Jewish Philanthropy in the New Era

By Lisa Eisen

The new year has begun and, in short order, so too will a new era for the American polity. If the past year was any indication, the days ahead will be characterized by significant change and unpredictability.

Indeed, many Americans are still reeling from the unprecedented polarization and acrimony of the recent election. Like our country, the Jewish community is deeply divided. Regardless of our political persuasions, the time has come for us to invest in healing our community and our democracy.

As Jews, we have a special obligation to help repair what is broken by truly listening to one another and working together to build a better future for our young people and for our country. And, for those who work in Jewish philanthropy, we have a unique responsibility to step up and ensure that there will be ample support and leadership for the important work that lies ahead.

In that spirit, here are seven principles that we believe must help guide Jewish philanthropy in the new era:

  1. Create Spaces for Dialogue:  We can jumpstart the healing process by investing in opportunities to bring people together to actively listen to, share with and understand one another. Young people, as well as diverse voices and perspectives, must be included and respected in these conversations. By creating and funding spaces for meaningful dialogue – at Shabbat tables, in our synagogues, community centers and otherwise – we can help find common ground within the Jewish community and across other religious and ethnic communities. And we can also offer a message of optimism for a brighter future together. In the words of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks: “When the world is divided, let us be united as Jews. Where there is despair, bring hope. Where there is hurt, bring healing. Where there is division, be united.”
  1. Strengthen the Center: Jewish discourse has been marred by the same polarization and demonization that ail our country. Extreme voices on the left and right, amplified by the echo chambers of the press and social media, are drowning out the voices of moderation and compromise that reflect the vast majority of the mainstream Jewish community. Increasingly, Jews working for social justice, for example, are painted as naive left-wingers, while Jews who advocate for Israel are depicted as right-wing ideologues. We cannot allow ourselves to be cornered into a false dichotomy between supporting Israel and supporting tikkun olam and social justice. Both are compatible and mutually reinforcing. Rather than allow our extremes to rend us apart, it is time we invest in strengthening the center, encouraging moderate leaders to speak up, building strength through our diversity and focusing on what unites rather than divides us as Jews.
  1. Fight Anti-Semitism and Bigotry: The past year saw raw bigotry unleashed and seemingly sanctioned in mainstream discourse. The escalation of hate speech and hate crimes in our schools and communities is alarming and unacceptable. As Jews, we simply cannot tolerate rising anti-Semitism or hatred of any kind. We must invest in fighting anti-Semitism head on and help stem the tide of intolerance by supporting organizations and leaders who stand up against racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and homophobia. And we can fund programs that promote tolerance, combat bigotry, celebrate inclusivity and diversity and strengthen our social fabric.
  1. Support Service and Social Action: Many Americans are searching for ways to be involved and to help support individuals and communities that are feeling vulnerable, including immigrants, LGBTQ individuals and people of color. We can work in partnership with these communities to help ensure that their rights are protected and to serve those most in need. By investing in service, volunteerism and social action, we can put our Jewish values of tzedek (justice) and tikkun olam (repairing our world) into action to support those most at risk in our society.
  1. Promote Civic Education and Engagement: One of the disappointments of the 2016 election is that only half of eligible Millennial voters – including Jewish Millennials – cast ballots. As a community, we have an opportunity – even a responsibility – to spur a new generation of Jews to vote, to advocate, to serve and to give as vital steps in building a healthy democracy in which Jews and all citizens have a voice. Through our youth groups, schools, camps and Hillels, we can support programs to inform and inspire our young people – as Americans and as Jews – to be actively engaged citizens and ardent advocates of our shared interests, rights and freedoms.
  1. Advance Women’s Leadership: Some saw in the defeat of Hillary Clinton echoes of sexism, as a woman was denied the chance to break the ultimate glass ceiling. Regardless of the reasons for her loss, the aspiration for women to hold the highest positions of leadership must remain paramount for our country and for our Jewish community. We have made progress, but we can and must do a better job putting our money where our mouth is to ensure that women serve as CEOs of our institutions, chairs of our boards and as leading philanthropists, activists and leaders shaping the future of Jewish life.
  1. Cultivate Ties Between the U.S. and Israel: We have seen that the U.S.-Israel relationship is at serious risk of becoming a political football and partisan wedge. We must ensure continued bipartisan commitment to Israel by investing in building ties among liberals and conservatives alike. Specifically, we can support taking more Americans of different backgrounds to Israel, particularly the new crop of American political officials, progressive leaders, and college age and young adult leaders from a variety of professional fields and ethnic and religious communities. Additionally, facilitating ongoing personal and professional bonds between Americans and Israelis will promote greater understanding, strengthen the relationship between these two democratic allies and ensure Israel remains a legitimate member of the family of nations.

No matter what the next four years bring, Jewish philanthropy will be more critical than ever in helping meet pressing needs and shaping the kind of community and country we want for our children and grandchildren. Not every funder will address every principle, but working collectively, we must use our dollars and expertise to provide vital support and leadership for the causes that matter most.

Through our investments, we can recommit to our values and model civility and pluralism. As a people who have been through much turmoil and uncertainty and always overcome, we can be a beacon of hope and optimism – investing our resources, raising our voices and putting our values into action to create the brighter future that we all want to see.

Lisa Eisen is Vice President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.