With Donor-Advised Funds Philanthropy Is No Longer Limited to the Uber-Rich

You might think the largest charitable organization in the United States is a billionaire’s foundation or a brand-name charity. The truth is, it’s a bank.

In 2016, a division of Fidelity Investments with more than $16 billion in assets became the largest charity in the United States, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, thanks to a financial tool that has come to dominate giving in America over the past decade: donor-advised funds.

“They’re a fast-growing philanthropic vehicle for the Jewish community — for philanthropy in general in the country, but especially for the Jewish community,” said Andres Spokoiny, president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, a national consortium of Jewish community donors.

Donor-advised funds, or DAFs, are funds held by nonprofit organizations in the name of a private donor, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Although a so-called “sponsoring organization” assumes control over the money, donors can advise it to disburse funds to other nonprofits of their choice. And while donors get the tax exemption upfront, they can disburse their funds at a later date.

Although DAFs have been available to donors since at least the 1990s, they have seen an explosion in the last decade, not least in the Jewish community.

Dan Rothblatt, senior vice president of philanthropic services for the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, said in an email to the Journal that DAFs make up $536 million of The Foundation’s profile of $1.1 billion in charitable assets, or more than half, as of Dec. 31, 2016.

That number is up sharply from five years ago, with a nearly 50 percent increase since 2012, Rothblatt said.

The national growth rate in DAFs has at times been even greater. Between 2010 and 2015, contributions to DAFs nationally more than doubled, from $9 billion to $22 billion, according to a study by the National Philanthropic Trust.

“DAFs are one of the fastest-growing segments of philanthropy for numerous reasons,” Rothblatt wrote. “They’re quick and easy to establish and avoid the costs and administrative complexities of charitable instruments such as private foundations.

DAFs represent a particularly valuable tool for small and mid-sized donors whose wealth is insufficient to make setting up a private foundation worthwhile, Spokoiny said.

“Let’s say you have $10,000 to give,” he said. “You’re not going to create your own foundation. So the thinking is that a $10,000 donor can actually do philanthropy in an easy and user-friendly way.”

Spokoiny noted that DAFs face a number of practical limitations. For one, a DAF cannot employ staff to issue grants or vet potential donation recipients, he said. Moreover, they fundamentally rely on trust: Once a donor signs over his or her funds to a sponsoring organization, they legally belong to that organization, he said.

Even detractors acknowledge the effect the funds have had on the charitable giving.

Citing federal statutes, tax law professor Ellen April of Loyola Marymount University wrote in an email, “the donor must cede legal control to the exempt organization sponsoring the fund.”

This arrangement can — and does — lead to complications, for instance when a donor wishes to give to a nonprofit seen as contrary to the mission of the sponsoring organization.

DAFs also may be problematic because of a feature that often is seen as an advantage: Unlike private foundations, which are required by law to disburse 5 percent of their holdings each year, DAFs have no such restriction. In a letter to Congress in July, Ray Madoff and Roger Colinvaux, law professors at Boston College and the Catholic University of America, respectively, wrote that even as the amount contributed to DAFs has risen in recent years, charitable giving overall has stagnated. “This suggests that DAFs are not increasing overall giving, but instead are attracting dollars that would otherwise be contributed to active nonprofits,” the professors wrote.

Spokoiny echoed that concern, saying that DAFs could potentially become vehicles for donors to “park money.”

Overall, though, the philanthropic sector remains bullish on the funds. Spokoiny said that all major Jewish community foundations now offer donors the option of setting up DAFs.

And even their detractors acknowledge the effect the funds have had on the charitable giving.

In their letter to Congress, Colvinaux and Madoff wrote, “From their infancy in the 1990s when the first commercially affiliated funds formed until today, DAFs have grown to dominate the charitable landscape.” n

Sinai Akiba Academy is being renamed in honor of donors Alice and Nahum Lainer. Photo courtesy of Sinai Akiba

Large gift will bring new name, tuition assistance to Sinai Akiba Academy

School officials at Sinai Akiba Academy in West Los Angeles are hailing a recently announced gift as “transformative,” something that will help ensure its future for years to come.

That future will feature a new name.

Beginning in the upcoming 2017-18 academic year, the school officially will be known as Alice and Nahum Lainer School in honor of the large donation — officials declined to disclose the exact amount — made by the Lainers, longtime supporters of the school who have sent three children, all now adults, as well as three grandchildren there.

“This is huge news,” said Head of School Sarah Shulkind. “I wrote to colleagues, other Jewish day school heads, that this is a win for all of us. It says that there’s a significant investment in Jewish schools being a critical part of Jewish continuity and Jewish sustainability in the future.”

Shulkind said the gift will help the school continue funding academic programs such as JSTEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math through a Jewish lens), as well as tuition assistance.

Nahum, a real estate developer, and his wife, Alice, live in Beverly Park. The Lainers were one of the first families to send their children to the school when it was still known as Akiba Academy. In the past, they’ve given generously to Jewish philanthropic causes such as the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. 

In a joint public statement, the Lainers expressed their desire to encourage other families in the community to follow their lead.

“With this endowment gift, our goal is to ensure that more Jewish families have access to such a wonderful education,” they said. “We hope that our leadership will inspire our old friends, our new friends, the parents of today, and the whole community, to join us in donating to the financial stability and sustainability of a great and important place of learning and creativity, for generations to come.”

According to Shulkind, accessibility for Jewish families has been an issue of late in the world of private Jewish education, with many Jewish schools around the country experiencing dips in enrollment numbers or even shutting their doors after the 2008 recession. Shulkind said her school hasn’t seen a noticeable drop in enrollment, partly due to its widespread tuition assistance program.

“We give 30 percent of our kids tuition assistance,” Shulkind said. “I’m extremely proud of our commitment to our central mission: making the school accessible to any Jewish family seeking a quality Jewish education. In order to sustain that and to continue to grow the excellent academic programming we’re known for, we had to have this kind of endowment gift.”

The school, a Sinai Temple school that is a member of the Schechter Day School Network, opened in 1968. It now serves students from birth to eighth grade and has more than 600 students. Annual tuition for its lower school is $26,195; for the middle school, it is $29,480, according to its website.

In 2015, Shulkind and the school’s board passed a strategic financial plan to raise $40 million. When they thought about how to get there, the answer seemed obvious.

“We talked about families with a passion for Jewish education and philanthropy that had the interest and the capacity. The very first family on everyone’s mind was the Lainers,” she said.

Shulkind said the Lainers’ gift made up “a significant portion” of the school’s $40 million goal and that it already has helped raise interest in making contributions from other prominent philanthropic families tied to the school. She also referred to the Lainers’ donation as a “lead gift” in the school’s upcoming 50th anniversary fundraising campaign.

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple reacted to the gift by saying, “We are grateful and blessed — and strengthened in our resolve to inspire the souls of our students.”

Gary Lainer, board chair of the school, and his wife, Lisa, have sent three children there. But in this case, he’s more than a school leader — he’s a proud son.

“I am grateful that our school has received such a consequential gift, a lead gift to begin our celebration of the school’s 50th anniversary, and I am excited that this gift will help secure the school’s future.”

Similar to actions taken by deToledo High School officials after its renaming from New Community Jewish High School in 2014, Shulkind said her school has hired a marketing firm to help with rebranding. By this fall, the school’s website and campus signage will reflect the name change, but it still may take some getting used to.

“There will be a transition time. You can’t just flip a switch,” she said. 

Martin Storrow. Photo courtesy of Martin Storrow

Martin Storrow: Putting creativity toward the greater good

Name: Martin Storrow
Age: 34
Best-known for: #First100Ways
Little known fact: “I played cymbals in the school band. I was the disruptive person. At my mercy, a song could have a great or disastrous ending, depending on when I clashed the cymbals.”

From professional music to young adult engagement to projects of social good and activism, Martin Storrow, 34, approaches all aspects of his life creatively.

He co-founded #First100Ways, a campaign designed to mobilize people around small, positive actions they can take every day for 100 days to benefit a cause or an organization. Before that, he launched Keys for Refugees, a refugee-awareness campaign.

Storrow has worked for or volunteered with many Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) Entwine program for young Jewish leaders and Moishe House, where he planned and coordinated retreats for young Jews.

What do you consider your life’s central purpose?

To use creativity for good. That’s what ties it all together. I’m happiest and feel most fulfilled — through music or social good — when I’m doing something that utilizes my creativity toward what feels like the greater good.

What did #First100Ways achieve, and what’s the next step now that the campaign has concluded?

The best thing about it was we ended up with this team of people, the combination of whom was so weird: artists and policymakers in [Washington] D.C., and advertising and media professionals and lawyers. All these people together in the room would have been the funniest little party you can imagine. We started with an email — “Does anyone want to do something?” A group of 15 people were at our core, with an outer team of 100 people, and we were able to build it together.

The biggest lesson was that perception plays such a huge part in our experience. [After the last election,] people around us were living in uncertainty and, in the face of that, we were able to create productivity in a way that was in its conception nonpartisan and inclusive. Our goal was to be progressive but never to be partisan. The goal now is to figure out a meaningful next step for our community of 7,000 active users.

How have Jewish values helped power or inspire your work or creativity?

I grew up with creativity as a Jewish value. We are a part of creation, and just as creation is responsible for us being here, creativity is at the core of Jewish life. It feels really natural that those two go together: being encouraged to question everything, not always as a deconstructive process but as a constructive process building toward new ways that things can be done.

How did you meet your fiancée?

This is a wonderful Jewish Journal question. I met Rachel Brandt, who works in advertising, at a Moishe House retreat in Northern California. She was not involved in anything Jewish at the time. And now her parents always tell me how happy they are that we met! She has constantly raised the bar, encouraging me to be my truest and best self. When I get a crazy idea for what I want to create, she’s the one who tells me to do it, let’s just do it. I don’t think I could have done any of these projects without a partner like her.

We owe a lot to the Jewish community. We’ve had a lot of great experiences because of the Jewish community. Local organizations like the Pico Union Project gave us opportunities to get involved, and JDC trips to places like Ethiopia, Turkey, Georgia and Cuba have enhanced and enriched our lives. We can see the world because people are generous. There’s a lot of generosity out there.

What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned?

You can’t do it alone. I had a mentor early on who told me this but I had to live it in many iterations to learn it. It’s a wonderful thing when people can dream with you and help make your dreams reality. Having an awesome team, we accomplished something together we couldn’t have accomplished individually. Finding the right people is important.

How do you stay inspired when things get challenging?

I read a lot. And I’m always looking at how I can get my hands dirty with whatever’s happening in the world. The thing that keeps me inspired is knowing that it’s a rare day when someone is going to knock and say here’s how you can help. But I know that you don’t have to be an expert to help out. If I’m feeling uninspired, I think about where the needs might be.

If money were no object, which issue in the world would you devote your attention to?

That we could ensure that every single person on this planet had a home. It wouldn’t be that hard if we just decided to do it.

Which three songs and three Jewish values would you say are essential to you?

Songs: “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” which I listened to for the first two months of this year on repeat. Paul Simon’s “Graceland” — it’s not a very Jewy choice, but still. And “Landslide,” by Stevie Nicks. One of the first songs I ever learned on guitar, but no one sings it like she does.

Jewish values: Tikkun olam, Tikkun olam, Tikkun olam.

What’s an interesting thing about you that most people don’t know?

I’m a secret writer. I have kept a journal for 13 years. It’s a Word document that is 1,300 pages long, single-spaced.

So, if you turned that into an autobiography, what would you title it?

“Just Make Up Your Mind Already: The Martin Storrow Story.”

Who would play you in the movie version of that autobiography?

Until Maya Angelou died, I had this dream that she was my spirit animal in some way. … She would have played me. I aspire to be the kind of person that Maya Angelou could have portrayed in a movie. But let’s not kid ourselves, probably Ben Stiller.

Photo via WikiCommons

We need a poverty summit

If we can land a man on the moon, we can end poverty. The Jewish community has been grappling with the issue of the impoverished, the other, for thousands of years. We are taught that “There shall be no poor among you” and “Justice, justice you shall pursue.”

Communal service networks have helped knit together organized Jewish communities for generations. Our ancestors, whether escaping Russian pogroms or surviving Nazi death camps, came to the United States in conditions of abject poverty, carrying our legacies with them. Social service efforts have helped hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of our own.

If any community has the history to help launch a “moon landing” to defeat poverty, it is ours. We can’t do it alone, nor should we, but we can convene our neighbors, our friends, our hearts and our intentions to do something unprecedented. We can bring together the minds and the expertise to craft a comprehensive plan to end poverty as has never been done before. We can harness the minds, the will and the resources that resulted in “one giant leap for mankind,” thereby marshaling the tools needed to affect the lives of the poor in the most far-reaching and profound way imaginable.

We must call a summit. The United States Poverty Summit would devote attention and resources unseen since Neil Armstrong made an entire country believe in itself when he stepped on the moon. Approaching the issue of poverty from a variety of disciplines, led by an array of experts, the summit will launch a national dialogue that can lead to a comprehensive plan to attack this suffering in all the many ways that are needed.

There is no single path into or out of poverty. Assembling experts from different fields who can talk to one another, interact with one another and make symbiotic their disparate approaches, is the way forward. The tools are there, the programs exist and the people with the knowledge are available.

We, as a community, can supply the key, otherwise missing, ingredient: the will. We can help cast aside gridlock. There is too much at stake, too many lives on the edge, to avoid the opportunity that can lead, together, to a historic societal change.

What shape would a weeklong poverty summit take? On Day One, an agenda will be set.  Days Two and Three will be spent in intensive group discussions, led by designated experts, with invited representatives from each represented community. On Day Four, each group will draft its own 10-point plan that can be implemented to alleviate the trauma of poverty from its perspective, and then, on Day Five, all of the groups will reconvene for a general convocation at which all of the plans will be reviewed and integrated. The result will be a week to define the concrete steps that will change the lives of the poor in a way never before attempted.

A number of key components need to be amassed. With apologies to all those inadvertently omitted, the summit has to begin with a community ready to lead and a designated leader to help bring so many diverse experts together. We are that community. 

The leader

For a generation, former Sen. and Vice President Joe Biden has been the conscience of our government’s policies affecting the most vulnerable. He authored the Violence Against Women Act, he championed numerous access-to-justice initiatives for the poor, and he oversaw the launch and growth of the national IMPACT Project, an unprecedented national pro bono program that has brought heightened legal services to the poor in 11 cities around the country. His experience, his insight, his moderation and his ability to reach across party lines make him the moderator, leader and voice of this effort.

The legal community

Acknowledging that lawyers are the unsung heroes in the battle against poverty, understanding that only the justice system can address the immediate needs of those most vulnerable, a number of key attorneys must be at the poverty summit. Expert attorneys in civil rights, poverty law, government funding, homelessness prevention and the pro bono delivery of legal services need to be part of the summit.

