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Jewish Journal

Why Aren’t Jews Giving to Jews?

Jewish philanthropic donations to the secular community are outweighing those going to the Jewish community.

by Tom Tugend

June 26, 2003 | 8:00 pm

Eli Broad, considered by many to be the most influential, public-spirited and generous Jewish citizen of Los Angeles, estimates that he and his wife gave away $350 million last year, of which $2 million went to specifically Jewish causes.

Broad's contributions put him and his family's four foundations in the top ranks of America's biggest donors, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the bible of foundations and fundraisers.

Yet it's Broad's proportion of giving between specific Jewish and general community causes that is of particular interest because it reinforces the conclusions of a major new study, which tracked the donations of America's biggest Jewish and non-Jewish givers over a six-year period.

The study found that between 1995 and 2000, of the $5.3 billion given by Jewish mega-donors ($10 million or above in one year), only $318 million, or a mere 6 percent, went to specifically Jewish causes, including support groups for Israeli universities. The $5.3 billion came from 188 gifts, of which 18 -- 9.6 percent -- went to Jewish organizations.

So the $64 million question is: Why are the wealthiest Jews, in the aggregate, not giving more to Jewish causes? And there is another question, not as easily answered as it might seem: Is giving to specifically Jewish organizations, more -- well -- Jewish, than contributing to the uplift of society in general?

"While Jews are remarkably generous givers to the general society ... Jewish organizations received a minute proportion of Jewish mega-dollars," said Dr. Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research in San Francisco. Tobin conducted the study, "Mega-Gifts in American Philanthropy," with co-authors Drs. Jeffrey R. Solomon and Alexander C. Karp.

The generosity of American Jews in general, and of the wealthiest ones in particular, is undisputed. While Jews make up 2.5 percent of the U.S. population at best, the Tobin study found nearly a quarter (24.5 percent) of all American mega-donors were Jewish.

The No. 1 American mega-giver in 2002 was Jewish publisher and diplomat Walter H. Annenberg, who died last October. He bequeathed an art collection worth $1.38 billion, with the lion's share going to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Mega-donations of $10 million and above are obviously of major importance to the recipients for their sheer monetary heft, but their value extends even further. Checks of that size raise the bar for all subsequent gifts, validate the organizations or causes on the receiving end, create new institutions and initiatives and often point to new paths in philanthropy.

The reasons why the most affluent Jews are not giving in the same ways as in the old days, when they shouldered the charitable burden for the shtetl or its American equivalent, are complex and based more on educated hunches than scientific studies.

One fairly obvious cause is the unstoppable integration of Jews into the general American society. As Jews become active in the broader society, and socialize with their non-Jewish peers, their charitable interests broaden to more universal causes.

Donna Bojarsky, an adviser to major media and Hollywood personalities, notes that a few decades back, non-Jewish fundraisers for major cultural institutions simply didn't hit up rich Jews. In Los Angeles, this basically social barrier was breached by the legendary Dorothy (Buffy) Chandler in the 1960s, when she wedded Hollywood Jewish money to downtown non-Jewish wealth to fund construction of the Music Center.

In addition, many of the largest givers prefer to start their own projects, rather than write checks to existing institutions. Examples are Steven Spielberg's Righteous Persons and Survivors of the Shoah Visual History foundations.

Some analysts fault Jewish organizations for garnering such a small slice of the big-money pie.

"Many Jewish institutions are not able to absorb very large gifts," observed Karp, co-author of the "Mega-Gifts" study.

Fellow co-author Solomon asked, "Are we even asking [for the multimillion dollar donations]?"

Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, says that the biggest donors see their contributions as (social and cultural) investments, not as gifts, and demand solid business plans from the soliciting institutions.

Furthermore, many Jewish groups continue to use old and tried (or tired) methods, such as card-calling, "an aggressive manner of fundraising, whereby a professional fundraiser calls out the name and pledge of donors in public forums and pressures them to make or match the gift," according to the Tobin study. ("Calling cards" and "matching gifts" are among the Jewish contributions to American fundraising techniques.)

By common agreement among the experts, the traditional fundraising pitches may still work among older Jews, but are almost guaranteed to turn off the younger generation. This observation leads to the largest generational divide, the perception of what actually defines "Jewish" giving.

