Charles Bronfman and Roger Bennett
Charles Bronfman, 75, has for decades championed innovative Jewish giving. From his backing of the Middle East peace process and support for Jewish-Arab coexistence programs to his support of Birthright Israel, which takes young Jews on free trips to Israel, the Seagrams heir has always put his money where his mouth is. Last winter, his wife, Andrea, was tragically killed after being struck by a car in New York City, leaving Bronfman bereft of his life’s love as well as his closest partner in philanthropy. But the mogul has carried on, expanding The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. Five years ago, Bronfman teamed up with Liverpool-born Roger Bennett, 36, and together they have built a charity oozing with creative juice, with a swath of cultural projects aimed at the next generation. Under a not-for-profit offshoot called Reboot, they’ve launched Guilt & Pleasure, a literary and art journal, and started funding such ironic hipster operations as Heeb magazine. Bennett is also responsible for Reboot Stereophonic, a cheeky record label that has released five albums of antiquarian Jewish kitsch-pop under such titles as “Bagels and Bongos” and “Jewface.” They’ve also launched Slingshot, which annually catalogs the 50 most innovative programs in Jewish life, as well as the Slingshot Fund, bringing together young Jewish philanthropists to dole out grants to chosen causes. Bennett also found time to compile a briskly selling book wryly titled “Bar Mitzvah Disco.”
As more and more mainstream Jewish philanthropists take up social justice causes, a fair share of the credit can go to Rabbi Jennie Rosenn for pushing charities in a more activist direction. Since 2003, when she became the program director for Jewish life and values at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, one of America’s largest family foundations, she has sought to steer the charity’s work toward bridging Judaism and social action. Part of an emerging group of young liberal activists intent on putting community service and social justice back at the top of the Jewish agenda, Rosenn, 37, has been at it since her days as associate chaplain at the Columbia University Hillel, where she founded an advocacy center, Tzedek Hillel. This year, at her behest, Cummings provided seed money for a Reform congregation-based organizing project known as the Just Congregations Initiative. Rosenn is also putting real money into Selah, a program of the Jewish Funds for Justice aimed at training Jewish social activists. Her rallying cry: Community service should be just as much a Jewish rite of passage as a bar or bat mitzvah.
Alice Rosenwald, granddaughter of Sears-Roebuck founder Julius Rosenwald, is taking a page from her grandpa, allocating millions of philanthropic dollars to programs for society’s disadvantaged. While she also gives to Jewish causes — she’s a top donor to New York’s UJA-Federation and the Joint Distribution Committee — Rosenwald is passionate about preventing child abuse and has focused her giving in that direction. Co-chair of the merchant and investment bank American Securities Holdings Co., Rosenwald also co-chairs the board of Children’s Rights, which advocates for child welfare issues; this year she bestowed its Champion Award for her mega-gift in the range of $1.5 million. Grandfather Julius is revered to this day for creating a network of so-called Rosenwald Schools throughout the rural South in the early 1900s, privately funded public schools that provided education for poor black students when nobody else would. His scion has taken his spirit and his mission to heart, reminding others that Jewish giving doesn’t mean that Jews must be the only recipients.
Mega-philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, a rare woman in a field of men, continues to stand out as a giant in the world of Jewish philanthropy. It has been a groundbreaking year for her. She opened her first fully staffed office in Israel, the Schusterman Foundation-Israel, and established the Center for Leadership Initiatives, a Vancouver-based charity with a mandate to nurture a new generation of Jewish communal leaders. When the Lebanon war broke out, her fledgling Israeli charity sprang into action and helped move women and children in the north into bomb shelters. This winter she’s bringing 500 American students to help rebuild the devastated north. A sparkplug at 67, Schusterman is passionately committed to programs that build girls’ self-esteem and protect children from abuse. Her Israeli office will focus much of its work on funding shelters and counseling abuse victims. Add in the work of her Tulsa, Okla.-based charity, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, which funds Jewish day-school education, synagogue renewal, as well as Hillel programs and Birthright Israel (which she helped found), to name just a few, and Schusterman’s giving this year alone will total a cool $18 million.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Carol Smokler was largely responsible for the overwhelming response from the national Jewish community. As longtime chair of the national Emergency Relief Campaign of United Jewish Communities, she helped bring in more than $20 million to rebuild the region. But Smokler, a clinical psychologist in Boca Raton, Fla., was thinking long-term, not just about Band-Aids. She knew that the campaign for the Gulf Coast was going to be a long haul, requiring years of constant attention. The volunteer leader earned her stripes working with the local Jewish federation in Ann Arbor, Mich., before she leaped to the national stage, chairing UJC’s Women’s Constituency Board. The UJC Emergency Relief Campaign, created in 1989 to cope with Hurricane Hugo, has been under her leadership for nearly half its life, winning acclaim after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Known for her capacity to build teams, Smokler effectively moderated the debate over whether Jewish or non-Jewish institutions should get the bulk of the post-Katrina monies she helped to raise.
Jewish mega-donors, be forewarned: Ronald Stanton has upped the ante. Stanton, 78, set a new standard for Jewish giving this fall when he announced a gift to Yeshiva University of a cool $100 million — the largest donation ever to Jewish education or culture in North America. A New York philanthropist who made his mint trading fertilizer, chemicals and crude oil as chairman of Transammonia Inc., Stanton has ties to Y.U. that date back to the late 1930s. As a young refugee from Germany, he was offered a scholarship to study for the rabbinate. He chose a business education at City College instead, but he eventually landed on the Y.U. board. He made his mark as a champion fundraiser for the school, heading up its successful $400 million capital campaign and serving a term as board chairman. He handpicked Richard Joel, a non-rabbi, to lead the Orthodox flagship into the 21st century. Stanton’s mega-gift will create the Ronald P. Stanton Legacy, a revolving fund to underwrite new building projects, faculty recruitment and research and undergraduate and Jewish education. It also will challenge others Jewish donors to follow suit, which was partly the point.