The advocacy community 

Understanding that without forceful and skilled advocates, no plan would be complete, several key voices need to lead one of the most crucial discussions. Leaders in children’s rights, authors addressing race and poverty, homeless community advocates, senior protection organizations, those involved in advancing the cause of affordable housing, and experts in making the welfare system work efficiently all need to be invited. 

The economics of poverty

Leading economists and academics have devoted their considerable scholarship to the economics of poverty. Tax experts, those who have worked around the world on issues of extreme poverty, and political leaders who have devoted significant thought and legislative efforts to combating poverty can be assembled to attend and advise. Professors, governors and lawmakers will bring a perspective and expertise needed to move forward with proficiency and influence. 

Politicians and the political system 

Not many elected officials have dared to discuss poverty and make it a critical part of our national discourse. The late Robert Kennedy, who served as a U.S. senator and attorney general, was the prototype but, sadly, few have claimed his mantle. Others, however, at various levels of government actively have tried to bring the issue into our political dialogue. Particular mayors, city attorneys, state legislators, governors, senators and Cabinet members have initiated legislation, used their bully pulpits, encouraged anti-poverty development, and should be a key part of this discussion. 

Homelessness advocates 

In various communities around the country, there are advocates who have devoted their lives to being immediate with those whose situations have forced them into life on the streets. These advocates take to the streets, literally, to know and understand the people who are living in this kind of poverty. They and others have launched on-the-ground projects that are feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and clothing and training the job-seekers. Invited to join these dedicated leaders will be representatives from the most effective on-the-ground organizations in the country, those who actively are engaged in innovative anti-poverty programming.


Addressing the intersection of race and poverty has been assessed directly by a number of authors, to one degree or another. Their examinations and experiences will add to the summit discussion. They have addressed the impact that increased incarceration followed by difficult parole policies have on the cycle of poverty. They work with former convicts who find re-entry to be increasingly difficult as they are denied jobs, housing and voting rights. Others have written about the need for our communities to create more ways for the poor to earn decent wages. Still others have lived among the poor and written about the precarious poverty precipice over which families fall when they lose their homes.


Well-funded private foundations, led by influential nonprofit and business pacesetters, have provided billions of dollars in grant-funding, goods and services to combat the trauma of poverty. A national network of community foundations is impacting low-income neighborhoods and programming on a daily basis. Bringing together private foundations, with collective resources and missions meant to make an impact, will be a part of this particular group. 

The business community

Individual philanthropists from the business community offer important leadership. Representatives from the banking, real estate, investment and entertainment industries bring a perspective, as well as resources and gravitas, needed to overcome the ways that established systems sometimes work against the interests of the poor. Bringing a business sensibility, an industrious approach to uplifting the needy, and crafting a strategy for private industry to pursue will be a critical part of the plan to be drafted.

Faith communities

Throughout the history of the United States, communities of faith have been the primary line of defense for the poor. The Jewish Federations of North America bring together a vast network of Jewish communal organizations that have been serving the poor on a nonsectarian basis for more than a century. Other religious groups have done similarly admirable work. They all need to be at this table and they all need to bring their constituencies with them. They collectively would bring to the summit a wide swath of experience and a deep pool of experts and volunteers.

Food insecurity

More than 42 million people in the U.S. live in households that are food insecure. (That figure is from the 2016 report from the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.) Organizations across the country are working and advocating for effective anti-hunger measures.


Poverty is awash in generational cycles. Education is the single most important weapon in breaking through a historical, cyclical morass of lost hope. Secretaries of education, on the state and federal Cabinet levels, can lead this part of the discussion. Innovative educators from universities, public grade schools, support organizations and private funders would bring great experience and wisdom to the discussion. Leaders of teachers unions, private school professionals and carefully chosen elected school board representatives need to round out the list of participants.

There are many other groups whose participation and experience would be valuable additions to the summit. Union leaders, job-creation organizations, local governments, housing departments, builders, welfare advocates, mental health professionals, environmentalists who focus on the degradation of our low-income communities, medical personnel and community health organizations would be important contributors. The bottom line is that we have an occasion to address the overriding issue of our generation.

As leaders of a Jewish community that for generations has argued about, debated and taken action to help the impoverished among us, we have the will to address issues of poverty as never before. With the right people in the room, one week of uninterrupted focus is all we ask. It could change our nation forever. 

David A. Lash is the managing counsel of pro bono and public interest services at O’Melveny & Myers LLP. To join him in this effort, email PovertyCon@jewishjournal.com.

Art Bilger: A philanthropist who wants to change the future of work

In October 2013, Art Bilger, a Los Angeles investor and philanthropist, found himself at a dinner event in New York for high-profile customers of Deutsche Bank, where Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary, was set to speak.

When Summers finished his talk, Bilger raised his hand to ask a question that had been nagging at him for some time.

“I said, ‘Here’s the math,’ ” Bilger recalled in an interview at the Westwood office of Shelter Capital Partners, a venture capital investment management firm he founded. “ ‘A third of the population drops out [of school] at 15, and we keep them alive to 85. What do you do with a third of your population for 70 years?’ ”

Afterward, four people Bilger didn’t know chased him down to tell him his question had floored them. He doesn’t remember who they are, but the interest he generated then, and subsequently when he began preaching about structural unemployment, convinced him that the problem was worth dedicating himself to.

The problem, as he sees it, is this: Technological innovation is moving forward at an unprecedented and accelerating pace, eliminating jobs, especially ones for low-skilled workers, without presenting viable alternatives, at least in the short term.

Since the Summers talk, Bilger has crisscrossed the nation to learn more about the problem. During that time, he and his wife, Dahlia, have poured millions of dollars into WorkingNation, his latest and most ambitious philanthropic effort, and he’s brought on board his two daughters, Sabrine and Eve, to work for the project’s research arm.

WorkingNation hopes to use a sleek media campaign and institutional partnerships to awaken thought leaders and the public to structural job loss and the potential solutions.

Often, when Bilger explains WorkingNation, people don’t quite get it.

“If I walked in and asked for scholarships for 500 underprivileged people, it doesn’t mean I’d get it, but they’d understand that,” he said. “When I walk in and talk about this, they find it quite interesting, but they scratch their heads and they say, ‘Art, what are you looking to do here?’ ”

In response, Bilger asks his audience to think about everything they’re wearing, everything they’ll eat that day, the movie they’ll see that weekend and the last vacation they went on.

“Every one of those decisions that you made with regard to those things was as a result of some party creating awareness and educating you — it’s called marketing,” he said, laughing suddenly, a deep, hearty sound. “And that’s what governs our lives. And that’s really what this is about.”

Bilger doesn’t pretend to know what the future holds, but current employment trends offer reason to worry.  WorkingNation’s first mass media release is a six-minute animated explainer video distributed by CNN Money and named “Slope of the Curve,” referring to the increasing pace at which technology is eliminating the need for low-skilled workers.

The example of drivers looms large for Bilger: If and when driverless cars eliminate the need for people who drive for a living, one of the nation’s largest vocations could vanish almost overnight. But job risk is not restricted to low-skilled sectors, he said, pointing to how big data have shrunk marketing departments while yielding better predictions.

Traditionally, economists hail such advances as necessary and even desirable: Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter popularized the term “creative destruction” to describe how technological change sweeps away old industries to make way for the new.

Yet something feels undeniably different about the microchip age. Bilger pointed out a number of factors that, combined, make this disruption more worrisome than past ones: the pace of technology growth, globalization, lengthening lifespans and a failing education system.

WorkingNation is built on the premise that today’s job loss is unprecedented in scope and scale; in a widely cited 2013 study, two Oxford University employment scholars estimated that 47 percent of jobs could be automated in the next two decades or so.

Bilger is imagining — and spending his own money to address — a future where 25 or 30 percent unemployment could become the norm.

He’s a somewhat unlikely prophet of doom, having spent a career in the top echelon of the investment banking and media worlds.

Bilger’s career began in 1977 at Drexel Burnham Lambert, an investment banking firm.When Drexel folded in 1990, Bilger and a half-dozen co-workers founded an investment fund called Apollo Global Management. From there, he pivoted into media, building up New World Communications, a TV broadcaster that became Fox’s largest affiliate.

The year 1998 brought yet another career change. A year after selling New World to Fox’s parent company, News Corp., a fellow board member at the Jewish-affiliated legal clinic Bet Tzedek, where Bilger still sits on the board, introduced him to what would become his first early stage investment, Akamai Technologies.

Since then, the investor has focused on startups with an emphasis on online education. (He also serves on many boards, and formerly served on the board of Tribe Media Corp., parent company of the Journal.) His experience in marrying content to distribution technology, he said, will be a boon for WorkingNation.

When he first began thinking about structural unemployment, he figured he could make a documentary to “scare the hell out of everyone in 90 minutes.” But rather than a single piece of media, Bilger, whose first foray into Hollywood as an executive producer, “20 Feet From Stardom,” won an Academy Award for feature documentary in 2014, figured a media campaign would do a better job garnering attention.

Later this month, Working-Nation will begin to air a five-episode series by Barbara Kopple, herself a two-time Academy Award-winning documentarian.

The media campaign also hopes to bring attention to another, related phenomenon: globalization. One video shot by WorkingNation follows two workers at the Carrier Corp. furnace manufacturing plant who learn their jobs will be outsourced to Mexico (a fact subsequently made famous by the Donald Trump campaign).

But Bilger’s goal is not just to scare people.

“I wouldn’t be doing it if that’s all we wanted to do,” he said.

He hopes WorkingNation will be able to highlight the jobs of the future and draw attention to organizations engaged in retraining and reskilling workers into those new jobs.

“I’m not suggesting I’m going to create solutions,” he said. “I want to just, through storytelling, highlight what solutions there are.”

For instance, one 10-minute Kopple video features Year Up, a WorkingNation partner.

Operating in a dozen U.S. cities, including Los Angeles as of this fall, Year Up offers urban young adults six months of training in employable skills followed by six months of on-the-job training at a partner company. The goal, according to the group’s website, is to help young people “go from poverty to professional careers in a single year.”

Bilger has undergone something of a career change himself. These days, he’s set aside the great majority of his investment work to run WorkingNation.

“This is my day job, my night job, my middle of the night job,” he said. “This is 18 hours a day.”

Dr. Gary K. Michelson: Inventor and life-saver

When Dr. Gary K. Michelson was 7, he was sitting at the Formica table in his grandmother’s kitchen in Philadelphia when he smelled the odor of burning flesh. “She was at the stove, and I turned around, and she was just leaning her hand on a burner, and I could see flames coming up through her fingers,” Michelson recalled of his grandmother. “I screamed, and then she doused out her hand in the sink. And she said, ‘That’s nothing; I do that all the time.’ ”

For decades, Michelson’s grandmother had suffered from syringomyelia, a spinal disease that causes wracking back pain and also pain and insensitivity to temperature in the hands and feet. She simply could not feel the flames licking at her fingers.

Michelson’s grandmother had already visited top syringomyelia experts at the time; her physician had advised her husband that there was nothing to do for her except buy her a wheelchair. Through sheer determination, she continued to walk, even though her back was so crooked she couldn’t stand up straight. 

“One day,” she told her grandson, “you’ll become a doctor, and you’ll fix me.”

Sitting in his airy Brentwood home, Michelson tells the story as if the distant memory is still raw. At 67, he is now a retired orthopedic surgeon, prolific medical inventor and a groundbreaking, renowned philanthropist — shaped by what he calls the “nightmare” of his grandmother’s suffering.

After he left home at 17, Michelson did just what his grandmother said, working odd jobs to put himself through Hahnemann Medical College (now Drexel University), from which he earned his medical degree in 1975. In 1980, he moved west to set up a practice in Los Angeles. There, he developed and patented more than 900 medical procedures and devices that have revolutionized spinal surgery.

In 2004, Michelson prevailed in a licensing lawsuit brought against him by the medical technology megacorporation Medtronic. After the company’s unsuccessful attempt to take the rights to Michelson’s medical inventions, he received a settlement of $1.35 billion, including for the purchase of a majority of the patents related to spinal technology, he said. The money made him one of the richest people in the United States, according to Forbes, and effectively launched his philanthropic career.

In his giving, Michelson continues to focus on medical research, but his reach now extends far beyond orthopedics.

In 2005, he created the Michelson Medical Research Foundation, to which he’s contributed $100 million. The goal, in part, is to develop a vaccine that will cure the estimated 1.4 billion people worldwide who suffer from debilitating parasitic worms.

His 20 Million Minds Foundation seeks to make higher education more effective and inexpensive, including by placing textbooks online for college students who cannot afford them, along with interactive content.

Michelson’s Found Animals Foundation, which runs a website promoting pet adoption and advice on microchips, among other things, is offering $50 million in grant research funds as well as a $25 million prize to scientists who can discover a way to chemically spay and neuter animals with a single, low-cost injection.

And, in 2014, Michelson and his wife, Alya, donated $50 million to the University of Southern California toward the creation of a convergent bioscience center in hopes of producing medical breakthroughs. “We’re going to cure cancer; we’re going to cure heart disease,” he said, ebulliently. “There’s stuff going on there right now that’s going to change the world.”

The center already has achieved a major breakthrough enabling scientists to refine and improve the effectiveness of a tool that can remove any gene in the body and replace it with another.

It’s hardly science for science’s sake. “I have been talking to people for a long time about what I consider the major defect in academic science, which I call heads-down research,” Michelson said. “I [know someone] who’s absolutely brilliant, but he put his face to a microscope 50 years ago, and then when he was old, he stood up and went his own way. How did the world benefit from that? They tell you it’s science for science’s sake, and they’re proud of it. But you’re not helping anybody; nothing’s happening. I almost used an expletive about that. Do something that will help people now, and build on that.”

USC President C.L. Max Nikias said Michelson’s $50 million grant is one of the larger gifts the university has received. “This is a brilliant, brilliant individual who truly believes in making a difference,” Nikias said in a telephone interview. “He really cares about the human condition.”

In conversation, the tall, imposing Michelson is bold, no-nonsense and a natural raconteur, peppering his discourse with references to sources as diverse as George Bernard Shaw, William Somerset Maugham and even “Star Trek.” He sat on a couch in his den with his 10-year-old white whippet, Gracie, cuddled up beside him.

“I rescued her out of this woman’s chicken-wire coop,” he said. Michelson’s other dog, a pit bull named Honey, was discovered bleeding and left to die in the street, with her side slashed and her muzzle taped shut. “And yet she’s the sweetest dog in the world,” he said.

In December, when Michelson was honored by B’nai B’rith International with its distinguished achievement award, he did not speak about himself, but rather lauded the people who run his foundations and showed a videotape his wife had made to celebrate their son’s second birthday. The Michelsons have three children, ages 1 to 6, and live in a home that appears modest by billionaires’ standards. He also still drives a 2000 Chrysler. “People ask, ‘Why don’t you have a Ferrari?’ ” he said. “But I don’t need that. There are people who need to be ‘big’ in the world, or grandiose, and then there are people who don’t. And getting money doesn’t change who you are. You are still whoever you were at the beginning.”

