Mark Zuckerberg, Pope Francis talk technology and charitable giving in Vatican audience


Pope Francis talked technology and charitable giving with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, during a private audience at the Vatican.

“It was a meeting we’ll never forget,” Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, posted on his Facebook page following the audience Monday. “You can feel his warmth and kindness, and how deeply he cares about helping people.”

A Vatican statement said Zuckerberg and the pope “spoke about how to use communication technologies to alleviate poverty, encourage a culture of encounter, and help deliver a message of hope, especially to those people who are most disadvantaged.”

On his Facebook page, Zuckerberg posted a picture of himself presenting the pontiff with a model of a Facebook internet drone. He wrote that he and Chan told the pope “how much we admire his message of mercy and tenderness, and how he’s found new ways to communicate with people of every faith around the world.”

Zuckerberg added: “We also discussed the importance of connecting people, especially in parts of the world without internet access. We gave him a model of Aquila, our solar-powered aircraft that will beam internet connectivity to places that don’t have it. And we shared our work with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to help people around the world.”

The pope has Twitter and Instagram accounts, but does not have a personal Facebook page.

The audience was the latest in a series of meetings the pope has held with high-level figures in the tech and IT world in recent months. In January he held separate private audiences with Apple CEO Tim Cook and Eric Schmidt, the executive chair of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. Francis met with Kevin Systrom, the co-founder of Instagram, in February.

A generosity gap? Not on our watch


For anyone concerned about the future of Los Angeles and the role of charitable giving in creating a healthy community here for us all, a recent study by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs is cause for serious concern. The report, “The Generosity Gap: Donating Less in Post-Recession Los Angeles County,” documents a decline in local giving of nearly 16 percent, from $7.16 billion to $6.03 billion, from 2006 and 2013.

One vital function of this sort of study is to provoke thought and dialogue to spur change. The Luskin School report certainly accomplishes that. It encourages exploration of the root causes of the decline, and of actionable steps that can address changes in local charitable giving. The study also provides data that encourage deeper analysis; here certain anomalies become clear — especially with respect to the Los Angeles Jewish community. 

The report asserts that “historical patterns of local generosity may be shifting to a new, lower norm, across all household income levels.” However, I can state with confidence that donors to the institution I am privileged to lead — the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles — are a significant exception to this generalization. As points of comparison, for the beginning and end years analyzed in the report — 2006 and 2013 — grants by The Foundation and its donors to Jewish and nonsectarian charitable institutions in Los Angeles County actually rose by 18 percent, from $33 million to $39 million. As a percentage of our total grant-making, our foundation’s giving to local causes grew sharply from 47 percent in 2006 to 60 percent in 2013, underscoring our donors’ commitment to Los Angeles causes.

How has this happened? First, the focus at The Foundation is on planned giving via donor-advised funds, endowments and family-support organizations (i.e., family foundations within our foundation). As the study noted, giving was highest — about 65 percent — among households that have estate plans in place; this is true for the vast majority of our donors. Our strong, committed donor base is fortunate enough to have a greater ability to give than the broader population. In addition, most were better able to withstand the economic downturn.  

Without being able to point to empirical evidence, it is also my belief that we are blessed with donors who give generously out of a passion for philanthropy and a deep commitment to tikkun olam — repairing the world. This is not meant as a boast, but is an attempt to highlight what sets apart the most generous. I will revisit this point below in suggesting actionable recommendations for the future.

Regrettably, for each donor with an ability to give, there is a vastly larger number of individuals who simply do not have the means. As political strategist James Carville once said about elections, “It’s the economy, stupid.” The broader downturn in charitable giving is, sadly, a reflection of the sluggish economies of the city and county of Los Angeles. Our region’s population has grown by 1 million over the past 30 years, but the number of jobs has declined by 165,000, according to the Los Angeles 2020 Commission. A study by the AFL-CIO says that for three out of four full-time workers, real wages (adjusted for inflation) are lower than they were 30 years ago. Wage erosion is greatest among those who need it most: those in the bottom half of the salary scale. Among the working poor — the bottom quarter of earners — pay fell by 26 percent over roughly the same 30-year period. What this means is that the nonprofit and social-services safety net that is experiencing lower donation levels is being strained by a larger number of our neighbors who are no longer able to sustain themselves.

Another important change occurred in the Los Angeles regional economy during the period studied in “The Generosity Gap” report. Our region experienced a further exodus of corporate headquarters. Departing with them were numerous managerial-level, white-collar, middle- to upper-middle-income jobs. Based on my experience working with donors in this category, I suspect that a significant portion of the $1.1 billion decline in charitable giving is a direct result of these corporate relocations. In fact, I would venture to guess that in fast-growing corporate headquarters regions such as Dallas-Fort Worth over these years, we would see a trend in giving the reverse of what we have experienced in Los Angeles.

It is also important to note that the beginning and end points of the study represent very different times in our economy, and this in all likelihood skewed the findings. In 2006, we were experiencing robust economic growth, soaring local real estate values and strong consumer confidence. By contrast, in 2013, the region was still struggling from the effects of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression. The study focuses on two years that hardly qualify as an “apples-to-apples” comparison.

A struggling regional economy … stagnant wage growth … the loss of corporate headquarters … does all this mean the outlook for giving is bleak?

Not necessarily. The economy of the Los Angeles region is undergoing a fundamental and positive transformation. Our growth engines include a large and fast-growing crop of startups, especially information-age and digital sector enterprises. Many of these companies are staffed by members of the millennial (or Gen Y) generation — those born after 1980, who account for more than a third of the working-age population. On the cusp of raising families, and likely to be burdened by student loans and other obligations, millennials understandably do not yet give high priority to charitable giving. Yet their willingness to donate their time and money to causes that capture their interest — such as the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge” phenomenon that swept social media — suggests that they are likely to be as charitable as any prior generation when their circumstances improve.  

Do the findings of “The Generosity Gap” mean the challenges to charitable giving in Los Angeles are greater than ever before? The report certainly deserves our attention. But we must also consider the countervailing trends, not the least of which are the powerful information-age resources that enable us to create virtual communities that can connect disparate segments of our population in new and meaningful ways. 

Working together, among the ways we can surmount these challenges are the following:

Invest in impact philanthropy programs that can reach large numbers of stakeholders. An example is Moishe House, an emerging community model for engaging millennial Jews that subsidizes housing in exchange for creative programming in communal living spaces. Its effective programs, national growth and sheer energy have been powerful drivers of its success. While Moishe House focuses on Jewish engagement, it is representative of the significance of impact, which can apply to almost any nonprofit category — from arts and culture to human need.

Engage the next generation in charitable giving that addresses their interests.  Causes that will appeal to millennials, the next wave of givers, might be fundamentally different than those that attracted their parents. The types of organizations are likely to be more grass-roots and localized, and they are likely to want to receive information via social and digital media, not glossy mailings. To earn their support, charities will have to understand, honor and respond to the preferences of this new generation.

Become charitable-giving role models for your children and grandchildren.  Dorothy and Osias Goren have for decades been pillars of Los Angeles Jewish and general-community causes. They knew instinctively that their charitable passions would not necessarily be the same as those of their children or grandchildren. Now in their 90s, they created charitable funds at The Foundation for each of their three children and 10 grandchildren, with the simple goal of sparking a passion for giving among their progeny — at which they have succeeded admirably.

Extend and leverage limited resources through collaborative funding. The often-overused word “synergy” is certainly apt here. Individuals, institutional and corporate funders and nonprofit institutions need to coordinate their giving programs, seeking to identify opportunities for high-potential programs, address pockets of need and, when necessary, respond to episodes of crisis.

Poverty, job and income stagnation, homelessness and other societal problems create real headwinds for the entire Los Angeles region. Nonetheless, I have a fundamental confidence in our community’s future, and particularly the outlook for Jewish Los Angeles, based on our unwavering belief in tikkun olam. We should regard “The Generosity Gap” as an opportunity to provoke fresh thinking and constructive dialogue, and then bind together to surmount the challenges that inevitably lie ahead.

Marvin I. Schotland is president and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, which manages more than $1 billion in charitable assets for local Jewish philanthropists, and in 2015 distributed $96 million in grants locally, nationally and in Israel.

Humans of New York showcases the adorable way a Jewish journalist teaches his sons about charity


Steven I. Weiss has been praised for his work as a reporter and now as the director of original programming and new media at The Jewish Channel, a national cable outlet focused on Jewish news and culture.

But it’s safe to say he has never had this many likes on Facebook.

Weiss and his two young boys appeared on Father’s Day this past Sunday in a post on the wildly popularHumans of New York Facebook page — which provides glimpses into the interesting lives of everyday New Yorkers. Its posts routinely garner hundreds of thousands of likes.

 

In the post, one of Weiss’ sons explains the system his dad has created to teach him about the importance of charity and managing money. He gets one dollar of allowance from his parents each week, and he has to choose a “section” to put it under: spend, save, donate or invest. If he chooses to “invest” the allowance, his parents give him two extra pennies for each dollar at the end of the month (mimicking a small-scale return on investment). But he tends to put his money in the “donate” section.

“I have way over $10 in my ‘invest section.’ I used to have more but I took some money out and put it in my ‘donate section.’ We used to it to buy food for people who don’t have much money in their ‘spend section,’” Weiss’ unnamed son says in the post.

By Tuesday afternoon the post had received almost 800,000 likes. “Way to teach his kids both how to be economic and compassionate at the same time,” wrote one of the more than 21,000 people who left comments.  “A lot of adults today seem to have missed out on that lesson.”

The post contains an important message that resonates far beyond Father’s Day. Read it in full here.

Study cites decline in area philanthropic giving


A study released on June 3 by UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs and funded by the California Community Foundation showed that annual philanthropic giving by Los Angeles residents in 2013 had decreased by a whopping $1 billion from 2006.

Religious congregations can take some solace, however: “The Generosity Gap: Donating Less in Post-Recession Los Angeles County” also shows that they get the highest proportion of locally focused donations.

Co-authored by J. Shawn Landres, co-founder of Jumpstart and a Civil Society Fellow at Luskin, and Shakari Byerly of Evitarus, a strategic advisory and public opinion research firm, the study highlights the gap between household giving to local charities and the need of charitable organizations. It states that “historical patterns of local generosity may be shifting to a new, lower norm, across all household income levels. The gap is widening between what donors are giving and what the region needs the charitable sector to deliver.”

Surveying 1,200 Los Angeles residents — 12 percent of whom identified themselves as Jews — and using data from the Internal Revenue Service, the study found that even as the number of charitable organizations increased within the county, the amount of money coming into the charitable sector has gone down. 

In 2006, tax-deducted contributions amounted to $7.16 billion, but in 2013, that amount had dropped to $6.03 billion, according to the study.

There are a number of possible reasons for the drop in giving rates. They include financial stress (even for high-income families) in recent years, donors not knowing how to give and a shift in values that define donor behavior, according to Bill Parent, who was the project director on the study. 

Donors want to see where their dollars are going and the results of their contributions. At Jewish Vocational Services Los Angeles, donors like to see specific projects and funding needs that they can contribute to, according to Randy Lapin, the chief philanthropy officer. He said the organization has not seen a dramatic drop in its funding.

Where Jewish donors are more likely to donate — compared with other donors — is to combined-purpose organizations, health causes, and to arts-and-culture-related causes, Landres told the Journal. (These contributions are not necessarily made to Jewish organizations, though, he added.) 

The study, which was unveiled at UCLA’s Center for Nonprofit Management’s annual 501(c)onference, showed that religious congregations receive donations from 60 percent of those who give. These nonprofits receive the highest proportion of locally focused giving in Los Angeles.

That’s certainly been noticed at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, which in the past decade has seen an increase in both the number of donors and in the dollar amount contributed by donors, according to Don Levy, the synagogue’s director of marketing and communications. That, in part, has been because of some new programming and the expansion and renovation of the campus.

Other findings of the study include:

• Forty-three percent of donors rated ending homelessness as their top priority. However, donor behavior does not match the stated intention. 

• Of the donors within the county who gave to at least one cause, 65 percent of them had a will or an estate plan. 

