January 17, 2019

Jewish Community Foundation Awards $200,000 to Organizations Supporting Pittsburgh Shooting Victims, Survivors

A man prays at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue following Saturday’s shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles announced on Nov. 12 that they are awarding $200,000 to four organizations that provide support to the victims and survivors of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

According to a press release from the Foundation, the four organizations that will receive the grants include the Victims of Terror Fund and the Community Security Initiative – both of which are programs of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles – as well as the Anti-Defamation League and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).

“Our Board of Trustees, believing positive action is the best response to this terrible and senseless tragedy, approved these emergency grants to organizations that will provide direct aid to victims’ families, as well as to support causes working proactively to prevent such despicable and evil acts from occurring in the future,” Foundation President and CEO Marvin Schotland said in a statement. “With the sharp rise in anti-Semitism and premeditated violence, we must join together so that all Americans, regardless of religion, race or ethnicity, are safe and free to worship—fundamental principles of our society.”

Each organization will receive $50,000.

The shooter, 46-year-old Robert Bowers, singled out HIAS in his social media posts, writing right before the shooting: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

HIAS provides aid to refugees that enter the United States.

Foundation Awards $1.65 Million in Grants

Mitch Chupak, director of development at the Jaffa Institute, beams when he discusses how the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles has supported his organization since its early days as a small social services agency serving high-risk children in Jaffa. Today, the 35-year-old Jaffa Institute has expanded to 40 educational and social programs serving 6,000 children and teens in communities throughout Israel, including Bat Yam and Yehud.

On Dec. 8, the Foundation announced that the Jaffa Institute was among eight organizations to be awarded grants of up to $250,000, totaling $1.65 million, to be disbursed over three years. Chupak said the Jaffa Institute will use its $200,000 grant to expand career and educational opportunities for Ethiopian-Jewish teens at the organization’s Bet Shemesh Educational Center.

“Our overall goal is to integrate these teens into Israeli society as quickly as possible by providing them with educational opportunities and services, such as computer training and introductions to various corporations,” Chupak said.

The organization helps teens finish high school so they can enter the army like their Israeli peers, he said. Post-army, the Institute offers scholarships for university study. It also encourages students to participate in STEM-based programs in science, technology, engineering and math starting in seventh grade.

Tzohar, focused on bridging the gap between religious and secular Jews in Israel, will use its $250,000 grant to develop a new program for rabbis and to enhance an existing professional development program for community rabbis, said to Rabbi Shai Finkelstein, Tzohar’s director of rabbinic alliance and community engagement.

“Our new program will train an elite group of Modern Orthodox and Zionistic rabbis … to become prominent voices in the online world,” he said.

Other recipient programs of the annual Israel Grants for 2017 focused on Jewish identity include:

• BINA: The Jewish Movement for Social Change (Irgun Noar), one of the few non-Orthodox organizations to provide Israeli high school students with activities promoting Jewish identity, Jewish learning and Shabbat programs.

• HaShomer HaChadash, providing security and protection to Israel’s smaller, more vulnerable communities in the Negev and Galilee, while promoting agricultural and pioneering programs.

• Nitzanim/The Avi Chai Foundation, which will use its grant to grow from nine to 14 locations to expand on its programs to help Israeli Jews overcome their increasing sense of alienation from Judaism.

Economic development programs include the Jaffa Institute as well as:

• Educating for Excellence, which provides 150,000 children and youth in underprivileged Israeli communities with a support system to pursue greater educational and career opportunities.

• Machshava Tova, providing underprivileged populations in Israel greater access to technology and skill-building education in supportive environments.

• YEDID: The Association for Community Empowerment, promoting social justice in Israel through a national network of Citizen Rights Centers offering programs that empower Israelis to break the cycle of poverty.

“These annual Israel Grants support programs that endeavor to strengthen Jewish identity and advance economic development and self-sufficiency throughout the country,” said Elana Wien, vice president of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles’ Center for Designed Philanthropy.

“Our goal is to integrate these teens into Israeli society as quickly as possible.” — Mitch Chupak

The Foundation “effectively makes Los Angeles a partner in everything we’re trying to accomplish,” said Noga Brenner Samia, deputy director for Irgun Noar/BINA Youth Corps. “It is important to express our gratitude for the Foundation’s help in our pushing forward in the realm of Jewish identity education.”

