Young givers honor family philanthropic legacies while forging their own way

When Eve Myers was a young child, she recalls going to the Jewish Community Federation’s Super Sunday fundraiser with her father and grandfather. “I remember old phones on the table,” said Myers, 28. The annual fundraiser still takes place today, she said, but “now you use your cellphone.”

Myers believes that her early education in giving and philanthropy starting at age 4 defined who she is to this day. She continues to support the S.F.-based federation — she’s served on the business leadership council, been involved in the Impact Grants Initiative, attends young adult events and sits on the board of her grandmother’s federation-administered donor-advised fund. But her Jewish involvement goes well beyond the federation: Myers occupies a seat on the board of Menorah Park, a subsidized senior living facility in San Francisco that her grandfather, Laurence Myers, helped establish. She’s also a volunteer and fundraiser for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which provides humanitarian assistance for Jews around the world, and sits on its national young adult steering committee.

on the cover (Clockwise from upper left) Alexander Lurie , Eve Myers, Aaron Saxe, Lyla Rose Holdstein. photos/ cathleen maclearie

“It was ingrained in how I was raised,” said Myers, who grew up in Marin County and now lives in San Francisco and works in commercial real estate. Her grandfather Laurence Myers, who raised his family in San Francisco with his wife, Eleanor, was legendary in the Jewish community for his tireless support of Jewish organizations. Myers said the message was clear: “This is who you are — you are Jewish, you are going to give back to the community.”

Giving back, through tzedakah and tikkun olam, has been a strong value in the Jewish community for generations. Early Jewish immigrants to this country pooled funds to create community aid and relief societies even when they had limited resources, and to this day, American Jews give to charity at high rates.

Even so, giving has changed. Where once many Jews routinely donated to their synagogues and local federation, their children and grandchildren give more broadly to causes inside and outside the Jewish community. And they expect those charities to be able to show results.

For some in the Jewish community, giving back is a family tradition. In the Bay Area, certain names are synonymous with philanthropy. You’ll find many of these names affixed to JCC expansion projects, museum wings and academic institutions. The children and grandchildren of these Jewish philanthropists are strongly aware that they have inherited a legacy and a responsibility to continue their family’s tradition of giving.

J. spoke with five such children, all of whom have strong Jewish identities and solid commitments to giving and philanthropy. While their style and orientation may differ from their parents and grandparents — wanting to be hands-on, giving to different causes — these donors are also carrying on their family’s legacy to the Jewish community and prioritizing many of the same causes and organizations.

Eve Myers at home in San Francisco photos/cathleen maclearie

Aaron Saxe has deeply integrated his family’s values of community service and giving into his own life. The 35-year-old father of one works at the Jim Joseph Foundation, lives in Oakland and was born into a well-known Bay Area philanthropic family. His grandfather, George Saxe, was a successful real estate investor; he and his wife, Dorothy, were major supporters of Jewish and arts organizations in the Bay Area, including the federation, the Jewish Home of San Francisco, the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

“It was impossible to grow up in my family and not understand the importance of the Jewish community and supporting the Jewish community, and that came to life in various ways,” said Saxe, who went to business school at UCLA and previously worked at the federation as a philanthropic adviser. His brother, David Saxe, is president of the JCF’s Young Adult Division and last year received the federation’s Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Young Leadership Award.

Aaron Saxe said when he was growing up in Palo Alto, it seemed normal for his parents and grandparents to fill their schedules with board meetings for community organizations and synagogues, giving their time as well as their money. Saxe’s father, Loren Saxe, served on the board of Palo Alto’s Oshman Family JCC and was president of Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills.

When Saxe was a young teenager, his grandparents gave him and each of his brothers and cousins a donor-advised fund through the federation. (A donor-advised fund is held by the federation, but its funds are disbursed to charitable causes under the direction of the donor.) Each year, the Saxe grandchildren were supposed to donate half the accrued interest to

causes of their choice and pool the other half to donate to a cause chosen collectively among the cousins. It was a way to inculcate a habit of giving early while encouraging family relationships and conversations about philanthropy. It also started a relationship with the federation and Jewish nonprofit world that Saxe has continued in his career choices and philanthropic giving.