• Household income and age are higher indicators of charitable giving rather than gender, ethno-racial background or sexual identity.

• Two strong motivating factors for donating locally were a desire to impact a cause and a desire to help better the world. 

Donna Bojarsky, founder and president of Future of Cities: Leading in LA, who was present when the study was unveiled, said the Jewish community’s priorities are changing. It used to be that memorializing the Holocaust, building up Israel and combating anti-Semitism defined Jewish giving, but that has changed over the past decade or so; younger people have different causes they care about, she said. 

At the Max Factor Family Foundation, for example, donations are still made to traditional causes that were laid out 40 to 50 years ago, like health and education. David Factor, a trustee of the private foundation, said that in the past four years, however, donations to environmental causes have also been included “because that’s where one of the interests of this generation lies.” 

Near the end of “The Generosity Gap,” the authors offer some advice as nonprofits move forward in an era of increased challenges:

“Given the variety and motivations donors report, it may not be enough simply to raise the profile and appeal of charitable giving in and of itself; rather, it may be necessary to make explicit the connections between donors and change they can see for themselves in their home communities.” 

Super Bowl 50: Denver, Charlotte rabbis each wager theirs is the chosen team


When the Denver Broncos face the Carolina Panthers in Sunday’s Super Bowl 50, only one team will emerge victorious. But two rabbis are giving the nation’s most-watched sporting event a win-win outcome.

Rabbi Judith Schindler of Temple Beth El in Charlotte and Rabbi Joe Black of Temple Emanuel in Denver have devised a wager that will see both their Reform communities donate to charity, ReformJudaism.org reported. Two-thirds of the money raised in a joint online fundraiser for the bet will go to a charity chosen by the synagogue in the winning city. The other third will go to the losing city.

If the Panthers win, the larger share will go to the Shalom Park Freedom School in Charlotte, which offers summer programs to low-income children. If the Broncos win, the larger share will go to Denver’s Jewish Family Service, which provides meals to families in need. As of Wednesday afternoon, the synagogues had raised more than $4,100.

Schindler makes a convincing case in a promotional video that the Panthers are God’s team. The team’s star quarterback Cam Newton recently named his son Chosen — bringing to mind the phrase the “chosen people,” she says. And Newton said at a press conference on Monday that his 1-month-old baby is already walking, which as Schindler notes, strongly suggests the child has superhuman powers.

Furthermore, Schindler says, if the Panthers win the Super Bowl, their overall record (including the regular and postseason) will be 18-1. Of course, 18 means life and good luck in the Jewish tradition (since the values of the two letters of the word “chai,” or “life” in Hebrew, add up to 18).

What Schindler doesn’t mention is that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s wear the number 18 on his jersey.

So which team is really chosen? We’ll find out Sunday. Either way, though, Jews in need will have something to celebrate.

 

Local nonprofits score big with ‘Most giving Super Bowl ever’


Long before the opening kickoff at this Sunday’s Super Bowl in San Francisco, Daniel Lurie has been quarterbacking his own big game: a Super Bowl of giving.

Lurie, 39, is chair of the host committee for Super Bowl 50. Host committees pay for all of the swanky private parties and public events, such as the fan village at San Francisco’s Embarcadero, but traditionally they also raise money for charity — big money.

After the NFL awarded the Bay Area rights to host the golden anniversary of America’s biggest sporting event, Lurie and his committee decided they would try to make this the most philanthropic Super Bowl ever.

To read the rest of this story, please visit j.Weekly

JVS scholarships encourage college students to give back


Max Goldstein was 15 years old when he hopped on a plane to Caracas, Venezuela, to spend his sophomore year of high school as an exchange student. He had never left the country before, nor had he been away from home for an extended period of time. 

While he was growing up, Goldstein’s family went bankrupt and lost their house. He looked forward to escaping the financial instability at home and having new experiences by going abroad. His host mother in Venezuela was a doctor, which inspired him to pursue a medical degree at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. 

Now 29, Goldstein told his story to an audience of more than 200 people at the Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles (JVS) Scholarship Awards ceremony on July 17 at Sinai Temple in Westwood. 

The JVS scholarship program, founded in 1972, provides financial aid to Jewish college and university students who have lived in Los Angeles County for at least three years. Students must demonstrate a strong financial need to qualify for the program. Each year, the awards ceremony celebrates current students and donors.  

Goldstein, a second-year recipient, was one of 10 students who received a $10,000 scholarship for the upcoming academic year — the first time that individual awards have exceeded $5,000. During the past academic year, he received approximately $4,000. 

“It’s so important because if you look at any records anywhere, you’ll see what the student loan debt is these days,” JVS scholarship program manager Patricia Sills said. 

According to The Institute for College Access and Success Project on Student Debt, the average student in the U.S. graduates with approximately $26,000 in debt. The total student loan amount is more than $1 trillion.

The JVS program has been awarding aid every year since its inception. For the upcoming academic year, 2014-15, 169 recipients received awards (96 of which were renewals) ranging from $2,000 to $10,000, totaling $582,000. A record number of 435 students applied for aid, as compared to 394 in 2013. 

“It’s a really amazing way for people to give back to students who are in a time of need,” Goldstein said. “When you’re going to school with loans, it’s kind of a little boost from the organization. … It makes you feel really committed to giving back.” 

To date, the program has awarded more than $6.5 million through 4,000 scholarships. The money comes from donors, including individuals, family foundations and Jewish organizations, and from fundraising events throughout the year.

“The longitudinality of the scholarship makes me feel a part of a community, and I think that’s very unique to JVS,” Goldstein said.

Fellow award recipient and event alumni speaker Julia Greenberg shares Goldstein’s enthusiasm for JVS. She spoke of her family’s struggles in the United States after they emigrated from Russia when she was 9. 

Julia Greenberg  Photos by Karina Pires

Greenberg received JVS scholarships throughout her four years as an undergraduate at Stanford University. She recently completed an MBA in marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and will soon begin a job utilizing her degree at Toyota. 

During her speech, Greenberg, like Goldstein, both lauded and thanked JVS. 

“It’s amazing that there are people out there [who] really believe that education is a great equalizer that gives people, who come from backgrounds where they don’t necessarily have the opportunity to go to school, the chance to pursue [their] goals and to become educated … [and] as a result of that, be able to give back to the organization and continue to invest in the future of our community,” Greenberg said. “It’s very empowering and really beautiful.” 

Greenberg has received approximately $20,000 from JVS over the course of her education, the majority of which was provided through the Simms/Mann Family Scholarship Fund.

Donors in attendance included Susan and Fred Kunik, Maxine and Gene Froelich, and Joyce and Larry Powell. The donors are enthusiastic about the work of the organization and about the students they support. 

“There are a lot of charities, and they’re all good, but this really goes to the core of people’s lives,” said Fred Kunik, a donor and JVS board and scholarship committee member who became involved four years ago through a friend. “And the fact is that everybody needs a job, and that’s the mission of JVS. … What’s better,” he said, than “to help someone get a job [through] an education?”

Giving your leftovers to charity


Anybody who has grown up in a Jewish home and attended key family functions, from bar mitzvahs to weddings, knows that the food served during celebration is the life of the party.  

It’s comforting to know, though, that meals created to celebrate life also can help sustain it for others in need. When the leftovers pile up afterward, there are numerous area organizations serving women, children, veterans and others that might benefit from the extra delectables. 

Finding the right destination for your nourishing gift may sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Some organizations make it their job to rescue leftover food and efficiently get it to people and other agencies. Food Finders (” target=”_blank”>lafoodbank.org) are among several outfits serving greater Los Angeles.

“Almost every large event has food left over, and if hosts or party planners let us know ahead of time, we or a representative from one of the agencies we serve can pick it up,” said Diana Lara, vice president of operations for Food Finders. 

 “Since our establishment 25 years ago, we have ‘rescued’ over 108 million pounds of food. This is roughly enough for about 40,000 meals per day. We are non-denominational and give to any of our 270 partner agencies (i.e. missions, shelters, charities, churches or synagogues) with a valid 501(c)3 nonprofit status.”

The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank has been involved in collecting packaged food since its inception in 1973, but public interest in donating sealed, untouched leftover food led to the launch of the Extra Helpings program in 1998, according to Susan Acker, a communications associate for the food bank. Now, when a party host, planner or caterer contacts a coordinator at Extra Helpings (323-234-3030), the coordinator tries to locate the closest agency open to receiving the leftover food.

“Donors should bear in mind that we serve all of Los Angeles County, which includes 670 partner agencies,” Acker explained. “One million people are served every year, and 400,000 of those people are children. Another staggering statistic is that one in every six L.A. residents is hungry.

 “Donors, meanwhile, should also be mindful that many who benefit are working people with families who have jobs but still can’t make ends meet. In 2013 alone, Extra Helpings distributed nearly 5.3 million pounds of prepared and perishable food from caterers, restaurants, groceries and private parties with extra food.”

Making preparations in advance is important. Acker said there is not an Extra Helpings coordinator on hand 24 hours a day, and it is not always possible for them to respond to prospective donors immediately after an event. Instead, reach out once you’ve made the decision on where your event will be held and what foods will most likely be leftovers.  

Check on the policies of your venue as well to see if the hotel, caterer, restaurant banquet hall or other entity allows the donation of leftover food. Some prefer to give remainders to their staff.

Other practical tips: Package the leftovers thoroughly (or be sure the restaurants or caterers can do it), keep the packages properly refrigerated until someone arrives to pick them up, and let coordinators know the time and place of your event so they can time the pickup to take place immediately after it ends. 

Kosher food and other specialty items are welcome, Acker said, as long as the prospective recipient tells the coordinator and donor the food will be accepted.

“One of our main focuses here is that the food we distribute is nutritious. What foods individual agencies are willing to accept is at their discretion, as they can opt out if they feel a specific item on the event menu is not appropriate for their clients,” she said. 

“There is a law, the [Bill Emerson] Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (1996), that protects the donors from civil and criminal liability should the product donated in good faith later cause harm to the recipient,” she added.

Leaving Los Angeles for your big event and headed to Israel instead? Leket Israel, the country’s food bank, organizes food rescues to help to the nation’s needy. For more information, call American Friends of Leket Israel at (201) 331-0070.

For some people, this one act following a simcha becomes a gateway to a more long-term commitment. Lara can remember several bar and bat mitzvah teens who committed to a post-event donation and then decided to make the cause of fighting hunger the foundation of a mitzvah project. Others continue to contribute as regular volunteers with the organization into their high school and college years.

“When [one volunteer’s] daughter got bat mitzvahed, she went beyond donating her leftovers, volunteering regularly and earning service hours at her high school. She’s been very committed to our organization,” Lara said. 

“Another young lady last year organized a large food drive as her mitzvah project covering several communities, in addition to donating leftovers. It was such a success that her younger brother is now volunteering and working with us for his mitzvah project.” 

Four New Yorkers charged with pocketing aid for Israel


New York state’s attorney general accused four New Yorkers of pocketing more than $2.5 million in donations for charitable projects in Israel.

The New York Times on Friday named four defendants from Brooklyn: Yaakov Weingarten, 52, and his wife Rivka, 52; and two of his employees: Simon Weiss, 28, and David Yifat, 66.

Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general, said the four “brazenly abused the generosity of the public” by using more than $2.5 million raised in donations for personal expenses from 2007 to 2013.

A lawsuit was filed Thursday against the defendants in the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, the Times reported. Weingarten’s lawyer, Sheldon Eisenberger, did not respond to a message left by the Times with his receptionist.

According to the lawsuit, the defendants collected money for 19 charities they were running. The charities had buzzwords in their names intended to appeal to Jews eager to help Israel, the Times reported.

Only a small amount of the donated money actually wound up in Israel, the Times reported. The defendants bounced at least 2,100 checks and wasted $65,000 of charitable donations in overdraft fees, Schneiderman charged. The lawsuit asked the court to close some charities managed by the defendants; it did not immediately address the issue of repayment.

Schneiderman said the defendants spent the money on home mortgages, the remodeling of a second home, car loans, dentist visits, video rentals and a trip to the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City, among other expenses.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of “preying on a vulnerable public’s charitable instincts, and in particular the charitable impulses that many persons of the Jewish faith have for Israel.”

