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Foundation and cartoonist throw down the gauntlet before funders’ parley

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I’m heading down to St. Petersburg, Florida, during the wee hours of Sunday morning for the annual conference of the Jewish Funders Network, a gathering that brings together philanthropists and foundations.

A couple of things are sure to be hot topics while I’m down there.

First, Eli Valley’s latest cartoon in the Forward: “Social Entrepreneurs Lost in Space.”

The plot of the comic: A meteor is heading towards earth, so in an effort to save the human race scientists choose Jewish social entrepreneurs to blast into space to another planet. Why? Because social entrepreneurs are the smartest and the brightest and the bestest that the Jewish communal world has to offer.

The subplot of the comic: Maybe they’re not.

The context: The JFN conference is expected to be focused a great deal on social entrepreneurship in the Jewish community.

My Fundermentalist sixth sense tells me there are a few people that want to blast Eli Valley into space right about now.

And the other development sure to spark conversation among the JFN crowd…

While some in the Jewish world are freaking out over the day-school tuition crisis, and most interested funders are only in the meeting and planning stage of trying to figure out a way to help, the Jim Joseph Foundation this week stepped up in a huge way to try to ease the pain.

The foundation announced Tuesday that it would provide five communities with more than $11 million for need-based scholarships and subsidies for children attending Jewish schools and summer camps over the next two years — in each year Jim Joseph will provide Boston with up to $2 million; San Francisco, up to $1.75 million; Los Angeles and Washington, up to $1.25 million; and the North Shore of Massachusetts, up to $250,000.

The money will be distributed through local Jewish federations.

Jim Joseph, went out on a limb here. It is typically a methodical foundation that does not make grants without months and months of due diligence — employing one of the most thorough processes in the business.

It stepped outside of the box in this case, coming through quickly with the emergency grants.

And it’s not too difficult to figure out the biggest question that the foundation had about giving the emergency loan — where the fundingworld are the rest of the mega-donors during this crisis?

Just read between the lines of the foundation’s statement announcing the grant.

“People are scared,” the chairman of the foundation, Al Levitt said.  “Private foundations have an obligation to step up — at least proportionally to their assets.  But it doesn’t have to be in Jewish education, as we’ve done,” he said.  “It could be to help the elderly — or the poor. This is a critical time and people are in real need. If not now, when?” he asked.

Bottom line: At a time when many foundations are holding back, one of the big players is stepping up — and essentially challenging everyone else to do the same.

Should make for a fun conference.

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