Investing in the Jewish Future

Rich Jew, poor Jew: Giving without limitations

In Short

Whether you give $10 or $10,000, the intent behind the charity is what gives it value. All Jews have this moral obligation, and by welcoming each other to have a seat at the table—to give and tell our stories—we can create a thriving Jewish future.

I am the chief executive officer of Artists 4 Israel, an organization that harnesses the power of the arts to combat anti-Israel bigotry and help communities heal from acts of terrorism and hate. Much of my time is spent developing ways to use these mediums to support, protect, uplift and enrich Jewish life in the United States and abroad. I’ve dedicated my life, both professionally and personally, to advancing these aims.

Yet, when it comes to Jewish philanthropy, I did not feel like my efforts have earned me a seat at the table or even that I belonged at all.

I don’t come from an affluent background. Growing up, my family often struggled to make ends meet. As a young man, I relied on a grant from the Hebrew Free Loan Society for vital support. I never imagined I could be a purveyor of Jewish giving — only a recipient thereof. 

As I’ve gotten older, I am fortunate to be in a position in which I can think about my own charity. Yet, I often feel that the Jewish philanthropic space simply wasn’t designed for Jews like me. 

It turns out many young Jews feel the same. We see our parents and grandparents give to Jewish causes (or, in my case, they couldn’t give at all), but we feel like we lack the necessary means and connections to initiate our own giving. We feel that if we cannot afford six-figure donations to Jewish nonprofits, our donations are neither valued nor necessary. This sentiment has translated into inaction. Jewish nonprofit leaders around the country have sounded the alarm about declining rates of giving among millennial Jews.  

My entry into the pro-Israel nonprofit space only reinforced this perception. When I founded Artists 4 Israel, more than 500 people attended our inaugural event at a New York City art gallery, over ten times what we expected. I realized then that we had the power to build an influential grassroots movement. We began to approach large Jewish philanthropic institutions for financial support in this mission. But when we sat in those boardrooms presenting our case, we were often simply dismissed.

Through these interactions, my apprehensions about Jewish philanthropy were confirmed—that this was not the domain of the everyday Jew but of the wealthy and well-connected.

As I continued to work with Artists 4 Israel, I came to the realization that this did not have to be the case. I began to realize that all Jewish giving is an investment in the future of our people and our traditions. Intent—not dollar amount—is what truly matters. I didn’t need some executive in a boardroom to tell me that, because I knew it in my heart.

As millennials, our view of philanthropy is informed by our unique generational outlook. We’re deeply committed to using our dollars not just for ourselves, but also to advance the causes about which we care most. While we’re hardly the first generation to mobilize in support of tikkun olam, we’re unique in the extent to which equity and equality are central to our zeitgeist.

I truly started to appreciate the power of my philanthropy when I realized that, by giving Jewishly, I could support the organizations investing in the Jewish future and pursuing meaningful social change.

To this end, I solidified my giving through the Jewish Future Pledge, an initiative founded by Mike Leven to encourage Jews of all backgrounds to commit that, of the charity left upon their passing, at least half is earmarked to support Jewish causes and/or the State of Israel. The Jewish Future Pledge is open to all, regardless of age or net worth. It also breaks down the false binary in which many young Jews feel they can give Jewishly or progressively—but not both – because I get to choose which causes that money goes to. 

My pledge has allowed me to earmark resources to Jewish causes making a difference in the United States and the Middle East. Israel itself is a prime example. If you believe—as I do—that Israel is a global standard-bearer for women’s rights, environmental protection, civil liberties and economic opportunity, then a donation to the Jewish state equally becomes an investment in these progressive causes. To give to Israel is to give both Jewishly and progressively. 

This ultimately is what Jews of my generation seek: access, intentionality and respect. We want not just a seat at the table, but also an active voice in shaping a Jewish future that embraces the social causes we care about. Giving Jewishly isn’t one size fits all: anyone at any age and status can do so. I’ve relearned the meaning of tzedakah; I finally understand that ALL giving is righteous, and ALL giving is necessary and important. Anything I can give is enough. Anything I can give is meaningful. Everyone can play a role in our Jewish future.

Craig Dershowitz is chief executive Ooficer of Artists 4 Israel.