What is Membership, really?

In the course of processing the archives of the HIAS Membership department over recent months, a few questions have echoed in my mind: Why does the agency solicit for membership, rather than just donations? Why is membership so important? What does it actually mean to be a HIAS member?

It seems that the answers may be related in part to HIAS’s institutional membership in Federation, and the Federation fund-raising structure designed to maximize effective giving and reduce competition among Jewish charities. The following records in the HIAS archives collection, dating to the 1980s and 90s, have helped me to understand this subject a little better.

(For more on the different types of membership campaigns run by the department, see this post.)

 

Member versus contributor

In 1984, newly appointed Executive Vice President Karl Zukerman investigated this topic (see bullet point seven):

 

 

Importance of membership

A 1980 letter from Annette Eskind and Walter Bieringer, co-chairs of the Membership Committee, discussed the “clout” a large membership brought the agency in its negotiations with government bodies:

 

 

Federation considerations

In a 1981 membership campaign report, Director of Fund Raising Hyman Brickman referred to membership campaigns versus other methods of bringing in money:

“While the timing of a campaign is dictated by the Federation, the timing of our request for a campaign is our own choosing. It should not be done while the allocations procedure is underway or an appeal for reconsideration has been filed, lest the community look upon its approval of a campaign as absolving it from giving us our request in full or considering supplementary funding. We must keep the two items separate and apply our maximum efforts to both.”

 

In the same report, Brickman provided an update on campaign prospects in a community that had not been solicited for membership recently. He described the situation this way:

“The community has not allocated to HIAS for many years, and this problem must first be addressed before we go further with membership, since the latter is intended to supplement the allocation and not be a substitute for it.”

 

In 1984, Manfred Weil, a Membership Committee member who for years ran a successful “personal campaign” for HIAS in Rhode Island, wrote to committee chair Eskind, stressing to taking care not to conflict with any Federation fund-raising efforts, “even though the appeal is only for membership.”  (see page two below)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A 1992 memo from Executive Vice President Martin Wenick to President Martin Kesselhaut referred to the distinction between fund-raising efforts and membership campaigns:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also included among the Membership records are these local Federation guidelines for independent and supplementary campaigns (see especially page two):

 

 

 

 

 

 

(HIAS membership dues were $50 annually, which is the same amount cited in these guidelines.)

 

Another Federation granted approval for a HIAS campaign to its members because the solicitation amount fell within a prescribed range:

 

What it means to be a member

Note: This subject relates to the question of what membership is all about, but it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with Federation.

In 1984, Eskind, who conducted many successful “personal campaigns” for HIAS over a period of years, wrote to Brickman on the subject of membership benefits:

“As requested by you, my personal view on ‘membership benefits’ reflects the comments expressed at the last Board meeting. I do not believe that a group insurance or travel program will enhance membership. I do feel that a well-planned membership drive, appropriate for each community, will be far more productive.”

 

In the same 1985 membership campaign report cited earlier, Eskind gave a matter-of-fact description of membership (she was discussing campaign prospects in a region that already supported many active volunteer membership groups):

“It is hard to say whether: a) the community would respond to a ‘newcomer’ that is essentially a paper membership, b) the federation would authorize a campaign (their regular campaign has dropped considerably mainly because of a high unemployment rate, necessitating a cut in our allocation after it was made), and c) the federation would, if it did grant clearance, make its lists available. On the positive side is the fact that we have acquired two new Board members from the community. The issue will be explored further with them.”

 

If I come across any additional documents that shed light on this topic, I’ll be sure to do another post.

 

 

Sources

Collection: I-363 HIAS; Subseries: Development; Subsubseries: Membership; Subsubsubseries: Subjects.

  • The 1992 memo from Wenick to Kesselhaut may be found in the Federations—Campaign Permission Letter folder.
  • The Federation Guidelines for Campaigns document is in a folder titled Federations—Allocations.
  • All other documents are from the Membership Committee folder.
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Types of Membership Campaigns

During the 1980s and 1990s, the HIAS Membership department conducted a variety of mailings every year to solicit contributions from new and existing members.

 

Membership campaigns are important because they are a source of revenue and because a strong membership base strengthens our voice.

-from a Membership committee report

 

There were two different types of campaigns:

  1. Board member / Membership department joint campaigns
  2. Membership department-only campaigns

Let’s take a closer look.

 

Board member / Membership department joint campaigns

These types of campaigns were commonly referred to at HIAS as “Board member campaigns,” but that name is a little misleading because it implies the board member ran the campaign or was in charge of the campaign. In fact, these campaigns were run by the Membership department with the assistance of a board member. The Membership department would get the campaign going, draft a solicitation letter, work with a printing firm on the letter and inserts, manage the mailing list, send out thank yous, and bear the costs.

Board members varied in terms of how much assistance they provided for their campaigns. Some got very involved, running through multiple drafts of the campaign letter, weighing in on various details of the mailing, strategizing with staff on how to get better returns, passing valuable information to HIAS, requesting regular updates on how the campaign was doing, and analyzing the results. Other board members did little more than provide their signature for the bottom of the letter.