Eli Gur, CEO of Nitzanim, said his organization aims to help a diverse group of Israeli Jews overcome their increasing sense of feeling estranged from Judaism or ignorant of their heritage.

“Nitzanim has neither a specific ideological approach nor a limited geographic scope as we build a network of municipalities throughout Israel,” said Gur, who described “a national partnership in which all participant communities uphold and support a social, cultural and educational Jewish-Israeli agenda that is inclusive, diverse and resonant.”

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

Nonprofits benefit from Jewish Community Foundation’s new grant program

Joseph Weiss, left, learns about tzitzit with volunteer Shalom Ber-Scheinfeld at Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, one of four Next Stage grant recipients.

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles has launched the Next Stage grant program, providing nearly $1 million in awards to four local Jewish nonprofits — Creative Community for Peace, Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center (JCC) and ETTA, an organization that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Three of the recipients were awarded a $250,000 grant and Silverlake Independent JCC received $200,000, given out over the next two years. All four organizations had previously received the Foundation’s Cutting Edge grants.

The pilot program continues grants of more than $17 million awarded by the Foundation since 2006 to help nearly 100 programs and organizations.

“One of the biggest challenges that even the most innovative and best-run nonprofits confront is the path to achieving sustainability,” Elana Wien, vice president of the Foundation’s Center for Designed Philanthropy, said. “Next Stage Grants was piloted to provide the assistive ‘tools’ — in the form of grant monies, but also professional coaching and other consultative resources — to better enable their success. The success of these nonprofits represents, in turn, a boon to the whole of our local Jewish community, now and in the future.”

A unique aspect of the selection process for these grants, Wien said, is that leaders from each grantee got a chance to discuss with the Foundation their potential involvement with the pilot program.

The Friendship Circle of Los Angeles helps about 120 children with special needs and their families through 20 programs with a volunteer network of more than 500 teens.

“We are thrilled to have the Foundation’s confidence and support to streamline and strengthen our organization, which will ultimately help the children with special needs, families and volunteers who depend on our vital services,” said Gail Rollman, Friendship Circle’s development director.

ETTA is planning to use the grant to expand its programs.

“The demand for programs to help adults with special needs is continually rising,” ETTA Executive Director Michael Held said. “This funding will contribute greatly to helping ETTA fulfill its mission of inclusion and independence for the clients we serve.”

The Creative Community for Peace provides support to artists so they can resist pressure from boycott groups in response to scheduled performances in Israel. The organization uses its broad network to educate artists who are touring in Israel and to mobilize a grass-roots social media response to Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement protests.

The Silverlake JCC hosts an early childhood center, a Jewish learning center and community-led classes and programs, including East Side Jews and Culture Lab.

According to Wien, the Next Stage program is among the first by any Jewish community foundation in the United States offering “capacity-building support” of this scale to sustain nonprofits’ operations, growth and long-term viability. 

Foundation fund nixes progressive donation

Since 2014, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (JCFLA) has distributed more than $150 million from so-called “donor-advised funds” — money the foundation holds in trust for would-be donors.

Now, a contentious episode with one donor raises the question of whose money, exactly, it is, and where it can be donated.

Investor and businesswoman Lisa Greer opened a donor-advised fund with her husband, Joshua, some five years ago at JCFLA, expecting they would be able to give from it to any registered nonprofit they chose. They’ve used it to donate to a number of progressive Jewish nonprofits like the New Israel Fund, as well as to non-Jewish groups like the Girl Scouts of America.

But when they decided to donate to IfNotNow, a nonprofit consisting mostly of younger Jews that has clashed with the organized Jewish community over its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, JCFLA refused. Lisa Greer, in an interview with the Journal, described JCFLA’s decision as a result of a growing rift between the Jewish establishment and an ascendant generation of progressive, millennial Jews.

“This is not a problem that’s just about IfNotNow,” she said. “I don’t think it has much to do with IfNotNow.”

Rather, Lisa Greer, who is in her early 50s, sees the incident as a case of the older generation refusing to engage in an open dialogue with younger Jews who disagree with their positions.

“Why do we have to eat our young?” she said.

