Meet the donor who maxed out to Trump & Hillary
Hillary Clinton, looking ahead to the general election, is attracting donors from the financial sector, including some who have previously contributed to her likely opponent, Donald Trump.
Hillary Clinton, looking ahead to the general election, is attracting donors from the financial sector, including some who have previously contributed to her likely opponent, Donald Trump.
President Obama told Jewish donors to his reelection campaign that Israel and the United States must assess the new Middle East with “fresh eyes.”
“Both the United States and Israel are going to have to look at this new landscape with fresh eyes,” Obama said Monday night at an event in Washington that charged a minimum $25,000 a couple. “It’s not going to be sufficient for us just to keep on doing the same things we’ve been doing and expect somehow that things are going to work themselves out. We’re going to have to be creative and we’re going to have to be engaged.”
Obama said Israel is the United States’ “closest ally” and that he was committed to Israel facing the challenges “from a position of strength,” noting the closeness between the two countries’ defense establishments and his increase in defense assistance to Israel.
Obama, who has clashed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government over settlement building and parameters for peace talks with the Palestinians, said that in the coming months “there may be tactical disagreements in terms of how we approach these difficult problems.”
Organizers of the event, entitled “Obama Victory Fund 2012 Dinner with the President in support of a strong US-Israel relationship” ushered the White House pool reporters out of the room at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel after Obama’s short talk so he could talk frankly with the donors.
Organizers aimed to raise $1 million in the evening. Obama’s Jewish supporters have been pushing back against reports that he is losing support in the community because of tensions with Netanyahu.
More than half the students in Los Angeles Jewish day schools receive financial aid to pay tuition, which runs between $12,000 and $30,000 per year. And with both tuition and the number of students requiring aid expected to continue climbing, BJE: Builders of Jewish Education is partnering with local donors and national organizations both to alleviate the immediate crisis and work toward long-term solutions for lowering the cost of Jewish education.
Last week, BJE announced that Los Angeles is one of three cities to split a $3.1 million Generations grant from the AVI CHAI Foundation and the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) that will provide seven day schools with financial aid dollars and training and resources necessary for developing an endowment capable of spinning off funds in perpetuity. BJE raised $600,000 to match AVI CHAI’s contribution to secure the grant, and is now accepting applications from elementary, middle and high schools.
“If you look at what is happening in the school world, the schools and universities that are successful and able to weather the economy are those that have big endowments. So we set that as a high priority,” said Miriam Prum Hess, director of BJE’s Center for Excellence in Day School Education.
Only a few of Los Angeles’ 38 Jewish day schools have any sort of endowment, and the Generations grant joins other initiatives that in the last few years have focused on endowment.
A Jim Joseph Foundation grant totaling $12.7 million gave five Los Angeles Jewish high schools money to provide scholarships to middle-class families who earn too much to qualify for financial aid but still struggle to pay tuition. The grant came with funds to hire and train development staff, and required schools to raise their own monies for endowment.
Now completing the second year of a six-year cycle, the five high schools have raised a combined $2.3 million for their endowments.
“It’s difficult to think endowment when you need to raise money to keep the lights on,” said Larry Gill, board president of Shalhevet, where tuition for next year is $27,250. “But the reason the Jim Joseph program has been so effective is that it has really forced discipline on us. It’s sort of like a 401(k) — it forced us to put money away for the future.”
The grant also enabled Shalhevet to hire two full-time development professionals. Gill says Shalhevet is well on the way toward securing pledges of $500,000 for the endowment to meet a June 30 grant deadline.
BJE itself has secured pledges of nearly $10 million for a community fund that, starting in 2012, will add 25 cents to every dollar schools raise for endowment. The community fund, also a requirement for the Jim Joseph Foundation grant, was seeded with a $5 million matching challenge from the Simha and Sara Lainer Family Foundation. BJE has set a target of $100 million total for the community fund combined with the schools’ individual endowments, but Prum Hess says that number will have to grow to meet the community’s growing needs. More than half of the 9,500 students in BJE-affiliated schools are projected to receive financial aid next year.
To further help schools build fundraising infrastructure, BJE set up the Leadership and Fundraising Academy (LFA), an 18-month program for administrators and lay leaders, funded by a grant from Peter and Janine Lowy.
Sinai Akiba is one of the few schools in Los Angeles to have an endowment — a $7 million fund it started in the 1980s — and participation in LFA has enabled it to broaden its fundraising activities and focus its mission, according to headmaster Rabbi Larry Scheindlin.
“The thing we have learned most from the LFA process is that it is educational quality that drives the future of the school and carries the school into a virtuous cycle of enrollment and fundraising,” Scheindlin said. “It’s a terrible mistake to think that you can cut back on educational quality in order to lower tuition and thereby sustain enrollment.”
Rather, he said, Sinai Akiba has set tuition where it needs to be — $19,400 for the lower school, $21,600 for the middle school for the 2011-12 academic year — and increased its financial aid program, going from 15 percent of students a few years ago to 27 percent this year. The school has actively recruited and offered aid to families who thought they couldn’t afford a Jewish education.
Prum Hess says the presence of the LFA and the success of the Jim Joseph grant helped Los Angeles win the AVI CHAI grant, which relies on training existing development staff.
BJE raised $600,000 to qualify for the matching grant, then raised additional money to offer each of the seven schools $52,000 over three years, rather than the $25,000 prescribed by AVI CHAI. The hope is that the scholarship money, though a modest amount compared to the need, will alleviate some immediate stress and stabilize enrollment, and allow schools to develop their capacity to raise endowment funds, Prum Hess said.
In addition to the cash infusion, each school will receive five days of coaching with an experienced fundraiser and marketing materials that schools can customize. A BJE staff person, hired with the grant money, will serve as a resource to guide schools through the process of shoring up its fundraising apparatus.
The help, according to Shalhevet’s Gill, can’t come soon enough.
“If things continue in the current crescendo of cost versus money earned, in a very short amount of time the advantage of a Jewish education will be the purview of the extremely wealthy only. And that would be a disaster,” Gill said.
Todd Morgan has a slew of rich, high-profile clients with names like Sylvester Stallone and Barbra Streisand, and there are pictures in his corner office at Bel Air Investment Advisors in Century City to prove it.
Perhaps the most important people helped by the wealth manager, however, have little money and possess names that are unknown to him. They are the hundreds of local Holocaust survivors who have benefited from his Morgan Aging With Dignity Fund.
Established with a $2 million commitment 10 years ago at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, it provides emergency assistance to survivors who may need help paying for medicine, transportation, in-home care, funeral expenses and more. It is overseen and administered by Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), which is honoring Morgan on May 19 with its Spirit of Humanity Award.
“It was a godsend,’ ” Susie Forer-Dehrey, chief operating officer for JFS, said of the gift. “The reality was, there wasn’t enough money. [Today], there’s really not a situation that goes by that we’re not able to put something toward whatever emergency there is for a survivor in Los Angeles. Ultimately, that’s changed the whole landscape.”
There are thousands of Holocaust survivors in the Los Angeles area, and many live below the poverty line, struggling to make ends meet even with available stipends. That’s where Morgan’s fund has made a difference.
It started by chance when Morgan, Federation chairman at the time, received a phone call from a rabbi who had lived through the Holocaust. The man had health problems and couldn’t afford his medication. Morgan sent the man money but also called JFS.
“The issue there was: How could this happen?” he said.
After JFS staff helped him understand the situation — there was money, just not enough — he worked with them to set up the fund to fill in the gaps.
“Once he got that, he totally became engaged in a different kind of way and wanted to help provide and help be part of the solution of how we’re going to get the services needed and the funding needed to the survivor population,” Forer-Dehrey said.
Morgan, 63, grew up in Minneapolis as the son of a jewelry store owner. He had no direct connection to the Holocaust but became interested in it as a young man.
“I always said to myself: I wish I was alive during that period, because I would have liked to have done something to try to help those people,” he said.
While working on Wall Street in the 1980s, he got involved with the fight to help free Soviet Jews, and he visited some in Israel. He was moved by their stories, just as he was by the Holocaust survivors here in Los Angeles — some of whose tales he’s heard in person as he’s continued his involvement, others through the anonymous quarterly reports he receives from JFS.
