Jewish causes must compete to get big charitable gifts

Roland Stanton’s $100 million gift to Yeshiva University is the largest ever to a U.S. Jewish institution. Yet as Stanton himself said, “There are plenty of people who could do it.”
Our research shows he’s right: Dozens of Jewish philanthropists are capable of equaling Stanton’s gift.
So why don’t they? It’s not that wealthy Jews have no reputation for making large gifts to Jewish causes: Julius Rosenwald in his day invented modern Jewish philanthropy; Charles and Edgar Bronfman have built and continue to sustain the core elements of Jewish life around the world.
The question is not one of capacity; the question is whether the Jewish community can imagine and prepare for gifts of that size and scope.
Jews are among America’s elite in philanthropy today. They endow professorships, fund museums, build hospitals and science labs and set up foundations. Clearly, wealthy American Jews have no problem parting with tens or hundreds of millions of dollars at a time. b
But why not more to Jewish causes? Stanton is proof that we can succeed when we ask for big figures — $100 million or even $1 billion. Other Jewish organizations can set their sights as high as Yeshiva University or even higher.
Our annual research of megagifts — gifts above $1 million — turns up at least 50 people who could match or exceed Stanton’s generosity. These typically are wealthy Jewish business leaders who give only relatively modest gifts to Jewish causes. It’s tempting to write these people off as uncommitted Jews, but it would be wrong.
If Jewish causes want to receive megagifts, they have to prove themselves worthy. They have to compete on equal ground with the secular hospitals, symphonies, museums and universities, all of which court and inspire Jewish donors.
Richard Joel came to lead Yeshiva University three years ago; his vision has energized the place and clearly energized Stanton, who is chairman of its board. Stanton could have directed his gift anywhere, but this month he chose Yeshiva University. It means that he believes in something.
That’s the character of today’s new philanthropists. They typically are unimpressed by the donor recognition events of typical charities — the fancy dinners and building-naming ceremonies. They’re more hands-on and active in their philanthropy.
They want to give away their wealth during their lifetimes. Many of them are entrepreneurial in background and temperament; Bill Gates is their living embodiment. They will disburse their money with the same attention they paid to the building of their businesses.
The Jewish communal world not only should prepare for this shift in the philanthropic world, it should rejoice. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of wealthy Jews who have yet to become fully engaged in Jewish giving. There is an enormous opportunity to engage these Jewish givers.
Look at Birthright Israel. Sending thousands of young Jewish adults to Israel for free is expensive, but it has support from some of North America’s biggest Jewish philanthropists. Look at Nefesh B’Nefesh, a project that is helping thousands of people to make aliyah. And look at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s efforts to feed the hungry and poor.
Big ideas attract big donors. These are examples of what good, provocative ideas can do, and we need more of them.
Of course, the Jewish nonprofit world — the professionals who staff the organizations — also must be prepared to become more entrepreneurial. Most often, good philanthropists work hand-in-hand with good professionals.
Look at it this way: Today’s philanthropists think like investors, because that’s how they got wealthy. They want their money to achieve a return; they want results.
We should applaud philanthropists who choose to search for cures for deadly diseases, feed the hungry or educate America’s youth. At the same time, we need to develop and support ambitious initiatives that ensure a secure Jewish community, help grow the Jewish people around the world and take care of the Jewish poor and elderly.
Philanthropists then would feel that the Jewish community is worth both a mighty financial investment and the invaluable donation of their personal involvement.

Your Letters

Arnold Schwarzenegger

The Talmud says, “Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.” Arnold Schwarzenegger has a long record of support for the Jewish community and for Jewish causes. If anyone has earned the right to be given the benefit of the doubt that our tradition requires, he has (“Jews Split Over Arnold Victory,” Oct. 10).

Those rabbis and other Jewish “spokespeople” who rushed to condemn Schwarzenegger on the basis of an unverified statement from a book proposal stand revealed as more devoted to the Democratic Party than they are to Jewish ethical principles. I hope they remembered to include gross ingratitude and an evil tongue among their “Al Chet.”

