A grieving father’s mission to encourage positive choices

The words on the other end of the phone line punctured the warm, Montecito spring day and shattered Shaun Tomson’s world in an instant.

“Mathew is dead,” came the voice of Tomson’s wife, Carla, who was 10,000 miles away in South Africa while their son attended school there for a semester. 

It seemed impossible. Just two hours earlier, Tomson — a world champion surfer and successful businessman living in Santa Barbara — had spoken by phone with his 15-year-old son. It had felt like Mathew was sitting right next to him, and Tomson’s heart swelled with pride as his son read him an essay he’d written about the spiritual nature of surfing. 

“Deep inside the barrel, completely in tune with my inner self …” Mathew had read. “My hand dragging along the wall, the light shines ahead.”

The last four words had struck Tomson as particularly beautiful. But now, his smart, handsome son with a whole life ahead of him was gone, accidentally asphyxiated while playing a dangerous choking game sometimes practiced by teenagers in an effort to induce a temporary high.

“Our lives, like that, were destroyed,” said Tomson, snapping his fingers in the air as he recounted the 2006 ordeal late last year during a talk to members of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “Losing a child — it’s the worst thing that can happen. Your life is destroyed, and then you have to try and understand why.” 

And in Tomson’s case, it also meant trying to do something to prevent others from suffering the same fate.

Now 58, he grew up a Reform Jew in Durban, on the east coast of South Africa. His parents were frequent beachgoers, and from an early age the ocean was a big part of Tomson’s life. At 10 he began surfing and fell in love with the feeling it gave him.

“You’re out there in this enormous ocean, this insignificant, floating object,” he said. “That sense of exhilaration you get that very first time grips you, and it never lets go.”

In the decades that followed, Tomson became a legendary surfer, winning the International Professional Surfers World Championship in Hawaii in 1977, followed by wins at 19 other major professional surfing events. He developed a revolutionary technique for riding inside the most challenging part of a wave, called “the tube,” and is considered one of the architects of professional surfing. He was inducted into both the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the South African Sports and Arts Hall of Fame and has been described as one of the greatest surfers of all time. In January, he was inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. He also became a businessman, founding and managing two multimillion-dollar apparel companies — Instinct in the 1980s and Solitude in the 1990s — which he eventually sold.

When Tomson talks about surfing, it’s not as a sport but as a kind of mystical experience, a means of connecting with the universe and a higher power. Surfing teaches you about life, Tomson insists, and those lessons of honor, integrity, empathy, commitment, courage and perseverance have helped him weather life’s toughest challenges, he said.

It was around 2003 that Tomson, now retired from professional surfing, decided to share those lessons with the world. A friend had invited him to meet with a group of young people at a surfing contest in Santa Barbara and asked Tomson to give them something as a reminder of the day. Tomson chose to offer advice. He printed lessons he’d learned from surfing — 12 sentences beginning with “I Will” — on cards and handed them out at the event. Soon, everybody wanted a copy.

“It turned into a groundswell,” Tomson recalled. “It changed my life.”

Tomson became a sought-after motivational speaker for businesses, students and others. He eventually made the lessons into a book, “Surfer’s Code — 12 Simple Lessons for Riding Through Life.” It came out shortly after his son died.

Unsurprisingly, Mathew’s death dealt a gut-wrenching blow to Tomson and his wife. It also pushed the surfer to think more deeply about the hazards of poor choices — drugs, alcohol and other risky behaviors — especially among young people. These poor choices kill millions of people every year, Tomson said. And, as he’d become so painfully aware, just one bad decision can destroy an individual’s life and that of the entire family.

“Teenagers are way more at risk for bad decisions because their brains are not [fully] developed,” Tomson explained. “They don’t have the same awareness of risk and consequence.”

Today, Tomson is on a mission to teach teenagers and others about making positive choices and thinking twice before making a decision. His second book, “The Code: The Power of ‘I Will,’ ” shares stories about his life, what he’s learned and what happened to his son. He speaks to students and businesses and asks people to write their own version of the surfer’s code, a list of 12 promises to themselves beginning with the words “I will.”

“When you sit down and just write 12 promises to yourself … they develop force and power,” he said. “When you put ‘I will’ in front of them, it’s a commitment. It’s a bond between you and the future. … You’re not going to make a promise to yourself and flake out of it.”

Tomson’s message is powerful and necessary, especially for teenagers who face many risks in their daily lives, whether from prescription-drug abuse, dangerous driving or social media, said Rocky Murray, principal at Huntington Beach High School. Tomson spoke in November to the school’s 2,900 students and, in a separate event, to parents. Murray said the talk was so successful, he is now encouraging other schools in the area to invite Tomson to speak. He said the message of making good choices is something teachers at his school try to instill in students, but hearing it from an athlete of Tomson’s caliber, backed up by personal experience, carries a lot of weight.

“I know he touched more than one student there. It was very effective,” Murray said. “It’s something that students can benefit from, hearing that message. The more you hear a consistent message like that … the greater the opportunity there is for it to sink in.”

Tomson, a practicing Jew who attends the Community Shul of Montecito and Santa Barbara, said he turned to his religion to help him cope with the death of his son. Nevertheless, Tomson said he shuns labels when it comes to Judaism, preferring a broader, more practical interpretation of spirituality.

“How you pray and what traditions you use have no relevance to our soul,” he said. “Being a good Jew is about being empathetic, respectful, honest, having integrity, giving back and, hopefully, inspiring positivity in the social context. My mission is to inspire people both young and old with the story of my journey and how I’ve overcome adversity in my life, like so many Jews have.”

As he describes it, for Tomson and his wife, the journey to healing from the loss of Mathew has been marked by a series of auspicious occurrences that he sees as evidence of a greater, spiritual power at work. 

One of these events was the adoption of another son in late 2009, who, it turned out, shared the same birthday as one of Tomson’s surfing heroes and whose actual due date was Mathew’s birthday, Tomson said. The couple instinctively named the little boy Luke, only to find out later that the name means “light” or “bringer of light.” Luke is now 4 years old.

“Luke, for us, was a miracle,” Tomson said. “For anyone that is just suffering loss and enduring a tough struggle, what this name means is representative of the hope that we all have to have for the future. That light that shines ahead.” 

How to run a gala

It started with a corned beef sandwich shipped across the world — from Los Angeles to Paris.

Before Stanley Gold, president and CEO of Shamrock Holdings, concluded a trans-continental journey in Paris in spring 2013, Bet Tzedek — a local pro bono legal firm — had a plan to woo their hoped-for honoree for their upcoming gala in March at the Hyatt Century Plaza. David Bubis, Bet Tzedek’s vice president of development, knew that Gold has soft spot for corned beef.

“We paid for the shipping of two corned beef sandwiches to be delivered to Stanley’s hotel in Paris, and that sealed the deal,” Bubis said.

In a recent interview in his 14th floor Wilshire Boulevard office, Bubis detailed to the Journal the ins and outs of how his nonprofit group plans and executes its successful gala, year in and year out. 

Few people are more qualified than Bubis in the nonprofit world to discuss galas. He has been in fundraising and nonprofit management for nearly three decades — a career that includes work on more than one campaign that topped $100 million.

Any successful gala starts, Bubis said, with choosing the best person to honor —meaning most effective at inspiring donations — a process that usually begins shortly after the completion of the last gala. 

“I think the toughest thing is finding the right honorees,” Bubis said. “Recruiting them to get them to say yes and agreeing to help us raise money.”

Based on who it is, Bubis and his team estimate a “very conservative” expectation for how much money they think the event could raise.

“We sit down and we say, ‘Who’s the honoree this year?’ ” he said. “It’s a guess: ‘Oh this person will bring in $200,000, or this person might bring in half a million.’ ”

And even when they’ve settled on a candidate, it’s hardly a sure thing: “It sometimes takes years to get an honoree,” Bubis said.

Once the honoree is on board, local organizations like Bet Tzedek and the Anti-Defamation League begin focusing on the next, most important job — tapping into that person’s network.

“What we hope for is that the people who are in their circles — whether it is professional or personal or through other charitable or philanthropic efforts — that they have, that they will be willing to share with us lists of people,” said ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind.

In May, the ADL honored Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of DreamWorks Animation, at its annual entertainment industry dinner, held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. 

The evening, which brought in $1.1 million for ADL, included that most crucial of social and networking events, the cocktail hour. Susskind said that’s the moment when she focuses on closing the deal on some final donations, personally asking major industry figures to open their checkbooks during the event.

This year, among those she spoke to, was Ryan Kavanaugh, founder and CEO of Relativity Media. “I pulled him aside before the thing,” Susskind said, asking that he chip in when the event organizers would later ask the crowd to spontaneously give. 

“’We would love it if you would stand up and get the ball rolling,’” Susskind remembers suggesting to Kavanaugh. 

During dessert, when ADL employees circulated through the room identifying those who had raised their hand to give, Kavanaugh donated $25,000, beyond the $10,000 he had already given to be an event sponsor.

Asked whether Kavanaugh’s and others’ generosity was truly spontaneous, or a pre-planned performance, Susskind said, “That was a little spontaneous, what you are seeing when we do a pitch on the spot. If we are lucky, maybe we’ll raise another $100,000.”

ADL’s regional chapter, which has an annual budget of around $3 million, generally expects its larger, annual gala to bring in about $2 million. This year, the event will take place in December, honoring local philanthropists Tom and Barbara Leanse (see related story on the Leanses on p. 47).

Bet Tzedek’s cocktail hour is also, Bubis said, a major networking opportunity for local power players in business and law. “We deliver a very significant group of people to our gala every year,” he said.

One thing that both ADL and Bet Tzedek utilize on the night of the gala is, essentially, a healthy dose of guilt, asking people who came but who may not have yet made a personal donation, to financially support values they believe in.

Honorees and other guests, Susskind said, are often welcome to “bring friends who haven’t paid anything.” After dinner is served, she added, she encourages those who brought others to remind the guests that they will soon have an opportunity to give.

Bet Tzedek, which has a $7.3 million annual budget, draws between 1,100 and 1,300 people to its gala every year. The group’s dinner committee is able to deliver about $1.3 million annually “like clockwork,” Bubis said, regardless of the honoree.

The price per table, most of which are filled by local law firms, ranges from $4,000 to $100,000. Bubis estimates that Bet Tzedek’s gala costs about $200,000 to put on — or, to put it another way, the price of two top-of-the-line tables.

Bubis said that most of the attorneys who come to represent their firms didn’t personally pay a dime to attend — their firm covered their ticket. So, he said, a few years ago, he and his fundraising team realized, “We are leaving money on the table.”

So Bet Tzedek came up with a way to invite everyone to participate, using technology — namely, the text message.

After showing a short, well-made video that details its mission, Bubis said, “When people hopefully have been moved, we ask people to take out their cell phones and we put instructions up on the screens,” on how to give instantaneously.

“If you’re moved by our mission and you believe in what we are doing, we ask you to join us in becoming a financial supporter tonight,” the crowd is told. 

Each of the last two years, texting has brought Bet Tzedek some $50,000 that might otherwise not have come in.

For both Susskind and Bubis, among the logistics of the event — hotel, security, catering — the biggest challenge is keeping the gala tightly run, in terms of time.

“The dinner is over, meaning over, 9 o’clock, out the door,” Bubis said firmly.

Susskind agreed, saying efficiency can be forward thinking: “Most of the people in the audience want to shmooze with each other and enjoy the meal,” she said. “If we can keep it short and sweet and get you home at a reasonable hour, we think it’s more likely that you’re going to want to come back.

Family keeps tzedakah tradition going with funds

When Osias “Ozzie” Goren turned 90 last year, he and his wife, Dorothy, were moved that their grandchildren donated $900 — $90 each — to a Head Start preschool for low-income families that the Gorens supported for many years.

After all, it was right in line with the way the philanthropist couple from Pacific Palisades have lived their whole lives. When they expressed their desire that their grandchildren continue to carry on these practices, sons Jerry and Bruce remember it giving them an idea.

“If you’re really interested in trying to make them charitable, why don’t you provide them with the means of doing that?” they asked.  

And the Gorens did. 

Announced this spring, the Gorens made an initial allocation of $48,000 from their family foundation to create 13 donor-advised funds through the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (JCF) that will allow all 10 grandchildren and the Gorens’ three children to discover what causes they are passionate about and donate to them. Each child’s fund received $10,000, with each grandchild’s receiving $1,800. They will be increased by those same amounts every year, according to Bruce Goren.   

Dorothy, 90, said the object of creating the funds was to “infect” their grandchildren with the  “idea of giving to the community” and to interest other people with foundations to do the same with theirs. (Several other Jewish families in Los Angeles have since established similar funds.) 

