Adath Jeshurun Foundation's Development Director, Talor Blustin, gives a D'var Torah on building a culture of philanthropy within our community. Watch or read his D'var Torah below.
The famous Jewish philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore lived in nineteenth-century England. Queen Victoria once asked him, “What is the extent of your wealth? How much do you own?” Sir Moses told her it would take him a few days to do a proper accounting.
When Sir Moses told her his wealth she became upset, saying, “You’re not telling the truth. Everyone knows that you have much more.” Sir Moses explained that he considered as his wealth whatever money he gave away to tzedakah. Anything else that he possessed was only temporary and could be confiscated or lost.
In this week’s Parsha, Vayetze, Jacob flees his vengeful and angry brother Esau after trading a bowl of stew for the birthright and then tricking their father, Isaac, into giving him his blessing. In a bid to protect her youngest son, Rebecca sends Jacob away to a foreign land in search of her brother Laban, and in his journey, Jacob prays : “If G‑d will be with me . . . and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and I return in peace to my father’s house, then . . . from all that you (G-d) shall give me I will give a tenth to you.” This giving of 1/10 of possession is one of the first quantifications of a tithe in the Torah. Now, while the commandment to give Tzedakah is given to all people, this tithe is considered more of a rabbinic interpretation or practice than it is a commandment. For lack of a better term, it’s an ideal with significant implications for the community.
Later on in the Torah, after Korach’s rebellion, the institution of priesthood was questioned by the rebels, leading G‑d to command Aaron concerning the giving of terumah (the farmer’s contribution to the kohanim), of crops grown in the Land of Israel, and Moshe regarding giving a tenth of the remaining produce to the Levites. This tenth is called maaser rishon—the “first maaser.” The Levite would then have to separate maaser from the maaser, i.e., a tenth of that which he received, which is called terumat maaser, and give it to a kohen. As the tribe of Levi did not receive a portion in the Land of Israel, these harvests would support them as they worked in the Tabernacle or in the Holy Temple.
So what happens if the Levi’im do not receive their portion of the tithe? We can only imagine what biblical Judaism looks like without the committed individuals charged with taking care of our Tabernacle and Holy Temple. However, we all know the impact our shul and nonprofit organization employees have on our community and in ensuring that we have a place to go, a place to pray, a place to gather, and a place where our community thrives, especially in times like these, where we must rely on each other the most.
Now, others introduce an addition tithe to think about: maaser kesafim, the giving of 1/10 of our money, as part of the general mitzvah of tzedakah, or charity. In this context, the Rabbis refer to the giving of charity not as a favor to the poor but something to which they have a right, and the donor, an obligation. In this way they teach "The poor person does more for the householder (in accepting charity) than the householder does for the poor man (by giving him the charity)" (Lev. R. 34:8) because they give the householder the opportunity to perform a mitzvah. So what happens in a world where those less fortunate have a right to charity, those more fortunate have an obligation to give, and those charged with caring for our nonprofit and charitable organization are presented with the resources they need to maximize both impact and benefit? We create a culture of philanthropy and abundant resources.
The texts quoted above represent a vastly different time in Judaism and referred only to financial means as a way of giving tzedakah. The time we live in now holds abundantly more resources that work at the goal of mutual benefit for those giving, those receiving, and those stewarding charity.
According to Laurie Herrick of Rainmaker Consulting and author of Choose Abundance, which coins the phrase “Culture of Philanthropy”, a culture of philanthropy exists when organization-wide attitudes, actions, and systems reflect an understanding, respect, and responsibility for philanthropy’s role in the success of an organization.
Traditionally defined Philanthropy focuses on donation of money towards a good cause. However, the Culture of Philanthropy definition defines Philanthropy as “the generous way that community members can advance the cause, and can be expressed in financial gifts, volunteering, community engagement and in many creative forms of big-heartedness.” Now, I love how applicable this definition could be as a definition of Tzedakah, as well. To be clearer, if we can live our lives prioritizing “the generous way that community members can advance a cause, expressed through financial gifts, volunteering, and community engagement, and in many creative forms of big-heartedness”, we move one step closer to becoming a Tzadik- a righteous person. So- in this ideal, those less fortunate have a right to charity, those more fortunate have the obligation to give, those charged with caring for our nonprofit and charitable organizations are presented with the resources they need to maximize both impact and benefit, and we all can become philanthropists and therefore, tzaddikim. Doesn’t that sound incredible?
As a starting point in our journey to build a Culture of Philanthropy at Adath and the Adath Foundation, we look to the 5 points of possibility to build a culture of philanthropy:
Point #1: Culture of Philanthropy is integral to our mission.
