Philanthropy project puts teens in charge

Solly Hess, West Coast regional director of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), was looking for ways to get Jewish teenagers motivated about charitable giving last summer. With the help of Brandon Lurie, a YULA Boys student and NCSY regional board member, he came up with a project that would eventually make an impact on youth as well as the local Jewish community: the Teen Philanthropy Movement.

“People today have this [mistaken] impression of teens being apathetic,” Hess said.

A mere eight months since the project’s inception, students are celebrating the success of their charitable efforts, contributing $5,000 to four charities and connecting with the larger Jewish community in the process.

“The Jewish community really took notice of this project. They’re looking to the future now and are waiting to see what the next step of the project is,” Hess said.

To begin the Teen Philanthropy Movement, Hess and Lurie divided the 23-member student board into seven groups, with each group assigned the task of researching seven charitable organizations. The program was divided into a trimester schedule with three core stages: research, Torah and the finale.

The Dorothy Phillips Michaud Charitable Trust granted the Teen Philanthropy Movement $5,000, and Lurie said each group had to do in-depth research to decide which charities would need and benefit most from the money.

“In these troublesome economic times, many self-funded Jewish organizations have lost their thunder and are barely functioning with the money they have,” Lurie said. “That’s where we come in.”

The seven groups, which consisted of boys and girls from various local high schools, including Milken, YULA, Shalhevet and Hamilton, as well as SCY (Southern California Yeshiva) High and Torah High School of San Diego, all started off with an initial selection of seven charities each. The groups then met monthly, presented their charities to the larger student board and whittled their pools down to a single beneficiary agency. The finalists were known as the Chosen 7.

The second phase incorporated Torah learning. Students met with rabbis and other community leaders to learn about the role of tzedekah (charitable giving).

“The students built real relationships with their community representatives over the course of the program, while learning from them about philanthropy through the Torah in the process,” Hess said.

During the final trimester, the students learned firsthand about their chosen charities by visiting and volunteering with the organizations. Representatives from the charities also taught the seven groups about Jewish perspectives on philanthropy.

On Feb. 29, after three months of garnering a wealth of knowledge and experience, the students pitched their favorite charities to a panel of four judges, each active in
the Jewish business community — Leslie Kessler, Steve Bram, Rhoda Weisman and Joel Levine — at Young Israel of Century City during what Lurie called Decision Day.

“It was an unbelievable night,” Lurie said.

After the presentations, the judges were stumped.

In the end, the judges decided to split the $5,000 evenly among four charities: Camp Chesed, Shoes That Fit, San Diego Community G’mach and The Hero Project Holocaust Education Reach-Out.

One of most touching moments for the group came when one of the winning charities, Shoes That Fit, a Claremont-based charity that donates shoes to children, wrote a letter of thanks to the Teen Philanthropy Movement: “Because of this project, more children will attend school in comfort and with dignity, wearing shoes that fit. Our mission of providing new shoes to children in need for school would not be possible without the generous support of people like you.”

Hess says NCSY is looking to expand the Teen Philanthropy Movement.

“We want to get more high schools on board for next year’s project and eventually spread it out to the Bay Area,” he said. “A big boost to the project is Esther Feder, who has become chair of the Movement. As an experienced fundraiser and former chair of [the] Shalhevet High School [board], she’s going to be a real force in propelling the project to new levels of success.”

Hess added that it didn’t take much effort to sell Teen Philanthropy Movement to the teens, and he credits Lurie with helping to motivate them.

“Brandon Lurie has a passion for philanthropy,” Hess said. “Once I got his help, the rest of the team followed under his leadership. And we didn’t have to push the teams; they were motivated by their own desire to give back.”

The giving network

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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.

Briefs: Book offers guide for deaf B’nai Mitzvah; Janitor fired for causing ‘Bar Mitzvah from Hell’

‘Signs’ a Blessing for Hearing-Impaired Teens

The Orthodox Union’s Our Way/National Jewish Council for Disabilities (Our Way/NJCD) is now publishing “Signs of Bar Mitzvah,” a handbook for deaf and hard-of-hearing teens celebrating a bar mitzvah orally and in sign language.