“The biggest thing they tell you is: I don’t have any brothers, sisters, no parents. I lost everybody, so who do I call when I need help?” Morgan said.
Even the smallest requests can take on huge significance. One woman requested additional in-home support so that she could have someone help her bathe more regularly.
Forer-Dehrey recalled, “I remember her saying to me, ‘Look, for four years I didn’t take a shower in Auschwitz.’ She said, ‘I think at this point in my life I should be able to shower on a more regular basis.’ … How are you going to argue with that? It’s Todd’s money that has enabled us to provide those things — the smallest, smallest things in life that bring comfort to the survivors.”
It’s a lot different from the world in which Morgan spends much of his time. As senior partner of Bel Air Investment Advisors, he helps manage and oversee $6 billion for 260 families.
But helping the quality of life for Holocaust survivors provides a satisfaction that has no price tag, said Morgan, who is a member at two congregations, Wilshire Boulevard Temple and Kehillat Israel.
“For self-satisfaction, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done outside of raising my kids,” he said. “I want to do good things while I’m alive. I want to enjoy watching good things happen.”
So far, more than 800 people have been helped by the funds. The father of two said he wants his children — as well others in the community — to learn from this example and continue this sort of giving, especially because it helps the living.
“I’d rather give my money to help those that are alive now, that have the pain of day-to-day,” he said. “I think it’s tough enough just getting old, let alone to have nothing.”
While he said he has continued to add funds on top of his original commitment, Morgan is giving a lot of thought to what comes next.
“I’m talking to a rabbi or two about my next projects,” he said. “I like projects.”
Morgan will be honored May 19 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Tribute also will be paid to the following JFS volunteers winning the Anita and Stanley Hirsh Award for their work with Café Europa, a support and friendship group for Holocaust survivors: Colette Ament, Susan Brandler, John Gordon, Sharon Krischer, Hillary Moers, Shana Passman, Norma Satzman and Barbara Winthrop. l
Neve Gordon, the Ben-Gurion University political science professor whose Aug. 20 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times titled “Boycott Israel” described Israel as an “apartheid state,” has drawn protests and threats of cutting off funding for the school by some U.S. donors.
“The whole thing could have serious repercussions,” said Philip Gomperts, Southwestern regional director for American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, a U.S. fundraising organization for the university.
Gordon’s op-ed prompted multiple calls of protest to the school’s Los Angeles-based Southwestern regional office, which raises about $6.5 million annually.
Fears donors would turn on the school grew after Haaretz reported that Los Angeles Jews were considering a boycott of the university, described in a letter Israel’s Los Angeles-based Consul General Jacob Dayan sent to Ben-Gurion President Rivka Carmi. Dayan wrote that donors who contacted him were “unanimous in threatening to withhold donations.”
In his column, Gordon, a tenured professor at Ben-Gurion, wrote that the “most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state…. the only way to counter the apartheid trend in Israel is through massive international pressure…. I consequently have decided to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that was launched by Palestinian activists in July 2005 and has since garnered widespread support around the globe.”
As in the United States, in Israel tenured professors are protected with regard to free speech, and Gordon was unrepentant when asked about the controversy he had sparked.
“I do not understand the logic of those who want to boycott BGU,” Gordon said in an interview with The Journal. “‘We hate Neve Gordon because he calls for a boycott, so we’re going to boycott.’ What, exactly, is the rationale?” he said.
Ben-Gurion’s U.S. fundraisers say Gordon has been a thorn in their side for years. Doron Krakow, the agency’s national executive vice president said he heard from “a fair number of donors who find the sentiment of Dr. Gordon appalling.”
Israel’s Education Minister Gideon Saar called Gordon’s column “appalling and condemnable,” and its Religious Affairs Minister Yaacov Margi called for Gordon’s suspension from the university, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Ben-Gurion President Carmi also condemned Gordon’s comments last week, saying in a statement released on Aug. 21 that the university strongly disassociates itself from “Gordon’s destructive views that abuse the freedom of speech prevailing in Israel and at BGU.
“We are shocked and outraged by his remarks, which are both irresponsible and morally reprehensible,” she said. “Academics who entertain such resentment toward their country are welcome to consider another professional and personal home.”
But the Association for Civil Rights in Israel took issue with Carmi’s denouncement, saying the university is curbing academic free speech by condemning Gordon’s op-ed.
Gordon said his piece did not call for an outright boycott of Israel.
“I call for a gradual boycott sensitive to context and circumstances, which would begin with boycotting companies located in the occupied territories, including the College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel,” he said.
Los Angeles Times acting letters editor Sara Lessley said Gordon’s column, which appeared on a Thursday, generated roughly 75 letters immediately following its publication, with sentiments almost evenly split between support and opposition.
Last Sunday and Monday, however, The Times was inundated with hundreds of letters from an international campaign in support of Gordon. “The wording is much the same. They say they applaud the L.A. Times for its courage,” Lessley said.
Murray Fromson, an L.A.-based donor, said he isn’t planning to withhold his contributions because of Gordon, but he is concerned that others might.
“People will think twice about giving to Ben-Gurion because of Neve Gordon,” said Fromson, whose wife, Dodi, serves on the American Associates’ national board.
Carol Saal, the group’s board president, said the national organization has received many e-mails and phone calls. “Of course the messages are that they’re upset,” she said. “They’re afraid this is going to hurt the university.”
But the impact on the school remains to be seen: Dayan told The Journal that few of the calls he received were from major donors, and Gomperts said that he has heard from only one or two small local donors.
However, the school’s national marketing and communications director, Ronni Strongin, said she had heard from one major donor who said, “Fire the guy or I’m not giving BGU any more money.”
Strongin said that withholding money could result in punishing all of the university’s students, faculty and staff.
“If they withhold money, they are then fulfilling Dr. Gordon’s wishes,” she said.
Gordon argues that withholding funds from the school in hope of ousting him sets a dangerous precedent.
“If donors want to stop providing the financial support to the university because of one professor, they do not understand the significance of academic freedom. Do they want the university to have a single voice?”
Anyone who cares about the future of Jewish life in Los Angeles eventually explodes in frustration over the community’s inability to tap its own enormous wealth.
On one hand, we see Jewish gazillionaires pour the vast majority of their donations into non-Jewish institutions. Just 6 percent of Jewish megadonors give to Jewish causes, according to the Institute for Jewish & Community Research in San Francisco.
On the other hand, we see the huge communal need — indigent Holocaust survivors, developmentally challenged children, families struggling with day school and camp bills, underpaid Jewish educators, programs and facilities that fail to attract and inspire the next generation. Don’t get me started.
In Los Angeles, where by my count 26 individuals on the Los Angeles Business Journal’s 2006 list of the “50 Richest Angelenos” are Jewish — 26! — it’s enough to make you scream, or cry.
That’s why this week’s news of a merger between the University of Judaism and Brandeis-Bardin Institute should resonate even beyond the substantial number of stakeholders in both those institutions. The people and process behind it demonstrate that, given the right leadership, our institutions are capable of the kind of bold moves, backed by what the Wall Street types call solid fundamentals, that are irresistible to the mega donors.
Megadonors like Peter Lowy.
Lowy, 48, is group managing director of Westfield Holding, the largest publicly-held real estate company in the world. You know his well-serifed “W” beckoning you from afar to the Westfield shopping centers in Century City, Woodland Hills, Sherman Oaks — among some 120 others worldwide.
He also has served as chairman of the board of the University of Judaism during its merger negotiations with the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, forming a new institution of great resources, talent, property and promise — the American Jewish University.
Three years ago I met Lowy in his office overlooking Brentwood and the Santa Monica mountains. He had just been named chairman of the board of the University of Judaism. My biggest question was why a young, dynamic guy would want to take the chairmanship of an institution whose finances were known to be troubled and whose profile was less than world class.
Simple, Lowy explained to me. He believed in the mission of the University of Judaism to reach out to all Jews, regardless of affiliation or denomination.
“The UJ needs to be viewed as a community institution,” he told me. “We need to be able to give these benefits to the Orthodox community, the Reform community, the Conservative community and the Reconstructionist community. We need to change the mindset of the community. It’s a very difficult job to do.”
