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October 14, 1988 - Image 25

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-10-14

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

one speaker, "gave from their kishkes."
Then, tzedakah was largely a reflex born
of the Jewish experience, fueled by Jewish
persecution and the lonely status of being
the perennial outsider, of having to care for
your own people because no one else would.
The haven that Jews found in America,
said the speakers at the New York con-
ference, diluted Jews` imperative to care for
their own. America, at first suspicious of
Jews, was eventually hospitable to them.
And the more that Jews entered the Amer-
ican mainstream, maintained the con-
ferees, the less insular they became. They
joined high-powered boards of major cor-
porations; they acquired new social cachet;
and, they gave to non-Jewish, secular
causes, sometimes as generously as they
had given to strictly Jewish causes.
Part of Jewish philanthropies' problem,
then, is the new competition from other
charities: Now that it's acceptable,
everyone wants the Jewish buck. Once, for
example, Jews were tacitly banned from
matriculating in Ivy League colleges. Now
Jews enroll at Princeton and Yale and are
courted by deans and trustees for contribu-
tions. Dorms, wings and theaters are
eagerly named after them.
Another problem stems from the weaker
Jewish identity that allegedly comes with
each new generation a Jewish family has
been in America.
"Is this why meetings of Jewish fund-
raising organizations increasingly seem
like meetings of the petroleum industry?"
asked Barry Kosmin, director of the North
American Jewish Data Bank.
"It's not that the [philanthropic] well has
run dry,"' said Kosrnin at the New York
conference, "but that all the easy oil has
been found (by Jewish causes)."
Faced with the loss of this "easy money,"
fund-raisers have to "drill" deeper and
more astutely to fill their coffers.
Although speakers at the conference
unanimously predicted a bleak future for
Jewish philanthropy, officials of Detroit's
Jewish Welfare Federation disagreed.
"I'm not threatened by the fact that more
Jews are giving to non-Jewish causes," said
Martin Kraar, Federation executive vice
president. "I'm encouraged by it." And Sam
Himmelrich, president of Baltimore's
Associated Jewish Charities was nonpluss-
ed by claims that Jews were footing propor-
tionally less of the American philanthropic
dollar than in the past.
"If that's the case," said Himmelrich,
"then the non-Jewish world is becoming
more charitable. And hopefully, that means
Jews have set a good example with their
tradition of tzedakah."
"Nothing is wrong," he said, "with Jews
giving more of a percentage of their dona-
tions to non-Jewish causes if Jews continue
to take care of their own needs. The key
issue is whether there are unmet needs in
the Jewish community. For the most part,
we have been able to fund what the Balti-
more Jewish leadership feel are the most
compelling programs for our community."
Detroit's Kraar agrees. "When the needs

The Secularization
Of Jewish Giving

In the early 1970s, two-thirds of
Jewish charitable giving went to
Jewish causes (left). By 1986, this
had slipped to one-half.

$3.5
Billion
to all
U.S.
Charities

$1.7

Billion

To all —+
U.S.
Charities

to
Jewish
Causes

early 1970s

1986

are present, the Jewish community creates
the funds to meet the needs." For that
reason, Kraar does not believe that Jewish
philanthropy is facing a crisis. "We have
been a model, and our (annual giving) base
is higher (than the general population).
Locally and nationally we raise significant
money for a limited population."
The Detroit Jewish community has had
an enviable record of increasing its Allied
Jewish Campaign total each year and
broadening its base of support. "We are fin-
ding more and more people to carry the
load;' said Kraar. "We have an active
strategy, and we ask people to give what
they can while involving as many people
as we can."
That strategy helped the Allied Jewish
Campaign reach $25.8 million last year,
with more than 18,000 contributors. Those
figures represent a 25 percent increase in
dollars and approximately 10 percent in-
crease in contributors over the last five
years. In Baltimore, however, the Kraar's
counterpart Darrell Friedman sees a new
problem developing.
Friedman conceded that the younger
generation's stance toward Judaism has
made it more difficult to raise funds for
Jewish charities. Unlike previous genera-
tions that gave almost instantly and in-
stinctively, "people," he said, "now ask
questions. The Jewish federation move-
ment is built on consensus, on people
agreeing. There are now a lot of issues that

people disagree about, such as Israel-
Diaspora relations and what's happening
in Israel today.
"We have to deal with these, just as w 3
have to raise the level of Jews' knowledge
about their own traditions and history and,
most importantly, about values. What was
in people's guts in the 1930s and 1940s
when people heard Yiddish in their homes
and lived through the Holocaust ain't
there, anymore. Federations have to put it
there."
Detroit's Dr. Conrad Giles, president of
the Jewish Welfare Federation, refuses to
take a pessimistic view. "The new genera-
tion accepts Israel as a fact. It was not
something they had to strive for, and they
have no memory of the Holocaust. We have
to reemphasize giving in accordance with
Jewish tradition, which did not demand an
Israel or a Holocaust to take care of those
in need.
"We have to educate each generation."
Dr. Giles is concerned by geo-political
considerations affecting contributions.
"Problems in Israel should not significant-
ly impact Jews and tzedakah," he said, and
that impact in Detroit has been "happily
insignificant. We don't get letters that say,
`I'm not giving because . . . ' "
The idea of the Jewish philanthropic
"well" running dry has been bandied about
since the mid-1970s when it was first
posited by Professor Paul Ritterband. Rit-
terband, director of the Center for Jewish
Studies in the Graduate School Of the City
University of New York, still stands behind
his 13-year-old idea.
Between 1977 and 1984, he said at the
recent New York conference, the total
amount given to local Jewish federated
campaigns increased by 40 percent. In the
same years, contributions to all U.S.
charities more than doubled.

Federation reliance on fewer
donors for an increasingly
larger share of revenue
"might be a campaign
director's dream, but it
is a community builder's
nightmare."

"Jewish philanthropy has been increas-
ing," acknowledged Ritterband, "but it has
increased at a much lower rate than philan-
thropy generally. In constant dollars,
Jewish philanthropy has fallen behind. We
probably exaggerated by suggesting that
the well was running dry, but clearly it was
not flowing as fast as our neighbor's well."
A recent survey by Ritterband indicated
that Jews give to charities about as often
as the rest of the public. But only about
half the Jews sampled gave to their local
federated campaign, while 70 percent of
them reported they gave to one or more
secular causes. And individual contribu-
tions to the Jewish campaigns paled beside
those from the one percent of donors who

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

25

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