 “L’dor v’dor [‘from generation to generation’] is exactly what we are doing,” Ozzie added during a conversation with the couple in his Westwood office. “We are inculcated with the business of tzedakah, of giving, in our lifetimes. We want to make sure it goes on and on.” 

An attorney since 1962, Ozzie went on to pursue the investment, development and management of commercial real estate. His resume includes time spent as the president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Dorothy is a former president of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles and was the first woman in a major city to chair a United Jewish Welfare Fund campaign. The couple created the Goren Family Foundation in 1986 through the JCF, which counsels and manages charitable assets for Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists. 

The new donor-advised funds, they said, are about more than the money they put into them. Ozzie and Dorothy said they hope the funds eventually grow from donations their family members each independently contribute, thereby sustaining them well beyond the couple’s lives. 

Jerry Goren described the funds as a vehicle that ensures the Gorens’ grandchildren are thoughtful about giving, because they now have the means to do so at some small level.  

In fact, even though the funds were created less than a year ago, they are already making a difference, as the grandchildren can recommend donations go to virtually any organization they choose (although the foundation has the final say). 

Bruce Goren said that his children, who are all in their 20s, are now concretely thinking about “what they want to be passionate about and what they think is a worthwhile cause.” Because they now have charitable funds with which to work, it “puts the onus on them to do something,” he said. 

Cole, Jerry Goren’s 13-year-old son, said that in particular he is now concerned with the homeless population in Los Angeles, and that he appreciates how his family is sharing this legacy of giving together.  

When Ozzie and Dorothy Goren’s children and grandchildren start donating — they can make recommendations immediately and independently — they will continually remember the values that once prompted the funds’ creation and share them with the Jewish community, said Marvin Schotland, president and CEO of the JCF, who oversaw the organization of the Gorens’ donor-advised funds.

Schotland, who has known Ozzie and Dorothy Goren for almost 25 years, said his first impression of the Gorens was they have a “deep and abiding love for their family. They also have a deep and abiding love for the Jewish community and Jewish traditions and values.” 

Together, Ozzie and Dorothy Goren have held just about every major volunteer position in the Los Angeles Jewish community, and they continue to support organizations like JFS and Federation. They helped smuggle needed items into the Soviet Union to assist refuseniks and assisted in the relocation of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. They also supported efforts to get black South Africans to Israel during the apartheid era.

The couple attributes their philanthropic nature to their Eastern European parents, who all immigrated to New York, and to living through the wake of the Great Depression, the Holocaust, World War II and the beginnings of the State of Israel. As a result, they said, they believe in a responsibility as Jews to improve the world for everyone.

“We care for each other, and for the outside community,” Dorothy Goren said about the Jewish community as she welled up with tears.  “On the total community, on the world.  We care a lot.”

Her husband cut in, “If I’m not for myself, who will be for me? But if I’m only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” referring to Hillel’s aphorism from the Mishnah about one’s relationship to the world.

The Gorens have tried to pass down this legacy of tzedakah and tikkun olam (repairing the world) to their children and grandchildren, who serve turkey dinners to 100 families every Christmas, a tradition Ozzie Goren started 57 years ago through the Los Angeles Urban League.  

For as long as he has been a grandfather, Ozzie Goren has referred to his family as his “immortality.” He and his wife alluded to this term in the conclusion of a letter they sent to their whole family this past spring to unveil their plans about the donor-advised funds.  

 “The art of giving is one of the great Jewish traditions, and we hope that what we are doing will help immortalize that tradition through you, from generation to generation, l’dor v’dor,” they wrote. “Giving to those not as fortunate as ourselves not only makes them smile, but makes you smile and feel good as you continue in our family’s multigenerational tradition of charitable giving.”

Building a better philanthropist

In the last couple of decades, a tectonic shift has altered the landscape of Jewish philanthropy. The phenomenon is not only Jewish — the number of foundations in the United States has grown fivefold in the last 20 years; the same growth in donor-advised funds has taken just a decade.

The relative weight of independent philanthropy — as opposed to communal giving — has gone off the charts. The Jewish Federation system in North America holds an impressive $15 billion of philanthropic assets, but based on conservative estimates, the overall “pie” of Jewish philanthropic assets is more than $75 billion.

And the change isn’t only quantitative: funders approach giving dramatically differently now. They seek greater engagement, they seek to focus and direct their contributions and they don’t feel bound by lifelong loyalty to a given organization. If, a few decades ago, a donor was perceived as a “tool” that enabled an organization to do good and fulfill its mission, that’s been upended: now it’s funders who regard organizations as tools to realize a personal vision.

Some decry these changes, seeing them as a challenge to the traditional Jewish values of communal philanthropy. They fear that independent philanthropy will weaken the collective and give way to whimsical and disjointed funding. It’s a valid criticism, but taken too far. This individual empowerment isn’t a fatality; it’s the opposite. This is an era in which a kid can start a revolution from her cellphone, or create one of the world’s biggest companies from his dorm room. This brave new world in which everybody is an entrepreneur offers enormous possibilities for the Jewish community. Independent philanthropy opens the way for an explosion of creative energy and innovative thinking. It is “good for the Jews”: It ushers in an era of greater creativity and entrepreneurship. It opens new ways for engaging major donors — their wealth and talents — in proactively solving the big problems our generation.

Still, though promising, these new opportunities present very real dangers. While some funders are literally changing the world, Jewish philanthropy as a whole is, sadly, underperforming. Many funders haven’t yet taken on the responsibilities that come with their newly acquired leadership mantle. Some haven’t yet discovered that in philanthropy, as opposed to business, excellence is self-imposed. In the open market, a business that doesn’t deliver value is punished with bankruptcy; in philanthropy, we can just keep sending good money after bad. The challenges we face as Jews in this early 21st century are so new and difficult that good-enough philanthropy is not good enough.

So how can philanthropy live up to its promise? How can it be the engine of innovation, creativity and solidarity in the Jewish world? Here are a few things that I believe Jewish philanthropy needs:

1. Strategy: Developing a philanthropic strategy is critical to be an effective funder. Being strategic implies defining areas of focus. What are the problems that your philanthropy will try to solve? What are the ways in which you are going about doing that? In business, the lack of a sound strategy means bankruptcy; in philanthropy, it can lead to irrelevance.

2. A healthy — and complementary — relationship with communal organizations: Some see the role of independent philanthropy as antagonistic to the role of communal organizations like federations. They are wrong. Independent philanthropy can exist only within the context of a strong community. Philanthropy can be strategic only after the “safety net” is guaranteed and when basic services are provided. Independent funders can be strategic in our funding because somebody is already paying the heating bill. Funders have a responsibility to keep that basic communal infrastructure going. It’s true that many communal organizations are stuck in the old paradigm, but many more are not; they’re willing to partner with funders and respect their independence and areas of focus. Independent and communal philanthropy are two legs upon which the Jewish community stands: One maintains the fabric of the community, the other moves the needle on specific issues and addresses specific challenges.

3. Networking: The times of go-it-alone philanthropy are gone. The problems we face are too complicated, too complex. Even our biggest foundations can’t solve them alone. But there’s hope: If individuals in this 21st century are hyper-empowered, they’re also hyper-connected. Networking allows for collective action on specific issues without drowning the individuality of each funder. Networks are fluid, ad-hoc coalitions in which we can define and solve problems together. But networking necessitates a different mind-set, one in which information and ideas flow freely; one in which leadership is distributed and sharing trumps owning. From our own community, the amazing success of Birthright is just one example of funders with shared interests working together, achieving results they could not have if they’d gone it alone.

4. Measuring the right things: We struggle to make data-driven decisions. We don’t measure enough and when we do, we still often measure the wrong things. Donors have an obsession with overhead, as if it was the ultimate indicator of an organization’s performance. It is not, and by obsessing about it — and cutting it — we prevent organizations from building capacity and fulfilling their mission. Good measures are those that measure impact, especially long-term impact. Granted, this can be hard and expensive to measure. But measuring the wrong things is not the solution. Investing in capacity to allow organizations to measure themselves is critical for high-performing philanthropy.

5. Experimenting and taking risks: Foundations have a flexibility that public organizations don’t. They can have a much more open attitude to risk and innovation. In an uncharted world in which the old recipes don’t work, taking risk is more necessary than ever. Embracing creative failure and knowing how to learn from it is critical. The problems we face need a lot of trial and error, because there are no silver bullets. In our uncertain world, knowing how to fail is the key to success. And as funders, we need to also experiment in the philanthropic vehicles that we use. Let’s explore new philanthropic tools like venture philanthropy, impact investing, giving circles, and more.

Jewish philanthropy needs to climb up to the next level. It is important to be really smart about giving, and we are way smarter when we learn with and from each other. The next decades are going to see the biggest transfer of wealth in human history: In the United States alone, $41 trillion are going to be passed from one generation to the next. That adds urgency to these words. Not only is important to be strategic about philanthropy now, it is critical to pass on these concepts to the next generation of potential funders.

The challenge is big, the promise is enormous. The time for action is now.

Andres Spokoiny is president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, whose annual international conference is March 17-19 in Los Angeles.

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.”

Richard Sandler: A philanthropic life

In 2007, when philanthropist Stanley Gold was asked to become board chair of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, he knew he would need an effective partner to accomplish the reinvention of Federation he envisioned. 

Gold met with Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation, and though the two men had known each other only in passing before, and though Sandler wasn’t yet actively involved in Federation, Gold knew he had his guy. They agreed that the old model of “give because it’s Federation” was dying, that they needed to reinvigorate both its lay and its professional leadership and that Federation needed to find new ways to connect with the community and its donors to say relevant in the 21st century.

And Gold saw in Sandler not only the know-how, but also the steady demeanor to offset his own more strident style. 

“I am more confrontational, and Richard is more collaborative,” said Gold, president and CEO of Shamrock Holdings and Federation chair from 2008 to 2009. “And if you look at our terms together, in the beginning we needed to be confrontational to break the logjam and to turn things around, and in the end we needed collaboration to rebuild.”

Gold, with Sandler as vice chair, shook things up during his tenure — he restructured both how money is collected and how it is allocated and hired a new president and CEO in Jay Sanderson, whom many viewed as an unconventional choice because his success was with Jewish Television Network and not the Federation system. Sandler, who took over as chair in 2010, has expanded and solidified the changes Gold set in motion, but in a thoughtful, vision-driven manner that has earned him a reputation as a leader who is not only supremely effective, but also kind.

Last year, the board voted to amend Federation’s bylaws to allow Sandler to serve two consecutive two-year terms. At 64, Sandler is now about to complete the first year of his second term.

“Richard came in at time when there had been a lot of upheaval,” Sanderson said. “There was a new executive, the board has been pared down from 145 to 45, and a lot of the agencies in the community were angry or felt disconnected from Federation. Just by Richard being in the room, and being in conversation, he helped turn things around.” 

Sanderson said he trusts no one in the Jewish community more than Sandler. 

“I’ve never met anyone like Richard. He’s thoughtful; he can consider all points of view, but when necessary he’s decisive,” Sanderson said. 

Sandler, a native-born Angeleno and attorney, is fit with smile lines set deep into his face. His even drawl, perhaps a hint of his father’s Oklahoma upbringing, gives an air of reliability when he serves as the public face of the organization.

Sanderson asserts that Sandler has made Federation more Jewish, while also affirming its role as an effective force locally and nationally, and upping the institution’s professionalism. He has reached out to young people and begun a deliberate transformation of how Federation connects to its donors and constituents. 

These changes are all in service of Sandler’s overriding mission: To help Jews choose to be Jewish.

Sandler said he is dismayed by how many Jews are opting out of Jewish lives, because he understands the meaningfulness Jewish connection can offer.

“I believe that our value system teaches us responsibility to make this world better, to give back, to do the best you can do while you are here,” Sandler said. “And those are values that come from the Torah, and that is what drives me in doing this job. I believe we have to take those values and teach them to our children, so they can decide who they are and where they are going.” 

He believes Federation is best situated to leverage community resources to create as many pathways as possible to Jewish meaning. When he talks to donors or to constituents, he is not just selling Federation, but his commitment to his passion for the Jewish mission.

Richard Sandler’s role with the Milken Family Foundation includes visiting Jewish day schools as part of the Jewish Educator Awards. Photo courtesy of Richard Sandler

“It isn’t about Federation is the only way to go; it’s about Jewish continuity is the only way to go,” said Julie Platt, chair of the Federation’s strategic initiative on Ensuring the Jewish Future. “So he is willing to use his leverage and to partner with whoever it is who will move forward his mission to have more people choose Jewish.” 

Sandler spends between 10 and 40 hours a week on Federation business. He lives in Brentwood with Ellen, his wife of 42 years, and the two have dinner together every night. He works out regularly and plays golf on the weekends. He talks to his three children every day, and spends time with his three grandchildren. 

