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entries tagged with: Jacob Berkman


Grant pushes historic partnership of seminaries

Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, left, Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University, and Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College

NEW YORK – Spurred by a major grant from one of the largest Jewish foundations, the rabbinical seminaries of three major synagogue movements are forging a groundbreaking partnership to train Jewish educators.

The Jim Joseph Foundation announced Monday that it was giving a combined $33 million to the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion, the Modern Orthodox Yeshiva University, and the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The grant is aimed at helping the three seminaries attract more teachers to the field of Jewish education and offer them better training.

As a stipulation for receiving the money, each school will be required to use $1 million of the roughly $11 million it receives over the next four years to work with the other schools on figuring out how to market the field of Jewish education to prospective teachers and incorporating modern technology into Jewish pedagogy.

“The presidents of the three institutions, thanks to the Jim Joseph grant process, have spent more time together in the past two years than our predecessors did in the previous decade,” said JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen. “I think it is historic that you have these three institutions and their leaders working together in this fashion. I think it is good for the Jews and it is a moment.”

Partnerships have become a driver for JTS, which announced in early May that part of its new strategic vision included finding new allies in the education sector.

Hebrew Union College has become a natural ally for the Conservative movement’s seminary. The schools are in the third year of offering a combined fellowship funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation that brings together rabbinical students from both seminaries for a joint seminar, and they also are now offering some joint classes as part of their respective cantorial programs.

But Yeshiva University historically has been a tougher match for both HUC and JTS because of deep theological differences between the Orthodox institution and its non-Orthodox counterparts.

Under the new initiative, each school will continue to teach its own brand of Judaism, but the schools will cooperate on elements of the educational process that affect all of the institutions.

It’s a message that YU’s president, Richard Joel, is very careful to make: that the schools are working together on practice and not content.

“There was a time a couple of generations ago where liberal Judaism was viewed as a threat because most people were at least nominally Orthodox,” and liberal Judaism was seen as giving Jews a reason to leave Orthodoxy, Joel said. “But I don’t think that is the reality today. The issue isn’t that liberal Judaism will steal people from Orthodoxy. Now it is viewed as something that continues to urge Jews to know something about their story.”

According to Jim Joseph’s executive director, Charles Edelsberg, the three schools were scheduled to meet Thursday with representatives from the tech giant Cisco to learn about “telepresence” technology. And they are talking with the MacArthur Foundation about digital media and learning.

In recent years, even before the Jim Joseph grant, the leaders of the three schools — Eisen, Joel, and HUC’s Rabbi David Ellenson — had begun to appear on panel discussions together, something that would have been unheard of for much of the last century.

Still, sources at the schools said, even though the collegiality among Eisen, Ellenson, and Joel has helped the partnership evolve, the institutions probably would not have come together without the recession and the significant financial carrot offered by Jim Joseph.

When the economy hit a low last year, Jim Joseph stepped up with $12 million to help the struggling schools provide scholarships to students and launch their working relationship. YU will use about $700,000 per year to help defray the cost of education for students at its Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration and the education program at Stern College, its women’s college, according to Joel. JTS will use approximately $1 million per year to provide scholarships to its nondenominational William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education. And HUC will use about one-third of its grant on financial aid for students seeking master’s degrees at its New York and Los Angeles campuses, according to Ellenson.

Outside of the interschool partnerships, each institution will use the bulk of its grant money for training better teachers.

For YU, that means continuing to beef up its Azrieli school, which has gone from one faculty member to 11 since Joel’s arrival in 2003. The school now has more than 160 students seeking master’s degrees in education. YU also is working on creating a certificate in informal Jewish education and a job placement program for the students it churns out over the next four years.

JTS will use a significant portion of its money to better its early childhood education, including forming a partnership with the Bank Street College of Education, a non-Jewish teachers’ college renowned for its early childhood program, Eisen said. It also will try to set up informal Jewish education programs at congregational and day schools modeled after successful efforts at the Conservative movement’s Ramah camp system. And JTS will create an Israel immersion program for students at the Davidson school.

HUC is planning on starting an executive master’s program and three new certificate programs in Judaica for early childhood educators and teachers of children, adolescents, and emerging adults.

Jim Joseph hopes the schools will graduate 700 to 1,000 teachers during the duration of the grant.

In its first four years, the foundation has given about $220 million to Jewish formal and informal education efforts, including day schools, camps, and youth groups, as well as to Birthright Israel and the official follow-up program Birthright Israel NEXT.

In recent weeks, Jim Joseph has announced some $45 million in grants to produce more Jewish teachers, including the $33 million gift to the three seminaries and a recently announced $12 million investment to revive and ramp up a dormant doctoral program in Jewish education at Stanford University. All this is on top of the $12 million that Jim Joseph gave the three seminaries last year primarily for scholarships for advanced degree programs in Jewish education and other significant gifts it has made to a doctoral program in Jewish education at New York University.

“This partnership should have a significant impact on the number of future Jewish educators and the skills they will bring to their professions,” the foundation’s president, Al Levitt, said in a news release announcing the grant. “With the help of these grants, we know the institutions can reach their full potential and produce teachers who continue to positively shape the lives of Jewish youth.”



Komen Race for the Cure to be run in Israel

From left, Hadassah President Nancy Falchuk, Susan G. Komen lay leader Hadassah Lieberman, and Komen CEO Nancy Brinker speak with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Birkat at a press conference in Washington on April 28. Courtesy of Susan G. Komen for the Cure

The world’s largest breast cancer organization, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is partnering with Jerusalem, Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, health advocates, and scientists for a week of breast cancer-related events.

The Komen organization is launching the Israel Breast Cancer Collaborative, a partnership with nongovernmental organizations in Israel, to enhance advocacy, awareness, screening, and treatment of breast cancer in Israel during the week of Oct. 25 to 29.

A series of events will include a think tank on breast cancer, a mission to Israel, and Komen’s famed Race for the Cure, which will be held just outside Jerusalem’s Old City.

