An instrumental leader

Howard Banchik will tell you there’s a lot more to music and learning to play an instrument than meets the ears.

The co-founder of real-estate investment firm Westwood Financial Corp. in Los Angeles and member of University Synagogue in Brentwood credits learning to play music as a child with helping him succeed in life.

“Learning to play music is a microcosm of life. You start off with an instrument and at the beginning you can hardly get a sound but a squeak and a squawk, and it’s horrible,” Banchik said. “You set a goal, you practice, practice, practice. You reach the goal, then you and your teachers say, ‘OK, now you have to reach the next goal.’ So it’s just like life, you’re always setting the bar a little higher.”

Banchik grew up in the San Fernando Valley and now lives in Brentwood. He began learning the saxophone at age 12. Although he adored music and had always wanted to play the saxophone, it didn’t come easy — he found he had to practice hard to get the sound he wanted.

The practice paid off. Banchik played in musical groups at high school and went to CSUN to study music, graduating with a teaching credential. After that, he became a professional musician for 15 years, playing at college graduations, bar mitzvahs and other events.

Now 75, Banchik has for more than a decade been a driving force behind the Harmony Project, a local nonprofit that teaches low-income youth how to play music. The program has received numerous awards, including a Presidential Citizens Medal for its founder, Margaret Martin, and been featured in major news media such as the Wall Street Journal, PBS and National Public Radio.

Banchik joined the board of the Harmony Project in 2002 and became chairman a year later, after he was introduced to it while serving on the board of the Fulfillment Fund, an educational organization that helps disadvantaged youth. Immediately he was drawn to the idea of teaching young people not only how to play music and be part of music ensembles, but also the accompanying skills that could help them break out of the cycle of poverty and become successful adults.

“It’s not about how good a musician they are at all. It’s more the life skills they’re learning with the study of music,” Banchik explained. “It helps with discipline, responsibility and cooperation. When you’re playing in an orchestra, you just have to cooperate, show up to rehearsals on time, show up to lessons on time, take care of your instrument. At the same time, it builds up a lot of self-esteem because they have to do performances.” 

Under Banchik’s direction, the Harmony Project has grown from serving just 36 children in 2002 to reaching 2,000 low-
income students throughout Los Angeles today, he said. 

The project, which has affiliate programs in Ventura County and in five other states, provides free instruments, mentorship, and private and group music instruction at venues around the city. Participants have the opportunity to join chamber ensembles and orchestras. 

Harmony Project Associate Director Natalie Jackson credits Banchik’s passion, business acumen and fundraising skills with moving the organization to where it is currently. Although he is no longer chair of the board — he handed over leadership in 2013 — he continues to serve as chairman emeritus. She said his wife, Jackie, also has been an instrumental fundraiser for the project.

“You can’t really get another Howard Banchik, so he’ll be chair forever,” Jackson said. “His knowledge and expertise and his ability to understand people and understand our program — it’s amazing.”

Banchik is far more than a leader and fundraising figure behind the scenes, Jackson said. He frequently attends classes and rehearsals, stopping in to listen, offer suggestions and chat with the kids. When he attends performances, he’ll serve food and help with the cleanup and folding up the chairs, she said.

“The kids love him,” Jackson said. “He talks to everyone. He’s just really helpful and loving. It’s just wonderful to watch.”

The benefits of Harmony Project’s work with students have been confirmed by research. A brain study of the program’s students by neuroscientists at Northwestern University confirmed that children who study music gain improved critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, are able to focus better, and improve their performance in reading and math. 

In 2007, Banchik established the Harmony Project’s Banchik Scholarship Fund with a $1 million gift from his family. The fund offers $5,000 college scholarships to graduates of the Harmony Project who are accepted to college or an accredited vocational school. Many of the recipients are the first in their families to pursue higher education. In 2014, the fund gave out 37 scholarships, and there are plans to distribute about 50 scholarships in 2015, Banchik said.

“Some of them really have had very dysfunctional families, abusive families, everything you can imagine, and then you look at these kids and they pull themselves up and they’re graduating and going to college,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about, that’s where all the satisfaction comes from, to know you’ve provided a future for these kids.”

