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


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

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.

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.

Madoff scandal rocks Jewish philanthropic world


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s Up, Who’s Down in Giving


Jewish philanthropies didn’t raise much more money last year than they did the previous year, but the American Jewish community remains numerically over-represented among America’s top charities, an examination of a recent ranking of philanthropies demonstrates.

Of the 400 top charities included in The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual “Philanthropy 400” list, a just-released who’s who of American nonprofits, some 26 were Jewish.

“The Jewish community raises a lot of money. Its philanthropic system is pretty strong,” said Gary Tobin, director of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research.

If Jews make up 2.5 percent of the population, he said, “there should be no more than 10 Jewish organizations on this list.”

At the same time, Jewish groups that made the list did not see the same boost in giving in 2004 that general philanthropies did.

The Jewish groups appearing on this year’s list, which looks at fundraising in fiscal year 2004, raised more than $2 billion, about the same as in 2003. Two more Jewish groups appear on this year’s list than on last year’s — although this number is still two fewer than the 28 that made the list for fiscal year 2002.

Observers say this year’s rankings don’t offer a significantly different picture of the American Jewish philanthropic world than last year’s did.

“I think there’s no good news and no bad news here,” Tobin said.

The United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella organization of Jewish federations, held on to its ranking as the top Jewish charity this year, having raised $251.9 million. The UJC finished 42nd overall, a drop in ranking from the 25th spot last year, as its fundraising went down by 26.9 percent.

The decline, UJC officials say, can be attributed to the fact that in 2003 the group was running its Israel Emergency Campaign, which brought in a large sum of money.

Although the UJC figures provided to the Chronicle of Philanthropy did not include money raised by local federations, some of the money reported did include funds from those federations and, therefore, essentially was double-counted. The UJC said that the total campaign of the federations raised $850-$860 million.

The other top Jewish groups are:

• The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which dropped from 54th place to 60th, although it raised 7.8 percent more private money;

• The Jewish Communal Fund, the New York group that manages the philanthropic funds of individuals and families, which finished in the 82nd spot, up from 103rd last year with a fundraising increase of 29.8 percent;

• The UJA-Federation of New York, which raised 1.4 percent less money in 2004 and went from the 74th spot in 2003 to 83rd this year; and

• The Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, which landed this year in the 133rd slot, down from 86th, with a drop of 23.8 percent in funds raised.

Eleven other Jewish federations made the top 400 as well.

The American arm of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS, a Chabad-led group working to revitalize Jewish life in the former Soviet Union, made the list this year for the first time, ranking 391 and raising $35.8 million.

“We have been working and developing our U.S. office in the last four years and many prominent Jewish philanthropists have come to recognize the mainstream work that we are doing for Jews across the former Soviet Union,” said Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz, executive director of the federation in Moscow.

Over the past year, Berkowitz said, the federation has constructed $25 million worth of buildings.

Several Israel-related organizations made the list this year, including Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, which was ranked 183; the P.E.F. Israel Endowment Funds, which directs the distribution of funds to charitable organizations in Israel, at 229; the American Society for Technion-Israel Institute of Technology at 247; and the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science at 263.

On the whole, donations to American philanthropies shot up by 11.6 percent in 2004, the Chronicle said. That increase dwarfs the 2.3 percent increase between 2002 and 2003. The first part of this decade, they say, proved tough for many charities hit hard by the post-Sept. 11 economic downturn.

“Philanthropy in general had a banner year,” said Heather Joslyn, a senior editor at the Chronicle. “The economy is recovering, and the stock market has been recovering compared to two to three years ago. That’s a big thing. This is definitely good news.”

United Way of America was No. 1 in the overall rankings this year. Its 1,350 United Way groups raised $3.9 billion, up 0.4 percent from 2003. Next in line at No. 2 was the Salvation Army, down from the No. 1 spot last year, followed by Feed the Children, up from the ninth position last year.