Michelson grew up in a Conservative Jewish home in Philadelphia, where the atmosphere was often tense. “I had violent parents; it was just like warfare,” he said. “The only warm, living thing there that wasn’t dangerous was my boxer, Chase. He was probably what kept me sane — the only thing you could touch where you didn’t have to worry about them turning around and hitting you.”

During his third year in medical school, Michelson was appalled to learn that he would be required to take part in a “dog lab,” in which “two people got assigned a perfectly healthy dog, and every week over the course of 14 weeks, you had to go in and take out an organ,” he said. “They tried to rationalize that, saying, ‘Oh, these aren’t really normal dogs … they’re like wild animals.’ Except that mine sat up and begged when I walked into the room. The dogs were given no post-operative pain medication. So I took one look and said, ‘I will not do this.’ And the dean of the medical school said, ‘We will flunk you out.’ ”

Then, during the time in which the dean was convening a committee to oust Michelson, the medical student invented a surgery through which he was able to transplant a rib bone into a 10-year-old girl’s deformed leg, to avert the need to amputate.

“Two of the most famous orthopedic surgeons in the world wrote long, glowing letters to my medical school about this brilliant, young orthopedic [student] who had come up with a solution to a problem that doctors had been struggling with for 50 years,” he said. “They said they would hold a spot for me in their residency program. So my medical school decided they weren’t going to throw me out after all — that’s the only reason I got out of dog lab.”

Michelson went on to a residency program that took place, in part, at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Philadelphia, where many of the patients had rare genetic muscular-skeletal diseases. Surgeries often took more than eight hours to complete, so that “nobody wanted to do them,” Michelson said. “But I always took those charts.”

When Michelson announced that he wanted to specialize in spinal surgery, “one of the doctors turned to me and said, ‘Are you crazy? Because if you’re really good, and you do everything just right, only about half of your patients will ever get better.’ ”

Inspired by his grandmother, Michelson stuck to that career path, and, along the way, continued to invent procedures and devices, including ones that diminish blood loss, pain, disability and recovery time for patients. “George Bernard Shaw once said that inventors are a disgruntled lot,” Michelson said. Whenever he was troubled by a surgical procedure that wasn’t working well, he sought to improve it.

For example, surgeons would fuse vertebrae and then, if a patient still had pain, they would reopen them and scrape everything off the bone to make sure it had healed without any cracks. “But I thought that was crazy,” Michelson said. So he came up with the idea to use nuclear scans to determine whether “occult fractures” existed that didn’t show up on X-rays.

He also invented a groundbreaking way to make the sockets between vertebrae uniform shapes so that they could accommodate artificial disks.

By 2001, Michelson’s patents had earned him a fortune of $300 million, according to Forbes. But he didn’t come into the “big money,” as he put it, until he prevailed in the licensing lawsuit that Medtronic had brought against him that year. By the time the suit was fully resolved, in 2004, Michelson felt as if he had lived for several years “under siege.” But the $1.35 billion gleaned from the settlement enabled him to embark upon his charitable work in earnest, at first relying on the advice of fellow philanthropists, such as Michael Milken and Eli Broad.

Michelson started his Found Animals Foundation after he learned of the tens of thousands of pets who starved to death and drowned after Hurricane Katrina — and of the Katrina victims who lost their animals in the disaster. He came up with the idea to provide free microchips to pet owners nationwide, which he did for a while. The foundation continues to offer low-cost microchips.

Then he turned to the many stray animals. “In the United States, the government spends more than $2.5 billion collecting cats and dogs in order to kill them,” he said. Surgically spaying and neutering pets was one answer, but “there were no drug companies researching how to induce infertility in animals.”

Michelson’s foundation hopes to stimulate such study by offering grant and prize money for the inventors of a sterility vaccine; among many other efforts, it also searches animal shelters for pets destined to be put to death the next day and finds owners for the animals through an adoption program. Its website is a resource for pet adoption and microchipping, as well. So far, the foundation’s programs have helped some 1.5 million pets.

Dr. Gary K. Michelson, founder of the Found Animals Foundation, poses with his wife, Alya, while attending the 2015 Found Animals Gala, which honored outstanding animal welfare champions, at the SLS hotel.  Photo by OG Photography

Michelson said he has received sporadic hate mail for focusing some of his philanthropy on animals. “But people are entitled to give their money to whatever they want,” he said. “You need to do what you are passionate about. But it’s not true that I care more about animals than people.” 

In fact, Michelson started his Medical Research Foundation, which benefits humans, with an initial gift of $100 million.

He got the idea several years ago, when he chanced to read an opinion piece, written by a pre-eminent tropical disease specialist, describing how “1.4 billion people in the world are infected with worms that are eating them from the inside out,” he said. “Some of these little kids you see with the swollen stomachs — those are all worms.” 

These parasites are also a leading cause of death during childbirth among infected mothers, and a top contributor to developmental disabilities among their children. “So it was shocking and disturbing to me that nobody seemed to care,” he said.

Thus emerged Michelson’s plan to fund an anti-worm vaccine. His medical foundation also benefits additional research that would be considered too avant-garde to be funded by the National Institutes of Health or other conventional sources, he said.

The philanthropist’s numerous efforts have also included two major reforestation efforts in Central America, resulting in the planting of seven million trees in some 50 square miles.

Asked why he has not made Jewish charities a focus of his work, Michelson said, “To me, that’s like a small-world view of things. It’s never occurred to me to ask what religion people are.

“What do I want on my tombstone?” he said. “ ‘He made a difference. He tried to change the world, and to leave it a little bit better.’” 

On #GivingTuesday, time to turn philanthropic thinking on its head

Nonprofit organizations are preparing for a new but remarkably successful philanthropy holiday, #GivingTuesday, which this year falls on Dec. 1.

Organizations are busy crafting special campaigns, creating new online giving portals and planning fundraisers for the holiday, which began in 2012 on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving as a kind of counterweight to the consumerism of the holiday shopping season.

Anyone in the nonprofit sector can already anticipate what their email inbox and social media feeds will look like on Tuesday: solicitation after solicitation from dozens if not hundreds of nonprofits.

There’s nothing wrong with fundraising. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with encouraging giving. That’s what drives us every day in our roles leading Natan, a major giving circle in New York, and Amplifier: The Jewish Giving Circle Movement, Natan’s field-building arm.

But giving is also what’s keeping us up at night. We’re worried that something important is getting lost in this giving extravaganza – namely, the very people who are central to its success: the givers.

A recent Chicago Community Trust report shows that donors aren’t giving to the causes they care about, partly because they don’t know how to access the information they need about the issues and organizations they might support. Couple that finding with other reports showing that substantial numbers of donors don’t trust nonprofits or understand the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors very much, and then ask yourself: What is this onslaught of appeals actually accomplishing?

Campaigns like #GivingTuesday may well succeed in bringing in one-off donations, but they prevent sustained giving or deeper support over time. Donors are still left questioning exactly what organizations actually do and how their money is helping.

We need to flip the thinking about giving on its head. We need to focus on building the supply side of the giving equation, and not just on strengthening the capacity of organizations to demand. We need to focus on the giver.

At Natan and Amplifier, together with the dozens of partners we work with inside and outside the Jewish philanthropic sector, we’re seeking to build an ecosystem of empowered philanthropy: inspired, educated and engaged givers.

To accomplish this, we’ve focused on giving circles and the incredible value we think they can deliver. A giving circle is a group of people who pool their charitable donations and decide together how to give them away. It’s a simple yet infinitely customizable model that puts the giver in the driver’s seat. In a giving circle, members determine the values that guide their giving, discover areas that address the change they want to make in the world, and engage in deep discussions about organizations doing the work they believe in.

Giving collectively with friends, family or neighbors adds additional layers of meaning and fun to the experience and enables giving circle members to leverage each other’s money, wisdom, experience and perspectives to make a much greater impact than they might have made alone.

In the end, giving circle members emerge with a deeper knowledge of the causes they care about and the organizations addressing those causes. As research has shown, this leads giving circle members to give more dollars, give more strategically and develop a deeper sense of civic responsibility.

At Natan, we’ve engaged over 200 members in our giving circle and have given away nearly $11 million to more than 180 nonprofits, social entrepreneurs and social businesses. After seeing the transformative impact that Natan was having on its members and grantees over the years, and after hearing identical stories of impact from other giving circles (including venture philanthropy funds, women’s foundations and teen foundations both inside and outside the Jewish community), we created Amplifier to connect giving circles inspired by Jewish values to one another and provide resources that enable anyone to create their own giving circle.

What kinds of transformations happen to people in giving circles? People become enthusiastic about giving regularly and adopt the practice of giving on a regular basis. Time and again, we’ve seen giving circle members become so passionate about organizations they discover during a giving circle’s grant-making process that they join those organizations as volunteer leaders and board members. When you give someone the opportunity to actualize their vision through giving, they become active agents of change in their communities – not passive, one-time donors.

This #GivingTuesday, we need to put the needs and goals of givers first. Foundations and nonprofits alike can be major players in helping to build a broad culture of empowered philanthropy. Invest in building this culture, and the donations will follow. The world’s leaders and change-makers – and ultimately the people our organizations support – depend on it.

(Felicia Herman has been executive director of The Natan Fund since 2005. Joelle Asaro Berman is responsible for overseeing the Amplifier program, a global network of giving circles and Natan’s field-building arm.)

Beyond philanthropy: A Q&A with Julie Platt

Julie Platt is one of Los Angeles’ most devoted Jewish communal leaders and philanthropists. For the past two years, she has served as general campaign chair for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. She is also a past board chair of Camp Ramah, led the advisory board of directors for the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and serves on the board of the Foundation for Jewish Camp. For the past 36 years, Platt has been married to film and theater producer Marc Platt, whom she met as a freshman at their alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. They have five children, ages 16 to 32, and an active family foundation. On a recent morning, Platt sat down in her Westwood living room to talk about her plans for Federation when she takes over as board chair in January. “It’s not the sexiest place to be a volunteer,” she said, “so you’re doing it out of purity of purpose. And the kind of people that are attracted to that work are my kind of people.” 

Jewish Journal: You grew up in Wichita, Kan., in a very small Jewish community. What was that like?

Julie Platt: On a great day, we were 1,000 people. In my high school graduating class of 671 students, I was the only Jew. But I actually think that when you are from a small town, the necessity to stand up and be counted is even stronger. … I felt from the beginning that if we Jews didn’t look out for the Jewish community, there wasn’t anybody else to step up. It wasn’t out of a sense of peril; it was a feeling of “l’dor v’dor,” that I was a link in the chain.

JJ: What does being Jewish mean to you?

JP: I think Judaism makes sense. I think we got it right, of what people need. We need a roadmap. And, honestly, the best example I can think of are the laws of mourning. They’re so helpful. Holidays and Shabbat and rituals are, for me, an opportunity to gather as family. And that’s the most precious time for me. 

JJ: You have chosen to go beyond traditional philanthropy to play an enormous volunteer role in the Los Angeles Jewish community. Why was that important to you?

JP: [My parents] imparted to me that you have to be supportive of the community in which you live, which they both were, in a very big way. My father was the chairman of the board of education and actually integrated the school system in Wichita, which was a very big deal. So I understood the obligation to be involved civically in your community, but transcending it all was this complete responsibility to the Jewish people. I have this memory of when we all went on vacation in 1967; I was 10, and the ’67 war hit while we were on vacation. None of us ever left the room. The six of us stayed and watched television for the entire duration of the Six-Day War. I remember being terrified. 

JJ: What was your most formative Jewish experience?

JP: Camp Ramah. It changed my life. I remember no place feeling more at home as a Jew than surrounded by that environment. For me, it was like Disneyland, because I didn’t have any Jewish kids around me in Wichita, so to go and make Jewish friends all summer long was just indescribable. I counted the minutes [during the school year] till it was time to go back.

JJ: As a kid, what did you dream of being when you grew up?

JP: Honestly? I only wanted to be a mother. The dream for my life was to be a mother. Second to being a mother was finding the right husband — so I could be a mother. 

JJ: But as the daughter of very active parents — your father was an oil and gas producer and your mother was civically involved — was it rebellious not to pursue a career?

JP: I wanted to be a mother, not a stay-at-home mother. I just wanted to be a parent. That was the No. 1. Simultaneous to that, I thought about joining my father’s business, but Wichita didn’t seem where I would want to spend my life, particularly after I met Marc, who was clearly going to be in the entertainment world. But I did go into corporate banking; I had a deep love of business and of math, and wanted to use that. I went into corporate banking right out of college at University of Pennsylvania. 

JJ: Of the many Jewish institutions you’re involved with, why do you choose to devote most of your time to Federation?

JP: I do believe in it as the central convener of the Los Angeles Jewish community. What has always impressed me is that it is an organization willing to look at itself, to make sure it is on the right path. And it’s not afraid to stumble or refocus or redirect until we get it right. It’s not what people think it is.

JJ: You think Federation is misunderstood?

JP: I think people think it’s a behemoth, that it’s a black hole where you don’t know where your money is going, where we’re blindly writing checks to agencies and that we have no handle on a vision or strategy. And that’s just incorrect. We’re not a black hole. We’re not an umbrella. We’re a convener that works really carefully with partners to take care of this community in every way that we can. And if that means creating something new, we’ll do that. If it means supporting something existing, we’ll do that. And if it simply means getting out of the way because someone else is doing it better, we’ll do that. 

JJ: What has been your biggest challenge there?

JP: Not being able to successfully bring along all the people that I wish I could. And I’d say, most specifically, many people in the entertainment community. That’s sort of my chief goal as chair.

JJ: I’m so glad you brought that up! You’re married to the big-deal producer of Broadway’s “Wicked,” the “Legally Blonde” film franchise and, most recently, Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies.” So you’ve had an insider’s view of Hollywood for many years. What’s your take on why Hollywood Jews are not more active in Jewish communal life or more publicly supportive of Israel?

JP: I want to be careful, because I want to be successful with this group. I do think that the entertainment community gets a bad rap. There are more [entertainment] people who care about the Jewish people than the community thinks, but there is an enormous amount of people in entertainment whom we haven’t brought along yet. And that is my mission. Marc and I have had several small gatherings in our home, and when given the opportunity to explain our work, and speak to people one-on-one, [we have found] there is a Jewish responsibility [in Hollywood], and there is a Jewish soul. It’s rarely tapped into in the world in which they live, and I have to find the way to tap into it. One by one, I’m willing to take on the challenge. 

Erika Glazer: From blankets for the homeless to multimillion-dollar gifts

In 2013, Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Koreatown campus was renamed the Erika J. Glazer Family Campus, after the Los Angeles philanthropist pledged $30 million to help pay for the historic site’s renovation and expansion. Recently, Glazer spoke about why she gives, the challenges facing the Jewish community today and what being a partial owner of the 2014-15 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors means to her. 