The handbook is an illustrated guide that features step-by-step instructions for signing the blessings before and after the Torah reading and the blessings made by the student’s father. The blessings are written in Hebrew with transliteration and English.

“Many parents with a deaf child are overwhelmed with their child’s deafness. They tend to focus on the child’s physical needs and often unwittingly overlook the child’s spiritual needs,” said Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind, Our Way director.

The guide was created with the direction of T’chia Kastor, a deaf artist, and the assistance of the Our Way Sign Language Committee.

“Signs of Bar Mitzvah” can be used by any deaf person called for an aliyah.Our Way/NJCD is making the handbook available for a suggested donation of $18.For more information, e-mail or call (212) 613-8234.

— Staff Report

Grinspoon Offers $300,000 in Grants for Youth Philanthropy

The Harold Grinspoon Foundation is offering $300,000 in grants to start youth philanthropy programs in 10 communities.

The foundation will award $30,000 to each community to start a B’nai Tezedek program, which asks teens to contribute a minimum of $125 of their bar or bat mitzvah money to an individual endowment fund. The foundation matches the contribution to help the teens establish a fund of at least $500, from which they make allocations every year.

The program, which started in western Massachusetts, where the foundation is based, is already up and running in 37 communities. The grants will be given on a first-come, first-serve basis, the foundation announced in a press release.

“It is essential to the future of Jewish society that we get our teens involved in giving to charity in a personally engaging way, and equip them with the tools to become financially intelligent donors,” said Harold Grinspoon, founder and chair of the foundation.

For more information, visit

— Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Janitor Fired for Causing Bar Mitzvah From Hell

In May, a Canadian judge ordered the city of Montreal to pay $20,000 in damages for a bar mitzvah ruined by a drunk janitor, which the city tried to cover up by claiming the bar mitzvah boy wasn’t Jewish, CBC News reported.

The Neumann family, who had reserved space at a cultural center for 350 guests, arrived to find the janitor drunk, according to court testimony. The janitor sexually harassed female guests; stole ice and then tried to sell it back to the family; refused to put toilet paper in the bathrooms; did nothing when several paraplegic guests became trapped in a broken elevator, and when a musician had a heart attack, refused to call 911.

When the Neumann’s requested an apology from the city, they received a 40-page defense statement, which included an accusation that they were lying about being Jews. “This was a party from hell,” said Peter Neumann, the bar mitzvah boy’s grandfather.

The city has since taken responsibility and the janitor was fired.

— Staff Report

A Big Giver

Anyone who cares about the future of Jewish life in Los Angeles eventually explodes in frustration over the community’s inability to tap its own enormous wealth.

On one hand, we see Jewish gazillionaires pour the vast majority of their donations into non-Jewish institutions. Just 6 percent of Jewish megadonors give to Jewish causes, according to the Institute for Jewish & Community Research in San Francisco.

On the other hand, we see the huge communal need — indigent Holocaust survivors, developmentally challenged children, families struggling with day school and camp bills, underpaid Jewish educators, programs and facilities that fail to attract and inspire the next generation. Don’t get me started.

In Los Angeles, where by my count 26 individuals on the Los Angeles Business Journal’s 2006 list of the “50 Richest Angelenos” are Jewish — 26! — it’s enough to make you scream, or cry.

That’s why this week’s news of a merger between the University of Judaism and Brandeis-Bardin Institute should resonate even beyond the substantial number of stakeholders in both those institutions. The people and process behind it demonstrate that, given the right leadership, our institutions are capable of the kind of bold moves, backed by what the Wall Street types call solid fundamentals, that are irresistible to the mega donors.

Megadonors like Peter Lowy.

Lowy, 48, is group managing director of Westfield Holding, the largest publicly-held real estate company in the world. You know his well-serifed “W” beckoning you from afar to the Westfield shopping centers in Century City, Woodland Hills, Sherman Oaks — among some 120 others worldwide.

He also has served as chairman of the board of the University of Judaism during its merger negotiations with the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, forming a new institution of great resources, talent, property and promise — the American Jewish University.

Three years ago I met Lowy in his office overlooking Brentwood and the Santa Monica mountains. He had just been named chairman of the board of the University of Judaism. My biggest question was why a young, dynamic guy would want to take the chairmanship of an institution whose finances were known to be troubled and whose profile was less than world class.