  

There were four kinds of Board member / Membership department joint campaigns:

  1. Federation
  2. Personal
  3. Synagogue
  4. Trade / Professional

In 1994, a committee of the board described the campaigns in a report:

  • “Running a Federation membership campaign is not difficult; basically it involves encouraging your local federation to allow a campaign – the [HIAS] office does all the work. If it is not possible to do a federation campaign,
  • A personal campaign can also be effective – you just need to submit a list of names to the [HIAS] office – again, most of the work is done there.
  • Trade or business: Almost all of us are involved in a profession or business – obtaining a list of colleagues really should not be too hard, and is very productive.
  • A campaign through your Synagogue, asking permission of the Rabbi and generally following the same procedure as the other kinds of campaigns, is also very productive.”

 

Membership department-only campaigns

The Membership department also ran mailings on its own, without the involvement of board members. Here are some of the kinds of campaigns they ran:

  1. HIAS clients
  2. Lapsed members
  3. Big Givers (over $250)
  4. Holidays: Chanukah, Passover, Purim, Rosh Hashana
  5. National Council
  6. New York UJA
  7. Gift Membership

These campaigns tended to be larger and more lucrative than Board member / Membership department joint campaigns.

 

Archival documents referenced in this post may be found under Development—Membership—Subjects in the folder “Membership Campaign Reports and Records, 1976-1996.” 

The 1993 Los Angeles Membership Campaign

The HIAS Membership Department was responsible for running fundraising appeals through the mail. These fundraising appeals were known at the agency as membership campaigns. In today’s blog post, we’ll take a look at what was involved in organizing and executing a campaign, using the records of the 1993 Los Angeles appeal as a kind of case study.

 

In June of 1993, Carolyn Agress, Director for Membership Services & Women’s Division, wrote to HIAS board member Judith Sommerstein to follow up on their conversation at the recent Annual Meeting.  It seems they had discussed membership campaigns, with Sommerstein expressing interest in participating.

In the letter, Agress explained how these campaigns worked:

  • The Membership Department would first provide the board member with a copy of the solicitation letter (the “ask”) for that year.
  • The board member would edit the solicitation letter if they saw fit, in order to tailor it to the concerns and issues of their community. The final version would be signed by the board member.
  • The board member would provide HIAS with the names and addresses of personal and professional contacts they wanted to solicit.
  • HIAS would add these names to the list of members in the board member’s geographical region.
  • HIAS would have the letters printed and sent out, along with a membership dues form and a return envelope.

Letter from Agress to Sommerstein:


This appears to be the solicitation letter Agress included, sent back with Sommerstein’s comments on front and back:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The records include memos and notes about the logistics of carrying out the campaign, such as this one dated August 18, 1993:

On August 19th, Agress sent Sommerstein another copy of the solicitation letter, which Sommerstein sent back with comments:

 

 

 

 

 

 

(It was not typical that HIAS would request comments on the solicitation twice; this seems to be an aberration, or we may just not have all the information about what happened.)

This appears to be the final draft of the text:

The letters that actually went out included the name and address of the member, as well as a personal salutation, as in the earlier draft. HIAS provided the printing company with a copy of the board member’s signature to place in the closing.

In September, the Membership Department sent Sommerstein an update on the results of the campaign. Many of the campaign files contain computer reports on how the campaign did, and sometimes multiple updates would be sent to the board member, but for Los Angeles in 1993, there’s just this one:

The last step was for the Membership Department to send thank you letters for the donations, whether from a new or renewing member.

Then the next year, the whole process would be repeated, with the board member adding new names to their list, and often crossing out those of any friends who had passed away. Not all board members participated in campaigns year after year, but many did. Those records are very interesting for learning about board members’ devotion to the mission of HIAS, the relationships of mutual respect they developed with Carolyn Agress and other staff, and the tireless efforts to craft the most effective “asks” possible.

 

Archival documents referenced in this post may be found in the 104 Los Angeles campaign files under Development—Membership—Campaigns. Final box number will most likely be 0297.

Attention: Important San Diego Area News

In November of 1990, a small contingent of HIAS officials traveled from New York to San Diego for three days of events with the local Jewish community. The purpose of the trip was to increase awareness of HIAS in the area, brief the community on the agency’s work with Soviet Jews, and launch a membership drive. Records of these activities, including memos, itineraries, newspaper articles, correspondence, and budgets, exist in the files of Carolyn Agress, then the Director of Membership Services and the Women’s Division.

The officials were:

  • Ben Zion Leuchter, HIAS President
  • Karl D. Zukerman, Executive Vice President
  • Deborah Mark, Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President

The plan was to meet with San Diego Jewish community leaders, the staff of local Jewish volunteer organizations, and members of the Soviet Jewish émigré community to bring them up to date on what HIAS was doing for Jews from the USSR.

The schedule included:

  • A briefing on Soviet émigrés at the Jewish Community Center at 4079 54th Street.
  • A presentation for the Downtown Breakfast Club of the United Jewish Federation of San Diego County, held at the University Club at 750 B Street.
  • A dessert reception for the San Diego Jewish Community Relations Council, San Diego Federation, and Jewish Family Services of San Diego, at the home of HIAS board members Linda and Shearn Platt.

