Everyones philanthropy counts

A member of San Francisco's pioneering Levi Strauss family, Dan Koshland Jr. grew up with the message that those who were privileged had an obligation to further their education, to work and to give back to the community.

Koshland has done all three, as a scientist, teacher and philanthropist. And with his gift of $8 million to Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science, he is not only enabling other scientists to do groundbreaking research in their fields of study, he is also helping to ensure the state of Israel's position as a leader in scientific research.

Jews, and indeed, Americans, have long put a value on using one's resources to improve the world, funding not only scientific research and education but the arts, recreation and programs to benefit newcomers, the ill and the needy.

And while the contributions of the wealthy make the most dramatic difference, everybody's gifts count.

Philanthropy, in its most literal meaning, does not require wealth, but it does require action. The word is rooted in two Greek terms, "philo" for "love" and "anthropos" for "mankind." The philanthropist, then, is someone who is motivated to improve the lot of humankind.

As Jews, we must make it our mission to translate love into action, not only by giving what we can materially but by giving of ourselves. And few are too young — or too old — to start.

At synagogue Mitzvah Days, for example, children get involved in service projects, from cleaning up beaches and cages at the zoo to singing and bringing cheer to residents of nursing homes and other institutions. Adults pitch in with building projects, including helping to erect homes for Habitat for Humanity. And some contribute their handiwork, filling giftbags or stuffing envelopes.

Shouldn't we all be philanthropists?