Solly Hess, West Coast regional director of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), was looking for ways to get Jewish teenagers motivated about charitable giving last summer. With the help of Brandon Lurie, a YULA Boys student and NCSY regional board member, he came up with a project that would eventually make an impact on youth as well as the local Jewish community: the Teen Philanthropy Movement.
Later this month, the Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal CityWalk will become Caesarea, the Israeli amphitheater renowned for its magical atmosphere and unparalleled performances.
Philanthropists Sheldon and Miriam Adelson are giving a $5 million matching grant to Taglit-Birthright Israel.
If you scroll through the list of Madoff's philanthropic victims, you'll find plenty of evidence that even Jews who have shed every vestige of their ancient practice short of circumcision still resonate to the prophetic call to heal the wider world.
At least two foundations have been forced to close because they had invested their funds with Madoff. The Robert I. Lappin Foundation in Salem, Mass., announced Dec. 12 that it would shut down after losing $8 million -- all of its money. And the Chais Family Foundation, which gives out some $12.5 million each year to Jewish causes in Israel, the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, announced its closing Dec. 14.
Critics have long derided Jewish federations as functionally outdated and overly bureaucratic -- the organizational equivalent of dinosaurs on the brink of irrelevance, if not extinction.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina's devastation, though, the array of Jewish organizations under the umbrella of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have shown that they are far from moribund. They have raised large sums of money, moved critical resources to devastated areas and coordinated Jewish agencies to address victims' needs.
"I'm thrilled. I'm in heaven. It's still hard to believe we did it," said Silver Lake president Janie Schulman, who spearheaded efforts to save the center, which has more than 100 children enrolled in its preschool and kindergarten and offers many social, education and cultural programs.
Even a wizard at niche marketing would tremble before the title of Julie Salamon's most recent book. "Rambam's Ladder," based on an ancient text by Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, sounds like it's bound for the remainder bins even before it hits the Judaica sections.
If you're concerned that the money you donate to Los Angeles Jewish charities is eaten up by administrative and fundraising costs, fear not.
Most Jewish charities in Los Angeles have a favorable rating for the amount of dollars spent on their projects compared to dollars spent on costs, according to Charity Navigator, a new philanthropic watchdog. The group assessed some 130 Jewish nonprofits, including seven from Los Angeles, among 2,500 charities across the United States. It then rated the groups based on the Form 990 tax returns that all nonprofit charities, except religious institutions, must provide annually to the IRS.
Irene Gutovicz remembers the days when members of the local group of philanthropic Holocaust survivors, known as The Lodzer Organization of California, would donate a bowl of borscht or a plate of kugel.