Banchik has served in a number of other leadership positions locally as well, including as past president of University Synagogue and board member of the Fulfillment Fund for 14 years. In November, he was named Outstanding Philanthropist by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Greater Los Angeles Chapter.

The businessman said he believes helping others is a duty, one that he enjoys.

“If people like myself — who have good health, financial resources — if we don’t do it, who should do it?” Banchik said. “I think that’s a responsibility that we have when we have good fortune in our lives. We have to help those who are not as fortunate as we are.” 

Heads of young innovative Jewish organizations debrief L.A. Jews on their work

As part of their visit to Los Angeles last week, the outgoing class of Joshua Venture Fellows, all leaders of innovative Jewish organizations that are less than five years old, spent a few hours one evening talking to a group of L.A. Jews.

At an event co-presented by Jumpstart and LimmudLA, the fellows presented the work of their own organizations. Headquartered around the country, their nonprofits engage in work that ranges from the very hands-on, to the heady, to the overtly political, to the radically reductive. 

For a few hours on May 8, though, the fellows functioned as the hub of a self-contained ecosystem of Jewish innovation that popped up in a shared office space in Culver City. The approximately 80 (mostly young) Angelenos who joined the (also youngish) fellows included leaders of more established Jewish organizations, aspiring Jewish innovators, and staff members from Jewish Community Foundation and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

It was both an opportunity for the Joshua Venture Group, the New York-based organization that funds the two-year fellowships, to present the fellows to Los Angeles and a chance for the fellows themselves to seek out partners to help advance their work.

While the crowd talked, noshed, networked and (occasionally) Tweeted, the fellows themselves made clear their awareness that they were coming up to the end of two years of both training and exposure to other Jewish resources for innovation, as well as grants from the Joshua Venture Group to each of their organizations of up to $100,000.

“We are working on replacing that funding,” said Rabbi Ari Weiss, executive director of the Modern Orthodox social justice nonprofit Uri L’Tzedek. In addition to the Joshua fellowship, Weiss and Uri L’Tzedek have been supported by other organizations, including getting funding, office space and other resources from Bikkurim over the last four years.

Weiss said the organization is stronger today than it was before those programs invested in it.

“I think we’re a much more mature organization, having been in this ecosystem, he said.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi to step down as Israel Project head

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, the founder and president of The Israel Project, said she will leave the advocacy group by July 1.

In statements Wednesday, the 10-year-old group and Mizrahi said reorganization and management training helped set the stage for her departure. The Israel Project is seeking a CEO to replace her.

Mizrahi had announced in 2007 that she would step down for family reasons, but rescinded the decision within months after the board said it could not find an adequate replacement.

The Israel Project seeks to garner fairer and more positive coverage of Israel through non-confrontational outreach to journalists.

Since 2007, the group has expanded considerably and now employs 75 people worldwide, with outreach to Europe, Latin America and the Arab world as well as the United States.

Among its initiatives, The Israel Project has become well known for its TV ads on cable news networks during political conventions emphasizing Israeli peace efforts and projects.

The Israel Project statement said Mizrahi “plans to establish a communications consultancy focusing on advocating for the rights and needs of special needs children.” She will retain an advisory role.

Beit Issie Shapiro named Israel’s most efficient non-profit

Beit Issie Shapiro, a special needs organization in Raanana, was recognized as Israel’s Most Efficient Non-Profit Organization.

The efficiency monitor Midot cited Beit Issie Shapiro after it was chosen by a public committee. The award was judged according to impact on society, leadership, management practices, financial planning, ethics, transparency and collaboration with others to increase its circle of influence.

Midot presented the awards earlier this month at its annual conference at the Suzanne Dellal Centre in Tel Aviv.

Supreme Court President Emeritus Meir Shagmar headed the committee, which was formed in cooperation with Maala-Business for Social Responsibility, Sheatufim-the Center for Civil Society and GuideStar Israel, an online resource about nonprofits in Israel.

Beit Issie Shapiro in the past 30 years has grown from serving 16 children with disabilities to helping 30,000 people annually. The organization also helps train thousands of therapists in Israel in its new therapies, and conducts research and shares best practices internationally.

