3 Highlights of Jewish Giving: Adelson, Brandeis & Women’s Philanthropy


It’s late August and change is upon us. In Israel, a familiar chant is beginning: “After the holidays, after the holidays, after the holidays” (acharei hahagim). If you are working with Israeli foundations, expect a slowdown in what can get done and be patient with the national culture. The time of year between Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot is the equivalent of our Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years season– and just as significant.

August falls during the Jewish month of Elul when Jews are taking an accounting of their lives and thinking about what changes need to be made. It is also a time when we ask forgiveness from those we may have wronged. I’m not sure what this will mean for the upcoming giving cycle, but it is something to be aware of as a trend in the Jewish– and therefore the Jewish giving– world.

Your philanthropy news– top giving highlights of late August:

  1. Dorothy Seaman: $1 million to women’s philanthropy division of South Palm Beach Jewish Federation
  2. Brandeis tops previous fundraising records: $89.4 million earned this fiscal year
  3. Sheldon Adelson’s dream of an Israeli casino dissipates: Jewish state won’t allow it

1. Dorothy Seaman gives $1 million to the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach, Florida to name its women’s philanthropy division the “Dorothy Seaman Department of Women’s Philanthropy.”

The women of the South Palm Beach Federation are known for their top dollar giving, garnering 207 gifts of $100,000 this year. Ms. Seaman is the second woman to donate $1 million, following Toby Weinman Palchick’s March contribution to create the Federation’s Center for Jewish Philanthropy.

Ms. Seaman says her priority is ensuring the strength of Jewish culture through our children: “I want to make sure that the children, who are our future, grow up to be caring, involved, and dedicated to Jewish causes.”

(Look for my upcoming entry on teaching children the value of tzedakah and Jewish giving.)

Jewish organizations, take note: yet more proof that giving comes from within. Treat your lay leaders well and you could likely be on the receiving end of their generosity. People give to organizations they trust and the surest sign that you are doing your job is to be recognized by someone who knows you inside and out.

Ms. Seaman had a long history with the federation, taking part in three overseas missions, creating the Seaman Scholarships in her late husband’s memory, funding relief efforts for Katrina survivors, endowing a fund for Jewish day schools, and supporting scholarships at a local adult education center.

(Note Ms. Seaman’s use of the Pension Protection Act of 2006 using a tax-free disbursement from an IRA to establish various endowment funds.)

2. Brandeis University earns bragging rights for breaking its fundraising record with $89.4 million earned this fiscal year.

Brandeis is a good model for established but young institutions in the Jewish world because although it has a powerful history and has created a meaningful role for itself in the creation, development, and evaluation of Jewish identity, it does not have the longitudinal strength that others of its caliber might. (It was founded in 1948.)

Friends of the University– not alumni– accounted for 45% of total gifts as well as the largest gifts total: $40.2 million in all. In contrast, alumni donated $14.3 million, marking 16% of total giving.

This model of fostering support from outside supporters is particularly important for three groups:

  • Israeli universities, who often do not have records of alumni
  • Universities whose alumni are concentrated in the social sciences or humanities and therefore less likely to have the capacity for large gift giving
  • Younger institutions who have yet to establish a firm donor base among their graduates

Brandeis’ success teaches us that the quality of your mission and how you execute it can effectively act as a substitute for core support.

In the Jewish world where a limited number of institutions are working toward the same set of objectives, organizations have the capacity to distinguish themselves through best practices– as Brandeis has done– to secure the support of donors.

(Brandeis credits the 2006 Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act as part of its increased giving. The act made all charitable giving last year 100% tax deductible– well done, Congress.)

3. Sheldon Adelson has reportedly given up his dream of building a casino in Israel. Gambling is illegal in the Jewish state and although he has tried for 18 years, Adelson says he has made no headway.

I don’t think he’s taking it too badly, however, as his new casino has just opened in Macau– the largest in the world. The Venetian Macau builds on the fine tradition of Caribbean gambling and offshore betting schemes.

My advice to Mr. Adelson– who I greatly admire for his magnanimity– is to figure out how to build a casino or similar betting enterprise off the shores of Eilat where gambling is popular in “international waters.”

Alternatively, a Jewish-Arab casino beyond the Green Line that donated proceeds to meaningful coexistence programs and other philanthropy is also an option. While I doubt that such an enterprise would be an easy sell to Hamas and Fatah, who closed down the Oasis Casino in Jericho, examining the options from different angles are an interesting intellectual exercise.

(Look for a post on gambling in Israel in the near future.)

In case you’re wondering, I get to talk about Adelson in this post even though it’s not about philanthropy because at the moment, Sheldon Adelson is the ultimate philanthropy powerhouse of the Jewish world.

The richest Jew on the planet and owner of the Los Vegas Sands Casino, Adelson has decided to go philanthropic. In December 2006, Adelson announced that he and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson (not a woman to be taken lightly) were founding the Adelson Family Foundation, whose goal was to disburse $200 million ANNUALLY.

So yes, if I ever use the words “giving” or “philanthropy,” I exercise my right to insert Adelson into the conversation as a matter of principle.

There you have it for the top three highlights of this week’s Jewish philanthropy news.

5 Responses to 3 Highlights of Jewish Giving: Adelson, Brandeis & Women’s Philanthropy

  1. […] in Tsfat– one of Judaism’s four holy cities. Supported by a seed grant of $100,000 (perhaps from one of those ladies we read about before?), the federation is seeking an additional $8 million for its full establishment, including a […]

  2. […] “Three Highlights of Jewish Giving: Adelson, Brandeis, & Women’s Philanthropy” […]

  3. I noticed that this is not the first time at all that you write about this topic. Why have you decided to write about it again?

    • Maya Norton says:

      Which one are you referring to specifically? You may also note that this entry was published in August 2007, so it was likely the first time I was writing about anything rather than a repeat as that is the same month The New Jew: Blogging Jewish Philanthropy was founded.

      You can learn more about my priorities for The New Jew by clicking the “About” tab at the top of the page.

      Thanks for reading.

      ~ Maya

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