This article was originally published in the Jerusalem Post on August 11th, 2022, written by Dorit Naftalin Nelson and Adam Milstein.
Recent research suggests that younger Jewish philanthropists do not share the same charitable priorities of their parents. The efforts to engage the younger generations needs to start with teens.
The Looming Crisis
The 21st century marks a turning point in Jewish philanthropy. The generations that are fading away hold vivid memories of the Holocaust, lived through the miraculous founding of the State of Israel and experienced the thrill of Israel’s triumph in the 1967 Six Day War. It feels inevitable that the focus and the intensity of Jewish giving is changing as these pivotal events go further and further into the rearview mirror.
While hundreds billions of dollars are being passed down from one Jewish generation to the next, research suggests that younger Jewish philanthropists do not share the same charitable priorities that their parents did. One can now imagine a majority of American Jews declining to support the State of Israel as a homeland of the Jewish people, fight antisemitism, or breathe life into the Talmudic statement that “Kol Israel Areivim Zeh La’Zeh” (all Jews are responsible for one another).
Many efforts have focused on engaging and activating Jewish students in college, but “the work” needs to start much earlier. In an effort to shield young people from unpleasantness and negativity, our institutions have chosen to shield teens from the true face of the Jewish people’s enemies. This has left them completely unprepared to respond when they encounter Jew-hatred on campus or in the workplace. The result is that when many young Jews come face-to-face with antisemitism, they simply walk away, stay passive, or even find justifications in the anti-Jewish claims that are made. Because we don’t prepare them, they choose the path of least resistance.
We cannot afford a younger generation that stays inactive in the face of unprecedented antisemitism. As Jewish parents and pro-Israel philanthropists, how we can cultivate shared philanthropic priorities in our children? It is incumbent on us to mentor and empower young Jews to be knowledgeable and active leaders of our community in a holistic way. We must teach them to go beyond simply engaging in social justice projects in or outside the Jewish world. We need to find ways to enable our next generation to understand the deepening problems our community is facing and take early steps on their own leadership journeys to confront these challenges. We need to equip them with the knowledge, the know-how, the means, the tools and the opportunities to lead.
Venture Philanthropy for Jewish Teens
To reverse the trend of detachment, we need to develop programs that will interest, engage, prepare and educate young Jews about standing up for Israel and the Jewish people and challenging antisemitism through philanthropy while they are still in high school. We need to think about how to facilitate certain kinds of skill development, nurture a deep sense of Jewish pride, and transmit the importance of building a united Jewish community confronting antisemites and defending the State of Israel with charitable giving.
This is why a group of concerned parents and Southern California philanthropists are developing a new program with the mission of supporting Israel and combating Jew-hatred that will take inspiration from the Los Angeles-based Impact Forum, which brings together a network of like-minded philanthropists to fund and empower a network of small but impactful nonprofit organizations to collaborate and amplify each other’s work.
The vision is to develop a “Venture Philanthropist Club” for Jewish high school students in Los Angeles, which will hopefully become a model adopted nationwide. A coeducational, after-school curricular activity, the club will assign young students to different venture teams focused on fighting antisemitism, supporting the State of Israel, and strengthening their communities.
The program will educate students about the issues facing our community, the principles of strategic philanthropy, and the organizations leading the charge to defend the Jewish people and the State of Israel. It will build up students’ knowledge to make their own choices about which organizations are doing the most essential work. In addition to teaching them to raise funds in their networks, the program will provide them with seed funding to support existing pro-Israel organizations that speak to them, as well as new philanthropic ventures. The fundraising will take place jointly from impact philanthropists and their local communities, demonstrating the impact that is possible by leveraging multiple networks of giving.
Strategic Venture philanthropy involves much more than financial giving. It is a holistic investment of one’s personal time, resources, knowledge, and efforts. In the context of the Venture Philanthropist Clubs, participating students will take a hands-on-approach throughout the evaluation, creation and funding process. They will do the work of vetting different nonprofit organizations, interacting with them and asking key questions. After internal discussions, students will vote as a club to determine the amount to donate to each organization, and then to establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of their contributions.
Students will also be encouraged to stay involved with the organizations by volunteering or perhaps serving on student boards. By investing more of themselves, sometimes in projects of their own, students will have a real-world experience to drive more impact, which hopefully will make the work of standing up for Israel and the Jewish people a higher personal priority in college and beyond.
Empowering our Youth is Critical
We are facing a critical communal challenge. If Jews are going to continue to thrive in America, we need to find ways to interest and empower a younger generation to become leaders. Using venture philanthropy as a vehicle to activate and energize them is an important pathway to that goal. Our adversaries have learned to cultivate ever younger cohorts of activists. It is time that we develop the potential in our high school students.
In the Los Angeles area alone, there are billions of dollars that will be passed down from Jewish parents to the next generation. The best way to ensure these funds are used effectively to support causes vital to our community – Jewish unity, fighting antisemitism and supporting the State of Israel – is to invest in empowering the younger generation to assume leadership through venture philanthropy. American Jews, across the generations, need each other more than ever.
Dorit Naftalin Nelson, a healthcare consultant In Los Angeles, is the proud mother of 4 (including an IDF lone soldier) and has been active in many Jewish communal organizations.