Building a better Israel: New Amuta chair hails partnership with S.F. federation

Ever the economist, Yossi Tamir can hurl statistics. And when it comes to Israel, most of them are positive: 5.4 percent growth in Israel’s economy last year; 6 percent projected for 2008; foreign investment up 300 percent since 2005.

But it’s the not-so-rosy stats behind the stats that really get to him.

“It doesn’t trickle down,” Tamir said of his country’s wealth. “Kids living under the poverty line are now at 36 percent. Sixty percent of [Israeli] Arabs are under the poverty line. Forty-three percent [of Israelis] are working poor.”

Numbers like these drove Tamir to devote his career to public service in government, academia and philanthropy. And his commitment to philanthropy just got stronger since being named chair of the Amuta last month, the Israeli grant-making arm of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

Since 1985, the federation has given millions of dollars to the Amuta, which disburses those funds to scores of grantees. Current recipients include the agencies ECHAD, an early childhood education project that serves Arabs and Jews, and TEVET, which addresses Israeli unemployment.

The Amuta also funds programs that serve Israel’s gay and lesbian communities, promote religious tolerance and develop the federation’s sister region, Israel’s Upper Galilee.

Trained as a lawyer and economist, Tamir has enjoyed a long association with the Amuta, both as a committee member and as director of recipient agencies like TEVET. As chairman, he will weigh in on the Amuta’s selection of grantees and, if he has his way, strengthen ties to the Bay Area.

“The goal is to build a bridge between Israel and the San Francisco community,” said Tamir, who was in the Bay Area this week to talk to federation partners.

Tamir says the funding stream from the federation to the Amuta has remained steady, although the falling U.S. dollar has certainly hurt. Also, he believes in many cases the Israeli government has not stepped up to solve endemic social problems as forcefully as it might have.

Still, Tamir is proud of the Amuta’s success stories, many of which have changed how Israeli society addresses certain problems.

One Amuta-funded program working with Israeli Arab children at risk developed a model now adopted across the country. Today, programs across Israel follow the Amuta’s pioneering vocational training and voucher system as a first line of defense in aiding Ethiopian Jews.

The Amuta also distributed millions of dollars in emergency funds raised by the federation to help rebuild Israel’s north after the 2006 Lebanon war.

Tamir looks forward to working with his fellow Amuta committee members in Israel, as well as partners in San Francisco, including the federation’s Israel & Jewish Peoplehood Commission.

Helping his country build a more equitable society is a good way to make a living, he says — almost as good as Israeli entrepreneurs creating high-tech start-up companies.

“I’d like [the Amuta] to be a social startup,” he said.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.