While not an overtly Jewish charity, Komen has deep Jewish roots. Nancy Brinker started the organization in 1982 after her sister, Susan Komen, died of breast cancer. Brinker is Jewish, as was Komen.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure has invested more than $27 million in funding for international breast cancer research and more than $17 million in international community education and outreach programs. Komen has partnered or funded programs in more than 50 countries.

While most of the money raised by Komen goes to general breast cancer causes, the organization has given $2 million for research in Israel through the Weizmann Institute of Science, Hebrew University-Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, Beit Natan, and Life’s Door. In the United States it has ties to Hadassah, Sharsheret, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

This will be the first time, however, that Komen has held the 5K Race for the Cure in Israel.

“This is exciting. For me it is very exciting,” said Hadassah Lieberman, who joined Komen as its global ambassador several years ago when the organization ran its first international race in Sao Paolo, Brazil. The race has since been held in countries such as Germany, Italy, and Egypt.

“We have been thinking about Jerusalem for a while,” said Lieberman, the wife of Connecticut U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman. “It has been one of the places where these things take a while to coordinate.”

According to Komen officials, breast cancer is the most common form of women’s cancer in Israel, accounting for nearly 30 percent of new cancer cases in the country. About 4,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer in Israel each year.

In bringing the race to Israel, Susan G. Komen for the Cure hopes to spark new collaborations with organizations such as the Israel Cancer Association and to raise awareness of breast cancer in Israel.

“Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s very first international research grant went to Israel 16 years ago, and we have enjoyed longstanding friendships and productive collaborations in Israel ever since,” Brinker said in a statement announcing the Israel project. “The new Israel Breast Cancer Collaborative takes our relationships to the next level — in partnership with the city of Jerusalem, Hadassah, government leaders, advocates, and our global partners — as we work to address the critical issues in breast cancer for the women of Israel and the world.”

This might seem a precarious time for an international fund-raising organization to broaden its ties with Israel, with the country feeling the fallout of the flotilla incident in terms of public opinion, but Lieberman says she does not believe it will be an issue for Komen’s fund-raising.

“Everyone, whether it is Jewish organizations or Christian populations, is really excited about this race because we never have had a chance to do it in Jerusalem,” she said. “It’s very been exciting and positive, particularly at times like this, when you have to understand that this illness has no border and boundary and you understand the cure has no border and boundary.”

Lieberman added, “It is very special to be able to go to the Kotel to put a note in the [Western Wall], and for some of these women to go there and have a prayer for themselves or for their sisters’ or aunts’ health, and spread awareness around Israel.”



Opponents alarmed as Israeli conversion bill moves ahead

Opponents of a controversial bill that could give the Orthodox rabbinate the final say over conversions in Israel are trying to keep the bill from moving ahead in the Israeli Knesset after its surprise introduction and passage by a Knesset committee.

For months, Israeli lawmakers have been discussing a bill that would put more power over conversion into the hands of Israel’s Orthodox-dominated rabbinate by giving local rabbis the ability to perform conversions and giving the Chief Rabbinate oversight and control over the whole process.

The bill, sponsored by Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset member David Rotem, gained steam Monday with its approval in the Knesset law committee by a 5-4 vote. The bill now must pass three readings before the full Knesset to become law.

David Rotem, chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, pushed a controversial conversion bill through the committee by a 5-4 vote on July 12. Flash90/JTA

Opponents are desperately trying to stall the process, at least until the Knesset starts a two-month break next week.

“They have to bring it to the Knesset now for a first reading, and we have to make sure that it will not happen,” the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky, told JTA.

Sharansky is leading a coalition against the bill that includes the leaders of the North American Jewish federation system and the non-Orthodox Jewish religious movements in the United States.

Rotem’s bill originally was intended to ease the conversion process within Israel and make it easier for non-Jewish Israelis of Soviet extraction to obtain conversions and marry within Israel.

Despite its intent, opponents warned that the bill would consolidate control over conversions in the office of the Chief Rabbinate and drive a wedge between Israel and the diaspora by carrying the risk that non-Orthodox conversions performed in the diaspora could be discounted in Israel. In addition, they said the bill would affect the eligibility of converts for the Law of Return, which grants the right to Israeli citizenship to anyone who is Jewish or has at least one Jewish grandparent.

The opponents urged Rotem to revise the proposal. They believed they had a deal in place with Rotem to hold off on the bill pending more discussion after Rotem came to the United States in April to discuss the bill with them and after a number of meetings between Sharansky and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Several top Israeli officials, including the justice minister and minister for diaspora affairs, had agreed to work with Sharansky on altering the bill.

But Rotem caught Sharansky and the diaspora leaders by surprise by bringing the bill to a committee vote this week; Sharansky was given only a day’s warning. The move set off a maelstrom of criticism from the diaspora.

The CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, Jerry Silverman, called Rotem’s action a “betrayal.”

In a letter of protest from the president of the Union for Reform Judaism that was signed by 14 other organizations, including various arms of the Conservative movement, Rabbi Eric Yoffie wrote, “Rotem’s actions are contrary to the assurances we received in meetings with him and with others over the last several months.”

In an interview with JTA, Rotem was unapologetic about moving ahead and said, “This bill will pass, no doubt.”

“I never promised anything,” Rotem said. “I told them all the time in the meetings that if I will see there is a majority, I will bring it a vote. No one can say I promised anything.”

In their discussions with Rotem, diaspora leaders expressed concern about an item in the bill that would have taken away the right to automatic citizenship for anyone who comes to Israel as a refugee but then converts to Judaism. Rotem removed that item before pushing the bill through the law committee.

Now, he says, the bill has no effect on American or diaspora Jews and that this is solely an Israeli matter over which non-Israeli Jews should have no say.

“I don’t know why they wanted to have discussions,” he said. “I came to the U.S. I spoke to leaders, and I explained this is nothing that touched the American community. It has nothing to with Jews in the diaspora. It is only an Israeli matter.”

Since Monday, Sharansky has engaged in a number of discussions with Israeli lawmakers, including Netanyahu. The Jewish Agency chief said he believes the bill will not come before the Knesset this week, and hopes it will not be on the agenda before the two-month recess provides a chance to alter or scuttle the bill.