Israel has 30,000 registered non-profit and voluntary organizations, 4,000 of which provide a variety of welfare, educational and support services.

Forward’s salary rankings: Men got more money, better raises

The Forward’s second annual survey of 74 major Jewish national organizations found that in the past year, women lost ground in leadership, continued to lag behind men in pay and did not experience the same increases in salary that a majority of the men enjoyed despite these recessionary times. (VIEW THE SURVEY HERE)

While there were 11 women serving as presidents and CEOs of federations, advocacy and public service groups, and religious institutions last year, there are now only nine. Even though the work force in these organizations is overwhelmingly female, the percentage of women in leadership roles has dropped in the past year to 12% from 14%.

In this, the Jewish communal experience is dramatically at odds with trends in the broader not-for-profit world. GuideStar, which collects the informational tax forms that not-for-profit groups are required to file with the Internal Revenue Service, reported in September that women were chief executives of nearly 47% of the nation’s charities in 2008. Although women were concentrated in smaller organizations, even in the larger charities — those with annual budgets of more than $1 million — they still held 38% of the top roles.

Read more:

Old traditions, new rules

Topic No. 1 on the Sukkot circuit this year was the economy. How bad will it get? Who’s pulling their kids out of day school? Where are you putting yourmoney? What money?

“I have a new word for my sukkah this year,” a friend said as we walked into his simple bamboo-and-muslin hut: “Affordable housing.”

There’s no doubt about it: We are scared. Things have been bad before but not this bad. After seven fat years come the lean, just like our tradition says.

The problem is particularly acute in the world of Jewish nonprofits. In the fat years, they have built up a skein of projects, payrolls and programs that demand a constant flow of philanthropic dollars. Now comes the reckoning, when they will have to redefine and redirect the role of money in Jewish life.

For Jewish nonprofits — schools, community centers, synagogues, social service and social action agencies — what exactly does that mean?

For answers, I went to the top. I called Bob Aronson, who for 20 years has been CEO of the Detroit Jewish Federation, an umbrella organization that under Aronson has raised more money per capita than any group of its kind. Aronson just announced this week that he is stepping down as CEO in Detroit (he will remain a senior adviser). He will continue as president of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and will consult with other philanthropies.

“Oy,” he said to me when I congratulated him on the move. “My friends are saying, ‘Now is not the time to be a philanthropic consultant — no one’s got any money.'”

Aronson, of course, doesn’t really believe that.

“It’s worse than it’s ever been,” he said, “but it too will pass.”

In the meantime, according to Aronson, there are some rules we should all live by:

  1. Don’t Panic.

    “People are afraid to give,” Aronson said. “Even if they have money, it’s psychological. They’re stopping allocation. They’re stopping solicitation. But the most important thing is to keep going, to realize that we have a job to do, if only because the number of people who need our support is also growing.”

  2. Be Frugal.

    “We have to be extremely careful about expenditure and overhead,” Aronson said. “Even if we raise more money, there will be greater need for allocations.”

    The cutbacks will have to include staff, salary, nonessential programs, glossy mailers and that Jewish charity mainstay: the banquet.

    “Messages are extremely important, and fancy dinners send absolutely the wrong message,” Aronson said.

    The Detroit federation just moved a big donor dinner from a grand hotel to a private home and substituted desserts for dinner.

  3. Be Aggressive.

    “We have to be as aggressive as ever in asking for money,” Aronson said. “At our core, this is what we’re about, and philanthropists still expect to be asked.”

    The media is full of sad-sack accounts of billionaires who, having lost 20 percent of their net worth overnight, are down to their last 9 billion. Some of these men have the gall to say they will have to reduce their charitable commitments.
    I asked Aronson, a guy who plays in those leagues, to try to help me understand that mentality.

    “It’s all relative,” he said. “If a guy had $3 billion and now he has $1 [billion], we say, ‘You’re still a billionaire.’ He says, ‘I’m down to my last billion.'”

    Aronson recently met with a big macher who said he wouldn’t be giving this year. The man, Aronson pointed out, wasn’t about to give up his Gulfstream 4 to give money away: “For some of these guys, giving is just not fundamental to who they are.”

