Foundation aims to lure reluctant Jews with $20 million

Hoping to lure back legions of turned-off Jews, a Bay Area philanthropist has launched a new foundation aimed at celebrating Jewish life and culture.

In announcing the creation of his Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture, founder Tad Taube said he hopes to "glorify positive aspects of our lives."

The fund, which has a $20 million endowment, is a new name and mission for what had been called the Taube Philanthropic Foundation. Taube said $1.6 million was added to the foundation last year.

The Woodside businessman and onetime owner of the now-defunct Oakland Invaders football team said he already has given about $6 million to three academic and cultural centers in California and plans to support a fourth in his native Krakow, Poland.

In the past two years, Taube formed and funded Taube centers at Stanford University, the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

He plans to continue supporting those institutions in future endeavors and to provide "significant funding" to the Judaica Foundation, a decade-old Jewish history and cultural center in Krakow's former Jewish quarter.

Besides working with those four centers, Taube envisions funding separate lectures, appearances by world-famous figures, art exhibits, concerts and other cultural events.

"We want to celebrate our achievements," he said.

The foundation is seeking "fresh, new and innovative" ideas aimed at strengthening Jewish life and culture, according to a mission statement.

The 70-year-old Taube asserted that many Jewish institutions are losing potential constituents by dwelling on "Jews as the historical victims of the world." The time has come, he said, to take a different tack.

"I'm an entrepreneur," says Taube, noting that when "customers start going away, there's a problem with the message.

"I think the basic measure is there's a much larger percentage of Jews in the United States that aren't involved in anything Jewish than there are Jews who are."

Taube thinks that trend can be reversed by an effort that takes a more celebratory tone.

"We have privileges and rights here in this country that we don't spend enough time celebrating," he said.

To that end, the foundation's goals are working for the survival of Jewish life and culture, sustaining Jewish heritage in America, celebrating Jewish achievements, and working to reform and develop Jewish institutions, "which have too often become disconnected from the populations they serve."

Stephen Dobbs, the foundation's executive director, noted that "we're still at an early stage."

But among the "modest commitments" made so far was a traveling exhibit last year featuring the Polish folk art of papercuts.

This month, the foundation is organizing a series of local lectures by pro-Israel commentator Daniel Pipes. It is also a sponsor of the East Bay Jewish Music Festival and a forthcoming national lecture tour by Rabbi David Dalin, co-author of "Presidents of the United States and the Jews."

Taube said he hoped the overall effort would serve as a laboratory — and a model — for new projects.

"We're not trying to tear anything down," Taube said in a recent interview in the offices of the Koret Foundation, where he serves as board president of that $300 million Jewish-sponsored fund. "We want to make it better."

Taube predicted that California would be a focus of many of his own foundation's efforts, but added that, "obviously, we want to retain as much flexibility as possible." He also hopes to form partnerships with other institutions worldwide to further the new foundation's mission.

Nate Levine, executive director of the JCC here, said the $1 million already received by the Taube fund will translate into a wider and higher-profile range of classes, lectures and exhibits.

"It's a great gift that helped us set our sights really high in terms of the quantity and quality of adult Jewish education programs," said Levine, who expects to open a new $79.5 million center by December. Levine said the Taube funding will help that center become a "sophisticated cultural resource" with an array of programs and visits by "world-class scholars."

In addition, Dobbs, who previously served as the CEO at Koret and the Marin Community Foundation, hopes to assemble a traveling exhibit that celebrates Jewish winners of the Nobel Prize. He also is a freelance book reviewer for the Jewish Bulletin.

"A different message," said Dobbs, "is needed."