September 23, 2019

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.”