    One solution is for our communal leaders — rabbis, organizational heads — to make the case that self-worth is not a function of net worth.

    “Our spiritual leaders have a bigger responsibility now to point out our responsibilities,” Aronson said.

  4. Prioritize.

    “Now is probably not the time to be starting a new capital campaign,” Aronson said. “People are losing their jobs, their health care, their housing. They need food; they need money. This economy is affecting the poor and the elderly, but it’s also having a major impact on the middle class.”

    “Now is the time to look at meeting the everyday needs of people.”

I asked Aronson if it wasn’t true that there is still enough money in the Jewish community for all these needs — the big buildings in memory of Mr. and Mrs. So and So, the edgy outreach to 20-somethings, the cross-cultural community bridge-building. Besides, each of these has a natural constituency that probably wouldn’t be moved to give otherwise.

“That’s simplistic,” Aronson shot back. “There may be, but it’s hard to raise money right now, and we need to focus on what’s critical.”

Where does Israel fit in on this list of priorities? Aronson is one of the prime movers behind Birthright Israel, which brings thousands of young adults to Israel for 10 days each year.

“Obviously, the domestic need is the priority right now,” he said. “We need to meet our obligation to Israel, but we need to make sure we are meeting our needs here.”

“We are really at the point where we need to be worrying about clothing the naked and caring for the widow and the orphan,” said Aronson .

Just like it says in our tradition.

Zucky’s and SOVA — knishes and compassion

Hy and Zucky Altman founded the SOVA food pantry program at a vacant Santa Monica bar in 1983. On opening day, the Altmans put all the food they had on the counter — bagels, soup, canned goods — waiting to serve the impoverished Jewish seniors they had gotten to know in the beachfront neighborhood.

A Latino walked in looking for a meal.

“Hy looked at me and said, ‘He’s not Jewish,'” recalled his wife, Zucky Altman, 89. “I said, ‘So what? He’s hungry.’ From that moment on, we decided we would just feed everybody.”

SOVA’s history and its connection to Zucky’s Delicatessen — the iconic Googie-style Ocean Park restaurant where the Altmans fed needy residents for more than 20 years — are the topics of a new documentary, “Knishes and Compassion,” which will premiere online Sept. 21, the organization’s 25th anniversary.

Filmmaker Leron Kornreich, who produces personal life-story films through her company,

With economy faltering, nonprofits brace for recession

Americans continue to default on their mortgages in numbers not seen since the Great Depression. Banks continue to become more reticent about lending money. The stock market continues a herky-jerky tumble downhill.

The finance industry is still roiling from last month’s stunning collapse of Bear Stearns, Wall Street’s fifth largest investment bank. The dollar continues to fall against other world currencies.

And the philanthropic world is becoming increasingly fearful about what seems to be a perfect storm brewing against the financial world.

While most philanthropy professionals feel some anxiety now, they are bracing for what could be a calamity in the world of charitable giving.

At its worst, they say, the stock and real estate markets could continue to slide and large foundations could be forced to cut their allocations significantly, smaller donations from the middle class could dry up and what has been a renaissance in Jewish programming over the past several years could come to a screeching halt. Also, the dollar’s decline could continue to stretch the budgets of Israeli nonprofits.

At its best, the economy could stabilize and there could simply be a short-term slowing of philanthropic dollars — a slowing that already has started.

“I think you will begin to see cutbacks now in terms of commitments for the future,” said Richard Marker, an independent philanthropy adviser and a professor of philanthropy at New York University. “If you were to start a major campaign now and are asking people for lead gifts, I think you will begin to see an atmosphere of reservation.

“People are beginning to be nervous, especially in places where the economy is so based on banking and real estate. And I don’t think that the Jewish community is going to be exempt. There is going to be tremendous pressure on both the philanthropists and the nonprofit world.”

Some are comparing the economic situation brewing now to the recession that followed Sept. 11, 2001 and the bursting of the high-tech bubble.

Some are holding tight to the notion that the economy ebbs and flows, and after a period of unprecedented growth over the past several years the market is simply correcting itself. But those considering the philanthropic world believe they are peering over the edge of a cliff unsure about whether they are about to fall over or be mercifully yanked away from it.