The Adath Jeshurun Foundation’s mission is “to create an Adath community that is with you throughout every stage of life. From generation to generation, we perpetuate Jewish values and a deep love of Israel. We maintain our rich history and roots while innovating our approaches to remain relevant and meaningful in our modern day.” Prioritizing community, values, and history, while remaining innovative is paramount to our continued success and to the strength of our community. Your generosity of time and resources, financial and otherwise, makes it possible for us to prioritize all of the areas of interest our community needs- from youth activities to Camp, Israel and Gan Scholarship, to providing a beautiful building for our community to use, your continued partnership and philanthropy makes all of this possible.
Point #2: Everyone shares some responsibility for a Culture of Philanthropy.
As we build our culture of philanthropy, this is not something I can do alone, our clergy can do alone, or our staff can do alone. We need you and we need the expertise, time, and passion you hold to create and build this beautiful culture where everyone acts to benefit each other. Whether that means volunteering to serve on the Adath Board or on a committee, the Foundation Board or one of its committees, sponsoring a kiddush luncheon, ensuring that one more student gets to go to summer camp at less of a financial cost, making a pledge to ensure our building is taken care of, of whatever makes your heart sing, I ask that you take a stand for what makes your heart happy. When you take that stand, whether through action, financial contributions, connections to others who may be interested in this cultural change, or any other sort of involvement, you help us take one step closer to achieving a culture of philanthropy.
Point #3: We build and maintain deep donor and volunteer relationships and partnerships.
This is my commitment to you and the commitment of the Adath Foundation board of directors to you, our donors, volunteers and biggest supporters. From the bottom of my heart, I want to express how grateful I am to all of you who support the mission of the Foundation and of the shul, and to all of you who empower us to build Jewish experiences for everyone who wants them. In building relationships, we build partnerships that allow for a freeflowing transfer of knowledge, wisdom, dedication, and experience. In turn, we create opportunities for you, as donors, to invest in the growth and happiness of our community, in giving experiences and resources to our future leaders and in highlighting the good and innovation in our community. What a privilege it is, both as staff and as investors, to see the return on that investment.
Point #4: Community Engagement is what we do.
What would it look like if everyone in our community were stakeholders in the success of our synagogue and our community? As we build the future of the Adath Foundation and support the vision that Rabbi Weininger laid out during High Holy Days, it is so important that you, as our community members, have an active role and make your voices heard. You are collaborators. You are our partners. And together, we create a culture of abundant resources and leaders who work to ensure the success of our wonderful community. We find too often in Nonprofits that leaders default to what they think is best, and see community engagement as this boogeyman that will just create more opinions and more problems. In building a culture of philanthropy, my goal is to help each and every one of you unlock the next steps in your philanthropic journey, and to do that, I want nothing more than to hear what you see as successful and what you see as opportunities to find further resources at Adath . I want to see your thoughts move to action on a committee, or to help you find a cause you are passionate about and will contribute your resources towards. Your opinion matters more than anything.
Point #5: We recognize every contribution of service, items or money as an expression of philanthropy.
I owe you an apology for the past year and a half that I have held the title of Director of the Adath Foundation. I have not done a good job of recognizing just how incredible and impactful our community is and subsequently amplifying outwardly the impact of your contributions. My commitment to you is to recognize every contribution of resources in a meaningful manner. My commitment to you is to amplify the lead you all are taking to those who find strength in following the leader. My commitment is to unlock opportunities for you to be philanthropic, and to make sure our community knows that you are committed to the love of humankind. My commitment is to be a committed listener to you, and to help you identify what resources you have in abundance.
When we execute on all 5 points of possibility, we build invaluable community partnerships rooted in loyalty, motivation, and donors who are fulfilled in their giving. We empower staff who are engaged, encouraged, and understood, and who have the resources to explore their communities and responsibilities in a way that promotes trust and growth. We continue to enable our community to excitedly give with their hearts because they believe in our capabilities, stewardship, and leadership, and we present our community with abundant resources in which we usher in a new generation of Jewish leaders. This journey will not be easy, nor will it be quick, but I promise that it is worth it. I just ask that you be my partners in this journey.
In these days following Thanksgiving, I want to thank you for the contributions of expertise, time, and finances that you so generously entrust our community with. I want to thank you for entertaining this idea that we can build a culture of true abundance for all involved. I want to thank you for the relationships we are going to build going forward, and for your bold opinions that are crucial to our success. And I want to thank you for your investment and love throughout this process. Shabbat Shalom and Happy Thanksgiving.
Adath clergy, staff, and congregants share