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Major changes ahead at major Jewish charity

Federations not the only ones seeking to keep donors on board

 
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Sociologist Peter Frumkin, just back from speaking before a Hebrew University conference on philanthropy and public policy in Israel, told The Jewish Standard that the challenges federations are facing are part of a broader social trend: “Disintermediation, removal of the middle man. You see it in financial services” as well as in the charitable world, he noted.

“It’s a huge generational problem,” he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “The old-time donors would give unconditionally to the federations and trust the professional managers to make the decision about the highest and best use of philanthropic funds,” said Frumkin, who is professor of public affairs and director of the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

Younger donors, he continued, “want a higher level of engagement,” perhaps serving on an organization’s board. “They also want a sense that they are doing more than just writing checks.”

Community foundations in the secular world are facing the same challenge, he said: “How do you maintain the donor base?”

In the community foundation world, he went on, “there’s been a concerted effort to reinvent the models, making them more centric to the needs of donors.”

He cited the successful Kansas City Community Foundation, which “invented a whole suite of services for donors designed to meet their needs,” as the “poster child for the community foundation world.”

Another universal challenge in the field of philanthropy is that donors want “evidence of impact.” There’s a “heightened sense of attention paid to evaluating results, measuring performance, and reporting on impact.”

This emphasis, he said, “stems from a kind of ethos of investing. You want to have some kind of sense of what the impact and the results [of your investing] are.” But while “the metrics we use to measure financial performance are very precise, the metrics we use to measure philanthropic performance are much less precise.”

It is difficult to measure, for example, whether a donation intended to foster Jewish identity does just that.

A particular challenge for Jewish charities is that younger donors “interpret philanthropy as healing the world,” not necessarily the Jewish world. “Their idea is tikkun olam, helping people and changing the world for the better. They are not so deeply aligned with Israel and Jewish causes” as their elders.

“Now that I’ve been to Israel,” he said in an aside, “I’ve seen the case for [donations to Israel] more clearly. Jewish identity is not exclusively wrapped up in the rituals of the faith. It’s also in this historic identity. You have to have a broad interpretation of what it means to be Jewish and a broader interpretation of what it means to heal the world.”

“The clever federations are reinventing themselves,” said Frumkin. The author of “Strategic Giving” (University of Chicago Press, 2006) — about effective philanthropy and how donors can develop a charitable agenda — he has some suggestions about how to do that.

First, he said, federations should create opportunities to engage and involve donors.

They should “build the tools for evaluation and performance measurement.”

And they should “serve as a vehicle for learning and donor development.”

Those are the three most important things, in Frumkin’s view, that federations can do “to ensure that the next generation of donors remain committed and interested in their work.”

 

More on: Major changes ahead at major Jewish charity

 
 
 

“We want to be an organization that is nimble, responsive, fast, not what people perceive as a federation,” said Alan Scharfstein, president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. His words conjured up contrasting images: a sleek racehorse versus an unwieldy, slow-moving mammoth.

And we all know what happened to the mammoths.

To do its work well in an evolving communal landscape, UJA-NNJ must evolve as well, Scharfstein said. In an interview last month at its Paramus offices, he and federation officials outlined sweeping changes, changes designed, he said, “not only to manage funds but to engage the next generation.”

 
 
 
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Scheherazade in Cresskill

Former Palmach, Palyam fighter talks about his adventures in Russia, Palestine, Egypt, and Brooklyn

So you walk into the big, airy, neat, well-furnished Cresskill apartment, full of pale winter sun, and it’s almost like walking into Scheherazade’s rooms.

Presiding over this comfortable, profoundly suburban setting, Shlomo Lev spins stories, one after the other, improbable but true, of times and places close enough to us for us to know they were real, but far enough away to be mythic nonetheless.

Mr. Lev is a small-boned, taut, wiry man, muscular still, even at 87. His close-cropped white hair, white mustache and carefully trimmed beard, and light eyes, his blue jeans and windbreaker make him look less like Shloime Levitsky, as he once was, and more like a retired British sailor about to head out to the pub with his mates in a 1950s movie.

So why is he showing you what looks like a very fancy pair of men’s underpants?

 

Lords of the trains

How a world-class model railroad layout landed in a Paterson silk mill

Start with a three-year-old’s enchantment with a toy that moves by itself, as if by magic.

Add the love of a doting father.

Simmer with time. Throw in more than a dash of unexpected curves.

The result: The world’s largest O-scale model railroad layout.

On Sunday, you’re invited to the third floor of a former silk factory in Paterson to see it.

If you go, brace yourself. Prepare to be amazed. There are tracks and trains and buildings rendered in loving details. There’s a replica of an Esso oil refinery; a Manhattan subway station, replete with microscopic model rats, and there are yet more trains, including engines that puff rings of flavored smoke.

 

Past and future in Kosovo

In heart of Muslim province, Jewish remnant stakes its claim

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Boxing Club Prishtina is a squat building on a narrow street around the corner from the parliament in the heart of Kosovo’s capital city.

Around the corner, a popular Italian restaurant draws the young Western Europeans and Americans in button-down shirts and open-toed heels who help keep the country running. Walk the other way and you’ll find a dim hole-in-the-wall bar/gallery crammed with their Kosovar peers.

But Boxing Club Prishtina stands unattended, plaster cracked or stripped away by wind, rain, and time. Its rusted metal awning droops into Mark Isaki Street.

Before World War II, the Jews of Kosovo will tell you, the building housed a yeshiva or Jewish community center or maybe both — or maybe neither. Maybe it will be restored or torn down, become a monument or a memory.

 

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One bullet at a time

French priest finds graves, unearths stories from Europe’s killing fields

Father Patrick Desbois keeps all expression off his face when people tell him the most horrible things.

If he let his feelings show, the people wouldn’t talk. And he wants them to talk: He asks them questions again and again, pinning down details. Where did this happen? What window were you watching from? Who was there?

Listening without reacting is a core competency for a Catholic priest like Father Desbois. But in a confession booth, the priest’s face is shielded. Father Desbois interviews people in their homes, speaking face to face, if often through a translator.

“You have a choice,” he said last week. “You can express yourself or you can know the truth.”

The truth he seeks to uncover is a horrible one: the story of how more than two million people were murdered, one at a time, by Nazis and their Eastern European collaborators.

 

One bullet at a time

Protecting memory
 

Slaughter in Paris

Dirty Charlie

Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French weekly, entered American consciousness last week when terrorists attacked an editorial meeting, killing 12 people, among them five staff cartoonists.

Afterwards, the phrase “Je suis Charlie” was spread by people who wanted to signal their support for freedom of expression — many of whom, outside of France, had never heard of the publication.

But Edward Portnoy was a longtime Charlie fan.

Dr. Portnoy, who teaches Jewish studies courses at Rutgers, discovered the magazine 20 years ago, when he spent a year in France. When he was a child, when his friends collected baseball cards, he had collected Wacky Packs — stickers that parody actual boxes or labels. Later, he earned a doctorate in Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America; his dissertation was on political cartoons in the American Yiddish press.

 
 
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