“It was an outstanding way to experience philanthropy from a very early age,” Saxe said. “As I matured, my philanthropic self could also grow and mature.”

Now, Saxe manages the fund with his wife, Meredith; together they seek out causes that resonate with them, such as organizations that aid young children. Last year, concerned about racial injustice, they donated to the Southern Poverty Law Center. And they continue to support the S.F.-based Jewish federation.

Aaron Saxe in his Financial District office at the Jim Joseph Foundation

At a time when donors often want to feel a personal, specific connection to their causes, Saxe acknowledges that giving to the federation, which distributes funds to a number of Jewish causes in the U.S., Israel and around the world, doesn’t allow the same kind of control over where dollars go. But he strongly feels that supporting the federation is important because it in turns supports the “Jewish communal ecosystem.”

And that’s something he learned from his family. “I probably wouldn’t be a supporter at all of the federation, or to the extent that I am, without the importance of that being modeled by my parents and grandparents,” Saxe said.

There are a number of important ways that values about giving have changed for Jewish donors over the last generation or two, according to Andrés Spokoiny, president and CEO of the New York-based Jewish Funders Network. In addition to being more technology savvy and more connected through social networks, young Jewish donors don’t give out of a sense of obligation — or guilt.

“There was a time when you gave to the federation, you gave to charity. That’s what Jews do; you don’t question,” Spokoiny said. “That’s gone.”

Today’s young Jewish donors are motivated by issues that are important to them, both inside and outside of the Jewish community, but they aren’t loyal to organizations the way that their parents were, Spokoiny said. Legacy organizations certainly can’t count on young Jews to be donors for life, he said. Furthermore, younger Jews may have a different attitude about supporting Israel than their parents, and rather than seeing Jewish identity through the lens of persecution may see themselves as privileged to grow up Jewish in America.

“Much of the secular giving that the older generation did was to gain social acceptance,” said Spokoiny, referring to large gifts 20th-century Jewish philanthropists made to hospitals, museums and universities. “The younger generation doesn’t feel that integration anxiety. … Their outlook is much more cosmopolitan and universal. They integrate the Jewish and the non-Jewish in a much more organic way.”

Lyla Rose Holdstein in the Boiler Room, the Mission District art gallery she manages photo/cathleen maclearie

And yet when it comes to attitudes toward giving, legacy donors from families with a strong philanthropic history stand apart from their peers who do not come from that background, Spokoiny said, and their values and practices are more in line with the traditions established by their parents and grandparents.

“When younger funders are engaged in the family philanthropy, they also develop a respect for the family legacy,” Spokoiny said. “I work with a lot of funders who say, ‘I want to do my own thing, but I also want to respect what my grandfather did.’ This is not a revolutionary generation.”

Eve Myers embodies this faithfulness to her family’s traditional Jewish values, even as she paves her own way as a philanthropist. She supports the federation and Menorah Park, but her most enthusiastic involvement is with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, providing aid to Jews in countries like Cuba and Morocco. The way she sees it, her grandfather’s legacy was ensuring a strong Jewish community here in San Francisco; hers is ensuring that it also exists around the globe.

“I feel we have made a lot of progress in terms of the Jewish community in the U.S.; it’s time to turn to the global Jewish community where I think there’s a larger need,” Myers explained.

Her philanthropy is characterized by a high degree of involvement. Myers has traveled to Cuba, Argentina and Morocco with the JDC and organized events in San Francisco to get other young adults involved. That approach is characteristic of today’s donors, both young and old, Spokoiny said.

Lyla Rose Holdstein, 33, also takes a hands-on approach to her philanthropy. She grew up in Kentfield and now lives in San Francisco, where she manages a Mission District art gallery. Her parents, Russell and Susan Holdstein, have a donor-advised fund through the federation, and a couple of years ago, they gave Holdstein and her sister their own smaller donor-advised funds to manage. Holdstein volunteers with the Contemporary Jewish Museum, which her parents have supported. She co-chairs the CJM’s Contemporaries Committee and co-chaired a fundraiser last year. Holdstein also participated in the federation’s Impact Grants Initiative program, working with other young adults to make grants to local Jewish organizations.

