Editorial | Learning to give back is imperative

When it comes to ensuring long-term philanthropic giving in the Jewish community, the best advice is the most straightforward: Teach your children well.

As our cover story this week shows, tzedakah can and should be a multi-generational family affair. The five young adult philanthropists profiled in Drew Himmelstein’s story (page 8b) learned the art of giving directly from their parents and grandparents. Not only did they grow up seeing their elders give both time and money to the Jewish community, but as children they were entrusted with hands-on giving opportunities so they could exercise the philanthropic muscle, determining their own priorities and goals.

Now as adults, these young philanthropists have extended the legacy of their parents, while expanding the parameters of giving. Not only have they and some of their peers brought philanthropy into the 21st century with apps and creative strategies, this new wave of Jewish givers has opened the tent wider than in generations past.

Some focus on addressing critical environmental concerns; others put their energy into aiding struggling Jewish communities in far-flung places. The five profiled in our pages also give to and work with their Jewish federations because, as young philanthropist Aaron Saxe puts it, federations support the “Jewish communal ecosystem.”

It might be easy to dismiss this phenomenon as a cultural curiosity among the wealthiest in our community. That misses the point.

They called the 1970s the “Me Decade,” but in many ways this current decade takes the cake. This is an era of self-absorption where the most common photographic pose is the selfie and everyone has a built-in fan base on Facebook.

But this generation is also incredibly collaborative. Kids and young adults today understand the threat of climate change, they see appalling levels of income inequality, of social and racial inequality, and they want to take action.

Just look at the teens who participate in the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s Jewish Teen Foundation, and the tzedakah programs at our Jewish day schools. These kids are learning to do things right.

And the young adults of means we profiled are no different. They choose to apply their good fortune to good ends, doing their part to repair the world and carrying on their parents’ and grandparents’ legacy.

Giving back is something anyone can do; and parents, no matter their income level, can teach their children about this sacred responsibility. Talk about it at home; share your philanthropic priorities and the values that underlie them with your children. That’s real continuity.