For most of the five years the Greers held their donor-advised fund, Lisa Greer — a JCFLA trustee — said they were happy with the arrangement. The Beverly Hills couple at various times has held anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million dollars with JCFLA.

Both are successful entrepreneurs in their own right. Lisa started Media Venture Advisors in 2000, a consulting firm that focuses on digital media and entertainment, and has since founded an egg donor agency and home health care business. Joshua co-founded RealD, now one of the world’s largest 3D technology companies, in 2003.

Their donor-advised fund allowed them to reap tax benefits immediately while waiting to give away the money. Lisa said she considered it a “double mitzvah” to hold her money with JCFLA: She would eventually give the money away, and in the meanwhile any management fees would go back to the foundation and, by extension, the Jewish community. The couple even appears on a brochure for the philanthropy’s donor-advised funds.

But in October, she got an unwelcome surprise when she tried to donate to IfNotNow, whose opposition to Israel’s military activity in Gaza and the West Bank brought it into direct confrontation with mainstream Jewish institutions.

Lisa first tried donating $5,000 to the group on Sept. 16. But by definition, the Greers could only recommend where the money should go. The funds are called “donor-advised” because they operate under the advice, not the direct control, of donors. 

A few days after Lisa entered the recommendation into the mobile platform JCFLA provides, she said she received a call from senior vice president Daniel M. Rothblatt saying the foundation was concerned about the donation and was looking into IfNotNow’s nonprofit status. Later, at an Oct. 5 meeting in the office of JCFLA President Marvin Schotland, Schotland and board chair Larry Rausch told her they wouldn’t make the disbursement.

Lisa recalled, based on notes she took at the meeting, being told that many donors give to Palestinian rights organizations — that wasn’t a factor. The real factor, she was told, is that IfNotNow takes a stand against the organized Jewish community. The foundation didn’t want its name on the donation, she said she was told, citing the organization’s “disruptive tactics.”

In an emailed statement, JCFLA confirmed Greer’s recollection of the meeting while defending its decision to reject the donation.

“The Foundation was being asked to act as the vehicle to provide support for an organization that is hostile to established Jewish institutions, indirectly including The Foundation itself,” the statement read. “We concluded that such a course of action would directly conflict with our core values, requiring us to deny this recommendation.”

Additionally, JCFLA wrote of IfNotNow, “it provides only limited public transparency, including no disclosure of its board of directors or financials.” Because the organization was officially formed in 2015, its financial disclosures are not yet publicly available.

IfNotNow admits to openly challenging the Jewish establishment. The group gained national attention during Israel’s last incursion in Gaza in 2014 by reading the Mourner’s Kaddish for Palestinian victims in front of major Jewish organizations, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York City, an umbrella group.

“The Foundation learned that [IfNotNow] has routinely included among the targets of its hostile activities such highly regarded Jewish organizations as the Jewish Federations of North America, with which The Foundation is affiliated, the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel International,” JCFLA wrote in its statement.

The statement made clear that disbursements from the Greers’ fund would technically be made in JCFLA’s name: “Donors have the right to recommend grants, but the charitable resources contributed by the donor legally become assets of The Foundation.”

IfNotNow’s co-founder, Emily Mayer, said her group consists mostly of young Jews who reject the status quo in Israel and the Palestinian territories and find the organized Jewish community’s response lacking.

“Jewish Community Foundation’s refusal to even allow Lisa to fund IfNotNow is actually a symptom of a larger problem, in which the institutions are actually out of touch,” Mayer told the Journal.

She added, “Jewish values tell us to stand up for the freedom and dignity of all people, yet when it comes to Israel that is no longer true” as far as the Jewish establishment is concerned.

David Myers, a professor of Jewish history at UCLA, first introduced Greer to Mayer’s organization. He said IfNotNow approaches the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a perspective that is unique to Jewish millennials. 

“What they’ve grown up with is not a beleaguered Israel,” said Myers, who is also a Jewish Journal columnist. “They’ve grown up with Israel as the strongest kid on the block.”

For that reason, IfNotNow necessarily differs in its tactics from more established Jewish groups.

“Whatever has been tried to awaken the Jewish community out of its slumber as the occupation enters its 50th year isn’t working, so the tactics need to change,” he said. “And that’s what they’re trying to do.”

