If you follow our blog - and we really hope you will - or read eJewishPhilanthropy, which we highly recommend, then you may already know that I spent some time over the past few weeks reflecting on twenty-five years of what was once called the “Jewish continuity” movement. I won’t reiterate here what I wrote in that piece, except to focus in on one point: the dramatically expanded role of private Jewish philanthropy, especially foundations, in setting and advancing the “public” agenda of the community in this arena.
When I first got involved in an intensive way in Jewish communal life in the 1970s, private Jewish foundations were barely a blip on the Jewish radar screen. They do not figure in Daniel Elazar’s classic account of the Jewish organizational system of that day, Community and Polity. How different that book would be if it were written today! An entire section or more would have to be devoted to the mega-funders and the initiatives they’ve spearheaded, philanthropic partnerships like PEJE and the Foundation for Jewish Camp, the Jewish Funders Network, support for the growth of a Jewish innovation sector, and the sometimes complicated relationships between private funders and established philanthropic entities.
As a modest participant in the philanthropic revolution that has taken place over the past quarter century, we at Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah are mindful that (to paraphrase one of our modern Jewish sages) with new power comes new responsibility. The issue of “accountability” recurs frequently in discussions of Jewish communal life, most recently with respect to federations.
And what about us foundations? Are we accountable to anyone but our own Boards for the decisions we make about who to support and who to turn away, who to partner with and what priorities to set, what procedures we use and what values we operate by?
My experience both before coming formally to Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah and since is that we and the vast majority of our colleagues sincerely believe that we are accountable both to a larger community and to values that transcend our own preferences and perspectives. Since we are not democratic organizations (even in form), the challenge is how to make this “public” dimension of accountability real.
We try to do this by being:
- Open and accessible – We want people to feel they can come to us with ideas and questions, that we’re always willing to listen and eager to be in conversation with them.
- Honest and transparent – We want people to know what we believe and do, and why we do it, even if it means that we sometimes disappoint them.
- Respectful – We want people to know that we value what they do and what they think; we won’t treat them cavalierly.
- Always in learning mode – We want people to know that we don’t have or claim to have all the answers. We want to be better and do better, so we’re always looking to learn – including hearing from critics and skeptics.
Is this approach sufficient to ensure that we, as a private foundation, are also accountable to a larger public and purpose? We don’t know for sure, but that’s our goal. And, you can help - by being in contact with us, by sharing your thoughts, your insights, your recommendations, and – yes – when necessary, even your criticisms. We promise you that we’ll listen.
Jon Woocher, President