Among the organizations named in the lawsuit are Bnei Torah, Magen Israel and the Israel Leukemia and Cancer Society. Only two of the 19 entities were even registered in Israel, Schneiderman said. The solicitations also used “doctored photographs” of workers and equipment belonging to actual Israeli emergency organizations, the complaint said.

Schneiderman’s office would not say whether criminal charges were also forthcoming.

B’nai B’rith rejects listing among insolvent charities


B’nai B’rith International rejected as inaccurate its topping a well-known charity watchdog’s list of “charities in deep financial trouble.”

“B’nai B’rith International does not have $13 million negative capital and we are not in financial trouble,” the group said on Charity Navigator’s Web site. “The numbers Charity Navigator used to place B’nai B’rith on its ‘10 Charities in Deep Financial Trouble’ list were a year old.”  

It appears from the most recent of the organization’s International Revenue Service 990 forms posted on the B’nai B’rith Web site that Charity Navigator was working from 2010 figures, when B’nai B’rith recorded $13.5 million in negative capital.

The most recent form, for 2011, shows B’nai B’rith $154,145 in the black. The 2011 return also shows that donations to the organization spiked from $8.7 million in 2010 to $12.2 million last year.  

The B’nai B’rith statement cites the U.S. government’s takeover in September of B’nai B’rith International’s pension plan as a factor in the group’s improved fiscal outlook, noting that the decision to turn to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. was a difficult one.

“The request was made for a greater good — to continue the good works we do, and to ensure former employees and current pension-eligible employees will have their pensions when they need them,” the statement said.

B’nai B’rith’s listing as the most insolvent of 10 charities was part of a Top 10 issue of Charity Navigator marking its 10th anniversary for December, when charitable giving tends to spike.

The gift of life insurance


Todd Gindy, a certified financial planner, likes to tell a story about Johnny Carson to illustrate how nonprofits miss a big opportunity when they don’t suggest donors use life insurance policies as a vehicle for charitable giving. 

For years, the longtime host of “The Tonight Show” gave $1 million every year to Children of the Night, an organization founded by Dr. Lois Lee to rescue child victims of sex trafficking. 

But, remembers Gindy, who works for the Encino office of Northwestern Mutual, when Carson died in 2005, the donation stopped. 

“Carson certainly had the wherewithal to be able to endow that gift, and it wouldn’t have taken any meaningful amount away from his heirs,” Gindy said. 

Endowing a perpetual gift of $1 million isn’t something most people can do. Indeed, even making a onetime donation of that size is well out of reach for all but the wealthiest philanthropists. But most people don’t realize that they can name a nonprofit as the beneficiary of a life-insurance policy, and, depending on a potential donor’s age, health and how much they can pay in, their payment to the policy amounts to a tax-deductible annual donation that might cost the donor a few thousand dollars each year for 10 or 20 years, yet add up to approximately the million-dollar level when the policy matures. 

Gifting an insurance policy to a nonprofit can help donors get a bigger financial bang for their charitable bucks, although professionals involved in charitable organizations, as well as those who advise both donors and nonprofits, say that people aren’t taking advantage of the tactic very often. 

“Over the last few years, there has not been a lot of gifting of insurance policies,” said Robert Evans, founder and managing director of The EHL Consulting Group, a global nonprofit consulting firm with a mostly Jewish nonprofit client base. “It has just generally not been something that nonprofits — Jewish or not — have been talking very much about.” 

In 2011, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles promoted life-insurance gifting as a way for donors to give to the Centennial Endowment fund, but, according to Marla Abraham, senior vice president for endowment planning and premier philanthropy at Federation, only “one or two donors out of 37” actually gave life insurance as a gift, and Federation has received fewer than 10 such gifts in the last five years. 

For younger donors, Abraham said, “The payments are ridiculously low to do something. The hard part is making that commitment at a young age.”

Other nonprofits have been more effective in promoting life insurance as a gifting vehicle, including the Jewish Community Foundation (JCF) of Los Angeles, which has been encouraging some of its donors — particularly younger women who already donate $5,000 or more every year — to endow their gifts by purchasing low-cost designated life insurance policies while continuing their annual donations.

For donors who give at this level — JCF calls it “Lion of Judah” — creating an endowment that would perpetuate a gift of $5,000 would require a $100,000 lump-sum donation. But, depending on the donor’s age, a life-insurance policy that at maturity yields $100,000 could be purchased for far less than that sum. 

“I met with somebody last year in her young 30s who took out a substantial life insurance policy,” said Elliot Kristal, vice president of charitable gift planning at JCF. The policy this young woman took out would ultimately pay out about $1 million upon her death. 

“It was very cheap for her to do that,” Kristal continued. “And while it’s going to be some time before the foundation realizes that donation, it’s a way of spending fewer dollars currently to be more impactful down the line.”

Because the immediate payout to an organization is nil and nonprofits must expect to wait years, even decades, to receive money from gifts of insurance, the tactic is primarily encouraged by larger, well-established organizations — although JCF can help donors to direct the proceeds of an insurance policy gifted to the foundation toward a smaller organization. 

JCF can afford to wait patiently for the larger payout — Kristal estimates that “several millions of dollars’ worth of insurance policies” have been gifted to JCF whose funds have not yet been disbursed because donors are still living — while many nonprofits need the cash more immediately. 

Gindy, who has served on the board of Federation for about eight years and is also a member of the board of BJE — Builders of Jewish Education — has seen this challenge firsthand. 

“Often, organizations need money today; they’re not willing to wait until a person dies,” Gindy said. “There’s this push and pull that goes on within all of our charitable organizations, that they both want an endowment for the future, but they’re also unwilling to forgo the dollars today.”

Another hesitation, Gindy said, stems from the involvement of insurance salesmen in the process. 

“Insurance is sold,” he said. “So even when somebody’s intentions are good, if the idea is brought to them by anybody who happens to be deemed a salesman, it’s always met with initial hesitation.” Gindy said he has been selling insurance for 22 years, and he believes that “if it weren’t called insurance, everybody in the world would be doing it, because what it does tends to make a lot of sense.”

If the shoe fits


Kayla Tinucci would never want to walk a mile in the shoes of the disadvantaged children she has vowed to help.

“Their feet would be squeezing into shoes that were way too small for them,” she said. “I would pull off the shoes of one boy to measure his feet, and his toes uncurled because they had been in shoes that were too small.”

That’s exactly why Tinucci, 16, founded the Shoe Crew in June with her brother Justin. The small group of about 15 youthful volunteers has devoted itself to collecting new athletic footwear for area kids who can’t afford them. So far, they’ve amassed more than 3,100 pairs, earning them a national feature in the weekly classroom newsmagazine TIME for Kids.

Shoe recipients have included kids at A Place Called Home (a South Los Angeles safe haven for underserved children) and those affected by Hurricane Sandy. (They sent more than 200 pairs of shoes to New York on a truck full of supplies deployed by actress Kirstie Alley, and there are plans to send more.) 

Next up is a Dec. 8 event at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, where the group will distribute shoes to children from Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times.

Tinucci said she got the idea after collecting items for a project operating out of A Place Called Home that outfits disadvantaged youths with free clothes for prom. The same organization had a back-to-school event, and it wasn’t long before she was off and running with her own effort to help provide shoes for it.

Free shoes may sound like a little thing, but it’s not to the person receiving them. The Santa Clarita teen recalls one event when a line of children wearing patched-up and ill-fitting shoes stretched around the block four hours ahead of time. 

“Sometimes they come hobbling in. When they leave, they’re jumping and skipping, because they can finally walk and they’re comfortable in their shoes,” she said.

Part of what makes the experience so worthwhile for Shoe Crew members is seeing the impact of their work firsthand.

“I really loved the fact that you can actually go deliver the shoes,” said Jessica Keegan, 17. “You actually get to see who you’re helping.”

The experience has been eye opening and humbling for her.

“When I outgrow a pair of shoes, my mom gives me a new pair of shoes that fit. These kids are wearing shoes that they’ve outgrown, that have been patched up, that have been passed down,” said Keegan, who splits her time between living in Toluca Lake and San Rafael, Calif., where she and her sister Olivia are starting their own chapter of the group.

“Every time I go out to the store … every time I ask my mom to get me something new, you look at it in a different way,” Jessica Keegan said. “It’s made me look at my life and see how fortunate I am.”

Olivia Keegan, 13, said she can still see the faces of the children they helped at an event in Long Beach for homeless children.

From left: Jessica Keegan, 17, and sister Olivia Keegan, 13, at a preschool for homeless children in October.

“It really touched my heart. Their faces just lit up,” she said. “This one little girl, she was so sweet. She seemed just to take everything and be so thankful for it. Then I realized that I sometimes take all these things for granted: my shoes, my clothes.”

It got better.

“Her mom afterward came
up to me and said, ‘Thanks so much,’ ” Olivia Keegan said. “I just realized how good it felt to do something good and give back.”

The Shoe Crew is a local chapter of the national organization Shoes That Fit and seeks donations through a variety of means. The public can contribute financially online at theshoecrew-org.webs.com or bring new children’s shoes of any size to one of the group’s events, for which the entrance fee is generally a pair of shoes. 

The volunteers have found corporate help as well. Vlado Footwear matched the first 1,150 pairs of shoes that were donated, and Sky High Sports trampoline park in Costa Mesa offered patrons an hour’s admission in exchange for one pair of shoes.

There’s celebrity support, too, with involvement from young television actors Dylan Riley Snyder of “Kickin’ It” and Allisyn Arm of “So Random!”

It’s hard to argue with the results. In addition to the thousands of shoes it has collected, the Shoe Crew has raised more than $15,000 that will be used to purchase more footwear.

For now, the Show Crew remains small — mostly a collection of the Tinuccis, their friends and industry acquaintances. (Justin Tinucci is an actor.) But they have plans for expansion. Starting with socks.

“We are moving to expand to other articles of clothing,” Kayla Tinucci said. “There’s a huge need. Lots of [the kids] wear shoes with no socks, and we want to help them.”

DIY philanthropy


Six months ago, when Michal Taviv-Margolese started working as the Western Regional director for AMIT, a nonprofit operator of 108 schools in Israel, she started thinking more seriously about charity.

“For the first time, I was involved in a charitable organization and in doing fundraising, and I began thinking a lot more about giving and the requirements of the mitzvah,” she said.

As an observant Jew, Taviv-Margolese, 34, knew she should be giving 10 percent of her income to charity, but she had never really held herself to it. For starters, she never bothered to track what 10 percent of her income would amount to, in dispensable dollars. And even though she had always held salary-paying jobs — including as the former executive director of JConnectLA, the Jewish networking group for young singles — she never considered herself rich. “Philanthropist” seemed out of the question.

“I felt like I would give a little charity here, a little bit there, but I knew I wasn’t giving the requirement,” she said.

So late last summer, Taviv-Margolese decided that the best way to ensure the fulfillment of the mitzvah would be to create a tzedakah fund. 

She began by opening a separate account at her bank that was linked to her checking account and into which she could automatically transfer 10 percent of each paycheck. As a salaried employee, she could easily designate the exact amount for each bimonthly transfer. She nicknamed the account: “Tzedakah.”

“Now, whenever I want to give to charity, I can go and see how much I have in that fund and transfer from my tzedakah fund back into my checking account to pay for it.”

The tzedakah fund serves as a kind of charity holding cell; save now, give later.

“The main thing that’s so interesting about it is how quickly that money builds up,” Taviv-Margolese said. “Before this, I was never really clear on how much I had to give. Now I feel much more generous. Anytime anybody asks me for anything, I can say, ‘Yeah I can give a little bit.’ Actually, I can’t give it out as fast as it’s accumulating.”

After she makes her bimonthly transfers, “I don’t count it as my money anymore,” she said.