Step one for Lowy was getting the UJ on firm financial footing. The problem, he said, was that too many Jewish institutions don’t perform at the standards of well-run for-profit companies. He refinanced the university’s debt, halving the interest rate. He taught people to stay within a budget. Within a short time, more money was coming in than going out.
Fast-forward three years, and I’m back in Lowy’s office, hearing him explain how the Brandeis merger came about. The UJ’s solid grounding gave it the confidence and competence to pursue an idea Lowy knew in his gut was important. “Looking ahead 10, 15 years,” he said, “I wondered where the UJ was going to physically grow.”
He also knew the deal was fraught with financial, bureaucratic and emotional obstacles. And he relished it.
Lowy learned to step up to the plate from his father Frank, a Hungarian Jew who survived the Holocaust and arrived in Palestine in 1945. Frank Lowy fought as a Golani commando in the War of Independence, then moved to Australia, where he built shopping centers. Lowy, a Sydney native, worked in investment banking in London and New York before coming to Los Angeles 17 years ago. Over that time he has overseen Westfield’s regional growth from 6 centers in California to 59.
He brought this same business style to his oversight of the UJ-BBI union: “This was basically M&A,” a UJ board member said of Lowy’s expertise in mergers and acquisitions, “and that’s what Peter does.”
What Lowy doesn’t do is dither. “There’s this Jewish tendency to process, until you can actually see an idea just die on the floor, just discuss it to death,” UJ President Rabbi Robert Wexler told me. That’s not Lowy’s style. “These deals have a lifespan,” Lowy said. “They’re there and then they’re gone. What will you know in six months that you don’t know now?
“To achieve the impossible, you need to start the process and try.”
Lowy met his counterpart in Linda Gross, the chair of Brandeis-Bardin: a sharp, youthful businesswoman not wedded to the status quo. Behind every merger, goes the Wall Street wisdom, there’s really an acquisition. But Lowy said that wasn’t the case with Gross across from him. “It wasn’t a desperation move on Brandeis’ part,” he said. “She was quite good on the other side of the table.”
And in little more than six months, the deal was done. A lot of Jewish institutions can’t change a light bulb that fast.
Last Thursday night, at a banquet at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the UJ celebrated its 60th anniversary by honoring Lowy. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was there, and President Bill Clinton and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent their best by video.
But what could have been yet another exercise in warm salmon and cold speeches turned out to be refreshingly moving and honest. Janine Lowy introduced her husband as a man devoted to his four children, to the Jewish community, to civic involvement and, somehow, amid it all, to “finding the time to run a small business.”
Janine Lowy, an experienced lawyer herself, also noted her husband’s other considerable quality: his charm. Indeed, nearing 50, Lowy has most of the hair he left his 20s with. He has blue eyes, an athletic build and a disarming amount of laid-back Aussie ease for a man on that L.A. Business Journal list.When it was Lowy’s turn to speak, after a moving tribute to his wife, he showed the charm — and brashness.
The living room grew more crowded by the minute as relatives and friends of the White family continued to arrive on this cold, overcast September morning in Cheviot Hills. More than two dozen people clutched siddurs and faced east, davening Shacharit at a few minutes past 7 a.m.
Like many tales of mourning, this story was not supposed to end this way — or to end this soon. Judah White, the young doctor whose battle with cancer became a clarion call for adult stem cell donations, died this month at 39. White, an intensely private person, allowed his suffering to enter the public domain so people could realize that there is no moral controversy attached to adult stem cells, that adult stem cell donation is relatively painless and that these donations are desperately needed to save lives.
White’s case now also stands out as an example of the unavoidable imperfection of medical treatments. He died despite getting an adult stem cell transfusion that doctors hoped would help save him.
“We thought he was really going to beat it,” said his mother, Martha White, who spearheaded the public outreach both on behalf of her son and to raise awareness among potential donors. In each case, she hoped to address the acute shortage of Jewish donors.
As a result of her work and her son’s own generosity, Judah White was profiled in a July 1 Jewish Journal cover story on the acute shortage of adult stem cell donors. He underwent a stem cell transplant at City of Hope in June, and the initial prognosis was good. Doctors suspect it was scarring on his lungs from cancer treatments that ultimately led to his decline and death.
During the traditional gathering at Martha White’s house on that damp, unseasonably chilly morning, some mourners wore tefillin and tallit, while others eschewed a kippah altogether. What united them all was sorrow, but there also was a tinge of hope about the cause that Judah White and his mother took on.
“We think adult stem cells work,” Martha White said. After the stem-cell transplant, “Judah had good white blood cell counts.”
A graduate of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Medical School, Judah White was a resident in internal medicine at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in February 2003.
In 2004, doctors tried to rebuild White’s blood system with his own stem cells, which had been extracted and set aside before he underwent chemotherapy. But that procedure didn’t work. His cancer came back later that year, just after Rosh Hashanah.
A shortage of Jewish adult stem cell donors was also working against him, so the White family held a stem cell donor drive earlier this year in hope of finding a good match. More than 200 people turned out, which inspired Martha White to consider expanding donor-screening efforts locally.
None of the donors screened at the Whites’ home were suitable matches, but the Florida-based Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation found an anonymous donor whose stem cells were considered good enough to try the transplant. The goal was to boost White’s immune system so that he’d be strong enough to recover from cancer treatments. Adult stem cells can begin the work of rebuilding a patient’s immune system by creating new bone marrow and white blood cells.
At first the transplant seemed to be working. White quickly progressed to eating solid food and taking limited trips outside of his ward. But by the end of July, his condition began deteriorating.
“His lungs were getting rigid because of the scarring [from chemotherapy and radiation] and he couldn’t get enough air,” Martha White said.
“It was never in my consciousness that he wouldn’t make it,” said Tamar Tamler, Judah White’s former girlfriend.
Judah White died Saturday, Sept. 3.
His story touched many outside the family. More than 450 attended his funeral at Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries in Simi Valley, where Martha White works as marketing and sales director.
On Judah White’s blog (judahdaniel.blogspot.com), people from around the world continue to post thoughts and feelings in the very space where his family provided daily updates on his condition.
Martha White is still grieving, but her belief in the therapeutic potential of adult stem cells is unshaken. She plans to continue promoting the registration of Jewish donors.
“We’re trying to put together the structure for a drive,” she said. “It’s going to be more than local. One of the things I’d like to do is hold a weeklong countrywide donor drive.”
To contact Martha White about her adult stem cell initiative, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To send donations, please mail to CCJS, 2779 Forrester Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90064.
“What’s Next for Shalhevet?” by Julie Gruenbaum Fax appeared in these pages on Feb. 4. Reactions of Shalhevet
parents, faculty, students, alumni, administrators and, indeed, even its rivals, have ranged from rage and outrage to tears and dismay.
From the beginning of the article where Jerry Friedman, Shalhevet’s founder and the owner of a Jaguar with “vanity plates,” “kvells” in a weekly school town hall meeting — Why does he kvell? What transpired in Town Hall to give him such pride? — and then leaves to “nail” a donation, the stage is set.
Shalhevet, like all Jewish schools, is forced to raise funds in order to survive. But fundraising isn’t the least bit sexy: it is arduous, time-consuming and, more often than not, frustrating. “Nailing a donor,” on the other hand, with its implication of something less than savory, is. And what of the Jaguar? Is Friedman better defined by the car he drives or by the fleet of such vehicles he could have purchased with the support he has given Shalhevet and other Jewish organizations throughout the years? Would there be comfort in having our philanthropists live humbly?
The article departs from Friedman and goes on to repeat a vulgar, slanderous term that had been used by a teacher in a feeder school to describe Shalhevet’s young women. The initial use of this slur constituted lashon harah (gossip); its gratuitous repetition in the body of the article constitutes not only lashon harah, but rechilus (slander) as well. It was this that elicited tears from many of our seventh- and eighth-grade girls and outrage from their high school counterparts. And while, as the article states, “a number of younger siblings of Shalhevet graduates have gone … to YULA,” a number of younger siblings of YULA graduates are in attendance at Shalhevet.
