Why we created a center for family philanthropy in Israel

In 2018, Jewish Funders Network created a new initiative: the Center for Family Philanthropy at JFN Israel, the first program in Israel to tackle the distinct issues and opportunities that family philanthropy presents. 

The National Center for Family Philanthropy in the U.S. is a model and has been working with JFN Israel staff as a key partner in this project.

In its first year, the center has convened a number of meetings and workshops, including a session on "Parents & Children in Philanthropy", a workshop called "Tips, Traps, & Tools: The Hows and Whys of Family Philanthropy", and a "Bar/Bat Mitzvah Lab" workshop for parents whose children will celebrate their Bar/Bat Mitzvah in the next few years and are interested in incorporating values of social responsibility in the celebration and the year leading up to it. And coming up soon, the center will present a week of workshops and lectures on Family, Money, and Values.

The Center for Family Philanthropy at JFN Israel is also increasing our focus on young and next generation funders. This work had already begun; three years ago, Israeli members founded the Young Funders Forum, an opportunity for Israeli next-gen donors and young donors to connect and learn together. The forum meets 3-4 times a year and is led by co-chairs Noa Yovel-Maoz, Miki Lion, Shawna Goodman-Sone, and new addition Leora Propper. But alongside the young funders forum, a new group of even younger next genners—those in their 20s and early 30s, many of them taking their first steps in philanthropy—has also emerged. The Center for Family Philanthropy will help them convene separate programming that focuses on the needs and issues of this demographic.

Why we need this program: funders speak

To better understand how this new program serves philanthropic families' needs, I spoke to three funders who are on the center's steering committee: two members of philanthropic families and one professional leader of a family foundation.

Irith Rappaport is Deputy Chairperson of the Rappaport Family Foundation. She was born in Israel and raised in Geneva.

Shawna Goodman Sone is Chair of the board of directors of the Goodman Family Foundation. Originally from Montreal, she moved to Israel with her family four years ago.

Douglas Bitonti Stewart is the first Executive Director of the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation in Detroit, Michigan.

What experiences led you to believe Israel needs a center for family philanthropy?


I was introduced to philanthropy in the context of family, so, to me, they go hand in hand. In my family, despite the distances of where we all are, we come together for shared values and perpetuating the family legacy. The heart of making our foundation work is communication, and a common understanding of what the founders wanted. We’re very lucky, because our mother repeated that vision quite often, so there was no misunderstanding. But now we’re independent siblings with independent families, living in different places, and all of us very active in our communities. So deciding where the foundation dollars go based on all of our different lives is challenging. We brought in a consultant from outside to help us navigate that conversation, because it’s an uncomfortable conversation.

We walked in there thinking, ‘We’re all the same. We have the same values, we think the same things. Then we did a values exercise, where we placed value cards in an order. And we shocked each other with how different we were. This process was incredibly insightful in making other big decisions going forward, in understanding our different thoughts. This kind of work is what I see the Center doing.


I’m a real newcomer to this. I fell into philanthropy as a tribute to my family legacy. Everybody can understand that money comes with responsibilities and obligations. That’s not something anyone needs a center for. But once you start recognizing that you want your philanthropy to have an impact, then you really begin to understand the need to do it right.


One example. In the Fisher family, where I am honored to work, at first there was an assumption that the best way to do succession planning was to have family branch representatives, based on the five siblings of the second generation. But Ginny Esposito, CEO of the National Center for Family Philanthropy in the U.S., worked with us as we developed our structure, and thanks to her we could learn from the experience of many other families to take a different path. The board realized that if they’re really planning for the seventh generation, and not just for the second or the third, the branch structure doesn’t work well. That change came from learning from other families’ experiences.

Why is family philanthropy different?


For philanthropy to be done with sustainability, people need to be taught how to do this. How do you transmit a legacy? How do you move from tzedakah to strategic philanthropy? How do you share it with the “Next Gen”, and the generation afterwards, who don’t necessarily have the same ideas or the same views, or the same interests? We all want to think that our kids will do the same thing we do, think like we do. But then, there’s a song that says, ‘Times, they are a-changin’…


We have to connect the strategic and the emotional. Some of what I read about strategic philanthropy is so antiseptic. But whenever we take advantage of the opportunity to speak with some of the wisest people in family philanthropy, one of the things we hear most often is that it’s critical to think hard about our family story and our family culture. I keep coming back to my mother’s mantras and my dad’s choices. And those models and stories and values inform what we do. So when we’re trying to be mindful and strategic and impactful, we have to use those tools to remember the more basic question: why are we even doing this? It’s because it reflects our family. And if we lose sight of that, we should close down the foundation.

A family foundation is as good as its members.  If we don’t have engagement, then the foundation has failed.


Speaking as a staffer, staffing family foundations can be very different than work in other kinds of foundations. There’s a staff support function that is necessary for the professionals inside all of this.