For the first time since the survey’s inception, the American Red Cross did not finish in the top 10, although it is expected to appear among the first 10 next year, when it will report some $532 million raised for Asian tsunami relief.

While the Chronicle list shows no commensurate leap in Jewish philanthropies, Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, said the list doesn’t capture the full picture of Jewish giving. A large part of that giving, he said, goes to synagogues, day schools, Jewish community centers and even non-Jewish groups like the United Way.

 


Locals on the
Dollar List


by Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Two local philanthropies made the coveted Chronicle list. The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles came in at No. 153, with more than $98 million raised, while the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles ranked No. 277, with nearly $53 million.

The Jewish Community Foundation’s performance was particularly strong. The grant-making group jumped an impressive 216 spots over 2003, when it placed No. 369. The Foundation’s credibility in the community, improved marketing and ability to land new donors helped account for its fundraising prowess, Chief Executive and President Marvin Schotland said.

“We’re delighted that the Chronicle of Philanthropy has taken notice of our significant growth,” Schotland said.

L.A. Jewish Federation dropped 28 places compared to its standing in 2003. Federations representing smaller Jewish populations, including San Francisco (No. 215), Detroit (No. 237) and Boston (No. 238), each raised more money than the L.A. group.

Still, the numbers tell only part of the story, at least when it comes to federations, L.A. Federation President John Fishel said. Whereas the Los Angeles group only reports the proceeds from its annual campaign, other federations often count that along with funds generated by community foundations, which is “a little like comparing apples and oranges,” Fishel said.

The L.A. Federation would have placed second behind New York among American federations if the funds raised by the L.A. Jewish Community Foundation were included in its total.

In recent years, the L.A. Federation has seen an uptick in annual fundraising, Fishel said, adding that the positive trend should continue this year. Still, “I always think there’s room for improvement,” he said.

Groups Pitch in With Housing, Tuition


Critics have long derided Jewish federations as functionally outdated and overly bureaucratic — the organizational equivalent of dinosaurs on the brink of irrelevance, if not extinction.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, though, the array of Jewish organizations under the umbrella of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have shown that they are far from moribund. They have raised large sums of money, moved critical resources to devastated areas and coordinated Jewish agencies to address victims’ needs.

In a few days, The L.A. Federation collected $600,000 to aid Jews and non-Jews alike in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and other parts of the Gulf Coast.

The philanthropic group has also brought local Jewish agencies together to provide therapy, job training and interest-free loans to storm refugees who make their way to the Southland. And it will be trucking supplies donated by area synagogues to Jackson, Miss.

“I’m always impressed how, in a crisis, this community pulls together, how people communicate, how people coordinate, how people cooperate,” L.A. Federation President John Fishel said (see Fishel’s commentary, on page 13). “It’s acting like a community can and should act.”

To the south, the much smaller Jewish Federation of Orange County has raised $110,000. The nonprofit organization is in the process of resettling a married Jewish couple from New Orleans into a Newport Beach house donated and furnished by members of the community, said Kathleen Ron, director of branding and community development. About a dozen Orange County Jews have offered to make available houses or apartments to evacuees, she said.

Much of the money from the nation’s federations and Jewish agencies is going to the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the national umbrella organization. As of Sept. 7, the UJC and affiliated groups had raised $4.3 million to help storm victims, the organization said. Donations are going to Jews and the general community to pay for such basic necessities as counseling, shelter, health care and food.

Like the local federations, L.A. Jewish agencies have reacted quickly and generously.

Several social workers at the Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Los Angeles have undergone emergency training by the Red Cross on the expectation of taking paid leave to provide refugees counseling and other mental health services on the Gulf Coast, said Lisa Brooks, director of communications and donor relations. Closer to home, JFS has begun to offer crisis counseling to newly arrived evacuees.

Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) has helped four freshmen who had been enrolled at Tulane University in New Orleans transfer to UCLA, the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere, said Vivian B. Seigel, the organization’s chief executive. Without the agency’s intervention, these students — all recipients of JVS scholarships for needy Jews — might otherwise have had to forgo their studies this year because of Tulane’s closure.

The Bureau of Jewish Education plans to refer to local Jewish schools any Jewish student refugees relocating to the Southland, Executive Director Gil Graff said. The bureau, which provides educational services to 150 Jewish schools serving 30,000 students, has also disseminated material to local educational institutions on the Jewish response to calamities.

Synagogues have also made important contributions of food, clothes and money. And such efforts will be ongoing, said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, the largest rabbinic organization in California with 270 members.

Over the next couple weeks, synagogues throughout the greater Los Angeles area will collect bedding, nonperishable food items — including pasta and cereal — and personal hygiene products, such as soap and shampoo. The donated goods will be consolidated locally and later trucked to a Jewish camp in Mississippi for distribution, Diamond said.

The Board of Rabbis also has called on temple members to contribute Visa gift cards to evacuees, which, he said, helps them preserve dignity, because they can select and pay for their own essentials. Going forward, there is talk of sending volunteers to the battered region to help with the actual rebuilding of homes.

“I am overwhelmed by the generosity, by the humanity and by the willingness across Southern California to respond to the crisis,” Diamond said. “I think this is the highest form of the mitzvah of pikuah nefesh, the mitzvah of saving and redeeming lives.”

To donate to hurricane relief through The Los Angeles Federation, call (323) 761-8200 or visit www.jewishla.org.

For the Orange County Federation, call (949) 435-3484 or visit www.jewishorangecounty.org.

 

Episcopal Church Saves Silver Lake JCC


 

Just two months before its probable closure, the Silver Lake Independent Jewish Community Center has gained a new lease on life thanks to the efforts of a benevolent high-ranking member of the Episcopal Church.

In a bid to save the center, Bishop Jon Bruno of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has joined forces with the Silver Lake group and jointly purchased the property from its owner, the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA). The $2.1-million deal closed April 20 and gives the Episcopalians a 49 percent ownership stake and the Silver Lake supporters a 51 percent share. They will share the facility, with the Diocese planning to hold Sunday services and night programming.

"I’m thrilled. I’m in heaven. It’s still hard to believe we did it," said Silver Lake president Janie Schulman, who spearheaded efforts to save the center, which has more than 100 children enrolled in its preschool and kindergarten and offers many social, education and cultural programs.

Bruno grew up in the area and played basketball at the center in his youth. He dipped into a church discretionary fund to help with the purchase.

If Silver Lake proponents had failed to purchase the property, JCCGLA planned to put it on the market and shutter the center June 30, Schulman said.

For Silver Lake supporters, the sale represents a happy ending to their four-year struggle to keep alive what they consider an important piece of Jewish Los Angeles that has helped create a sense of community among Jews in Silver Lake, Echo Park and Los Feliz.

Even though Silver Lake has constantly made a profit in recent years, its fate was tied to the JCCGLA, the property’s owner and, until recently, the overseer of the cities Jewish community centers. Plagued by financial mismanagement and debt, the JCCGLA shuttered the Conejo Valley JCC and the Bay Cities JCC threatened repeatedly to sell Silver Lake — much to the chagrin of its supporters. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, one of the Southland’s largest philanthropic groups, held a $550,000 lien on the Silver Lake property.

The Federation, long criticized for failing to forgive the debt that Silver Lake inherited from JCCGLA, contributed no money to the recent purchase. Instead, Bruno, individual contributions from center supporters and a loan from Far East National Bank made the deal possible, Schulman said. The Federation, which in recent years has allocated more than more than $2 million in total subsidies and free services to Valley Cities JCC in Sherman Oaks, the Westside JCC and West Valley JCC, has offered Silver Lake no financial support.