Sharansky said he is pushing for Netanyahu and his Likud Party to publicly oppose it.

“If it is clear Likud will not support it, it will not pass,” Sharansky said.

The Jewish Federations say that Silverman and federation lay leaders met with Israel’s president Shimon Peres Monday. Peres, according to a JFNA press release, pressed for more dialogue on the proposed bill that would give American voices greater credence.

“More than half of our people are living in the State of Israel. Almost half of it lives outside of Israel. We should remember that those living outside of Israel are not represented by the Knesset, they have their own communal life,” Peres told the group.

“A discussion that bears consequences on the entire Jewish people should include different voices — from within Israel and from without. The legislative process should include an open public discussion that will lead to an understanding. It should be conducted with tolerance, with open hearts and open minds.”

“It is important for us, for the unanimity of the moment, that we have to keep the pressure on,” Rabbi Steven Wernick, the executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, told JTA.

“I think it would be an error to think that in the political society as dynamic and hyper-dynamic as Israel is that we are done with this,” he said. “The people who care about these issues have to constantly keep them on the agenda and explain why they are important to decision-makers.”



AJCongress demise a tale of money, shifting priorities

After a death watch lasting nearly two years, news that the end of the American Jewish Congress was imminent set off a flurry of e-mails in the Jewish organizational world wondering if the nine-decade-old advocacy group indeed was shutting its doors.

News of the demise was posted last Friday by, a Website focused on Jewish nonprofits.

“We have suspended most of our operations,” the organization’s co-executive director, Marc Stern, told JTA by phone last Friday, confirming that an organization that had been devastated by the Madoff scheme in December 2008 had laid off nearly all its remaining employees.

“Some things are continuing to go on because they are in process, and there are future activities a couple of months down the road,” Stern said, citing cash flow problems. “There are some other things floating around that can be done with minimal costs. I hope things will become very clear and we can discuss it in public.”

Marc Stern, the legal counsel of the American Jewish Congress.

The AJCongress’ demise is a story not just about cash-flow problems but about the changing priorities of the American Jewish community, organizational insiders said.

While the fulcrum was certainly the organization’s losses in the Madoff scandal — $21 million of its $24 million endowment disappeared in the scheme — the money woes laid bare the longstanding weaknesses that for years had made the AJCongress a junior sibling to larger Jewish advocacy organizations such as the American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League.

“I think we had to find our voice in the community and in the arenas that were important; I don’t know that we did that very effectively,” AJCongress Chairman Jack Rosen told JTA.

Others say privately that while the AJCongress was doing important work, focusing on issues of religious freedom in the United States, free speech, and women’s rights, those simply did not resonate with donors who time and again have shown more interest in Israel and anti-Semitism.

Officially launched in 1922 by prominent Jews including Rabbi Stephen Wise and Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, the AJCongress was established to be a democratic body that spoke for American Jews on a wide range of issues. At the time the AJCommittee, which had a similar mission, was seen as an elite bastion of German Jewish immigrants that was unresponsive to the broader Jewish community.

By the 1940s, the AJCongress was pioneering the model of using legal action to better Jews’ lives in America. In the 1960s, it took the lead role on behalf of the Jewish community in the legal fight for civil rights. In recent years it focused on securing the church-state divide in the United States, along with international issues such as helping refine Israel’s relationship with NATO and leading the legal fight against terrorists’ use of human shields.

The organization’s president, Richard Gordon, attributed the AJCongress’ fund-raising woes to a changing of priorities in the Jewish community that many organizations are feeling.

“The number of people who give to organizations like ours is dwindling,” Gordon said. “There is not a group of younger people who see these organizations as vital to American Jews.”

As the deepening recession prompted increased calls for the organized Jewish world to eliminate duplication and unnecessary bureaucracy by merging and contracting, the AJCongress became a prime example for the chopping block. Many suggested it be taken in either by the ADL or the AJC.

Those calls became louder in recent months as news surfaced that the AJCongress was considering merging with the AJC. Gordon says those talks continue and take place nearly every day. The AJC refused to comment.

Mission duplication aside, a shortage of cash was the precipitating event that led to the AJCongress closure. The Madoff losses erased the sum total of a bequest left to the organization by philanthropists Martin and Lillian Steinberg in 2001 — they were close with Madoff, according to the Forward. The losses also wiped out half of the remaining proceeds from the 2004 sale of the organization’s building on East 84th Street in Manhattan.

Until the middle of the 2000s, the AJCongress still was managing to raise between $3 million and $4 million per year from bequests and living donors. About a quarter of its budget came from endowments. But the pool simply dried up with the recession.

“There are some people who gave a lot of money, but over the last number of years that has not been very robust at all, even before Madoff,” Gordon said.

Immediately following the Madoff scandal, board member Jay Umansky issued a challenge to other board members to each contribute a low four-figure gift to help the AJCongress get back on its feet, according to several sources. But with a board composed more of intellectual heavyweights than financial heavyweights, only a handful accepted the challenge.

It didn’t help that after the departure of the previous executive director, Neil Goldstein, in 2008, the board failed to hire a new CEO and instead had Stern and Matt Horn — the organization’s legal counsel and policy director, respectively — become co-executive directors while keeping their old roles. The two were meant to serve in their new executive positions on an interim basis, but the board never found a successor to Goldstein.

“This is about a vacuum of leadership,” one insider said. “That is what you are missing over here. It is about no cohesion that brought together contributors, programming, and mission statement.”

While the AJCongress appears dormant for now, Stern and others are not closing the book completely. Several employees are still working, though it’s unclear if they are being paid. (See related story.)

“Maybe if money comes available, then we will pick up as resources pick up,” Stern said. “We have been wrestling with these problems for several months now and reached a point where we had to make a decision. At some point you just can’t continue with the resources available.”


For more about this issue, see AJCongress shutters quickly, pays debts slowly.


