishdatabank.org/AJYB/AJY-2008.pdf There is no claim as to the religious affiliation of the population showcased other than it is Jewish. For some communities a new survey of population was not done for 2008 so that data comes from 2002.

Let's look at some figures. The estimated 2008 Jewish population of New York was 1,617,720, 8.4% of the state population. Now, let's look at some figures for specific areas in New York. Unfortunately, the NY figures date back to 2002, but they should be adquate for our purposes. Specifically, let's look at five areas in Brooklyn.

Borough Park: 76,600

Flatbush-Midwood-Kensington: 101,100

Williamsburg: 52,700

Crown Heights-Prospect-Lefferts Gardens: 15,700

Coney Island-Brighton-Sheepshead Bay: 49,700

The total Jewish population for these five areas was 295,800 in 2002. One thing we do know, even if anecdotally, is that these five areas have very large concentrations of religious Jews, of all types and stripes, and that religious Jews represent a far larger percentage of the Jewish population than in other areas of New York.

I'm going to pick a number to represent that religious population. I think that it would be within reason to say that 50% of the Jewish population in these areas is religious--and it could be higher. So, that would be about 147,900 religious Jews. Of course, these Jews are going to be across a number of age groups. Given that this is a religious population we are talking about, there are going to be a large number of children. To balance out the children with either older married couples/widowed singles and never been married singles or couples with no children, I'm going to say that children represent 70,000 of the population, a bit under 50% of the religious population.

If your eyes haven't turned back into your head, bear with me a bit longer. Even with these hypothetical figures, you have 77,900 religious Jews to support the infrastructure of the community. These are the ones who will need to put out the money for the local yeshivas, for the shuls, for the mikvaot, for the Hatzolah groups, for the Vaadim HaKashrus, for the Chevra Kadisha, for the Bikur Cholims, for the Hachnosas Kallah groups etc., etc., etc..

If each of those people donated $100 per year to the infrastructure groups IN THEIR AREA, that would come to $7,790,000, and I hate to say it, but that is really small potatoes when it comes to supporting Klal. We have an estimate from the principal of BYOB that the school needs about four million dollars a year to run with all the programs it has now. Plenty of other yeshivas which probably have the same or around the same running costs. The money might cover two large yeshivas.

If each of those people donated $1000 per year we'd have $77,900,000. That sounds like more serious money, but will it cover all the infrastructure costs? Again, count up just yeshivas alone and I don't think so, or maybe just close. So what if we had all those people donate $5000 a year? Now we would have $389,500,000 to work with.

Of course, we need to understand that some of those adults will not be able to donate $5000 a year, or maybe not even $100 a year. They may be the elderly on very fixed incomes. There will be some who are unemployed, whether by design or through economic cutbacks. There will be some whose earning levels just won't allow these type of donations. There will be people who are ill. And then there will also be that tzedaka funds may not stay exclusively in the areas mentioned above; they may go to Jewish institutions and programs in other places around the globe. On the other hand, there may well be people who will give more than the $5000 per year, perhaps double or triple or more. In fact, we know that some people are giving a lot more. We know that there are parents who are giving yeshivas anywhere from $10K to $50K or even more in tuition each year. Even if half of the religious Jews couldn't manage that $5k, there would seem to be enough who are giving more so the amount would balance out.

So it would seem to be a possibility that these five areas could be seeing monies donated in the $300,000,000 to $400,000,000 range. So here's my question: does the infrastructure in the religious communities of these five areas take more than $389,500,000 per year to support? If it does, then why? If it's more then why? If the BYOB uses 4 million to educate 2100 students, then the 70,000 kids stated above should take about $134 million. Seems like there is an awful lot of money left to cover the other infrastructure costs of Klal. Maybe.

Granted, my numbers are approximations and suppositions based on some statistics available. But even with approximations and even if my numbers in actuality should prove to be too high (or too low), there is what would seem to be an awful lot of money that is being funneled into these five geographic areas. And that is not even counting that there are Jews who might not strictly fall into the straight "religious" category who also sometimes support some of the infrastructure funding. Or that in the same way that some funds leave these communities in tzedaka donations going outside, there are tzedaka donations from outside funneling into these areas.

Whatever the actual money numbers should turn out to be, they won't be small. When we are talking about this much money (and this is just a part of Brooklyn yet) it's way past time to see just where all that money is going and what it is being used for. Someone needs to do what I've done above, but do it with the real numbers. Yeshivas and all the other institutions of Klal need to give an accounting of what it really costs to keep them up. And then we need to look at what they need and what we have.


Lion of Zion said...

A grim report
just one quibble. Ci-Brighton beach-sheapsheqd bay (where I grew up) has tons of Jews but the vast majority are not affiliatEd, forget about religious of any stripe. Rather than your 50% figure I would say here less than 5% are ortho. Probably less than 1%, except For the areas of sheapsheah bay that abuts "Flatbush." by way of anecdotal illustrastion, with the exceptinnof one family that lived a few blocks away, my neighborhood friends were all public schools. I was the only shomer shabbos kid on the block. Even today I doubt on most days the Shul i grew up in has a minyan of shomer shabbos men

Tuvi said...

