Jerusalem — In North America, countless Jewish community institutions and initiatives rely on the generosity of private family foundations that fund day schools, synagogues and hundreds of Jewish organizations.
Yet this deeply entrenched model of family foundation giving is rare in Israel, where such entities are classified as nonprofit organizations, and there is no Israeli equivalent to 501(c)(3) status.
Last year the Jewish Funders Network created the Center for Family Philanthropy at JFN Israel — the first program of its kind in Israel’s history to encourage giving by family foundations.
“We established the center to help Israeli families think about giving in a family context, to address the unique opportunities and challenges that family philanthropy presents,” said Efrat Oppenheimer, the family center’s director. “We also see it as a way to support and develop philanthropy in Israel by helping to create structures that will support philanthropy in the long run.”
Maya Natan, JFN Israel’s executive director, said that being born into a philanthropic family is no guarantee that the younger members of that family will have an interest in charitable giving or share their parents’ or grandparents’ priorities. This is something that has to be actively nurtured, she said.
“People aren’t born philanthropists but they can grow into it. What’s important is to provide the access to community, education, collaboration and networking at all the different stages of life to engage with philanthropic values.”
While there are a small number of Israeli families that donate large sums of money over multiple generations, about 65 percent of the philanthropy that supports Israeli institutions and causes actually comes from abroad, mainly from the U.S., according to Hillel Schmid, founder and researcher at the Hebrew University Center for the Study of Civil Society and Philanthropy in Israel.
Of the Israel-sourced charitable contributions, 29 percent come from businesses or corporations and 71 percent come from individual households that donate on an informal basis to a limited number of charities.
“Israelis tend to be reluctant, ambivalent,” when it comes to giving, Schmid said. “They feel they’ve already given three years to the army and serve in the reserves till their 40s.” While they respond to funding drives against cancer and to support a center for disabled children, “they view philanthropies as having political interests that want to promote their own goals and not ordinary people.”
Even so, philanthropy by Israelis for Israelis “is growing,” Schmid said.
As Israel has become more prosperous, so too has the interest in family foundations, at least among JFN’s members, Oppenheimer said.
“Our members are at the point where they need the tools and resources to address the linkage between family and philanthropy. We work with current funders and the next generation of funders so they can do impactful work now and in the future.”
JFN’s young and “next generation” funders are aged 20 to 50.
Families enrolled in the family center learn about the logistics of running a family foundation, and are asked to consider how they want to develop a decision-making apparatus — what a board of governors does in the U.S. — within the family structure.
“They think about how to develop governance, a decision-making apparatus, within the family structure,” Oppenheimer said.
Dan Brown, the founder of ejewishphilanthropy.com, said philanthropic families face most of the same challenges as other philanthropic organizations: how to have the most impact, how to measure success, how to hold yourself accountable.
“But in addition, they face challenges that other funders don’t face if they aren’t pursuing their giving together as a family: How do you keep the next generation engaged? How do you handle board conflict when the board is family? What do you do if a now-deceased founding generation had a mission and values that don’t align with some current descendants’ views?”
As more Israelis become wealthy from high-tech and other sectors, Brown said, the number of Israelis choosing to give as a family is increasing.
“The next step is to figure out these dynamics together with other Israelis who are also navigating them.”
Although the Center for Family Philanthropy at JFN Israel was established in 2018, JFN began reaching out to the younger generation earlier.
Three years ago Israeli members of the organization founded the Young Funders Forum, an opportunity for Israeli next-gen donors and young donors to connect and learn together. The forum meets three to four times a year.
The center is now planning separate programming for people in their 20s and early 30s to help them take their first steps in philanthropy.
The center is collaborating with Center for Family Philanthropy in Washington, D.C., which has sent experts to Israel to train the staff and hold workshops tailored to members’ needs and interests.
Workshop topics have included “Parents & Children in Philanthropy,” “Tips, Traps, & Tools: the Hows and Whys of Family Philanthropy,” and a “Bar/Bat Mitzvah Lab” workshop for parents whose children will celebrate their bar/bat mitzvahs in the next few years and are interested in incorporating values of social responsibility into the celebration and the “mitzvah project” in the year leading up to it.
“We discussed ways to determine what the child connects to and how to cultivate this conversation and have children understand that philanthropy isn’t necessarily about the money. It’s also about involvement, learning about an issue, about volunteering. It’s the beginning of a journey,” Oppeheimer said.
In Oppenheimer’s report on JFN’s recent Israeli Philanthropy conference, Irith Rappaport, an Israeli raised in Switzerland who returned to Israel about 20 years ago, said she’s been surprised by the Israeli mindset regarding philanthropy.
“A lot of people will give their 18 shekels for the cancer society, for the soldiers, for the university, for the hospital, and I respect that. But when it comes to the big picture, that’s where the work in Israel is going to have to be done,” said Rappaport, who is deputy chairperson of the Rappaport Family Foundation.
In the past, she said, when philanthropists in Israel tried to bring up these ideas with their children, “The kids would say, ‘Why? Why do we need that?’ The ongoing feeling in Israel was, ‘If I pay my taxes and served in the army, then I’ve done all I need to do for the Israeli society.’”
Rappaport acknowledged she is a “real newcomer” to the philanthropy world.
“I fell into philanthropy as a tribute to my family legacy. Everybody can understand that money comes with responsibilities and obligations. That’s not something anyone needs a center for. But once you start recognizing that you want your philanthropy to have an impact, then you really begin to understand the need to do it right.”
Michele Chabin is a contributing editor for The New York Jewish Week, NJJN’s sister publication.