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Is a new big Jewish foundation on the rise?

That the Tikvah Fund gave a $4.5 million grant to Princeton University could be a fairly significant development – if it means that there is another big Jewish foundation on the block.

Tikvah has been around for a while. It was started in the early 1990s by Zalman Bernstein – yes, the same Zalman Bernstein that left nearly a billion dollars to the Avi Chai Foundation.

Avi Chai, which now has about $750 million in assets and is on course to spend every last penny of that by 2020, is one of the most significant Jewish foundations on the scene and gives widely to a variety of Jewish educational and continuity projects.

Tikvah, which had a little more than $170 million in assets according to its most recent available 990, has been much quieter. According to its 990 forms from 2004-2006, its only recipient was the Shalem Foundation, which funds the Shalem Center, a center-right Israeli think tank.

Tikvah gave several grants totaling about $20 million to Shalem – and then one $2 million gift in 2006 to the Jewish Communal Fund in New York.

In general, communal funds are great places to make quick gifts without really having to decide where the money is going until later. So, for example, a foundation making a little more money than it thought it would on its investments might give some of the extra cash to a communal fund to meet its required five percent and avoid a steep tax penalty.

The bottom line is that compared to Avi Chai, Tikvah has been relatively quiet.

But it seems that the Tikvah Fund is starting to branch out. According to a source somewhat familiar with the situation, Bernstein started Tikvah in the early ’90s to act as a non-profit seed funder for businesses in Israel. But Bernstein realized at some point later in the decade that such a fund was no longer necessary, and Tikvah became largely a backer of Shalem.

But within the last year, Tikvah has hired a new executive director and has a new philanthropic mission, to basically create more programs like the one it is starting at Princeton.

I’m still trying to get the new Tikvah exec on the phone. Will have more when he calls back.

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