The article proceeds to quote or paraphrase dissatisfied parents, all of whom spoke only on the condition of anonymity. What of the many satisfied parents who would gladly have allowed their names to appear? What of the parents who are elated that their children have found their voice, their love for Israel and their moral compass at Shalhevet? What of the parents of Shalhevet alumni whose children are in Israeli yeshivot or living as Jews on elite campuses throughout the United States? The parents of Shalhevet students who are recognized not only for their grades, but for their contributions to the community? The parents whose children write about Shalhevet in their graduate school applications? And what of the parents who have the vision and independence to be sending their younger children to Shalhevet next year and the year after that and the year after that?
Shalhevet is not perfect. Only 13 years old, the school is learning, and sometimes hurting, from its mistakes. Admissions criteria are more stringent and the financial aid process has been codified to meet the standards of other schools in the Los Angeles Jewish school system. We have changed our policy of relying upon Israeli rebbeyim, whose terms are necessarily limited in order to hire a permanent head of Judaic studies who will grow over time with the school. And Friedman, recognizing the increasing complexity of the school he founded, is seeking to share its governance with others who will perpetuate his superb vision. But Shalhevet has never been a “free-for-all.” Nor did Yale-bound senior Leor Hackel, chair of the school’s agenda committee, feel that he was fairly treated when, after an extensive interview, only a glib joke that he made toward the end was quoted in the article.
It would seem that Shalhevet should be inured to slights from The Jewish Journal. Several years ago, when the school dealt openly with a group of students who had used drugs, The Journal covered the school’s heroic responses fairly, but failed to recognize its leadership role in developing a plan of action for all schools in the Bureau of Jewish Education. All schools — were they to be honest — must deal with substance abuse among their students. Nevertheless, despite Shalhevet’s mature, professional response to the incident, The Journal predisposed readers to expect something else entirely by the article’s title — “Scandal” — scrolled across the cover in smoke. When, at the height of the Intifada, Shalhevet students spent their summer in Israel performing chesed (acts of loving kindness) with victims of terrorism, the caption under their photograph identified them as YULA students. Most recently, although Shalhevet students have mounted a major fundraising campaign to assist victims of genocide in the Sudan and even brought an escaped Sudanese slave to address the school community, other schools’ efforts were extolled in The Journal. Shalhevet’s were not.
Last week in the school’s town hall meeting, a student aptly stated that this paper is far more “Journal” than “Jewish” in its treatment of Shalhevet. This community needs The Jewish Journal; we need it to report fairly, objectively and Jewishly.
The bad news is that good news doesn’t sell papers. Sensationalized articles do. The good news is that Shalhevet is alive and well and ever changing for the better.
Editor’s Note: The balanced portrayal of the school as put forth in the article gave a fair picture of the many positive attributes of the school and its students, the challenges facing the school and the actions it is taking to meet those challenges. Our intention was never to hurt or offend Shalhevet students, and we apologize if any students, parents or administrators took accurate reports of these inane and widely known comments as anything other than a sorry reflection on their originators. The Jewish Journal and Julie Gruenbaum Fax continue to believe that Shalhevet is a vital and valued part of the Los Angeles Jewish community.
Beatrice Levavi is director of admissions for Shalhevet.
American Jewish leaders who created the United Jewish Communities (UJC) umbrella organization out of three separate ones in 1999 are largely frustrated and disappointed by the outcome of their labor, with some scoring the missed chance to form a truly representative and forward-looking voice for American Jewry.
Among the apparent losers of the merger are Israel and overseas beneficiaries, as well as rabbinical, intellectual and Zionist segments of the American Jewish community. These findings are part of a two-year study, tellingly titled, “From Predictability to Chaos? How Jewish Leaders Reinvented Their National Communal System.”
In an interview, Dr. Howard Rieger, who took over as president and CEO of UJC last September, termed the study “constructive and useful,” but questioned some specific points and recommendations.
John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said that on the whole, American Jewry was better served than before by the creation of UJC, although the merging of different organizational “cultures” left a number of problems yet unresolved.
The study is based on written responses and in-depth interviews with 88 stakeholders, mostly men and women involved in the merger negotiations, augmented by other prominent Jewish personalities.
Authors of the study are Gerald (Jerry) B. Bubis and Steven F. Windmueller, founding director and current director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles, respectively. For their report, they investigated how Jewish communities have organized themselves since biblical times and current corporate and nonprofit mergers, and also added their own comments and conclusions.
Attempts to combine the alphabet soup of American Jewish fund raising and communal institutions date back more than 60 years, and it took seven years of discussion to effect the establishment of the UJC.
The merger represented the largest 20th- century effort of its kind in the American nonprofit sector and the most significant institutional transformation in modern Jewish life, according to the study. One major impetus was to streamline the entire system and make it more accountable.
The three constituent organizations in the merger were:
• Council of Jewish Federations, which focused mainly on serving the needs of approximately 230 local communities with federations and welfare funds.
• United Jewish Appeal (UJA), which oversaw fundraising, mainly through the federation system, for Israel and overseas needs.
• United Israel Appeal (UIA), which monitored and distributed funds for Israel, by way of the Jewish Agency and monitored U.S. government allotments for refugee resettlement.
The three organizations raised and distributed between $850 million-900 million a year, including $60 million from Washington, for domestic, Israel and overseas needs, and one major impetus for the merger was to streamline the entire system and make it more accountable.
While praising the dedication and good intentions of the organizational leaders, the study reveals a tale of unclear expectations, unshared visions, mixed motivations and multilayered power games. It is a work in progress, according to Bubis and Windmueller.
Toting up perceived winners and losers in the power games, the study cites local federations as coming out on top, with executives of large city federations, in particular, ending up as owning the system.
The biggest loser appears to be Israel (and the UIA), which is likely to lose an even bigger share of American Jewry’s financial support with the ascendancy of locally oriented federations.
Following the 1967 war, about 70 percent of the total pie went to Israel and other overseas needs and 30 percent to U.S. communities. Rieger said that in 2004, out of some $855 raised, 31 percent, or $266.4 million, went to Israel and overseas.
The dollar flow to the Jewish state will likely be further reduced by the preference of large donors to set up their own channels, such as the Jewish Funders Network, and the tendency of a new generation of Jewish philanthropists to give to general secular causes, such as universities and hospitals.
Some of the most acid comments by the study respondents, who are not identified by name, are reserved for the new UJC structure, itself, which was preordained to fail and produced anarchy in the name of unity. The federation system also comes in for criticism, being described by some as a ponderous pachyderm, which processed things to death.
However, Windmueller noted that the study represents a snapshot in time, dealing with the functionality of the UJC structure, rather than its recent performance and reforms.
The authors of the study obviously sympathize with a few visionaries among the respondents, who called for a complete re-invention of a stodgy, tired system and asked for a more open and more daring form of governance for a Jewish community that is this year celebrating its 350th anniversary.
The study concludes with 11 recommendations to the UJC leadership, among them:
• Restore the traditional role of rabbis and intellectuals, now largely excluded, as one of the pillars of communal governance.
• Provide opportunities to discuss and react to Israel’s policies, and encourage full airing of diverse opinions on the challenges facing Jewish life in this country, now often suppressed in the name of unity.
• Expand the old boys network of the wealthy in Jewish life by including more women and young people.
• Appoint an ombudsperson to examine and report on the stewardship of UJC funds.
• Restore the household brand name of UJA in one form or another.
• Balance the division of power between lay and professional leadership.
Rieger, as head of UJC, noting that the interviews underlying the study concluded in December 2003, said that since that time UJC had stabilized itself and moved forward.
“I think today, the evaluations would be a bit more optimistic,” he said.
Responding to suggestions that Jewish leaders should have made fundamental changes and created a more representative body, Rieger said that the overriding purpose was to “align national and local, and domestic and overseas needs. We never meant to create a representative assembly for American Jewry.”
Rieger objected to classifying “winners” and “losers” in the merger talks, observing that “communal work is not a zero-sum game.”
He said that while fundraising by the three separate organizations had declined 5 percent in the last four years before the merger, under UJC the decline had been narrowed to 1 percent in the last four years, not counting $400 million collected for the Israel Emergency Fund.”
“I don’t understand what we have lost,” he said.
To the study’s recommendation to appoint an ombudsperson for UJC, Rieger strongly defended his organization’s existing financial controls.