Lisa echoed the sentiment that the episode reflects a “horrible schism” between Jewish generations. 

Her case is not unique. Earlier this year, Michael Bien, a San Francisco-based civil rights lawyer, tried to donate $5,000 each to Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee through his donor-advised fund at the Jewish Community Federation & Endowment Fund of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties.

He knew of the Federation’s policies against engaging with organizations “undermining the legitimacy of Israel … including through participation in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.” However, he told the Journal, “I never assumed that they would apply to my donor-advised fund.”

When he tried to donate to the groups, both of which advocate for BDS, he was told it would be a violation of the Federation’s policy. He has since moved his money into a donor-advised fund managed by Morgan Stanley.

He found the Federation’s position to be hypocritical and worse, since donor-advised funds it holds have benefited organizations like the Hebron Fund, which is accused of paying a salary to convicted Jewish terrorist Menachem Livni.

“The only standard they’re applying is BDS,” he said. “They don’t care if you rape and pillage. It’s just BDS.”

Responding in the San Francisco-based Jewish newspaper j.,  to a February op-ed Bien co-wrote in that paper with colleague Jane Kahn about the experience, Federation CEO Danny Grossman defended the guidelines.

“The funding guidelines that we adopted several years ago are our community’s sincere and hard-won consensus on ensuring a safe space for a broad range of responsible views from left to right,” Grossman wrote.

In the six years since those guidelines went into place, the Federation has rejected just seven of 48,000 requested grants from its donor-advised funds, he wrote.

The Greers’ is the first and only donation JCFLA has rejected while donating millions of dollars each year, it said in the statement. “Since 2014 alone, through our Donor Advised Funds, over 20,000 grants have been made,” it wrote.

In the Jewish community and beyond, donor-advised funds are an increasingly popular vehicle for philanthropists, as they enable donors to decrease their tax base in high earning years while still allowing them time to choose recipients.

That tax incentive has given rise to a cottage industry worth $78 billion in 2015, according to the National Philanthropic Trust. Large bank divisions that manage donor-advised funds regularly top lists of the nation’s largest charitable organizations. The financial services company Fidelity is now the second largest charity in the U.S., after the United Way, thanks to its donor-advised fund arm.

Greer is still considering what to do with her old fund and hoping she can find common ground with JCFLA.

“It kind of breaks my heart if I have to not work with them because of this episode,” she said.

Moving and Shaking: Jewish Community Day at Dodger Stadium, JCFLA supports Jewish innovation

Wearing a yarmulke, tzitzit and a Sandy Koufax jersey, Rabbi Jason Weiner, senior rabbi and manager of the spiritual care department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, threw the ceremonial first pitch during Jewish Community Day at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 28 to Joc Pederson, a Jewish team member of the Dodgers. 

Weiner, 38, who pitched in college, admitted to being nervous prior to taking the mound, in an interview with the Journal.

“I didn’t sleep the night before. I was nervous. I don’t normally get nervous about things like this but everyone was talking to me about it beforehand: ‘It’s a big deal, you have to throw a strike.’ Joc, when he caught it, he called it ‘strike,’ ” said Weiner, who played ball for Cal State Monterey Bay.

A Modern Orthodox rabbi, Weiner said that in college he left the team after his coach made his membership contingent on practicing or playing on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

He wasn’t the only rabbi on the field before the Dodgers took on the Chicago Cubs, a game Los Angeles would win 1-0. The home team also honored U.S. Army National Guard 1st lieutenant and Rabbi David Becker as the military hero of the Sunday afternoon game. 

Rabbi Brad Artson (third from left), dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, attended Jewish Community Day with his wife, Elana, and two children, Shira and Jacob. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Brad Artson

Cedars-Sinai, an official sponsor of the Dodgers, turned out approximately 40 attendees to the game. Additional congregations and Jewish organizations at the ballpark included IKAR, Congregation Kol Ami and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ YALA (Young Adults of Los Angeles). Highlights included free T-shirts with “Dodgers” written in Hebrew, Jeff’s Gourmet Sausage Factory kosher hot dogs, and more. 

The line for hot dogs at Jeff’s was already long during the first inning, as the owner, Jeff Rohatiner, and a small staff of employees worked hard to prepare standard kosher hot dogs, kosher jalapeño dogs and kosher Italian sausage dogs. 

