Local wealthy Jews pledge to give away half their fortunes

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Atherton businessman Lorry Lokey might have been the easiest sell Warren Buffett had over the past couple of months, as he tried to enlist some of the world’s wealthiest citizens to the Giving Pledge challenge.

Earlier this year, Buffett and Bill Gates asked that their peers make the pledge to give away more than half of their money in their lifetimes. Forty of the world’s wealthiest people — including 13 Jews — signed on.

Lorry Lokey

Six members on that list are local Jewish philanthropists: Bernard and Barbro Osher, whose S.F.-based foundation has gifted millions to local Jewish causes; Oracle CEO Larry Ellison; Herb and Marion Sandler, who built Golden West Financial Corporation in Oakland; and Lokey.

When Buffett and Gates made the list of the initial 40 signatories public Aug. 4, Lokey might not have been the biggest name, and he might not have the biggest checkbook, but he seemingly represents exactly the kind of giver Gates and Buffet want the world’s super-wealthy class to become.

“A few weeks ago, Warren called to ask if I would be interested in making this pledge,” Lokey said. “I told him that I had already pledged and given away everything. He said, ‘Yes, that is why I want you on board.’ ”

But without any obvious signs of where their money will go, it’s unclear what impact this will have on Jewish nonprofits.

“This pledge is a very good thing — I want to be very clear about that — but I remain unsure if it is a game changer for the Jewish community in particular,” said Mark Charendoff, the president of the Jewish Funders Network, an organization for givers of at least $25,000 annually to Jewish causes.

Charendoff said the average Jewish billionaire gives pretty much the way Americans give.

“If that is the case, then we will see money go to higher education, to health care and possibly to the arts,” he said, noting a phenomenon that long has vexed the Jewish philanthropic world.

Larry Ellison photo/ap/jeff chiu

In addition to Lokey, other Jewish names on the list include Michael Bloomberg, Barry Diller and Diane Von Furstenberg, and Joan and Irwin Jacobs.

Lokey, 83, already had pledged almost everything he has — somewhere in the range of $700 million — to a handful of charitable causes. He had sold his company, Business Wire, to Buffet in 2008, so the two were already quite familiar with each other.

When he dies, Lokey has said he wants to be broke or close to it. He took care of his children long ago and has already bequeathed a sum of money to his partner of the last 19 years.

Lokey says that he was raised to give money away. Even during the Depression, when his middle-class Jewish parents made $2,200 per year, they gave away 10 percent of their money, an example he followed his entire adult life.

“I was always brought up to share charitable gifts. My folks did it when they couldn’t afford it. I learned from that,” he said. “I have always given. Once I got established after school, I was giving pretty close to 10  percent per year.”

As he became wealthy, that percentage increased. “When I gave it away back then it hurt. I felt it,” he said. “I don’t feel it now because I have it. But I have developed a tremendous respect for the middle class group of people who scrape together a few thousand dollars a year to give away.”

A journalist by training who moved to public relations and then started his own business, Lokey has given most of his charitable dollars to education because, he says, without the education he received growing up and his education at Stanford University, he would have not gotten anywhere. Among his largest gifts: $134 million to the University of Oregon, where he grew up; $35 million to Mills College; $37 million to Santa Clara University; and $33 million to the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology.

And while he has given by his estimate some $80 million to Catholic schools, his giving to Israeli education is off the charts. Aside from the Technion, he has boosted the Leo Baeck High School in Haifa, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Weizmann Institute and Hadassah.

More is coming.

Lokey says he hopes to make another $300 million or so off his investments by the time he dies (he says he will make 90 easy, as his mother died at 99 and his grandmother at 100), and the next big gifts will be to Israeli education.

“I hope to make it a billion before I kick the bucket,” he said. “The next $60 million or so will go to Israel.”

Lokey, who got his Jewish education at a Reform Hebrew school, fell in love with Israel on his first trip there in 1958, before he was really wealthy, on a mission with Hadassah.

He’s been back eight more times, and now that he is retired he hopes to make an annual trip there.

“Haifa I loved because it reminds me of San Francisco,” Lokey said from his home in Atherton. The house is one of three luxuries he says he allows himself, along with a San Francisco apartment and a home on Pineapple Hill in Maui.

Everything else he has given away or pledged to give away. Lokey says he has about a dozen charities to which he gives mega gifts, and another 10 to 20 to which he will give rather large gifts, but “I do not spread it out. I am not going to be one to give to 100 to 200 different areas.”

It might be tough luck for local Jewish charities, but Lokey says that his dollars are focused on education because “education is a matter of survival,” he said.

“I don’t give to the United Jewish Appeal, and I don’t give to United Crusade or the Salvation Army or the Red Cross either,” he said. “I give where I can pour dollars in in a big way and make things happen.”

Looking at the list of those who have taken the Gates-Buffett challenge, Lokey says he feels pride that more than a quarter of the first 40 is Jewish.

“It is significant that 25 percent of the list we know to be Jewish, and we only account for 5 percent of the population. I kind of wonder what is wrong with the rest of the people,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be anything but Jewish. If I come back in another life, I want to be Jewish.”

For more information about

the Giving Pledge, visit www.givingpledge.org.


How these philanthropists give

Marion and Herb Sandler photo/ap/marcio jose sanchez

Here’s a look at how the local Jews who signed on to the Giving Pledge have given to Jewish causes:

• In 2007, Oracle founder Larry Ellison gave $500,000 to fortify Sderot while on a mission to Israel organized by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

• Lorry Lokey, who says he wants to “die broke or close to it,” pledged $33 million to the American Technion Society. He has also given heavily to the Leo Baeck School in Haifa, one of Israel’s two Reform Jewish schools. He has also donated to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Lokey said that while he has already pledged away most of his $700 million fortune, he expects to make another few hundred million before he dies. The next $60 million or so will go to Israeli education.

• Bernard and Barbro Osher have two foundations: the Bernard Osher Found-ation, which gave away more than $100 million to general causes — many of them $1 million–plus gifts to universities — in 2007; and the Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation, which is a supporting foundation of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s Endow-ment Fund.

That foundation gave away $4 million in 2007 to an array of groups ranging from the Jewish Music Festival in San Francisco to the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael. The largest gift that year was a $2 million capital grant paid to Conservative Congre-gation Beth Sholom, located in San Francisco’s Richmond District, where the Oshers are members.

• Herb and Marion Sandler, founders of Oakland-based Golden West Financial Corporation, focus on five areas: international human rights, early childhood education, the environment, medical research and advocacy.

Their Sandler Family Supporting Foundation, also a supporting foundation of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Endowment Fund, is a “spend-down foundation” that “acts with urgency to make significant contributions that have both an immediate and lasting impact,” according to its mission statement.