“Our fiduciary oversight is bullet-proof, it’s the strongest thing we got,” he said.
Asked whether he was upset or outraged by some of the study’s pointed criticisms, Rieger responded, “That’s not my style. We can always learn something from inquiries, but I am more inclined to look toward the future, and I think there’s a lot more potential in the Jewish world.”
Fishel of the L.A. Federation said that despite UJC shortcomings, “the system is now more coherent and unified, and duplication of effort has been minimized.”
He took issue with the study’s assertion that UJC was dominated by federations, especially the executive directors of large-city federation.
Fishel also disagreed that in a federation structure, professionals generally had greater clout than the lay leadership.
“Because professionals usually serve longer in their positions than lay leaders, the former have a better sense of the evolution of the organization, but no one has sole control,” he said.
Fishel noted that the study had been conducted by two academicians, who necessarily had a different perspective than “the people in the trenches,” day by day.
“That doesn’t mean that one is right and the other wrong, but they look at things differently,” he said.
Bubis and Windmueller were to meet Wednesday afternoon in New York with Rieger and some 30 participants in the merger talks and UJC leaders to critique the findings of the study.
“From Predictability to Chaos?” was published by the Center for Jewish Community Studies in Baltimore, an affiliate of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Primary financial support came from Boston Hebrew College, HUC-JIR, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and various foundations and individuals.
Starting next year, Jewish Journal readers who received their weekly newspaper by donating to The Jewish Federation will still be able to get it, but not as part of their Federation donation.
Readers will be able to subscribe directly to The Journal for home delivery, or pick it up for free at distribution sites around Los Angeles.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2005, The Federation will no longer purchase 20,000 annual Journal subscriptions for its donors.
The change in this 18-year relationship comes as The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles launches a unique and unprecedented plan to distribute some 110,000 copies of its weekly newspaper in the greater Los Angeles area.
"By 2006, we intend to be the largest circulation Jewish community weekly in North America," Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman said.
As part of its plan, The Journal will rely largely on free distribution and paid private subscriptions. Until now, The Journal has been able to pay cheap third-class postage rates, allowing it to charge $30 per subscription. Under U.S. Postal Service regulations, a company must pay first-class postage if it distributes a majority of papers for free. First- class postage for weekly delivery is $60 per year.
The Jewish Journal will be running a series of ads to alert readers to its new distribution system.
The distribution plan is unique among North America’s 135 Jewish community papers. But Eshman says it suits a community that is in itself unique. "L.A. Jewry is dispersed, diverse and at the cutting edge of American Jewish life," Eshman said, "and we want our paper to reach and reflect all parts of it."
Journal Chief Operating Officer Kimber Sax said the change could initially cost the Journal, a nonprofit, "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in lost revenue.
On the upside, she said, giving away The Journal is expected to double the paper’s circulation to 110,000 by 2006. Sax and Eshman are confident the increased penetration will make the paper more attractive to advertisers hungry to reach the affluent Jewish community.
"Our vision is that everywhere you go in greater Los Angeles County, whether you’re in Arcadia, Conejo, Encino, San Gabriel or Torrance, you’re going to see The Jewish Journal," Sax said.
Eshman said the new goal challenges the paper to improve the quality to grow readership. Toward that end, The Journal has hired new writers and launched editions in Orange County and Conejo Valley. The paper just hired an in-house Web director to overhaul its Web site, which should be unveiled by October.
"Our goal is to be the largest Jewish newspaper in the country and among the best," Eshman said.
The Journal will become one of only a handful of Jewish papers nationwide neither owned by nor selling thousands of subscriptions to federations, said Neil Rubin, senior editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times and former president of the American Jewish Press Association. He estimated that about 85 percent of Jewish papers have formal financial ties with the philanthropic bodies, including the Cleveland Jewish News and the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, which are federation-owned. Such arrangements help keep some publications afloat by guaranteeing paid circulation, he said.
However, Rubin said at the very least these relationships create the appearance of conflicts of interest.
With federation papers, "you’re not really doing journalism. You’re self-censoring or you’re being censured, which isn’t healthy for the Jewish community," said Rubin, whose Baltimore Jewish Times is independent.
Relations between the Los Angeles Federation and Journal occasionally became frosty after stories critical of the organization ran in the paper. Both Federation President John Fishel and Journal Editor Eshman deny these occasional conflicts played any role in the impending separation.
Eshman said the philanthropic organization no longer could afford subscriptions at a time of dramatically increasing operating costs and only slightly higher fund raising. He said the split might have been driven by cost-cutting recommendations made by an internal Federation task force.
Fishel said The Journal’s decision to give away most of its papers necessitated the separation. With The Journal’s decision to giveaway most copies, subscriptions will cost more than The Federation wants to spend, Fishel said.
Still, he said he hoped Federation members would continue to pick up The Journal, which has served the community well.
"I think The Journal has improved dramatically over the last decade," he said.
Get rid of your old car, help out a charity and get a
write-off. What could be easier?
With the April 15 IRS deadline drawing near, charities are
tapping taxpayer frustration by increasing their appeals for vehicle donations.
But a proposed government crackdown on the value donors can claim for a donated
vehicle is changing the way programs are being advertised.
Claims of “highest blue book value” and grandiose statements
about how a car donation will support your favorite charity are giving way to
cautious, increasingly detailed disclosures of the donation process, including
specifics on how much a charity might expect to receive from a donation.
The pressure on advertisers to come clean about the donation
process follows a recent congressional investigation that found many donors
claim the highest “blue book” value on their taxes, while many charities are
typically earning 20 percent or less from the transactions. In some cases,
nonprofits are even losing money on the deal.
Uncle Sam is now threatening to step in and regulate a
system based primarily on the honor system, which provides donors with plump
write-offs and makes car auctioneers a tidy bundle but leaves charities with
little to show.
“There’s clearly been an area where there’s potential abuse,”
said Paul Castro, president of Jewish Family Service (JFS).
While charities might be receiving a small percentage of the
total donation, many are increasingly reliant on the vehicle sales as a funding
source for annual budgets.
JFS, which uses a third party to collect and sell donated
cars, is worried that any changes in the current system will carry a negative
financial impact for charities. Proceeds from the sale of donated vehiclesÂ
account for 22 percent and 33 percent of the budgets for the organization’s
Valley and Santa Monica offices, respectively.
“Obviously, anything that gets into place from a regulatory
perspective that chills the donor is something that’s going to effect us,
because people are going to be more cautious,” Castro said. “On the other hand,
if the charity is forced to get the appraisal, then it’s going to become a
burdensome process, and if the donor is required to get an appraisal, they’re
going to be less likely to donate it.”
The Bush administration, as part of its budget proposal for
2005, is hoping to close this tax loophole, which could save the federal
government billions in estimated savings over the next 10 years by establishing
either a deduction limit or stricter appraisal requirements for used vehicle
donations. However, the change could have a deleterious impact on nonprofits at
both the national and local level.
If passed by Congress, the changes could take effect this
A November 2003 report prepared for the Senate Finance
Committee by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of
Congress, found rampant abuse by taxpayers who donate vehicles to nonprofits.
In addition to taxpayers inflating write-off claims for used vehicles to “blue
book” value instead of fair-market value, the report found that charities often
earn anywhere from 20 percent to 5 percent of the value donors claimed on their
The report tracked 54 donated vehicles, most of which were
sold at auction. In one instance, a donor valued a 1987 Volvo 740 at $3,000,
but the nonprofit’s final take was $35. Some charities lost money on the
donation after paying towing, repair and resale costs.
The GAO estimates that tax claims for vehicle donations cost
the federal government $654 million in revenue for 2000, but the report did not
estimate how much the IRS loses when donors use the higher “blue book” value
rather than fair market.
The Treasury Department and several senators are pushing for
According to the Treasury, closing the tax loophole on car
donations, as well as a crackdown on deductions for intellectual property and
patents, would raise about $4.8 billion over a 10-year period. Under a plan
submitted by the Treasury, the IRS would require taxpayers to get their vehicle
appraised prior to donation. Current IRS regulations require appraisal only if
the vehicle’s value is greater than $5,000.
“We encourage people to proceed carefully when donating
vehicles,” IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson said. “But people should know that
in some cases, the donation is providing little value.”
