Giving it to the Jews

Giving it to the Jews

Jewish Future Pledge asks donors to plan their bequests

Barbara Lissner took the Jewish Future pledge, and she think that you should too.

The pledge — you can sign at — is a promise that “upon my passing, 50% or more of all my assets left for charitable purposes will be directed to efforts to strengthen and serve the Jewish people and/or the State of Israel.”

Ms. Lissner, who lives in Cresskill, is an estate planning attorney. She’s also a board member of Friends of Israel Disabled Veterans — Beit Halochem. That’s how she knows Amy Holtz from Philadelphia — another board member — and how they came to be talking not all that long ago about the future of Jewish charities.

“I don’t see that next generation as focused on charitable giving as the generation before,” Ms. Lissner said. “Amy and I were discussing that change in philosophy, and Amy walked away from that conversation realizing there’s a need to create an opportunity for people to commit to Jewish giving.”

One conversation led to another, and Ms. Holtz ended up co-founding the Jewish Future pledge. “We’re a worldwide movement working to ensure that vibrant Jewish life can continue for generations to come,” Ms. Holtz said. “We’re sparking intergenerational conversations about why the Jewish people and the Jewish future matter.”

This push for donors to commit to giving half their charity to Jewish institutions reflects a weakness in the Jewish philanthropic system. In recent years, local Jewish federations have grown their asset base by encouraging supporters to set up donor-advised charitable funds with them. Donors to such funds receive a tax deduction when they give to the fund but only later allocate the money to their preferred causes. And while Jewish federations hope their personal connection with the donors will give them access to the money, ultimately that’s up to the donor — or the donor’s heirs.

But if the next generation is less Jewishly inclined — that’s money that’s leaving the Jewish philanthropic system.

At stake is an estimated $1.26 trillion in Jewish gifts to charity in the next 25 years.

That’s where the pledge comes in. It ensures that the donations will go to Jewish and Israeli groups, even if that is less of a concern for the next generation.

The language of the pledge echoes the “Giving Pledge” established by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet, which asks billionaires to pledge to donate half of their wealth to charity, either in their lifetimes or by inheritance,

Some Jewish billionaires already have signed the Giving Jewish pledge. They include Charles Bronfman, an heir to the Seagram fortune, and Bernie Marcus, one of the founders of Home Depot. But the pledge is intended for anyone who plans to leave some money for charity.

“We’re encouraging people to have intergenerational conversations about why the Jewish people and the Jewish future matter,” Ms. Holtz said.

Ms. Lissner said that dedicating half of the money a person plans to give to charity to Jewish causes “seems like a very good compromise. Psychologically it gives you the feeling to do whatever you want with. It’s a solid benchmark, showing the community that you’re pretty solidly committed to our Jewish future. It’s a comfortable number. It gives me a lot of good possibilities — 25 percent to Israeli charities, 25 percent for here.”

The pledge can be implemented in several different ways, Ms. Lissner said. “It can be in a will, or in a trust, or an annuity. The intent is to make the commitment. How you make it may vary. There’s not a cookie-cutter approach.

“What’s really powerful is you’re having these conversations with professionals — stock brokers, insurance people — and you’re having these conversations with your children. It’s not unusual to talk about estate planning with your peers. Having this conversation and this pledge is a powerful vehicle for making a change and commitment for our future.”

The chairman of the project, Mark Silberman, has been the chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, which already has had hundreds of donors sign the pledge.

Ms. Lissner said now, amid a pandemic, actually is an opportune time to launch this project.

“A lot of people are at home and going through piles of old papers and rethinking estate plans and wondering what the future will be be like for their community,” she said. “People are cleaning closets and drawers, thinking about things. They’re seeing deaths among their family and friends. There’s more of a sense we may not be around forever. It does trigger conversations about planning documents. Not just estate plans — health care documents, powers of attorney.”

Ms. Lissner said the conversation about the pledge didn’t come as a surprise to her two children.

“They’ve seen us for years support a lot of Jewish causes,” she said. “It’s always been our hope that will serve as a model and something they take upon themselves to do.”

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