“There’s a lot that needs to be done, and a lot that needs to be done in our city,” Glazer, 57, said in a phone interview, before recalling the turning point in her life when giving back became a central focus. 

“I think it was in 1984, and it was really cold. Thanksgiving was coming up. I wanted to hand out blankets to the homeless downtown, because it was cold, and I just wanted to make someone warmer that night,” she said. 

She has since gone on to do much more than providing blankets to the needy: In part because of a gift from Glazer, the Hammer Museum in Westwood, where she serves on the board of directors, has offered free admission to all since 2014.

“For months, I would hand my credit card to pay for a meal, and people would go, ‘Are you the one who made Hammer free?’ ” she said. “It had such legs on it.” 

The daughter of businessman, philanthropist and pro-Israel activist Guilford Glazer, who died in 2014, Erika Glazer also supports the Israel Defense Forces, with a focus on “hydra-therapy for wounded soldiers,” she said.

“I’ve become the swimming pool queen of Israel,” she said in a 2013 interview coinciding with American Friends of Tel Aviv University honoring her father.

She was born in Tennessee and moved with her family to Los Angeles to get away from Southern racism. She grew up in Los Angeles, in a home where she was taught to put coins in a Jewish National Fund tzedakah box to fund the planting of trees in Israel. 

She also grew up attending services at Wilshire Boulevard Temple. 

The iconic Reform synagogue’s Rabbi Edgar Magnin officiated at her bat mitzvah. She recalled with fondness services led by Magnin, during which “he’d skip, like, 20 pages randomly, which was always a good part,” she said. “No, I’m just kidding.”

Glazer also supports education at the synagogue, which last month dedicated the Erika J. Glazer Early Childhood Center on the campus. She said Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, the synagogue’s senior rabbi, had to convince her to let her name be featured on the building. “Well, I started off the giving, and I gave big, and I was kind of unsure of putting my name on it, [but the] rabbi asked me to — said I was deserving — and it’s a great thing. It’s worked out OK,” Glazer said. “I’m happy, very honored.”

Glazer has a son and daughter, both in their 20s, and she said she is interested in helping to sustain Jewish life and where it is headed, and her own children’s tendencies keep her informed about the attitudes of young Jews today.

“I think [Judaism] needs to remain relevant for younger people. My kids are dedicated to being Jewish in a cultural way. My daughter has a lot of Shabbat dinners at her house, where they discuss spiritual things, but it needs to remain relevant to young people, 18- to 35-year-olds,” Glazer said. “I’m not sure how to do that, but we need to keep the culture, and the assimilation can be a problem.” 

Professionally, Glazer works in real estate development, a field she learned about by working for her father in the construction business. She said she likes the “constant learning process [of construction], and I like working with a team. I’m a good team builder.” 

Meanwhile, she has found unexpected pleasure in serving as a part owner of the Golden State Warriors. She bought a stake in the team because, among other reasons, she thought her son would enjoy going to games, but it turns out she likes it more than he does, she said. She described 2014-15 Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry as “sweet, so nice, so kind.” She also participated in the team parade after the Warriors won the championship last year.  

In some ways, the NBA has taught her important life lessons, Glazer said.

“Two things I’ve learned: It’s impossible to fall asleep with a big, huge smile on your face; and, if you ever have a chance to be in a parade, do it — it’s hilarious and fun,” she said. “That’s what basketball has taught me.”

Adam Milstein: Leading by example

Adam Milstein is among Los Angeles’ most visible Israeli-American philanthropists. Through the family foundation that he runs with his wife, Gila, the San Fernando Valley resident gives upward of $1 million annually to dozens of organizations, including the Birthright Israel Foundation, the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange and Hillel. 

But Milstein, 63, who was born in Haifa and served in the Israeli army during the Yom Kippur War with Ariel Sharon’s brigade, wasn’t always so giving.

Three years after moving to Los Angeles in 1981 to attend business school at USC, he began what has been a successful career in commercial real estate with Hager Pacific Properties, where he continues to work full time as a managing partner. In 2007, Milstein — a member of Valley Beth Shalom and father of three — co-founded the Israeli-American Council (IAC), and he recently was named national chairperson.

Somewhere along the line, Milstein was introduced to the idea of philanthropy. He recently sat down with the Jewish Journal to talk about Israeli philosophies on giving, who and what led him to take a different route, and what he’s doing to instill the value in the next generation. An edited version of that conversation follows.

Jewish Journal: Did you learn to be philanthropic from your parents?

Adam Milstein: No. Really what the Israeli and Israeli-American community is missing is philanthropy. But the Orthodox Jews have grown up with philanthropy … and the fact that I had a [business] partner who is Modern Orthodox, I got introduced to philanthropy at a very young point in my life, and introduced to the joy of giving and the rewards of giving. I remember about 15 years ago I had many discussions with him, as to, “So, what do we do now?” It’s not satisfying just to continue to make more money and more money. At some point, you want to do something valuable with your money, leave an impact, create a legacy, make your community better. This was really the point that I got more involved in philanthropy. 

My wife and I established the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation. Over the years, we have established a specific mission. We want to strengthen the Jewish people, we want to strengthen the State of Israel, and we want to strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance. So, all the charities and entities we give money to need in some way to accomplish our mission.

JJ: Would Israelis and Israeli-Americans argue with your point that they aren’t naturally charitable?

AM: They would not argue. In Israel, there is a phrase called “freier.” Freier is a sucker. In Israel, to give money to charity, you are a sucker. This is the attitude. In Israel, the public gets everything free from the government — from social services to schools to temples. So people aren’t used to giving money. As of now, it is being introduced more and more because there are a lot of people in Israel who don’t have a home or don’t have food. So when we created the IAC, we said we want to encourage and inspire philanthropy.

JJ: How do you do that if people aren’t used to giving?

AM: One of our slogans is, “We aspire to be a freier.” You think that to be a sucker is stupid; we think it’s smart. We want to lead by example. We are givers. People see that we get respect and make accomplishments by giving. They see if it’s good for [entertainment mogul] Haim Saban to give, if it’s good for Adam Milstein to give, if it’s good for [IAC co-founder] Shawn Evenhaim to give, then it must be a good thing to give. 

The other thing is [to] speak about it, speak about the fact that the giver gets much more than the receiver. In fact, there was an example that happened to me in my early partnership that convinced me that charity is a no-brainer. The way that the Modern Orthodox present philanthropy is they say it’s not that you have to give 10 percent of your earnings as philanthropy. It’s the opposite. Whatever you give, God gives you 10 times more. …

I had some incidents with my partner where we were philanthropic one day and the next day something beautiful happened — suddenly we made a lot of money. The examples were so close that I couldn’t argue. It works this way: I think God is blessing the people that are blessing anyone else. God wants to really empower the people who are givers. And if I am a giver, God will say, “Let me make this person more successful so [he] can give more.”

JJ: Was this a hard talk with your wife?

AM: She was a partner from the get-go. We discuss the different program and grant requests. We make mutual decisions. She is the president of an organization called Stand By Me that helps families combat [cancer]. … So, my wife is more the soul of the philanthropy. Her heart is more into social justice, and I am more focused on strengthening Israel, the Jewish people, the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Obviously there are hundreds and hundreds of Jewish organizations in the United States. The names are confusing and you never know who is doing what. So over the years, we took it on ourselves every year to help another five organizations. I thought the only way you can learn about an organization is to give them money, come to their meetings. Now I think we have, like, 100, and I’ll tell you how we give: Besides the mission statement, we have a model of operation, and the model of operation says, first of all, we want to be active philanthropists, not just give money and forget about it, to make sure that there is an impact. Many times, we will create programs that didn’t exist. Organizations would come to us and say, “Can you help us?” And we will ask the organization, “Which programs are you running or which program would you like to run if you had the money?”

JJ: Can you give me an example?

AM: Let’s talk about AIPAC. … They said, “There is a program that we love, [but] we don’t have money for it. We would like to take non-Jewish student leaders to Israel, the people that will be the senators and congressmen of the world. They are in college today. We have identified them.” We said it’s a no-brainer to take non-Jews. Anyone you take to Israel comes back as a friend. So it has been maybe eight years since we established a program called the Milstein Family Foundation Campus Allies Mission to Israel.

The other program, for example, is Sifriyat Pijama B’America. Gila and I met Harold Grinspoon, the founder of PJ Library, on a trip to Egypt in 2010. We got friendly and we said, “We need to do a program together.” Then I thought, “We want to reach Israeli-Americans. The easiest way to reach the Israeli community is to give books in Hebrew to their kids.” I told Harold, “Why don’t we create the PJ Library in Hebrew in the United States?” And he loved it. We started with 1,000 families in 2011 and now we have 18,000.

JJ: I imagine you have to say no sometimes. Is it hard to say no?

AM: No. It is very easy. I am going back to the model of operation for our foundation because it is important. The first concept was active philanthropy. The second concept is synergy. That means every program we do needs to help other programs. We don’t like to help projects that are stand-alone and have no impact on anything else. We are looking for partnerships. We are looking for ways to make stronger relationships between organizations and to be creating a force multiplier so that one plus one equals five. … And the last [concept] is life path. … Life path impact means we don’t want to shoot and do one program here and one program there. We want to impact the life of our next generation, our young generation, in a systematic way. We have programs for every age group. The programs that we support are going from age 2 to age 40.

JJ: You have a pretty robust presence on social media, including nearly 40,000 Twitter followers.

AM: In general, anything I do I want to be good at. About two years ago, I was introduced to Twitter as a way to reach a wider audience of younger people. I decided to experiment with it. I think what it does is expand our circle of friends and partners, people reaching me from all corners of the world with ideas. 

JJ: It seems like you really enjoy your role as a philanthropist.

AM: Yes. I am really very lucky to be in this situation. I have the resources to do whatever I want. If I want to sponsor something, I don’t have to look for money. I have enough experience with what works and what doesn’t work. I have enough connection with other organizations to see how it helps everybody. I am in a situation where I can really make an impact. For me it’s easy, but I think I am very fortunate to be there. 

The happiness of paying it forward

Michal Sayas remembers all too well those days when she couldn’t afford a peach at the supermarket. Today, she could buy the entire store — and all the peaches her heart desires. 

It is from this personal experience of being in need that the Israeli immigrant created the organization Be’Simcha (Hebrew for “happiness”) in order to give hope to local Israeli-American and Jewish families. The nonprofit assists people with everything from school supplies to utility payments.

It all started with a chance encounter while standing in line at Burlington Coat Factory, where she overheard the woman at the front of the line arguing with the cashier.

“She was pregnant and had three small children with her,” Sayas said. “And she was arguing in Spanish about an item she purchased in installments. … The woman at the register told her that she didn’t finish the payment plan and the customer insisted she did. For me, it was a sign that I’m at the right place and at the right time. When it was my turn to pay, I asked the cashier how much the woman still owes and paid the entire sum. The woman couldn’t believe what was happening. She couldn’t stop thanking me — things like that don’t usually happen to her.”

From that day on, Sayas, 52, said she took it upon herself to pay off the remaining balances of the store’s layaway customers who didn’t have enough money to pay for their items. She had only one condition: not to reveal her identity to the customers. She also didn’t reveal her secret charity work to her husband, Yossi, and three children, Adam, Orian and Roy.  

Sayas, who came to the United States in 1986, was not always  a woman of means living in a Calabasas mansion. And her husband was not always successful in the construction business (where Sayas used to help in the office).

“I remember us, a young couple with no money. We came here with nothing,” she said. “When I was pregnant with my first child, Orian [25 years ago], we went to the supermarket and saw a big and beautiful peach. I told my husband, ‘Oh, how much I would have loved to eat it.’ But of course, I knew we couldn’t afford it. … Later on that day, my husband went back to the supermarket and bought that peach. I told him, ‘Are you crazy?  We can’t afford it, go back and return it.’ He went to the kitchen and quickly cut it to pieces before I’d be able to do anything about it. Of course, I didn’t have a choice but to eat it.”

Today, even though the couple’s financial situation is much improved, Sayas said she has never forgotten those harsh days of calculating every dollar spent and serving sandwiches on Friday night instead of a warm and festive Shabbat meal. 

In November 2013, two months after the death of her mother, Simcha Koobi, Sayas decided to take her charity work to a new level. Her youngest child was already 16 and the two older ones in their 20s, and Sayas found herself with a lot of time on her hands. Her solution was to establish her own charity.

“I invited 14 friends over and asked my husband and children to join us and told them how I’ve paid all the debts of buyers in Burlington during the past seven years. My husband and children were shocked. They had no idea,” Sayas said. “My girlfriends were very supportive and agreed to join my charity organization, which I called after my mom’s name: Be’Simcha. The only condition my friends had was that we are going to support only Israeli or Jewish-American families, which I had no problem with.”

Sayas approached three Jewish schools, which provided her with a list of families needing help. Then she filled 135 boxes with school supplies for them.

Since it officially opened as a nonprofit in August 2014, Be’Simcha (

Israelis and teamsters unite for a common cause

Just two hours before speaking to a room packed with hundreds of labor union members on July 9, Yuval Rabin, son of late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was sitting in an empty meeting room at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. 

Yuval Rabin, who speaks so low that you have to lean in to hear him, talked about his father’s legacy, eyes darting from his phone to his speech to the unpolished table in front of him. In some moments, he took a break from his fidgeting and said something strikingly real and personal.

How does a son remember his father, the subject of a political assassination that shocked the world 20 years prior? 

“The tendency is to forget. We vow to never forget, but life goes on, and people are busy with their own day to day,” Rabin, 60, told the Journal, eyes cast away.

Still, his father had some words of wisdom that Rabin will never forget.

“The advice is universally true for anybody and any set of circumstances, and it’s a simple one: Be honest with yourself, be true to yourself, be satisfied with yourself,” Rabin told the Journal, fidgeting with the speech in his hands. 

“That’s it. And it goes a long way,” he continued, finally making eye contact.

On this night, he appeared as the special guest at a gala memorializing his father and supporting the nonprofit American Friends of Yitzhak Rabin, honoring the work of American labor unions. Joined by his two daughters, who live in New York, he flew in for a four-day stint before returning to Israel. 

The gala honored two notable labor leaders, Randy Cammack, president of Teamsters Joint Council 42, the union’s largest regional arm, and Ken Howard, president of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). Proceeds from the event will support a variety of educational programs and initiatives that reflect the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin, one of which is a scholarship with Hebrew University.

As the night progressed, the link between the gala’s participants and honorees became strikingly clear. Prior to presenting the Yitzhak Rabin Leadership and Public Service Award to Cammack, General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters James Hoffa explained, “We are dedicated to the existence of Israel, and we will be all the way.” He then added, “That’s the connection.”

Previous honorees include Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and various labor leaders.

As Cammack ascended the stage to receive his award, a Teamster from the center of the ballroom rose from his chair and cried out, “Who are we?” with fierce pride. “Teamsters!” the audience bellowed. The question came again, and a thunderous call and response ensued that seemed to shake the crystal chandeliers overhead.