"My focus is on the terrific new partnership and looking forward," said Jenny Isaacson, a Silver Lake board member. "That [relations with the Federation] is water under the bridge."

 

The Giving Ladder


"Rambams Ladder: A Meditation on Generosity and Why It Is Necessary to Give" by Julie Salamon (Workman Publishing, $18.95).

Even a wizard at niche marketing would tremble before the title of Julie Salamon’s most recent book. "Rambam’s Ladder," based on an ancient text by Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, sounds like it’s bound for the remainder bins even before it hits the Judaica sections. Don’t be fooled; this slender volume is a (mistitled) must-read for every individual, Jew and non-Jew alike, who recognizes his or her greater responsibility as part of a family, community and member of society.

Ben Maimon, a 12th-century physician, philosopher and scholar, is best known as Maimonidies or Rambam. Salamon uses his text, the Ladder of Charity, as the inspiration for her title and the basis for her eight-step ladder explaining different levels of charitable giving: the reluctant giver is at the bottom of the ladder and the individual whose charity enables someone to become self-reliant at the top. In between fall all vagaries and levels of giving — unsolicited charity, giving with a smile or giving with a scowl, anonymous donations — with a separate chapter dedicated to each rung of the ladder.

The ground beneath the ladder of charity is always shifting, Salamon says. By the time you have finished her text you fully grasp that there is no such thing as a simple act of charity. Do we give out of self-interest, to atone for past sins, to alleviate guilt, to impress, to ingratiate favor? At the end of the day, who is giving to whom?

Billed as a road map to charitable giving, "Rambam’s Ladder" begins as one woman’s journey, subtle and stirring, to make sense of her world following the horror of Sept. 11. An inveterate volunteer and do-gooder, Salamon’s reaction to the tragedy of Sept. 11 was to gather her children near and to protect her own. Her husband bolted into action, running to donate blood, to dispense sandwiches, to search for the missing. Sept. 11 is the crucible for inhumanity and terror on the one hand, and profound acts of kindness and charity on the other.

"The tragedy of human history lies in the enormous potential for destruction in rare acts of evil, not in the high frequency of evil people," said the late Steven Jay Gould in response to Sept. 11. "Complex systems can only be built step by step, whereas destruction requires but an instant. Thus, in what I like to call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the ‘ordinary efforts’ of a vast majority."

Paolo Alvanian is an ordinary man responsible for one such act of kindness. He watched from his downtown restaurant as the Twin Towers crumbled. The events of that day transformed him from a man who did not believe in charity — an immigrant who believed that everyone should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps — into a giving man. He dedicated a day for charity where all proceeds from his restaurant were donated to the Red Cross. He did away with his set prices and asked his patrons to pay what they could afford. One woman ate a small salad and wrote a check for $400. The lesson of the reluctant giver: "Giving may begin as a way to make order out of chaos, and turn out to be a transformation."

Alvanian’s simple act changed his perception of himself, his place in the world and his feeling of responsibility to others. "I’m not Mother Teresa. I’m not equal to her liver for generosity. But I believe that if you give from you heart you will have it returned back."

Each and every one of us is not only capable of, but obligated to be charitable. Reading this book forces us to examine how we stack up — or which rung of the ladder we are on. The book is thoughtful, poetic and a gripping read.

Salamon interviews the homeless man on the street and the CEOs of major corporations. She references Enron, Sotheby’s and Scarlett O’Hara all in the same breath. She is brutally honest about her own conflicts, preferring to give money to a presentable homeless man rather than the crazy one muttering under his breath. And her reporting is thorough and relevant. We learn that the United States has more billionaires than any other country in the world: 216 out of 497 in 2001: "Yet the U.S. Bureau of the Census reported in September 2002 that 32.9 million Americans, 9.2 percent of the total population, were officially considered poor."

Too many Americans, it would seem, have yet to reach even the first rung of the ladder.