Simple, Lowy explained to me. He believed in the mission of the University of Judaism to reach out to all Jews, regardless of affiliation or denomination.

“The UJ needs to be viewed as a community institution,” he told me. “We need to be able to give these benefits to the Orthodox community, the Reform community, the Conservative community and the Reconstructionist community. We need to change the mindset of the community. It’s a very difficult job to do.”

Step one for Lowy was getting the UJ on firm financial footing. The problem, he said, was that too many Jewish institutions don’t perform at the standards of well-run for-profit companies. He refinanced the university’s debt, halving the interest rate. He taught people to stay within a budget. Within a short time, more money was coming in than going out.

Fast-forward three years, and I’m back in Lowy’s office, hearing him explain how the Brandeis merger came about. The UJ’s solid grounding gave it the confidence and competence to pursue an idea Lowy knew in his gut was important. “Looking ahead 10, 15 years,” he said, “I wondered where the UJ was going to physically grow.”

He also knew the deal was fraught with financial, bureaucratic and emotional obstacles. And he relished it.

Lowy learned to step up to the plate from his father Frank, a Hungarian Jew who survived the Holocaust and arrived in Palestine in 1945. Frank Lowy fought as a Golani commando in the War of Independence, then moved to Australia, where he built shopping centers. Lowy, a Sydney native, worked in investment banking in London and New York before coming to Los Angeles 17 years ago. Over that time he has overseen Westfield’s regional growth from 6 centers in California to 59.

He brought this same business style to his oversight of the UJ-BBI union: “This was basically M&A,” a UJ board member said of Lowy’s expertise in mergers and acquisitions, “and that’s what Peter does.”

What Lowy doesn’t do is dither. “There’s this Jewish tendency to process, until you can actually see an idea just die on the floor, just discuss it to death,” UJ President Rabbi Robert Wexler told me. That’s not Lowy’s style. “These deals have a lifespan,” Lowy said. “They’re there and then they’re gone. What will you know in six months that you don’t know now?

“To achieve the impossible, you need to start the process and try.”

Lowy met his counterpart in Linda Gross, the chair of Brandeis-Bardin: a sharp, youthful businesswoman not wedded to the status quo. Behind every merger, goes the Wall Street wisdom, there’s really an acquisition. But Lowy said that wasn’t the case with Gross across from him. “It wasn’t a desperation move on Brandeis’ part,” he said. “She was quite good on the other side of the table.”

And in little more than six months, the deal was done. A lot of Jewish institutions can’t change a light bulb that fast.

Last Thursday night, at a banquet at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the UJ celebrated its 60th anniversary by honoring Lowy. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was there, and President Bill Clinton and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent their best by video.

But what could have been yet another exercise in warm salmon and cold speeches turned out to be refreshingly moving and honest. Janine Lowy introduced her husband as a man devoted to his four children, to the Jewish community, to civic involvement and, somehow, amid it all, to “finding the time to run a small business.”

Janine Lowy, an experienced lawyer herself, also noted her husband’s other considerable quality: his charm. Indeed, nearing 50, Lowy has most of the hair he left his 20s with. He has blue eyes, an athletic build and a disarming amount of laid-back Aussie ease for a man on that L.A. Business Journal list.When it was Lowy’s turn to speak, after a moving tribute to his wife, he showed the charm — and brashness.

Social Justice gets new address on Pico

When Max Webb was interned at 18 different concentration camps during the Holocaust, he made a promise.

“If he survived, he would make sure he would contribute to the advancement of the Jewish people and Judaism in any way he could,” said his grandson, Greg Podell, the director of the Max Webb Family Foundation.

Webb has made good on that promise, donating to causes in Israel and to local Jewish charities, including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. And now, as he’s about to turn 90, his foundation has purchased a plot of land for $3 million for a center to house two socially conscious Jewish organizations: Ikar, a Jewish spiritual community that “stands at the intersection of spirituality and social justice,” and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), which “connects Jews to critical social issues of the day.”