"What's changing in the Jewish world today," Charendoff said, "is that to younger philanthropists, their giving to any worthy cause springs from their Jewish upbringing and tradition. But to their parents, Jewish philanthropy meant giving to organizations with 'Jewish' or 'Israel' in the name."

Both the "particularistic" and the "universalistic" approaches to Jewish giving have their advocates. Two of the most articulate spokesmen on opposite sides are Dr. Jack Wertheimer, provost and professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, affiliated with the Conservative movement, and Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of CLAL-the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

Wertheimer fears that if Jewish charitable giving keeps flowing predominantly to universal causes, the infrastructure and richness of Jewish community life in America is headed on a downhill slope. He assigns the blame to a number of factors, but aims his sharpest criticism at the current "ideology of tikkun olam [repairing the world] that all you need to be a good Jew is to be a good person. That perception is destructive of Jewish life, cohesiveness and giving."

Such an interpretation of tikkun olam, Wertheimer added, is "a mid-20th century invention ... and part of the universalizing concept developed by the Reform movement."

At one time, Jewish giving was fueled by crises, to aid persecuted Jews or fight rampant anti-Semitism. As these issues fade, so is giving to Jewish institutions, representing a real threat to their ultimate survival.

Also contributing to the decline are demographic shifts among American Jews.

"Young Jews intermarry, they live in neighborhoods where there are few other Jews and more of their friends are non-Jews," Wertheimer observed. "Where once high-status universities, medical institutions and museums would not have asked Jews to join their boards, now they are falling all over themselves to invite us."

A more general factor is the shift in giving patterns in American society as a whole. The Depression and World War II generations tended to give to umbrella organizations -- in the Jewish case, to federations or United Jewish Appeal -- while the baby boomers lean toward more targeted causes, such as research for a specific type of cancer.

Even among the most substantial donors to Jewish causes, far larger sums go to general universities and museums, Wertheimer noted. While he hopes that the younger generation might reconnect to its heritage, he fears that if the present trend continues, the key structures of Jewish life in America will deteriorate.

Wertheimer, who has led a number of research projects on Jewish philanthropy, rejects the charge that Jewish institutions are partially responsible for their plight.

"That's a form of blaming the victim," he said. "If there is any evidence that Jewish organizations are backward, you have to show it to me."

CLAL's Kula couldn't disagree more.

"The idea that Jewish charity means giving to things run by Jews for Jews is a narrow and parochial definition," he said. "If Jewish education and institutions prefer such a narrow way of looking at the universe, they deserve to get only 6 percent of the big donations."

Kula says he resents the implication that there is a split between being Jewish and being human.

"Can you compare the value of a Jewish day school to curing cancer?" he asked. "Is a trip to Israel as worthy as working against illiteracy, poverty and hunger in your community? Perhaps giving to Stanford University is more important than contributing to a Jewish organization."

What riles Kula most is what he describes as "last-gasp efforts" by Jewish fundraisers to scare elderly Jews into giving money to their favorite organizations now, by arguing that if they bequeath their wealth to their descendants, these will not continue to give to Jewish causes.

"Let's not lie and let's not be mean," Kula said. "For Jews to become better Jews, let's not frame our mission in the most narrow way. Let's speak to our people's hopes rather than their fears."

Whatever the philosophical arguments, to fundraisers, the practical question is how to up the proportion and amount of money flowing to Jewish institutions and causes.

The answer will become only more urgent over the next two decades as an estimated $3 trillion to $10 trillion pass from the older generation of American Jews to their heirs.

Fundraisers face an even tougher selling job in convincing the new generation of heirs, born well after the Holocaust and the creation of the Jewish State, to continue their support of Israel.

"You can't do it if Israel is just an abstract concept," Charendoff insisted. "Parents must take their kids to Israel, develop personal relationships with Israelis and, through these, discover a sense of Jewish peoplehood."

Even if such advice is taken to heart, fundraising won't be easy, if it ever was. Jewish institutions will have to deal with donors who prefer specialized "boutique funding" to catch-all "department store funding," who consider themselves business partners of their designated charities, and who want to be actively involved in the causes their money supports, Charendoff said.