Philanthropy typically follows the economy by two years — if the economy falters, usually it takes two years for philanthropists to slow their giving. But Marker and others predict this downturn will have a much quicker effect.

“I think people are taking a deep breath,” Marker said. “I don’t think that people right now are looking to make major new commitments, whereas maybe a year ago, if a great new idea came along, someone might say, ‘OK, lets take the risk.'”

Marker, who acts as an adviser to a number of foundations and philanthropists, said he has heard of one foundation that already has said it will not provide grants next year, but declined to name it.

At the annual conference of the Jewish Funders Network (JFN), which gathered some 350 of the world’s wealthiest Jews and most prolific givers this week in Jerusalem, philanthropists and foundation professionals openly expressed concern that a philanthropic recession is on the way.

Yael Shalgi, the president of Israel Philanthropy Advisors, says she also knows of several foundations that already have cut their funding.

Even the behemoth of the Jewish philanthropic world, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, is nervous. The foundation, which last year was worth some $2.3 billion, gives out more than $100 million a year to charities, most of which are Jewish.

Foundations are required to give away 5 percent of their assets each year, which means they generally try to earn 7 percent annually on their investments to pay for their allotments and overhead.

But the Weinberg foundation, which has about two-thirds of its money invested in various markets and the rest in real estate, has lost 9 percent of the value on its invested assets since the beginning of the year, according to its treasurer, Barry Schloss.

Schloss said the impact on the foundation’s giving will not be felt immediately, as its allocations for the last fiscal year, which for Weinberg ended Feb. 28, are already set.

“We’re not cutting grants at the moment,” Schloss said. But if the market continues to tumble, “the real effect will happen next year. We will probably have to make cuts. But we don’t stop giving when we get to that point.”

At the JFN conference, Schloss said that because of the falling dollar, some of the Israeli organizations funded by Weinberg will have to do less with their money than they expected. He noted a program that pays for dental care for needy children that will be able to help only 175 children with dental surgery rather than the intended 200.

The real crunch, though, may come not from major foundations but the middle class.

Givers tend to make charitable donations in accordance with how comfortable they feel financially. Thus, in this economy the middle class — and therefore smaller donations — could suffer tremendously.

“We are very concerned about the manner in which the volatility in the markets and the repercussions of the credit crunch will have [an effect] on fund raising in general and the abilities of the charities to function,” said Sandy Cardin, the president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

While he expects those charities that receive a significant portion of their budgets from foundations to be relatively secure, charities that depend on smaller donations from the public could be in trouble.

“Regarding the larger group of donations — gifts from the general public — it is unknown,” Cardin said.

Charitable contributions are among the first cuts for Americans feeling insecure financially, say experts in the field.

Special Report


“> This Time They’re Ready for the Wave

KANCHIPURAM DISTRICT, INDIA — The bright, clear morning of Dec. 26, 2004, would forever change S. Desingu’s life.

The first monster wave rose from the Sea of Bengal without warning at 8 a.m. — silently, massively.

For the Indian fishermen at sea, the startling energy pulse bumped harmlessly under their boats, passing in an instant. The wave started to rise ominously in the shallows.

Onshore, the 36-year-old Desingu glanced up to see a 30-foot liquid wall surging in as tall as the tops of the soaring coconut palms. The fishing craft along the shore rolled end over end, tossed as easily as playthings in a bathtub.

Mesmerized, Desingu, whose name means fisherman, actually moved in closer.

“Then I was trapped,” he recalled in his native Tamil, through a translator. “The water was over my head.”

His wife, who came looking for him, also was caught in the flood. So was her aunt.

Desingu and other villagers didn’t even know a word to call this calamity. Only later would he hear of “tsunami.”

In India the roiling water took an estimated 18,000 lives — more than nine times the number lost in Hurricane Katrina. About three-quarters of the casualties were women and children. Although many people are more aware of the disaster’s astronomical deathtoll in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, the statistics here in India are staggering: some 157,000 homes destroyed; 640,000 displaced.

Along all the southern Asian coastlines, more than 220,000 souls were swept to their deaths, according to a U.N. tally. Some 1.8 million were left homeless or became refugees.