Sandler’s father, Raymond, was the son of Latvian immigrants who came to Oklahoma when his father was 6. 

“My grandfather was a very devout Orthodox Jew who studied every day, but he taught my father that it was more important to live by Jewish values than to follow all the ritual requirements of Judaism, because he felt in the United States you might not be able to do all of that,” said Sandler, the second of four brothers.

Sandler’s parents moved to the San Fernando Valley in 1950, where his father was a founder of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, which Sandler still attends and where he served as board chair before turning his focus to Federation. His parents were involved in Federation and American Jewish University (then University of Judaism), and Richard Sandler is on the board of that institution as well. 

He also supports the University of California, Berkeley Foundation, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and is a strong backer of Aish HaTorah, an Orthodox outreach organization that he believes is highly effective in bringing Jewish values and inspiration to people previously untouched by Judaism.

Sandler’s mother, Helen, ran a backyard camp for neighborhood kids for years. Among those children were two boys, Lowell and Michael Milken. Lowell and Richard met in first grade at Hesby Street Elementary School, and they continued together through Portola Junior High, Birmingham High School, UC Berkeley and UCLA Law School. 

After partnering with his father in a law firm for 10 years, in 1983 Sandler formed a financial consultancy service that primarily advised Lowell and Michael Milken in their investments. In 1986, Sandler was suddenly thrust into the position of being a white-collar criminal defense attorney when Michael Milken was charged with insider trading and securities fraud. 

Eventually, Michael Milken pleaded guilty, but Sandler said he does not believe he ever committed a federal crime.

“I grew up believing that if our government was investigating something, there must be a good reason for it, and at the end of the day they were seeking truth and fairness and justice. I came to learn that that is not true at all,” Sandler said recently. 

Sandler said he saw young prosecutors who wanted to boost their careers and scared colleagues who gave in to their pressure. 

“A lot of people I knew were put into positions they never thought they would be in in their entire lives — including myself. It was interesting to see those people who just did the right thing and told the truth, and those people who were trying to protect themselves and didn’t necessarily do the right thing.”

Today, Sandler runs day-to-day operations at the Milken Family Foundation, which supports Jewish, medical and educational initiatives. He also sits on the boards of the other nonprofits and for-profits that operate out of the Milkens’ building on Fourth Street in Santa Monica, and he is a partner in Maron and Sandler, a small law firm.

Lowell Milken said he admires his close friend’s integrity and ability to bring people together.

“I always value his guidance. We’ve been through some of the most satisfying and productive times, and we’ve been through some of the most difficult and challenging times, and his loyalty and advice has always been incredibly valuable throughout. When you find yourself in challenging circumstances, he is ultimately the person you would want to stand side-by-side with,” Milken said.

Sandler said his involvement with the investigation helped him develop a levelheaded determination that has served him well at Federation.

“It made me understand what is really important and what loyalty means,” Sandler said. When issues erupt at Federation, Sandler is known for keeping his cool. “I know what real aggravation is, and this isn’t it. These are all people who care about something, and that is a good thing. Then it’s just a question of how do we get people to channel that energy in a positive way.”

Sandler tapped into that equanimity early on in his tenure at Federation, when he made clear to lay leaders that it is the professionals who run the organization, and lay leaders must support that work. 

“In the past, lay leaders would be the driving force, and staff were more administrators than partners,” said Lori Tessel, senior vice president of major gifts at Federation.

Tessel said, Sandler has been “an ambassador” for staff. He often attends working meetings and knows her staff and committee members by name. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever served under someone who has been so clearly appreciative of what I’m doing,” said Platt, a volunteer.

Some lay leaders initially felt shunted by Sandler’s emphasis on professionalism, but Sandler smoothed the transition by responding to every phone call and e-mail and took countless meetings with lay leaders of all levels to explain the changes, according to Sharon Janks, campaign co-chair.

Sandler required lay leaders to bring professionals on fundraising calls — a system Janks says gets more information, and provides more connection, to donors.

“The donor sees that we care enough about their gift, that we want to educate them and make them feel good about what they give to Federation,” Janks said. 

This year the campaign hopes to raise $50 million and is about 75 percent of the way there, she said.

New donors are being cultivated, and long-time donors are being turned on to whole new areas of activity to invest in. It’s all part of Sandler’s approach of building a connection that goes beyond the once-a-year solicitation.

“Because, at the end of the day, this is an awesome responsibility. If the Federation is as important as I say it is — and I believe it is — and if we’re bringing in more than $40 million in community money, we’re responsible for that. That is a lot of responsibility. But it’s a good responsibility.”

For Adelson, political and Jewish giving are all of a piece

Call it the Adelson conundrum: What happens when the guy who acts as if he owns the room really does?

In March at TribeFest, the annual gathering of young adults organized by the Jewish Federations of North America at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, Sheldon Adelson walked in on a surrogate debate between Matt Brooks, who directs the Republican Jewish Coalition, and his counterpart at the National Jewish Democratic Council, David A. Harris.

Adelson, who owns the Venetian, was the first to ask a question. He went on to berate Harris for six minutes, describing President Obama as a “crybaby” who should be in diapers, according to several people in the room, including an organizer.

The organizer, speaking on background, said the time Adelson used and his tone were luxuries that would not have been afforded anyone else. The difference, as the organizer said, is that Adelson “owned the room, literally.”

That same sense of entitlement could be driving the 79-year-old Adelson’s conversations with Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president.

This week, the Daily Beast/Newsweek reported that Adelson was pressing Romney to speak out publicly in favor of the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, to commit to moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, and to declare the Palestinians as unwilling to make peace. Romney, the report said, is resisting.

Through political action committees, Adelson and his wife, Miriam, have funneled $10 million toward Romney’s election effort. Adelson has said he’s willing to spend up to $100 million to defeat Obama.

Those close to Adelson say politics are a small part of what makes him tick.

“He is passionately committed to Jewish life and living, and to Israel,” said Elliot Karp, the director of the Las Vegas Jewish Federation. “And he is no more or less polarizing than anyone else who gives his opinions.”

Adelson has given nearly $100 million to Birthright Israel, the program that brings Jews ages 18-26 to Israel for free. He revived the fortunes of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem with a $25-million gift in 2006. He has established a $4.5-million Jewish studies center in his name at the Shalem Center, a right-leaning think tank in Jerusalem. His relatively smaller donations have helped bolster groups such as the Zionist Organization of America and the Israel Project.

“The true story is that the amount of money he spends on politics is dwarfed by what he gives to philanthropy,” Brooks said. “They are the single most important philanthropists in the Jewish community, in terms of Birthright, Yad Vashem and medical research,” he said of the Adelsons.

Adelson is the 14th richest man in the world, according to Forbes, with an estimated worth of almost $25 billion.

The confluence of Adelson’s three major interests — Jewish philanthropy, Republican politics and the casino business, which is how Adelson became one of the world’s richest men — has become one of the preeminent narratives of this election campaign.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman slammed Romney in a July 31 column for “abasing” himself before Adelson during a Jerusalem visit last week.

“Since the whole trip was not about learning anything but about how to satisfy the political whims of the right-wing, super pro-Bibi Netanyahu, American Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, why didn’t they just do the whole thing in Las Vegas?” Friedman wrote.

Some frustrated Jewish Democrats believe the Jewish community is unduly influenced by its single largest donor.

“It’s very intimidating,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a leading public relations consultant to Jewish and Democratic causes, speaking of Adelson’s influence. “Where he’s given money, he’s given extraordinary amounts of money, and I’ve seen it firsthand.”

Adelson’s publicist, Ron Reese, did not return multiple requests for comment.

For his part, Adelson is unapologetic about using his money to influence policy. 

“I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections,” he told Forbes in February. “But as long as it’s doable I’m going to do it. Because I know that guys like Soros have been doing it for years, if not decades,” he said, referring to the left-leaning financier George Soros, who also is Jewish.

Democrats scoff at the comparison, noting that Soros in this election cycle has pledged $2 million to help Obama’s re-election — one-50th of the amount that Adelson has said he’s willing to spend.

The admixture of Adelson’s politics and charitable giving is not new. In December, addressing a Chanukah gathering in Israel of hundreds of Birthright participants, Adelson championed Newt Gingrich after the then-Republican candidate for president said the Palestinians were an “invented people.” At the time, Adelson was the single biggest backer of Gingrich; he and his wife gave $16.5 million to the ex-House of Representatives speaker’s effort.

Birthright did not return a request for comment for this story.

In 2007, Adelson broke with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee over its support for a congressional letter calling for a massive increase in funding for the Palestinian Authority. Adelson previously had been one of AIPAC’s major backers, helping to fund its new Washington headquarters.

Fred Zeidman, a major Romney backer in this election and the former chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said Adelson’s objections were par for the course for major donors.

“You don’t just write blank checks,” Zeidman said. “You don’t have to agree, but don’t ask him to give money to something he doesn’t believe in.”

Adelson said in 2009 that his criteria for giving were “whatever is good for the Jewish community and whatever is good for the State of Israel.”

He has a reputation as a nitpicker: The staff of Freedom’s Watch, which Adelson founded before the 2008 election to champion President George W. Bush’s Iraq War policies, said Adelson’s day-to-day micromanaging caused the organization to founder. Freedom’s Watch no longer exists.

And Adelson can also hold a grudge. He fired Shelley Berkley, his legislative director in the 1990s, over keeping the unions he reviles at the casinos. Berkley went on to become one of Israel’s most strident defenders in Congress and the Nevada Democrat is now running for the U.S. Senate, but Adelson’s opposition to her has not waned. He and his wife have maxed out donations to her opponent, incumbent Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican.

But Adelson can also be forgiving. Despite repeated clashes with the Las Vegas Jewish Federation in the past decade over what he perceived as its wastefulness, he is now its biggest donor, matching every new donation and every increase over the previous year’s donations.

“The Adelsons are front and center in the community,” said Karp, the federation director.

Zeidman says Adelson is a solid listener but knows when his mind is made up.

“He’s very strong willed,” Zeidman said. “He is truly blunt in terms of articulating his decisions once he’s made them.”

Holocaust survivors’ 11th hour

Last week, everyone was scurrying around Zane Buzby’s small but serviceable office, high up in a rather creaky building in downtown Los Angeles. Right inside the door, one person packed tubes of arthritis creams, soaps, magnifying glasses and Star of David necklaces. Someone else carefully counted cash into envelopes. And yet another entered data into a computer.

Buzby, meanwhile, pulled out books from her vast archive to show me pictures of who this stuff will go to on her trip next month to Latvia and Lithuania, where she will personally hand out money, as well as a few small gifts, to more than 150 Holocaust survivors living in abject poverty. She’ll also bring goods for another 50 people in Belarus she won’t visit this time, but to whom her guide will deliver.

Since 2001, Buzby has been traveling at least once a year to Eastern Europe on a mission that has come to consume her life. Along the way, she co-founded, with Chic Wolk, the nonprofit Survivor Mitzvah Project, dedicated to providing direct aid to people who got through the horrors of the Shoah only to struggle throughout their lives, and who now find themselves living on pensions insufficient to take care of their basic needs. These are people who do not fit the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany’s strict definitions of survivors, so they can’t get reparations money. But they are, nevertheless, Jews who suffered greatly under the Nazi occupation of their homes in Hungary, Belarus and other parts of the former Soviet Union. So when Buzby came across some of these survivors a decade ago, on a trip to visit her family’s ancestral cemetery, she began to give everything she could — from her own pocket.

Buzby was the subject of a Jewish Journal cover story four years ago, and I’ve been fascinated by her level of devotion to doing all that she can ever since. Given that this is our annual Giving issue, I sought her out to catch up on how her work is going. We met for lunch and she told me that on her trip, starting Dec. 25, she’ll visit as many survivors as she can in three weeks, traveling with a guide and a documentary filmmaker with whom she’s planning to create a movie. She was clearly frantic but extremely funny throughout our conversation — her passion for a very serious cause is softened by echoes of the comic writing, producing and acting that is her professional calling.

The enormity of her rescue effort is a bit daunting. “I started with eight, and that I could handle,” she said. “I could even handle 80. Now, it’s 1,500 people.” She writes personalized letters to each one she works with — starting with a form letter that describes her life, but adding a personal note to each. She tries to give as many of the 1,500 survivors as she can about $1,200 to $1,800 a year to supplement their incomes.

She started it all by handing out her own money, but now she’s got some donors, big and small, to help. It’s not enough, though: “Last year we raised the most ever, $334,000,” she said. “Still, it’s not enough to do everybody.”

