Einstein famously — and disconcertingly — said that time is an illusion. But whether or not time may be illusory in terms of theoretical physics, this past Gregorian year of 2018 has been an eventful chunk of time. This just-completed year — for good and for ill — seemed to contain far more than a year's happenings, and yet to pass by in a blink.
For JFN and for our network the year was far from illusory; it was a chance for JFN and our members to make real accomplishments. Some activities were dictated by our own strategic directions, some programs by the evolving needs of our growing membership (1,840+ members at present, from a dozen countries), and some by the rocky realities of the world. Here are some highlights of our year:
Crises and Responses
In this year, crisis seems — unfortunately — to have become a sort of new normal. But crisis is when the strength of the network is better shown. Thus, we conducted activities to help funders address the recurrent crises of 2018, from Hurricane Michael to devastating wildfires in California to the US-Mexico border crisis. Naturally, the most appalling of all crises we had to confront in 2018 was the Pittsburgh shooting, the worst antisemitic attack in U.S. history. JFN provided information about how to help and was a vector of support for that community. At the same time, we have seen a reemergence of antisemitism across the world, including Islamic fundamentalist antisemitism, left wing antisemitism disguised as anti-Zionism, and traditional right-wing, white supremacist antisemitism. Our network continued to be a forum for open, and sometimes contentious, conversations about all the issues related to this resurgence, from security to internal dissent on how to address it.
The #MeToo movement rocked the Jewish communal sphere along with the wider world, and Jewish philanthropy is still striving to respond appropriately. Much remains to be done. In early 2018, JFN updated our Funders and Power: Principles for Honorable Conduct in Philanthropy to include an eighth principle: "Ensure the personal safety, dignity, and equality of all people," and we joined in creating "Safe, Respectful, Equitable", a new partnership for Jewish communal life. We have also revised our internal policies to ensure the highest legal and moral standards of conduct and accountability in our own operations.
Strategic Change and Catalyzing Collective Action
But so much of what we do is about operating strategically rather than only responsively. This year JFN has adopted a new strategic framework, JFN 3.0, which will (among other things) emphasize our role in proactively identifying and catalyzing collective action among funders.
Throughout the year a number of coalitions, peer networks, and partnerships both formal and informal, crystallized or developed under JFN auspices or arising from some form of JFN facilitation and encouragement. The coalition in Israel working on issues of employment, education, and economic integration for the Haredi population in Israel has made major strides, as has the Social Venture Fund for Jewish-Arab Equality and Shared Society. Several exciting initiatives related to arts and culture are in exploratory stages. This year the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and the Foundation for Jewish Camp provided another example of the magic of JFN: three years ago, JFN's disabilities peer network took a tour of summer camps to study inclusion in the camping context. That established a relationship between the Foundation for Jewish Camps and the Weinberg Foundation, and over the past few years they have partnered to conduct thorough research on what would it take to make a big number of camps accessible both physically and programmatically. This October, Weinberg announced a $12 million grant to transform the situation of inclusion for campers with disabilities in Jewish camps.
Doubtless there are other examples we aren't even aware of, as this is how networks work. This aspect of JFN — the catalyst role — is some of the least visible but most important work we do.
New Trends in Philanthropy
JFN continued to be a forum for funders to be exposed to new trends in philanthropic practice. From events (virtual and in-person) to digital resources, we provided new opportunities to explore impact investing, evaluation and metrics, emerging Millennial approaches to philanthropic practice, managing risk in philanthropy, and other "toolbox" topics, at levels ranging from the basics to venues for troubleshooting and comparing notes among experienced practitioners.
JFN continued to be a forum for big issues affecting Jewish life to be discussed, from Israel-Diaspora relations to the evolving nature of Jewish identity in a world of free choice to the way in which new scientific and technological advances impact our way of being Jewish and living together. We believe that in the midst of hectic crisis management in which we conduct much of our work, it’s important to safeguard times and spaces to discuss and analyze these issues in depth and in all their complexity. We provide courageous spaces to discuss difficult issues, and we believe we have succeeded in continuing to be a place in which all voices are valued and respected, an island of sanity and civility in a world that is becoming more and more polarized and extreme.