As for Desingu, the tsunami first brought stunning loss and then ongoing struggle. But a glimmer of opportunity also materialized. For this poor but enterprising fisherman was already running a nonprofit that hired schoolteachers and organized health clinics and after-school programs. In the wake of the tsunami, money and aid began pouring in for Desingu’s nonprofit and his village. Suddenly, this 10th-generation fisherman had the chance to become the catalyst for permanent change in southeast India’s deprived and hard-pressed fishing villages.

“Now, all of a sudden, I can do more than I had planned to do,” said Desingu, the founder and director of Society for Education and Action (SEA).

And he would join forces to battle inadequate schools, poor health care, gender discrimination and government bureaucracy with people he knew little about — people called Jews.

In the days after the tsunami hit, the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), a relatively small, New York City-based nonprofit, began to work with Desingu and other regional leaders who run nongovernmental organizations or NGOs as they are commonly called. The upward shift in possibilities for AJWS paralleled that of the hard-working fisherman. Before the tsunami, the Jewish aid group had an annual budget of $11.2 million for projects spanning the developing world — a pinprick compared to other groups that do similar work — and small even when compared to other Jewish groups that focus on helping Jews and Israel. But relief appeals for the tsunami brought in $11 million, doubling the nonprofit’s funds.

Other aid groups have had similar experiences as a second flood — of charitable assistance — poured into India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand. Private U.S. sources have given $1.775 billion to a loose coalition of 62 nonprofits (which includes AJWS and the American Joint Distribution Committee, another Jewish nonprofit that handled an influx of $18.5 million in tsunami-related donations).

Like Desingu, the American Jewish World Service saw an opening to effect change well beyond emergency relief or short-term recovery. The AJWS wanted to take on the pre-tsunami landscape of poverty and deprivation. Just as surely as the tsunami altered so much for the worse, the AJWS, working with local leaders like Desingu, wanted to make permanent changes for the good. Although it granted immediate aid where most needed, the organization also created a long-term development plan to spread out its windfall resources over five years.

“A lot of donors come and go after an emergency,” said Kate Kroeger, senior program officer for AJWS. “The real work kicks in three to four years after a disaster, when a community is stabilized. If donors pull out before that, they’ll miss out on three-quarters of the benefit.”

The American Jewish World Service already was working in India when the tsunami hit. But the storm thrust both AJWS and Desingu suddenly — and willingly — onto a larger stage, where their efforts can accomplish vastly more.

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site:
” target=”_blank”>
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site:
Regional office: ” target=”_blank”>
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: ” target=”_blank”>
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: ” target=”_blank”>
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355


Web site:


The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is one of our city’s most successful philanthropies. Yet, nationwide, it ranks behind New York, Chicago, Detroit, the Bay Area, Philadelphia and Baltimore in the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual listing of the 400 not-for-profit organizations with the largest revenues from individual contributors.

I’ve often wondered why this is so. With the exception of New York, these are cities whose Jewish populations are far smaller than our own. People tell me it’s because Jews are like other Angelenos: They come West to make their own way, to avoid hierarchy and organization of all kinds. They are spread out, self-absorbed, apolitical and apathetic.

Others tell me the Federation itself is to blame. For too long it focused on Israel and overseas Jewry, as local Jews turned more toward domestic concerns. It lacked a clear mission, it became political (or not political enough), and it had a cumbersome and resolutely unsexy name — Federation — in a town where packaging matters.

In fact, a little of “all of the above” might be the case, but these reasons must not obscure what I’ve understood as the Federation’s mission: to meet the needs of Jews here, in Israel and around the world.

The Federation is the central planning, coordinating and fundraising body for 18 local and international agencies that offer the entire community a broad range of humanitarian programs. The annual UJF campaign supports these programs and is the largest single year-round fundraising endeavor in the Jewish community.

There is a legitimate discussion going on about the best way to meet Jewish communal needs in the 21st century. But now, today, the Federation and its beneficiary agencies are the primary way those needs are being met.

You could dismiss the organization, focus only on its faults, or argue it should be reinvented from A to Z, but that wouldn’t change the nature or urgency of the needs the Federation has evolved to meet.