“I think this is great to have the opportunity to show solidarity and enjoy the game,” Young Israel of Century City congregant Betsy Tabacznik said while standing in line for a hot dog with her grandsons, Yaakov, 11, and Zev, 10.

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (JCFLA) has awarded $2.3 million to 12 “new Jewish initiatives focused on innovation,” according to an Aug. 16 press release by the foundation, a charitable assets manager and grant-making organization. 

“The 2016 Cutting Edge Grant recipients — the 11th annual class awarded by The Foundation — exemplify creative, unique problem-solving necessary for a vibrant, engaged and caring Jewish Los Angeles,” Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles President and CEO Marvin Schotland said in a statement.

The two largest grants given this year — $250,000 apiece — will fund the Aleph Institute’s Project Tikvah, which addresses incarceration among young adults struggling with mental illness and addiction, and “Connections to Care: Interoperability Platform,” a central hub to manage patient care at the Los Angeles Jewish Home.

Molly Forrest, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Jewish Home, said in a statement: “We are grateful to The Foundation for supporting our efforts to care for more frail seniors in our community. The awarding of the Cutting Edge Grant will enable us to develop the tools necessary to provide coordinated, comprehensive, quality care for vulnerable and at-risk seniors.”

Moving Traditions will receive $200,000 to pilot a b’nai mitzvah program, and the Union for Reform Judaism will receive $100,000 for its 6 Points Sports Academy California.

Other grant recipients this year are Builders of Jewish Education, Honeymoon Israel, the Israeli-American Council, Jerusalem U, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jewish Women’s Theatre, Pico Union Project, and Reboot in partnership with IKAR. The grants are distributed over a multiyear period.

Amir Naiberg is now serving as associate vice chancellor for research at UCLA. Photo courtesy of UCLA

Amir Naiberg has been named UCLA’s associate vice chancellor for research, as well as president and CEO of Westwood Technology Transfer, a nonprofit company controlled by UCLA that protects discoveries made by UCLA researchers. He leads the Office of Intellectual Property and Industry Sponsored Research at UCLA.

Naiberg, who joined UCLA on Aug. 3, co-founded the Israel Technology Transfer Organization in 2004. He previously worked for five years as general counsel and 10 years as CEO of Yeda Research and Development Company, the technology transfer company of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

He holds law degrees from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Connecticut School of Law.

Fred Toczek, president of the board at Shalhevet High School

Fred Toczek has been named president of the board at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles.

Toczek, an entertainment lawyer whose son, Jacob, graduated from Shalhevet this past year and whose daughter, Sadie, is a Shalhevet sophomore has served on the Modern Orthodox high school’s board for six years.

“I have seen what the school has done, and continues to do, for my children and for so many others, and look forward to my tenure as president,” he said in an Aug. 24 letter to “Shalhevet Family and Friends.” 

He succeeds Larry Gill.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

A generosity gap? Not on our watch

For anyone concerned about the future of Los Angeles and the role of charitable giving in creating a healthy community here for us all, a recent study by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs is cause for serious concern. The report, “The Generosity Gap: Donating Less in Post-Recession Los Angeles County,” documents a decline in local giving of nearly 16 percent, from $7.16 billion to $6.03 billion, from 2006 and 2013.

One vital function of this sort of study is to provoke thought and dialogue to spur change. The Luskin School report certainly accomplishes that. It encourages exploration of the root causes of the decline, and of actionable steps that can address changes in local charitable giving. The study also provides data that encourage deeper analysis; here certain anomalies become clear — especially with respect to the Los Angeles Jewish community. 

The report asserts that “historical patterns of local generosity may be shifting to a new, lower norm, across all household income levels.” However, I can state with confidence that donors to the institution I am privileged to lead — the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles — are a significant exception to this generalization. As points of comparison, for the beginning and end years analyzed in the report — 2006 and 2013 — grants by The Foundation and its donors to Jewish and nonsectarian charitable institutions in Los Angeles County actually rose by 18 percent, from $33 million to $39 million. As a percentage of our total grant-making, our foundation’s giving to local causes grew sharply from 47 percent in 2006 to 60 percent in 2013, underscoring our donors’ commitment to Los Angeles causes.