Chelsea’s wedding raises questions about intermarriage

Marc Mezvinsky and Chelsea Clinton during their wedding ceremony on Saturday. Genevieve de Manio

Is it possible that the first iconic Jewish picture of the decade is of an interfaith marriage?

Photographs taken Saturday show the Jewish groom wearing a yarmulke and a crumpled tallit staring into the eyes of his giddy bride under a traditional Jewish wedding canopy with a framed ketubah, a Jewish wedding contract, in the background.

The couple are Marc Mezvinsky, the banker son of two Jewish ex-members of Congress, and Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of the former U.S. president and current secretary of state.

The images and scant details of the tightly guarded wedding — dubbed by some the “wedding of the century” — have raised a number of questions about the significance of the union for American Jews and what it says about intermarriage in America.

We should “celebrate the full acceptance of Jews by the larger society that this marriage represents,” Hebrew Union College sociologist Steven Cohen told JTA via e-mail from Jerusalem.

At the same time, he noted, the fact that so few children of interfaith unions, particularly those between Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers, are raised solely as Jews raises the conundrum of our age: “How do we Jewishly engage and educate the intermarried, while at the same time maintaining our time-honored commitment to inmarriage?” Cohen asked.

“In short, we should celebrate the particular marriage of these two fine individuals, but we ought not celebrate the type of marriage it constitutes and represents.”

The wedding had more than just a Jewish flair.

It was officiated by a rabbi, James Ponet, head of the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale University, along with a Methodist minister. The marriage took place under a chuppah. Friends of the couple recited the traditional “sheva brachot,” the seven traditional Jewish blessings given to the bride and groom. The groom broke a glass with his foot, according to tradition. And according to several reports, guests danced the hora and lifted the former president and the secretary of state, Bill and Hillary Clinton, in chairs during the dance.

Yet some of the more liberal streams of American Judaism, which accept intermarriage if the couple’s children are raised as Jews, chafed at the fact that the wedding took place on Saturday, before the Jewish Sabbath ended. The Reform movement frowns upon its rabbis conducting weddings on the Sabbath, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, told JTA.

In 1973, the Reform movement decided officially that its rabbis would be allowed to perform intermarriages, though they would be discouraged from doing so, an edict that still stands today, he said.

“She has married in,” Paul Golin, the associate director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, a nondenominational group that reaches out to unaffiliated and intermarried families, said of Chelsea. “Some will say he married out, but if he was marrying out, there wouldn’t have been anything Jewish.

“The fact that they went to the effort to have a chuppah and have a rabbi and that he wore a tallis says a lot about their future direction. Otherwise, why bother?”

The marriage has pushed the internal Jewish community debate about intermarriage into the view of mainstream America.

In the days before the wedding, the Washington Post asked several rabbis in its “On Faith” column, “Is interfaith marriage good for American society? Is it good for religion? What is lost — and gained — when religious people intermarry?”

Rabbi Steven Wernick, the CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said intermarriage is certainly “not ideal,” but that the Conservative movement in 2008 decided that it must welcome interfaith families and “help their spouses along their spiritual journeys.”

Rabbi Shmuley Hecht, who is Orthodox and the rabbinical adviser at Yale University’s Eliezer Jewish Society, said intermarriage can work only if the non-Jewish spouse converts to Judaism through an Orthodox conversion and genuinely changes religions. Otherwise, he said, the marriage is doomed to fail because down the road any self-aware Jews, “however defined, will feel the call of their people and have the fullness of their being disrupted by intermarriage.”

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, also Orthodox and president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, said that when marriages break down it usually has little to do with religion. All religions should stop worrying about intermarriage and start worrying about how to help couples make their relationships work, he wrote.

Ed Case, the executive director of, said the Clinton wedding certainly had stirred interest in intermarriage, noting that traffic to his website was up 35 percent in July compared to the same month last year. Case said that accepting this marriage and welcoming this intermarried family into the Jewish fold could help pave the way for the Jewish community to be more accepting of others.

Golin said he is skeptical that the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding does anything more than revive existing battle lines in the Jewish debate over intermarriage.

“The horse is so far out of the barn on this one,” Golin said, noting that as an intermarried person himself, he is turned off by much of the debate over intermarriage as a problem. “The folks who are fearful that my kind of Judaism is going to destroy Judaism are still going to be fearful. The folks who are fully embracing of interfaith families are going to be embracing. I don’t see a whole lot of movement.”

Approached by JTA, the Orthodox Union declined to comment on the wedding. Separately, the head of its kashrut division, Rabbi Menachem Genack of Englewood, a longtime Clinton friend and political supporter, declined to comment.

The Mezvinsky-Clinton wedding is affirmation both of the success of the Jewish community and that American Jewry must learn how to deal with intermarried families and figure out how to bring them into the Jewish fold, the Reform movement’s Yoffie said.

“The price of our reaffirmation in American society is a high rate of intermarriage,” he said. “We can’t be embraced and not expect that our young people won’t be marrying with their young people. Unless we are prepared to withdraw into a ghetto, there is no solution.”

“I look at the couple and my response is, ‘I hope they will make a choice to raise their children in a single religion and tradition and second, as a Jew and rabbi, I hope it will be Judaism.’ I don’t know if they have had that conversation.”



Will the Giving Pledge affect Jewish causes?

The philanthropic world got a happy jolt when 40 members of the world’s wealthy elite — including 13 Jews — announced that they would give away more than half their money before they died.

The participating philanthropists were responding last week to a challenge issued earlier this year by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to their billionaire peers to donate more than half of their wealth in their lifetimes. Buffett and Gates called it the Giving Pledge.

But without any obvious signs of where their money will go, it’s unclear what impact this will have on Jewish nonprofits.

“This pledge is a very good thing — I want to be very clear about that — but I remain unsure if it is a game changer for the Jewish community in particular,” said Mark Charendoff, the president of the Jewish Funders Network, an organization for givers of at least $25,000 annually to Jewish causes.

Thirteen Jewish philanthropists were among the first to take the Giving Pledge challenge issued by Bill Gates, above, and Warren Buffett. Courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Charendoff said the average Jewish billionaire gives pretty much the way Americans give.

