Lynn Schusterman: Inspiring Others by Her Actions

“If we can listen to young people and see what resonates, they will follow in our footsteps.”
Lynn Schusterman speaking at Israeli Presidential Conference

In a panel titled, Where is Jewish Philanthropy Headed? held during last week’s Israeli Presidential Conference, five global philanthropists discussed their views on their own giving, the state of philanthropy in their own country, the importance of giving to Israel and more. Today, in the first of two posts on the panel, philanthropist Lynn Schusterman shares her remarks to the attendees.

Schusterman, a signatory of the Giving Pledge, sees herself more as a changemaker than a grantmaker; a philanthropist who gives not just her money, but the bulk of her time, to “deepening the Jewish identity of young Jews and to strengthening Jewish communities all over the world.” It was therefore no surprise that she was so warmly received.

It is fitting that we are gathered here today in Jerusalem to talk about the state of Jewish philanthropy. It was exactly 44 years ago this month that my late husband Charlie and I got started on our giving journey with a donation to support Israel during the Six Day War.

Twenty years later, we were blessed with the resources to establish the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation in our hometown of Tulsa, OK. This one-office Foundation has since expanded into a global philanthropic network that includes our national office in Washington D.C., the Schusterman Foundation-Israel and the ROI Community of Young Jewish Innovators.

The core values underlying our funding remain the same as when we began – and, importantly, they reflect the values that filled the home Charlie and I built together. These values include: a love for Judaism, the Jewish people and Israel; a passion for repairing the world; a belief in the potential of young people; a devotion to supporting our hometown of Tulsa; and a commitment to the pursuit of excellence.

Today, with a global team of professionals, I see us less as grant-makers and much more as change makers determined to help create more value-driven communities. Within the Jewish world, in particular, we are focused on deepening the Jewish identities of young adults and, in turn, strengthening our global Jewish community. But we are not prescriptive in what we think these identities or community should look like. Our funding is rooted in the belief that a diverse Jewish community is a richer, more vibrant and ultimately more enduring Jewish community.

It is this last part that I want to focus on briefly because I think it is vitally important.

Just last week I attended the 2011 ROI Summit, a convening I have supported for six years now that brings young innovators and entrepreneurs from around the world to Israel to connect and create together.

In a time of conflict and divergence, the ROI Community has become the place to be to get a glimpse of a positive Jewish future. Why? Because it is one of the few places where Jews of genuine diversity can come together to focus NOT on the question of who is a Jew, but rather on what we can do as Jews, both individually and collectively, to better the world around us.

They are left wing, right wing, straight, gay, religious, secular, from big cities and small towns. But where some might see denominations, divisions and irreconcilable differences, these young people see potential for partnerships, for building bridges, for working together to contribute to the global Jewish community and to the world at large.

While the ROI Community is certainly exceptional, it is not the exception. There are pockets of Jewish life sprouting up around the world that are rooted in openness and tolerance.

As philanthropists, we must find these hubs, help them grow and connect them to each other. We must use our human and financial resources to encourage a culture that upholds inclusion and equality as fundamental tenets of our community, both in Israel and in the Diaspora. Now, more than ever, we must remember what has sustained us across millennium and allowed us to survive, even thrive, against the odds. Peoplehood. Community. K’lal Yisrael.

Can you imagine how powerful it would be if every Jew across the world felt part of our global Jewish community and connected to our Jewish homeland?

It will take strong leadership and resolve to get there – the same type of leadership and resolve it took the Israelites to survive 40 years of hardship in the desert and, more recently, a decimated people to build the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland for all Jews.

As I told the ROI Community, what we need is a Jewish spring, one centered around a global Jewish community that is and always will be welcoming of all who look to Judaism as their path to personal meaning and fulfillment.

I ask everyone in this room to help us make this happen.