There would still be 31,300 L.A. Jewish households living at or below the poverty line. Who would help feed, shelter and care for these people?

There would still be battered women, drug- and alcohol-ravaged families, mentally ill Jews and non-Jews. Who would meet their needs?

There would still be immigrants from Russia, Ethiopia and other nations in need.

There would still be thousands of Jewish children in need of quality education, good community centers and programs that reinforce a strong identity.

There would still be emergencies, such as the North Valley JCC shooting, to which the Federation and its beneficiary agencies are uniquely suited to react, with a full range of social services that goes beyond sound bites.

This Sunday, thousands of people will take part in the Federation’s Super Sunday fundraising event. Volunteers will make calls, staffers will coordinate, donors will donate. It’s a big production, which last year raised $5 million, about 10 percent of the annual United Jewish Fund (UJF) campaign locally.

I don’t think there is ever a time to stop asking whether the institutions that help define this community could do better, be more efficient or more accountable. To ask those questions and seek fair and accurate answers is the job of this journal, if not each one of us.

But at the same time, our other job is to make sure that those among us who need help will get it. One of the best ways I know of doing that, still, is giving on Super Sunday.

Virtual Alumni

High up on the list of America’s top philanthropies rank premier schools and universities: Harvard, Emory, Stanford, Columbia and Duke.

Yeshiva University is there, too, as is Brandeis University. They are listed as No. 193 and No. 238 in this year’s “Philanthropy 400” — the roster of the nation’s most popular charities published each November by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the biweekly newspaper of the nonprofit world.

Israel’s top institutions of higher learning also make the grade when it comes to fundraising in the United States, in the form of groups such as the American Society for Technion-Israel Institute of Technology (No. 224 this year), American Friends of the Hebrew University (No. 264) and the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science (No. 297).

The American “friends” benefit from the economic trends that have propelled philanthropy to colleges and universities generally: a strong stock market, a healthy economy and opportunities for highly personalized and long-term gift giving.

And, although most of their donations come from American Jews educated in the United States, the fundraising groups for Israeli schools owe some of their success to a more emotional factor — school spirit.

Donors “really behave like alumni would,” Larry Jackier of Detroit, the president of the American Technion Society, said, noting an exceptional amount of enthusiasm, personal connection and “proprietary interest in the university’s overall success.”

David Friedman of Boston, for example, attended New York University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but in many ways, he says, he feels and acts like an alumnus of the Technion in Haifa, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.

A veteran of the computer industry, Friedman has found in his nearly full-time role as the New England regional president of the American Society for Technion-Israel Institute “a way to do my piece” for Israel while expanding his professional interest and expertise.

The New England region helped create a management-training school modeled on his alma mater, the Sloan School at MIT, and Friedman helped launch the Bar Nir Center for Excellence in Computer Technology, which is designed to move the Technion’s computer science faculty in a more consumer-oriented direction.

“What we’re doing is very contemporary; it relates to where Israel is at now,” said Melvyn Bloom, the executive director of the American Technion Society.

As Israel developed, the Technion’s faculties kept apace, focusing first on road-building, then agriculture and aeronautical engineering, and now computer science.

As Israel’s needs have changed, so, too, has the approach to fundraising for Israeli causes.

“The message is distinctly different,” Bloom said.

Whereas keeping Israel safe from external aggression and rescuing Jews in peril around the world once drove the successful fundraising campaigns of the most broad-based American Jewish philanthropy, the United Jewish Appeal (UJA), American Jews are now moved to create direct connections to Israel’s economic and political successes.

By investing in Israeli education, infrastructure and research, donors to Israeli universities believe they are helping to improve not only the quality of life in Israel, but also in the Middle East as a whole and, in many cases, the world at large.

The medical discoveries and technological advances of researchers at Israeli universities present “a powerful force for peace,” said Dr. Irv Hecker, a biomedical physician from Washington, who volunteers for the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute by making professional connections between Weizmann scientists and their counterparts at the National Institutes of Health.

The success of institutions such as Weizmann “spills over into commerce, into scientific and the economic relationships all over the world,” Hecker said, during a day of presentations last month in New York by Weizmann researchers.