It is not natural to want to give away one’s money; in fact, one could argue that being philanthropic is counterintuitive. Ramban’s goal — and Salamon’s mission — is to press the importance of our hardwiring a charitable instinct into the soul. No easy task, but one she takes on with courage and zeal. Every parent will immediately recognize the importance of this book not only for themselves, but also for their children. No child is too young to understand the importance and the impact of a charitable life. The sooner the indoctrination begins the better.

Jewish Charities Get Favorable Rating


If you’re concerned that the money you donate to Los Angeles Jewish charities is eaten up by administrative and fundraising costs, fear not.

Most Jewish charities in Los Angeles have a favorable rating for the amount of dollars spent on their projects compared to dollars spent on costs, according to Charity Navigator, a new philanthropic watchdog. The group assessed some 130 Jewish nonprofits, including seven from Los Angeles, among 2,500 charities across the United States. It then rated the groups based on the Form 990 tax returns that all nonprofit charities, except religious institutions, must provide annually to the IRS.

Charity Navigator evaluated the groups’ overall financial health, fundraising and organizational efficiency. The goal was to equip potential donors with enough detail to “make more intelligent giving decisions,” spokeswoman Sandra Miniutti said.

Independent analysis of charities and philanthropies remains relatively rare, so many in the Jewish philanthropic world welcome the extra focus.

Such data “should serve as a reminder to donors that it is not enough to find a cause that tugs at your heart strings,” said Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network. “We have to hold charities we care about to higher standards of efficiency, effectiveness and transparency.”

Among all kinds of charities, Jewish and non-Jewish, the median fundraising costs were about $.08 of every dollar, she said — “pretty good” compared to the most efficient charities. Those charities deemed the most efficient spent no more than $.10 cents, or 10 percent, to raise each dollar. It’s estimated that there are between $25 billion and $50 billion in assets in the coffers of U.S. Jewish philanthropies, from foundations and federations to nonprofits and pension funds.

What the watchdog calls religious charities range from museums to universities to the U.S.-based fundraising arms of Israeli institutions to Jewish federations and political groups. Each charity was assigned up to 70 points and up to four stars, with better scores going to those showing greater financial health and streamlined bureaucracies.

The Jewish groups ranked similarly to other nonprofits when it came to areas such as fundraising and program expenses, but ranked poorly regarding money in the bank.

Checked for their “working-capital ratio,” or how much cash each group would have left if fundraising dried up, Jewish charities had enough to last for only 3.6 months on average, compared to 8.3 months for non-Jewish charities. Such “liquid assets” could be cash, stocks or easily sellable property such as real estate. The Jewish charities ranked lower because they typically raise the bulk of their money around the High Holidays and at the end of the year, but don’t have cash on hand year-round, Miniutti said.

In Los Angeles, the top rated Jewish charities were Jewish Family Services (JFS), Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger and the Skirball Cultural Center, which were all awarded four stars, and 62, 63, and 68 points respectively. According to Charity Navigator, JFS spends only $.02 to raise every dollar, Mazon spends $.07 and the Skirball spends $.04.

The charity with the next highest rating was the Simon Wiesenthal Center which was awarded three stars and 53 points, and spends $.17 cents to raise every dollar. The Bureau of Jewish Education, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation were granted two stars.

Nationally, the top Jewish charity was the Shefa Fund, which won a four-star, 69-point rating. The fund, dedicated to advancing social responsibility through grants, spent $.04 cents to raise each dollar, according to its Form 990.

Jeffrey Dekro, president of the Shefa Fund, said his organization’s first-place ranking “is really consistent with the doctrine of our work.”

At the bottom of the Jewish heap sat the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah, which is dedicated to Jewish education and outreach. The group garnered only 19 points and zero stars, spending $.23 cents to raise each dollar.

In several cases, Charity Navigator ranked branches of the same charities separately because they were incorporated separately for nonprofit status and file different forms to the IRS. Aish HaTorah represented one such case, with its New York branch, which it says is dedicated to “wisdom for living,” gaining 53 points and three stars, spending only $.13 cents to bring in every dollar.