“If that is the case, then we will see money go to higher education, to health care and possibly to the arts,” he said, noting a phenomenon that long has vexed the Jewish philanthropic world.

Wealthy Jews are among the most charitable mega-donors per capita. More than one-third of living donors who have given away more than $1 billion, according to Forbes, are Jewish.

But the overtly Jewish charities among their portfolios pale in comparison to the general causes to which they give. Mega-philanthropists who have made Jewish causes a centerpiece of their giving are the exception.

The Jews who have taken the Giving Pledge fit the standard profile: All give to Jewish causes, according to a reading of the 990 tax forms of their foundations and published reports on their giving, but those gifts constitute only a fraction of the tens or hundreds of millions each gives away per year.

The Jewish names on the list are Michael Bloomberg, Eli and Edith Broad, Barry Diller and Diane Von Furstenberg, Larry Ellison, Joan and Irwin Jacobs, George Kaiser, Lorry Lokey, Bernie and Billie Marcus, Bernard and Barbro Osher, David M. Rubenstein, Herb and Marion Sandler, Jeff Skoll, Sanford and Joan Weill, and Shelby White.

Lokey is an exception to the rule on Jewish giving. While most of his largesse has been for educational causes, a large chunk also has gone to Israeli recipients. Lokey gave $33 million to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and has donated substantial sums to the Leo Baeck High School in Haifa, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Weizmann Institute, and Hadassah. He also has given $80 million to Catholic schools, by his own estimate.

A journalist who moved to public relations and then started his own business, Lokey, 83, says that he wants to make another $300 million or so from his investments before he dies. He already has pledged everything he has — somewhere in the range of $700 million — to a handful of charitable causes, and he told JTA the next big gifts will be to Israeli education.

“I hope to make it a billion before I kick the bucket,” Lokey said. “The next $60 million or so will go to Israel.”

Aside from Bernie Marcus, who has an arm of his foundation to deal with Jewish causes, and Bernard Osher, who gives away most of his money through the Jewish Communal Fund of San Diego, the Jews on the Giving Pledge list have directed the vast majority of their philanthropic dollars to general causes that are not explictly Jewish.

That would suggest that the Giving Pledge may not have a significant impact on Jewish causes.

Stacy Palmer, the editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, suggested the pledge might not have such a great impact on other causes, either, since the first 40 to sign on are the “usual suspects” who already have pledged away more than half their money.

Lokey fits that profile. He had sold his company, Businesswire, to Buffett in 2008, so the two already were familiar with each other when Buffet called him.

“A few weeks ago, Warren called to ask if I would be interested in making this pledge,” Lokey said. “I told him that I had already pledged and given away everything. He said, ‘Yes, that is why I want you on board.’”

Other Jews on the list were in a similar position.

“I know of a number of Jewish philanthropists who have already made those provisions long before Gates’ plan,” said Phyllis Cook, a philanthropic adviser to several of the Jews who have signed on to the Giving Pledge.

The foundations of several of those on the list contacted by JTA confirmed that the pledge is not expected to change much about how the foundations will operate.

The question for the Jewish community is how to increase the share of money Jewish givers donate to Jewish causes.

Charendoff estimates that Jews gave between $4 billion and $5 billion to Jewish-centric causes last year. If the pledge were to inspire everyone on the Forbes list of 400 top givers to give away half their wealth, he estimates that some $600 billion would go into the philanthropic world. That compares to the $300 billion or so that was given out by all Americans last year, according to GivingUSA. More than 130 of those on the Forbes 400 are Jewish.

“I don’t believe that we have begun to tap the Jewish community in terms of the potential wealth that is out there,” Charendoff said.

The problem is that the Jewish community still behaves as if it has a monopoly on philanthropic dollars from Jewish givers, he said.

“Thirty years ago, if you were Jewish and a philanthropist and you wanted to be on a board, your realm of activity was probably going to be in the Jewish world,” Charendoff said. “Now we are competing with Carnegie Hall and the Met and Sloan Kettering. This is the big leagues, and we can’t play as if we are competing between the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.”

For more about Jews on the Giving Pledge list, go to



Jewish groups exhale after Congress extends Medicaid program

Jacob BerkmanWorld
Published: 20 August 2010

Jewish groups are breathing a sigh of relief after Congress passed a law that saved them $150 million to $200 million.

President Obama on Aug. 10 signed into law a bill that extends relief provided by the federal government to individual states as part of the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage, a part of the 2008 Federal Recovery economic stimulus package. The measure will pump billions of dollars into organizations that rely on payment from Medicaid.

The FMAP extension, which had been the top priority of the Jewish Federations of North America, is particularly important for Jewish federations and their partner agencies, as nearly $6 billion per year in government aid goes through Medicaid to Jewish hospitals, nursing homes, Jewish Family Services outposts, and other social service agencies.

“Without these funds, states would have certainly cut back on their Medicaid programs, which would have had an adverse impact on how Jewish communal providers deliver needed care to their respective communities,” said William Daroff, the vice president for public policy and director of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington office.

As part of the package, states received some $87 billion in aid to help them pay their portions of the total cost for Medicaid. According to the Recovery Act, the money had to be spent by Jan 1, 2011, which posed a problem for states, whose fiscal years run from July 1 through June 30.

If the money ran out on Jan. 1, 2010, states would have been left with gaping holes in their budgets for the second half of the fiscal year. The law enacted Aug. 10 will extend FMAP until June 30, 2011, and pump another $26 billion into the program, of which $16 billion will be used for Medicaid.

The Jewish Federations of North America, which lobbies for more than $10 billion for Jewish causes each year from the federal government, was among the largest supporters of the FMAP extension. But the extension was particularly critical for groups such as the New York-based Jewish Home Life Care.

Over the past three years Jewish Home Life Care, which provides skilled in-home care to 9,000 New Yorkers, has had to cut its budget nine times, forcing the $300 million per year operation to excise more than 110 jobs and close two of its outpatient day-care facilities.