And for the family members, the family dynamics in philanthropy are really important. What role does the foundation play in the family? What were the original intentions of the donor, and how do members of the current generation feel about that? Think about board self-assessment: now you’ve got aunts and uncles and cousins all rating themselves and each other. Think of issues of removing a board member for capability or cause… Starting family foundations, or a DAF or any family giving process, can sometimes strengthen the bonds holding the family together. But it can also, if not done well, exacerbate difficulties in families, and create more problems.

Why is philanthropy in Israel different?


I was born in Israel, raised in Switzerland.  I’ve been living in Israel for twenty years, and practiced my philanthropy mostly here. A lot of people will give their 18 shekels for the cancer society, for the soldiers, for the university, for the hospital and I respect that. But when it comes to the big picture, that’s where the work in Israel is going to have to be done.  Often, or in past years when philanthropists in Israel tried to bring these ideas to their kids, the kids would say, ‘Why? Why do we need that?’ The ongoing feeling in Israel was, ‘If I pay my taxes and served in the army, then I’ve done all I need to do for the Israeli society.’ So it’s going to be time, it’s going to be education. It’s a process.  Having said that you do feel a change thanks to the actions of JFN and Committed to Give, which is an initiative or a group of Israeli philanthropists that thrives to increase awareness to philanthropy and the experience of giving.


I was involved with our foundation before I moved to Israel four years ago, but in a passive way. It was in Israel that I became activated to bridge the gap between my diaspora and Israeli communities. So I developed my active career in foundation philanthropy in Israel. The philanthropic scene feels very malleable here. It feels like it’s really emerging. It feels very young. It also feels very female. There’s a lot of activity and resources in female hands. So it’s an exciting place to be, instead of just ‘filling a seat’ in a more established scene. It’s incredibly dynamic. Everybody feels that they’re in a learning stage, rather than doing in a certain way just because that’s ‘how it’s done’.

The big obstacle is working alongside Israelis to legitimize and help build the right models of organized philanthropy together. Israelis are the most generous, thoughtful, compassionate people. They’ll give you a bed, they’ll invite you for dinner, anything. But with organized giving they’re more suspicious, and I can understand why. But that’s a hurdle.

There’s also a struggle between Israelis and the Diaspora with where philanthropy is rooted in our Judaism. That’s my struggle. Tzedakah was part of how I was raised as a Jew. And in Israel philanthropy doesn’t feel as much like a Jewish value as like an Israeli value. I often have surprising moments where I talk about tzedakah and chesed and Jewish values, and the native-born Israelis in the room are ready to run for the hills. It’s almost ‘too Jewish’. And that’s an interesting conversation that I keep coming up against.


It’s been fascinating to watch over the last twelve years, the growth of Israeli philanthropy. One of the things that I’m seeing is that people are starting their own organizations. Too many people come to philanthropy with a solution and then they’re looking for their problem. And that has downsides. People want control, they want to say, ‘Look what I started.’ And there’s some pride in that, and that’s great. But some of us in other countries have learned hard lessons about that, which they could be learning right now. Families might do things that they think of as disruptive in the innovative sense, when actually they’re just old-school disruptive, meaning, causing problems.

Israelis will also disrupt philanthropy in a positive sense, there’s no doubt about that. Sir Ronald Cohen, an Israeli and British citizen, literally invented the social impact bond. And there will be more new tools like that in the future, and I will not at all be surprised if other Israelis bring them forth.

The personality of philanthropy can be different in different countries. And Israel has a chance to decide what that’s going to be, in the aggregate, by all the decisions families make. Jewish philanthropy, while it’s 4,000 years old, in its most recent iteration is about 12 or 13 years old, and the legal infrastructure is still being built. If Israel can learn from other countries’ lessons early, and incorporate those lessons into the DNA of Israeli philanthropy from the beginning, then—wow. Not only would it speed things in Israel, it could possibly change philanthropy around the world.

The National Center for Family Philanthropy in the U.S. has been amassing resources: articles, ideas, templates, and academic papers and research on philanthropy in the family context. All of that will be available online. We’ll also be working with them to get key materials translated into Hebrew. At the same time, families in Israel are going to need a new set of resources that reflect Israeli culture. A national center for family philanthropy in Israel will take the lead on that: for Israel, by Israelis.  Israel will want its own spin on these ideas. So there will be new resources from Israel that will also end up online. And in the end, anyone, whether they’re a member or not, will have access to all these resources.

About Efrat

Efrat OppenheimerEfrat Oppenheimer is the inaugural director of the Israeli Center for Family Philanthropy. Prior to joining JFN, Efrat worked at the Naor Philanthropy Group, first as Director of Partnerships at the Shahaf Foundation and later as Director of Partnerships of the entire Naor Fund. In addition, Efrat worked for the Mandel Foundation. Prior to joining the philanthropic field, Efrat headed the educational department at the Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Tel Aviv.

If you have questions about the new center, or ideas for programming for it, you can reach her at [email protected].