Before donating a vehicle, the IRS advises that taxpayers
ask questions of the charity to determine how the vehicle will be sold — either
by the charity itself or a private fundraiser, like an auction house — and how
much of the sale price will be used for charitable purposes.
California law requires that nonprofits issue donors a
receipt that lists the mileage and condition of the vehicle for a state tax
deduction. It’s a model the federal government may turn to as a blueprint for
any vehicle donation reform.
While more stringent reporting at the state level has made
the taxpayer more honest, third-party retailers are still behind the curve. A
California study revealed that 80 percent of charities contracting with
fundraisers to run their car donation program received less than 60 cents for
every dollar value of vehicle donated.
However, smaller-scale car donation programs that handle
their own intake and sales, like Southern California Jewish Center or Chabad,
aren’t worried that future regulations will scare off potential donors.
Rabbi Moshe Bryski said Chabad of the Conejo, which recently
sent out an advertisement about its vehicle donation program to congregants,
takes in about a dozen cars every year that are then sold by a volunteer.
“Organizations that primarily get their cars donated from
people who care about the organization, not so much doing it for the tax
write-off but doing it to help Chabad, it’s not going to have an effect on us
at all,” he said. Â
A pilot academy that would give adult students in Orange County certificates of graduation for completing three years of Jewish study expects to accept its first students in September.
The Orange County Academy of Jewish Growth and Learning received funding approval for half its start-up budget from the county’s Jewish Federation in January, after several months of delay.
The intent is to impose a quasi-academic structure on the existing but disparate array of Jewish study already taking place in synagogues, at Bureau of Jewish Education classes and Community Scholar Program (CSP) seminars.
"One quality adults are looking for is some communal recognition that they have engaged in a serious program of Jewish learning," said Rabbi Michael Mayersohn, who will serve as the academy’s dean and sole employee. His job will include advising students on study topics and available resources.
Although the academy’s certificate would not be recognized by accredited institutions elsewhere, the novel approach received much interest last month at a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., conference of Jewish educators. The 350 educators, administrators and communal professionals, along with education-minded philanthropists, met to devise plans to bring new respect and rewards to the Jewish teaching profession.
"Several were interested in pursuing this," said Joan Kaye, executive director of the bureau, who attended. "No one’s ever done anything like this."
Besides the Federation, the academy will be supported financially by the bureau, CSP and private donors.
For registration information, call (714) 336-0904.
Max and Irving went fishing on an overcast afternoon. About two hours into their expedition, a fierce storm developed.
Their small rowboat tossed, turned and finally flipped over in the lake. Max, a strong swimmer, called to save Irving. Inexplicably, Irving did not respond to any plea and drowned. Max swam to shore to break the terrible news to Irving’s poor wife.
"What happened?" she screamed. Max recounted the entire episode in full detail.
"But what did you do to try to save my Irving?" she shrieked. Max explained once again. "I kept screaming to your husband, ‘Irving, give me your hand, give me your hand, give me your hand.’ But Irving just gave me a blank stare and drifted away."
"You fool!" shouted Irving’s widow. "You said the wrong thing. You should have said, ‘Take my hand.’ Irving never gave anything to anybody!".
Do you know Irving? Don’t we all know an Irving or two? Unfortunately, the tragedy of the Irving persona is endemic to the human condition. Yet, as Jews, we are the proud bearers of a near 4,000-year tradition of giving. Our creativity, compassion and concern for the needs of others have ignited new vistas of chesed (loving kindness). Certainly, there must be a method behind the madness. How have we succeeded in inculcating such a fundamental value? In short, what creates that giving personality?
Our Torah portion employs an enigmatic turn of phrase that appears quite instructive in this regard. As God commands Moses to solicit the necessary stuff to build the Sanctuary, He demands that the Jews "take for Me a portion."
Are the Jews taking??!! Surely it would have been more complimentary and precise to formulate the act in terms of giving, i.e. that the Jews "should give to Me a portion".
As Jews, we believe that every component of our existence is a gift. We are not entitled — rather we are endowed. To paraphrase the Department of Motor Vehicles: "Life is a privilege — not a right" More precisely, we are trustees in God’s world. Eventually, all that we are entrusted with must return to its original source.
Return is a dominant theme in Judaism. Every seven days, on the Shabbat — the Jew returns to God. On the seventh year (shemitta) we return the land to its fallow state. After seven cycles of seven, the Jubilee year marks the return of property and indentured servants to their origins.
After enduring years of barrenness, the great Jewish heroine Chana names her son Shmuel, a Hebrew composite reflecting the notion of her son being "on loan from God." Finally, in death as well as in life, through burial, we "return to the dust." In short, the notion of ultimate possession cannot apply to a human in the realm of the fiscal and the physical.
Seen in this light, the act of giving is akin to a prepayment of sorts. Thus, when the Jews donate to the Sanctuary, they do not give — they return to God — who is taking back what always was, is and will be His. At this point, the pensive Jew might fear: What’s left? Is there anything we may dare to call our own? Is human imperative merely relegated to the role of grand guardian?
Here we return to the Sanctuary and arrive at one of the great paradoxical truths of Judaism. Ultimate taking can only be achieved through giving! God labels the Sanctuary donors as takers, to signify that the only things we own are our deeds. How aptly do the rabbis describe the true beneficiary of the act of charity as the giver, for only he walks away with a true possession, a deed of eternity and an incredible sense of exhilaration! By contrast, the taker experiences that same ole draining (read: "empty wallet") feeling.
Growing up, I remember that my parents (among many others) would accord a quasi-mystical status to ordinary tables. We were not allowed to walk or rest our feet on them (for a child, this constitutes cruel and unusual punishment).
"The table," says the Talmud, "is like an altar."
Much to my amazement, I recently stumbled upon the comment of the Spanish commentator, Rabbeinu Bechaye (1265-1340) who recorded the stunning custom of the pious Jews of France who used the wood of their dining room table as building materials for their own coffins. It all clicked in. Long after the food has been cleared away, it is the symbolism of the dining room table and its accompanying kindnesses that sustain our people. May we have the clarity of vision to focus our deeds — they’re ours for the taking.
Rabbi Asher Brander is the rabbi of Westwood Kehilla, founder of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and long-time teacher at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles High schools.
Propelled by a tide of last-minute contributions in the final weeks of its annual campaign, the Jewish Federation of Orange County raised a record $2.3 million, a 9 percent gain over last year, outpacing national results by the United Jewish Communities.
“We attribute the increase in the campaign to deliberate relationship building,” said Bunnie Mauldin, Federation executive director.
Each of the Federation’s various support groups increased its giving, though the 39 percent increase by the young professionals’ network was the largest. Gifts ranged from $5,000 to $100,000 or more.
Nearly 90 percent of the Federation’s contributors gave $500 or less, or 16 percent of the total.
“That is pretty much in step with what most philanthropy’s experience: 90 percent of the money comes from 10 percent of the donors,” Mauldin said.
In June, the Journal incorrectly reported the 2003 results as slightly down based on incomplete figures that did not reflect the final campaign push.
The Federation fell short of an ambitious $3.2 million target, but should be considered a success since other communities experienced meaningful declines, Federation President Lou Weiss, noted in the group’s annual report.
This year’s campaign exceeded last year’s level by $235,000, Mauldin said.
On Sunday, Feb. 23, 800 volunteers from across the Southland
will staff the phones from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. to raise money for the Jewish
Federation of Greater Los Angeles. They will try to coax extra money out of
existing donors and recruit new ones to the cause of Jewish giving.
Just a year ago, Super Sunday, as the single-day
extravaganza is known, raised $5 million to help the Federation underwrite the
15 recipient organizations it funds, including Jewish Vocational Service,
Jewish Family Service and Jewish Big Brothers.
This year, with the economy softening and the drums of war
beating ever louder, the charity faces an even greater challenge in making
Super Sunday 2003 super.
“These are difficult times for nonprofit organizations as
they try to build support for their programs,” said Eugene R. Tempel, executive
director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. “Many fundraisers
are having to work harder to raise the same amount of money as last year.”
