Its time to merge S.F. and East Bay federations

With the economic downturn, for-profits and nonprofits alike are looking ever more closely at the way they do business. In many cases, they  have been forced to restructure or even lay off staffers.

Jewish agencies have not been spared the upheaval. This week the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay announced that five employees, two of them senior managers, would be laid off. This comes on the heels of the recent departure of the federation’s CEO.

Upsetting as these losses are, they also present  an opportunity. It’s time for a merger between the East Bay federation and the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation.

Such a merger would no doubt increase the tsuris for S.F. federation CEO Daniel Sokatch. But since he’s relatively new on the job anyway — he started in July — a larger federation could be integrated into his learning curve.

Why merge? For too long, the Bay Bridge has divided the Jewish community. But many who live in the East Bay work in San Francisco. Many San Franciscans are alumni of U.C. Berkeley. People have family members living on both sides of the Bay, as well as north and south.

It’s time we stop treating the East and West Bay like the West Bank and Israel.

Precious resources could be saved merging the federations. There would be no need for duplication in campaign management, endowment management, IT services and marketing.

Beyond that, the East Bay’s Center for Jewish Living and Learning could merge with the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education. Both Israel Centers could join together. Jewish Family and Children’s Services on both sides of the Bay could become one.

The list goes on.

It’s not just a matter of saving on expenses. It’s about the added services the combined agencies could provide. More money could go directly into services benefiting area residents.

Some of this has already happened. The Jewish Community Relations Councils merged in the last few years. Many years earlier, the East Bay folded its monthly Jewish newspaper to join with us.

Even now it’s par for the course for the S.F.-based JFCS, BJE and other agencies to lend assistance to their overburdened East Bay cousins.

Undoubtedly some would prefer to leave things as they are. Maintaining the status quo always seems easier than change.

But challenging times call for new ideas. The job Jewish agencies do is becoming more difficult as donors reach beyond the Jewish world, as intermarriage increases and as younger people drift away from Jewish life.

As Jewish federations seek answers, let them do it locally as one strong organization that blazes a trail other federations could follow.