A LOOK BACK

eJewishPhilanthropy (eJP) at 14: Reflections on Where We Are

eJewishPhilanthropy (eJP) has recently moved to its new home[1], and this may be the moment to offer some reflections on this unique, creative “e” Jewish publication!

In 2007 Dan Brown, the founder and publisher of eJP, envisioned the design of this e-platform based on the mission of the now dormant ePhilanthropy Foundation and its role within the broader field of philanthropy. Dan reflected on how particularly helpful these folks were in conceptualizing this publication, along with the owners and operational team of CONVIO, an on-line nonprofit fund-raising platform.

In broad strokes, how does eJP impact the communal scene?

During these fourteen years, eJP has generated more than 16,000 postings. As framed in its mission statement, the purpose of this journalistic endeavor remains: “to highlight news, resources and thought pieces on issues facing our Jewish philanthropic world in order to create dialogue and advance the conversation.” Each month, there would be some 160,000 page views, as Jewish leaders, both lay and professional, have grown accustomed to view the articles and commentaries on this site as part of their daily ritual. As one observer noted, “there was always a particular article or announcement that informed my work and thinking.”

In what ways is the Jewish philanthropic endeavor a different breed?

“Philanthropy” within the Jewish communal setting holds a very distinctive place, as we understand “tzedakah” to represent a deeper and broader meaning than merely “charity.”  As a result any publication dedicated to telling the Jewish philanthropic story, including this one, must represent something significantly more than a reporting mechanism. As a result, from its inception, eJP carried a far wider and more essential role. In studying the range of subjects introduced on these pages, one finds a broad assortment of stories reflecting demographic trends, educational initiatives, historic and cultural expressions, and social and religious behaviors. In Judaism, the act and art of philanthropy is aligned and embedded within each of these multiple themes and disciplines. How Jews see themselves in the world is bound up by all of these artifacts of belief, performance and purpose. 

How might we understand eJP’s impact within the Jewish professional world?

Jeff Solomon offers this analysis in connection with Dan’s pivotal role: “his contribution to the field has been profound as he moved us from peer reviewed long developing works to the metaphor of the digital world.” 

Charlene Seidle, echoing this sentiment, expressed admiration for “his (Dan) integrity, dedication, independence, and moral courage.”

Another funder shared this reflection: We continue to rely on the content from eJP to inform our regular grantmaking discussions and decisions….

Noting the financial power shifts taking place within the Jewish community, Len Saxe observed:

The importance of eJP is that the Jewish world is supported by a multi-billion dollar philanthropic network. At one time, when federations and other communal organizations were the key players, a substantial group of individuals was involved in decision-making and there was a modicum of transparency. Today, Jewish philanthropy is dominated by large private foundations. In part because they are not beholden to a community or a large board, they are often able to be more creative and are certainly more nimble. Some, perhaps in the interest of reaching higher levels of the Maimonidean tzedakah ladder, intentionally avoid publicity. eJP shined a light on their work. That was good.

A number of colleagues reference that “turning to” eJP has become a “daily ritual” as there are always an array of background stories, institutional announcements and reports, and updates on Jewish philanthropic initiatives. This publication, as one commentator reflected, “feeds the field with the essential information for it to flourish and function.” Indeed, for some philanthropic organizations, eJP has become required reading for staff and essential input for board members.

Assessing the broad scope of its coverage, one observer notes that eJewishphilanthropy introduces both reflective historical materials along with current organizational press releases and announcements. Among the many themes that provoked responses, included an intensive debate around Jewish demographic data in connection with Jews of Color.[2]Other issues created their own level of controversy, including such topics as the challenges facing women in leadership, the future of denominational Judaism, peoplehood vs. religious identity, and conversations on the state and fate of our federations. 

How might we assess the broader implications of this publication on Jewish communal thought and practice?

Of significance as well is the introduction on these pages of the critical findings of new studies in connection with philanthropic trends, communal practice, and demographic data.

Over these years numerous articles both introducing and analyzing generic and Jewish communal studies and philanthropic reports, possibly none drew more reaction and comment then the 2013 Pew Center’s “A Portrait of Jewish Americans.”  

Indeed, the current pandemic has unleashed a plethora of articles, commentaries, and analyses, as this moment in time continues to reshape the Jewish world. Underrepresented Jewish populations are likewise drawing attention on these pages, as articles dealing with Mizrachi and Sephardic contributions, the LGBTQ communities, regional/country Jewish studies, and Jews facing socio-economic challenges.

As we enter this phase in the eJP journey, we acknowledge Dan’s tenacity and his extraordinary leadership in both launching and sustaining this significant and essential undertaking, awaiting how this next iteration will play out.

Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of HUC-JIR.

[1] https://jewishinsider.com/2021/01/jewish-insider-ejewishphilanthropy/?fbclid=IwAR1IrhtguZgAztPygxVDIJtf_pG8FOTRO4yor0iJ4lSQy6VZ1qDhOVgjgpo

[2] https://jewishcurrents.org/accounting-for-jews-of-color/