“It’s one of the greatest moments of my life to receive this award,” Cammack said. The Teamsters chant continued where it left off.

Howard, who was honored for bringing about the merger between SAG and AFTRA in 2012, graciously accepted the 2015 Yitzhak Rabin Legacy Award. “It’s a great honor to even be mentioned in the same breath as Yitzhak Rabin,” he said. 

Other attendees included Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

During a heartfelt speech, Siegel reminisced back to Nov. 4, 1995: “I was a young diplomat in the horn of Africa — very, very far away from the ability to receive news.” 

Woken in the middle of the night, he and his fellow diplomats were informed that the prime minister had been assassinated. “And not only was he assassinated,” Siegel said, “he was assassinated by a Jew.” Still unable to grasp the implications of such a catastrophe, he described the experience as feeling like a “head-on collision.” 

Garcetti, the night’s keynote speaker, high-fived people at some tables before taking the stage. “Welcome to a city that I hope you feel at home in,” he said to the Rabins. 

Garcetti, who mentioned in his speech that he is a SAG-AFTRA member, was honored with a hamsa sculpture by Israeli artist David Gerstein. 

“Mazel tov and now, adios, dinner will be served,” said master of ceremonies Frank Mottek, anchor of  “Money News” on CBS’ KNX 1070 Newsradio, in his signature telecaster cadence, after Garcetti — who has both Jewish and Mexican ancestry — was gifted the brightly hued art piece.

After dinner, Rabin took the stage, adding a personal note to the night’s celebrations.

“My father, when he could, loved being behind the camera even more than in front of it. He left behind thousands and thousands of slides, pictures of the family, of wildlife,” he said.

“This is who my father was.”

Sheldon Adelson hosting private meeting to stem BDS tide on campuses

Sheldon Adelson will host a private meeting in Las Vegas of Jewish philanthropists and organizations aiming to counter rising anti-Israel activity on college campuses.

The meeting to brainstorm and fund strategies will be held this weekend at Adelson’s Venetian casino, the Forward reported. Joining Adelson as hosts are Hollywood entertainment tycoon Haim Saban, Israeli-born real estate developer Adam Milstein and Canadian businesswoman Heather Reisman.

Among the Jewish organizations invited are Hillel, StandWithUs, the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Federations of North America. The self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” J Street U, which opposes the Boycott,

Divestment and Sanctions movement, was not invited.

The philanthropists initiated the meeting amid the growing BDS drive on campuses. In the past year, student governments at 15 U.S. universities have adopted resolutions calling for their schools to divest from companies deemed to be complicit in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.

Saban, a billionaire who has close ties to announced Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, has been discussing the idea for over a year with Israeli officials such as Michael Oren, the former U.S. ambassador and now a Knesset member, according to the Forward.

$6 Million gift to HUC-JIR’s School of Nonprofit Management

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) has announced a $6 million gift from Marcie and Howard Zelikow to broaden and improve its School of Jewish Nonprofit Management (SJNM). Of the Zelikows’ gift, $5 million will be set aside for the school’s endowment, and $1 million will be committed to its existing operations. 
“There are young leaders at federations and organizations around the country that are looking to become the next generation of Jewish leadership. And we will be the organization that will allow them to learn the management skills that they can take back into their own communities,” said Rabbi Aaron Panken, president of HUC-JIR.
The gift announced last month will allow the School of Jewish Nonprofit Management — to be renamed after the Zelikows — to increase its local offerings and to experiment with hybrid learning platforms across campuses. The school, Panken asserted, will be able “to go global” — creating opportunities for HUC-JIR’s students in Cincinnati, New York and Jerusalem.
“We are going to take this program, which has been a fantastic program for the L.A. region, and we are going to expand it and see how we can make hybrid programs that combine online learning with classroom settings,” he said. 
Panken praised the donors, who are from Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. 
“It means a tremendous amount,” he said. “I’m about a year into my presidency, and Marcie and Howard have been incredible supporters — not just financially, but helping us to think about the values and direction of our school. They are indispensible.”
“Our gift has a dual mission,” said Marcie Zelikow, a current member of HUC-JIR’s board of governors. “We want to educate the next generation of Jewish nonprofit professionals, and we want to turn out rabbis and cantors that have training in nonprofit management.”
Marcie Zelikow lauded the school’s trans-denominational approach to Jewish education, and she expressed special enthusiasm for the prospect of a new generation of Jewish professionals taking the reins of organizations at an earlier age. 
“In the Jewish world, how come community leaders have to be in their mid-60s? Where are the Jewish leaders in their mid-40s?” she said. 
The gift, she stressed, was intended to fund people and not infrastructure. “Our interest is in students, in program growth and in faculty,” she said, detailing a particular need to educate the next generation of Jewish leaders in the financial and strategic components of nonprofit managements. 
“There will not be a Jewish school of nonprofit management that can offer what we offer once this goes into effect,” Panken added.
A dedication ceremony of the renamed Zelikow School of Nonprofit Management will take place Feb. 8 at 4 p.m. at HUC-JIR’s Jack H. Skirball Campus in Los Angeles.

On Giving Tuesday, remembering one of its champions

Today is the third annual Giving Tuesday, the day when Americans are urged to make charitable contributions — and when many philanthropies encourage them with matching campaigns.

It’s also the first since Sol Adler, one of the initiative’s key champions, committed suicide.

As the longtime executive director of New York’s 92nd Street Y , which in 2012 co-created Giving Tuesday in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, Adler was active in promoting the project.

His numerous media appearances on behalf of Giving Tuesday include the below video on 3200 Stories, the “digital venue” of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.

Yet the first Giving Tuesday was the only one in which he played a public role: In July 2013, after 25 years on the job, he was fired by the venerable Manhattan Jewish cultural center. His termination followed revelations that he’d had a long affair with his assistant, whose son-in-law — the Y’s former director of facilities — was implicated in a kickback scheme involving the Y’s vendors.

Less than a year later, Adler hung himself in his Brooklyn home. His widow, Debbie Adler, is suing the Y, alleging contract violations and employment discrimination. Her lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan in September, claims the Y “turned its back on Mr. Adler immediately upon learning that he had been diagnosed with depression,” and that its handling of his dismissal “served only to exacerbate Mr. Adler’s depression, which led to multiple suicide attempts.”

The story was recently featured in a lengthy article in New York Magazine.

Letters to the editor: Har Nof attack, Jewish journalism, Obama and more

Revenge Recourse

No debate: The heinous slaughter in a Jerusalem synagogue was an example of unmitigated evil (“Celebrating the Murder of Jews,” Nov. 21). The subsequent celebrations by some people in Gaza and the West Bank were offensive, sad, disturbing and indicative of desperate people who choose hate over reason. Every time our people are victimized by terrorism, I worry that too many Jewish people, out of anger and desperation, will resort to the kind of dehumanizing hate that simplifies complicated chapters of human history into black or white, we’re right and they’re all wrong, our tribe is better and they’re all murderers, etc. It’s certainly easier, and for many no doubt desirable, to suggest that there really are no reasonable moderates on the “other side.” Such simplifications make it easier to avoid the kind of introspection and courage that true peacemakers must have to succeed.

We have a right to be angry, but we hate and dehumanize “them” at our own peril. As the Gaza war proved, Hamas and their kind want nothing more than for Jews to hate their people so much, they can point to our hate and anger and accuse us — even falsely, of genocide.

Mitchell Gilbert via jewishjournal.com

Good Will Hunted

Shocking, the Palestinians hate the Jews (“Horrorism,” Nov. 21). So many times I have read Rob Eshman’s columns in disbelief about his sanguine ideas about two-state solutions and the good will of moderate Palestinians.

I believe that in 1940, Eshman would have been on the train to Auschwitz, jabbering that he met some Nazis in the café, and that they really liked Jews and wanted peace. 

It is an ugly image, I know, but perhaps true. I hope he now has more compassion for Benjamin Netanyahu and what he encounters every day in trying to keep his people safe and alive.  

Irene Dunn via email

There Are More Precious Things to Waste Than Time

I’d like to answer Marty Kaplan’s question in his recent column “The I-Word Isn’t Impeachment — It’s Idiocracy” (Nov. 21). The answer to his question is: No, we haven’t waited at all. 

Our president, Barack Obama, has spent the last six years taking the predictable actions, as expected. Since his election in 2008, our president’s politics, policies and methods have been made and were grounded firmly as indicated and predisposed by his political history, Senate track record and leadership experience prior to the 2008 elections.

We can only hope that it was only time “proven to be … squandered.”

I always enjoyed Kaplan’s satire and creativity, and look forward to his column.

Zane Widdes via email

Investing in the Future

I love this article, for I myself would like to donate in the future because I am still a student, and my area of donation shall be in hunger projects (“Giving and Getting Money,” Nov. 21). 

Talibu Taban via jewishjournal.com

Praying for Peace, and Peace When We Pray

Praying for all touched by this tragedy (“Kalman Levine: Born in Kansas City, Transformed in L.A., Murdered in Jerusalem,” Nov. 21). Shalom to the people of Israel. Shalom to the families who had loved ones murdered. Judgment to all who did this and supported it.

Fritz Young via jewishjournal.com

Once We Were Slaves, Now We Have Freedom of the Press

I agree with David Suissa 1,000,000,000% (“Why Judaism Needs Journalism,” Nov. 21).

My re-education, connection and participation in the Jewish community stem from Jewish journalism. It is still my primary source for forming my Jewish identity.

Phillip Cohen via jewishjournal.com

As a proud and practicing Jewish journalist, I couldn’t agree more!

Sharon Rosen Leib via jewishjournal.com

Aiding and Abbeting

Mahmoud Abbas only speaks of peace when he is talking to the international audience or media (Is Mahmoud Abbas to Blame for Jerusalem Synagogue Attack?” Nov. 21). He wants to deceive the international community so as to be seen as a peacemaker. But when speaking to his Arab brothers and sisters, he incites hatred and violence. It is not only when Israel defends herself against Hamas terrorists that the international community will be willing to wage its big stick of calling Israeli actions war crimes. Incitement against Israeli citizens by Arab leaders should also be seen as a war crime. The international community plays double standard when dealing with the State of Israel. Iranian leaders on a daily bases are calling for the death of Israel and America, isn’t that a war crime?

Sharing tzedakah with the next generation

Like many doting grandparents, Peggy and Ed Robin have given their grandchildren small cash gifts over the years. Last year, they upped the ante and made a significant gift to each of the seven.

This time, though, the money came with a caveat: It had to be given away.

The Encino couple created donor-advised funds to be used for charitable purposes for each of their grandkids, who range in age from 12 to 22, through the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (JCFLA). The Robins declined to specify the amount donated, but the minimum required to set up such a fund is $5,000, according to the JCFLA website. 

In giving in this way, the Robins hope to offer their grandchildren something more meaningful than a birthday check or graduation gift — they want to pass on the value of tzedakah

“We think that they all abstractly understand the value of giving — that it is good for other people and makes you feel better, makes you happy. They all get that,” Ed explained while sitting in the kitchen of the Robins’ art-filled home one recent morning. “This empowers them to do something about it.

“If they develop the habit, if you’ve always done it, you just continue to do it. We thought it was a practical way to transmit the value. Also, we’re not mandating what they do. They may have different interests.”

The Robins’ decision to set up the funds was inspired by their friends and mentors Dorothy and Osias “Ozzie” Goren. Those local philanthropists used $48,000 last year to start 13
donor-advised funds for their children and grandchildren.

The philanthropic roots of Peggy, 71, and Ed, 72, go back to their parents and grandparents. Both grew up in Jewish households that valued giving time and money: Peggy in Charleston, S.C., and Ed in Jacksonville, Fla. Both remember the iconic, blue Jewish National Fund collection boxes in their respective homes, and Peggy’s parents were involved with Hadassah, B’nai B’rith and Israel Bonds. 

“My parents had modest means but participated where possible, particularly in the synagogue,” Ed said.

Philanthropy and its importance wasn’t something either family explicitly discussed; it was just part of the environment, something that became second nature, he explained.

“That’s the greatest gift we were left with — that the default is to give and participate. With us, it’s not an acquired skill or necessarily a choice. It’s what we are and who we are,” he said. “With us, the default is to give.”

“It’s hard to understand how people don’t,” Peggy added.

The couple met as students at the University of Florida and moved west in the 1960s. Ed became a labor-
relations attorney and helped establish NAS Insurance Services, an insurance underwriting firm where he still works, albeit very part time. (It is now run by their son, Rich; their daughter, Jill Linhardt, works there as well.) Peggy became a speech pathologist working with stroke and Parkinson’s patients but is mostly retired now. 

The couple, longtime members of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, have given in excess of $1 million over the years to many causes. Among many things, they have been passionate about supporting Jewish life in the former Soviet Union — Ed is a past chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry and co-chaired Freedom Sunday in 1987, when 250,000 Americans gathered in Washington, D.C., in solidarity with Soviet Jewry.

They have backed Paideia – The European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, the Los Angeles Jewish Home and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, for which Ed served as vice chairman of the board. 

Much of the Robins’ giving has been done through a donor-advised fund at the JCFLA. Having this pre-existing relationship with the nonprofit, which vets charities and handles all the paperwork as well as the allocation of funds, made setting up the funds for the grandkids a no-brainer. 

It allows Peggy and Ed to be completely hands-off — they don’t even get the statements for the funds. The grandkids handle everything; this way they can take full ownership and learn responsibility, along with the importance of being charitable. 

“We’re not trying to micromanage it. The money is there to be given away. From our standpoint, it’s already been given away,” Ed said with a laugh. 

The Robins did make one adjustment to their original plan, however. 

“My son had a very good idea,” explained Ed. “It wouldn’t be meaningful unless [the grandkids] had some skin in the game. We set it up so that they have to add a portion of their gifts back to the fund. If they give $100 to something, they have to put in $10.”

And what do the grandkids think?

“I thought it was really cool helping us start to give tzedakah so when we’re older we’ll understand what organizations to give to and how important it is,” said Maya Robin, 12.

Already this past summer, she was busy making timely allocations — $250 each to two organizations.

“When the war escalated in Israel, I gave some to Friends of the [Israel Defense Forces] and some to Magen David Adom,” she said. “I gave a decent amount of money to each. My sisters gave more because they had more money from their bat mitzvah. But I gave to two organizations.”  

Jake Linhardt, 22, a research analyst based in San Francisco, said receiving the funds from his grandparents has been empowering.

“Before receiving my Jewish Foundation account, charitable giving always felt like something that I would do one day in the future, but not necessarily right now,” he wrote in an email. “Thanks to my grandparents, I have been able to donate money at a young age and experience the benefits of giving to others. I hope to continue supporting important causes with the help of my account.”

Glorya Kaufman: The philanthropist who loves dance

When Glorya Kaufman was a little girl, she had a dream.

“When I was 7 or 8 years old, I wanted to have an orphanage. So I think it’s always been in me to give and to care,” she said. Then she laughed and added, “That was probably from Annie Rooney,” referring to the popular comic strip about a young orphaned girl. 