Paul Morgan Fredrix, West Hollywood

Split on the Recall

Funny how flexible morality can be especially when coated by religion. Bill Boyarsky visits Pico-Robertson to gauge Jewish opinion on the recall (“Westside Jews Divided on Recall,” Oct. 3). He interviews eight students at an Orthodox high school and two others.

The former heartily support the recall while the latter two do not.

Boyarsky then concludes that Jews are “divided” on the recall.

Interesting — I didn’t realize such a powerful scientific sampling of Jewish opinion could lead a seasoned reporter to such a definite conclusion. As for the morality: It’s interesting how Gray Davis’ alleged cooking of the budget books could be so “immoral” to the Orthodox boys but somehow President Bush escapes such scrutiny.

Brian Wallace, Los Angeles

Teresa Strasser

Teresa Strasser’s article (“Got Closure?” Oct 3) might be appropriate for a Larry Flint publication, but for The Jewish Journal to feature it as the cover story for it’s Yom Kipper edition is obscene. Shame on the Journal for publishing an article that mocks, ridicules and desecrates the most important day in the Jewish calendar.

Phyllis Herskovitz , Beverly Hills

Miss Strasser, you make me wish I was Jewish. You make Judaism that appealing.

Santiago Belandres, Via e-mail

Market Yourself Into Marriage

I read with much delight, Amy Klein’s inspection of the field guide for single women (“Market Yourself Into Marriage,” Oct. 10). With all the energy in self marketing that a woman has to put out to marry anyone, it seems to me that it would be easier to utilize this marketing expertise to build a career and invest in her own life. The return on investment is better and with less risk. I have often said that it’s easier to become a CEO of a large corporation than to marry a decent man.

Carole Medway , Tarzana

Jewish Charities

In course of reviewing findings of the philanthropic watchdog, Charity Navigator, Joe Berkofsky presents information about the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah (“Jewish Charities Get Favorable Rating,” Oct. 10). While the organization’s name and goal are correctly identified, most of the rest is counterfactual.

Irwin Katsof does not live and is not based in Los Angeles. He is not the president of Aish HaTorah. Our fundraising costs are not $.23 on the dollar.

Fundraising costs are not separately broken out in our budget, but the sum total of our fundraising and administrative costs, including the cost of adjunct programs, missions, and retreats comes to $.20 on the dollar.

Rabbi Nachum Braverman, Executive Director for the The Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah, Western Region


In the Sept. 30 Circuit “The IDF Meets Los Angeles,” the caption should have read: (From left) Brad Cohen, Maj. Gen. Moshe Evry Sukenik, Lenny Sands and Robert Zarnegin. The name of a speaker at the reception was Sgt. Maj. Tzahi Turman. We apologize for the errors.

In “Prisons Pay for Surge in Chaplain” (Oct. 3), the $10,000 allocation for Bibles and 12-step literature comes from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

I read Si Frumkin’s “Why I Voted for Arnold” (Oct. 10) twice, looking in vain for a reason why he voted for Arnold. I learned that Frumkin was impressed by Schwarzenegger’s steroids-to-riches story and felt (improbably, in my view) that the governor-to-be has suffered at the hands of the media. But I saw no endorsement of his policies (or even a clue as to what they might be), nothing about his likely gubernatorial conduct and nothing about why California would be a better place with Schwarzenegger as governor rather than one of the other 134 candidates he could have voted for.

Howard Posner, Los Angeles

The critics of what Avrham Burg said in the Sept. 26 issue (“Leaders Stay Silent as Israel Collapses”), and the article several weeks before, have, I believe, missed the point.

The point here is that we can no longer point the finger outside at the Palestinians as the root of all our troubles, particularly at this time of the year. Our tradition demands that we reflect on us, not on “others,” not even God. We may wrestle with God, but in the end it’s our own self that we must do battle with — every day. That I believe is what Burg, by his writings, is asking of us.

Bruce F. Whizin, Sherman Oaks