Since Taviv-Margolese opened her tzedakah fund in August, she has been able to contribute to a wide variety of organizations, including the Etta Israel Center; Chabad Center of the Five Towns’ Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund; Darche Noam, the yeshiva where she and her husband studied in Israel; the Chai Center; Friendship Circle; Maayon Yisroel on La Brea, the Chasidic center where she attends classes; and Meir Panim, the hunger relief organization based in Israel. She said she has given in increments ranging from chai, $18, to $660, and added that she is currently saving so she can join AMIT’s Chai Society, the organization’s second-highest giving level, which requires an annual contribution of $1,800.

“In my life I had never considered the potential of being a big donor in an organization,” she said, practically gushing with excitement. “I always considered myself not capable of that kind of giving, but now that I have the fund and money is increasing, it’s made me feel wealthier.”

One of the pleasures she derives from having the fund is cataloguing her giving. And the way Taviv-Margolese describes her process almost makes it sound like an addiction: “Every time I make a transfer, I write what it’s for, and it’s so nice to see all these little causes. I wonder, ‘What else can I give to?’ ”

Even though she sounds like a cheerleader on this topic, she admitted that giving didn’t always come naturally. “By nature I’m much more of a hoarder,” she confessed. But the tzedakah fund has helped to alter her perception of her own economic power and changed her overall relationship to money. 

“This has made me feel wealthier, more generous and more desirous to give,” she said. “I mean, yes, I worked hard for that money; but that money doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the world. And it’s my job to contribute to the world. Having a bank account just makes it much, much easier to facilitate the process and helps me feel I’m doing God’s will in this world.” 

Ohio charity removed from terrorist list


A now-defunct Muslim charity was removed from a U.S. government list of suspected terrorist organizations following a legal battle of more than four years.

KindHearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development Inc., reached a settlement with the Treasury Department on Tuesday that would delete the Ohio-based group from the list and allow it to distribute nearly $1 million in funds raised for humanitarian causes, the Toledo Blade reported. KindHearts must remain dissolved, though its leaders can form a new organization.

The Toledo-based charity, which officially disbanded in February, essentially was shut down by federal agents in 2006 when the government froze its assets because of accusations that it funneled charitable money to terrorist groups, including the Hamas-affiliated Holy Land Foundation and the al-Qaida-affiliated Global Relief Foundation.

KindHearts filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Toledo in 2008 that challenged its inclusion on the list and asked that its assets be unfrozen.

The money raised by the group was collected originally for earthquake relief for Pakistan. Now it will be used to purchase food, school supplies and medicine for the needy in Pakistan, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, a charity leader told the newspaper.

Jewish organizations host National Hunger Seder


Jewish organizations hosted a Seder for members of Congress to highlight the importance of fighting hunger in America.

The National Hunger Seder, which was sponsored by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and MAZON, was held Thursday in Washington to push for protecting and reinforcing funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The refunding of SNAP will be considered in the 2012 Farm Bill reauthorization by Congress.

Lawmakers that participated in the Seder included Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), John Lewis (D-Ga.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). U.S. Under Secretary of Agriculture Kevin Concannon was also in attendance.

In a press statement, the JCPA’s president, Rabbi Steve Gutow, said that “at a time of such startlingly high food insecurity, it is unconscionable to consider limiting access to a program like SNAP that not only keeps millions out of hunger and poverty, but does so with incredible efficiency and success.”

“Over the past four years, Hunger Seders have brought together not only Jews, but hunger advocates, faith and political leaders to build awareness and support for the tools available to end hunger in America,” Gutow stated.

MAZON’s president and CEO, Abby J. Leibman, stated that “while we know we cannot include 50 million Americans in our individual Seders, these words remind us that, as a society, we are responsible for them—a powerful and timely message as Congress considers the Farm Bill and the fate of our nutrition safety net.”

Best bet: Super Bowl winner donating long-shot’s payoff to charity


The Jewish owner of a real estate company in New York is donating his $50,000 winnings from a Super Bowl bet to charity.

Jona Rechnitz, 29, of New York, had wagered $1,000 on Super Sunday at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas that the New York Giants would score first—on a safety.

With the odds at 50 to 1, Rechnitz earned a $50,000 payout.

Rechnitz, who is Orthodox, told TMZ that he would donate $5,000 to a charity chosen by New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, who was penalized for intentional grounding in the end zone, causing the safety call. Rechnitz also will give $5,000 each to the charities of choice for four Giants’ defensive linemen involved in the play. He also said he wants to take Brady out for a falafel dinner.

Rechnitz, owner of the year-old JSR Capital after having worked for Africa Israel, said he will donate the rest of his after-tax earnings to other charities.

The California native was visiting his parents and decided to watch the Super Bowl in Las Vegas. The Giants defeated the Patriots, 21-17.

On the Money


What do you do when you run out of money? When you’re about to be evicted from your home, or having trouble feeding your kids, or simply can’t afford the basic necessities of life? What happens, also, when you can’t afford certain things you consider crucial — like sending your children to a Jewish day school?

And what if you don’t want to go through the formal hoops of organized charity to fill out a bunch of forms to see if you qualify for help?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve met some people who have taken on these issues in distinct and refreshing ways.

The first is Shlomo Rechnitz, a 40-year-old Orthodox businessman who lives in the La Brea/Fairfax area. For the past seven years, Rechnitz and his family have followed this simple model for helping those in need: You ask, they give.

No forms to fill out, no matching grants, no performance metrics. Just a check.

The scene unfolds every Saturday night, and you’d think you were in a Polish village in the 18th century. A line of people extends outside the Rechnitz house and leads right to a dining room where Shlomo Rechnitz, dressed in a white shirt, sits at the head of a long table, waiting for people to come.

Each person in need sits next to him for a few minutes of conversation, receives a check, says thank you and then goes home. Some might bring “evidence” of their despondency — like an eviction letter from a landlord — but they hardly need it. Everyone walks out with a check.

He sees about 100 people on an average Saturday night, and they are diverse: religious, secular, old, young, Sephardic, Chassidic, mothers, fathers, businessmen down on their luck, young people out of work, etc.

Rechnitz allowed me to play observer one recent Saturday night, because he wants to encourage other wealthy people to pitch in. He feels there is too much suffering in our community, and too much money out there that is not being used to help those in need.

I know what you’re thinking: This is not the best way to give charity. Rechnitz should be helping people “learn how to fish” rather than just handing out the fish; he should be checking their qualifications to make sure they really need the money; and he should be monitoring where his money is going.

Yes, he should be doing all those things, but then he wouldn’t be Shlomo Rechnitz. Many of these people have nowhere else to go, and they need immediate relief. That’s why he makes it so simple.

Rechnitz gives to many causes, including the school where he serves as president (Toras Emes Academy), but it’s the Saturday night ritual that makes him stand out. Obviously, he doesn’t expect every wealthy Jew to give this way, but, especially in this rough economy, he’d love to see them give more than they’re currently giving.

A week after witnessing the old-school approach of Rechnitz, I met three Jews who are fighting another community problem — the soaring costs of Jewish education — in a whole other way. Instead of offering financial aid, they have started a new school, Yeshiva High School, which reduces tuition costs dramatically through an innovative “blended learning” model of education.

The model combines online learning with traditional learning in a classroom setting, with a teacher/facilitator addressing the individual needs and pace of each student. It is a fully accredited college-prep program with national standards and a daily flow of data to monitor individual progress.

But here’s the upshot: Because the model is so cost-effective, instead of paying an annual tuition of $20,000 to $30,000, parents will pay $8,000 a year when the school opens next September.

The founders of the school, Rabbi Gabriel Elias and Rabbi Moises Benzaquen, and its director, longtime local educator Rebecca Coen, speak about the blended model as a “new paradigm” that will give them a sustainable model of Jewish education for years to come. Rabbi Benzaquen will lead the Jewish studies program, which will follow Orthodox tradition with an emphasis on Jewish values and interactive learning.

The new school has already created a buzz. I went to its open house last week — the school will be located at Congregation Mogen David on West Pico Boulevard — and the place was packed.

Will the school succeed? No one can say until we see results, but I can tell you this: There’s something very Jewish — and very brave — about trying all kinds of approaches in order to tackle chronic problems.

For those who need immediate relief, there is the refreshing hands-on approach of Rechnitz, who meets people face-to-face in his own dining room, feels their pain and never says no.

And for those desperate for a more affordable Jewish education, there is now an alternative school that uses new technology in a way our grandparents would never have dreamed possible.

Either way, this is what it means to be Jewish. We are restless, we feel others’ pain, we try to improve things any way we can, and we all want our kids to become the first Jewish Doctor-Mensch-President of the United States.

Whether we have money or not.

Web site matchmaker for charity


Big Sunday, the year-round volunteer organization, has launched BIGlist, an online charity service partnering nonprofits, individuals and the causes that need them the most. Dubbed a “non-profit matchmaking microsite,” it features all kinds of things that people in the Big Sunday community want to give away, as well as listing the  needs of Big Sunday’s nonprofit partners. 

Big Sunday, which originated as Mitzvah Day at Temple Israel of Hollywood, now organizes an annual service weekend that draws thousands of people to community service projects statewide. But it has also expanded to facilitate volunteer activities year-round.

Here’s how the BIGlist works: Individuals donate items ranging from books, jungle gyms, pianos, clothes and Thanksgiving turkeys, and nonprofits partnered with Big Sunday claim these items and give them to people in need. The nonprofits also can post their own needs. Items can only be claimed by nonprofit organizations; individuals can only donate.

Recently, the list of items people wished to give away included furniture, two pianos, Thanksgiving dinner at the Hard Rock and a very cute basset hound named Arlo (just to name a few). Stuff needed included non-perishables, including food, soap, bookshelves, and more.

To make donations, contact the thebiglist@bigsunday.org.

Stan Levy: The exact opposite of founder’s syndrome


Stan Levy, a lawyer with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, sat down with a journalist at the firm’s offices in West Los Angeles on a Monday afternoon earlier this month. At one point during the conversation, Levy threw out a few favorite quotations, one of which concerned the difference between the law and justice.

The quote came from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s 1962 book, “The Prophets.”

“ ‘An act of injustice is condemned not because the law is broken,’ ” Levy said, “ ‘but because a person has been hurt.’ ”

It’s the rare commercial litigator who quotes Heschel, and rarer still to find one who can say that the 20th century Jewish philosopher was one of his teachers.

But Levy, who turns 70 this month, is a special kind of lawyer, and not just because he’s also an ordained rabbi. Levy has had, by any accounting, a unique and remarkably productive career. As a lawyer, he helped found three public interest law firms in Los Angeles while maintaining a successful commercial practice. As a rabbi, Levy founded a congregation that is still going strong in its fifth decade, and a rabbinical and cantorial school that will celebrate its 10th anniversary this month.

Levy managed the careers of a handful of recording artists and managed to raise a family, too — and last month, this multifaceted man was honored at a black-tie dinner in New York City as one of the recipients of The American Lawyer magazine’s 2011 “Lifetime Achiever” award.

“To me, the real honor is having done the work,” Levy said, in a humble fashion that those who know him say is typical.

“He’s truly a renaissance person,” Mitchell Kamin said of Levy. Now a litigator in private practice, Kamin spent eight years leading the Jewish legal services agency Bet Tzedek, which Levy co-founded in 1974.

But Kamin, who grew up as a close childhood friend of Levy’s oldest son, said his first impression of Levy was as a “young lawyer and manager of rock and jazz musicians.”

“I used to hang out at his house, listen to great music, and he would take us to concerts,” Kamin said.

Years later, in 1994, Levy — the rabbi — married Kamin and his wife. But it was when Kamin was hired as Bet Tzedek’s executive director in 2003 that he truly saw the extent of Levy’s humility and openness to that which others have to contribute.

“There’s a condition known as ‘founder’s syndrome,’ ” Kamin said, referring to a tendency among those who establish organizations to hold onto control for too long and become resistant to change. “Stan was the exact opposite of that in every way.”

For evidence of Levy’s success as a founder, one need only look to the long line of successful organizations he’s left in his wake.

In addition to Bet Tzedek, Levy was involved in the founding of two other public-interest law firms, both of which are still operating. In 1968, Levy, who was just two years out of the law school at UCLA, joined the Western Center on Law and Poverty, a firm focused on class-action litigation. He later served as its second executive director, overseeing 54 attorneys.

