How a group of young Jewish funders chose to combat antisemitism

How can young Jewish philanthropists make an impact on the American Jewish community? As young Jewish philanthropists ourselves, we have contemplated this question (and been asked it by others) frequently in the months since Oct. 7. Many of us are, for the first time, experiencing the difficulty of balancing our desire for a vibrant Jewish life that is rooted in joy and safety with the vulnerability of moving through the world without hiding our Jewish identities. We are alarmed by the escalation of antisemitism on college campuses and across our communities, and we feel the tensions in longstanding communal and personal relationships. We understand how important it is to stay connected and committed to people and organizations outside the Jewish community; at the same time we also recognize that, for many of us, those are complicated places right now.

In the weeks following Oct. 7, we heard from others in our community that they were seeking a space to deepen their learning and communal relationships at the intersections of philanthropy and Jewish life, and to make a meaningful difference in the American Jewish landscape at a time of tremendous loss, despair, vulnerability and fear. The issue they most wanted to learn about and impact was the rising antisemitism that they were witnessing as college alumni, that they felt in the organizations they lead, and that they heard about in their roles within Jewish communal institutions. 

Through Slingshot, we came together as a group of 14 funders in our 20s, 30s and early 40s came together as the Slingshot Giving Circle on Antisemitism. After a collaborative, two-month process, we invested $76,500 in initiatives that are combating antisemitism through bridge-building, allyship, coalition-building or intergroup relational work across North America.

Why a giving circle?

A giving circle is a group of people who come together to pool their charitable dollars and decide how to distribute funds in ways that reflect their communal values, passions and the impact they want to make on the broader community. The group establishes its own unique community norms and decision-making criteria; in our case, we were clear that in some cases the group’s community norms and values would differ from our individual values, and that our conclusions would be consensus-driven. 

Giving circles often function as engagement tools and amplification instruments for leaders whose collective impact oustrips their individual reach. We chose to participate in a giving circle because we understood that our collective attention as a community of young Jewish funders was as valuable a resource as our dollars. This structure gave us the opportunity to both amplify our individual gifts and do the work of articulating our priorities as a group, and to hear from leaders and changemakers we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to reach as individuals.

The members of our giving circle had a range of experiences in philanthropy. For some, this was their first time participating in a giving circle; for others, involvement in giving circles has become a frequent practice. In our first meeting, we established community norms for our time together, including openness to new ideas and accepting that even an individual’s favorite idea would not be funded if it didn’t meet the collective’s goals. 

In response to our request for proposals, we received 56 applications from organizations requesting more than $1 million total to address urgent needs — far more than we were able to invest in at the time. As the applications rolled in, our priorities and funding criteria evolved. We ultimately decided that our dollars could have the biggest impact on rapid-response efforts in the following spaces: 

  • Communities that are under-resourced or under-served in dollars, staff, or geography.
  • Smaller organizations or projects of larger organizations that have a focus on under-resourced areas. 
  • Projects or organizations that were squarely focused on combating antisemitism. 
  • Projects or organizations that clearly articulate a vision for success and the metrics they will use in evaluating that success.

To that end, we awarded four grants between $15,000 and $25,000 each to fund the following projects:

  • ReKindle, an organization that brings together leaders from the African-American and Jewish individuals in Cleveland, Ohio for friendly and challenging dialogue and face-to-face interactions to break down barriers and build new relationships. 
  • Carolina Jews for Justice, which combines advocacy and education to organize a non-partisan Jewish voice for justice in North Carolina and influence policy at the local and state levels.
  • JOIN for Justice, the premier Jewish organizing training institute in the United States, with over 20 years of experience training rabbis, Jewish leaders and everyday people to be effective changemakers, creating a more just world and thriving communities. JOIN is bringing to the Greater Atlanta area its SEA Change Initiative (Study, Engage, Act), an intervention to transform synagogues and help them forge deep bonds of allyship with organizations led by People of Color where they support each other, work together for a better world and stand with each other against racism and antisemitism.
  • Abrahamic House, a multifaith incubator for social change located in Washington D.C. that gives an opportunity for four fellows, ages 21 to 35, from four faiths to live together for a year to build interfaith programming and events. 

We did not arrive at these decisions alone. Instead, we gleaned wisdom from experts in the field who are deeply immersed in the work of fighting antisemitism, racism and building bridges across lines of difference. We know that strengthening relationships across differences is a prerequisite for combating antisemitism and uprooting bigotry of all kinds. The Jewish experience — especially in a time of ongoing violence and fear — can feel lonely and isolating. It can be easy to retreat to our own circles. But we know that it is only through meaningful relationships with others that people can unlearn the biases, assumptions and stigma that animates Jew-hatred today.

At a time of so much pain, grief and loss, we know that Jews are hungry for community. Jewish funders are no different. Giving circles offer a flexible, time-bound model to learn, grow and give together. Across the U.S., organizations are seeing a rise in participation in giving circles — whether on campuses, at community gatherings or federation events — as an antidote to isolation and loneliness. Our work with the giving circle was an opportunity to come together in service of a common goal and translate our learning into action. 

During the two months we spent together, we built trust, got to know one another, learned together and understood that we could make a difference even if we weren’t “solving” a whole problem. There is no wrong investment in addressing antisemitism, but the needs are so great and we couldn’t meet every single one of them. To that end, here is a list of organizations that responded to our RFP and are still seeking funding. Their work is urgent and critical, and we hope others will follow our lead.

If we want to live in a world where we’re not afraid to wear a kippah or a Star of David on college campuses or in supermarkets, we’re going to have to keep working together in new ways. At the end of the day, the only way forward is to lean into community, learn together and act — because as young Jewish philanthropists, we do not have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines.

Lily Goodman is the co-chair of the Slingshot Giving Circle on Antisemitism and Dena Verhoff is the co-chair of Slingshot’s board of directors.