Irwin Katsof, the Los Angeles-based president of Aish HaTorah, said he couldn’t discuss the findings until he had studied them more closely.

“I’m not really going to comment until I’ve had a chance to analyze how they did it,” Katsof said.

Charendoff, whose Jewish Funders Network is an umbrella group for many of the more than 8,000 private Jewish family foundations in the United States, some of which were rated byc Navigator, said the rankings provide useful data but miss some subtleties.

While the rankings allow one to compare a range of similar charities for their efficiency, they offer only a snapshot that does not reflect an organization’s development over time.

Newer charities “may take a few years to achieve a balance between building the business and delivering the product,” he said.

The rankings also do not take into account the size of an organization, he added. A small foundation may have only one fundraising professional, accounting for a major share of its budget, compared to bigger organizations with more money and a few more fundraisers.

Charity Navigator’s rankings, compiled in August and updated Sept. 3, were based on federal reports from 2001 and 2002, but the group “looked back” to 1997 and 1998 to “calculate growth as well,” Miniutti said.

Other national Jewish nonprofits that got ranked for overall efficiency included Hillel: the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, which ranked 10th, and the World Jewish Congress, which was listed 112th.

Staff Writer Gaby Wenig contributed to this report.

Bonded by Ghetto


Irene Gutovicz remembers the days when members of the local group of philanthropic Holocaust survivors, known as The Lodzer Organization of California, would donate a bowl of borscht or a plate of kugel.

"We started from nothing, having lunches. People would bring something," recalled Gutovicz, co-vice president of the group with Freda Bluman, and a Lodzer member for over 30 years. "This is how it started. Now it has become a bigger thing."

Now with 460 members, The Lodzer Organization last year donated $242,000 to a long and varied list of Israeli and Jewish American causes. They included Sheba Medical Center, Aish HaTorah Jerusalem, Magen David Adom, ORT, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Jewish National Fund, as well as a $64,000 ambulance to American Red Magen David for Israel (ARMDI).

This year, the nonprofit group plans to top itself by raising funds for its fifth state-of-the-art ARMDI ambulance — pricetag $80,000 — at events such as its upcoming May 17 Mother’s Day Dinner Dance Gala. Times have changed for the Lodzers.

Times have also changed since World War II, during which the Lodz ghetto in Poland — the experience that bonds many of the group’s members — became a tragic chapter in Jewish history.

Chartered in 1423, Lodz developed a Jewish presence around 1780. In 1939, the year that the Nazis invaded, Lodz was the second-largest city in Poland behind Warsaw and had the second largest Jewish population on the Continent — approximately 223,000.

When the Nazis attacked, Poles and Jews worked frantically to dig ditches to defend their city. But within a week, Lodz was occupied by the Germans, and four days after its occupation, Jews became routine targets for beatings, robberies and seizure of property.

Known as Lodzh in Yiddish and Lodsch in German, it was renamed by the Germans Litzmannstadt (Litzmann’s City) after the German general who died while attempting to conquer Lodz in World War I. It retained that name from 1939-1945.

The Jews — and, later, 5,000 Romanies — were consolidated in Lodz, which became the longest existing Polish ghetto, from 1940-1944. The Jews lived in crowded conditions — an average of 3.5 persons per room.

The ghetto was ordered closed and a fence surrounding the area was erected. Only eight months after the German invasion, on May 1, 1940, the Lodz ghetto was officially sealed.

To organize and implement Nazi policy in the ghetto, the Nazis appointed Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, a controversial figure in Holocaust history, as Judenälteste (elder of the Jews).

Short of the Nazi occupiers, Rumkowski became ruler of the Lodz ghetto, where the 62-year-old established factories utilizing the captives as a workforce. Adults worked in factories that produced everything from textiles to munitions, and young girls hand-stitched the emblems for the uniforms of German soldiers.