Until last week it was facing another $1.7 million in cuts and would have been among hundreds of Jewish organizations and institutions that would have lost up to $200 million in aggregate, according to JFNA estimates.

“It’s a sigh of relief,” said Jewish Home Life Care CEO Audrey Weinn, even though she still faces $400,000 in cuts from other shortfalls.

Federation officials say the JFNA was one of the 10 major groups, secular and faith-based, that lobbied Congress for the FMAP extension. Among them were Families USA, AFSCME, the First Focus children’s advocacy group, the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, and the Catholic Health Association, according to the JFNA’s assistant director for legislative affairs, Jonathan Westin.

The extension was a lesson in how federation advocacy can work.

The JFNA, which started its fight for the FMAP extension in January, created background materials and talking points that it distributed to local federations and Jewish community-relations councils, which then lobbied their own local congressional representatives. And in June, some 30 lay and professional leaders of the federation system flew into Washington from across the country for intense lobbying with government officials with whom they had strong connections.

“It showed a synergy between our lay and professional leaders,” Westin said. “You had this common bond, and whether you were from a large or small community, it wasn’t just about fighting for Medicaid needs but about delivering needed services for those in need. That is our core mission.”

In Ohio, social service groups would have lost an estimated $513 million without the FMAP extension, according to Joyce Garver, the executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities, the state’s Jewish advocacy group. Jewish groups would have lost about $2 million — a significant amount for a population of about 150,000 Jews.

Garver spent the past several months working with Ohio groups to help them understand what the cuts might mean, and also worked with the state’s leaders to lobby their representatives for the extension.

“It’s a huge victory, and it is wonderful to work on something and have it end in success,” she said.

The federations are not completely happy with the extension, as Congress is slated to divert funds from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food stamps for millions of Americans.

The reduction to the food stamp program, however, is not set to go into effect until 2014. Federation officials are gearing up already to fight the reduction.

“That is four years out, and we will work hard to try to restore those funds,” Westin said. “This was an immediate issue, and this was the combination, for better or for worse, that got the vote.”



Colleges with few Jews seek to draw more

Dean Hank Dobin of Washington and Lee University dedicates the school’s new Hillel house, a $4 million, 7,000-square-foot facility funded by private gifts, in September. Kevin Remington/Washington and Lee

Last year, 19-year-old Max Chapnick ate plenty of vegetables.

Chapnick, who comes from a kosher home in White Plains, N.Y., is a sophomore at Washington and Lee University, a small liberal arts school in Lexington, Va. His freshman year he ate in the dining hall by choosing carefully.

“I didn’t mix meat and milk, and I ate a lot of vegetarian meals,” he said.

This fall, Washington and Lee dedicated a new $4 million Hillel house, complete with a kosher café.

On a campus with fewer than 100 Jewish students, it represents a remarkable per capita investment.

Chapnick says the change makes his life easier — and makes him proud.

“It shows that this place is very welcoming,” he said. “Every year there are more and more resources for Jewish students.”

Nationwide, the same scenario is repeating.

Nearly 25 percent of Jewish college students in North America attend schools with small Jewish student bodies and limited Jewish resources, according to Hillel International. And those numbers are growing.

On one hand, Jewish high school seniors who tend to prefer large urban universities are finding it more difficult to gain acceptance into those schools and are turning to smaller, rural schools, or colleges without large Jewish populations. These schools rush to accommodate them.

The reverse is also taking place: Schools large and small with few Jewish students are actively working to recruit more by building Jewish student centers and creating kosher dining options as part of a “build it and they will come” recruitment strategy.

Admissions officers and deans at these schools rarely say they are actively recruiting Jewish students; instead they say they are looking to “increase diversity.” But off the record, many admit that Jewish students bring certain assets, from leadership skills and good academic records while they are on campus, to a propensity for donating to the school once they graduate.

“We’re a private university, and recruiting high quality students is always our goal,” said Jeffrey Huberman, a dean at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., where just 250 of the school’s 5,000 students identify as Jewish. “We’re recruiting more on the East and West coasts, looking for students in private schools, and the Jewish day school students are very compatible with Bradley. When you go to recruit them, they ask, What is Jewish life like? Can we eat kosher there?”

Washington and Lee’s Hillel director, Joan Robins, was recruited in 2001 to encourage Jewish life on the campus, which had just 25 Jewish students at the time.

“Jewish enrollment had declined steadily since the 1970s, and the administration was interested in recapturing that legacy,” she said.

Robins sent a letter to Jewish alumni, she said, “and the money started coming in.” The school began recruiting at Jewish high schools and yeshivas, and contacting Jewish community centers and youth groups.

As the Jewish population grew from 1 percent to 4.5 percent of the student body, Hillel began offering more services. Now a part of Hillel International’s Small and Mighty Campuses of Excellence initiative — 12 schools that commit to enhancing Jewish student life in return for special training — Washington and Lee’s Hillel runs regular Shabbat services and a lecture series, takes part in Birthright Israel, and this spring sent 14 students to Uruguay on its first alternative spring break program.

“Now we have what Jewish students and parents look for: a vibrant Jewish life, kosher meal options, a very hip kosher café that is on the meal plan, High Holiday services with a student rabbi, plus the beautiful new Hillel house that makes a statement in and of itself,” Robins said. “You can’t have a place like that without a commitment from the administration, and Jewish parents see that when they walk in the door.”

Patti Mittleman, Hillel director at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., where 750 of the school’s 2,200 students are Jewish, said, “There’s nothing like word of mouth in the Jewish community.”

Muhlenberg’s Jewish population has risen steadily since the mid-1990s, she said, making its student body the fifth-most Jewish in the country. In August, the school initiated The Noshery, a new kosher dining hall, and in January a 20,000-square-foot Hillel house is scheduled to open.

“Jewish families are waking up to [small] liberal arts colleges,” Mittleman said. “After you spend a fortune sending your kids to private Jewish school, you understand the appeal of small classes and a more intimate atmosphere.”