Repeatedly, she talks about the joyfulness of the survivors, how, despite their living conditions, they are always grateful not only for her gifts, but what they have. “A goodly portion of these people have every reason to hate everyone,” Buzby said, “but they are the kindest, most hopeful people I’ve ever met. They never, ever talk about material things.”

Some have no plumbing, she said. Their response: “I’m not naked!”

One of their favorite gifts is the Jewish star necklace, because they’ve never had anything like it. Their Jewish identity remains strong, despite the fact that many have spent much of their lives under communist rule, unable to practice, or even reveal, their religion.

A book the project published collecting reproductions of the survivors’ personal letters tells some of their stories. “Before the war our parents were young, took an active part in social life, but we didn’t celebrate religious holidays,” a letter from two women, identified as Nina and Anna from Grodno, Belarus, wrote in 2005. “But I remember how our grandfather put on his striped tallis and prayed; how he treated us grandchildren with challah and I also remember the Pesach matzoh, not square as it is now, but in big rounds.”

Many of these people are in their 90s; the youngest is 72, Buzby said. They often have no family anywhere, because they lost them all in the Holocaust.

“I always feel like this is our last chance,” she told me about her upcoming trip. “Since I was there the last time, seven people have died.”

It’s a labor of love for one who used to spend her time on sets, not on overnight trains without plumbing or in hotels where the shower spits out dirt. Traveling to these countries isn’t easy, but Buzby regales with stories of her adventures.

What she needs now, though, is more money. “We are in the 11th hour with these people,” she said, “we can’t wait five years.” Her immediate goal is to raise $1.6 million a year. “If we could get that, we wouldn’t have to scramble every day. That would take care of the 1,500 we handle.” Then she added, “there are also thousands more out there to be discovered.”

Even a donated necklace can make a difference. “You can dramatically change someone’s life by a simple act of kindness,” Buzby said. An old Chanukah menorah. A letter. A $34 magnifying glass can allow someone to see. “So they know they haven’t been forgotten.”

As we finished talking, Buzby said one simple sentence that continues to haunt:

“I just want to give a different ending to the story of the Holocaust.”

To find out more about The Survivor Mitzvah Project, and how to donate, visit

Another Soros steps out

Alexander Soros — what a catch! And not just for the obvious reason. Sure, papa George is worth $22 billion, and as your bubbe says, it’s as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one.

But any grandmotherly nudge would be superfluous for young, liberal Jews who have embraced Democratic Party membership and the concept of tikkun olam as pillars of religious identity. For them, and they are many, Soros’ politics will be as appealing as his paternity.

Soros fils could easily buy what most of the world considers the good life: leisure, parties, private planes. But his definition is different and involves not spending money but giving it away, and more studying than partying.

Soros, 25, is pursuing a doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley, along with a higher profile as a philanthropist.

Read more at www.thejewishweek.com.

On fire

The old stereotype of Mizrahi music — an Israeli genre created by immigrant Jews from North African and Arab countries — was of teary, sorrowful love ballads: tales of lost loves, broken hearts and dashed hopes. You could say Mizrahi music was Israel’s version of country music.

Moshe Peretz, one of the headliners for the I.L.Care community concert on Nov. 20, is the poster boy for the genre’s modern image — which is, by contrast, vivacious, upbeat and full of life. Hits like “Esh” (“Fire”), “Me Hashamayim” (“From the Sky”) and “Eshmor Alayich” (“I Will Keep You Safe”) are more likely to make you want to dance than cry. Dark-featured and handsome, Peretz has been one of the top-selling artists in Israel since 2007, and the November concert, which organizers hope will draw an audience of 6,000, will be his Los Angeles debut.

“I’m so excited to be part of this project,” Peretz said in a phone interview from Israel. He said he has had other opportunities to perform in Los Angeles, but none of them panned out, and it doesn’t seem to intimidate him that his first stateside show will be at one of the largest U.S. venues to host an Israeli artist in recent times.

“The purpose of this concert is to build community, and I’m inspired by that,” he said. “I think it’s everyone’s right to live wherever they want, wherever it’s good for them, but it’s important to maintain a connection to Israel … and to safe keep our religion. In the end, we are Jewish wherever we live.”

Born in 1983 in Tiberias to parents of Moroccan and Iraqi descent, Peretz started out as a hairdresser, but it didn’t take long for him to turn a lifelong passion for music into a career, both writing and composing his own songs. He released his first album at 22, in 2005, which turned out to be a commercial failure. But that slap of reality didn’t shake him, and his next album in 2007 contained the megahit “Esh,” which rocketed Peretz to stardom.

“Besides his great voice, the fact that Moshe Peretz is a young and multitalented artist — a singer, composer and writer — helped him a lot,” said Eliran Refael, a popular Los Angeles DJ who caters to the Israeli-American crowd. Indeed, a television segment on one of Israel’s top channels described Peretz as one of the most intelligent and sophisticated artists in his genre for his writing and composing skills.

One of the markers of success in Israel is the price a singer commands for a private performance at a wedding — weddings in Israel are often lavish, 700-guest affairs — and Peretz is among the most requested and best-paid entertainers of them all. According to the TV report, he earns approximately $53,000 per week during the busiest wedding season, a total of $800,000 in one summer.

But contrary to many young celebrities who fall victim to the vices of fame and fortune, Peretz, who is currently working on his fifth album, has maintained a reputation of humility and a clean image, too: no tattoos, no drugs, no controversy. That reputation is part of the reason the Israeli Leadership Council chose Peretz as its headliner for the family-friendly community concert, along with Chasidic reggae star Matisyahu.

“He has a good, positive attitude,” said Eli Tene, co-chair of the ILC. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s enormously popular here, too, particularly with the younger generation — his blend of Mizrahi, rock and pop music is lively and infectious.

“It’s going to be such an electric show,” Tene said. “Anyone who’s not going to be there will feel that they really missed out.” 

The I.L.Care community concert will take place Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal CityWalk. $18 with a volunteer commitment, $90 without. To purchase tickets, visit

Getting that giving is getting

When Eli Tene, co-chair of the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC), first called to tell me about a new initiative they had cooked up, I knew it was something big. I could hear it in his voice.

And as I sat down with Donna Kreisler, whom the ILC had plucked from a successful career in Israel as a business consultant to bring her here to head this massive project, I could see I.L.Care’s unique vision: to create a tight-knit community of Israeli and American-Jewish volunteers, changing lives — the lives of people in need, as well as their own. Getting involved by giving, Tene told me with conviction, had changed his own life.

Throughout my interviews with the leaders of I.L.Care, they explained the challenge they faced within the Israeli community and, therefore, the enormous potential impact of the project: Put simply, most Israelis aren’t volunteers or philanthropists. And the ILC wants to change that.

I am only beginning to realize just how monumental the ILC’s challenge is.

I bought my ticket to the concert, and I wanted all my friends and family to come. I sent an e-mail to my sister and my two sisters-in-law: “Tickets are only $18, but the catch is you have to promise to volunteer four hours in the next year, which I think is amazing, but you’ll have to get your guys to volunteer, too.”

For some reason, I knew the women (none of whom are 100 percent Israeli) would be on board, but I had a feeling the men (all Israelis, including my sister’s boyfriend) would take some convincing. But, Moshe Peretz for $18?! It couldn’t be that hard a sell, could it?

“He wasn’t into the whole volunteering thing,” one of my sisters-in-law wrote back.

Not into the volunteering thing? Who says that?

An Israeli, that’s who.

And herein lies the challenge. It’s not that Israelis aren’t wonderful, giving and generous people. In fact, my brother-in-law is one of the kindest, most unselfish individuals I know. He is always the first to lend a hand to a friend in need. Which is why I was quite shocked at his response. So I asked him about it.

He shrugged and said he doesn’t have time to volunteer. When that excuse didn’t get me off his case, he went with the “it’s just not for me” defense. By the end of the night, after relentlessly chipping away at him, I managed to elicit a not-so-promising, “I’ll think about it.”

The truth is, most Israelis are not into the whole volunteering thing. They weren’t raised to be. Volunteerism, it turns out, is a learned cultural value, and as I wrote in this month’s cover story, there are clear explanations as to why Israeli culture has not yet adopted the tikkun olam (healing the world) mentality.

My other sister-in-law, who is Russian but moved to Israel when she was a teen and always had a difficult time adjusting to the Israeli mentality, put it well: “In Israel, you learn that you never do something for nothing.” There’s a word for that in Hebrew: frier. It’s a mentality that doesn’t leave much room for giving for the sake of giving.

Changing this pattern of behavior in an entire community is precisely what I.L.Care is attempting. This is not just about convincing a bunch of people to volunteer — there’s nothing new or remarkable about that — it’s about re-educating a population and introducing a new value: Giving is the greatest gift you can give to yourself.

The late Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Israelis don’t know they want to give, but the ILC is going to show them.

The giving network

Read this article in Hebrew ” title=”ilcare.net”>ilcare.net.

Study: Giving to Israel down 16 percent between ‘06 and ‘09

Giving to Israel decreased by 16 percent between 2006 and 2009, exhibiting the same trends as overall American giving, a study found.

“American Friends: U.S. Philanthropic Support for Israeli Nonprofits,” a study published last week by the EHL Consulting Group, found that American giving to Israeli causes exhibits the same trends as American giving overall, but in a much more exaggerated way, with higher peaks and lower troughs.

The study examined the trends of philanthropic support from 2006 to 2009 for 80 U.S.-based nonprofit organizations that fundraise in the U.S. to support services in Israel, typically focused on a specific organization. While giving to the organizations decreased by 16 percent, U.S. giving overall to those four sectors—arts and culture, education, health, and human services – decreased by only 1.5 percent from 2006 to 2009. Giving overall bottomed out in 2008 and began to recover in 2009, but American Friends giving continued to decline, creating the large disparity in the figures.

Giving to American Friends organizations continued to grow in 2007 but plummeted in 2008, indicating that the recession was in fact a major cause of the decline, not a long-term decrease in interest in giving to American Friends organizations.

Giving to Israeli religious organizations such as synagogues and religious academies were not included because it is not as comparable to giving in the U.S., according to the study’s authors.

This was the second study published on this topic by EHL Consulting, which is based in suburban Philadelphia. The previous study, published in 2008, examined 80 American Friends organizations in four sectors, comparing their performance from 2001 and 2006 with that of U.S. organizations by sector. That study concluded that from 2001 to 2006, giving to American Friends organizations outperformed parallel giving to U.S.-based nonprofits.

Most of the organizations, 75 percent, were headquartered in New York State, with most in New York City. The rest were scattered in other states such as New Jersey, Maryland and California.

Adelsons give $5 million matching grant to Birthright

Philanthropists Sheldon and Miriam Adelson are giving a $5 million matching grant to Taglit-Birthright Israel.

The grant, which was announced Monday, aims to encourage new donors by doubling their gifts in an ongoing attempt to transition from large philanthropic to grass-roots funding.

Since 2007, the Adelsons have donated more than $100 million to the organization, which sends young Jewish adults aged 18 to 26 on free 10-day trips to Israel.

Earlier this year, the Israeli government announced a three-year commitment of $100 million in matching funds for Birthright.

Give until it hurts

Two Jewish philanthropists were overheard disagreeing about how to give charity.

“I only support Jewish causes — the Jewish people need our help more than anyone else in the world,” Cohen said.

“But what about the tsunami in Japan, the earthquake in Haiti? What about all the worthy local charities that are fighting to cure cancer and support the arts?” Bernstein argued. “Aren’t we responsible to give our share to general society just as much as everyone else?”

“Those causes are important,” Cohen conceded. “But who will support Israel and all the Jewish institutions if not us?”

“Well, the United Way is doing great work for the entire community,” Bernstein said, “and I’m not willing to siphon my charity dollars from them and give to a parochial charity that only helps a small segment of the population.”

They went back and forth for some time and ended up in a stalemate, each one believing that his moral code was superior. Actually, recent patterns of large philanthropic gifts from wealthy Jews have been favoring the more universalist attitude of Bernstein over the Jewish particularlist Cohen for several years. Jewish charities have been hurting because many Jews no longer feel that their primary allegiance should be to the Jewish community, but rather to the world and humanity at large. Who’s right?

This thorny moral dilemma was voiced centuries ago by two sages of the Palestinian Talmud. Rabbi Akiva and his colleague Ben Azai once challenged each other to find the one sentence in the Torah that encapsulated the most important Jewish value. Rabbi Akiva found the verse in our parashah (Leviticus 19:18). “Love your neighbor as yourself,” said the rabbi, is the greatest principle of the Torah. Ben Azai disagreed. “This is the book of the chronicles of mankind … who was created in God’s form” (Genesis 5:1) is an even greater principle, he argued.