“That makes Israel stronger.”

Forging human connections between the Diaspora and Israel is another byproduct of friends groups, which aim to build professional and collegial partnerships between Americans and Israelis and in “connecting donors to what we’re doing,” said Martin Kraar, the executive vice president of the American Committee for Weizmann.

One of the features of giving to the schools that is most attractive to donors, fundraising professionals report, is the opportunity to sponsor a specific project: a building, a body of research, a faculty chair or a student scholarship.

“A chair is not just a symbol,” said Kraar, a past executive vice president of the Council of Jewish Federations. “It’s a meaningful connection to a piece of research.”

Robert Arnow, a New York real estate executive, was already the chairman of the board emeritus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev when he made the acquaintance of Ismael Abu-Saad, the first Bedouin to receive a doctorate from the school.

As he became aware of the plight of Bedouins in the Negev who have lost many of their land rights, Arnow decided the school needed a center to help raise the educational level of the Bedouin population.

The center is an important symbol of Israeli interest in their well-being, he said, which is critical at a time when Bedouin disaffection toward Israel is growing among the population, as is Islamic fundamentalism.

Arnow convinced the university to fund the center, but he said he is providing “a lot more money” for various programs related to the center.

“All my time is going to help Bedouins,” said Arnow, who is semi- retired.

Donors involved in the friends groups often claim long lineage’s of Jewishly committed philanthropists, and report that they are simultaneously dedicated supporters of traditional forms of American tzedakah, or Jewish charitable activity, including the UJA.

Although Israeli friends fundraising income can fluctuate by tens of millions of dollars year to year, their long-term track record is impressive.

The American Committee for Weizmann last year raised over $61 million from cash gifts, planned gifts and remainder trusts.

This month, the university, which is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, announced that it had received a pledge of $20 million from Guardian Industries Corp., the glass-manufacturing company run by William Davidson, an owner of the Detroit Pistons basketball team.

The gift — which the school in Rehovot, Israel, says will be the largest private donation it has received — will be used to establish the Davidson Institute of Science Education, a facility aimed at enriching pre-college science programs and curricula.

Although the Davidson gift is impressive by any fundraising standards, most American affiliates of Israeli universities focus their fundraising energies on cultivating major donors.

“We reach out to everybody,” said Adam Kahan, executive director of American Friends of the Hebrew University. “But the fact is, the predominant focus is to reach out to major gifts,” which are generally described in the field as those over $100,000.

Kahan’s group has raised $180 million in new moneys at the halfway point in its current five-year campaign, which aims to raise $600 million by the year 2002 — $367 million from American supporters.

The American Technion Society raised $740 million since its inception in 1940, according to its spokeswoman — 91 percent in the last 20 years. Its latest three-year campaign exceeded its $175 million to $180 million goal and ended nine months early, having raised $210 million — including a $30-million gift for a new business school, to be paid out over 10 years.

Even those groups outside the Philanthropy 400 report success in inspiring donors. The American Associates of Ben-Gurion University reports a “substantial jump” in 1998 total revenue to break $30 million for the first time, up from $25 million the previous year.

American Friends of Tel Aviv University raised a reported $15 million in 1997; figures for 1998 are currently unavailab

Bernard Moscovitz, the executive vice president of the American Associates of Ben-Gurion, said that behind the impressive fundraising is a new class of philanthropists.

“Donors are far more educated and aware of alternatives” to umbrella fundraising campaigns such as the one carried out annually by the UJA, said Moscovitz, a former executive vice president at UJA.

Fundraisers at the UJA campaign — which is now run through the United Jewish Communities and raised more than $760 million last year — are equally aware of current philanthropic trends.

They, too, have developed diverse, giving opportunities, such as endowments and supplemental giving — which raises $15 million to $20 million a year — as well as Israeli partnership programs, in an effort to maintain a loyal donor base and attract new interest.

“People want options beyond the annual campaign,” said Donald Kent, vice president for developing and marketing at the UJC, adding that the UJC encourages a broad range of philanthropy.

In this spirit, the UJC recently announced the creation of an independent foundation that will, in part, help match donors with Jewish needs around the world.