Anything but Judaism!

According to a recent study by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, “Jewish individuals and foundations in the United States gave 95% of their dollars from gifts of $10 million or more to secular causes and 5% to Jewish causes between 2001-2003.”

“While Jewish organizations do a reasonable job attracting smaller mega-gifts, those from $1-2 million, they are failing dramatically to attract the biggest gifts that Jews make to non-profits. The trends over eight years are remarkably consistent – Jewish mega-gifts exceeding $10 million to Jewish organizations were rare eight years ago and remain notably infrequent,” according to Gary A. Tobin, president of IJCR.

This is an interesting and less-studied side effect of the decline in Jewish affiliation. The wealthiest Jews are passionate about their causes and passionate about giving — willing to donate over $10 million to their favorite causes. Their favorite causes, however, are less and less likely to involve Judaism.

Michael Bloomberg, for example, has given over $300 million to Johns Hopkins University, and in 2006 alone donated $165 million to 1,000 different organizations. The recipient organizations support arts, education, health care, and social services, with a special emphasis on reducing tobacco use. But none of the listed organizations is even a Jewish social services organization, much less one teaching Judaism.

An interesting aspect of the report is that the federations are completely shut out from the world of mega-giving: “federated charitable appeals and human services received no gifts of $10 million or more.”

With the declining investment in Jewish causes, it might be argued that lack of Jewish affiliation doesn’t lead to a steady decline, but a logarithmic curve — dropping at an increasing rate with each passing year. If that is so, time is running out for Jews without Torah, even more rapidly than we think.

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5 Responses

  1. Michael Feldstein says:

    The lack of mega-gifts is a huge problem, but it goes even deeper than that. According to recent statistics, less than 20% of American Jews give to Jewish institutions, compared to more than 50% in previous generations. From 1995-2000, only 11% of contributions of more than $1,000 by American Jews were targeted to Jewish organizations.

  2. Garnel Ironheart says:

    Unfortunately, a person’s priorities in giving charity are often determined by his upbringing and cultural milieu. If Michael Bloomberg is giving lots of money to general causes, it’s because he sees those as important and worthy of his money, not because he’s davka shunning Jewish causes.
    Jewish organizations also have to shoulder some of the responsibility. In a free market system, the best tear-jerkers get the money. If the local food bank wants a donation, they go out and hustle for it. The UJA, on the other hand, calls you and reminds you that you have to give because you’re Jewish.

  3. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    The phenomenon has been going on for some time. Charles Silverman, in his mostly silly and inaccurate book “A Certain People” noted the decline of Jewish interest in Jewish charities 22 years ago.

  4. Ori says:

    You’ve often written about the inefficiency and ultimate futility of Heterodox Jewish institutions. If that is the case, does it matter if Heterodox Jews give money to secular institutions, or to Heterodox Jewish ones?

    It seems that in the US Jewish community there is a huge emphasis on Tzedakah in the sense of giving money to Jewish institutions. But ultimately what counts isn’t how much people donate, but how much the institutions achieve.

  5. YM says:

    Garnel, the fact that this phenomenon can be explained does not detract from the tragedy and of the situation, as well as the danger it puts us in. Througout Jewish history, whenever Jews assimilate and try to forget their Jewish Identiy, Hashem stirs up anti-semitism, so that we are not able to forget our covenant.

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