Ensuring the Jewish future, One Conversation At a Time

By Jane Sherman

My father’s commitment to the Jewish community was legendary – and contagious. When you would say his name, “Max Fisher,” others involved in the Jewish world would lift their eyes and recount story after story. It felt like he had held a leadership position or given generously to virtually every major Jewish organization, which he had.

Yet, my father’s greatest impact was not made by writing checks, but rather through the power of his example – the way that he consistently demonstrated what it meant to truly embrace your responsibilities to our community as a Jew. He infected me with this powerful sense of purpose.

When I first got married, my father encouraged my husband Larry and I to visit Israel as part of a United Jewish Appeal Young Leadership Cabinet mission, which was the overseas fundraising arm of the Federation Movement. During the trip, an incredible sense of belonging washed over me. It felt like I was at home. I also saw up close how philanthropy could fundamentally change lives and transform communities. A fire was ignited. I came to understand the responsibility my father felt – and took it on as my own.

In the 50 plus years since that trip, I have been deeply involved in the organized Jewish community, as a communal leader, as a donor, and as a participant in a range of programs. I have received so much more than I ever could have given through these commitments. They have become an integral part of my soul and my spirit. They are who I am.

Just like my father, my greatest wish became that my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will hold and experience that same calling to sustain our Jewish future.

And to be honest: I am concerned. An increasing number of young people are disconnecting from their Judaism and the State of Israel. Giving to Jewish causes – as a percentage of our community’s philanthropy – is declining. Jewish organizations are struggling to attract the next generation of donors.

Those of us who are veterans of the Jewish world must do our part to address this looming challenge before it is too late.

This is why shortly after my father died in 2005, my family partnered with JFNA to start the Fisher Flight program in honor of his legacy. Every year, we bring together 9-10 young couples with giving capacity to teach them the value and power of Jewish philanthropy. We show them first-hand the impact that giving Jewishly can have. I feel like a proud mother when I talk about our graduates, who now number more than 100 – and have gone on to become leaders, givers, and change makers in their communities across the country.

Around the same time that we started this program, Larry and I felt it was important to explicitly state our values about our charitable giving to our family. We sat down our three children and some of our oldest grandchildren and announced our plan to earmark 80 percent of our philanthropic dollars at our passing to Jewish causes and Israel.

This was one of the most meaningful and important conversations I have ever had. The next generation in our family felt more empowered to get engaged in our philanthropy and inspired to deepen their work in the Jewish community. At the same time, the moment provided Larry and I with a unique platform to share with our family the values that we hope to leave behind.

Recently, I was thrilled to find about a new national movement dedicated to promoting more conversations like these at Jewish tables all across America – not just in families of means, but among everyone who cares about the future of the Jewish people.

The Jewish Future Pledge, co-founded by Mike Leven and Amy Holtz, calls on Jews to commit half or more of the charitable giving in their estate plan to support the Jewish people and/or Israel. Making the pledged is designed to spark critical dialogue within families and communities, allowing those with more years under our belt to pass on our wisdom, values, and life lessons to our children, grandchildren, and others in our network.

If you care about the Jewish future, I hope you will join me in signing this pledge. It is a powerful way to lead by example – for your kids, for your community, and for future generations. As my father taught me many years ago, there is no greater gift than you can give than inspiring a commitment to the Jewish people.

Jane Sherman is a Jewish communal leader and philanthropist based in Detroit.