These days, Kaufman is best known as Los Angeles’ biggest advocate for dance. From her eponymous dance series bringing large companies to the downton Music Center to the numerous arts and dance-education programs she bankrolls, her generosity has affected the city’s entire creative community. In 2012, she gave her largest gift to date to USC to establish a dance school, and though USC would not say how large the gift was, it is believed to have surpassed the $20 million she donated to the Music Center, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“I’ve always been struck by our city’s unique diversity and cultural heritage, and the city’s amazing renaissance is so exciting. And USC, to me, is the hub of the city’s rebirth,” Kaufman said in a recent interview with the Journal. “[In] the many years I have known L.A., it was always lacking dance.”

The USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance broke ground in the spring of 2014 and is set to accept its first undergraduate class in the fall of 2015. Auditions are currently being held. It’s the first endowment-funded school for USC in four decades, the last being the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, which opened in 1973 with funding from Walter H. Annenberg.

An interdisciplinary approach is woven throughout the dance program. The school has established partnerships with the USC School of Cinematic Arts, the Thornton School of Music, and the Brain and Creativity Institute. “Everybody wants to collaborate with us,” Kaufman said. “It’s very exciting.”

Jodie Gates is the vice dean and director of the school, named on Kaufman’s recommendation. The two met through mutual friends in the dance world, and Kaufman was impressed with Gates’ experience as a ballerina, as a choreographer, as an associate professor of dance at UC Irvine and with her work as founding director of the Laguna Dance Festival in Southern California. Both say they developed a mutual appreciation through their shared passion for dance as a force for change.

“She’s really looking to not just develop and nurture young, talented dancers, but also innovators and entrepreneurs, leaders in the field, people who can make a difference in the creation of new art forms and new jobs,” Gates said of Kaufman. “So there’s a real desire to not just help individuals, but to help individuals help the community.”

While Kaufman does not ask for anonymity for her gifts, she has remained secretive about how much she donated to USC and said she does not plan to reveal the amount.

“Say that you walked into the room and you had a beautiful Ralph Lauren suit on,” Kaufman said. “And instead of saying, ‘You know, you really look terrific,’ I’d say, ‘How much did you pay for your suit?’ So many people, all they do is talk about the money. And that’s not why I’m doing this. I’m doing it because it’s a passion and it will somehow better the world.”

Born Glorya Pinkis in Detroit, her mother was a seamstress and her father a production manager for Automotive News. Kaufman recalls her father dancing to records and holding her up while she stood on his toes. She loved to dance with friends but never pursued it professionally.

While still in Detroit, she married Donald Bruce Kaufman, a homebuilder and partner with Eli Broad, another well-known L.A. philanthropist, in founding Fortune 500 company Kaufman & Broad, later KB Homes. The couple had four children and moved to Phoenix before settling in Los Angeles, where their fortune grew and they became among the city’s top donors. Kaufman only recently moved from a spacious Brentwood ranch house to a more modest $18.2 million Italian villa-style home in Beverly Hills.

It’s hard to keep track of all the groups Kaufman either gives money to or sits on the boards of or helped create. Even Kaufman seems to have a hard time remembering them all. She said her philanthropic drive comes from her Jewish heritage.

“We grew up with these little boxes that they call tzedakah [boxes], and if we had a nickel or a dime or a quarter, we’d always put a couple pennies in, and we knew it would go to people who needed it more than us,” she said.

In 2011, Kaufman combined her religious background and passion for dance by helping to create “Dancing With the Rabbis” at American Jewish University, a competition in which five rabbis strutted their stuff on stage, each one paired with a professional dancer, for charity. 

When Kaufman was younger and raising her children, dance and charity work were less important to her. “I didn’t have a lot of time to be philosophical,” she said. “I just took care of my family.” The tragic deaths of her husband and son-in-law in a plane crash in 1983 sharpened her focus toward helping others, she said. Kaufman described it as a traumatic period in her life.

“It was either you sink or swim, at that time,” she said. “I had to grow up. That’s when I really changed to a different person, because I started thinking about other situations besides my own, because others were even worse.”

The Glorya Kaufman Dance Foundation has given to dance institutions outside Los Angeles as well, including $6 million to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and $3.5 million to the Juilliard School to fund the new Glorya Kaufman Dance Studio, both in New York.

The foundation also gives to a youth dance education program called the Dizzy Feet Foundation and helped create a dance program for Covenant House California, a homeless-youth outreach project. In 2006, Kaufman donated $1 million to Inner-City Arts, a school on Skid Row, for an arts education partnership with the L.A. Unified School District. The money went to create the Kaufman Dance Academy, which gives dance instruction to kindergarten students through 12th-graders in its own, independent dance studio. “We teach at least 1,000 students each year,” said Bob Smiland, president and CEO of Inner-City Arts.

“Her touch is covering many parts of the city, which is great,” Smiland said. “She’s keeping dance alive in the creative capital of the world.”

Kaufman’s gift of $20 million to the Music Center to establish the Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance series has successfully brought dozens of world-class dance groups to L.A., among them American Ballet Theatre and the Joffrey Ballet. The program, first known as Dance at the Music Center, got its start in 2003 but was renamed for Kaufman when she made the huge gift to the endowment at a time when the recession was forcing most arts institutions around the world to cut their budgets deeply. “At the time, we were all experiencing the new financial realities,” said Renae Williams Niles, vice president of programming at the Music Center and curator of the dance series. “Glorya’s gift would have been significant at any time, but especially in 2009.”

The money is distributed on an annual basis and covers about half of what the Music Center needs to fundraise. “It gives us some level of sustainability and security,” Niles said. “And it allows me on behalf of the Music Center to make long-term commitments, to bring certain masterpieces and world-renowned companies, and it’s allowed us to become a major leader in presenting dance in the entire U.S.”

The dance companies’ residencies extend beyond the stage: A partnership between the Music Center and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater placed dancers in schools throughout L.A. County for two weeks of workshops. And the relatively new company, L.A. Dance Project, under the artistic direction of acclaimed choreographer Benjamin Millepied, had its inaugural performance in 2012 as part of the 10th anniversary celebration of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center.

Kaufman has also given to medical causes, from the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research to the UCLA Mobile Eye Clinic, which provides eye exams to preschoolers. She also established the Cedars-Sinai/USC Glorya Kaufman Dance Medicine Center, the first of its kind in L.A., which conducts research and offers care specifically designed for professional and recreational dancers. Her foundation even rebuilt a waiting room for patients at St. John’s Health Center after it was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Kaufman also donated $18 million to renovate the dance building at UCLA after it suffered earthquake damage, which led the school to rename the building Glorya Kaufman Hall. Kaufman, however, said she’s “disappointed” that her gift never led to a dedicated dance school at UCLA.

These days, Kaufman is focused mostly on preparing for the inaugural class of undergraduate dancers at USC. She’s even picking out the colors to paint the inside of the brand-new Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center, just as she did at UCLA and for the Donald Bruce Kaufman branch library in Brentwood. 

Part of her contribution to USC includes scholarships for students. In a sense, she sees it all as the fulfillment of her childhood dream.

“I remember thinking, ‘One day I will have an orphanage.’ And in a way, I think that happened, in a different kind of way,” she said. 

New Jew name changes to de Toledo High School

New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) in West Hills soon will be changing its name to de Toledo High School in honor of what one official is calling a “transformative” gift.

The decision by the school’s board of trustees was made Oct. 22, following a recent donation — the size of which officials declined to disclose — by Philip and Alyce de Toledo of Sherman Oaks.

“It’s a gift given really from the heart, and hopefully it’s a gift that will inspire other philanthropists to consider providing more support for Jewish education, both locally and nationally,” said Bruce Powell, head of school. “It’s national news.”  

The couple’s younger son, Benjamin, is a 2014 NCJHS graduate now studying in a joint degree program at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University in New York. He was class president in high school and was featured as a 2014 Jewish Journal Outstanding Graduate. His older brother, Aaron, is enrolled at Middlebury College in Vermont; he did not attend NCJHS.

The de Toledos, both on the high school’s board of trustees, are members of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Philip de Toledo is president of The Capital Group Cos.

NCJHS will use the donation to help pay off the mortgage on its home at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, which the school purchased in 2010 from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and moved into in 2013, according to officials.

“We are going to pay it back over an accelerated schedule,” NCJHS immediate past president Scott Zimmerman told the Journal in a phone interview. 

The money also will go toward practical improvements to the campus and the development of an endowment fund that will fund tuition assistance for NCJHS students. It will allow the school to take care of other, less-sexy expenses as well, according to Powell.

“We needed to replace some infrastructure that was very expensive, like mundane things such as air conditioning. This isn’t someone’s home where it’s a $5,000 air conditioner; this is a $300,000 air conditioner. So the gift does all kinds of things,” said Powell, who called the donation “transformative.” 

Established in 2002, NCJHS was envisioned originally as a Conservative school before its founders realized that a pluralistic, community school was needed. The school operated in rental units on the property of Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills before moving to the Bernard Milken campus. The school has nearly 400 students, with 106 in its freshman class, one of its largest ever, according to Powell. 

The de Toledos approached the school about their interest in giving the naming gift this past April. 

“We didn’t sit down and ask them for it. This came about because of their own experience with the school as part of their own personal Jewish journey,” said Elana Rimmon Zimmerman, NCJHS co-founder and board member.

“It’s an inspired gift, it’s an involved gift, and it’s an organic gift,” added Scott Zimmerman, her husband. 

The de Toledos said they felt uneasy about naming the school, for reasons having to with humility. 

“We’ve always been pretty low-key donors. The fact that we are putting our name on this surprised people,” Alyce de Toledo told the Journal.

After considering a number of possible names for the school, a friend of the family, Rabbi Uri Herscher of the Skirball Cultural Center, suggested that the de Toledos use their own name. It had history, translating to “from Toledo” and referring to a Spanish city that was the home to a thriving Jewish community before the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. Philip de Toledo’s 85-year-old Sephardic father, Andre, was born in Istanbul, lived in Spain during World War II and served in the Israeli army during the Arab-Israeli War in 1948.

“[Herscher] felt because of the historical nature of our name and of Sephardic Jews, the journey of Sephardic Jews — in my husband’s family’s case, from Turkey to Spain, etc. — he felt it was a wonderful thing to think about that history and think about the Jewish philosophers who came from Spain,” Alyce de Toledo said. 

Benjamin de Toledo, for his part, believes the name is just right.

“Our name happens to have an important historical genesis to it, and we think it’s a great story to be woven into the already great and incredible narrative that the school has,” he said during a phone interview from New York.

Powell expects the name change to take effect by the 2015-2016 school year. Until then, the school will address practicalities large and small, from creating new signs and registering a new Web address to designing sweatshirts and printing new stationery.

The school has hired a marketing firm to help make the name de Toledo as familiar as New Jew. 

“The amount of work that’s going to go into this type of change is just enormous, so it will take time to roll through the system, and I think by midsummer we should have it all done,” Powell said. 

“My guess is it will take probably about four years for the de Toledo name to become the recognized name, because what happens is it takes four years for the kids who are here now to cycle through the school. They all consider themselves New Jew students. The new class coming in will be de Toledo students.”

Funding a Jewish future

When Allen Alevy was 12 years old, he was called to the Torah for the first time. Although he hadn’t yet had a bar mitzvah, his maternal grandfather’s Orthodox synagogue was one man shy of a minyan

Alevy, who attended morning services regularly, recalls feeling so honored that he pledged a $5 donation to the synagogue, which his grandfather founded. The amount was equal to his daily wages working on his grandfather’s scrap metal truck. 

In the end, it was Alevy’s grandfather who fulfilled the pledge. But for the boy, it was the start of something. Now 76, Alevy said he has since repaid that $5 donation “millions of times over.”

A high school dropout, Alevy is a self-made serial entrepreneur, futures trader and real estate mogul. How many of his millions have gone to Jewish causes?

“I do not have the slightest idea,” he said. “I can count $50 million just in real estate [for Jewish communal enterprises]. But I honestly don’t know.” 

His philanthropic output — an estimated $1 million to $2 million a year, Alevy said — represents a way to repay his grandfather for his teachings. Those fundamental allegiances — to family and Judaism — remain the Long Beach resident’s primary motivations. They also explain this septuagenarian’s commitment to diverse youth initiatives, from mainstream yeshiva education to a Jewish presence at the annual Coachella music festival. 

“I am very selfish. I want somebody for my great-great-great-grandchildren to marry,” said Alevy, who is expecting his ninth and 10th great-grandchildren this fall. “If they don’t get married, there is no future. And if we don’t fund our youth, there is no future.”

Every program Alevy supports is designed to strengthen Jewish connection, identity and longevity. JConnectLA/Jewlicious, for example, provides young adults with events, classes and holiday celebrations, climaxing with its annual Jewlicious Festival, a weekend for ages 18 to 36 featuring speakers, workshops and concerts celebrating all aspects of the Jewish experience. Alevy and his wife of 56 years, Deanna, are lead underwriters.

Shabbat Tent creates Jewish hospitality at music festivals across the country, including Coachella, to celebrate Shabbat in a meaningful way. And at the annual national Rainbow Gathering, a hippie festival that pitches tent in a national forest every summer, Home Shalom offers kosher meals and Jewish programming. 

Through Beth El Synagogue, a shul without walls, primarily funded by Alevy, he supports salaries for Rabbi Drew Kaplan at Beach Hillel, serving greater Long Beach and West Orange County, and Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, rabbi-in-residence at Hillel of the University of Southern California, co-founder of Jewlicious Festivals and the newly launched Pico Shul, a congregation in Pico-Robertson designed for young adults. Alevy said he funds Bookstein’s community programming on the condition that he raise matching funds. 

“There is so much handwringing, thinking about what to do with young adults, but not enough financial support. Which is why what Mr. Alevy and his wife, Deanna, do is so special,” Bookstein said. “Imagine, if we had 10 Mr. Alevys, the amount that could be done to help preserve the Jewish identity of college students and young adults.” 

A native Californian, Alevy’s family lived in Navy housing in Long Beach while his father labored at nearby shipyards. It was his maternal grandfather, Louis Simon, whom Alevy considers his role model. He worked each summer on Simon’s scrap metal truck from the time he was 8. 

At 17, Alevy dropped out of school and worked full time for two years until the scrap metal market collapsed. Later, he moonlighted on weekends operating carnival games and eventually opened his own enterprise, Atlas Greater Shows. He rented his carnivals as sets for TV programs and films, including “Grease,” and consulted for Circus Circus, the Las Vegas family-oriented casino.

In 1970, he landed a 31-year contract for the California State Fair, which the state bought out seven years later. Alevy said he took a portion of the proceeds to purchase Westland Mobile Home Park in Long Beach. 

“I bought some land in Pico Rivera and built a second mobile home park. At the same time, I was buying small shopping centers and putting Laundromats in them,” he said.