How has this happened? First, the focus at The Foundation is on planned giving via donor-advised funds, endowments and family-support organizations (i.e., family foundations within our foundation). As the study noted, giving was highest — about 65 percent — among households that have estate plans in place; this is true for the vast majority of our donors. Our strong, committed donor base is fortunate enough to have a greater ability to give than the broader population. In addition, most were better able to withstand the economic downturn.  

Without being able to point to empirical evidence, it is also my belief that we are blessed with donors who give generously out of a passion for philanthropy and a deep commitment to tikkun olam — repairing the world. This is not meant as a boast, but is an attempt to highlight what sets apart the most generous. I will revisit this point below in suggesting actionable recommendations for the future.

Regrettably, for each donor with an ability to give, there is a vastly larger number of individuals who simply do not have the means. As political strategist James Carville once said about elections, “It’s the economy, stupid.” The broader downturn in charitable giving is, sadly, a reflection of the sluggish economies of the city and county of Los Angeles. Our region’s population has grown by 1 million over the past 30 years, but the number of jobs has declined by 165,000, according to the Los Angeles 2020 Commission. A study by the AFL-CIO says that for three out of four full-time workers, real wages (adjusted for inflation) are lower than they were 30 years ago. Wage erosion is greatest among those who need it most: those in the bottom half of the salary scale. Among the working poor — the bottom quarter of earners — pay fell by 26 percent over roughly the same 30-year period. What this means is that the nonprofit and social-services safety net that is experiencing lower donation levels is being strained by a larger number of our neighbors who are no longer able to sustain themselves.

Another important change occurred in the Los Angeles regional economy during the period studied in “The Generosity Gap” report. Our region experienced a further exodus of corporate headquarters. Departing with them were numerous managerial-level, white-collar, middle- to upper-middle-income jobs. Based on my experience working with donors in this category, I suspect that a significant portion of the $1.1 billion decline in charitable giving is a direct result of these corporate relocations. In fact, I would venture to guess that in fast-growing corporate headquarters regions such as Dallas-Fort Worth over these years, we would see a trend in giving the reverse of what we have experienced in Los Angeles.

It is also important to note that the beginning and end points of the study represent very different times in our economy, and this in all likelihood skewed the findings. In 2006, we were experiencing robust economic growth, soaring local real estate values and strong consumer confidence. By contrast, in 2013, the region was still struggling from the effects of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression. The study focuses on two years that hardly qualify as an “apples-to-apples” comparison.

A struggling regional economy … stagnant wage growth … the loss of corporate headquarters … does all this mean the outlook for giving is bleak?

Not necessarily. The economy of the Los Angeles region is undergoing a fundamental and positive transformation. Our growth engines include a large and fast-growing crop of startups, especially information-age and digital sector enterprises. Many of these companies are staffed by members of the millennial (or Gen Y) generation — those born after 1980, who account for more than a third of the working-age population. On the cusp of raising families, and likely to be burdened by student loans and other obligations, millennials understandably do not yet give high priority to charitable giving. Yet their willingness to donate their time and money to causes that capture their interest — such as the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge” phenomenon that swept social media — suggests that they are likely to be as charitable as any prior generation when their circumstances improve.  

Do the findings of “The Generosity Gap” mean the challenges to charitable giving in Los Angeles are greater than ever before? The report certainly deserves our attention. But we must also consider the countervailing trends, not the least of which are the powerful information-age resources that enable us to create virtual communities that can connect disparate segments of our population in new and meaningful ways. 

Working together, among the ways we can surmount these challenges are the following:

Invest in impact philanthropy programs that can reach large numbers of stakeholders. An example is Moishe House, an emerging community model for engaging millennial Jews that subsidizes housing in exchange for creative programming in communal living spaces. Its effective programs, national growth and sheer energy have been powerful drivers of its success. While Moishe House focuses on Jewish engagement, it is representative of the significance of impact, which can apply to almost any nonprofit category — from arts and culture to human need.

Engage the next generation in charitable giving that addresses their interests.  Causes that will appeal to millennials, the next wave of givers, might be fundamentally different than those that attracted their parents. The types of organizations are likely to be more grass-roots and localized, and they are likely to want to receive information via social and digital media, not glossy mailings. To earn their support, charities will have to understand, honor and respond to the preferences of this new generation.