Why didn’t Rabbi Akiva subscribe to Ben Azai’s beautiful idea of viewing all mankind as being in God’s image? Was he simply too cynical to believe that this motive was sufficient? I think it’s more than that. The word “neighbor” (re’a), which appears in the verse, “Love your neighbor,” is a word that specifically refers to one’s fellow Jew. Rabbi Akiva believed that while it was important to respect every single human being because of his or her Divine stamp, it was more important to make one’s fellow Jew the primary object of one’s affections and kindnesses.

Ben Azai disagreed and felt that the Torah wanted the Jewish people to show compassion to all the people of the world. He focused on Genesis, which addressed mankind before there ever was a Chosen People, when all people were part of one big family of creatures with a Godly spark.

It would appear that while the Palestinian Talmud accepted both views, the more authoritative Babylonian Talmud rejected Ben Azai’s position and embraced Rabbi Akiva’s. There may be two reasons for this: Firstly, the Babylonian sages were more realistic about relations between Jews and non-Jews in the world of the fourth and fifth centuries, when these texts were being compiled. Jews were persecuted and tortured so often by non-Jews that it was virtually impossible to identify the “image of God” within our cruel tormentors. Ben Azai might be well and dandy for a perfect world, but not in a world where anti-Semitism has run amok.

Secondly, the Babylonian sages might have been more pragmatic, realizing that if we don’t support the Jewish community infrastructure and the Jewish Diaspora population, the Jewish people as we know it runs the risk of becoming extinct. Showing compassion to the world is very important, but not at the expense of feeding hungry Jews. If we don’t step up, no one else will.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” Hillel said. But then he added, “But when I am for myself alone, what am I?”

The tension undeniably exists for every single Jew. The dilemma of how to triage our precious charity resources must weigh upon all of us. For us to see the horrors of recent natural disasters in Haiti and Japan and do nothing is surely inhuman and un-Jewish. But to make Japan and Haiti our primary focus and to forget about Israel’s needs and the needs of our brothers and sisters around the world is to say that my brother and sister are no different from the stranger, and that, too, is wrong.

If we lose sleep over these kinds of things, that’s good. It shows that we still have a conscience and a soul.

Rabbi Korobkin is rosh kehillah of Yavneh in Hancock Park and provides synagogue services for the Orthodox Union.

Japan disaster and Itamar killings put Jewish giving on the spot

Almost as soon as the catastrophe in Japan began unfolding last Friday, Jewish groups scrambled to figure out how to get help to the area.

In Israel, search-and-rescue organizations like ZAKA and IsraAid readied teams to head to the Japanese devastation zone. In Tokyo, the Chabad center took an accounting of local Jews and began organizing a shipment of aid to stricken cities to the north. In the United States, aid organizations ranging from B’nai B’rith International to local and national federation agencies launched campaigns to collect money for rescue, relief and rebuilding efforts in the Pacific.

But then Shabbat came, and with it the news that a suspected Palestinian terrorist had brutally murdered five family members in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Itamar, and the focus of the Jewish community seemed to shift.

“Not sure who to think about first,” Nadia Levine, a British Israeli event planner living in Jerusalem, wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. “The devastated remaining members of the Fogel family from Itamar, Gilad Shalit — 5 years in Hamas captivity — or the survivors of the Japanese tragedy and the dangers they may be facing.”

The Orthodox Union, which sent out a message last Friday calling on supporters to donate to the organization’s newly established earthquake emergency fund, sent out another urgent message two days later calling on donors to give money to the OU’s victims of terrorism fund.

As of late Monday, the totals collected by each fund were running neck and neck, the OU’s chief operating officer, David Frankel, said in an interview.

“We have an obligation to care for our own,” Frankel said, “but the enormity of the tragedy that happened in Japan is so extraordinary that for the Jewish community not to have an outpouring of support would not only be a denial of one of our primary obligations to care for everyone in their time of need,” he said, but also a missed opportunity to honor the memory of Chiune Sugihara — the Japanese consul general to Lithuania who in 1940 helped save at least 6,000 Lithuanian Jews from the hands of the Nazis by getting them transit visas to Japan.

“The Japanese community helped us in our time of need; this is our way to help them in their time of need,” Frankel said. “We can never repay the debt, but this is the right thing to do.”

By Tuesday, Israeli teams of rescue personnel, emergency medical officers and water pollution specialists had reached the suburbs of Tokyo, and they were in contact with aid workers in the northern part of the country where the tsunami hit hardest, according to Shachar Zahavi, chairman of IsraAid.

Several American Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federation in Chicago and the American Jewish Committee, are funneling money to IsraAid for disaster relief in Japan.

In Tokyo, the Chabad center commissioned a bakery in Sendai, one of the cities battered by the tsunami, to bake bread for its residents and surrounding areas. The center also trucked several tons of food and supplies to Sendai, Chabad officials said. The officials estimated that Chabad’s relief in Japan is costing approximately $25,000 per day.

In the United States, Jewish humanitarian organizations reported that the money was coming in fast for mailboxes set up to receive donations for Japanese disaster relief.

“We are determined to provide emergency relief as quickly as possible and to work with our partners to provide support over the longer term as well,” said Fred Zimmerman, chairman of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Emergency Committee.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the main overseas partner for the Jewish Federations, said it had collected more than $100,000 over the first weekend.

What makes the Japanese situation a unique challenge for Jewish humanitarian organizations is the absence of relationships in a country that traditionally has been an aid donor, not a recipient.

Indeed, when the American Jewish World Service, which led the Jewish aid response to the 2004 Asian tsunami, was asked what its aid effort would be for Japan, the answer was none at all because AJWS has no partners in the country, spokesman Joshua Berkman said.

The JDC found itself in a similar situation.

“We had no programs in Japan prior to the earthquake; we just worked with the local Jewish community,” said Will Recant, an assistant executive vice president at JDC.

But almost immediately after the earthquake and tsunami hit, the JDC consulted with the Jewish community in Tokyo to identify local Japanese nongovernmental organizations working in the affected areas. By Tuesday, JDC had begun funneling money to JEN, a Tokyo-based organization specializing in shelter reconstruction, support of the socially vulnerable and emergency supply distribution that had managed to send personnel to the ravaged Japanese prefectures of Miyagi and Fukushima.

As with other disasters, Recant said JDC will stick around to help with long-term relief, budget allowing. Only money raised specifically for Japan will be spent on disaster relief. There is no money in JDC’s budget for additional nonsectarian, humanitarian work, Recant said.

While Japan continues to reel from the triple disaster of an 8.9-magnitude earthquake, a massive tsunami and a subsequent nuclear crisis, experts in Israel are trying to figure out what lessons from Japan can be applied to the Jewish state, which lies on two fault lines, the Carmel fault and the Dead Sea fault.

Israel experiences tremors every so often, but the last time a ruinous earthquake struck the area was in 1927, when the West Bank city of Nablus suffered serious damage. An 1837 earthquake destroyed much of the northern Israeli cities of Safed and Tiberias and left thousands dead.

Israeli building codes have been updated for better earthquake safety compliance, but regulations and enforcement still are said to lag behind places like California, which experiences larger and more frequent quakes.

“There’s still a lot that has to be done as far as building codes are concerned,” said professor Michael Lazar, a tectonics expert at the University of Haifa. “There’s an attempt to encourage people to renovate older buildings and make them earthquake ready, but it really hasn’t caught on.”

A scenario in which Israel’s nuclear facility at Dimona, in the Negev Desert, would face the kind of meltdown scenario situation that Japan is seeing now is much less likely, Lazar said, because Dimona is far from the tectonic lines that cross Israel.

“But,” he cautioned, “it’s hard to tell how an earthquake would disperse.”

Japan earthquake relief: How you can help

Jewish Money

Give Bernard Madoff credit for one good deed: As much as his self-confessed Ponzi scheme revealed weaknesses in the Jewish world, it also laid bare many ofour strengths.

Trials and tribulations tend to do just that — bring to light the good, the bad, the ugly. When some people behave at their worst, others are forced to, or revealed to, behave at their humanly best.

That’s what any fair look at the Madoff scandal shows. The standard worry is that Madoff’s actions will give rise to a vicious anti-Semitic backlash. But I don’t see it, despite the fact that all the cretinous Jew-haters have come forward online, using this scandal as proof of Jewish financial perfidy.

Complete Madoff CoverageEarlier this week, when I entered the search terms “Madoff” and “Jewish” into Google, the top responses included JewishJournal.com and stormfront.org, a neo-Nazi Web site. That should alarm no one: The only people more obsessed than neo-Nazis with a famous person’s specific degree of Jewishness are Jewish journalists.

But anti-Semites never need a reason to hate Jews. They were penning their poison before Madoff, and they’ll be spreading it long after he’s gone. Madoff doesn’t make anti-Semites more rational, just more topical.

But will their spew gain more traction in the wider community? I doubt it.

It’s not just that Madoff’s victims were disproportionately Jewish. (That fact alone should give pause to the idea that we possess some super-Spidey sense of financial acumen.)

It’s that the list of victims reveals something truly remarkable about the Jewish world: its deep and far-reaching philanthropy.

What, for instance, does this partial list of Madoff-afflicted charities have in common: Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, the Chais Family Foundation, the Wunderkinder Foundation, Carl & Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation, The JEHT Foundation, Julian J. Levitt Foundation, Technion—The Israel Institute of Technology?

The answer is that they spend much, if not all, of their time and resources helping non-Jews.

Steven Spielberg’s Wunderkinder Foundation supports more than 75 diverse organizations and institutions, from the American Museum of Natural History to the Young Musicians Foundation. It gave generously to Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services and to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, two institutions founded by Los Angeles Jews that serve a largely non-Jewish population.

A much-loved anti-Semitic trope is that “tentacles” of Jewish power encircle Wall Street, the White House, the media. But the truth is that it is the tentacles of Jewish philanthropy that reach far beyond our small, numerically insignificant community.

Public radio? The Carl & Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation gave millions to WGBH in Boston. According to The Boston Globe, the Shapiro Foundation gave more than $80.3 million over the past decade to hundreds of schools, hospitals, arts groups and community-based nonprofits in the Boston area and beyond.

Human rights? The JEHT Foundation in Massachusetts gave millions to the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, among many other organizations.

The arts? The Arthur I. and Sydelle F. Meyer Charitable Foundation of West Palm Beach, Fla., wiped out by Madoff, supported the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, the Norton Museum of Art and a downtown Palm Beach amphitheater, among others. Tentacles indeed.

The list is much, much longer: The money that Madoff lost had done incalculable good, saving lives, advancing art and science, making the world a better place.

In his Sunday column, The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof wrote that liberal Americans are less generous than conservative Americans. “Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad,” Kristof wrote, “yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates.”

I don’t know if Jews, among the most liberal of voters, fall into the cheapskate category, or whether Jewish giving pushes up the liberal average. There is no comprehensive study of Jewish philanthropy to compare Jewish giving, whether to synagogues or for other purposes, to general American giving, according to Gary Tobin, director of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.

But if you scroll through the list of Madoff’s philanthropic victims, you’ll find plenty of evidence that even Jews who have shed every vestige of their ancient practice short of circumcision still resonate to the prophetic call to heal the wider world.

In the second volume of his “Code of Jewish Ethics,” (Bell Tower, 2009), Rabbi Joseph Telushkin traces the textual roots for this precept back to the Talmud.

“The Talmud ruled that, ‘we provide financial support to the gentile poor as well as to the Jewish poor,'” recounts Telushkin. “This ruling was issued at a time when the non-Jews among whom the Jews lived were usually idolators with values antithetical and often hostile to Judaism.”

Telushkin concludes: “If we donate only to Jewish causes or to individual Jews in need, we may stop seeing everyone as being equally created in God’s image and therefore worthy of our help. After all, we are all members of one race, the human race.”

That’s something the Madoff scandal makes clear Jews haven’t forgotten.

Philanthropy from Venus differs from philanthropy from Mars

Women give charity differently than men.

They are a little more generous across the board and a little less egocentric in their giving. More often they believe that charity is a moral obligation. And they tend to be more inclined toward education, religion and health-related causes.

Saying so isn’t a case of sexism or stereotyping, it’s just statistics, said Debra Mesch, the director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

“Women tend to want to spread the wealth a little more, and a lot of that has to do with how men and women are socialized in terms of their upbringing,” Mesch told JTA. “In this culture especially they are the nurturers and are charged with raising the family. Their altruism is more developed.”

Statistics show that single women are twice as likely to give charity than single men, she said.

That’s why, in part, as the National Women’s Philanthropy division of the United Jewish Communities preps for its annual Lion of Judah conference, organizers and philanthropy experts are saying that women’s philanthropy is more important than ever.

The annual conference, scheduled for Nov. 9-16 in Tel Aviv, is the preamble to the UJC’s General Assembly in Jerusalem immediately afterward.

