The Israeli American Council (IAC), the nonprofit umbrella organization that sponsors and supports various activities for Israeli-Americans and their families in Southern California, is launching an expansion effort aimed at replicating the IAC’s model across the country.
The push to take the Los Angeles-based organization national by opening branches in other major U.S. cities has been in the works for more than a year; among the largest supporters of the expansion are the casino magnate and mega-philanthropist Sheldon Adelson and his Israeli-American wife, Miriam. The IAC said the full amount of the Adelson donation has not yet been determined, however the couple were on hand for the official announcement of the planned expansion, which took place at the IAC’s annual Rosh Hashanah reception on Sept. 8.
“It’s been seven years, and it took time in the beginning to build the programs, to build the staff,” said IAC Chairman Shawn Evenhaim on Sep. 10; Evenhaim hosted the reception at his home in Calabasas. “Now we have a toolbox to take around the country.”
IAC leaders would not say how much the group intends to spend on its nationwide push, but IAC board member Adam Milstein and IAC CEO Sagi Balasha said that the Adelsons had signaled willingness to make donations to the IAC in amounts that would instantly put them in the same league as other major contributors to the group.
Media mogul Haim Saban has for years been a faithful supporter of the IAC. A longtime supporter of Democratic politicians, Saban also funds a center for Middle Eastern studies at the left-leaning Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. According to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the Saban Family Foundation donated $85,000 in 2009 to the organization, $180,000 in 2010 and $400,000 in 2011.
Founded in 2006 as a “club” of Israeli-American businessmen from Los Angeles who had made significant contributions to local and national Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, the organization was known first as the Israeli Leadership Council; in March of this year, its leadership announced its new name emphasizing the American identity of this immigrant community.
The group’s ambitious goals have been on display at the local level for some time. In 2012, the group assumed leadership of Los Angeles’ Celebrate Israel festival, the Yom HaAtzmaut celebration, bringing more than 15,000 revelers to the heart of Los Angeles to commemorate Israel’s independence for the first time in more than a decade. In 2013, according to IAC CEO Balasha, the IAC’s annual budget is around $4 million, and the programs it sponsors and supports reach approximately 50,000 people annually — including some American Jews without Israeli heritage.
“Fifty percent of attendees at the Celebrate Israel festival are not Israeli-Americans; they are Jewish-Americans,” Balasha said.
In its new push to open branches across the country, the IAC will focus on cities where Israeli-Americans have clustered but haven’t yet developed the kinds of community organizations, activities or infrastructure that the IAC has established in Southern California. And in cities where Israel-related cultural and religious activities already exist, the IAC intends to work with groups on the ground.
“We will fund activities in every city in the United States, anyplace you find a few thousand or more Israeli-Americans,” said Milstein, chairman of the group’s national expansion effort. “We are going to encourage them to come to us and to allow them to grow and create a bigger community around it.”
Locally, the IAC’s activities have been aimed at strengthening the ties of second- and third-generation Israeli-Americans to Israel and to Judaism and building connections between the Israeli-American and Jewish-American communities. Milstein said he hopes the IAC’s expansion will also help the group achieve its third aim — strengthening the political power of the Israeli-American community in hopes of bolstering American support for Israel.
“If we have a community that really wants to help Israel,” Milstein said, “wouldn't it make sense to try to make a community out of them? A community with a voice, with power?”
The Adelsons made news in 2012 when they spent more than $75 million to support Republican candidates during the presidential election cycle. They have also given tens of millions of dollars to Birthright Israel over the years.
Milstein said that the amount of the Adelsons’ gift has not yet been determined, and messages left on Tuesday at the Adelson Family Foundation offices in Massachusetts were not returned.