Become charitable-giving role models for your children and grandchildren.  Dorothy and Osias Goren have for decades been pillars of Los Angeles Jewish and general-community causes. They knew instinctively that their charitable passions would not necessarily be the same as those of their children or grandchildren. Now in their 90s, they created charitable funds at The Foundation for each of their three children and 10 grandchildren, with the simple goal of sparking a passion for giving among their progeny — at which they have succeeded admirably.

Extend and leverage limited resources through collaborative funding. The often-overused word “synergy” is certainly apt here. Individuals, institutional and corporate funders and nonprofit institutions need to coordinate their giving programs, seeking to identify opportunities for high-potential programs, address pockets of need and, when necessary, respond to episodes of crisis.

Poverty, job and income stagnation, homelessness and other societal problems create real headwinds for the entire Los Angeles region. Nonetheless, I have a fundamental confidence in our community’s future, and particularly the outlook for Jewish Los Angeles, based on our unwavering belief in tikkun olam. We should regard “The Generosity Gap” as an opportunity to provoke fresh thinking and constructive dialogue, and then bind together to surmount the challenges that inevitably lie ahead.

Marvin I. Schotland is president and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, which manages more than $1 billion in charitable assets for local Jewish philanthropists, and in 2015 distributed $96 million in grants locally, nationally and in Israel.

$4 million matching grant aims to engage L.A. Jewish teens

With the support of a more than $4 million matching grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation, along with financial assistance from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is developing the Los Angeles Jewish Teen Initiative as part of an extensive outreach effort to Jewish teens who otherwise would not be involved in Jewish life. 

“The goal is to engage 2,000 to 3,000 local Jewish teens in meaningful Jewish experiences,” Josh Miller, senior program officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation, said in a phone interview.

The L.A. grant, which was announced last February, represents a ramped-up effort by the Jim Joseph Foundation to fund youth organizations. According to the foundation’s website, it has awarded more than $37.3 million in seven communities for community-based Jewish teen education initiatives.

Miller said the foundation hopes to help Jewish teens explore “what it means to be Jewish today, and what it means to be Jewish in the future.”

Many share Miller’s enthusiasm. Ben Schillmoeller, 25, the program coordinator at the Shalom Institute, was among approximately 30 people representing various nonprofit organizations who attended a Nov. 2-3 retreat held at American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley, which focused on developing ways of engaging youth. The Federation organized the retreat.

After a morning spent brainstorming under the guidance of a representative of Upstart, a San Francisco Bay Area-based consulting service, Schillmoeller told the Journal he believes outdoor trips are one way to make teenagers excited about being Jewish.  

“Teens don’t really get the chance to go out and see the wilderness as much as they used to,” Schillmoeller said in an interview. 

Ronnie Conn, assistant executive director at the Westside JCC, said he thinks expanding the popular Maccabi Games program for youth is also important for teen engagement.

Although the majority of teen programs are still being developed, one is already underway: Federation launched a community internship program for high school students last summer as part of the initiative. Twenty-seven teenagers worked at various Jewish organizations across Los Angeles, including at the Jewish Journal, in internships that not only offered work experience for their résumés, but also were intended to help engage them in Jewish life. The program will continue next year.

Representatives of BBYO, formerly B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, Camp JCA Shalom, Moving Traditions, JQ International, Shalom Institute, Stephen S. Wise Temple Freedom School, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles and the Westside Jewish Community Center are among the first organizations included in this effort. The Federation will have worked with more than 20 organizations by the time the entire initiative concludes in nearly five years. 

“We were looking for diversity,” Shari Davis, director of Jewish education and engagement at Federation, told the Journal. “We were looking for diversity of organizations.”

Each of the organizations will receive between $25,000 and $50,000 from the Jim Joseph Foundation matching grant, according to Jessica Green, director of the L.A. Jewish Teen Initiative.

“The ultimate goal of everything we are doing is to engage as many under-engaged teenagers in some form of Jewish life [as possible],” she said. “And we are doing this from a variety of different tactics. One is expanding the programmatic landscape for teens. … Another is working with teen educators, ensuring they are as highly resourced and trained as possible to meet the diverse needs of teens themselves, and the third is nurturing the L.A. ecosystem, attempting to bridge existing gaps that exist in a city as geographically wide and culturally diverse as this is.”