The Lion of Judah, so named because of the solid gold lion-shaped pins that women are awarded because of their giving — and bejeweled in relation to the size of the gifts — is expected to draw some 1,100 women who each give more than $5,000 annually to their local federations.

Over the past decade, the federation system has seen its general annual campaigns slump, but women’s giving has grown rapidly, according to the managing director of the National Women’s Philanthropy division, Beth Mann.

The Jewish federation system in 1946 became one of the first charities to launch a separate campaign to solicit gifts from women. In its first year, giving by women to that campaign accounted for $10 million — or 10 percent — of the total taken in by the federations.

That dollar total has climbed steadily to $61 million in 1973 in the aftermath of Israel’s Yom Kippur War, and to $138 million in 1995. As the general campaigns fell flat, in 2006 the women’s campaigns took in $192 million, or 22 percent of all of the money that federations raised.

Thirty-four percent of donors to the federation system are women, and that doesn’t count the women who give gifts from couples and families.

Mann estimates that some 50 percent of all the dollars federations take in come from women.

That number stands to increase in coming years.

By 2010, experts estimate that women will control some 60 percent of America’s wealth — a figure that could increase as some $41 trillion is passed on from the oldest generations to younger generations over the next 50 years. That’s because with women living on average seven years longer than men, many husbands will end up leaving their estates to their wives.

Some observers see women’s philanthropy as a new well that could help bridge the philanthropic gap between today’s economic crisis and recovery.

“Women’s philanthropy has been an untapped resource because I don’t think people have been paying attention to women’s giving and women’s power,” Mesch said.

The Lion of Judah conference is focused on thanking women for their giving and inspiring them to give more. That same week, Indiana University will run its own symposium on women’s giving to help fundraisers focus on how to tap into the women’s market — a problem for a fundraising world that still more often focuses on courting men.

“I hear from development officers at Indiana that they talk to the man,” Mesch said. “If there is a couple sitting with them, they assume it is the man writing the check, so the discussion always goes to the man. The thank-you note goes to the man.

“But you need to do the little things and realize that it is the women who open the tap. I think it is a huge faucet.”

Other philanthropies are catching on. The United Way started its National Leadership Women’s Council in 2003 to help guide local United Way branches as they started separate women’s campaigns. Already the charity has seen gains.

The system as a whole saw a 2.6 percent growth in donations last year, but local branches that started women’s campaigns saw on average a 3.6 percent growth, according to the United Way’s director of strategic marketing for the women’s council, Linda Paulson.

To put into perspective how effective the federation system has been at raising money from women, consider this: The United Way raised $4.2 billion systemwide in 2007 and took in $102 million from women.

In the same year, the federation system raised $908.1 million through its general campaigns, $193 million from women.

And while rumors persist that the federation’s umbrella organization, the UJC, has had trouble with sagging attendance numbers for this year’s General Assembly, the Lion of Judah conference is bringing about 400 more attendees than organizers anticipated.

“In the future,” Mann said jokingly, “there will be a general campaign and a separate men’s campaign.”

For those women who are the givers, the mission is less about bridging the gap than it is about fulfilling a personal mission.

“The opportunity to give your own gift means that you can express yourself philanthropically in a different way,” said Cheryl Fishbein, a board member of a litany of charities, including the UJC and the UJA-Federation of New York.

Before she became involved in the women’s campaign 15 years ago, Fishbein’s giving was done with her husband or her family.

“We really believe in a lot of the same things, but if it is my own gift, I can have a say in where it is going to go and what it will fund,” said Fishbein, who is a Lion of Judah. “And as I have become more knowledgeable on philanthropy, it gave me an opportunity to feel that the things I am most passionate about, I can fund.”

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.

You get when you give

It is very cool to give. Whether you can give your time through volunteer work or give money though tzedakah, every little bit helps. If you need some inspiration, check out the following two stories:

“The Giving Tree,” written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein, begins: “Once there was a tree … and she loved a little boy.”

Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches or slide down her trunk … and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave.

“The Giving Tree” is 64 pages, but it isn’t hard to read. After you’re done, you can talk to your parents about whether the tree sacrifices too much or not, and whether the boy is selfish in what he asks of the tree. The book is more than 40 years old, but its message could have been written yesterday.

There’s also an old fable called “Stone Soup” that shows how a little can go a long way. There are several different version of the story floating around.

According to one, during a great famine in Europe, a hungry traveler comes to a village with no food to eat, but he is carrying an empty pot. The villagers won’t share any of their food with him, so he fills the pot with water, takes a large stone out of his bag and drops it in the pot. He then puts the pot over a fire in the middle of the village.

When asked what he is doing, the man answers that he is making “stone soup.”
The villagers think the man is nuts, but as the man sniffs the “soup” and licks his lips, hunger takes over their disbelief.

“Ahh,” the man says out loud to himself, “I do like a tasty stone soup. Of course, stone soup with cabbage — that’s the best.”

Soon a villager adds a cabbage from his garden to the pot.

“Great!” says the man. “You know, I once had stone soup with cabbage and a bit of beef as well, and it was delicious!”

When the butcher hears this, he adds some meat. Then another villager brings potatoes. Soon everyone is putting something into the soup: onions, carrots, mushrooms and so on, until there is a delicious meal for all. The stone was just a way of starting the process.

What we learn from this story is that if everyone works together, each giving what they can, good things can happen.

We’d love to know how you like to give back to your community: Do you donate tzedakah? Pack food for the needy? Or even take care of your younger siblings when your mom and dad are busy? E-mail us at kids@jewishjournal.com with stories or pictures and we’ll run them on an upcoming yeLAdim page.

Holidays NOT on the Calendar

Aug. 5: International Friendship Day. Take some time today to meet someone new, whether they live across the country or across the street. You can never have too many friends.

Aug. 13: Left Hander’s Day. Though only 10 percent of the population is left handed, they haven’t had it easy. Most things out there (like scissors and school desks) are designed for righties. So if you have a friend or family member who is left handed, give ’em a big hug today.

Wild About Harry?

We’re guessing that by now many of you have read “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” and we want to know what you thought of it.

What was your favorite part? Was it a good ending? Was it disappointing? How would you have ended it? Do you think J.K. Rowling should write more books about Harry Potter or Hogwarts or the wizarding community?

E-mail us at kids@jewishjournal.com and we’ll print your thoughts in August.

How one bat mitzvah girl made a wish come true

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it 613 times: a bar or bat mitzvah is more than just a big party.

Over the years, b’nai mitzvah students have been encouraged more and more to select a cause, organization or project that they can support by donating community service hours, a portion of their gift money or both.

Indeed, most teachers and parents say that they definitely want children to recognize how fortunate they are, and that giving to the community or helping people in need is an integral part of the b’nai mitzvah learning process.

That point certainly was not lost on Danielle David.

Danielle, who became a bat mitzvah in January, was watching her favorite TV show, “Grey’s Anatomy,” when her mitzvah project began percolating in her mind. The episode that inspired Danielle involved Dr. Isobel “Izzie” Stevens, one of the interns, and her decision to donate money from an inheritance to cover the cost of a young girl’s operation, a procedure that the girl’s family could not afford and insurance would not cover.

“The ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ show made me realize that I wanted to help someone who was ill, and I really wanted to know exactly how the money would be spent,” Danielle said. “And then I decided that I wanted to make a difference in a child’s life.”

After careful consideration, Danielle selected the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles. Initially, Danielle pledged $1,000 to the foundation. But then she learned that the average cost to fulfill a child’s wish is $7,500.

Through a program called Kids for Wish Kids, developed to help children and teenagers participate in philanthropy and increase awareness of children living with life-threatening medical conditions, student donors can gift $2,500 to fulfill an entire wish for a specific child. That was all Danielle needed to hear. She increased her pledge to $2,500.

According to Shelley Ginsburg, spokeswoman for Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Los Angeles chapter, Danielle’s gift touched the hearts of the entire staff.

“It was heartwarming for us to see a child who celebrated her transition into adulthood by thinking of children who are less fortunate,” Ginsburg said.

According to Ginsburg, the foundation receives a handful of donations each year from b’nai mitzvah students. These contributions have included money from mitzvah projects like Danielle’s gift, fundraising activities organized by the child and in-kind donations such as the table centerpieces they recently received — baskets filled with toys, stuffed animals and educational books.

“We think it is a wonderful gesture,” Ginsburg added, “and we hope that more children will consider granting a wish as part of their milestone.”

While the idea of linking mitzvot to the occasion of the b’nai mitzvah is nothing new, many synagogues have embraced the concept of “mitzvah projects” with new enthusiasm. Projects often involve the synagogue and the community when a student embarks upon a fundraising effort or a collection drive for items that can be donated to a chosen organization.

Ami Berlin, director of synagogue and youth activities at Congregation Ner Tamid in Palos Verdes, has worked with students for 15 years and has observed a definite increase in social consciousness and awareness.

“Mitzvah projects have become a bigger and more significant part of the curriculum over the years,” Berlin said. “It is a wonderful opportunity for our students to do community service and participate in something that teaches them that there are people and organizations that need help in our own communities and all over the world.”

According to Berlin, the best mitzvah projects are those in which the students educate themselves about the organization or service they have selected to help.

“Having a personal connection to the project gives the student a better understanding of how important their contribution is, and that connection can be the impetus for a young person to continue doing mitzvot well beyond their bar mitzvah years.”

As for Danielle, she is looking forward to hearing back from the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles to learn something about the child whose life she touched with her gift.

To contact Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles, visit Jacob’s Ladders

Today’s Task: Be an Angel

We all have daily to-do lists.

So why shouldn’t God?

That’s the premise of Dr. Ron Wolfson’s new book, “God’s To-Do List: 103 Ways to Be an Angel and Do God’s Work on Earth” (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2007).

“God has a to-do list for you,” the book opens. “You are God’s partner. God needs you to continue the ongoing creation of the world.”

Wolfson, the Fingerhut Professor of Education at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and cofounder of Synagogue 3000, taps into the latest best-selling trend: religious self-help. Like Pastor Rick Warren’s 20-million copy bestseller, “The Purpose Driven Life,” (which Wolfson quotes), “God’s To-Do List” anthropomorphizes the Deity with human properties, like Post-It Notes.

Indeed, the 122-page, soft-cover book features outtakes such as “Be Like God,” “Let God Be Your Role Model,” “Do One Small To-Do Every Day.” It’s broken down into chapters, such as Create, Bless, Rest, Call, Comfort, Care, Repair, Wrestle, Give and Forgive, which ostensibly make up the 103 ways to be an angel.

Wolfson’s other books include “The Spirituality of Welcoming,” “How to Transform Your Congregation Into a Sacred Community,” “A Time to Mourn, A Time to Comfort: A Guide to Jewish Bereavement and Comfort” (all Jewish Lights), and here he uses two seemingly conflicting biblical statements to show how man should operate on earth: “I am but dust and ashes,” (Genesis, 18:27) and “For my sake the world was created,” (Sanhedrin, 37A).

The first is to remind you not to be too proud, that “like all humans, you have little time on this earth, and you will, no question about it, return to dust and ash.”

The second is to remind you, when you’re feeling down, “it makes you feel like the most important person in the world.”

God’s to-do list includes blessing your family, creating new relationships, practicing hearing, inviting newcomers into your neighborhood, performing random acts of kindness, contributing time and money to political organizations, practicing the art of compromise, giving to the needy, forgiving others and yourself — in other words, being a better, more engaged human being. Although Wolfson uses Jewish sources, the book presents “Jewish wisdom for people of all faiths.”

“Everyone has gifts to give and things to do. The world will be a better place because you are in it,” Wolfson writes in the conclusion. “The question is, are you ready to do the to-dos on your God’s to-do list? Are you ready to be an angel?”

Eight ways how ’tis better to give back

Having trouble finding the perfect gift for the one who has everything?

Want to give back to the community this holiday season and into 2007?

Here are eight great ways to contribute.

  • Make a Relief Donation: Israel has cease-fires in Gaza and with Hezbollah. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita occurred more than a year ago. But Magen David Adom and the Red Cross are still seeking financial assistance in these areas — as well as for other disasters such as house fires, explosions and transportation accidents. For more information and other donation options visit www.afmda.org and www.redcross.org.
  • Volunteer and Support Youth: It is said that the Jewish people should remain with previous generations and future ones, l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. Make a connection with a member of the next generation by becoming a mentor. Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Los Angeles offers mentoring opportunities for adults older than 21 to pair with 6- to 18-year-olds, primarily from single-parent homes. Volunteers are expected to be involved for a minimum of a year and meet with their little brother or little sister twice a month. To apply and/or learn more about JBBBS’ mentor program and the sports buddies and art buddies opportunities visit www.jbbla.org.