Then, in 1970 — before his 30th birthday, for those keeping track — Levy helped launch another public interest firm, now known as the Public Counsel Law Center. As its founding executive director, Levy set up the organization’s structure, financing and mission, and today Public Counsel is the largest pro bono firm in the country, counting more than 32,000 low-income clients in 2010.

Wearing his rabbi hat — this past Sukkot, it was a large, multicolored, thick-gauged knitted kippah — Levy established B’nai Horin in 1968. The spiritually centered congregation, whose name translates as “Children of Freedom,” has never had a building nor has it been affiliated with a particular movement, yet is still going strong, drawing hundreds to its High Holy Days services and b’nai mitzvah, and a smaller but dedicated core group to its monthly Shabbat morning services.

Levy founded the congregation even before he had been ordained as a rabbi through the ALEPH — Alliance for Jewish Renewal rabbinical program. But his experience as a rabbi was so fulfilling, he figured he probably wasn’t the only professional who would jump at the chance to become one. So, in 2001, Levy co-founded the transdenominational Academy of Jewish Religion (AJR), California, which ordains rabbis, cantors and chaplains.

“He’s a can-do person, almost to the degree that you think he’s living in his imagination rather than reality,” Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, the president of AJR, said of Levy. “Ninety percent of the time, it does become true reality.”

“There are plenty of lawyers who are complete workaholics and are extremely dedicated to their clients,” said Robin Sparkman, editor-in-chief of The American Lawyer, explaining Levy’s selection as a “Lifetime Achiever.” “This award is actually broader than that. The recipients both have to be great lawyers and have to have done things for the general good in their careers, as well.”

In nine years, the magazine has given “Lifetime Achiever” awards to a U.S. senator, two secretaries of state and, this year, to former Vice President Walter Mondale.

Levy, Sparkman said, was an easy choice.

“He founded three public interest law firms,” she said. “He’s a rabbi. He’s a record executive. And he’s a great lawyer.”

Levy has worn enough hats to fill the shelves of a walk-in closet. His profile on the firm’s Web site mentions a four-year stint in the 1990s as general counsel for the Guess? clothing company, and his profile in the September issue of The American Lawyer notes his representation in the 1980s of uninsured depositors in a case against their failed bank, but in person Levy seemed more interested in talking about the public interest and pro bono cases he’s been involved with over the years.

While he was running Public Counsel, the firm helped break “an unwritten but absolute firm rule” that prohibited minorities from hosting shows on radio or television stations. “They could be guests, but they couldn’t be hosts,” Levy said. “We broke that color barrier in the media.”

It was his recent work with Bet Tzedek in creating the Holocaust Survivors Justice Network that drew national attention.

For about 10 months in 2008, Levy worked pro bono — and basically full time — with two staff lawyers at Bet Tzedek to create an international network of more than 5,000 attorneys and paralegals.

The goal was to help as many individual survivors as possible fill out a specific German government pension form. The project may sound bureaucratic and mundane, but behind the alphabet soup of German government acronyms and complex filing guidelines, the volunteers were helping survivors qualify for German government pensions, compensation for the so-called “voluntary work” they had performed during the Holocaust in ghettos under Nazi control.

Since the network was launched in May 2008, its impact has been impressive — and easily quantifiable. As of September 2011, it has helped 2,200 survivors around the world secure more than $11 million in reparation payments from the German government. Over the next five years, the total payout to survivors eligible for the pensions could end up being close to $200 million. In 2009, Levy accepted the American Bar Association Pro Bono Publico Award on behalf of the network.

That Levy was loaned by his firm to Bet Tzedek came, Levy said, as a complete surprise — and not just to him.

Kamin, who was executive director of Bet Tzedek at the time, had asked Manatt’s director of pro bono work, Cristin Zeisler, if the firm could spare someone to help Bet Tzedek launch the Holocaust Survivors Justice Network.

Kamin was expecting “a paralegal or a junior associate to help us get the program off the ground,” he said. “We were completely blown away when I got a call from Stan, saying, ‘I’m the guy.’ ”

“He was basically volunteering full time with the organization he founded on this new initiative, and was instrumental to its success,” Kamin said.  “That’s the kind of guy he is.”

Levy is also the kind of guy people turn to when they’re searching for words of wisdom.

“I had to preside over a service for a staff member who died,” said California State Assemblyman Mike Feuer, thinking back to something that happened while he was executive director of Bet Tzedek. “I wanted to find just the right words from Jewish tradition to invoke. I turned to Stan.”

Levy’s preferred primary sources extend far beyond traditional Jewish texts, though.

Ask him about his accomplishments, about his service to the community, and Levy will almost certainly downplay the importance of his qualifications — law degree, rabbinical ordination and prestigious national awards — and insist that all must serve, no matter their position in society.

During his conversation with The Journal, Levy relied on the words of a Christian pastor and of a prominent Muslim-American to make these twin points.

“You need to have a heart full of love and of compassion and of kindness, but anybody can serve,” said Levy, paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr. “You don’t need a Ph.D. to serve, you don’t need to make your subject and your predicate consistent, you just have to want to do something to try to help other people.”

For Levy, it is King who teaches that anybody can serve, and Muhammad Ali who teaches that everybody must.

“Muhammad Ali, after one of his championship fights — and this is in the mid-’70s — went to an old-age home in New York,” Levy said. “I’m pretty sure it was a Jewish old-age home, and he gave them a very large contribution. And someone asked him why, and his response was, “Service to others is the rent I pay for my room here on Earth.”

Levy has been urging those in the legal profession to serve others for his entire 46-year career. He makes the case that it’s the right thing to do, sure — but also reminds his colleagues that the experience is tremendously rewarding.

“For me, personally,” Levy said, “the feeling of bringing some meaning and purpose in my own life through service to others, and also having had a very successful commercial private practice career, has just felt wonderful.

“That sense of gratitude, for the opportunity to be of service, is everything in the world to me.”

Jewish fund calls for grant proposals


The Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund of Los Angeles (JVPF), in collaboration with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, is currently seeking grant proposals. Any local, national and Israel-based Jewish nonprofit can submit a request for funds.

Grant proposals are due by 5 p.m. March 7.

JVPF is a group of 25 business leaders who contribute $10,000 annually, and each has an equal vote on which organizations to fund. JVPF expects to issue grants totaling $250,000 this year.

In determining grant recipients, the organization looks for innovative groups whose efforts are needed by the Jewish community, are in a position to grow, have potential for a large impact and are sustainable, according to the JVPF Web site.

“It’s always helpful if there’s a specific L.A. impact,” said Scott Minkow, The Federation’s vice president of partnerships and innovation.

Since its founding in 2002, JVPF has distributed $1.2 million to Jewish organizations, such as Moishe House and jewcy.com.

For more information, visit jewishla.net/jvpf-la.

Chai Lifeline to send 12-year-old to the Super Bowl


Adam Wolf, a 12-year-old with cerebral palsy, was stunned when Randi Grossman, West Coast director of the Chai Lifeline, called to tell him that the organization would pay for him to go to the Super Bowl.

“He said, ‘Are you kidding me? This is amazing,’” Wolf’s mother, Ali Wolf, said.

“And then he said, ‘Mommy, I’m going to the Super Bowl.’”

Ali Wolf said that the news has bolstered her son’s spirits. Adam, who has never been to a football game before, is having surgery on his left hand in late-February and has missed a lot of school to go to doctor’s appointments.

“Adam has been going through a lot, and we knew this would be a trip of a lifetime for him,” Chai Lifeline’s Grossman said.

“We’d like to choose everyone, but obviously we’re limited with the number of tickets we get,” she added.

Adam is one of quadruplets in a family with seven children in Irvine and has attended Camp Simcha Special in New York the past two summers. The camp, designed for kids with chronic or genetic illnesses, is a program of Chai Lifeline, which provides a variety of services for seriously ill children.

He is going to the game with a counselor from Camp Simcha Special, Shlomo Platschek. Chai Lifeline, which received a donation from LH Financial Services to help pay for Adam’s trip, is covering Platschek’s costs too.

After Platschek, a 19-year-old from Far Rockaway, N.Y., and Adam met at camp, the two became close.

Platschek said that nowadays, he and Adam talk on the phone several times everyday.

“He’s like a little brother to me,” Platschek said.

The Super Bowl is Sunday, Feb. 6. Adam is rooting for the Green Bay Packers, who are playing the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ron Artest: Lord of the Ring


Heading east on the 10 at 6:40 in the a.m., the traffic had been pretty light.

KTLA Studios was my destination and I had wanted to be there by 7:00.  Before the NBA superstar got there.  I was pretty sure he was going to be late, but I had told the KTLA crew to let me know when Ron Artest showed up. “He’s already here,” they told me.  The guy actually had come early.

Ron had graciously accepted my invitation to appear on the morning news to raise money for a great charity, the Chabad Residential Treatment Center in Los Angeles.  “We’re gonna put the fun in fundraising,” I had told him.  ”All you have to do is make free throws.”

Ron had just signed with the Lakers, and after contacting him he had immediately agreed to help.  His job would be to make as many free-throws as he could in 60 seconds.  With each free-throw scored, L.A. businessman and philanthropist Shlomo Rechnitz would donate $1,000 to the CRTC.

At that point, we had about an hour to showtime, so we sat and talked about the importance of charity.  And, of course, I had to ask him about the Celtics and who he would guard in the finals. “We got a long way to go before that, but I got Pierce,” he told me with a smile.  (The Lakers went on to beat the Celtics and win the championship, with Artest having his best game in Game 7.  I like to think that morning mitzvah got the ball rolling.)

“What’s your favorite charity?” I asked Ron.  He told me he didn’t really have one.  So we talked about the Jewish idea behind charity.

I told him the word “charity” doesn’t exist in Hebrew.  The word is “tzedakah,” and it means justice or righteousness.  He really dug that: You aren’t being magnanimous.  You’re doing what’s right.

Since then, every time Ron scores a basket, makes a steal, blocks a shot, I get an extra thrill and my smile lasts longer.

*

Fast forward to last week: Ron does something that is absolutely astounding.  Jaw-dropping.  Inspiring.  And absolutely otherworldly.

When a celebrity steps up and uses his/her blessings for a good cause I salute them, I honor them. I cherish what they are doing. Angelina Jolie, Bono, Oprah score very high on the “off the top of your head, can-you-think-of-a-celeb-who-gives-back” test. Former NFL running back Warrick Dunn, or former Laker Jordan Farmar come to mind as well. Farmar may not have the billions that Oprah has but he has the same passion. These stars understand that their celebrity and fortune are tools for doing more good, spreading more light.

So here comes a guy named Ron Artest and does something that takes the world of celebrity, no, the entire world, by storm, making a statement the likes of which have never been heard: He goes ahead and auctions off his NBA CHAMPIONSHIP RING for charity.

Here’s a guy that has auctioned off the most important piece of jewelry in the NBA world. Ron said, “It’s just a ring, I can do more good by selling it for charity”.

The auctioning of his ring, which was won by Raymond Mikhael, raised over $650,000 for charity!

Ron deserves tremendous recognition. He deserves accolades.

But most importantly, I hope that his teammates, fellow NBA stars, celebrity friends, movie stars and everyone on our planet will learn a lesson from this incredible act of kindness.

Ron, I salute you and what you did.  You are an inspiration to millions of people. May you be blessed.

Chaim Marcus is the CEO of Marcus Advertising and producer of the annual Chabad Telethon. He also serves on the board of a number of Southern California charities. Mr. Marcus has worked closely with Larry King, Elliot Gould, Howie Mandel, Jordan Farmar, Jon Voight, and Lou Gosset Jr., raising millions of dollars for Southern California charities. He can be reached at chaim@marcusadvertising.com

The Real Madoff Scandal: Charitable Hoarding


Of all the shocks of the Bernie Madoff heist, perhaps none was more stunning than the list of victims. Among them were several Jewish foundations and many of our community’s most prominent nonprofits. The losses were staggering, and in some cases crippling.

Yet the real Madoff scandal isn’t the losses; it’s that our community was sitting on vast pools of accumulated wealth, much of it used to little effect. Madoff had his secrets to keep, but so, in fact, did many foundations and endowments. They had money to spend, and they didn’t spend it. Now it’s gone.

