One of Danielle Durchslag’s photographs depicts a recognizable pop art painting reflected in a massive glass dining table strewn with Jewish texts and kipot. Another shows a blue and white foil “Happy Hannukah” banner draped next to a museum-like plaster sculpture adorned in holiday tinsel.“These pictures opened a dialogue for me about growing up in wealth and growing up in a Jewish family, and how these two things intersect,” said Durchslag, 24, who takes snapshots of the impressive mansions she has called home.Photography is one way Durchslag, the great-granddaughter of Sara Lee founder Nathan Cummings, explores her identity as a young Jew from an affluent and benevolent family. Grand Street and the Younger Funders consortium, still nascent groups for Generation Y Jews involved in family or personal philanthropy, are other outlets.Durchslag, who sits on the board of her family’s $400 million charitable foundation, was among the founding members of Grand Street — named for the famed thoroughfare on Manhattan’s historically Jewish Lower East Side. Grand Street’s 40 or so members, poised to inherit billions of charitable dollars collectively, gather twice a year to discuss issues like what it means to “give Jewishly.”The discussion is an important one given that the future of Jewish philanthropy is becoming increasingly dependent on the young Jews who stand at the crossroads that Durchslag captures on film.Over the next 50 years, enormous sums of money in funds and charitable bequests will pass into the hands of Generation X and Y Jews, said Jewish Funders Network President Mark Charendoff. Whether or not their major philanthropic gifts will benefit Jewish organizations remains the trillion-dollar question.“
The previous generation of Jews believed the Jewish community was entitled to a certain amount of their wealth,” said Charendoff, whose organization serves about 850 foundation trustees, independent funders and grant-making professionals. “Younger Jews don’t see it that way. They ask, ‘Who is doing the best work?’ instead of ‘Who in the Jewish community is doing the best work?’ It creates a situation where there’s far more competition for Jewish dollars than ever before.”
The Jewish community today is less cohesive than it was when the baby boomers were coming of age, said Roger Bennett, senior vice president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies.“We don’t all live in Skokie; we don’t all live in Fairfax anymore,” said Bennett, referencing to identifiably Jewish neighborhoods of yesteryear.It has been noted, too, that many younger Jews are less Jewishly educated and indoctrinated than their parents and grandparents.“This generation has grown up in a more universal way,” said Bennett. “If we just [assume] that these young people are going to write large checks to Jewish institutions, we’re going to be disappointed.
”These concerns were underscored by the recently released report commissioned by Reboot, a Bronfman-funded group that explores generational identity and meaning from a Jewish perspective.The study, “OMG! How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in the iPod Era,” showed that only 14 percent of Jews 18 to 25 claimed a strong religious attachment, with 40 percent claiming no religious attachment and 46 percent undecided.Many Generation Y philanthropists equate the Jewish value of tikkun olam, building a better world, with giving, but not necessarily with giving to Jewish agencies, said Marcella Kanfer Rolnick, 33, a steward of the Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation.“
A lot of young people care about social justice issues from a very Jewish place” but choose to direct their philanthropic resources to non-Jewish organizations, said Rolnick, the daughter of pharmaceutical scion Joseph Kanfer.“There’s also a perception that the Jewish community doesn’t care about young people,” said Rolnick, who through her family foundation supports an array of Jewish educational ventures. “People have a knee-jerk reaction. They say, ‘The Jewish community doesn’t work for me, so I’m not going to work for it.’ ”Those Jewish initiatives that younger donors do tend to support, according to Rolnick, typically are newer, edgier and outside of the federation fold. Bringing new ideas to the table is imperative, she said, but not at the expense of many of the major Jewish agencies that provide a social safety net for so many.
Rolnick worries that those Generation Y funders, hungry to start new Jewish organizations, will place too much emphasis on institution building and not enough on engaging people within the already established framework.
“I’m afraid people will say, ‘Mom and dad, the institutions you created are no longer relevant to us,’ ” said Rolnick, the former co-chair of Younger Funders, a 40-member outgrowth of the Jewish Funders Network. “The solution is not to reject what’s already there.”
According to Durchslag, young people tend to have a more nuanced approach to Jewish giving than their parents and grandparents. She said her father, Stephen Durchslag, usually makes funding decisions based on the perceived precariousness of the Jewish people and the community’s dwindling numbers.“I’m more interested in quality than quantity — not ‘How many Jews are there?’ but ‘Is the Jewish community a place where young people want to come to the table?’ My father wants to get Jews to come to the table, but I want to change what’s at the table,” she said.Young Funders and Grand Street — a division of Bronfman Philanthropy’s 21/64, which develops tools to assist in intergenerational grant making — are forums for young people to discuss sharing the quandaries and added responsibilities inevitably wedded to their wealth.“It’s a place where you can let your hair down, a safe space to come out as a young person with access to resources,” Rolnick said.When they convene, members of Grand Street and Younger Funders regularly deal with questions like “How can I get older foundation board members to take me seriously?” and “How do I integrate my new spouse into the family philanthropy?”“These are tough issues to discuss with casual friends,” said Sage Friedman, 28, a former Young Funders co-chair whose father, David, is an independent philanthropist. “People make assumptions about who you are and about your financial status that aren’t always true.”
As one foundation board member put it, gauging the reaction of her less-affluent peers to these matters, “They’ll say [facetiously], ‘Aww, poor baby, she has to give money away.’ ”Not only are Grand Street and Younger Funders places where young givers can find support, they are educational outlets where they can learn and develop their own funding strategies, Durchslag said.“Members of my generation who come from blessings take [their wealth] seriously and want to do well by it,” she said. “But before they can become leaders in their family foundations, they need to learn how do give and decide what it means to them to give Jewishly. These groups, they’re transforming Jewish giving from community of isolated mountains into a network of peers.”
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