These two groups, which often work together, have until now had temporary homes at the Westside JCC on Olympic Boulevard, but in two years — the projected date for the project’s completion — they will share The Max and Sala Webb Center for Progressive Judaism, as it has been tentatively named. The 20,000 square-foot center — price tag unknown — will be located at Pico Boulevard and Alvira Street (between Crescent Heights and La Cienega boulevards), on the eastern edge of the Pico-Robertson religious community and, the organizations hope, will serve as a nexus for a spiritual, socially conscious community.

PJA’s founding executive director, Daniel Sokatch, loves the location of the new center, on the eastern border of where Pico- Robertson merges with Korean, Latino and African American Los Angeles.

“How appropriate it is for a building like this,” he said. “It nicely symbolizes the coalitional nature of our work, of being a Jewish voice in the progressive community and a progressive voice in the Jewish community.”

PJA was founded in 1999, and with the newly opened San Francisco branch, has a membership list of 4,000.

The donation came about after Podell attended Ikar and became involved in PJA; he introduced his grandfather to the leaders of both organizations.

“We’re inspired by the fact that they’re able to get both young people and grandparents interested, not only in Judaism but in social justice,” Podell said. “We decided we wanted to give them a home — we wanted them to have this space to have their visions and dreams.”

Those dreams include a center that’s “bigger than our individual organizations,” said Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar. “We want it to be about the vision.”

The vision is of a progressive Jewish spiritual outreach center.

“It will be a place where the spiritual, social, and political will intersect,” she said. “It will be a concrete spot on the map where we can engage ideas and people spiritually, politically and intellectually — not only impacting the Jewish community but playing a really significant role in the life of the city.”

Brous and Sokatch plan to use the center for many of the activities in which they are already engaged, from services on Shabbat and holidays, a beit midrash learning center, children’s education programs and lecture series, as well as community action programs, such as mediation training for PJA volunteers working with juvenile offenders, conducting Muslim Jewish Dialogue, hosting food drives and helping to organize low-wage workers.

“To have a physical space in which to educate and organize the community is beautiful thing,” said Sokatch, noting that one of their biggest challenges is explaining to the Jewish community “why we do the things we do.”

Brous, who founded Ikar in the spring of 2004, was completely taken off guard by the donation.

“I’m stunned by it,” she said. “We didn’t have anything when we started. We didn’t have any money. We didn’t have a location. We just had this vision.”

That vision emerged from conversations Brous had in 2000 with young Jews around the country “who were expressing a profound lack of connection to synagogues and their modes of Jewish engagement,” she said.

Brous wanted to create a new model of a Jewish spiritual community (she doesn’t like Ikar to be referred to as a “synagogue”) “that would address the alienation and dissatisfaction and create opportunities for really rich, compelling Jewish experiences.”

From an initial Shabbat service with more than 100 people, Ikar today has 275 member-units, with about 900 people at their High Holiday services.

Ikar is one of a number of emerging “spiritual communities” — social action-oriented, nondenominational synagogues that are often “homeless,” i.e. without permanent facilities. But now that it’s about to get a permanent home, how will that change things for Ikar? Will the “community” become part of the very institutionalized system they were formed against?

“I’ve thought about that quite a lot,” Brous said. “We’re not going to be a scrappy startup forever. A deep commitment to innovation and creative risk-taking are much easier to do when you’re starting from scratch. But when you become a more substantial organization, it becomes harder to hold those values at the center, but it’s something we’re really committed to.”

The new space is wonderful, she said, but the challenge is not to value “form over substance.”

The Ikar community can rise to that challenge, Brous said.

“It’s not a community that emerged because we had a space and we wanted to fill the pews. It emerged because we had a vision of what it means to be a Jew, and we had a mission in the world and it resonates with people,” she said. “It becomes harder to hold those values, but it’s something we’re really committed to. Call me in five years and we’ll see if we’ve done it.”

Baltimore grant could set day school trend

Jewish day school officials are looking at a recent $15 million tuition-relief grant from the Baltimore-based Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore as a trend-setting move to alleviate one of the biggest challenges facing Jewish education.

The private Weinberg Foundation, which has more than $2 billion in assets, announced Monday that it will contribute $2 million a year for the next five years to the Baltimore area’s 12 Jewish day schools. The federation will contribute $1 million per year.