Debra Geiger runs Hillel’s Small and Mighty Soref Initiative, which provides resources to 163 campuses with small Jewish populations. Some are large schools and some are quite small, but all have small Jewish student bodies — and want to see that change.

“Jewish students are choosing these campuses because they’re top schools,” Geiger said. “At the same time, the universities realized they weren’t providing the lifestyle these students need, and if they want to attract this caliber of student, they need to provide those services.”

Lehigh University, a school in Hillel’s Small and Mighty program, has seen its freshman class jump from 10-12 percent Jewish to nearly 20 percent this fall. West Virginia University just started offering kosher food this fall, as did Bradley.

“I’m actually shocked they’re doing it,” said Rabbi Eli Langsam, kosher supervisor for Bradley’s new program, which this fall offers sandwiches, salads, and frozen foods. In fall 2011, one residence hall will provide full kosher meal service Sunday through Friday.

More than 100,000 Jewish high school graduates enter college every fall, according to Hillel, and they are a prize catch for schools looking to stay afloat in tough economic times.

The University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., has about 200 Jewish students among an undergraduate population of 2,400. Five years ago the school had 95 Jewish students, said David Wright, the university’s chaplain. Wright said the president pulled him aside and asked why there was no Hillel and how difficult would it be to bring in kosher food.

“The school was trying to reach into new geographic regions, and those were the questions the admissions office was getting from [Jewish] parents and prospective students,” Wright said. “And they were hearing ‘No, thank you’ from those people.”

Two years ago Hillel came to campus, and this fall the school instituted a kosher and halal meal option. Fresh deli sandwiches from Nosh-Away Catering are available in the dining hall, and the student center sells frozen kosher meals.

“The sandwiches go like hotcakes,” Wright said, even though they cost $2 more than non-kosher sandwiches.

Not only are there more Jewish students on these campuses, more of them are observant.

Natali Naveh, 19, is a sophomore at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., where 350 of the school’s 2,400 students are Jewish. A graduate of the Conservative movement’s Solomon Schechter day school system, she says she would not have gone to a college that did not offer kosher food.

Naveh also applied to a large university in the Boston area, but a friend there told her its Hillel wouldn’t meet her religious needs.

“That was the main reason I chose Franklin and Marshall,” she said.

The college launched its Kosher International Vegan Organic option in 2007, with separate meat and non-dairy vegetarian lines, and opened the Klehr Center for Jewish Life in 2008.

Ralph Taber, the center’s director, says these were conscious steps taken by the school’s new president to attract Jewish students and future alumni. The college also felt the heat from neighboring schools.

“When one school beefs up its kosher dining plan, others do it,” Taber said. “It’s keeping up with the Joneses.”



New study of emerging Jewish leaders shows class differences

Jacob BerkmanWorld
Published: 15 October 2010

NEW YORK – When the Avi Chai Foundation released sociologist Jack Wertheimer’s long-awaited report on Jewish leaders in their 20s and 30s, the results of the survey did more to confirm what most observers of the organized world suspected than it did to reveal anything earth-shattering.

But between the lines there were some surprises.

News Analysis

For the study, titled “Generation of Change: How Leaders in Their Twenties and Thirties are Reshaping American Jewish Life,” Wertheimer and five other well-known Jewish sociologists surveyed more than 3,000 Jews aged 22 to 40 who identify as Jewish leaders and conducted interviews with another 250. The work took two years.

The survey split respondents into two primary groups: those involved in “establishment” organizations that deal with the more traditional agenda of the American Jewish community — such as Jewish federations, AIPAC, and the Anti-Defamation League — and those involved in “non-establishment” organizations, such as Jewish start-ups, social-service groups, and organizations built around recreation with some sort of Jewish connection.

Among other findings, the survey uncovered something of a class distinction within the young, engaged Jewish world: The more upwardly mobile seemed to affiliate with the traditional, establishment Zionist and Jewish organizations — what Wertheimer calls protective organizations — while young leaders involved in non-establishment, progressive start-ups seemed to belong more to the traditional middle class.

“What we found is that people who are in law, for example, or real estate or out in Hollywood in parts of the entertainment industry are interested in the networking that Jewish organizations offer,” Wertheimer told JTA. “So they are more attracted to the networking opportunities that the establishment provides — particularly the federations and parts of the American Jewish Committee and the ADL — whereas the non-establishment [leaders] tend to earn less and tend to be in not-for-profit work or in the helping professions.”

The survey defined as leaders anyone who runs a Jewish organization, has a Jewish project, is involved in Jewish organizations, or is a Jewish thinker. The survey assumed that these people would likely be in control of the organized Jewish community over the next several decades.

Young Jewish innovators participate in ROI, a Schusterman Foundation program, in Jerusalem in July. A new study of emerging American Jewish leaders highlights class differences between establishment and non-establishment types. Adi Cohen

Wertheimer first announced the preliminary findings of his report at this past spring’s Jewish Funders Network conference.

He found that those who call themselves Jewish leaders are a diverse lot that have varying affiliations with traditional or non-traditional Jewish organizations, and their views on Israel, assimilation, and anti-Semitism tend to vary in relation to their organizational affiliation.

Because they share highly critical views toward key organizations and synagogues, and many work outside traditional communal institutions, these future leaders are leading the Jewish world down a new path, Wertheimer said.

“We have a story of quite dramatic change,” he said.

The report found that leaders in both groups — establishment and non-establishment — feel a strong sense of Jewish identity and belonging to the Jewish people, and many of them share similar Jewish backgrounds.

Approximately 40 percent of individuals in both categories attended Jewish day schools. Seventy-one percent attended Jewish camps, 89 percent have two Jewish parents, and about 45 percent come from homes described as Conservative. A low percentage come from Reform homes. About 55 percent of the leaders in both groups have spent time in Israel.

This is proof that whatever Jewish identity-building mechanisms the community has invested in are working, Wertheimer said.

If there is one similarity between young leaders of the establishment organizations and young leaders of the start-up world, the survey showed, it is that they both feel a strong sense of Jewish identity and belonging to the Jewish people. The differences emerge in the intensity of that sense of belonging and connection to the Jewish community.

