When Jewish values motivate giving, everyone benefits

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Last weekend the San Francisco Chronicle published a list of the major donors to this year’s Season of Sharing Fund, an annual fundraiser for the Bay Area’s most needy.

Of course, I looked for the Jewish names among the donors. And, of course, there they were, filling the ranks of those giving $50,000 and up.

The John and Marcia Goldman Foundation. The Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund. The Bernard Osher Foundation, the Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund, the Ingrid D. Tauber Philanthropic Fund of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. And at the very top, with a $600,000 donation — the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund.

I couldn’t have been prouder.

There are those who complain about Jews donating to non-Jewish causes. If Jewish philanthropists give big money to museums and universities, the argument goes, who will support the synagogues, the old age homes and other Jewish communal institutions?

The same people, it turns out. Giving begets more giving.

American Jews give a lot, to both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations. Not only that, but those who are engaged with their Jewish community give more, to all causes, than do unaffiliated Jews. And Jews who belong to synagogues are more philanthropic, in general, than Jews who do not, no matter whether they are Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or anything else.

If you care about one thing, it seems, you care about another.

These are some of the findings of the 2013-2014 Connected to Give study, which interviewed 3,000 Jewish and 2,000 non-Jewish households to determine how faith shapes giving in America. The study is a collaborative project of a national consortium of foundations and Jewish federations — including the Bay Area’s Koret Foundation and the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation — in partnership with Jumpstart, a Los Angeles–based nonprofit that helps new Jewish organizations get off the ground.

Here are some of the salient data points from the study:

• Seventy-six percent of American Jews report that they made a charitable contribution in 2012, and their median annual gift came to $1,200.

• Most Jews who make charitable contributions give to both Jewish (79 percent) and non-Jewish (92 percent) organizations.

• Among Americans who give, more than half say their commitment to religion is an important or very important motivation for charitable giving.

• The single most important factor influencing American Jews to make charitable donations to either Jewish or non-Jewish causes is an individual’s connection to and engagement with the Jewish community.

What does all of this mean? It means that Jews who are members of synagogues, who give to their local federations, who volunteer with Jewish organizations, who send their children to Jewish camps and schools — basically, Jews who identify in tangible ways with their Jewish community — tend to be more philanthropic than those who are not as Jewishly immersed.

So, one might argue, a great way to boost overall philanthropy from American Jews to non-Jewish causes would be to support these very same Jewish institutions — the schools, camps and synagogues that teach the Jewish values and traditions underlying the philanthropic imperative.

Want to raise a new generation of American Jews who will continue their parents’ and grandparents’ legacies? Better keep those basic institutions of Jewish life alive and thriving.

The funders at the Jewish foundations topping the Chronicle campaign’s giving list know this to be true. In addition to their generous gifts to this fund, as well as to symphonies, hospitals, colleges and other civic institutions, these Bay Area Jewish luminaries provide major support to local Jewish day schools, camps, JCCs, federations, synagogues, senior residences and other organizations that form the infrastructure of Bay Area Jewish life.

They give here, and they give there. And that is very Jewish, for are we not commanded to take care of ourselves, and also to build a better world for all?

Sue Fishkoff is the editor of J. She can be reached at [email protected].

Sue Fishkoff

Sue Fishkoff is the editor emerita of J. She can be reached at [email protected].