The grants will start in 2007, but the foundation also announced that it would immediately give an additional $1 million to the schools.

There are more than 200,000 students in 750 Jewish day schools across the country, and Baltimore — with some 6,000 students in a community of roughly 100,000 — has one of the highest concentrations in the country, according to Lawrence Ziffer, executive vice president of the city’s Center for Jewish Education, which worked with the foundation and the federation to write the grant.

In the past, the foundation had made individual grants to 10 area schools, foundation trustee Barry Schloss said.

“But we said, ‘This doesn’t meet the needs of our community,'” Schloss said. “We all realized there needed to be more.”

Over the past 10 years, the federation’s allocation for Jewish day schools has grown from $900,000 a year to more than $3 million as the school system has blossomed, federation President Marc Terrill said.

Still, more than $300,000 of needs went unfunded, Terrill said. The schools cost between $6,000 and $12,000 per year, according to the Center for Jewish Education, and the new grant will double the amount they get through the federation.

“The need is rather pronounced,” Terrill said. “There are people that are unfortunately victims of harsh economic times. There are also those who are relatively affluent, but when you factor in two, three, four or five kids for which they’re paying full tuition for day schools, it’s not the prettiest of pictures. It’s almost like self-imposed poverty — although it’s poverty with an enlightened purpose.”

Just more than half of the students at Baltimore day schools receive some kind of financial aid, Ziffer said. The money from the new grant is to be used only for scholarships.

Recipients must demonstrate need, and the foundation has required that schools still maintain their current levels of scholarship giving, Schloss said. He added that over the next five years the foundation would like to see the community create an endowment fund to subsidize Jewish education.
There are no official plans to do so yet, but continuing to subsidize the school system at about $3 million per year would take a $65 million fund.

The Weinberg Foundation and the Baltimore federation are not the first to tackle the day school tuition issue. The Avi Chai Foundation, a private New York- and Jerusalem-based foundation aimed at increasing Jewish learning, ran a program that gave $3,000 vouchers to students at four day schools in Atlanta and Cleveland between 1999 and 2000. Numerous family foundations across the country have started funds either to cap tuition or provide tuition relief at local Jewish schools.

The largest individual gift came from a group of anonymous families who made a $45 million donation to three schools in Boston, $15 million of which was to be used for tuition relief.

In Milwaukee, the Helen Bader Foundation set up a similar fund — though on a much smaller scale, at $500,000 per year for three years — to help the area’s 600 Jewish day school students, according to Tobey Libber, the foundation’s program director.

Other Jewish communities, such as Los Angeles, Metro West New Jersey and Chicago, are in the process of deciding how to tackle the tuition problem with similar grants, according to Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education.

But the Weinberg grant is an important one, he said.

“I believe that there is momentum building, and I believe that this grant is not only part of a trend, but this is a pace-setting decision that Weinberg has made,” Elkin said. “It’s not simply the size of the grant; it’s the fact that it’s partnered with the federation and is intended to be spent over the next five years. It provides an immediate infusion.”

The Baltimore grant “hopefully will become a model,” said Yossi Prager, Avi Chai’s North American executive director. “Affordability already is the single largest concern of the day school community, and the crunch is likely to get worse since budgets for schools, Jewish and non-Jewish, are rising faster than inflation. This is a tremendous start in tackling a very serious problem.”

Family foundations pave new philanthropic path

There was a time when Jewish philanthropists would crack open their checkbooks at least once a year and make a big contribution to Jewish federations and other Jewish agencies. That was just how it was done.

No more. As Jews have become more integrated and assimilated into American society, they no longer automatically pony up to Jewish charities. Instead, they are as likely to give to an environmental cause or AIDS hospice as to a federation, which some Jewish donors characterize as overly bureaucratic and distant.

Mark Charendoff has a bird’s-eye view of this monumental shift in Jewish giving. The president of Jewish Funders Network, a 15-year-old organization representing Jewish family foundation and independent donors, says Jewish philanthropists want more control over how their charitable dollars are spent and increasingly turn to outfits like his for guidance. Over the past 20 years, the number of Jewish family foundations has roughly tripled to 9,000, according to Charendoff.

