Paul Sunshine, a current Wexner Heritage Member from San Francisco, is a donor to the Machiah Fellowship, on the steering committee of the Young Funders’ Forum of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, serves on the board of the Northern California Innocence Projects, and is active with American Jewish World Service. He can be reached at email@example.com
Last month, I participated in the Wexner Heritage Israel Institute. One of the most spirited discussions for me occurred during the Mifgash, a 2-day encounter between American Wexner Heritage members and Wexner Israel Fellowship alumni. It was on the topic of Diaspora philanthropy, particularly the predominant modes of American Jewish (and European) charitable support for Israel. I was struck by the widely held opinion of Wexner Israel Fellows that traditional forms of federated giving by Diaspora Jews to Israel were: (i) losing their relevance given the dramatic growth of Israel’s GDP to $170 billion in 2006; (ii) too restricted in the scope of activities they support; and (iii) generating a certain resentment among Israelis because of the perceived patronization and control strings that come along with it.
It was abundantly clear to me that the Israel Fellows were challenging Wexner Heritage members to find news way of “entering the land,” the subject of this week’s Parasha of Ki Tavo, and to think more critically about how to best provide philanthropic support for Israel. It was equally clear that this challenge produced a stark divergence between Wexner Heritage members in terms of possible ways to respond: (i) adhere to the Federation system and keep increasing the amounts; (ii) develop or find new forms of support for Israel that don’t go through the system; or (iii) combine the best elements of both into novel and innovative partnership approaches.
This conversation, and the development of Federation/private partnerships, gets at the heart of an innovative San Francisco-based initiative, the Machiah Foundation/JCF Fellowships, with which I recently became involved. (www.machiahfoundation.org) During the last five years, there have been markedly fewer training opportunities available to Israeli post-doctoral scientists at European institutions of higher learning. This trend has been gaining momentum recently, as exemplified by the vote last Spring of the main union representing 120,000 British college teachers to endorse a Palestinian trades’ union call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
The Machiah Foundation is a direct response to the worsening academic situation in Europe for Israelis. Stanley Cohen, a world-renowned U.S. geneticist, and the rest of the board of the Machiah Foundation, a supporting foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund (JCEF) of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin & Sonoma Counties, started the Fellowship Program to support life science fellowship training in the United States for promising Israeli Ph.D and MD-level scientists. Fellowship recipients, who are selected by a distinguished group of senior U.S. scientists, each receive $100,000 of stipend support, awarded over a two-year period. The Machiah Fellows are required to return to Israel for a period of three years following completion of the program.
I had the opportunity to meet two of the recipients during my time in Israel last month: Tal Imbar (Hadassah University) and Ayelet Lamm (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) who will be doing their post-doc training at University of California-San Francisco and Stanford over the next two years.
With the help of JCEF, ten additional philanthropic funds and foundations from the Bay Area joined the program and will provide funds through JCEF to support the Machiah Fellowship Program. With the support of these additional funders, the number of fellowships awarded grew from four in 2006 to eight in 2007. The participating donors in the 2007 Machiah Foundation/JCF Fellowship program are:
• Pinchas Aaron Sunshine Philanthropic Fund
• Gerson and Barbara Bakar Philanthropic Fund
• Royce Philanthropic Fund
• Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation
• Feldman Family Foundation
• Alexander M. and June L. Maisin Foundation
• Kanbar Charitable Trust
• Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture
• Koret Foundation
• Betz Family Foundation
• Machiah Foundation
So, what does the Machiah Fellowship have to do with Parashat Ki Tavo, which is most well known for its vivid depiction of the blessings and curses for following (or not) the laws of Torah? Well, Ki Tavo is also about philanthropy. One of the first things that Moses instructs the Israelites upon entering the land is to engage in a system of tithing for the poor:
… set aside in full the tenth part of your yield – in the third year, the year of the tithe – and [give it] it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow …
(Ki Tavo 26:12-13).
The Machiah Foundation/JCF Fellowship Program is an innovative model of Diaspora support for Israel and is emblematic of a developing trend in American Jewish. It combines the best of the Federation system and privately directed philanthropy:
• It displays leadership by coalescing individual foundations and philanthropic funds (each, a form of tithed giving) around a pressing need;
• It shows a strategic role for federations and endowment funds in facilitating single purpose, directed “venture philanthropy”;
• It establishes a more direct “partnership bridge” between U.S. and Israeli Institutions – in this case, universities; and
• It demonstrates leverage and innovation by combining into one program: (i) advancement of important scientific research, (ii) public support for Israel that directly counters European pressure; and (iii) reversal of the technology “brain drain” that negatively impacts Israel’s future.
I know that Tal and Ayelet are busy preparing for their move and can’t wait to start their academic journey this Fall along with all of the other Machiah Fellows.
I hope this article inspires you to reassess your own philanthropic objectives. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
• Have you created a written philanthropic plan for yourself and/or your family?
• Are you in a position to tithe a portion of your assets – “a tenth of your yield” – to form a donor-advised fund or other tax-advantaged giving vehicle to help achieve your
• Would your leadership ability be best served by spearheading a strategic initiative? • Is there a special initiative already underway in your community that you could participate in?
• How can your local Federation or Endowment Fund assist you in creating or finding a
• How will you balance this effort with your obligations to your local annual campaigns?
• There are a host of opportunities available to philanthropists who seek to “enter the land” in new and effective ways. Will you be one of them?