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Paying for the community we believe in.

Dear All,

It’s not true that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. There are free lunches – but, in every case, someone pays for them. Each of us has at some point been the recipient of a free lunch. And each of us needs to learn to pay for the free lunches for others.

And so it is with Jewish life in the second decade of the 21st century. We’re facing an asset-allocation challenge in Jewish life, and each one of us – in different ways – holds in our hands the power to ameliorate it or make it worse. Here are three things to think about – or to act upon – depending on your perspective:

1. Individuals: Write a check to Federation. I continue to believe that this counter-cultural action is right both in principle and in practice. This is a behavior that needs to be encouraged because otherwise we won’t do it. Before the start of the 20th century, people did not give away a quarter of their income to help create a better world for all. Yet nowadays we live in a better world because that “giving” has been enforced. That’s what central governments do – they take a not insignificant chunk of our income, and use it for schools, roads, hospitals, prisons and armies. We legitimately disagree about the proportions given to each of those categories; that’s what the political process is intended to mediate. But in aggregate we live in a better world because of it.

The single check to Federation remains the voluntary analog of this; the tax that we should choose to pay to support the core infrastructure and welfare needs of Jewish life, all in a single check. And the Federations are doing a reasonable – and improving – job of shifting resources over time. They’re using data in appropriate ways, whether it’s thinking about the needs of baby boomers in Cleveland or shifts of population and demography in New York. The tax we pay to Federation is generally far less than what we give to the government, but I believe that we each should give something.

2. Foundations & Federations: increase your payout ratios, offer longer-term support, and give general operating support to younger organizations. The young organizations that I see – Hazon and its peers, of all sorts – are young organizations because in many cases we’re responding to needs that have arisen only in recent years. But by virtue of being young we have no reserves, no endowments and no revenues from estate planning a generation ago. The absence of these things places extraordinary pressures on the organization. It encourages short-term decision-making and makes it harder to say no to targeted grants that may be strategically unwise. It discourages building proper systems and investing in people. I understand why foundations (both staffed foundations, and the unstaffed foundations of wealthy individuals and families) want to see your money being spent in a particular way for a particular thing. Specific grants will always continue, and should do so. But at a certain point – and sometimes this will be immediately, on day 1, and sometimes it may be after you have given a specific grant for two or three years – it is proper simply to ask yourself: do I believe in this organization, and what it is trying to do? And if the answer is yes, the most valuable support you can give will be rolling multi-year general support. That will help the organization thrive more profoundly and to have a far greater impact over the medium-term.

3. Everyone: give early and give regularly. To several of the organizations that I support I give a monthly gift from my credit card. I hardly notice that I’m paying it. It’s in some ways easier for me to give monthly, and it’s easier for the organizations to have a regular source of income. And to some of the others I support I write checks in January and February – even though, like everyone, I do give some gifts in the flurry at the end of the year. In doing this I understand the profound fault-line that we all live at: the intersection of power and impotence. The impotence is: I am not Bill Gates; I am not Warren Buffet; how can my money make any real difference in the world? The power is: we each of us make a difference, and when a hundred of us, and then a thousand of us, and then ten thousand of us, all pitch in, suddenly my $18 a month – or whatever – adds up to a world that is different than the one it is yesterday; people being funded to go out in the world, learn, teach, plant, advocate – whatever.

All this is prelude to Hazon’s Spring Fundraising Campaign, but it is written to all of you, everywhere, regardless of whether you support us or not. Please write a check to Federation. Please think well about the organizations whose work you believe in and whose future creates the world and the Jewish community that we aspire to. Please give operating support. And please give gifts earlier, and more regularly.

For Hazon: each day I see our growing impact. We are reaching more people directly. Our ideas have greater traction. Our educational materials – almost all of them free, and if not free then very cheap – are being used all over the place, and often we hear about that only anecdotally or by accident. We’re catalyzing the Jewish Food Movement. Adamah, Teva, Jewish Greening Fellowship – changing people’s lives every day. We’re at the front edge of the conversation about Israel and the diaspora – and we’ve taken over 1300 people to Israel in the last decade. We’re partnering well with organizations of all sorts.

To do all this, and more, we now have fifty staff in seven locations around the country, and a $7m budget, of which about half is earned revenue and half needs to be raised each year. And – did I mention this? – we have no reserves or endowment, which makes the process of running Hazon much harder than it would otherwise be. So:

•    If you feel inclined to support us and you believe in what we’re doing: please write a check, or click here to donate online;

•    If you feel able to become a monthly subscriber: that would be great – please click here; and check the box marked ‘Yes! Please make this a recurring monthly donation’.

•    If you’re in NY, and you’d like to join us for our benefit on April 1st, in Brooklyn – which promises to be a great evening – please join us – click here for tickets and info;

•    If you want to raise money for us and have a great time, then please sign up for our Golden Gate, New York or Israel Rides – and if you sign up, please sponsor yourself when you register and start the fundraising process earlier rather than later;

•    If you’re thinking of doing a retreat at Isabella Freedman this year – sign-up now, and feel free to give an extra donation for scholarships when you sign up;

•    If you’re involved in a foundation or Federation and want to talk to us about larger multi-year gifts – please be in touch;

•    Finally: we have as yet no formal “planned giving and bequests” department, but if you would like to make provision for us in your will, that would be a great mitzvah.

And if you have questions on any of this, please don’t hesitate to be in touch with David Weisberg, Cheryl Cook, or me.

Shabbat shalom,

nigel-signature

Nigel

PS Some of our programs are geographically specific. But some of our resources are online, accessible from anywhere, and either free or inexpensive. For instance:

Food For Thought – Hazon’s 130-page compendium on Jews, food and contemporary issues – for use in schools,Hebrew schools, adult education, or just for fun at home;

Hazon’s Shmita Sourcebook – a wide ranges of texts relating to the upcoming shmita (sabbatical) year;

Home for Dinner Learning Labs: A guide for educators and parents to host events designed to bring parents, children, and community together to learn more about food, Judaism, and the values that can be passed along as families share meals. A sample lesson can be found on this page.

Teva Worm-bin Composting: This activity can be run with kids of any age to make your own vermicomposting system and appreciate the meaning of compost and the role the worms play in turning your food scraps into fertilizer to grow new food.

The Jew & The Carrot: Hazon’s award-winning blog that serves as the homepage for the Jewish food movement.