New Foundations Set To Dwarf Big Givers

By Nathaniel Popper

Published March 02, 2007, issue of March 02, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

While individual donors hog much of the philanthropic limelight in the Jewish world, a new coterie of Jewish mega-foundations is taking shape that soon may be giving almost as much as all the largest individual donors combined.

Research by the Forward indicates that five foundations are, or soon will be making, annual grants of more than $30 million to Jewish causes, the minimum needed to be included in The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of the 60 largest donors in America.

The largest Jewish foundation this year was the Baltimore-based Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which has recently been giving out more than $60 million per year to Jewish causes.

The big news of the past year, though, was the creation of two new mega-foundations. The estate of Jim Joseph put $500 million into a foundation that will likely make annual payments of $25 million to $30 million to Jewish causes. Then another round of excitement was generated by the entrance of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson onto the foundation scene. Adelson announced that he would be creating a foundation, dedicated to Jewish causes, that, it is rumored, will give out $200 million a year. To put that number in perspective, it is nearly a quarter of the amount raised by the combined annual campaigns of all the Jewish federations in the country.

The list of mega-foundations gives a picture of the top rungs of Jewish philanthropy that notably excludes many of the celebrity donors who have dominated the face of Jewish philanthropy in the past, mostly from bases in New York — names like Steinhardt, Bronfman and Lauder.

Philanthropy experts say it appears that the new center of gravity for Jewish philanthropy is moving beyond the traditional boundaries on the East Coast.

“When people think about Jewish philanthropy, they tend to think about a few established names, but they do not represent the core of Jewish philanthropy in America any longer,” said Gary Tobin, who, as president of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, has researched Jewish mega-givers.

The burning center of the new core soon may be the foundation of Adelson, whose casinos in Las Vegas and now Macau have earned him a reported $20.5 billion, making him the third-wealthiest American, according to Forbes.

Adelson has been a slow entrant into the philanthropic world, but in the past few years he has made a big splash. In 2005 he committed $25 million to building Las Vegas’s first Jewish high school. Late last year, he promised $25 million to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and $5 million to Birthright Israel. A few weeks later, in early 2007, he announced another $30 million gift to Birthright. These gifts were already among the largest Jewish donations ever, but if his foundation grows at the rate rumored, it could give eight such gifts every year. In comparison, the highly influential foundations of Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman each give between $10 million and $15 million annually.

“The potential for [Adelson] to effect change would be on a completely new scale,” said Marc Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network. “He could choose an area of Jewish life and remake it. He could change the way we make decisions about certain things.”

Adelson and his foundation staff have been quiet so far. Michael Bohnen, director of the Sheldon and Miriam Adelson Foundation, said he would have no comment until his staff has done more planning.

The main question for Adelson and the new Jim Joseph Foundation is whether they will make a few large gifts or spread their funds into numerous smaller gifts.

The staff at Joseph’s foundation is more forthcoming on the topic. Foundation President Chip Edelsberg told the Forward that the new foundation would be directing 60% of its funds to large gifts for the Jewish education of teens and young adults.

The Joseph Foundation’s education gifts will be targeted to programs in four cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Washington. The other 40% of the funds will go to Jewish-oriented research and development.

As the foundations of Adelson and Joseph have developed their strategies, they have consulted with the more experienced staff at the Weinberg and Avi Chai foundations.

Avi Chai, created with the wealth of Manhattan real estate tycoon Zalman Bernstein to boost Jewish identity and education, has the mandate to spend all its resources before 2020. Yossi Prager, executive director of Avi Chai North America, said he is eagerly awaiting the “next generation” of foundations.

Edelsberg says he sees them coming, and they have a very new look.

“The money is not coming out of Manhattan anymore,” Edelsberg said. “The philanthropic world is changing.”

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.