Shira Rosenblatt, senior vice president of Jewish education and engagement at Federation, said the initiative hopes to counteract the drop-off in Jewish engagement that so often follows a teen’s b’nai mitzvah experience. 

“Many of them see the bar and bat mitzvah as an opportunity for a perfect exit out, and we lose them,” she said. “And we really do believe that a connection to Jewish life — in the broader sense, a connection to community — can offer resources and insights and support for teens in a way that can be tremendously beneficial to them.” 

The funds also are being used to train leaders in Jewish organizations to become more effective teen educators and to engage the teens themselves to become participants in the conversations about Jewish life. 

Conn, for his part, said that the mere convening of Jewish leaders is important for the larger effort of engaging youth.

“It is creating in L.A. a network like we have never seen, in terms of how we can better serve teens across the city.”

Cutting Edge Grants from the Jewish Community Foundation

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles has named nine initiatives the recipients of its annual Cutting Edge Grants program, intended to support creative thinkers, social entrepreneurs and innovative organizations in the local Jewish community. 

This year’s winners will use the funds to assist underserved communities, support Jewish organizations embracing technology and explore new models of synagogue leadership. Each initiative will receive up to $250,000 over three years for a total of $1.85 million — a 23 percent increase from last year. Since 2006, the foundation has awarded more than $13.2 million to 72 initiatives.

The largest grant recipient this year — and the only one awarded the maximum amount — is the Jewish Los Angeles Special Needs Trust, the first pooled special needs trust in the county, according to foundation officials. Under the fiscal sponsorship of Bet Tzedek, the initiative’s founders will launch a new nonprofit that will allow families — many of whom would not otherwise have the financial means to create independent trusts to care for their loved ones with special needs — to buy into a collectively invested fund. That money would then be carefully managed in order to support these children later in life.  

The trust hopes to be in business within nine months under the leadership of founding board Chairman Sandor Samuels, a former CEO of Bet Tzedek, a nonprofit that provides free legal services to low-income individuals and families. Over the last few years, Bet Tzedek used funding from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to develop a business plan for the trust and to conduct a community-needs assessment. 

“We know there are potentially thousands of families that could benefit,” said Journal columnist Michelle K. Wolf, the trust’s founder and a special needs parent.

Another Cutting Edge Grant recipient is Custom and Craft (” target=”_blank”>haggadot.com. With a three-year $200,000 grant, Levinson will create a studio and media lab in Los Angeles to teach and assist Jewish organizations and individuals to improve their use of technology, design and social media. 

“A lot of what we are doing is based on the model of these YouTube networks. We want to train organizations to operate almost as online talent. Anybody who has a compelling voice can start their own YouTube channel or Instagram account,” Levinson said. “I want our most interesting Jewish organizations to learn how to do the same.”

In addition to consulting with organizations across the city, Custom and Craft’s studio will offer monthly public worships and drop-in sessions. 

The Shalom Hartman Institute of North America will receive $240,000 over three years to create learning modules to build bridges across Jewish constituencies and institutions, and the residential treatment center Beit T’Shuvah will use a $200,000 grant to develop the Elaine Breslow Institute for Jewish Clergy and Educators, which will train hundreds of Jewish educators to identify and support those suffering from addiction. 

Overall, this year’s winners each reflect a vision of innovation for the future of Jewish Los Angeles, according to Elana Wien, director of the Center for Designed Philanthropy at the Jewish Community Foundation. 

“These grants are designed to meet diverse Jewish participants where they are, using creative and innovative strategies to most effectively address their needs,” she said. “The potential is here to make Jewish life in Los Angeles more vibrant, inclusive and engaging for all Jews.”

The remaining Cutting Edge Grants were awarded to: Chai Lifeline, for an afterschool program for children affected by the illness or death of a parent or sibling; Federation, for a rabbinic fellowship program; Shalom Institute in Malibu, for an expanded internship program on its Shemesh Organic Farm; Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles and Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, to develop inter-congregational, neighborhood-based villages for elderly congregants who are interested in aging-in-place; and Theatre Dybbuk, to continue its arts education program.