Those foundations now have an estimated $30 billion in total assets — and growing.

Jewish Journal: What accounts for the surging popularity of Jewish family foundations?

Mark Charendoff: There is a desire by donors to follow their money — to invest directly in projects where one can see an impact and track results. Donors feel better capable of making decisions about exactly where their money’s going and what they want to accomplish. Secondly, philanthropy used to be something that people thought more about later in life, after they conquered the business world. Now, people are thinking about philanthropy, about making an impact, at a much younger age. We speak to people in their 20s and 30s who are starting foundations or starting to think more seriously about their philanthropic impact every day.

JJ: Do you expect the number of Jewish family foundations to increase, both in numbers and total assets, as wealth is transferred from aging philanthropists to their children?

MC: First of all, just the scale of money being transferred is enormous. Many parents are beginning to set up foundations as a way of training their children in a culture of giving or as an excuse to discuss the values that are most dear to them. When done right, foundations can prompt an intergenerational dialogue that would not have otherwise occurred about values and legacy.

JJ: Is it true that younger donors are less likely to give to traditional Jewish causes than their parents and grandparents?

MC: I think what has changed is the automatic nature of giving. By that I mean in previous generations there was an automatic presumption that a certain percentage of your charitable dollars would go to the Jewish community. There were a number of reasons for this. One was a loyalty and sense of obligation — a sense of citizenship — that one felt toward the Jewish community. Another was the lack of opportunity to be involved at the leadership level in many non-Jewish causes. Both of those reasons have eroded over time.

Many younger Jews today don’t feel an automatic loyalty to the Jewish community, at the expense of other communities that they may be involved in. Whereas I may see the Jewish community as my community others may consider themselves part of 20 different communities — an environmental group, a book club, a biking group, etc. The sense that the Jewish community would be entitled to a certain percent of my charitable dollars is not a presumption that younger people typically buy into. And the competition for Jewish dollars, and for Jewish involvement, is fierce and is no longer in limited to Jewish not-for-profits. The hospital, the symphony, the gallery, the university and the social action group in your local community are as eager to attract young affluent Jews as is the local federation, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee or others.

JJ: In general, are Jewish family foundations more likely than traditional Jewish philanthropies to fund non-Jewish causes?

MC: There are those that spend 90 percent of their money on Jewish causes and those who spend less than 10 percent on Jewish causes.

JJ: How have federations responded to the rise of Jewish family foundations?

MC: It’s very hard to group all federations together. There are federations in the United States and in Canada that have developed strong and productive working relationships with local and national foundations. They are exceptionally good partners. When federations view themselves as prospective partners, willing to work with other funders to pursue a mutually agreed upon goal we see good results. If the federation can only imagine itself as being in the business of the annual campaign, they will run at odds with many foundations and, I believe, they are running at odds with the evolution of philanthropy in this country.

JJ: What do federations and other Jewish philanthropic nonprofits need to do to grow their donor base?

MC: Again, it depends on the federation. Last year, our international conference was held in Denver. Philanthropists from around the world attended. [Los Angeles] Federation President John Fishel came as a participant. He wasn’t there to speak at a plenary or at a workshop. He was just there as a participant, to learn from the others, to share insights and most of all to listen. That very silence spoke volumes to the foundations that were in attendance. If federations are willing to listen more, to sit at the table as equal partners instead of insisting that they are the central address, I believe they will find a foundation community that is far more receptive to cooperation.

JJ: Going forward, do you see federations or Jewish family foundations continuing to grow?

MC: I think family foundations will continue to grow at a rapid pace, partly because of the transfer of wealth that we’re beginning to see and partly because of the increased privatization of American life. This is not a Jewish phenomenon but an American phenomenon. Americans are more and more convinced that the private sector and the entrepreneurial spirit will solve problems. They don’t trust bureaucracies. Those same entrepreneurs who have graced the covers of Forbes and Fortune are now turning their energy, creativity and resources to philanthropy. In doing so they have become a sexy story in American life. From Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to the Google guys and Jeff Skoll, these entrepreneurial philanthropists have emerged as heroes in this country.