Jennifer Goldman

“Philanthropy is not just financial,” Holdstein said. “I give of my time and involvement in organizations that matter.”

While giving back is a central value for her, she said, philanthropy can be hard to talk about.

“I think talking about philanthropy touches on talking about money, and talking about money, it’s up there with all of the other taboo dinner party conversations,” Holdstein said. “It’s easy to make assumptions about others in terms of evaluating wealth and what that means.”

The truth is that young donors from philanthropic families can’t be pigeonholed, according to Debbie Berkowitz, director of donor stewardship at the federation. Some inherit personal wealth; others might have access to funds for philanthropic purposes but not for their personal use. Berkowitz runs a group called the Young Funders Network for people in their 20s and 30s who expect to inherit significant philanthropic responsibilities. It meets about once a month in people’s homes, and the group discusses the sometimes difficult issues involved with stepping into philanthropic roles as a young adult.

“It’s hard to talk about money, and people have all sorts of different family dynamics,” Berkowitz said. “When you combine what can be very complex family dynamics with money and access to money in your family, it can be very hard.”

Alexander Lurie photo/cathleen maclearie

Jewish professionals routinely identify family dynamics as one of the challenges for young adults from philanthropic legacies. At a time when young adults are developing their own careers and families, their philanthropic work is often done side by side with their parents or grandparents, and they still may occupy the kid’s seat at the board table. Yet the young donors whom J. talked to all described tight-knit families where the generations shared similar, complementary goals.

Jennifer Goldman, 26, sits on the board of her parents’ fund, the Lisa & Douglas Goldman Fund. Her grandparents, Richard and Rhoda Goldman, founded the Goldman Environmental Prize, and her parents continue to support environmental causes, as well as Jewish, educational, civil liberties and cultural organizations. Goldman, a good millennial philanthropist, is developing an app to help users make better choices regarding carbon emissions. The only way in which she challenges her parents when it comes to philanthropy, she said, is pushing for them to focus more heavily on environmental causes.

“I think it’s a lot of fun to work with my family,” said Goldman, who lives in San Francisco, where she was raised. Her mother, Lisa Goldman, is the daughter of Laurence Myers, making Eve Myers her first cousin. Her brothers, Jason and Matthew Goldman, are young philanthropists in their own right, as well. “It’s such a great learning opportunity on how to actively evaluate a nonprofit and a project, and be around my parents and my brothers, who have great input about giving.”

With her family’s emphasis on environmental issues, tikkun olam has taken on the significance of repairing the planet, she said, and being a member of the Jewish community has affected her worldview as an adult. “I think having that sense of community makes you want to do more, even if it’s outside that community,” Goldman said.

Alexander Lurie, 31, credits his parents as role models who showed by example the importance of giving back. Lurie’s father, Rabbi Brian Lurie, has long been active in the local and global Jewish community, serving as executive director of the federation for 17 years and just finishing up a stint as president of the New Israel Fund. Lurie’s mother, Caroline Fromm Lurie, an artist, continues to be involved with the Fromm Institute for Lifelong Learning at the University of San Francisco, which her parents founded.

Lurie, a real estate agent, grew up in Ross and now lives in San Francisco. He’s on the Jewish Community Relations Council board of directors and is a nonvoting member of the federation’s board. Recently, he opened a donor-advised fund through the federation that he uses to make charitable donations. He said his parents didn’t shy away from talking about privilege with their children; rather, they emphasized that with privilege comes responsibility.

“It’s been instilled in me and in us to be humble and to give back whatever we can, to give time and money and energy to the causes that we care about,” Lurie said. “I understand my place. No one can control the means that they have, and the fact that I’ve been really lucky to be born into a family that has some capacity … I want to help give back because I’m so lucky.”

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a former J. reporter who writes about education, families and Jewish life. She lives with her husband and two sons.