I agrree Lion that Brighton and area would have less shomer shabbos then was estimated, but I think it's balanced out because I imagine that Crown Heights has more shomer shabbos then was estimated. Also, the figures are from 2002 and I think you would find that Boro Park, Flatbush and Williamsburg have had a rise in the number of shomer shabbos people.

Even if not exact estimates, the amount of possible money is a scary figure, especially if we don't know where it's going and how it's being used.

Avi said...

Not exact figures you give but I think you're close enough for us to say that there is a lot of money that is needed to support infrastructure and a lot of money being given. Who gets what is what is missing and needs to be accounted for.

I don't think that accounting is going to be given. Why? Because when you know how much money is available and how much is needed, if there is a shortfall you are going to have to prioritize who gets the money first, next etc. Which group is going to voluntarily possibly put itself out of business?

Marsha said...

The really scariest part is the one you didn't mention--this is only part of the metropolitan NY area. Cover the rest of NYC, Jersey, Long Island, Westchester etc. and you really see serious money being needed. You're talking in the billions not the millions.

I'm guessing that the exact figures haven't been compiled because whatever that number is goinig to be it's going to be huge and very scary. I agree with Avi that a real accounting just might show that some organizations are going to have to go, that duplicates on some services are costing us more then we have.

Anonymous said...

Yasher Koach! And just one of the reasons so many of our leaders don't like blogs. The truth might come out and then where will they all be?!

Rae said...

Well done and about time! I imagine one reason that an accounting like you did is not being done by the groups and schools is because we might find out that Klal is being supported by less than half the members. And those who are doing the paying just might want a bigger say in where the money is going and how it is being used. The one who pays the piper calls the tune.

Anonymous said...

It seems like every yeshiva and every community organization is claiming that they don't have enough money to do what they have to do. So, show me the money! Let's see how much we really have. Let's see how much things really cost. Let's see just how many people are giving the money that keeps us going.

Rae may be right. There may be a whole lot less then 50% supporting everybody. And those people may be unwilling to continue doing the supporting unless more people start contributing. Those who truly can't give in any money--the sick and really elderly--aren't the problem. It's the ones who don't work, don't give and take plenty.

Anonymous said...

um, what exactly was your point??

Anonymous said...

I think we have too many organizations and rabbis and wives sitting on the payroll at almost every "chesed" organization. They should all combine forces and donors. I know - easier said than done. they could cut down on their fixed AND variable costs while doing real chessed with the money received as donations. Most chessed organizations doing want to show you the actual detials of their financials b/c they are too busy running up a large staff that does not do much work.

ProfK said...

Virtually every yeshiva and organization that is part of Klal's infrastructure has been publically moaning about a lack of funds. The are exhorting us all to give more and more. Yet, none of them, or virtually none of them have opened up their books to show us income and expenses. Based on my admitted guesses as to how many people might be giving and how much, there seems to be a huge amount of money "out there" to support this infrastructure.

We need to see what it costs for all of these groups as a total. What if structure A has a surplus and structure B is negative? Logic would say that you give less to A and more to B. What if everyone is operating at a deficit? Hard decisions to make, particularly where there are duplicate groups. What if a lot of places are spending more in areas they should not be spending?

In short, where is all that donated money actually going to, providing what, at what cost?

Offwinger said...

Most non-profit organizations are obligated to make their IRS information public.

I don't understand the problem here.

If something is run for-profit, then they are not a tzedaka. If an organization is non-profit, we can look up the info (in terms of income) ourselves. So there is nothing stopping us from figuring out total non-profit money coming in.

As to the costs...there is no reason to think that the total costs (or desired costs) remotely matches the actual amount coming in OR the actual amount necessary to provide the services that we think are essential. Institutions crying poverty need to introduce transparency into their budgeting process and overall costs before anyone should believe anything they say.

Last, for those of you talking about 50%, are you serious? Most of the community is supported by 5%or more likely .5% of the total Jewish population.

Dave said...

Religious organizations are exempt from the requirement to file a 990.

I strongly recommend that people give no money to organizations with closed books, but that's just me.

Either file a 990, or open your books separately. But I'm not going to take your word on what you need and how you spend it.

Lion of Zion said...


"Religious organizations are exempt from the requirement to file a 990."

i think only "churches" (i.e., shuls) are exempt. i don't think all religious orgs in general are exempt. this is why most jewish school get around the 990 obligation by incorporating as churches.

also, 990 doesn't really tell you that much about an org, or even enough to know if it is well run, etc.
but it is better than nothing and considerig how little info it really contains, when an org gets out of filing it, this should send up a red flag