In 2002, the Federation’s Annual Campaign brought in nearly
$42.5 million. That’s slightly 3 percent – $1 million – more than in 1997. (The
Federation raised an additional $20 million in 2002 for the Israeli Emergency
Campaign.) This year, the Federation expects to match or slightly exceed last
year’s Annual Campaign results.
The local Federation’s fundraising woes parallel those of
similar organizations across the country. The United Jewish Communities (UJC),
an umbrella group representing 156 community federations, raised about $851
million in 2001, nearly a 20 percent increase compared to 1996. At the same
time, the number of donors dipped by more than 58,000 to 651,000, a 9 percent
Federation giving has stalled nationally partly because
Jewish charities have focused too much time and attention on wealthy donors at
the expense of the larger community, UJC President Stephen Hoffman said. Also,
intermarriage and a low birthrate have shrunk the American Jewish population,
along with the potential donor base, by an estimated 250,000 over the past
decade to 5.25 million today, he added.
On the other hand, federations have successfully raised
millions in emergency campaigns for Israel and other causes and from
contributors earmarking their giving for specific causes, so-called
donor-advised funds, said Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish
& Community Research in San Francisco.
Still, “federations are not the central address for Jewish
givers that they once were, and it’s not going to change,” he said.
What has changed, said Tobin and others, is the nature of
Jewish philanthropy, and federations find themselves having to adapt quickly to
new trends and expectations.
Federations’ fundraising problems notwithstanding, American
Jews are more philanthropic than ever. It’s just that many now embrace a more
personalized approach to giving, experts said. Simply put: Givers increasingly
want direct control over how their dollars are spent and are willing to bypass
federations altogether to ensure that happens.
To that end, an enormous network of Jewish family
foundations have sprung up over the past five years, from about 2,500 to up to
8,000 today. These foundations control an estimated $25 billion in assets, said
Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, a 12-year-old
organization representing Jewish family foundations and independent givers.
Those foundations, which fund a variety of causes ranging
from education to the environment to AIDS research, have undoubtedly siphoned
money away from federations. And as wealth is transferred from aging
philanthropists to their children, the importance and number of Jewish
foundations is expected to rise, he said.
Many of those freshly minted givers probably won’t be giving
to traditional Jewish causes.
“Younger funders are far more likely to define Jewish giving
as a reflection of their Jewish values than giving to a cause with Jewish or
Israel in its name,” Charendoff said.
Obviously, that could hurt federations across the country.
Closer to home, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles
faces several hurdles – some beyond its control – hampering its ability to
significantly boost donations.
Unlike Detroit, Boston and other older cities, the Jewish
community here is geographically dispersed and lacks cohesion, making it
difficult to reach. Wealthy Hollywood insiders have largely shunned federation
and other Jewish giving in favor of higher profile charitable causes like the
environment and animal rights. Jewish charities that attract large Hollywood
contributions, like the Simon Weisenthal Center and the American Friends of
Hebrew University, tend to have more of a single focus. Until recently, the
Southland’s large Russian Jewish and Persian Jewish immigrant populations
segregated themselves and gave little to Federation.
Still, the Federation bears some of the blame for its
problems, experts said.
Federations, including Los Angeles, have come under attack
for operating like remote bureaucracies more interested in filling their
coffers with cash from a handful of wealthy donors than in addressing the
spiritual and educational needs of the community at large.
“A federation should be more than just a fundraising
machine. It should be a Jew-making machine,” said Gerald Bubis, a former Los
Angeles Federation board member and founding director of the School of Jewish
Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
“Unfortunately, ours is a fundraising machine.”
Federation executives said fundraising is only a small part
of what the organization is all about and that it is working to tighten its
bond to the public. The organization recently formed a committee to examine how
it could improve operations and fundraising, and better serve the Jewish
The Federation’s campaigns are “not fresh or new or
interesting. It’s the same stuff regurgitated about the poor and elderly
needing help,” said Irwin Daniels, a former board member. To dress up its
message and increase its relevance, the organization should hire an outside
marketing firm, he added.
Bill Bernstein, executive vice president of financial
resource development at the Federation, said the organization can only afford
to spend $1 million annually on advertising and marketing. He admitted that
financial constraints have hindered getting the word out.
“There are a lot of people who don’t know about us, and we’d
love to have more resources to convey our message and educate people on what we
do,” he said.
The local Federation’s efforts to cultivate future leaders
and donors among the community’s youth has fallen short over the past decade,
said a former fundraising executive at the Federation. The ex-employee, who was
laid off last year and asked to remain anonymous, said the organization has
failed to generate enough excitement among young Jews or clearly explain its
In an attempt to address that, the Federation recently
inaugurated the Young Leadership Program. Designed to increase cooperation
among young Jews in the Federation’s entertainment, law and real estate
divisions, among others, it replaces Access Program, which fell short of
fundraising goals. Young Leadership’s strategy is still being formulated, but seminars,
dinners and concerts are planned, said Jonathan F. Shulman, directory of the
Young Leadership Program.
Given the increased competition for charitable dollars and
the Federation’s relatively flat fundraising, the organization must reinvent
itself to maintain its relevance.
“We better start thinking in a very radical sense about how
to engage more people in what we do,” Federation President John Fishel said.
Toward that end, The Federation has recently undertaken a
series of initiatives designed to broaden its donor base and heighten its role.
Fundraisers are now encouraged to go out and meet face to
face with donors. The visits serve to educate givers on what the Federation
does, get feedback and “make donors feel valued,” Fishel said.
To tap into the business community, the organization has
established the CEO Leadership Forum, which meets quarterly to discuss topics
of interest, including Jewish business ethics. The Federation’s Bernstein, who
has also begun soliciting gifts from big local corporations, said he hopes to
turn many of the 200 participating executives into givers.
One initiative that has borne fruit is the Los Angeles
Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund (LA-JVPF). Founded last year by Jewish
professionals in conjunction with the Federation, the self-funded group has
raised $250,000 and plans to award grants to new or existing nonprofits that
Although LA-JVPF members make the final decision on how to
earmark their funds, an example of the more hand-on approach to giving, the Federation
has benefited from its involvement: Several LA-JVPF participants have become
first-time Federation donors, having contributed more than $100,000 so far,
Its efforts notwithstanding, some consider the organization
a vestige of the past.
Its advocates are not so willing to write off an
organization that still ranks among larger charities in the city. Fishel said
the Federation is moving in the right direction and remains a vibrant,
important part of local Jewish life. If not for the Federation, Fishel asked,
then who would fund burials for indigent Jews or support poor pensioners in the
former Soviet Union?
Indeed, other federations have launched programs that have
become among the most-cutting edge in the nation.
The Boston Federation heavily subsidizes intensive adult
Jewish education to build a community of “Torah, tzedek [justice] and chesed
(kindness),” said Barry Shrage, president of the Boston Federation. Many Jews
participating in the program have increased their donations, he said.
The Boston Federation’s Annual Campaign jumped to $28.5
million last year, up nearly 24 percent since 1997.
In the Midwest, The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan
Detroit gives $500,000 annually to area synagogues and $2.5 million to local
Jewish day schools for scholarships, Chief Executive Bob Aronson said.
By contrast, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles
gives about $100,000 to local temples and $2.35 million to day schools.
The Detroit organization is also seriously considering
giving Jewish newborns vouchers for free trips to Israel to “make a connection
between the Federation and family in a very personal way,” he said.
With a Jewish population of 80,000, or just 15 percent of
that of greater Los Angeles, it raised $30.6 million in last year’s Annual
Campaign, or 72 percent of the amount collected locally (Overall, Detroit
raised $20 million more than the Los Angeles’ Federation when adding the Israel
Emergency and other campaigns.)
The Detroit Federation’s attempts at community building
appear to have paid off, Aronson said.
“The more you can make yourself relevant to the community
and what people are doing in Jewish life,” he said, “the more you can get them
to contribute.” Â
Call me short-sighted and atavistic, but I believe one of the most encouraging bits of news I heard last week was the decision by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to suspend its renovation.
The bad news is Los Angeles will have to wait indefinitely to have a splashier namesake art museum, a Getty-by-the-Tar Pits. The good news is the major donors, many of whom are Jewish, now might be swayed to move some of that museum money over into other communal needs.