In exchange for these services, the Nazis delivered food to the ghetto, which Rumkowski and his officials distributed.

Throughout World War II, the Lodz Ghetto Jews suffered from hunger and disease. They also had to endure the harsh winter of 1941-42.

On Jan. 6, 1942, transportation of Lodz Jews to the Chelmno death camp began. At the camp, they were gassed in trucks with carbon monoxide. By the war’s end, Lodz Jews, including Rumkowski and his family, also were transported to Auschwitz.

Heinrich Himmler ordered the liquidation of Lodz on June 10, 1944, and by the time Soviet soldiers liberated the ghetto on Jan. 19, 1945, only 877 Jews remained.

One Lodz survivor, William Friedman, came to Los Angeles, where he formed The Lodzer Organization of California in 1959.

Not every member in The Lodzer Organization is from Lodz or even Poland. For example, Kal Berson, treasurer and past president of The Lodzer Organization of California and the club’s honorary life president — with fellow member Sam Miller — is Romanian.

The Bucharest-born Berson, who once ran The Sugar Bowl, a Van Nuys coffee shop, and Howdy on Eighth and Alvarado streets, did not experience the Lodz Ghetto firsthand. However, his wife of 37 years, Sonia, was born in a Lodz suburb and wound up in a Lodz Ghetto displaced persons camp, and The Lodzer Organization has become important to her on several levels.

She recalled with fondness "trips we took together to Israel as a group, where we visited the hospitals that we support in Israel."

"I don’t have any sisters or brothers left," continued Sonia Berson, who is in charge of The Lodzer Tribute Fund. "This organization is very important to us, because it’s like an extended family."

"We try to get together as often as possible," she said. "We go to each others’ simchas and funerals. In the organization, there are groups that are there for each other."

"Even though I was not from Lodz, they made me feel at home," said Gutovicz, who, reared along the Polish-Russian border, escaped to Russia during the Holocaust.

On May 17, The Lodzer Organization will honor Lodzer member and supporter Tema Cukier at its annual Mother’s Day Dinner Dance Gala. Born in Radom, Poland, Cukier married Abe Cukier in 1939. Both survived Auschwitz and Dachau and were reunited soon after the war.

In 1949, they moved to Los Angeles, where they had three children: Ron, Manny and Linda. Abe Cukier died in 1974 at the age of 55.

Lodzer President Harry Eisen, who until his recent retirement was California’s largest egg producer, is in his ninth term as the organization’s chief executive. He is assisted by vice presidents Bluman and Gutovicz in the organization’s activities.

Lodzer Organization activities — usually held at the Friar’s Club or Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in Westwood — revolve around its board installation and fundraising functions around Purim, Mother’s Day and Chanukah. Its Man of the Year Dinner is also popular, as is the organization’s New Year’s event, which for five years has been co-sponsored by The "1939" Club in recent years (both survivor organizations have 200 members in common).

The Lodzer Organization also holds occasional meetings at the Palm Terrace on Fairfax Avenue. In addition, it has designated a Sunshine Committee, headed by Margy Becker, to distribute flowers to members celebrating simchas or who are ill.

"They’re a fine organization, and they do a wonderful thing in regard to charitable giving, especially to the State of Israel," said William Elperin, president of The "1939" Club, another local survivors’ group.

For Kal Berson, The Lodzer Organization’s main mission has always been a simple one: making the most out of making mitzvahs.

"We come together, we have a good time, we see what’s going on in the world and we help," he explained.

For Sonia Berson, what resonates most with her is a feeling that you can’t buy with money.

"You feel like you belong."

The Lodzer Organization of California will hold its Mother’s Day Dinner Dance Gala at the Friar’s Club, Beverly Hills. For information, call Sonia Berson, (310) 276-0421, or Frances Kovall, (310) 278-0474.