According to the survey, 73 percent of the young leaders in non-establishment organizations have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people, while 75 percent in the establishment organizations feel the same. On the other hand, 64 percent of the non-establishment set say they feel part of the Jewish community, compared to 73 percent of the young leaders in establishment organizations.

The viewpoints really start to diverge when it comes to the issues of Israel, anti-Semitism, intermarriage, and the value of social service.

Those involved in establishment organizations feel more strongly about Israel being central to their Jewish identities (51 percent of the establishment set vs. 32 percent of the non-establishment set), more emotionally attached to Israel (62 percent vs. 55 percent), more concerned about threats to Israel’s security (43 percent vs. 23 percent), and more worried about intermarriage (35 percent vs. 17 percent).

Some 39 percent of those under 40 are involved in some mix of establishment and start-up organizations, while only 27 percent were involved exclusively in establishment groups.

The study also indicates that the establishment of today is very similar in thought to the non-establishment of yesterday.

Regarding questions about Israel’s security, fears of anti-Semitism, and the importance of Holocaust remembrance, there is a difference between the establishment and start-up groups. However, even young leaders from establishment organizations are less fearful than the older generation of establishment leaders.

According to the study, 23 percent of young people and 39 percent of older people in the non-establishment world are concerned about threats to Israel’s security, compared to 43 percent of establishment young people and 59 percent of older establishment leaders. At the same time, 9 percent of young people and 14 percent of older people in the start-up cohort are worried about anti-Semitism in the United States, compared to 19 percent of both younger and older leaders in the establishment group.

On the question of the importance of remembering the Holocaust, 23 percent of young people and 36 percent of older people in the start-up cohort believe it is essential, compared to 39 percent of young establishment leaders and 45 percent of older establishment types.



Jewish charities do poorly in annual list

As the recession ends, will mega-donors like Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson re-up their Jewish giving? Courtesy Deborah Camiel

While economists say the recession ended more than a year ago, you wouldn’t know it to look at Jewish nonprofits.

In an annual list released earlier this month by The Chronicle of Philanthropy of the top 400 nonprofits in the United States, fund raising at the country’s largest Jewish charities had declined by an average of 18.5 percent in 2009 — nearly twice as much as the list as a whole, which showed a fund-raising decline of 10 percent.

Twenty-two Jewish organizations made the Philanthropy 400, which ranks the country’s 400 largest nonprofits by the size of their fund-raising totals.

Only two Jewish charities ranked among the top 100 earners in 2009, with the Jewish Federations of North America and its overseas partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, ranking 45 and 78, respectively.

Some of the country’s largest Jewish charities took significant hits. Hadassah was down 7.9 percent to $78 million; the JDC fell 8.5 percent to $224 million; Yeshiva University dropped nearly 40 percent to $111 million; and Brandeis University was down 12.6 percent to $78 million. On the other hand, the Birthright Israel Foundation rose 46.8 percent to just over $71 million.

It seems that 2009 was an especially hard year for the Jewish federation system.

The Chronicle’s accounting of the 147-federation system is always a bit tricky, as some of the largest federations are counted by themselves and not with the rest of the system.

According to the Chronicle’s survey, the JFNA brought in $320,252,000 in 2009, a 19.6 percent drop from the previous year (when it was known as the UJC, for United Jewish Communities).

All but one of the top federations on the list, which were counted separately, showed significant declines. The UJA-Federation of New York was down 10 percent to $159.7 million, JUF-Jewish Federation of Chicago was down 15 percent to $133.5 million, and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston was down 21 percent to about $85 million.

Only the Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore saw an increase, gaining 10 percent to reach $62 million.

But the JFNA says the numbers for the federations are not as bad as the report may seem. Looking at the federation system’s campaign as a whole, and including the larger federations, the 2009 annual campaign stood at $938 million, a 10 percent drop from 2008’s $1.04 billion campaign and more in line with the national averages for declines.

In total, according to the JFNA, the federations took in $2 billion in 2009 when counting all of their assets, including endowments and foundations such as the Jewish Communal Fund of New York. This year, the federations are ahead of the 2009 pace, as they have taken in $747 million in 2010, a 3.4 percent increase over the same period of last year.

“There is a cautious optimism,” a JFNA spokesman said. “I don’t think anyone thinks we are out of the woods or that everything is great. But there is a feeling that people have really responded and stepped up to the plate, especially given that nonprofits and charities continue to be down. Our surveys have shown that there is a trust in the federation movement.”

On the positive side, two Jewish organizations were new to this year’s list of the top 400: American Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and the Jewish National Fund. On the other side, two Jewish organizations dropped off the list: the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego and the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, N.J., both of which made the top 400 for 2008 thanks to significant one-time gifts.

This marks the 20th year that the Chronicle has conducted the survey. It provided an opportunity to see how top charities have evolved since 1991 and how donor interests may have changed.

In general, the largest charities have stayed relatively stable. Some 228 charities made the list in both 1991 and 2010, and they increased their mean fund-raising by 228 percent. When adjusted for inflation, they raised 81 percent more in real dollars last year than they did two decades ago. And the largest of the large have fared well, according to the Chronicle: Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Catholic Charities USA, the Salvation Army, and the Y (formerly YMCA) stayed in the list’s top 20, with each group at least tripling the amount raised over the two decades.

Still, the landscape has changed dramatically. Nearly half the list is new since 1991. Jewish charities have declined. In 1991, two Jewish organizations were in the top 10, but this year the top Jewish charity, the Jewish federation system, only made it as high as No. 45.

Paul Kane, who heads the JFNA’s development department and is the senior adviser to the CEO of JFNA, said federations expect better outcomes next year. So far, the JFNA has had three major campaign events, all of which are up on average 18 percent over last year.

“We’re going to do better in 2010 than in 2009,” Kane said, adding that 2011 should be another step toward recovery. “I think people are coming back financially and showing great commitment that could reach levels pre-2009 and higher.”


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