Just over one year ago, the museum unveiled a bold plan to overhaul and expand the Wilshire Boulevard institution, according to an architectural design by Rem Koolhaas of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The renovation, which would have involved a downstairs plaza and redesigned upstairs galleries under a tent-like roof, was expected to cost upwards of $400 million.
This is not to take joy in LACMA’s disappointment. I am all in favor of visionary new buildings — that’s one of the benefits of living in a great city — and I am very much pro-LACMA. I’ve spent many hours there, meandering through the galleries, attending special programs, concerts and screenings.
Not long ago, I wandered off through an upstairs gallery and came face to face with Magritte’s "Le Trahaison des Images," the renowned image of a pipe with, "Ceci n’est pas un pipe," (This is not a pipe) inscribed below. Anywhere else, I would have fought crowds for a glance at the landmark work. At LACMA, there it was, with no hoopla, no line, just great art.
That has always been my experience at the museum, so I was among those who questioned why donors, along with L.A. taxpayers through last November’s ballot Measure A, needed to cough up close to a half-billion dollars to renew buildings that were, at most, 37 years old.
Evidently, I wasn’t alone. As the economy wended its way south, people smarter and far, far wealthier than myself came to the same conclusion. I am speaking of the people in a position to make a lead gift to the museum project of $5 million-$50 million. It wasn’t that their portfolios dipped below the poverty line, just that they came to the assessment that the crowd of donors behind them had shrunk, along with the Dow.
But if LACMA’s big plans have disappeared for now, much of the money that was eager to back it hasn’t. And the fact is, many of LACMA’s potential lead donors are Jewish. That’s hardly surprising. The art world in Los Angeles has been funded by Jewish Angelenos out of all proportion to their numbers in this city.
Jewish artists escaping Nazi persecution invigorated the postwar art scene. Jewish donors, looking to take a place among the non-Jewish elite and committed to creating a cultural center, contributed large sums to everything from the UCLA Hammer Museum to the Norton Simon to MOCA to the Music Center to the new Disney Concert Hall.
But with the Koolhaas expansion on hold, is it right to hope that the millions of Jewish donor dollars ready to fund that project could now flow elsewhere? Are our Jewish leaders scanning the list of LACMA donors and preparing their appeals? I hope so.
I hope so, because I can think of several areas where millions would make a big difference in our part of the L.A. community.
Take health and human services. Facing state and federal budget cuts, agencies that reach out to elderly or indigent Jews and non-Jews will need significant increases in private donations over the coming year. Otherwise, the people who suffer most in a weak economy will suffer even more.
Then there’s Jewish Community Centers. As Marc Ballon reported last week, the system that serves as a gateway for so many into Jewish life is in dire need of fixing. The Westside JCC, which serves a middle-class and immigrant community, could rebuild and flourish with a lot less than $300 million. JCC services in less populated Jewish areas and new campuses in growing areas can ensure a steady flow of new families and new energy into L.A. Jewish life for decades to come.
Jewish camps, religious schools and day schools are other effective ways of promoting meaningful values and traditions for the next generation, but these institutions are becoming unaffordable to an increasing number of families. Other cities have far-reaching scholarship programs for Jewish schools and camps, often started by just one donor. We need it, too.
These are just a few examples of places where the Jewish community could greatly benefit from the kind of largesse slated for LACMA. Smart money goes where it’s most needed. If a half-billion dollar, tent-covered museum were a pressing necessity, it would be under construction this very moment. Now it’s time for advocates to make their pitch that, while a museum’s expansion can be put on indefinite hold, Jewish communal needs can’t be.
All of us, big and small donors alike, speak of the importance of Jewish community. But unless we give — give as much as possible — what we end up with is, like Magritte’s pipe, not real community, but only its unreal image.
The financial crisis facing Jewish Community Center (JCC) programs and locations this week will come as an awful shock to tens of thousands of area Jews, and it should (see story, page 14).
JCC officials and Federation lay leaders and staff stress there is no cause for panic. They believe they can work out a way to save the majority of JCC programs and locations. (The Federation is the largest donor to the JCC system.) But there is no question that without immediate community response, the JCC system faces severe cutbacks.
Other organizations have already offered to step in and help those immigrants, seniors, children and others who would be most affected by cutbacks. And JCC supporters are working to make sure that what looked like inevitable closure last week can be avoidable by next.
The writing has been on the wall for some time now: years of accumulating deficits have led to a series of controversies over JCC closures of centers and services from Santa Monica to mid-Wilshire. "Maybe they should have sold the Westside J," an insider told me. "Maybe they should have sold Silverlake. But they always deferred the tough decisions."
What seems clear even now is that the JCC’s present executive director, Nina Lieberman-Giladi, has done a magnificent and largely thankless job since taking over the helm last year. Giladi inherited the accumulated financial woes — and errors — going back a dozen or more years. The hot potato of debt landed in her lap. Credit her with at least not passing it on.
That the JCCs of the second largest Jewish population in the Diaspora face this crisis raises serious questions about this community’s present priorities and future possibilities.
The centers were incorporated in Los Angeles in 1932. After World War II, Judge Irvin Stalmaster provided the lay leadership to establish the centers as a strong, autonomous institution.
"My dad cared so much about the centers," the judge’s son, Lynn Stalmaster, told me from his home in Santa Fe, N.M. Stalmaster, who went on to create a premiere film industry casting agency, remembered how his father devoted almost every evening to nurturing the center. "He felt the community needed places to parti-cipate in Jewish life other than the synagogue," said Stalmaster.
Stalmaster and the activists, staff workers and donors who followed him shared a vision of JCCs as a place where Jewish Americans could be Americanized, and, later, where American Jews could be Judaized. That is, the centers provided generations of immigrants with a familiar foothold in American society. These days, they provide generations of Americans with a way to reconnect with their Jewishness.
JCCs are as important and as effective today as they ever were. In San Jose, Boston, New Orleans, Orange County and elsewhere, communities are spending millions investing in state-of-the-art Jewish center facilities.
What about in Los Angeles? A Federation-funded study based on the 1997 Los Angeles Jewish Population Study revealed that, while only 11 percent of households belong to a Jewish Community Center, an estimated 133,000 households reported contact with a Jewish Center in the course of a year.
Visiting the Westside JCC — as I do about twice each week — provides a clue as to why centers work, even if the system that supports them is broken. On a given afternoon, moms and dads are picking up kids from swim practice, seniors are kibitzing in the activities room, men wearing kippot are playing basketball alongside men whose only connection to Jewish life is the weekly pick-up game. Centers are the gathering place of the great swath of Jewry, religious and nonreligious, male and female, young, old, somewhat wealthy and downright poor. How can we call for Jewish unity but not support the system that physically makes it possible?
Do we really want our children and grandchildren to grow up in an L.A. Jewish community that has more Holocaust museums and memorials than Jewish Community Centers?
This crisis need not leave the JCC in ruins. As the L.A. Jewish community has shifted and changed, centers have changed with it. In 1952, there was a bitter fight over closing a JCC in the West Adams section near downtown, as most Jews had moved west. But the JCC moved west, and grew as L.A. Jewry did.
This crisis too is an opportunity for more growth and change. But for that to happen, JCC and Federation leaders have got to show creativity and leadership. Centers provide a spawning ground for Jewish identity, which in turn strengthens every Jewish institution here. "This is a time to get everyone around the table — Marvin Hier, Uri Herscher, every rabbi, everyone — and figure out how to save the centers. Are those calls even going out?" said someone close to the process.
On Tuesday, I called Herscher, founder and president of the Skirball Cultural Center, and told him what was happening at the JCCs. "I feel like I’ve just been told someone has died when I wasn’t even told he was sick," he told me. "Are we so divided as a community we can’t ask one another for help? I wouldn’t say no."
When he immigrated to America, Herscher had relied on the centers in Cincinnati and San Jose. "They embrace a lot of people," he said of JCC.
We should extend that embrace into the future: a vision of a new, state-of-the-art center, such as the one outgoing Federation Chairman Todd Morgan has promoted, is a place to start. Add to it the brilliant redesign of the Westside JCC that members there have been struggling to bring into fruition. Add to that other visions, along with better financial oversight and better outreach, and there can be a renewed dedication to a system that deserves to flourish, not fail.