By Mike Leven
Last year, at the urging of Mark Silberman, a longtime friend, Jewish Future Pledge Board Chair and former Board Chair of the Atlanta Jewish Federation, I decided to create donor-advised funds in the names of each of my three children through which they could contribute to charity. When I told my wife about this idea, she had one question: “How do you know they will donate the money to Jewish causes?”
I thought about it for a moment, and then responded, “I don’t.” It set off a lightbulb in my head.
My wife and I have been deeply involved in Jewish philanthropy for decades. My sons have leadership roles in their local Jewish communities. And yet, I realized that we had never had an explicit conversation with our children and grandchildren about the importance of devoting a significant percentage of our charitable giving to support the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
That became the kernel for a major initiative that we formally launched this week.
We chose to launch now, in this time of unprecedented turmoil due to COVID-19, because the challenges of this moment illustrate the importance of planning for the unknown. Giving here and now is essential – we can navigate this crisis without losing sight of the future.
That’s why Mark Silberman has joined me, Amy Holtz, Hadara Ishak, and other Jewish leaders across the country in laying the groundwork for a worldwide movement to ensure that vibrant Jewish life continues for generations to come. It calls on all Jews to pledge that half or more of the charitable giving in their estate plan will support the Jewish people and/or the State of Israel.
After my wife and I took the Jewish Future Pledge last year, we sat down around the Passover Seder to discuss it with our children and grandchildren. That first conversation was empowering for everyone involved. It gave our grandchildren a window into our thinking. They became determined to deepen their engagement in Jewish philanthropy while their grandparents are still on this earth. Everyone got up from the table with a powerful sense of motivation and heightened feeling of purpose.
Currently, we find ourselves in another existential moment. Perhaps more than ever before, people are thinking about what’s important in life and what legacy they will leave behind. As a longtime businessman, I see an enormous opportunity to help spark thousands – even millions – of similar conversations around Jewish tables before my generation passes. Having important conversations today – about Jewish values and the importance of sustaining Jewish life for future generations – is a critical step to ensuring a vibrant Jewish tomorrow.
We believe that this initiative could net more than $600 billion, and transform our community in the decades to come.
Over the next 25 years, $68 trillion will transfer from our generation to the next, with an estimated $6.3 trillion allocated to charity. Of that sum, we estimate that 20% of this allocation, or $1.26 trillion, will be given by Jewish donors. If our dream is realized, there will be over $600 billion on the table to secure the Jewish future.
Each pledge will generate a surge in Jewish pride, as families around the world engage in critical conversations about why the Jewish future matters – and then share that commitment with their friends and networks.
Signing this pledge sends a powerful message to your family, friends, and future generations about the importance of sustaining the Jewish people. Share your story. Transmit your values. There is no greater gift that you can give.
This initiative comes at a critical time for the Jewish community. More and more young Jews are disengaged; the U.S.-Israel relationship faces new challenges; and the institutions that have held our community together for generations hang in the balance. Nearly two-thirds of young Jews do not belong to any synagogue, and nearly 25% of people born to Jewish families now claim they have “no religion.” Intermarriage continues to pull many younger Jews out of the community because our institutions have not adapted to accommodate interfaith families fast enough. At the same time, fewer and fewer Jews see Israel as a critical part of their Jewish identity.
By extending our vision beyond the short term, the Jewish Future Pledge is guaranteeing our people’s security for the future. Our initiative provides an innovative solution to develop the resources and leaders that can help our communal institutions address these challenges in the decades to come.
The Jewish story of survival and success is a miracle. And none of it happened by coincidence. If we don’t think about the Jewish future now, who will?
From Moses to Maimonides, from Herzl to Heschel, Jews have risen in every generation to secure the future for those to come. Through this new initiative, we have an historic opportunity to write the next chapter of the Jewish story – and secure the tomorrow that our children and grandchildren deserve.
Mike Leven is Mike Leven, former CEO of the Georgia Aquarium and COO of the Sands Corporation, and co-Founder of the Jewish Future Pledge.