A Record-Breaking Conference
Our 2018 conference was the largest ever, with 604 registrants, and the size and energy of it was a reminder of the growing dynamism of the Israeli philanthropic sector. We were enlightened, challenged, and inspired by President Reuven Rivlin, Etgar Keret, Dalia Fadila, Dan Senor, Kira Radinsky, Brendan Nyhan, Yuval Noah Harari, and many other presenters (I also spoke about how we can rewrite our fate), and we experienced enriching workshops, site visits, and other events. Most importantly, we forged and deepened our connections as funders in the ineffable way that makes the JFN conference invaluable to Jewish philanthropy.
This year we celebrated 10 years of JFN Israel, which is the only organization dedicated to growing and improving the practice and community of private philanthropy in Israel. Israeli funders represent a quarter of the overall JFN membership, and in addition to serving them, JFN Israel also provides advisory services to JFN members around the world, providing guidance about the Israeli landscape to funders overseas who are interested in funding in Israel, as well as advising on the fundamentals of philanthropic strategy and best practices. Among many other exciting developments ongoing in Israel is JFN's new Israeli Center for Family Philanthropy. (Stay tuned for more information and related events in 2019!) For more about JFN Israel, see jfn.org.il.
2018 saw three important fields energized by JFN matching grant initiatives: "The Genesis Prize Women's Empowerment Challenge," "Building & Strengthening the Impact Entrepreneurship Ecosystem in Israel" in partnership with the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation (Israel), and "Enhancing the Israeli STEM Pipeline," funded by the Ben & Esther Rosenbloom Foundation.
We’re continuing to refine and deploy our technology to better understand and serve our members, their relationships, their needs, and their current and potential connection points. One of the ways that’s happening is JFN Connect, a new digital platform for JFN members to chat online — one-on-one, in public groups, or in channels visible to all JFN members. It's a new, more grassroots way for members to communicate, share ideas, make introductions, and more, without any staffers as intermediaries and without waiting for formal events. We have high hopes for what kinds of new connections and discussions the new platform may empower.
New digital resources from JFN this year included a Greenbook on the arts as a driver of social change in Israel; a series of articles on the intersection of poverty and Jewish philanthropy; a set of financial formulas for evaluating grantees; and JEDTech Central, a new hub for Jewish education technology.
In addition to the crisis briefings noted earlier in this email, JFN presented many important briefings and webinars in 2018. We spoke with former Obama speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz on how to provide the community with rich, substantive Jewish content, and we read responses to the same question from a set of phenomenal thought leaders. I spoke with Jack Wertheimer about his noteworthy Giving Jewish report. In August, we took stock of the state of antisemitism a year after Charlottesville. And last month, experts from JFNA's Secure Communities Network (SCN) briefed funders on Securing Jewish Communities. Many more videos are available on www.jfunders.org/video.
Jewish Teen Funders Network continues to break new ground in growing and enriching the field of Jewish teen philanthropy. The 2019 JTFN Summit in San Francisco, set to run concurrently with the JFN conference, promises to be a signal event in Jewish teen foundation work, for funders, program leaders, educators, and more.
Onward in 2019
Between upcoming events, ongoing initiatives, new projects and partnerships still in formation, and, of course, the JFN 2019 International Conference in San Francisco (March 17 – 19; will we see you there?), 2019 is already filling up with promising and important work for all of us to do as we prepare to labor another year in the philanthropy mines, digging for impact.
I'll see you there, and I can't wait to see how we'll work together to create a vibrant, meaningful, inclusive, interconnected, creative, and compassionate world.
For auld lang syne,
President & CEO, Jewish Funders Network