    Another mentoring option is with Koreh LA. Koreh (Hebrew for “read”) sets a volunteer up with a preschool or elementary school student in the Los Angeles Unified School District to read for one hour each week. For more information, visit www.korehla.org.

  • Purchase a Gift Basket for a Soldier: Let an Israeli soldier know they are in your thoughts with a snack package from Dash Cham. The Jerusalem-based company includes a mix of snacks, a cup of soup and a juice in the $10 parcel. Available www.dashcham.com.
    Another basket option supports The Daniel Pearl Foundation — whose goal is cross-cultural tolerance through music, journalism and unique communications — with a 40 percent donation of each $195 package sold. The basket features the Judea Pearl and Ruth Pearl edited book, “I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl”; a CD with compositions that weave in readings of Daniel Pearl’s articles, as well as candles, dreidels and chocolate. The baskets are sold at www.flashybasketsbymichelle.com.

  • Help Refugee Family From Darfur: A $30 donation to Jewish World Watch will provide a Sudanese family in a Chad refugee camp with two solar cookers. The light, small cooker, made of cardboard and aluminum, removes the family’s need to send women and girls in search of firewood which has put them in danger of gender-based violence. The pluralistic organization — comprised of various synagogues throughout Southern California with a mandate to fight genocide — also sells Chanukah cards with the proceeds going to the cooker program. To make a donation visit www.jewishworldwatch.org.
  • Join the Bone Marrow Registry: It is written in the Talmud that “He who saves one life, it is as if he had saved the entire world.” People with life-threatening illnesses such as lymphoma and leukemia, seek cures through bone marrow and blood stem cell transplants from someone that has a similar tissue type. The Gift of Life wants to increase the amount of prospective Jewish donors in the registry, especially since the Shoah severed bloodlines. An $18 donation enables the medical resource to send kit for a self-administered test, where a swab of cells could be taken quickly from inside one’s cheeks. Online donor registration and a list of upcoming donor drives are available at www.giftoflife.org.
  • Have a Tree Planted in Someone’s Honor: Help Israel’s environment — and the world’s — by giving a unique gift to a loved one or friend. For $18, the Jewish National Fund will plant the tree and provide a customized certificate with the honoree’s name and your personal message. In addition to the different themes available for the tree certificates, water certificates are also available. To make the world a little greener visit www.jnf.org.
  • Have a Winter Cleanup and Donate: One doesn’t have to wait for the spring season to clear up a closet or home and give to a good cause. The National Council of Jewish Women, Los Angeles (NCJWLA) accepts clothing, accessories, collectibles, furniture and appliances for their Council Thrift Shops year-round. NCJWLA also has a vehicle donation program. To set up a pick up or get more information, visit www.ncjwla.org.
  • Join Mazon’s 3 Percent Circle: It’s the season for eating, but there are still many that go hungry. Mazon – A Jewish Response to Hunger, a grant-making organization that combats hunger of people of various faiths and backgrounds, has multiple ways to donate. One option for this holiday season is to donate 3 percent of the cost of your event, whether it is a Chanukah party, bar/bat mitzvah or a wedding. The 3 percent pledge could continue with the cost of birthday parties, attending sporting events, restaurant dining, etc.

    To find out more information about the circle or how to get a holiday tribute card in someone’s name, visit www.mazon.org.

Pick a cause

When I was in eighth grade, I went on a school field trip to the Museum of Tolerance. My grandmother being a holocaust survivor, I had learned much about the Holocaust and took an interest in it. At the Museum of Tolerance, however, I learned about other things as well.

At an exhibit called the Millennium Machine, the last stop, I was in shock at all the horrible things that are still happening to children today. I couldn’t believe that in the world I lived in, kids were being enslaved and starved. I had always been involved with community service, but at the sight of this exhibit I knew I had to do something to help these children.

It was only a couple of weeks later that I was shopping at a jewelry and clothing boutique, when the owner noticed my necklace — which I had made. She offered to sell it at the store. That very day I brought in a tray of my work, and my guitar-pick jewelry was an instant success at the store.

This was right before summer started, and before I knew it I would be spending my summer days making jewelry. When I realized how much money I could make, I remembered that exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance and how much those children needed the money — much more than I did.

So I decided to give all of my proceeds to these unfortunate kids, and I began looking up charities that benefit kids. The first charity I donated to was UNICEF, because I knew that the money I gave would directly help youths in other countries that I had seen in the video at the museum. Ever since, I have given all of my proceeds to various charities, amounting to about $10,000.

In addition to my business, I always take on the opportunity to help in my own community. I believe that it is important to help out whenever you can, whether it’s picking up trash at the beach or working at a charity benefit, as well as taking on new challenges.

I love art and jewelry making, but giving to charity is the heart of my business. I might not be making jewelry forever, but I know I will always be charitable, because I have a love for helping those less fortunate than I am. Since I am a creative person, I’m glad to know I can use my talents to help others.

I also realize how fortunate I am to live in a nice house and to have food to eat, something that is easily taken for granted. I have also learned that we fortunate kids hold the responsibility to help children who are in desperate need for simple things that we have an abundance of. I believe that one person can make a difference, and with my charitable business I would like other young people to see that they, too, can use their talents for a good cause.

Amanda Martin is a junior at Viewpoint School in Calabasas. Her jewelry can be purchased at www.pickmejewelry.com.

The this essay was written for the Service Learning awards given out by the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Sulam Center for Jewish Service Learning (julief@jewishjournal.com.

To comfort me, first comfort yourself

People have been generous.

During the past two decades I have assisted in creating caring communities that extend themselves to people in their midst at
profound turning points.

These times of need include both times of tragedy and times of great joy. Baby namings, weddings, illnesses, communal catastrophes, and shiva minyanim, call forth different emotions. All of them have their share of anxieties. All of them take a village.

During these months of cancer treatment, I have been blessed with a village, giving me rides, food and comfort when I am in need, and respecting my privacy when I crave solitude.

“How can I help?” people ask. Aside from the practical help that is often needed, there is the less tangible assistance that often creates anxiety on the part of the ones who seek to help. People often stay away for fear that they will say the wrong thing.

That unease is unnecessary, to paraphrase the Torah, for the right thing is as near to you as breathing. If you help appropriately, you, and those you help, will benefit greatly.

The wisdom to help others is not privileged information. It is taught to all of us through our life experiences.

Hearts that are both caring and helpful, marry self-knowledge and the ability to attend to others. Therefore, when we seek to provide comfort, we look into our own lives for guidance.

I’d like to explore some of these deeper aspects of bringing comfort.

Bikur cholim is the sacred obligation of visiting the sick. Its principles apply to any outreach to people at vulnerable times.

Performing this mitzvah is not about helping the less fortunate.

It is not about doing a good deed.

It is a way of cultivating a relationship with the deep and rich nature of what it means to be human.

If you do this effectively and with compassion, it will help others. It will also make your life more meaningful. It will open your heart. You will live more fully. Ironically, the more you receive from your visits, the more skilled you become in the art of helping others.

A good visitor is more than a well-meaning person who comes with urgent good intentions, whose need to find just the right words can communicate anxiety more than care.

We all want to make things better. We want to do the right thing or find the phrase to transform the difficulties.

But guess what? We can’t fix it. We can’t take away the pain of loss. We can’t heal a chronic illness, bring back the dead or force family members to behave appropriately.

We can, however, make a difference.

A first step in learning to comfort suffering is to come to terms with our own powerlessness. Ironically, this relieves suffering. Struggling with this understanding gives us access to the paradoxically profound and simple skill of visiting. Understanding that we can’t do the impossible takes away some of the urgency. We can focus not on changing what can’t be changed, but on being present.

Knowing that we don’t have to rescue makes it easier to help. Knowing that caregiving has limits makes it less threatening for those who want to help but stay away in fear of not knowing what to say. We’re off the hook with regard to performing magic tricks of healing. All we can really do is to create a place where those to whom we offer comfort feel heard and protected.

The most important thing we offer as comfort is our own comfort. When we are fluent with some of life’s profound issues and communicate this either in words or in silence, we are helpful. We communicate that we are present and unafraid. The irony is that we become capable of serving in this way, by taking care of ourselves. We do this by cultivating our own soul and exploring our own relationship to life’s challenging questions.

Think back on your own difficult challenges. What helped you get through them? What did not help? Was there anything said that made it easier for you to get on with your life?

Over and over, I hear from people that what helped was not a cogent bon mot or profound piece of advice. It was the gift of compassionate attention with which someone validated the experience and provided presence and lack of judgment. This was offered without intruding into the person’s private world or forcing them to move beyond their comfort zone. It can happen in silence.

It can come with a light touch or the subtle expression of care. Above all, the feeling is communicated that the person being visited had permission to be exactly as he or she needs to be, be it tearful, angry, cheerful, silent, or confused. Rarely are these reassurances expressed verbally.

This kind of presence says more about whom the visitor is than about what he or she says, does or knows.

It reflects the visitor’s own work on the deep issues of his or her own life, which makes it possible to comfortably reach out to others.

That comfort gives comfort.

Knowing that we don’t have to rescue makes it easier to help.

Anne Brener is an L.A.-based psychotherapist. She is the author of “Mourning & Mitzvah: Walking the Mourner’s Path” (Jewish Lights, 1993 and 2001), a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and a faculty member of the Academy for Jewish Religion.

The magic Spend/Save/Tzedakah Plan keeps kids thinking

“I know what I want for my birthday,” my first-grader announced upon returning from school today. “A PSP [PlayStation Portable].”

“Jake” I replied, intent on giving my son perspective on how much his request would cost. “Do you realize that you could go to the dollar store and buy 300 toys for the price of one PSP?”

“Really?” Jake asked, clearly pondering this revelation. “I guess I’ll just do that instead!”

It’s not that my son is inherently greedy. On the contrary, he’s compassionate and generous. It’s just that he is in a developmental place where it’s difficult for him to grasp the concept and value of money. In fact, the vast majority of grade-schoolers (up to age 11) are what cognitive psychologists call concrete thinkers. That means they have a tough time conceptualizing anything they can’t physically see or touch. Money — thanks to credit cards, checks, Internet PayPal accounts and the like — is a hugely abstract concept.

Through the eyes of my soon to be 7- year-old, the difference between $300, $30 and $3 is largely inconsequential. I know it seems hard to believe that this could be so, but that’s only because we adults have the ability to think abstractly. Trust me, after a decade and a half as an elementary school teacher, I can tell you that, with rare exception, the only way an early elementary-aged child is going to truly understand the quantitative distinction between these amounts is if he actually sees 300 $1 bills piled next to 30 $1 bills piled next to three $1 bills.

So how do we enlighten our concrete-thinking kiddies to the fact that — despite popular playground belief — money doesn’t grow in ATM machines? With the Spend/Save/Tzedakah plan, of course! A superconcrete, positively priceless program that helps children the grasp the value of money, empowers them with financial smarts and encourages them to give back to their community, all in one fell swoop.

Here’s what you need to know to get it working for your little spenders.

Three Little Piggies

The basic premise of the Spend/Save/Tzedakah plan is to have our kids regularly divide their allowance into three distinct sections — one for personal spending, one for saving and one for giving. Deciding how to allocate the money (i.e. 60 percent spending, 30 percent savings and 10 percent tzedakah) is a personal family choice, but it’s important to make sure kids stick to their designated amounts every week.


For the Spend/Save/Tzedakah plan to work its magic, children should be required to use their personal spending money for all nonessential purchases other than birthday and Chanukah gifts. That means our kids pay for their own popcorn at the movies, Power Ranger popsicles from the ice cream man and fruitless attempts on the “try-to-pick-up-a-stuffed-animal-with-a-metal-claw” machine.

Still doubtful? Consider the following scenarios:

Shopping at Target without the Spend/Save/Tzedakah Plan:
Child: “Can I get that Hot Wheels car?”
Parent: “No”
Child: “Please? It’s only $1.29, and I’ve really been wanting that one.”
Parent: “I said NO.”
Child: “But, it’s a Hummer Hot Wheels — with real monster truck wheels!”
Parent: “How many times do I have to tell you? No means no!”
Child: “Please? PLEASE? PLEEEEASE?”
Parent: “OK, fine. Just put it in the cart and stop whining.”

(Epilogue: The same scene plays out the next day only this time the kid wants a pair of $70 Heelys roller sneakers.)

Shopping at Target with the Spend/Save/Tzedakah plan:
Child: “Can I get that Hot Wheels car?”
Parent: “Sure. You can use your spending money any way you’d like.”
Child: “Well, I don’t really need it. I’d rather save my money for those Heelys roller sneakers.”

