New Foundations Set To Dwarf Big Givers

By Nathaniel Popper

Published March 02, 2007, issue of March 02, 2007.
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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.”

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