Everywhere in the Jewish community we hear of crises —in Jewish literacy and continuity, in a lack of social action and awareness, in a failure of the synagogue and the rabbinate and so on. Yet all this time, there were individual donors and philanthropy executives sitting on large pools of money that could theoretically have been used to help address many of our biggest concerns. As a community, we now live so much for perpetuity that we fail to deal with the present.

I used to think that the rise of Jewish endowments and foundations represented the pinnacle of our life here in America — financial success combined with organizational stability and careful foresight. Now, it appears, we are simply incompetent as a community, having so badly matched what we have with what we need. Either we refuse to deploy our assets to our needs, or our needs, as we define them, are in fact not that pressing. Either way, it is a stunning indictment.

Thanks to tax incentives that encourage their growth, philanthropic foundations have ballooned over the past decade. According to a report from New York’s Foundation Center, foundation assets doubled from $330 billion in 1997 to $669 billion only 10 years later. In their 2007 monograph, “A Study of Jewish Foundations,” Gary Tobin and Aryeh Weinberg note that Jewish foundations have experienced similarly rapid growth. (Full disclosure: Tobin has been a client of mine.)

Most foundations, however, do not spend the bulk of their money, instead storing it away, granting only a small portion to charities each year. “Most foundations with larger assets give away about 5 percent, the minimum required by federal law, which most foundations see as a ceiling, not a floor,” Tobin and Weinberg write.

Similarly, endowments, which also expanded with flush economic times, “rarely withdraw more than 5 percent or 6 percent of their assets per year,” as The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported.

True, endowments have their value. James Tisch, who has previously served as president of the UJA-Federation of New York, defends them strongly. “Endowments allow institutions to survive in bad years,” he told me. “Most organizations don’t have nearly enough after their annual campaigns to make it.”

I don’t disagree. There are many institutions that would close if not for their endowments, which most, thankfully, diversified.

But having an endowment of large enough size to do what Tisch describes is a double-edged sword. It does let you out of the annual campaign rat race. But it also removes your sense of urgency.

If Jewish donors were truly ambitious, they would demand philanthropic extinction. They would give money to organizations only if endowment funds were also put to work. They would launch foundations with a built-in ticking clock: Perform, or else. In short, they would operate as if Madoff were managing their money and that one day it would all be gone, anyway.

That model would involve more risk, more spending, more activity and certainly less for future generations. It would be akin to taking away trust funds from the grandchildren so they actually have to work for a living.

Fine. Jewish donors know that you don’t gain reward without some measure of risk. That’s true in philanthropy, just as it is in business. Yet many Jewish donors still give to the same old causes, the same old institutions, in the same old ways. No wonder so many got burned by Madoff. They followed the crowd on everything.

In Judaism, every 50th year is considered a jubilee year, when we are commanded to return land to its original owner and to let our fields lie fallow. Why not transpose that commandment to our endowments and foundations?

Let us resolve: Every 50 years, our community’s stored wealth must be spent, and its charitable assets depleted. After that, we can begin the work anew — yes, with fewer assets, but with a greater capacity for creativity and success.

Reprinted by permission of The Forward

Noam Neusner is the principal of Neusner Communications, LLC. He served as President George W. Bush’s principal economic and domestic policy speech writer from 2002 to 2004.

Can you say fiduciary duty? Jewish nonprofits must follow new rules


Based on all reports, the evil criminality of Bernard Madoff has decimated the portfolios of hundreds of individuals and charitable organizations. The consequences for ongoing charitable programs and future gifts will be felt for many years to come.

While there should be no limit to the outrage at Madoff, the Jewish not-for-profit community must recognize that this crisis has highlighted grave shortcomings in professional controls in place related to the investment of their funds. Judging from press reports and public communications from numerous institutions, it seems apparent that the basic standards of fiduciary oversight were not in place. Both professional staff and lay leadership should undertake comprehensive reviews of their policies and take responsibility for their shortcomings.

Complete Madoff CoverageAs the community looks forward, it is imperative that the oversight of investments be executed in a manner that meets the highest fiduciary standards. After all, those responsible for overseeing the investments quite literally have the future of many of the most important programs in the Jewish community in their hands.

The large, often undiversified allocations to Madoff indicate that the foundations fell into the worst pitfalls that trap individuals into unwise investments. Among these are: lack of diversification, belief in “genius managers” who promise to deliver above market returns with minimal risk, not understanding the strategy of the funds in which they invest, investing based on reputation rather than doing due diligence and not monitoring the investment activity. While it is bad enough to find individuals who fall into some or all of these traps, to find evidence that those overseeing large sums for the community were no better is very disturbing, to put it mildly.

It also seems from this affair and my research on the investing policies of not-for-profits that many of these institutions joined with the fad of not-for-profits investing in “alternative investments.” Enticed by the success of Yale and Harvard’s enormous endowments they sought to “be like Yale and Harvard” and invest in hedge funds, private equity funds, venture capital, commodity funds and other products despite little real knowledge or professional staff. Yet even David Swensen, Yale’s esteemed manager, has written that neither individuals nor small institutions should follow Yale’s strategies since they lack the large professional staff and resources required to properly screen and manage such investments.Yale has 19 full time professionals overseeing their investments, Harvard Management has a full- time staff well over 100.

A Business Week article in May 2006, “Big Risk on Campus,” reported on smaller endowments investing like the big guys, noting that larger endowments (averaging $1 billion or more) had an average of 21.7 percent of their assets in hedge funds. In second position in the article’s table of smaller endowments with big hedge fund stakes was Yeshiva University’s $1.1 billion endowment with 65.3 percent. Yale’s allocation to hedge funds is 23 percent; Harvard’s, 18 percent.

Ironically, while many foundations concentrated on seeking out exotic, high-risk “alternative” investments, they did not look into allocating a portion of their investments to a better “alternative,” such as investments that would not have entailed above-average risks. Examples would include: socially responsible index funds, a broadly diversified index fund of Israeli stocks or investments in indices of companies investing in clean energy. The vast majority of foundations ignored the opportunity for “doing well by doing good” in their quest to find a “hot hand” to manage their money.

Looking forward, it is imperative that our institutions draft clear investment policy statements and establish appropriate policies and controls. Ideally, the foundations would wind up with an investment portfolio in line with the “best practices” of investment strategy and not much different than that of a prudent individual: broadly diversified with low cost, transparent and liquid index instruments.The parameters of such policies would include:

  • A target allocation for the portfolio among international and domestic stocks, bonds and cash, along with controls for keeping the portfolio within those parameters.
  • No investments in bonds below investment grade.
  • Restrictions on investments in asset- backed securities.
  • Restrictions prohibiting any investments that make use of leverage or derivatives.
  • Restrictions on investments in illiquid investments, such as venture capital and private equity, and on investments that do not have transparent pricing and valuation.
  • No investments in any entities affiliated with members of the investment committee, the board or the professional staff. As a consequence of this one policy, the New York Jewish Community Foundation had no investments with Madoff.
  • Ability to price all investments in the portfolio on a daily basis. Confirmations of all transactions by the next business day.
  • Transactional activity and financial reporting performed by different individuals.
  • Monthly performance reports available to all investment committee members.
  • Annual audit of all investments and procedures by an independent third party.

In addition to the above, serious consideration should be given to an even higher level of transparency: complete posting on the Internet of the full portfolio and its value and performance. Given the extreme lack of controls evidenced by the Madoff affair, such an easily implemented step would go a long way to restoring confidence in the community and in fact may be essential for any success in raising the funds necessary to keep many programs afloat.

Lawrence Weinman is an independent registered investment advisor working with individuals and institutions. He teaches a course on investment management for nonprofits at the AJU and has worked with Jewish nonprofits in their investment strategies. He blogs at www.sensibleinvestments.blogspot.com.

Madoff’s Redemption


If you’re an active member of the Jewish community — and perhaps even if you’re not — there’s almost no way to properly digest the Bernie Madoff scandal. It’slike a quadruple shot of cheap vodka that you drink quickly on an empty stomach. You feel disgusted and drunk at the same time.

First, of course, there’s the alleged scale of the swindle. Fifty billion? You can cut that by 80 percent and it would still be an obscene number.

More than dry numbers, though, there’s the sadness we all feel for the tens of thousands of disadvantaged people — Jews and non-Jews — who will now suffer because the organizations that usually help them have been ruined, not to mention the many individuals and families who have lost their life’s savings overnight.

Then there’s the fear of the uncertain — what all this will mean for the future of fundraising and Jewish philanthropy in an already depressed economy, and to what extent the scandal will fuel the fires of anti-Semitism, as well as turn off many Jews to their faith.

Finally, just to add a touch of the surreal, we have a suspect who apparently immediately confessed to his crime. How often does a white-collar criminal who can afford the best legal advice tell the authorities who have come to arrest him that his financial empire is all “one big lie” — and that he has been engaged for years in a fraudulent Ponzi scheme to the tune of $50 billion?

Well, never.

Put all this nasty brew together, and you have a Jewish community that’s reeling with anger, shock, sadness and shame. We can’t speak fast enough to catch up with our emotions. We almost wish the guy would have kept his mouth shut and had his $900-an-hour lawyer give us the usual “my client will vigorously defend himself from these outrageous charges” response — so that at least we would have been broken in gently.

Instead, we got mugged with a sledgehammer.

One of the dangers of being overwhelmed with so much criminal havoc is that we will lose all perspective when trying to draw conclusions. We may feel, for example, that because the crime is so big, our conclusions must also be big.

But let’s remember that there are many things in this story that are not so big.

Bernie Madoff, for one. Here is a gonif who preyed on the weaknesses of his own people and stole money not just from the wealthy, but from charitable organizations. How much smaller can you get?

How many Bernie Madoffs are there in the Jewish community? The truth is, for every Madoff we hear about, there are probably a million honest Jews we never hear about. Madoff may be a disease, but he’s not an epidemic.

Every day, thousands of deals are made in our community, one Jew trusting another Jew and no one getting ripped off. We don’t hear about these, precisely because no one gets ripped off. There’s no doubt we ought to do more due diligence at all levels of Jewish philanthropy, and I’m sure that as a result of this scandal, we will. But let’s not kid ourselves: For as long as there are human beings, trust will play a central role in the affairs of men.

Trust serves as a convenient shortcut for making decisions, but it also serves a deeper human purpose — it strengthens our emotional bonds. It gives us a chance to show loyalty and faith in other people, and when it is reciprocated, we feel a deeper connection.

Complete Madoff CoverageFrankly, what worries me most is not that we will see more Madoff-level crimes of betrayal in our community, but that we so easily ignore the millions of little offenses we regularly inflict on each other. Those little offenses may not rise to the level of illegal behavior, but they have the cumulative power to corrode the human bonds that tie our families and communities together.

I’m talking about the little lies, the hurtful gossip, the verbal abuse, the arrogant looks, the inconsiderate gestures. How many thousands of instances are there every day when one of us will hurt someone — maybe by using hurtful language or breaking a promise or giving a family member the silent treatment? How many numerous opportunities are missed every day to help another person — maybe by bringing soup to a sick neighbor or simply saying something nice to our mothers?

Madoff’s “swindle of the century” is a tragic ethical breakdown for our community, and we should all help to pick up the pieces. At the same time, the scandal can also serve as a wake-up call to remind us of the myriad ethical obligations we have in our own lives and within our own communities.

Our rabbis and educators can lead the way in answering this call. They can start by making it clear to their congregants and students — many of whom will become our future leaders and financiers — that nothing is more important in Judaism than the way we treat one another. Yes, God loves it when we go to shul or study the Talmud or have a “spiritual experience” or contribute to the shul’s building fund. But God loves it even more when we make it our priority to follow the Jewish laws and principles of how we should properly interact with other people.

This is the Judaism of ethics — the only Judaism that every Reform, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, Conservative, Humanist, Chasidic, Renewal, Egalitarian, Ultra-Orthodox and gay rabbi on the planet will unite behind.

It’s the Judaism that Bernie Madoff shunned, but that the aftermath of his scandal may reawaken.