"Those organizations which can inspire the Jewish community will benefit," he noted. "Those which stick with business-as-usual will have a rude awakening."

On the list of the 60 largest U.S. charitable contributions of 2002, compiled by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, are the names and foundations of four Southern Californians, three from Los Angeles and one from San Diego.

The names are those of Angelenos Eli Broad and his wife Edythe, David Geffen and Steven Spielberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw. The San Diego philanthropist is Irwin Jacobs, founder and CEO of Qualcomm, a wireless telecommunications company, and his wife, Joan.

Tracking down the actual amounts given by such major donors in a given year is a tedious and time-consuming job, ripe with opportunities for inaccuracies and misinterpretations.

With this caveat in mind, the starting point for most searches is IRS Form 990, which all tax-exempt foundations are required to file annually, listing both income and distribution of grants. Since most of the 990 forms are apparently submitted in the late summer or fall of the following year, no reports for 2002 were available.

On an ongoing basis, Spielberg turns over most of his donations to his Righteous Persons Foundation, which, in turn, distributes more than 90 percent of its grants to Jewish projects, according to Rachel Levin, associate director.

The foundation has received all of Spielberg's profits from his 1993 international film hit, "Schindler's List," which has amounted to approximately $60 million to date.

In 2001, Spielberg gave $4.6 million to the foundation, whose grants for the year came to $21 million. The biggest chunk, $16.7 million, went to another Spielberg initiative, the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which has videotaped the testimonies of more than 50,000 Holocaust survivors and witnesses.

More modest, six-figure Righteous Persons grants went to Brandeis University, Jerusalem's Martyrs Memorial Yad Vashem, the Israel Experience and the National Foundation for Jewish Culture.

Spielberg's other personal charitable interests are children's health, medical research and arts and entertainment, with Jewish causes "ranking first among equals," said Andy Spahn. As part of his DreamWorks SKG corporate affairs portfolio, Spahn administers the charitable giving of the film studio's three founders, Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

According to the Forbes magazine list of the 400 richest Americans in 2002, Spielberg's wealth stood at $2.2 billion. His partner, Geffen, outranks Spielberg on the Forbes list with a worth of $3.8 billion.

Geffen made news last year with a multiyear $200 million pledge to the UCLA School of Medicine, plus $5 million to the Geffen Playhouse. A more typical year may be 2001, when, according to the report filed by his foundation, Geffen made close to $2 million in charitable contributions.

The grants reflected Geffen's primary interests in AIDS research and care, the arts, civil liberties and, following Sept. 11, substantial support to the families of firefighters and police officers killed in the World Trade Center terrorist attack.

Smaller donations, totaling $110,000, went to approximately 15 Jewish institutions, ranging from $800 for the gay-oriented Congregation Kol Ami to $25,000 for Aviva Family and Children's Services.

Broad, who has made two fortunes, one in home building, the other in financial services, is credited by Forbes with a $4.8 billion nest egg, making him the second wealthiest resident of Los Angeles, behind media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Broad channels his donations through four personal and family foundations, specializing in public education improvement, the arts and medical research. This month, the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Foundation pledged $100 million for a genetics research institute in Cambridge, Mass., and another $60 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Although last year he gave only approximately $2 million to specifically Jewish causes out of a total $350 million budget for charitable giving, Broad told The Journal that philanthropists should balance concern for society in general with support for Jewish and Israeli organizations.

"If I had only a little to give away, my emphasis would be on Jewish and Israeli causes," he said. "Once you get beyond several hundred thousand dollars, you become a better and more respected citizen if you also give to the Music Center and universities. If I would donate only a million dollars, I would split it between Jewish and general community projects."

The 2001 report for the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Foundation lists a $131,000 contribution to The Jewish Federation, $5,300 to University Synagogue, $5,000 each to Bet Tzedek and the University of Judaism and lesser sums to half a dozen other Jewish institutions.

In San Diego, the city's foremost philanthropists are Jacobs and his wife, Joan. Jacobs, a former engineering professor, founded Qualcomm, a telecommunications firm, whose stock became a Wall Street favorite during the high-tech boom. The stock has since dropped, and the couple's worth is listed by Forbes as a relatively "modest" $725 million.