On Saving

Just to clarify. The kind of savings we’re talking about here is the kind you put away for a long-term goal — like going to college or spending a high school semester in Israel — not an exorbitantly priced toy or an overpriced outfit. The key here is to help our children move beyond the instant gratification mentality toward understanding that some things cost so much money it takes years to save and pay for them.

Finally, it’s important for children to have a concrete representation of their savings progress. Have them place a sticker on a chart each time they surpass a $10 increment, or enroll them in a kiddie savings program that requires no minimum balance and provides monthly statements. We parents will be as excited as our kids to see how much money they are putting away for their future!


Our kids’ lives largely exist within a vacuum. They have their families, their friends, their schools, their neighborhoods and their material possessions. They often don’t consider the needs of those less fortunate, not because they don’t care but because they are not used to thinking outside their familiar worlds.

By putting a small portion of their allowance toward tzedakah each week, our children will begin to appreciate their responsibility as Jews and human beings to share their resources with the community.

They’ll come to recognize that many of life’s most precious gifts come without a barcode. And that — in the scheme of things — a PlayStation Portable isn’t really that important after all.

For a piggy bank perfectly designed to fit the Spend/Save/Tzedakah plan, check out the Learning Cents bank at

Class Notes

Get Packing
It was weeks before camp started, but on Sunday, June 11, Gear Up for Camp Day brought 1,700 people — including 500 campers and their families — to The Federation’s Camp Max Straus, run by Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Campers filled laundry bags with camp necessities — sunscreen, T-shirts, hats, socks, towels — most donated by local businesses. Federation staff and volunteers, as well as staff from Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Camp Max Straus, helped distribute the goods.

This was the first time the event was held at the nonsectarian overnight camp in Glendale, giving parents a chance to see where their kids would spend the summer. The day also featured carnival rides, live entertainment and food.

The Federation is helping 1,100 underprivileged kids go to camp this summer, including those who will attend Max Straus — which offers one- and two-week stays to at-risk youth from the L.A. area — and some Jewish children, mostly immigrants from Iran and Russia, who will attend Jewish camps on Federation scholarships.

For more information, call (323) 761-8320.

Arts in L.A. Gets a Push
Arts Education in L.A.-area public schools is getting a boost from the Jewish community, as the Jewish Community Foundation and The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation recently announced support for Los Angeles County’s Arts for All initiative. Adopted by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in 2002, Arts for All seeks to restore arts education slashed with the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978.

The Jewish Community Foundation, in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, launched the Arts in Schools Giving Circle to try to raise $100,000 from individual donors by the end of 2006.

The Giving Circle hopes to provide matching grants to fund more than 150 arts residency programs serving approximately 4,000 K-12th grade students in 14 Los Angeles County public schools.

Seeded by a grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Giving Circle is the first opportunity for individual donors to participate in the Arts for All Pooled Fund, a consortium of foundations and corporations.

The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation announced a $100,000 gift to the Pooled Fund in May. Of this, $50,000 will support the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District’s plan over the next three years to hire an arts coordinator and to develop arts curriculum and arts education training for district teachers. The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation supports initiatives involving healthcare, access to college, Jewish programs in Los Angeles, and established a chair in Israel studies at UCLA.

For further information about the JCF Giving Circle, call program officer Amelia Xann at (323) 761-8714 or axann@jewishfoundationla.org. For information on the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, call (310) 449-4500. For information on Arts for All, visit www.lacountyarts.org.

Birthright Reaches 100,000
This month, the 100,000th 18- to 26-year-old will participate in a free, educational trip to Israel, thanks to Taglit-Birthright, a 6-year-old program supported by United Jewish Communities, the Israeli government and 14 philanthropists.

Internal research has shown that the program is meeting its goals of solidifying participant’s Jewish identity and connection to Israel, and has also generated more than $182 million in revenue for the Israeli economy.

But the program might be a victim of its own success: This summer, 15,000 applicants were turned away, when a record 25,000 youth applied for just 12,000 spots.

For information, call (888) 994-7723 or visit www.birthrightisrael.com.

Teens on the Beltway
Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue in Brentwood accompanied the synagogue’s confirmation class to Washington D.C., to participate in the L’Taken Seminar of the Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism last month.

The study and action program was attended by 250 students, who culminated the conference by meeting with congressional staffers to advocate on behalf of issues such as Darfur, immigration and the death penalty.

Also attending were teens from Temple Beth Torah of Ventura, Temple Beth Sholom of Santa Ana, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Temple Israel of Hollywood.


Young Lawyer Has a Ball With Bet Tzedek

As a young summer associate with a Los Angeles law firm, Jeffrey Sklar looked forward to attending his first Justice Ball. He wanted to see ’80s icon Billy Idol do the “Rebel Yell” live. He wanted to hang out with other young attorneys and law students. He wasn’t going for any high-minded motives.

Back in 2000, Sklar, like most of the 20- and 30-somethings who go to the annual Justice Ball, had only the vaguest notion of what Bet Tzedek, the event’s sponsor and a local Jewish legal-aid outfit, does. That would soon change.

Sklar, an attorney at Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan LLP, went to the Ball and partied with friends. He also listened as Bet Tzedek executives briefly took the stage and talked up their organization and its need for dedicated volunteers to help society’s most vulnerable achieve a degree of justice. Their message resonated with Sklar, who, as a young boy, remembers dropping coins into his family’s tzedekah box. Now, six years later, Sklar is a regular legal volunteer, he’s helped recruit other lawyer friends to volunteer time, and he’s helping to plan this year’s event, which will take place July 8 at the Hollywood Palladium, featuring the Go-Go’s.

Founded in 1997, the Justice Ball has grown into one of the nation’s most successful nonprofit fundraisers/parties targeting young professionals, Jews and non-Jews alike. Over the past nine years, more than 16,000 attorneys, financiers and others have attended the soirees, and scores of them have gone on to become Bet Tzedek contributors and volunteers. Some, like Sklar, have gone on to serve on Bet Tzedek’s Justice Ball planning committee and even on to the board of directors, making the event more than just a fundraiser — it’s an important gateway to the organization.

“The Justice Ball is absolutely a good way for young blood to get involved,” said Bet Tzedek board member Brette Simon, a law partner at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP whose first exposure to the legal aid society came from attending the mega-parties.

To date, Justice Balls have raised more than $3.2 million in ticket sales and corporate sponsorships, said Randall Kaplan, the Justice Ball’s creator and cofounder of high-tech giant Akamai Technologies, Inc. Last year’s event raised $425,000, or nearly 8 percent of Bet Tzedek’s $5.5 million budget, Executive Director Mitch Kamin said. This year, the 10th anniversary gala is expected to be even bigger. Hopes are the popular L.A. Go-Go’s will draw more than 3,000 revelers and raise as much as $500,000, Kamin said.

“Everyone in the philanthropic world is puzzling over how you engage the truly young generation of professionals who haven’t been necessarily taught by their parents that giving is part of their religious or social responsibility,” Kamin said. “This is a chance for us to introduce ourselves to them, give them initial exposure to Bet Tzedek and raise their consciousness.”

Bet Tzedek’s success at reaching the coveted demographic of young Jewish professionals comes as other Jewish organizations are struggling to do the same. Faced with the growing competition from non-Jewish nonprofits, Jewish charities are grappling with a generation that, because of intermarriage and assimilation, often considers itself more American than Jewish, experts said. With young Jews standing to inherit billions over the next 20 years, finding a way to appeal to their generosity is perhaps the greatest challenge faced by Jewish charities.

In Los Angeles, Bet Tzedek is not alone in its success in appealing to this group. Young leadership initiatives at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, including its Young Leadership Division and the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund of Los Angeles, now account for about $5 million, or nearly 5 percent of The Federation’s annual campaign, said Craig Prizant, The Federation’s executive vice president for financial resource development.

Still, The Federation’s strong showing appears to be the exception rather than the rule in the organized Jewish world. Simply put, the stodgy chicken-dinner fundraisers favored by so many Jewish philanthropies fail to bring young movers-and-shakers to the table. The MTV generation would rather rock ‘n’ roll all night long.

The Justice Ball gives them a chance to do just that, along with learning a thing or two about Bet Tzedek’s mission of offering free legal aid to the poor, sick, elderly and homeless.

Soon after his first Justice Ball, Sklar joined the group’s planning committee. Like others touched by Justice Balls before him, he went on to volunteer his legal services to Bet Tzedek, including assisting a Holocaust survivor obtain restitution from the Hungarian government.

“As a lawyer, you make a decent living. You get to sit up here in real tall buildings with a real nice view. You get to drive a real nice car,” he said. “So the bottom line is you need to give back, you have to get back. This is a great way for me to do so.”

For more information on the Justice Ball, visit www.thejusticeball.org.


Scheduled Relaxation

Last Sunday afternoon I was standing in my shower scrubbing my tile. It suddenly occurred to me — in the midst of Ajax and scouring pads — that the man who was ruling my fantasies was on a plane coming back from a sure-it’s-professional junket in Las Vegas.

Something was wrong with this picture. I dropped my sponge and ran to call my girlfriend: “Hey. You gotta help me. All of this straight-and-narrow is getting to me. I need to have some fun.”

We met at a local restaurant reminiscent of the hip, urban San Francisco eateries of our 20s, had a drink, stayed late, and laughed as the waiter batted his lashes.

“Listen,” I told her over martinis. “I think I’ve forgotten how to play.”

She looked at me with the knowing eyes of a friend and said, “Me too. I feel like all I do is work on myself. Where’s the friggin’ fun part?”

What occurred to me as I started thinking about it is that I used to rely on my relationship life to have fun. I’d fly to New York, run around the city, eat passionately with my boyfriend for 10 days and come home. I’d rush home from work, throw all my clothes on the floor, don a slinky dress and feverishly drive to the beach for a drink date. I’d hike up Runyan Canyon in the middle of a storm with my dating man, laugh uproariously and kiss in the rain. It was flash and dash, delight and joy — and sometimes even love. What is was was fun.

I relied on my relationship life for downtime, too. It was the time I hung out in bed, took the slow walk around my neighborhood, had the morning-after breakfast made sloppily and slowly between intimacies.

But lately all of that has been different. I stopped dating for a while altogether (no need to go into the now-mercifully distant reason why), and in the wake of a more careful re-entry into dating life, I’ve become a project girl. Creative things that I’ve been longing to express my whole adult life I’ve taken on like a conquest. I write, I paint, I sing, I cook and I songwrite. It’s rich and it’s full and it’s fulfilling.

But what it also is is busy. And beyond my projects and an involved social life, there seems to be no genuine relaxation time. There are no goof-off, just-for-fun days where there’s nothing to do but play. I’m not sure I even remember what play-time looks like anymore.

Yet — to be totally honest — when I think back on some of those play-time, nostalgia-inducing boyfriend experiences, I have to admit that as sweet and easy as those encounters could be, they were just as often peppered by the nervous tension of “being together” when we weren’t all the way there, or by the dodging and ducking of using our intimate connection to mask other, bigger incompatibilities. That wasn’t relaxing.

As the years have gone by, I realize I’d just as soon be alone than continue to go through cycles of head-spinning effort with someone in exchange for a couple of moments of grace. So I don’t do that anymore. And though this kind of spiritual honesty has created an ease in my nervous system (and a welcome death to that horrible intimate uncertainty of giving myself where it’s not appreciated), I have to stop and wonder, have I become overworked and underplayed?

I don’t want to say that getting rid of the -isms has gotten rid of the fun part. That’s not it. But there’s something here about playing and free-falling joy that I’m missing. Something in the enjoyment of what is already here, versus the pregnant push of needing to create it. To observe, appreciate, enjoy, relax, and receive. That’s what I’m missing. And now that I’m officially dating, it seems kind of imperative to bring this ethic back onto the playing field.

I was on my cell with my wise girlfriend yesterday — the one who gives me that uncannily timed girl-advice that saves me from giving in to my idiotic post-second-date fears — and three times in row she cut out at a pivotal word.

“What?” I intoned. “On my cell. You cut out.”

She laughed outloud: “Receive, sweetheart. It kills me that you missed that. Relax and receive!”

Oh, that.

If I’ve forgotten how to have downtime, if I’ve joined the ranks of the over-diligent in my efforts to not fall into wary paths of love, then it’s time to loosen the reigns a bit. Underplaying means I have to let go of my project-queen, art-making cottage-industry, and just be done for a while.

So, with the grace of personal discovery, I’ll be amending that busy behavior, whether I’m accompanied or not. It’s time to enjoy whoever I’m seeing, and have fun on my own. It’s time to let go, go slow, play, hang out and take some time to do absolutely nothing.

Even if it means I have to schedule it.

JoAnneh Nagler is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She writes articles, philanthropic proposals and has recently been at work on Fox’s telenovellas “Table for Three” and “Fashion House.” Her newly completed folk-pop CD “I Burn” is online at