Jerusalem Above and Below: A Funding Match for the Ages

Jerusalem bridge_2by Charlene Seidle

In ancient times, as in modern times, Jerusalem has been a muse, the subject of prayer, longing and inspiration. A city of extraordinary diversity, Jerusalem provokes passion, fervor and religious zeal.

Our Sages spoke of two Jerusalems: Yerushalayim Shel Mata (Jerusalem Below) and Yerushalyim Shel Maala (Jerusalem Above). Jerusalem Below is the physical city we know, beautiful certainly but – according to our tradition – a pale reflection of Jerusalem Above, the city of peace and creativity that is an example to all the world. Our work and privilege lies in the in-between, working together to align Below and Above.

Jerusalem of biblical times was the center of the world, not only in terms of purely religious beliefs but also in what we would today call social entrepreneurship. The first Israelite Temple was built as a result of an innovative public collections system initiated by King David and seen to fruition by King Solomon. The Second Temple was reinstituted despite the lack of enthusiasm by the established leadership, and was the result of an all-out grassroots campaign by Jews returning from Persia. Prophet/advocates like Micha and so many others expounded messages of social justice from the streets of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem now rises again as a center of social activism. The city is becoming a hub for young people of many backgrounds and beliefs fighting to reclaim and renew the ancient Jerusalem. The intensity and diversity that many point to as a negative is actually the city’s foremost advantage.

Last year, the Leichtag Foundation, in partnership with Jewish Funders Network, launched the Jerusalem Renewal Match, whose final grantees were announced today.

The Leichtag Foundation was founded by Toni and Lee Leichtag, remarkable individuals who were the consummate entrepreneurs. They thrived on new and disruptive ideas, risk taking and cultivating creative talent. To honor their legacy and their passion for Israel, our board strategized about the best ways to carry out their vision. Foundation leadership decided to focus on Jerusalem, which we see as a capital of innovation whose residents well reflect the qualities they so valued. Indeed, it has been so for many generations.

We have been so inspired and gratified by the incredible people and programs who are working to restore the city to its ancient ideals and promise. We were confident others would be excited as well. The matching grant initiative set forth a shekel-for-shekel match for those making a first-time gift to the field of Jerusalem renewal or those doubling a previous gift. In order to encourage multi-year funding, which we believe supports better planning and implementation by nonprofits, we matched gifts of two or more years by 150 percent.

Through the initiative:

  • Twenty-six organizations and initiatives have received or will receive matching funds.
  • Gifts from 31 donors were matched. Seventeen were first-time funders and six doubled a prior gift.
  • Eighteen of the donors matched were Israeli and 55 percent of the total funds matched were to Israeli donors. We were particularly excited about this result as it demonstrates both the growth of philanthropy in Israel as well as a diverse excitement about Jerusalem programs.
  • Seventeen new members joined the Jewish Funders Network.
  • A total of $1.12 million was matched.

Most important, the match stoked enthusiasm and support. We were overwhelmed by how many people stepped forward to share our optimism about the city while understanding the gritty work that must be done to attain the Jerusalem of our highest aspirations. The match is an important tool that allows many of us to share the required heavy lifting with joy and hope.

There is still much work to do. We realize that real change demands that a foundation go beyond funding specific programs and become field leaders. This matching grant initiative was not about the programs we like to fund, but about the field as a whole. We are exploring opportunities for increased funder education and engagement as well as capacity building for nonprofits and activists. We pursue the work with much urgency combined with a healthy understanding that the sacred tasks of aligning Jerusalem Above and Below belongs to all of us and spans the generations.

Charlene Seidle is Executive Vice President of the Leichtag Foundation.