That investment later evolved into Westland Real Estate Group. Now semi-retired, Alevy remains the CEO. 

Some of Alevy’s holdings house Jewish endeavors. He owns the land for the North Orange County Chabad Center in Yorba Linda and helped construct the facility. The Alevy Charitable Religious Properties owns the 11-acre property, and the buildings used by the Chabad-affiliated Hebrew Academy in Huntington Beach, attended by three generations of his family. The school’s new computer-assisted education program was underwritten with his recent donation of $120,000.

Each year, Alevy also funds Hebrew Academy scholarships and provides support to a handful of young adults studying in Israeli yeshivas. Alevy also helped build the Chabad in Hashmonaim, in the West Bank, where his daughter Robin Greenspan lives. 

Alevy said he’s interested in results, not the limelight — one reason he didn’t attend the recent opening of the Alevy Chabad Jewish Center de Las Cruces in New Mexico.

“Nobody knows the extent of how much he has helped the Jewish community, because he does not seek honors and titles,” Bookstein said. “Rather, he wants to see the work done, the students reached, people’s lives bettered.” 

The Alevy Chabad’s Rabbi Bery Schmukler is consulting with Bookstein for its programs for college students. 

“If you change a life at that age, you can change an entire family,” Schmukler said.

Alevy, whose surname was changed from HaLevy at Ellis Island, observes Shabbat and kashrut and prays three times daily — in English — in the Chabad tradition, blaming dyslexia for “messing with the Hebrew vowels.” When he leaves this world, Alevy said he would like to be remembered for two things. 

“I did the very best for my family. I did the very best for the Jewish people. I’m in love with both.”

Lisa Alcalay Klug is the author of “Cool Jew” and “Hot Mamalah” and a past presenter at Jewlicious Festival. Her Web site is lisaklug.com.

Study reveals the who, what and where of Jewish giving

When Jews feels connected to their community, money will flow – to Jewish causes and elsewhere.

That, in short, is the main finding of a broad new nationwide study of American Jewish philanthropy. Coordinated by Jumpstart, a Los Angeles-based think tank and incubator for innovative Jewish nonprofits, the study, titled “Connected to Give,” asked nearly 3,000 Jews across the United States about their giving habits.

This central finding, published in a report released Sept. 3, may seem self-evident, but that doesn’t make it any less significant, according to Jumpstart CEO Shawn Landres, who has spent the past two years working on this project, along with the nonprofit’s COO Joshua Avedon and a team of more than two dozen researchers and advisers from around the world.

[RELATED: Five things you may not know about Jews and philanthropy]

“The more engaged you are in the Jewish community,” Landres said, “the more likely you are to give, not only to Jewish causes but to non-Jewish causes as well — and more generously, at that.”

To date, “Connected to Give” has cost around $700,000 to conduct, paid for by grants from 15 institutional funders plus one individual from across the United States.  Surprisingly, it represents the first time anyone has polled such a broad sampling of American Jews about their philanthropic activities.

Researchers asked respondents all sorts of questions, including about their links to the Jewish community. To assess connectedness, researchers asked respondents whether they are married to someone Jewish, what proportion of their friends are Jews, how frequently they attend religious services and whether they volunteer for a religious or charitable organization.

These factors combined turned out to be the best predictor of how likely a person was to give charitably – and also correlated with how much a person would contribute.

“Connection is the most important factor,” Landres said. “It’s more important than income; it’s more important than age.”

The Jewish Journal got an early look at the first report released – “Connected to Give: Key Findings from the National Study of American Jewish Giving” — which, over the coming weeks and months will no doubt be examined and evaluated in detail by Jewish funders and fundraisers, as well as budding Jewish social entrepreneurs and long-time professionals, machers and would-be machers. Its central conclusion alone could guide fundraising and programmatic efforts for years to come. Some executives from Jewish Federations have already been told some of findings, and the Jewish Funders Network plans to highlight the results at its conference in 2014.  

But for the average American Jew interested in how, how much, and to what causes members of their community give, the study, which was designed in collaboration with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, offers a chance to look in the mirror.

Among the key findings:

–       On the whole, Jews give, and are more likely to give, than their non-Jewish counterparts. Among Jews, 76 percent of households reported having given a donation of $25 or more in the previous year. Among non-Jews, the number was 63 percent. For Jews, the median annual gift was $1,200; among non-Jews it was $600.

–       Non-Jews are more likely to give to their own houses of worship than Jews are. As part of the study, researchers polled almost 2,000 non-Jews, using the same set of questions. When asked about specific philanthropic priorities – like basic needs, the arts and education, among others – Jews gave in higher numbers than non-Jews in every category except for one: gifts to their own religious congregations or ministries.

–       Jews are more likely to give to nonsectarian causes than to Jewish ones. Of Jewish givers, 92 percent gave to a non-Jewish organization; 79 percent gave to a Jewish one.

–       Young Jews are less likely to give to Jewish organizations than their older counterparts. Eighty-one percent of Jews over 65 gave to Jewish organizations; among Jews under 40, the number drops to 72 percent.

Jumpstart plans to publish other, topic-specific reports culled from the data over the course of the coming year — including findings focused on Orthodox American Jews, whose Jewish lives and giving practices, the researchers said, are different enough from their non-Orthodox counterparts to be parsed separately from rest.

For now, the study’s central finding – the more Jewishly connected you are, the more you give, Jewishly and otherwise – is being highlighted, in part because it has the potential to inform the work done by all kinds of Jewish organizations in the immediate future.

Doheny Meats buyer Shlomo Rechnitz on business, philanthropy

Fifteen years ago, Shlomo Rechnitz co-founded TwinMed, a wholesaler of medical supplies serving nursing homes. Since then, Rechnitz has founded, or bought, and grown a number of other businesses, including Brius Healthcare, now the largest operator of nursing homes in California. 

Along the way, Rechnitz, 41, also became a major philanthropist, giving away millions of dollars  — to Jewish charities and also directly to people in need. On more than one occasion he’s come to the aid of a major Orthodox organization, offering gifts or loans in times of crisis. 

It was a combination of these two attributes — business expertise and an expansive view of philanthropy — that led Rechnitz to buy Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat Market, the scandal-ridden Los Angeles kosher meat distributor and retailer that closed its doors last month. 

“The Rabbinical Council of California [RCC] approached me and said, ‘Shlomo, could this be one of your charity things?’ ” Rechnitz recalled in an interview with the Journal earlier this month. “Kosher meat is expensive enough.”

Rechnitz took less than a week to close the deal with Doheny’s former owner, Mike Engelman, who was caught on video bringing unidentified meat products into his store at a time when the RCC’s supervisor had left the scene. Then he only held onto the purchase agreement for about a week before arranging to transfer it to a third party, David Kagan, the owner of the glatt kosher retailer Western Kosher, which also does some distribution to local businesses. Doheny Meats hadn’t reopened as of press time earlier this week, and Kagan declined to be interviewed for this article, saying then that the deal had not yet been finalized. 

“I love the rush of a deal. It’s like a coke addiction,” Rechnitz, said, a tall glass of caffeine-free Coca-Cola on the coffee table in front of him. “Not that I know what coke addiction is.” 

Whether he’s in the hunt to acquire a new long-term care facility — through Brius, Rechnitz owns 62 across the state — or some other business or property, he enjoys the challenge of outsmarting, outbidding or outmaneuvering the competition. 

“That is salesmanship,” said Rechnitz, a native Angeleno who said he inherited a peddler’s instinct from his grandfather, who sold women’s apparel, and his father, a closeout salesman. “You’re selling your business, you’re selling your service. You’re telling them why you should be the one that should be chosen.”

In his first big venture, Rechnitz and his twin brother, Steve, founded TwinMed, which offered nursing homes the ability to buy supplies not on an item-by-item basis — ordering this many boxes of latex gloves or that many cases of gauze — but by paying TwinMed a set daily rate for all supplies for each patient in their care. 

This “per patient day” system helped TwinMed grow to become one of the largest distributors of medical supplies to nursing homes in the country, and has attracted attention and accolades within the business world. 

In each of the past two years, the brothers have presented their business as a case study for students in the MBA program at Stanford, and, in 2011, Ernst & Young named Steve Rechnitz “Entrepreneur of the Year” in the health care category.

The Rechnitz twins have some clear business advantages. They can stand in for one another in a way that only identical twins can; their employees, associates and even their 5-year-old sons occasionally get them confused. 

And the Rechnitzes are, in a word, big. 

“It never hurts when you have two 6-foot-8, 300-plus-pound people walking into your office and strongly suggesting that you buy their product,” Steve Rechnitz said in accepting the entrepreneur award in 2011.

“His business is a front for his charity. Because he lives his charity.” — Rabbi Chaim Cunin, CEO of Chabad of California

Steve is the active CEO of TwinMed, while Shlomo has moved into other businesses. He started by buying nursing homes and then began to get involved in businesses that nursing homes contract to, including a pharmacy, a pest control firm and an ambulance company. 

Shlomo Rechnitz pursues similarly varied interests in his philanthropic work. 

Within Orthodox circles, he is almost always called by his first and middle names, Shlomo Yehuda, and he has become known for his aid to prominent nonprofits at times of crisis. 

In November 2011, when the head of the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem died suddenly, leaving the 7,500-student institution $15 million in debt, Rechnitz, who had spent nearly five years studying there, donated $5 million. Others followed, Rechnitz said, and Mir’s debt was paid in full within three months. 

In December of that year, Rechnitz purchased a creditor’s note against Chabad of California’s headquarters in Westwood for $2.35 million, helping the organization avoid foreclosure. Rechnitz, who also donates to Chabad in more conventional ways, said he still holds the note, adding that he’s hoping to be paid back “one day.” 

And after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the East Coast, Rechnitz gave $1 million to aid in the rebuilding of Orthodox Jewish day schools and to assist the families whose children attend those schools. 

“His business is a front for his charity,” said Rabbi Chaim Cunin, CEO of Chabad of California, who went to school with Rechnitz for a few years when they were boys growing up in Los Angeles. “Because he lives his charity.” 

Many people seek Rechnitz’s help these days. Over the course of an hour-long conversation, his cellphone rang a dozen times and three people knocked on his door. 

Rechnitz hasn’t maintained an office for many years, preferring to do business either from his home or over the phone while driving around the neighborhood around La Brea Avenue, so it’s possible those calls were business-related. But it’s equally plausible that Rechnitz was ignoring, temporarily, people soliciting his assistance. 

Rechnitz calls himself “a nondenominational giver”  and said that at times he reaches out to those who aren’t coming to him. Last year, Diana Aulger, a pregnant woman in Texas, decided to have her doctors induce labor so that her husband, Mark, who was dying of cancer, could meet their child. Mark got to hold their daughter, Savannah, for 45 minutes before he died. 

Rechnitz saw the story online and sent Aulger a check for $20,000. 

He also sends $10,000 checks to the families of police officers who are shot while on duty in Southern California. Those gifts are inspired in part by an urge to assist individuals who put themselves into harm’s way for the public good, but Rechnitz said he’s also driven by another motive. 

“I don’t think that [non-Jews] should ever look back at the Jewish people and say, ‘You only care about your own,’ ” he said. 

Seeking impact, Jewish funders convene in L.A.

“Philanthropy is what you’ll be remembered for,” Jewish Funders Network (JFN) President Andrés Spokoiny told the 400 attendees at the Beverly Hilton on March 18, the first full day of the group’s annual conference. “Philanthropy is your legacy.”

What the legacies of Jewish funders in the early 21st century will be may not become clear for a generation, but at JFN, philanthropists, scholars, Jewish community professionals and others all engaged with questions about what causes to support and how to best ensure that charitable dollars are being deployed strategically, effectively and sustainably in the long term.

In organized sessions and impromptu conversations, executives working for some of the world’s wealthiest Jewish philanthropists, as well as some Jews just beginning their philanthropic journeys, focused on a diverse range of challenges and specific causes, including education, Israel advocacy, crisis management and the arts.

The separate conversations could be seen as part of a broader discussion about what, collectively, Jews should fund. But the decisions that funders ultimately make are often undertaken alone.

“We have deconstructed the infrastructure systems of the Jewish community,” said Jeffrey R. Solomon, president of Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, during a session dedicated to the not-always-collaborative interactions between local and national funders. “There are no wholesalers. We are all retailers, and that’s not the most efficient way to operate.”

The charity Solomon oversees is well on the way to completing a spend-down of its assets by 2016; another panelist in the room, Yossi Prager, is executive director of Avi Chai Foundation North America, which will spend its last dollars in 2020.

Prager was acutely aware of the impact the disappearance of Avi Chai will have on the world of Jewish education, particularly on local funders who will almost certainly be approached by organizations that had previously depended upon national support for their operations.

“I’m completely sensitive to the local San Francisco funder who says [to a national funder], ‘You came in, you took a little local organization, you made it a big organization, and now you want to leave it in our lap,’” Prager said.

This year’s JFN conference highlighted work being done to advance social change on the grassroots level.

Thirty-two participants joined Rabbi Sharon Brous ok IKAR on a bus tour on Monday to visit social action projects around Los Angeles. Tuesday’s closing plenary session featured a presentation by James K. Cummings, board chair of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and the organization’s president, Simon Greer, about their recent experience of the “Food Stamp Challenge,” by which individuals attempt to feed themselves for a full week on the minimal allotment given to those on nutritional assistance programs (just under $37 in New York; just under $35 in California).

The Cummings Foundation also announced the creation of a new $1 million matching fund for organizations involved in Jewish social justice efforts.

The reasons the funders attend JFN’s conference are as diverse as they are.

Ami Aronson came to JFN from Washington, D.C., where she serves as the managing director of the Bernstein Family Foundation. Aronson’s grandfather — financier and real estate investor Leo M. Bernstein — died in 2008, at 93; the family foundation made $330,000 in grants in 2011 to organizations focused on Jewish causes, democracy and the arts.

“What JFN does is it helps us celebrate and strengthen our assets as Jewish philanthropists,” Aronson said.

E. Randol Schoenberg, an attorney who has focused his philanthropic energies serving as president of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, said he couldn’t help but think that his personal charity of choice – a museum whose approximately 30,000 annual visitors are predominantly non-Jews – was something of an outlier at JFN 2013. Much of what he heard was focused on charities that serve mostly Jewish people.

“It’s interesting,” Schoenberg said. “What attracts attention and what’s reaching a lot of people are different things.”

For the Jewish funders who came to Los Angeles from out of town, the plenary session on Monday morning offered a taste of what Jewish life in this sprawling city can offer. Jay Sanderson, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, described his city as one to which Jews came “to escape Jewish institutions, and to build new Jewish institutions.” The speakers who followed him continued in that vein.

Then Joshua Avedon, co-founder and COO of Jumpstart, a think-tank and incubator dedicated to fostering Jewish innovation, moderated a conversation with philanthropist Peter Lowy, who holds leadership positions at a number of L.A. nonprofits, including serving as chairman of TRIBE Media Corp., parent company of the Jewish Journal. Jill Soloway, a TV and film writer, director and producer, who founded the innovative and itinerant Jewish community East Side Jews, was also on the panel.

