Despite financial crisis, East Bay endowment looking up

Wall Street bankers losing their shirts in the financial crisis should look to the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay’s Jewish Community Foundation. Instead of a downward slide, the foundation has gone way up in value.

As in, $50 million to $100 million in just three years.

No one person is responsible for the foundation’s success, but new board president Joe Hurwich gets some of the credit. The Piedmont resident sat on the board for 15 years, weighing in on all key decisions. Now he’s in charge.

“The foundation has the opportunity to do great things for the community,” Hurwich says. “The more investors we get the more ability we have to [make] grants.”

Hurwich replaced past president Moses Libitzky, whose tenure marked the endowment fund’s steep rise in value. Lisa Tabak has remained executive director, with Stephen Lasser serving as chief operating officer.

“Our board has the utmost respect for Lisa and Stephen,” says Hurwich. “[Tabak] is certainly part of the reason we’ve grown so dramatically. My predecessor, Moses Libitzky, really went above and beyond in terms of working with donor investors.”

As for the global financial crisis, Hurwich is concerned, but not deeply worried. He envisions some difficulties with both endowment value and donor giving in the short term, but, he says, “this is really a long-term, permanent endowment.”

In other words, the sun will come out tomorrow.

That means the work of the foundation goes on, even as demand for services goes up. Hurwich says one of the foundation’s priorities is funding Jewish education, which he calls “the building block” of Jewish life. He has other goals as well.

“What I’d like to see in the next few years,” Hurwich says, “is further growth in our permanent endowment, which will allow us to make more unrestricted grants. We also fund a

number of start-up type grants.”

Hurwich is no stranger to Jewish

community activism or financial expertise. The Indiana native grew up in a Reform household, and later attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. After earning his CPA he relocated to the Bay Area, working as an accountant.

Hurwich founded and ran an Oakland-based wholesale bakery business, Elegant Pastries, and now works as an accounting consultant. He has a long association with the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville, as well as with Oakland’s Temple Sinai and the East Bay federation.

He and his wife of 30 years, Beth, have two grown children.

Presiding over the foundation board, Hurwich takes the daily “temperature” of the endowment. Though he remains confident of long-term growth, in this age of bailouts he believes everyone has to make sacrifices — even well-heeled donors.

“Our response [to the financial crisis] will probably come in the form of reaching out to our donor investors and asking them to respond with us,” he says. “Although everybody’s hit hard, the donor investors by definition happen to be more affluent, and aren’t hit as hard as people on the bottom rung.”

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.