The President's Desk: Andrés Spokoiny

Andrés Spokoiny is President & CEO of Jewish Funders Network. Full bio >>

Why Jews Should Defend Liberal Democracy

Liberal democracy is in danger.

From Hungary and Poland to Brazil and Venezuela, democracy is in retreat. Even in solid democracies like Israel and America, cracks are appearing in democratic norms.

As liberal democracy is increasingly questioned, Jews face the temptation of falling into an old and dangerous Jewish habit: putting our trust in autocratic kings.

We must not fall for it. Jews, more than anyone else, must stand up for liberal democracy.

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At Home in the World? (Sukkot 5780)

Until now, I’ve always felt at home in the world.

I have lived in five different countries and visited close to a hundred. I’ve always felt that the world was a place of opportunity and promise, a place where I could feel at home. After visiting most countries I’d say to myself, “I think I could live here.” If I felt particularly ill-adapted to a specific country, I always knew that there are many other places in which I can feel “at home”.

Lately, however, I’ve been besieged by the opposite feeling: a sense of homelessness in the world.

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Wake me up when it's all over. (Yom Kippur 5780)

Far from shore or any other vessel, the people on a small sailboat found themselves surrounded by sharks, just as something pierced a large hole in the hull. Water rushed into the boat, and the passengers sprang into action. Some worked to plug the hole; others grabbed buckets and furiously bailed water; others threw things at the sharks to drive them away.

But one passenger did none of this. Instead, as his shipmates struggled, he donned an eye mask, leaned against a pillow, and fell fast asleep.

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Only the Mediocre Can Save the World (Rosh Hashanah 5780)

I’ve seen the creation of the world on live TV.

No, I really have; and you probably have too, many times, without realizing it.

Remember that static black-and-white “snow” on your analog TV in between channels? Well, part of that static is something called Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), which is nothing but the light created by the Big Bang explosion that is still bouncing around in space. Visually alluring it’s not—rather close to watching paint dry—but it’s kind of cool that today, with your own eyes, you can directly see the beginning of the world.

But you can also see its end.

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Condensing Our Victimhood (Tisha Be’Av 5779)

One feels as if there has been a conscious attempt to minimize the days of mourning and sadness in the calendar, packing as much grief into Tisha Be’Av as possible.

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In Defense of The Why: Judaism Needs a Mission

Cross-posted to eJewish Philanthropy.

One of the things that make my job at JFN so rich and interesting is the debates, even arguments, that we have within our staff. I love those, because they challenge me, they make me learn, and, above all, I know these arguments are “for the sake of Heaven”—meant not to make a point, but to make a difference.

In that vein, my colleague Seth Chalmer shared with me an article he wrote and asked for my opinion. We both thought that the debate was rich and decided to share it with you. Of course, you are also invited to chime in! 

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Power, Influence, and the Limits of Maps: A Response to Yehuda Kurtzer

Originally published in eJewish Philanthropy.

In his article, “‘The Establishment’ Has No Clothes: The New Jewish ‘Influence Economy,’” the always brilliant and thoughtful Yehuda Kurtzer raises intriguing points and does the Jewish communal world a great service by calling attention to the fact that the way we too commonly discuss our communal structures is woefully out of date.

I’d like to add a few angles to this conversation about the “economy of power,” without which our understanding of that new reality will be incomplete.

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How Not to Become a Beer (Shavuot 5779)

A lost tribe, a brand of beer, the history and future of Jewish resilience, and how Shavuot explains it all.

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“No-Place” Like Home: The Utopia That Came True

The word utopia was first used by Sir Thomas More in 1516. He coined the term combining two Greek words: ou (not) and topos (place), and he thus named an imaginary island that would harbor the perfect society. Utopia was “No-Place”, or, “the place that doesn’t exist”.

It caught on. “Utopia” became a blanket term to describe a dream of something impossible, a society that can’t really be found in any real topos, a goal that can’t really be achieved, and became especially common in describing political programs of (supposedly) impossible concretion. The 19th century was a golden age of sorts for utopias. From utopian socialism to nationalist romanticism to technological utopias emerging from the industrial revolution, all sort of ambitious ideas and implausible political programs excited people’s imaginations.

Among that cacophony of dreams, we Jews also had a utopic idea of our own. It was called Zionism.

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What Prompts Us to Give? Balancing Head and Heart

Published in Sh'ma Now.

Ask most people what motivates philanthropy and they’ll probably say, “generosity.” But generosity isn’t simple. People give charity for many and overlapping reasons: tax advantages, social pressure (my friend asked me), ego (I want my name on a building), enlightened self-interest (I know a society that helps the powerless will be more prosperous and stable than a purely greedy society), admiration for particular leaders or institutions, outrage at injustice, empathy for people who are suffering, passion for culture, religious conviction, gratitude and a desire to give back, or countless other reasons.

Which motivations drive us — or rather, since competing motivations sometimes drive us in opposite directions, which motivations drive us most dominantly — can make a significant impact on how much we give, what causes we choose, what grantees foundations choose to support, how we structure or limit our grants, and every other aspect of our philanthropy. So, it’s worth asking ourselves: What thoughts and emotions are really prompting me to give?

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