Imagine that. Instead of the Messiah coming down to redeem us, a sleazy villain shows up on Chanukah and shocks us into reasserting that great Jewish ideal of learning how to live an ethical life.

If you ask me, that sounds a lot easier to digest.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine, Meals4Israel.com and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Madoff scandal rocks Jewish philanthropic world


NEW YORK (JTA) — Tthe securities fraud of Bernard Madoff has rocked the Jewish nonprofit world — and the worst may be yet to come.

Madoff, the founder of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, was arrested Dec. 11 after admitting to his board that a hedge fund he ran was essentially a $50 billion Ponzi scheme.

At least two foundations have been forced to close because they had invested their funds with Madoff.

The Robert I. Lappin Foundation in Salem, Mass., announced Dec. 12 that it would shut down after losing $8 million — all of its money. And the Chais Family Foundation, which gives out some $12.5 million each year to Jewish causes in Israel, the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, announced its closing Dec. 14.

At least one nonprofit is calling out for help in the wake of Madoff’s collapse. The Gift of Life Foundation, a Jewish bone marrow registry that relied heavily on Madoff as a benefactor, announced on its Web site Sunday that it would immediately need to raise $1.8 million to make up for recent losses.

Sources close to Yeshiva University, where Madoff served as treasurer of the board of trustees and board chairman of the university’s Sy Syms School of Business until he resigned last week, said the school has lost at least $100 million. Y.U. officials declined to offer any specifics.

Just as the reverberations of the subprime mortgage collapse are still seen as contributing to the nation’s wider economic meltdown, philanthropic insiders say the fallout from Madoff’s scheme could be even greater. The insiders note that Madoff and others heavily invested in his fraudulent fund were major supporters of a plethora of nonprofit organizations, served on their boards or advised those organizations on how to invest their money — in some cases placing large sums of the groups’ capital in Madoff’s hands.

Reflecting this sense that the full extent of the damage is still unclear, the executive vice president and CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York said that even though its endowments were not exposed, the organization still could be hurt if donors lost money in the scheme.

“We do not yet know the full extent of the losses that supporters of UJA-Federation and other Jewish institutions have had,” John Ruskay said. “But we have already heard that many major institutions had substantial funds invested, as did foundations. Already in the context of a very challenging economic environment this will present another significant difficulty. We don’t know yet the extent of the wreckage.”

Reports are trickling out in the national media about prominent businessmen from across the country who lost money in Madoff’s scheme.

New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon, GMAC Financial Services chairman J. Ezra Merkin and former Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman all were reported to have taken significant hits due to their dealings with Madoff, who reportedly would not accept any investment in his fund below $10 million.

Reports have surfaced also that media magnate Mortimer Zuckerman was significantly hurt by investing with Madoff.

In Los Angeles, the Jewish Community Foundation’s $238 million Common Investment Pool lost $18 million it had invested with Madoff, according to a letter sent out by the foundation.

Among other Jewish institutions and foundations believed to be hit by the Madoff scandal: the American Jewish Congress, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Steven Spielberg’s Wunderkinder Foundation, Elie Wiesel’s Foundation for Humanity and Carl Shapiro’s charitable foundation.

But Merkin, who last week told investors in his hedge fund, Ascot Partners, that all of their money had been defrauded by Madoff, is of particular interest to the Jewish community. He has philanthropic ties to a number of Jewish organizations and institutions, serving as a volunteer investment adviser for many of them, including Yeshiva University. Among other causes with which he is said to be connected are the SAR Academy, a Jewish day school in the Bronx, as well as State of Israel Bonds, The Jewish Campus Life Fund, Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center, the Ramaz School, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and the Fifth Avenue Synagogue.

Sources say that several of these entities had money in Ascot, which they now stand to lose because of Merkin’s decision to invest so heavily in Madoff’s fund. According to Orthodox communal insiders, Ramaz and SAR lost millions between them.

A woman who answered the phone Sunday at one of Merkin’s listed numbers suggested that he could be reached in the office Monday.

An official at one major Jewish foundation told JTA that it had been advised to invest with Madoff, but decided against it after concluding that his return-on-investment forecasts seemed too good to be true.

Certainly the extent of the damage to the philanthropic world could become clearer as details emerge in coming days and weeks of just who was invested with Madoff.

One philanthropic official said there is a lesson to be learned here for the philanthropy world, where Jewish businessmen and philanthropists directed their own private funds and the funds of institutions that they help oversee toward Madoff.

“What really emerges out of this,” said Jeffrey Solomon, the president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, is that “people sometimes forget to conduct the due diligence when dealing with others with social prominence — and especially in the hedge-fund area where people think you have to be really smart to be in hedge funds. In many ways for all investments something like this is tragic, but for nonprofits where boards have the fiduciary responsibility of acting with great prudence, it is even more tragic.”

According to a fund-raiser who has been scouring recent 990 tax filings to see how this might affect his nonprofit, several other major philanthropists have put money in Madoff’s hands: As of the end of 2007, Sandy Gottesman had $20 million of his foundation’s $144 million invested with Madoff and Robert Beren had two foundations with more than that in endowments invested with Ascot. U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) says his foundation has about $15 million invested with Madoff.

Yeshiva University issued a statement via e-mail to JTA on Sunday.

“We are shocked at this revelation,” the university said. “Bernard Madoff has tendered his resignation from all positions affiliated with the university and involvement with the university. Our lawyers and accountants are investigating all aspects of his relationship to Yeshiva University. We reserve our comments until we complete our investigation.”

Spielberg’s Wunderkinder Foundation joins list of Madoff victims


Steven Spielberg suffered some losses in the Bernard Madoff fraud scandal, though apparently nowhere near a rumored $300 million.

However, the famed filmmaker’s private Wunderkinder Foundation had some investments with Madoff, though Spielberg spokesman Marvin Levy said he was unable to detail the assets or losses of the foundation.

The Wunderkinder Foundation (translated as child prodigies) is a relative modest one compared to Spielberg’s much better-known Shoah Foundation and Righteous Persons Foundation.

According to the latest available public filing with the IRS, the Wunderkinder Foundation’s 2006 statement, covering the previous tax year, showed assets of $12,573,018 and grant distributions of $5,215,016. Spielberg gave $2 million to the foundation and is listed as the only donor.

According to press reports, Madoff managed 70 percent of the foundation’s dividend and interest income in 2006.

The lion’s share of the foundation’s grants, according to the IRS filing, went to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, which received $3,338,000 for medical research.

The Ross School in New York City received $500,000 and the local Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services got $100,000.

Smaller grants went to some 55 diverse organizations and institutions, from the American Museum of Natural History to the Young Musicians Foundation.



From the Federation:

LOS ANGELES, Dec 15, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) — The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has been advised by The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles that it, together with a number of other major philanthropic institutions, as well as individuals and for profit investment companies, is included among those which have been victimized by an alleged fraud perpetrated by the New York based firm, Bernard Madoff Investment Securities LLC.

The Jewish Federation, together with other local charitable bodies, has for decades participated in a Common Investment Pool (CIP) managed by the Jewish Community Foundation. The CIP invests, with the input of professional advisors, significant funds on behalf of the Federation’s United Jewish Fund Endowment Fund in a range of investment classes and vehicles. Among these has been Bernard Madoff Investment Securities LLC.

We have been informed by the Jewish Community Foundation that the Federation’s United Jewish Fund Endowment Fund may have sustained a loss of $6.4m as a result of the actions of Bernard Madoff Investment Securities LLC. This constitutes approximately 11% of Federation’s endowment funds as of December 2008.

Stanley Gold, Chairman of the Board of the Jewish Federation, stated, “We are both shocked and saddened to learn of this alleged fraud. The Jewish Federation is exploring various options to fully understand its exposure as well as how this occurred. We intend to aggressively protect and recover as much of Federation’s investment with Bernard Madoff Securities LLC, as possible. We will take all necessary actions to assure this type of action so hurtful to those who depend on our charitable organization never happens again.”

The Jewish Federation will continue to utilize the funds in the United Jewish Fund Endowment Fund to support its essential life saving work, at home and abroad, on behalf of the Los Angeles Jewish Community.

From The Jewish Community Foundation

LOS ANGELES (December 15, 2008)–The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (The Foundation) today issued the following letter to the public regarding the impact of the collapse of the Bernard Madoff investment funds. The Foundation, the largest manager of charitable gift assets for Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists, stated:

Dear Friends,

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles was shocked and outraged to learn that it is among the many victims of the massive fraud attributed to veteran Wall Street investment advisor Bernard Madoff.

The Foundation invested a total of $18 million with the Madoff firm, representing less than 5% (five percent) of the Foundation’s assets.

Donor Advised Funds were not affected by the Madoff fraud. Donor Advised Funds are held separately in Treasury notes and other government instruments.

The $18 million was part of The Foundation’s Common Investment Pool, set aside for long-term endowment-type uses.

The loss, while unprecedented in The Foundation’s 54-year history, does not threaten The Foundation’s stability, its existing commitments, or its ability to maintain its leading role in the Los Angeles philanthropic community.

Despite this loss, The Foundation has a long-term record of generating favorable returns from its investments. The Foundation’s emphasis on diversification, both of investments and of investment advisors, helped limit the impact of the Madoff collapse.

In light of the substantial recent declines in the stock market as well as the financial impact of the Madoff situation, The Foundation is re-evaluating its investment strategies and examining ways to respond to these changed market conditions. This process includes a full review of The Foundation’s policies, practices and due-diligence procedures.

The Foundation is aggressively pursuing every possible recovery and remedy related to the Madoff situation.

We are committed to a fully transparent sharing of information with our donors, supporters, grant recipients and the community, and will continue to report to The Foundation’s constituencies as we learn more. This will include updates to a dedicated page on The Foundation’s website at www.JewishFoundationLA.org.

Sincerely,

Cathy Siegel Weiss Marvin I. Schotland
Chair President and CEO

Sharon Stone, Howie Mandel, Arianna Huffington, William Kristol


Jewish TV Network honors Uni honcho Jeff Gaspin

ALTTEXT

(From left) Howie Mandel;  Ron Meyer, president and chief operating officer, Universal Studios; Bonnie Hammer; Jeff Gaspin, president and chief operating officer, Universal Television Group; Mark Graboff, co-chairman, NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal Television Studio, and Jay Sanderson, CEO, JTN Productions). NBC Photo: Trae Patton

“It’s a groundbreaking week,” Howie Mandel said to some 1,000 guests at Jewish Television Network’s annual benefit at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Nov. 5. “Just yesterday we elected a black man president, and tonight we’re honoring a Jew in show business.”

Mandel hosted the event to bestow JTN’s 2008 Vision Award on Jeff Gaspin, president and CEO of the Universal Television Group, who was honored with the 2008 Vision Award at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

Gaspin, who developed such shows as “Deal or No Deal,” “The Apprentice,” “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and “Project Runway,” was feted by Jeff Goldblum, Tori Spelling, Dean McDermott, Katee Sackhoff, Billy Bush, Nancy O’Dell, Cory Hardrict, singer Lenka, who performed, and Sean Hayes, who introduced/roasted his longtime friend.

“Jeff is a visionary executive … committed to his family and his community and a real ‘mensch,’” said Jay Sanderson, the CEO of JTN Productions.
JTN announced a $5 million lead gift from co-chair Seth Merrin and aired a portion of its upcoming PBS documentary on genocide, “Worse Than War.”

Zimmer fetes advocates for kids

ALTTEXT

(From left) Dr. Charles J. Sophy, Sharon Stone, Esther Netter, Zimmer Children’s Museum CEO, and Jeff Wachtel. Photo by Barry E. Levine

The Zimmer Children’s Museum feted two important people in children’s lives: a doctor and a guy who creates TV programming. The lucky recipients of The Discovery Award, Jeff Wachtel, USA Network’s head of original programming, and Dr. Charles J. Sophy, medical director for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, which is responsible for more than 30,000 foster children, were celebrated on Nov. 6 by an industry-heavy crowd at The Beverly Hills Hotel. Jeff Garlin, an executive producer of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” emceed.