The HIAS group also met individually with the staffs of Federation and Jewish Family Services.

 

HIAS hoped to attract the attention of the local press, preparing a press kit in advance. The kit included a biography of Ben Zion Leuchter and an abbreviated description of the process by which HIAS assisted Soviet Jewish refugees to immigrate to the US.

BZL bio:

“Moscow Processing for Soviet Jews” (click to enlarge):

Ads were placed in the San Diego Union, San Diego Jewish Times, and San Diego Heritage.

 

Articles appeared in the San Diego Jewish Times, the Southwest Jewish Press, and the San Diego Union.

HIAS needs members to act as advocates, to impress upon their congressional delegates the importance of refugees.

Ben Zion Leuchter,

quoted in the San Diego Jewish Times, 11/23/90

Leuchter told the Southwest Jewish Press that only 40,000 Soviet Jews annually were being accepted in the United States as refugees, while perhaps five times as many headed for Israel each year.

To say, ‘Let them live wherever they want to,’ we know damn well because of their lack of Jewish association historically over the last 70 years, it is natural, perfectly natural, for a Soviet Jew to live where he thinks the best economic opportunity is, so he is going to choose the United States. I think American Jewry is saying, ‘Hey, we waited 2,000 years for a Jewish state, and we know how desperately Israel needs people and this is the reason for the founding of the Jewish state, to be able to take in people from a land of distress.’

Ben Zion Leuchter,

quoted in the Southwest Jewish Press, 11/23/90

 

Immediately following the trip, HIAS conducted a membership campaign mailing in conjunction with the San Diego Federation. The following letter went out to 16,000 Federation member families:

A letter from Carolyn Agress to Leslye Lyons of the Jewish Community Relations Council, sent November 23rd, noted that returns had started coming in the week prior, and looked “very good.” Agress noted that it was too soon to predict results, but from the feedback HIAS had received, signs pointed to the campaign being a success.

 

Archival documents referenced in this post may be found in the 090 San Diego campaign files under Development—Membership—Campaigns. Final box number will most likely be 0297.

A new chapter in the life of a Torah

Torah presentation, January 25, 1967. Left to right: Rabbi Harold H. Gordon, Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis; Harry Ginsberg, HIAS board member; Harry M. Friedman, HIAS Comptroller; Murray Gurfein, HIAS President; Rabbi Israel Mowshowitz, Chairman of the Board of the International Synagogue at Kennedy Airport; Hon. Charles H. Silver, President of the International Synagogue; Harry Berse, HIAS board member; Mrs. Albert Speed, HIAS board member. HIAS Photograph Collection, 8L14C, box 71.

DID YOU KNOW that New York’s JFK Airport has its own synagogue?

In January of 1967, a small group gathered at HIAS President Murray Gurfein’s office at 655 Madison Avenue for a special ceremony. On behalf of United HIAS Service, Gurfein presented the Torah scroll of the Ellis Island Chapel to Charles H. Silver, President of the International Synagogue, and Rabbi Israel Mowshowitz, Chairman of the Board of the synagogue.

Newspaper clippings about HIAS’s gift of the Ellis Island Chapel Torah to the International Synagogue at JFK Airport. Articles from the Jewish Standard of Jersey City, NJ and the Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh, PA; both dated February 3, 1967. HIAS Collection I-363, Public Affairs (not yet processed).

“Three million Jewish men, women and children have been assisted by United HIAS to resettle in free countries. For many of these people, the sight of this scroll was convincing evidence that they had at last found a place where they could practice their religion openly and fearlessly. We are pleased that at Kennedy Airport, which has replaced Ellis Island as the principal port of entry for immigrants, the Torah will continue to serve new arrivals of Jewish faith.”

-Murray Gurfein, President

United HIAS Service

Sukkot at the HIAS Shelter in NYC

What was it like for newly arrived refugees to celebrate Sukkot in freedom in America?

The HIAS photo collection contains one folder labeled Succoth. Inside are these three 8 x 10 prints depicting Sukkot preparations and celebrations, probably at the HIAS shelter at 425 Lafayette Street in Manhattan. Unfortunately, there are no dates on the photographs, nor any other descriptive information, but they appear to be from the late 1940s or early 1950s. HIAS used images such as these in publicity materials and publications such as annual reports.

The HIAS photo archive of 20,000 images has been digitized and will be fully searchable from http://ajhs.org/hias-digital-collections by the end of 2018.

Chag Sameach from AJHS.

Atonement

Carolyn Agress served as the Director of Membership Services at HIAS beginning in 1989. She coordinated membership campaigns, working with board members to solicit contributions, and overseeing the details of multiple campaigns per year. These donations represented a key component of the organization’s budget.

Letter of Carolyn Agress, Director of Membership Services and the Women’s Division, HIAS. March 6, 1991.

This Yom Kippur, those of us working on the HIAS processing project take inspiration from Carolyn, whose integrity and professionalism shine clearly through the records.

Yom tov.