Lowy and Soloway both talked about the importance of innovation and reinvention in attracting Jews to Jewish events and bringing the disaffected into Jewish institutions in L.A.

As an Australian, Lowy, Co-Chief Executive Officer of Westfield Group, said he tends to “hate” the status quo and authority, “even,” he noted, “when I’m the status quo and I’m the authority.”

Soloway, meanwhile, recognized that East Side Jews, which has organized events in multiple spaces around the region, is now playing against type by making its home the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center.

“The building is there, the people are there,” Soloway said. “How do we put them back together?”

Rabbi David Wolpe, who addressed the conference-goers at lunchtime, made a case for funding local synagogues and Jewish schools — the “unexciting places” that have kept Jewish communities vibrant for generations.

“When I go out and push my synagogue,” Wolpe, who is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in West L.A., said, “I talk about Friday Night Life and the special bar mitzvahs and all the innovative programs. But they’re actually not what I’m proudest of.

“What I’m proudest of,” he continued, “is the morning minyan and the Shabbos service and the shiva committee, and the fact that we have a Bikur Cholim committee that goes and visits people in the hospital – in other words, all the things that institutions do day after day after day that are the lifeblood of a real people.”

As Israel’s economy grows, more Israelis are giving to charity

At Hadassah's centennial celebration in October, 2,000 guests heard about two major philanthropic projects being undertaken by the women's Zionist group: a new tower and a new cardiovascular wellness center at its Jerusalem hospitals.

The tower, which was dedicated at the centennial, cost $363 million. And a $10 million gift from American philanthropist Irene Pollin came with the announcement of the cardiovascular center. Most of Hadassah’s members and donors are American, and every year most of its $100 million budget goes to Israel — as it has for a century, well before Israel was a state.

For virtually all of Israel's history, the philanthropic highway between the United States and the Jewish state ran in one direction. Now, with the growth of Israel's economy and an expanding class of affluent citizens, Israeli initiatives have begun to encourage giving by Israelis for Israelis.

Still, experts say, building a culture of philanthropy remains an uphill battle in Israel.

“Israeli philanthropy is not very well developed, even though there’s [been] a lot of Israeli wealth in the past 10 to 20 years,” said Debra London, project manager for Sheatufim, which helps donors and nonprofits become more effective. “It’s about recruiting them to the idea that they have to give.”

Since well before the founding of the state, American Jewish philanthropy has been instrumental in establishing and sustaining Jewish settlement in Israel. This funding model persisted even as the state established itself and grew into a thriving industrial and information-age economy. American donors still fund many projects and organizations in Israel, while many Israeli outfits have established fundraising arms in the United States.

On the whole, Israelis are less philanthropic than Americans. In a recent paper, Hebrew University professor Hillel Schmid found that in 2009 Israeli philanthropy constituted 0.74 percent of Israel’s GDP, compared to 2.1 percent in the United States. In total that year, Israelis donated $3 billion. Part of the reason, Schmid says, is the high income tax that Israelis have pai d traditionally to support a robust social safety net. Many Israelis also feel that their years spent in compulsory military service provided a significant contribution to the state.

“We all go to the army, we pay a high income tax, so we think we give a lot,” Schmid, the director of the Center for the Study of Philanthropy in Israel, told JTA. “There are a few good philanthropists, but there’s no movement of philanthropy.”

That’s changing. Schmid noted that in 2009, Israeli nonprofits received a majority of their donations from Israelis, not from abroad — a departure from previous years.

New philanthropic models are emerging, too. An organization called Takdim in the coastal town of Ramat HaSharom hopes to duplicate the successful North American Jewish federation model, where one central institution in each community manages collective Jewish giving. More than two-thirds of the funds raised by Takdim will go to projects in the central Israeli city, while 30 percent will fund projects across the country. A communal board will determine which projects to support.

“We need to have a change in outlook and show people that if they want to help the community, they need to help in both senses, to volunteer and to help financially,” said Revital Itach, Takdim’s project manager. “Our goal is not to depend on two or three donors but to draft the whole community.”

Founded a year-and-a-half ago, Takdim has 120 donors and is embarking on its first major fundraising drive. Itach hopes to raise $256,000, much of which will go to building a new park that will be accessible to disabled children.

“There was a sense of community” years ago, Itach said. “As the city grew and brought more people in, the feeling of community got weaker. There was a desire to bring back that feeling of togetherness, to look beyond your own sphere and to do something for all of the residents.”

Another initiative, called Committed to Give and run by Sheatufim, aims to expand the top echelon of Israeli donors, defined as those who give more than $64,000 annually. London estimates that 10,000 Israelis can give that amount. Twenty donors who already give that much are running the initiative.

A rise in Israeli philanthropy does not necessarily mean a drop in U.S. Jewish giving, says Becky Caspi, director general of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Israel office. Caspi recognizes an emotional drive in American Jews to help Israel and does not anticipate a significant decline in donations to Israel.

Federations have been involved in helping launch Takdim and Committed to Give, and Caspi sees a growing number of Israelis “who can assist in carrying the burden to care for the most vulnerable in Israeli society.”

“There are so many people who see Israel hurting and want to help,” she told JTA. “When Israeli philanthropists are exposed to that strength and resilience, it’s a source of inspiration.”

In 2011, JFNA allocated $237 million to overseas funding, the bulk of which goes to Israel. It was a decrease from previous years: In 2010, $249 million went overseas from JFNA, while the figure was $258 million in 2009.

While Israel’s philanthropic culture is still growing, the country does have an established volunteer culture. Yoram Sagi Zaks, chairman of Israel’s national volunteering council, estimates that 46 percent of Israeli youth volunteer in some capacity, and that 800,000 Israelis volunteer in total. Many draw on their military experience to volunteer with security institutions, like the police force.

While Sagi Zaks appreciates rising philanthropy in Israel, he hopes that it doesn’t replace the culture of volunteerism.

“There’s a trend that more people are giving money because they can, and that needs to rise in all sectors of society,” he said. But, Sagi Zaks added, “It’s easier to give a monetary donation. A donation of yourself connects you to society.”

Richard Sandler: A philanthropic life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letters to the Editor: Milk, languages, kindergarten, breakfast, philanthropy

More on Milk

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is restirring a tempest in a glass of milk (“How Kosher Is Your Milk,” June 22). This issue was addressed in great detail in the fall 2007 issue of the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society in the article “The Kashrut of Commercially Sold Milk” by Rabbi Michoel Zylberman. The conclusion of the article:

“In the contemporary situation, there appears to be no credible evidence that a majority of dairy cows harbor adhesions. It is, however, quite likely that a prevalent minority (mi’ut hamatzui) of cows have terefot, such that more than 1.6% of milk that gets mixed together comes from such cows. To date, while a few individuals have stopped drinking commercially sold milk, major kashrut organizations have endorsed the continued consumption of milk, following the implication in Shulchan Aruch that we may assume that every individual cow comes from the majority of cows that are kosher, even if such an assumption contradicts a statistical reality.”

Rabbi Israel Hirsch
Valley Village

A Lesson in Languages

In your June 22 issue’s Letter From Egypt by Al-Qotb (“Egypt’s Election: An Argument Without Resolution”), you identified Al-Qotb (“The Writer”) as a pseudonym for The Jewish Journal’s Egyptian correspondent. Al-Qotb (correctly Al-Kotb or Al-Kootb) means “The Books,” and the Arabic name for anyone who writes is Al-Kaatb or Al-Kaateb, depending on one’s dialect. The proper letter (binyan in Hebrew) to use in this instance is “K-T-B” not “Q-T-B”. There is no equivalence in the English language nor in modern Hebrew for the Arabic letter “Q.” The best illustration would be in pronouncing the Hebrew letter “kaf” gutturally as in the case of the letter “khaf.” Quick pronunciation illustration is in the name of the leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and ’60s, Sayyid Qutb — Qutb could mean pole or region, as in the North Pole or the South Pole, but Kutb signifies books.

Ed Elhaderi
Los Angeles

Kindergartens of Hate

Micah Halpern’s piece is profoundly disturbing (“Finishing School,” June 22). It states that Arab children in Gaza and the West Bank are taught to hate Jews and to aspire only to slaughter them as a duty of their Islamic faith. This despite 20 years of a “peace process” that earned Nobel Peace Prizes for its originators. I suppose the indoctrination of Jew-hatred, not to mention the suicide bombings, rockets and turning children into murderous robots described by Halpern only proves, as then-President Clinton said in late 2000, that “the peace process hasn’t gone far enough.”

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles

Synagogue Breakfast

Last week’s calendar section mentioned a dog-walking tour for June 24. It did not mention the 20th anniversary breakfast of Congregation Bais Naftoli honoring Zvi Hollander and Dr. A. Richard Grossman. At this breakfast, not only will the Israeli and Hungarian consuls general attend, but also two members of Congress, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supervisor Mike Antonovich, the city attorney and controller, four members of the City Council and two members of the state Assembly.

Why does the canine event take precedence?

Andrew Friedman
Congregation Bais Naftoli

Editor’s note: The Jewish Journal calendar desk did not receive notice about the Congregation Bais Naftoli breakfast. Please send all event notifications at least three weeks in advance to calendar@jewishjournal.com

Philanthropic Teens

It came as no surprise to me that a cross-section of community schools participated in National Conference of Synagogue Youth’s (NCSY) philanthropy project (“Philanthropy Project Puts Teens in Charge,” June 8). NCSY has been breaking down barriers to Jewish involvement for quite some time with creative programs geared to young people from all spheres. 

My wife, Sara, and I [spent] a magical Shabbat with NCSYers at their regional Shabbaton in Woodland Hills recently. The diversity of the participants was amazing. There were kids from public schools, Jewish schools, Yachad for special needs, all singing, clapping, standing on chairs with a thunderous spirit that was inspirational and meaningful.

The philanthropy project was a good chance to bring to light the creativity NCSY displays in reaching out to all kids with the goal of bringing them closer to Judaism.

Ron Solomon
Executive Director
American Friends of Bar-Ilan University, Western Region

An article on a project exploring Los Angeles history (“UCLA Mapping Project Goes Back to the Future,” June 22) did not mention that the “Mapping Jewish L.A.” display of the digital project at the Autry National Center of the American West will be part of the larger exhibition “Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic,” scheduled to open at the museum in May 2013.

Temple B’nai Hayim’s Rabbi Beryl Padorr is not retiring (“Ner Maarav to Merge With Ramat Zion,” June 15).

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.”

Super Bowl features super Jewish philanthropists

When the New York Giants and New England Patriots take the field for Sunday’s Super Bowl, most of the country will focus on the athletes wearing the jerseys. However, from a Jewish perspective, the story behind these football franchises comes from those wearing suits in the owner’s box.

The Giants are co-owned by the Tisch family, with film and television producer Steve Tisch, son of Bob, as the team’s chairman and executive vice president. Bob’s brother, Larry, was the father of Jim—former president of the UJA Federation of New York and former board chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Jim’s wife, Merryl, chairs the board of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.

On the New England side, owner Robert Kraft’s wife Myra—who passed away last July—served as chair of the Boston-based Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ (CJP) board of directors and was twice co-chair of CJP’s annual fundraising campaign.

“[Myra Kraft’s] work with us was extraordinary and she meant the world to us, she still means the world to us,” Zamira Korff, CJP’s senior vice president of development, told JointMedia News Service. “Her legacy is with us everyday. There are countless meetings and conversations during which we say ‘Can you imagine what Myra would have thought about this,’ or ‘What would Myra have done about this’? We feel that she’s still a partner, that’s how strong her presence was and that’s how strong her guidance was.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents, told JointMedia News Service that members of the Giants’ owning family are all “identified [religiously] and active philanthropically.”

“I think that the Tisch family is a model for the Jewish community and for others in terms of their broad range of commitments in the Jewish community, their involvement personally, not just financially,” Hoenlein said.

Outside of CJP, the Kraft family’s philanthropy extends to Brandeis University, The United Way, The Boys and Girls Club, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), among other causes. The family donated millions to Kraft Stadium in Jerusalem, which promotes American football in the Jewish homeland.

Korff recalls a CJP trip to that stadium, where Myra sought to be a pioneer for women’s football in Israel. When Myra arrived at the venue, Korff said women who were in a team practice at the time ran over to her “like she was their best friend.”

“This was a woman who shared herself with them,” Korff said. “She was really their partner, not just in helping to create the sport, but in helping them to live up to their potential.”

Israel “has always been very important both to Myra and to Robert,” Korff explained.

“She was very proud of leading trips of both Jewish and non-Jewish members of our community to Israel, because she knew that it was equally as vital to both of them, and to participate in that together,” Korff said.

Korff said she has “never seen a better team” than the Kraft couple.

“It’s about integrity, and justice, and teamwork, and cooperation, and shared values,” she said, “and I think that’s what they bring to everything that they do, and that includes their philanthropy.”

Mazon doling out $3 million in grants to fight hunger

Mazon said it has awarded more than $3 million in grants for 2011 to agencies dedicated to fighting hunger.

The grant recipients announced Tuesday by the Jewish nonprofit organization included about two dozen organizations from around the world, including Israel, South Africa, Ethiopia and Haiti, and several hundred from more than 40 states in America.

“Our grants help agencies rise to the challenge of feeding their hungry neighbors, and expanding access to government safety-net programs that shield families from some of the worst effects of the recession,” Mazon grants director Mia Hubbard said in a news release.

Religious and secular organizations, including Christian and Jewish charities, received grants.

The latest awards bring the total amount that Mazon has doled out in grants to more than $53 million, the release said.

Obama to donors: Israel and the U.S. need ‘fresh eyes’

President Obama told Jewish donors to his reelection campaign that Israel and the United States must assess the new Middle East with “fresh eyes.”

“Both the United States and Israel are going to have to look at this new landscape with fresh eyes,” Obama said Monday night at an event in Washington that charged a minimum $25,000 a couple.  “It’s not going to be sufficient for us just to keep on doing the same things we’ve been doing and expect somehow that things are going to work themselves out.  We’re going to have to be creative and we’re going to have to be engaged.”

Obama said Israel is the United States’ “closest ally” and that he was committed to Israel facing the challenges “from a position of strength,” noting the closeness between the two countries’ defense establishments and his increase in defense assistance to Israel.

Obama, who has clashed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government over settlement building and parameters for peace talks with the Palestinians, said that in the coming months “there may be tactical disagreements in terms of how we approach these difficult problems.”

Organizers of the event, entitled “Obama Victory Fund 2012 Dinner with the President in support of a strong US-Israel relationship” ushered the White House pool reporters out of the room at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel after Obama’s short talk so he could talk frankly with the donors.

Organizers aimed to raise $1 million in the evening. Obama’s Jewish supporters have been pushing back against reports that he is losing support in the community because of tensions with Netanyahu.