Rock among the rockets

ALTTEXT

(From left) Ada Horwich,  L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Elana Horwich, Israeli Consul General Jacob Dayan, director Laura Bialis, Avi Vaknin, Ravit Markus and Dan Katzir Photo by Orly Halevy

Ada and Jim Horwich hosted a private film screening of Laura Bialis’ documentary, “Sderot: Rock in the Red Zone,” about the nascent music scene taking hold in the rocket-riven town in Southern Israel. Israeli Consul General Jacob Dayan joined the gathering on Nov. 5 to support the resilience of a place where bomb shelters are transmuting into rock clubs.

Westside JCC dives into pool construction

ALTTEXT

(From left) Nancy Bell, capital campaign chair; Michael Kaminsky, board president; Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Beryl Weiner, capital campaign co-chair; Lenny Krayzelburg, honorary capital campaign chair; Brian Greene, executive director.

The Westside Jewish Community Center has a hot new commodity. Neighbors and city officials gathered on Oct. 29 for the groundbreaking of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Aquatic Center, a multiphase renovation that will add locker rooms, saline water systems and an environmentally friendly design for the Olympic-size pool. Olympic gold medalist Lenny Krayzelburg, who trained at the Westside JCC, attended the event, where an expected 1,400 monthly visitors will swim in medal-making waters.

Celebration of Books draws big names

ALTTEXT

(From left) William Kristol, Arianna Huffington, Rabbi Robert Wexler at Celebration of Jewish Books.

American Jewish University’s Celebration of Jewish Books brought some big names to town to discuss and debate topical issues of the day: William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, and Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post squared off on the aftermath of the nation’s historic election on Nov. 10; two nights later, Rabbi David Wolpe and best-selling author Christopher Hitchens debated the role of religion in society to a full house at the Wilshire Theatre.

Stars come out for Big Brothers and Sisters

ALTTEXT

(From left) Rising Stars gala honorees Paula Wagner, Abigail Breslin, Michael Sitrick and Big Brothers Big Sisters Los Angeles Guild President Sandy Bilson.

PR mogul Michael Sitrick, producer Paula Wagner and young actress Abigail Breslin were honored at Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters biggest annual fundraiser, the “Rising Stars Gala,” on Oct. 30 at the Beverly Hilton. Larry King, Alan Arkin and Cuba Gooding Jr. presented awards and the cast from the upcoming “Forever Plaid” movie entertained the 700 guests. Catch a falling star, anybody?

Milken High students join AIDS Walk

ALTTEXT

Milken Community High School’s Kids Who Care AIDS walk team

A group of students from Milken Community High School joined the fight against AIDS with their feet and their finances. The school-sponsored Kids Who Care team participated in AIDS Walk Los Angeles on Oct. 19. Tenth-grade chairs, Michelle Nabati, who raised nearly $2,000 on her own, and Jillian Weyman signed up more than 100 students for the walk and raised $5,000 for AIDS medical research.

Inaugural award goes to volunteer social worker

ALTTEXT

Sally Miller and Charlotte Kamenir Photo by Melody Vargas/JFS

Sally Miller, a social worker from New York City who moved to Los Angeles, has spent the past few years caring for lonely and frail seniors living in Park LaBrea. Her volunteer efforts through Jewish Family Service’s L.I.F.E. program earned her the first Charlotte Kamenir Volunteer of Distinction award,presented during a Nov. 5 luncheon in Brentwood.

U.N. kids support Israel

ALTTEXT

(From left) Nir Winshtok, Liron Hala, Viviana Artzyeli, Public Affairs Consul Shahar Azani, Dalia Mizrahi, Carolyn Ben Natan and LiAmi Lawrence

The Israeli Consulate staff participated in the 10th annual “Kids Uniting Nations Day” at the Santa Monica Pier. The event, sponsored by Daphne Ziman, brought together 1,000 foster children for an afternoon of L.A. fun. But the best part? A bunch of multiethnic children wearing backpacks that said, “You have a friend in Israel.”

Can we help?


My desk is coated with letters of request: Adopt an animal at the zoo; come to a gala for the Jewish food bank; plant a tree in Israel; plant a tree in Los Angeles. Feed 50 meals to homeless people. Support public radio. Support the temple building fund. Support the school PTA, the booster club, the play. Need I go on?

These bids for help come in every year at about this time, but this year they feel different. We all are facing the reality that these are really hard times — for everyone, it seems — and there’s a note of desperation in these letters, a fear of becoming destitute. In fact, it’s probably a feeling most of us share to some degree, whether when we look at our 401(k)s (don’t!), or hear from our relatives (do!), or watch friends figure out how to get unemployment checks … or talk to someone who has lost their home to foreclosure.

So this year, all those pleas for funds have to be weighed against our anxieties. And the nagging question inside us must be: Should we hold back on our giving because what we have now might not last? And when we give, whom should we give to? Who are the neediest?

In his recently released “A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 2: Love Your Neighbor as Yourself,” (Bell Tower), Rabbi Joseph Telushkin quotes the familiar talmudic teaching: “Charity is equal in importance to all the other commandments combined.” (Bava Bathra 9a). But Telushkin also goes on to quote Maimonides: “It is our duty to be more careful in the performance of charity than in the performance of any other positive commandment.” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:1).

In our era, Telushkin points out, we equate charitable giving to cultural causes — museums, orchestras, universities — as much as to helping the poor. But it is the latter that the Bible refers to exclusively in the teachings on tzedakah. For a person in need, the Bible commands, “You shall open, yes, open, your hand to him,” and not “harden your heart nor shut your hand against your needy brother” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8). And the need for such generosity is so drilled into the Jewish soul that, as Telushkin paraphrases Maimonides, “Not giving tzedakah constitutes such cruel and un-Jewish behavior that we should question the Jewishness of one who acts in this way.”



The Shulchan Arukh assures us: “No person will become poor because of giving charity.”



So does this mean the art museum is out and the homeless shelter is this year’s beneficiary? That the temple coffers come before the school or after? What do we value most? And should we really decide? Because as we open our checkbooks this year and attempt to give back to the world, shouldn’t we consider sustenance from all angles?

High on our list, of course, should be those whose very lives depend upon our help. But this also is not a time to extinguish the many institutions that have risen up to create a civil society. The arts nourish the soul, schools nurture the potential of our youth, but they also promote the scientific and creative research that will secure our future. And the synagogue is one place where we can turn when we need caring most.

Our relationship with Israel also cannot be lost in the mix — its need for health and security doesn’t disappear while our attention is focused elsewhere.

And those animals in the zoo — should they be left out?

To be fair, aren’t times of hardship when we should be giving the most? And not just to one place?

I have a friend who runs an institute for the deaf — a place that gives the gift of communication to people who might otherwise be cut off from the world. She recently told me of a single day in the life of her institute: A check for $1 million came in from a major donor. Cause for great celebration. Then a look at the endowment showed a $1 million loss — just that same day. What do you do?

As the articles in this special Giving Guide illustrate, everyone is trying to answer all the questions I’m proposing here. And there are no easy answers.

But I would suggest this. This is the time to step up to the plate. And there are ways to do it even as we tighten our belts. We can think hard before we buy that fancy pair of shoes and get something more practical; then take that extra money left over — and give it away. Think again before we allocate fun money and find ways to share the pleasures with those who haven’t got the spare cash. We can take the bus once in a while and spend the gas savings on a person in need. Even small economies can turn into great gifts.

This is a time when, at whatever level we can, we should all continue to respond to the pleas for help from charities of all kinds — and give to our capacity, and maybe a little more. Because, as the Shulchan Arukh assures us, and as Telushkin notes, “No person will become poor because of giving charity.”

Don’t cut support to innovative nonprofits


From New York to Los Angeles to San Francisco, the impact of the global financial crisis feels like an eerie parallel to the days after Sept. 11. No one knows whether the acute phase is over or whether there will be further shocks. For some, little has changed; for others, life will never be the same. Everyone knows someone who has been directly affected.

Our major institutions are struggling to adjust, react, prepare but most of all to respond to those most harmed. News outlets strive to explain and advise; houses of worship have added services; social service agencies brace for increased demand even as they anticipate reduced charitable and government support. Each organization is focused on what it can do to minimize and mitigate the effects of the crisis on our city, our country and our world.

Amid this outpouring of effort, we have been dismayed by intimations, in the Jewish media and elsewhere, that smaller, newer nonprofit organizations will and perhaps ought to lose funding support in order to allocate more to immediate concerns: a warm meal, a place to stay, income stabilization. While we agree that protecting the most fragile is key, we disagree with this last-hired, first-fired funding mentality.

The argument against the new nonprofits is both simple and disingenuous. The simple argument is that they are risky investments, ephemeral champions of the latest passing fads. The disingenuous argument is that these innovators are self-indulgent narcissists, insubstantial and erosive of the communal fabric. These arguments are not only wrong, they are counterproductive.

Far from risky ventures, new start-ups like Darkhei Noam, Hadar, Jewish Milestones, IKAR and the Progressive Jewish Alliance actually are fulfilling the promise of engaging a new generation of Jews in their own idiom and on their own terms. It is this generation’s connection to Judaism that ultimately will determine the future of Jewish life and of its larger institutions. They build innovative new minyanim and educate young leaders who in turn will strengthen their communities. They develop, test and promote new models of community involvement that will be the foundation for generations to come.

From Hazon to Jewish Mosaic to Matan to Sharsheret, they use new tools and methods to promote environmental responsibility, ensure our community welcomes Jews of all backgrounds, widen the reach of special education and put resources into the hands of those afflicted with deadly diseases — all missions at heightened risk in the period of social and economic turmoil we are entering.

While the big boys debate scalpels and hatchets, these new start-ups quietly perform laparoscopies without cutting open the patient. Bootstrapped together with all the advantages of today’s cost-saving technologies that many established Jewish organizations have yet to discover, these start-ups are models of industry and investment that will help America emerge from recession. They can feed for a year on what their larger brethren consume in an hour. They are lean, staffed more austerely than their older, bigger peers and subsist by sweat equity donated by those for whom they mean a great deal.

Putting the attention on new start-ups distracts us from asking the tough questions of our most venerable institutions, many of which have lost sight of their original missions in the struggle for institutional survival.

But these start-ups are also fragile, without reserves to fall back on, and do not yet possess long-term funding relationships to be called upon in times of crisis. They lack the confidence and reputation — and the sheer seniority — conferred on larger nonprofits by decades of service. Questioning the viability, merit or necessity of nascent nonprofit organizations risks becoming self-fulfilling. Moreover, it’s unfair to do so without also challenging the unquestioned assumptions governing larger nonprofits.

New ventures are essential to our recovery and are ideal places for funders to invest to stabilize the community. Individual or institutional funders seeking ways to make fewer dollars go further should take a closer look at the group of emerging nonprofit organizations ready to rise to the occasion if given a chance. These new groups do far more than put on hip-hop concerts and publish risqué magazines. From a communal investment perspective, these organizations provide tremendous value.

Just as after Sept. 11, the priority is on rebuilding — not only our portfolios but also our souls. We must succor those re-examining their values and goals, and support those for whom economic distress leads to personal distress. Financial crisis is often the mother of religious crisis, during which the quest for meaning becomes not only more potent but more critical. It is precisely in trying times that we must focus on efforts that can best distill and transmit the essence of Jewish values in today’s complex and decentralized world.

The age of an organization doesn’t correlate to the significance of its mission. In 1798, when our new nation faced a grave economic and political threat from France, John Adams summoned leaders of each of the nation’s diverse faiths to organize “a day of solemn humiliation, fasting and prayer,” during which citizens were asked to pray “that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it.” The message was clear — strengthening committed communities strengthens our nation.

The new groups formed by our most gifted social entrepreneurs are just such committed communities — some religious and others not — and now is the hour when they can do their finest work.

Shawn Landres is the CEO of Jumpstart, a thinkubator for sustainable Jewish innovation in Los Angeles. Toby E. Rubin is the founder/CEO of UpStart Bay Area, igniting Jewish ideas and supporting Jewish start-ups in the San Francisco Bay Area. Martin Kaminer is the New York-based chair of the board of Bikkurim: An Incubator for New Jewish Ideas.