Jamie Ramsfelder, a longtime member of Mount Freedom Jewish Center in Randolph, never considered making a bequest to her synagogue, even though she is a past president and continues to volunteer behind the scenes.
“We’re so wrapped up in the annual gift and yearly dues. We’re always asking what are our immediate needs, today,” she said. “But by doing that, you are putting the future at risk.”
Now, she thinks about it a lot. A year ago she sat on a committee of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ that selected 15 area organizations to participate in the Create a Jewish Legacy Program.
A partnership between the Massachusetts-based Harold Grinspoon Foundation and, in GMW, JCF, its goal is to promote planned giving — through wills, trusts, and retirement plans — to benefit Jewish day schools, synagogues, social service organizations, and other Jewish institutions.
Greater MetroWest is one of 23 participating communities around the country. CJL provides professional training, marketing materials, monetary incentives, and ongoing mentoring.
On July 29, representatives of all 15 participating GMW community organizations gathered at the Leon and Toby Cooperman JCC in West Orange for a celebratory breakfast sponsored by JCF. Ramsfelder came with fellow members of her synagogue — after the original selection process ended, she accepted a seat on Mount Freedom Jewish Center’s committee for the project.
Over the course of the year, the JCF initiative inspired 323 commitments totaling $11.8 million. Each organization had been given a target of 18 bequests, and each succeeded. Two managed to close 30 bequests. To recognize their achievement, all 15 were each presented with a $10,000 check.
Karen Secular, Create a Jewish Legacy’s coordinator, told NJJN in advance of the breakfast, “No one has done this kind of coordinated effort to help organizations think about legacy giving. It occasionally happens, but it’s almost always a surprise.” The point of the effort is to change that pattern.
“This was no small task,” said Ken Heyman, past president of JCF and chair of the Create a Jewish Legacy initiative, at the breakfast. “To get to 18 from 0 recognizes the importance of your organizations over the long term.”
This year, a new cohort of organizations will join the original 15 participants.
“Our goal is to change the culture in the organizations in Greater MetroWest,” said Heyman, “so that people on the professional and lay side recognize that legacy giving needs to be in [financial resource development] calendars on a regular basis.”
Heyman reflected on the changing nature of the Jewish community. “The younger generation is not as interested in traditional Jewish organizations — the bricks and mortar. You have to take advantage of the opportunity now. The people who are passionate about your organizations are aging. Remembering that it is their gift that will sustain your organization in the years to come is critical.”
Jon Ulanet of Congregation Beth Israel in Scotch Plains acknowledged that the culture at his synagogue “has not changed yet.” But he was thrilled with the 18 gifts that came in. While one would have come in regardless, “for the rest, the ask made the difference,” he said.
He underscored that with demographic changes, “the future operating expenses of the synagogue can’t be met by increasing dues. With declining memberships, we needed to make preparations. We’d talked about it for years, but we didn’t know how to implement anything. This project was like a sign from the heavens saying, ‘Do this now.’”