Last year, the couple made news by pledging $120 million over 10 years to the struggling San Diego Symphony, the largest single donation ever made to a U.S. orchestra.

The Jacobses also support numerous Jewish organizations, but instead of setting up their own foundation, they have established a charitable fund at the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego.

The Jewish Community Foundation serves in an advisory and administrative capacity and doubles as a major supporter of the 80,000-strong Jewish community. "Just recently, we have helped build a Jewish community center and a Reform temple," said Marjory Kaplan, foundation executive director.

In Los Angeles, the Jewish Community Foundation has been active since 1954. With current assets of $378 million, it ranks as the 10th largest foundation in Los Angeles.

Though also guided by its clients' preferences, the foundation gave $35 million to Jewish causes last year, including more than $9 million to The Jewish Federation and its agencies, out of a total $45 million in distributions.

Marvin I. Schotland, foundation president and CEO, is more optimistic than most of his professional colleagues that younger Jewish donors will support their community in the future. "I believe that there is a yearning among younger Jews to understand their Jewishness, which didn't exist three decades ago," he said.

When The Journal began its research on local Jewish philanthropists, it picked out the names of Broad, Geffen and Spielberg, because last year they made the list of America's 60 largest charitable contributors. However, there are many other individuals who made similarly generous gifts but did so in earlier years or chose to spread out their large donations over a period of time.

The current Forbes 400 list of richest Americans contains the names of approximately 20 Los Angeles Jews, including such familiar ones as Alan I. Casden, Michael Eisner, Guilford Glazer, Katzenberg, brothers Michael and Lowell Milken, Haim Saban and Gary Winnick.

Universities have always been the main magnet for hefty endowments, and locally, UCLA and USC have benefited in recent years from multiple Jewish gifts of $100 million on down.

On the UCLA campus, the buildings housing the engineering school, business school facilities, medical school, eye research center, world arts and cultures departments and the neuroscience and genetics research center, among others, bear the names of Jewish philanthropists.

Local Jewish educational institutions have had a harder time attracting mega-gifts. However, the pioneer Allen and Ruth Ziegler Foundation funded the University of Judaism rabbinical school bearing their names through a $22 million gift in 1995. In addition, the Milken brothers are recognized for their support of Jewish education, including the Milken Community High School.

The activities of two other Los Angeles Jewish entrepreneurs have been prominent on the business news pages in recent times, namely billionaire TV mogul Saban and ex-billionaire Winnick.

Saban, who grew up in a Tel Aviv slum, has been a very open-handed supporter of the Democratic Party and its candidates in this country and of liberal-centrist politicians, such as Ehud Barak, in Israel.

This month Saban and his wife, Cheryl, announced that they are committing $100 million to local and Israeli causes. Included are $40 million to Childrens Hospital Los Angeles; $12 million to benefit Israeli children, disabled combat veterans and victims of terror, and $3 million to the Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation, said Shai Waxman Abramson, the Saban Family Foundation's new program director.

The story of another self-made man, Winnick, is also interesting. In 1997, Winnick founded Global Crossing, which built the world's largest fiber optics cable communications network on the ocean floor. Only two years later, he was crowned Los Angeles' richest man, with a net worth pegged at $6.2 billion.

In 2000, Winnick topped a string of donations to mainly Jewish causes with a $40 million pledge to the Simon Wiesenthal Center toward construction of a Frank Gehry-designed Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, which was to bear Winnick's name.

Early last year, Global Crossing, staggering under a $12 billion debt, filed for bankruptcy, wiping out most of Winnick's paper fortune. However, according to Forbes, he was still worth $550 million at the end of last year. Inquiries by The Journal indicated that the charitable commitments made by the Gary and Karen Winnick Foundation are being met.

The ultimate question facing the Jewish community may lie in how its elders can inspire their children and grandchildren to support Jewish life in the future.

"Children never listen to what they are told, but they absorb what they see," said Charendoff, of The Jewish Funders Network. "The parents need to be actively involved in the community and explain their reasons for doing so. What parents can't do is dictate to their children from the grave. If the elders want their charity to flow in the traditional ways they value, they would do better to give the money away in their lifetimes."

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