Judaism Matters: Exploring the “Roads and Bridges” of the Jewish Communityby Brie Stimson September 26, 2018
“I think of JCF as the infrastructure of the Jewish community, like the bridges and the roads that make it possible for the rest of the community to do the great work that it does,” President and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation (JCF) Beth Sirull tells me over coffee in her office one morning. “We manage financial resources, assets for over 70 local non profits, including 35 Jewish organizations in the city and provide stewardship and investment management for their endowments and operating reserves … that enable them to be on sound footing.”
She says they also provide support services to organizations, including the Create a Jewish Legacy program and fundraising efforts to build endowments. “We’re about ensuring that there’s a vibrant Jewish future in San Diego in perpetuity,” she adds.
Leo Spiegel has been on the board for more than 20 years. “I really feel like, no pun intended, JCF is the foundation of the Jewish community,” he says. “I feel blessed to be part of it. I think we provide a really critical role and we are partners to all of the organizations in town.”
JCF also runs a series of programs designed to develop leadership and increase philanthropy in the city like the Jewish Women’s Foundation and the Jewish Teen Foundation.
Jennifer Levitt has been involved with the Jewish Women’s Foundation for many years and was chair for two years. She is also a JCF board member. She says when she first became associated with JCF, she hadn’t really been involved with community work or the Jewish community in a particularly meaningful way. “It was through my experience at Jewish Women’s Foundation that I found a way to connect issues that I’m personally passionate about like fostering philanthropy among women [and] positioning women’s experience at the forefront of defining what important issues are for the Jewish community,” she says.
Joyce Axelrod was also a past chair of the Women’s Foundation. “About 10 years ago I decided that I wanted to have a donor-advised fund and I worked with the wonderful people at the Jewish Community Foundation,” she tells me. Joyce says she recently decided to update her legacy plan to include a particular organization she was able to visit as facilitated by JCF. “Last week, I said, ‘Sharleen, I’ve been on several visitations that you offer to fund holders to visit other nonprofit entities because you want to make our community more aware of organizations that one can support.’ I recall the year before last I went with the Jewish Community Foundation to [Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility] where we saw how inmates were given the opportunity to train black labs and other breeds of dogs,” Joyce begins. She tells me the dogs would eventually go to veterans and children with autism through POOCH, a nonprofit. “One of the inmates got up … he had been in prison for a long time and he said to us in regard to being able to live and to train a dog, he says it’s the first time in 23 years that he’s able to pet a dog.” She says she was so smitten with the program that she has decided to redo her legacy plan to include the organization.
Joyce says through the Jewish Community Foundation she has also been able to visit organizations like the Salk Institute, The San Diego Opera and she has attended conferences on human trafficking. “So many people don’t think of these places that you might have an interest in leaving a legacy for, and I just really appreciate that the Jewish Community Foundation is able to offer this to us.”
Jennifer tells me her involvement with the JCF has served as a foundation for her work with other nonprofits. “I really feel like my early experiences at Jewish Community Foundation were very informative in terms of what I would go on to do in the community in the next several years and that work has been extremely meaningful and very profound in terms of defining who I am, what makes my life meaningful, how I give back to the community,” she says.
A donor who wished to remain anonymous explains how JCF helped them connect to important issues. “ I am now very involved with human trafficking issues in San Diego all because I became better informed on the subject at a brunch they hosted earlier this year,” the donor says. “And I went to Morocco with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) after I met Gideon at one of their briefings and have been invited to the JDC board meeting in New York in December.”
The Jewish Teen Foundation teaches the next generation about philanthropy and how to be an effective giver. “The teens come together in a real business setting, and they really learn how to build consensus and develop a process for taking in proposals and evaluating and deciding where to give their funds, which trains them in analysis and leadership and skills that will be really good for them career wise,” Beth explains to me during our morning chat.
JCF also runs something called the Trusted Charitable Advisor Program, “which actually works with wealth advisors, attorneys, accountants and the like to help them work with their clients around philanthropy so that they’re educated.” Beth says it’s all about bringing more resources into the community to help it thrive.
She explains donor-advised funds, another offering at JCF, as a philanthropic account a donor can set up at the JCF, and from which they can do all their charitable giving and have options of investing those funds at the same time to further their philanthropic dollars. The JCF will share ideas on grantmaking, depending on what’s important to the donor. “That’s our job. We help them decide what matters to them,” Beth says. “Sometimes they know what they care about and sometimes it’s really a conversation on what’s most important and ‘what do I want to support?’” Donors can also create an endowment, which will go on in perpetuity.
Leo calls the JCF the neutral “broker” between the donor and the nonprofit; they don’t favor one nonprofit over another. He tells me the organization is deeply personal for him. “My father was a Holocaust survivor; one of the things that’s really important to me is Jewish continuity. I want San Diego to have a vibrant Jewish community, and I want Judaism to be relevant to my kids who are in their 20s and I have one teenager left. And I really want to see us continue to be a really strong, proud and giving people …, and I think all of that is embodied in really what the Foundation’s mission is all about.”
Jennifer summarizes how she feels about the JCF. “It’s a wonderful venue for making the world a better place with a community who shares your values and also a wonderful venue for exploring community issues that are important to you through the lens of Jewish values.”
Beth tells me the JCF has two core beliefs. “We believe in the power of every individual to make a difference and that collectively we can change the world. And our job is to help all of our donors create the change in the world to make the difference that they want to make.”
“And the second core belief is that we believe in the innate value of Jewish tradition and living Jewish values in the present and ensuring a vibrant Jewish future,” she says. “Judaism matters. It matters to the Jewish community. It matters to the world. And we are committed to perpetuating it. Those are the pillars of our existence. That’s why we get out of bed in the morning.”