Charendoff: There is too much waste in the Jewish world

Tamar Snyder at The Jewish Week has a Q&A with the outgoing president of the Jewish Funders Network.

She asks Charendoff about how his organization changed over the past decade during which he led the membership organization of donors of $25,000 per year or more to explicitly Jewish causes. And she asks him about his thoughts on the Jewish philanthropic future. It’s not all roses, he says.

Check out the whole story at thejewishweek.com, but here is a preview:

What are the top challenges facing the Jewish philanthropic world?

The world that I’ve been focused on is the world of Jewish philanthropy, mainly from the lens of private Jewish philanthropists. From my vantage point, I see so much waste. As a community, we do a fairly good job identifying causes and trying to contribute to those causes and do God’s work. We do a poor job when it comes to using our resources to solve problems. Sometimes we’re throwing money at perfectly good things. Take the poor kids in Beersheva. You can go and spend $1,000 and feed a couple of hundred kids with a lachmania [roll] so they don’t go to bed hungry. That’s a mitzvah. But they’re all coming back tomorrow. And their kids are probably coming back, too. If you have $1 million, and as a community we certainly have those types of resources, we should be solving problems. Sometimes it feels to me like we’re putting our energy into preserving a system as opposed to solving a range of problems.

Which problems should the Jewish community tackle first?

There are two types of problems: problems we try to solve and those we can’t. In the world of private philanthropy, one of things we learn very quickly is that philanthropists have very little interest in problems that money can’t solve, even if it is the most compelling. The engagement of the broader Jewish community in a meaningful relationship with Judaism is a crisis in this country. There was a point when we thought this was one of those problems that money can’t solve. I think over the past 10 years, we’ve proven that we can solve it. Birthright is certainly an example. Day schools work. Camping works. Travel experience works.

In the post-Madoff, economically challenged world in which we live in, all of these causes are fighting for the same finite amount of dollars.

The wake-up call of the economic reversal should not be, ‘Oh my God, there’s less money out there; that’s the wrong message. It should be, ‘Oh my God, we may never live in a generation with so much discretionary wealth.’ We better start spending now to solve some of the problems we’re in position to solve.

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