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For These Young Philanthropists, Giving Is a Natural Part of Life
At a time when the Jewish philanthropic world constantly bemoans the lack of young donors, 40-year-old Shira Goodman is busy helping her sons select the charity to which they'll designate a portion of their allowance.
Brian Levine, a 32-year-old funeral-home co-owner, is getting ready to serve a massive community Passover seder funded heavily by the nonprofit Passover League.
And in Center City, Michael Bronstein is galvanizing young professionals to contribute to political candidates who promise steadfast support for Israel.
Surely, these aren't the most typical Jewish young professionals. So what drives them to be so committed to Jewish causes? You can thank their parents.
Levine recalled how his father, Joseph, would often remind him that their family made a living by providing funeral services to the Jewish population, which made it even more important to give back.
"The Jewish community is where I live and work, and where I was raised," he said. "I want to help my community first, and then I can take the opportunity to help other areas."
Growing up with family members who were active board presidents or committee members was just the entry point. Young donors said they stuck with it after seeing what their support meant.
"It was so ingrained in us to keep giving," said Goodman, of Dresher. "For a while, we wrote our checks to Federation and weren't sure how we fit in."
Hoping to feel like more than "just a donor," she and her husband, Alan Woronoff, sought out active roles at the community's central fundraising institution.
Goodman started with a women's program; Woronoff joined a medical group.
Today, they also donate to their synagogue, their alma maters, the library, the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School, the citywide Jewish book program, the Jewish National Fund, Moving Traditions, Mazon, the Jewish Theological Seminary and Camp Ramah, among others. When they traveled to Israel as a family, they made a point of visiting programs they'd supported through Federation so their sons, Brandon, 8, and Jason, 11, could see the impact of their giving, explained Goodman.
Sometimes, an event will trigger their philanthropy, such as the 2002 bombing in Hebrew University's cafeteria. Though neither of them attended the school, said Goodman, the tragedy moved them.
Likewise, Goodman added, her children don't participate in the OROT program at Perelman, which provides individualized support for kids with disabilities, but she felt strongly that those children should have the option to attend day school. Maybe, she said, her kids will also benefit from learning alongside students with special needs.
"It comes back to building the kind of community we want to be a part of," she said. "I want Philadelphia to have a strong, vibrant Jewish community. I hope I don't ever need to be a direct Federation recipient but should I, I know that it's there."
After seven years on the Passover League board, Levine guesses that he's still the youngest member by at least 30 years. During that time, he's also worked his way up through groups within Federation and Golden Slipper Club & Charities, where he's now secretary of the executive board.
Altogether, he said, about 8 percent of his family's gross income goes to charity. Most goes to Jewish causes, save for a few gifts to support friends' initiatives. Each of the past five or so years, he's also sent a $50 care package to U.S. troops overseas.
"I still wonder if it goes anywhere," he said. "What's important is that I feel good doing it. Whether or not I believe in what they're doing, they're doing something on our country's behalf, so I try to support them."
For Bronstein, it was not just family but his connection to Israel that moved him to get involved. After college, "traveling throughout Europe reinforced a belief in my head that if we don't look out for the State of Israel, nobody else will," said Bronstein, 31, an independent political consultant and chairman of AIPAC's young professionals division, the Liberty Club.
He said about 60 percent of his donations go to Jewish organizations such as AIPAC, and the rest to candidates. Though political contributions aren't tax-deductible, Bronstein said he considers it his way of supporting the future of the Jewish people.
Laurie Franz had no choice but to become a philanthropist. Her parents set up a multimillion-dollar foundation and charged their five adult children with deciding how to donate the annual interest.
"Part of it was a training mission, part of it was they wanted us to be philanthropic," said Franz, of Rydal.
While their Five Together Foundation isn't a Jewish charity, Franz has lobbied for some grants to go to entities with Jewish roots, such as Seeds of Peace and the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village for Rwandan children orphaned by genocide. The nonsectarian village was started as a special project of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and modeled after residential communities built in Israel to handle the influx of orphans from the Holocaust.
"My kids aren't going to know Holocaust survivors as adults. These kids in Rwanda are going to be the next best thing," said Franz, 41. "I want them to know that story."
Outside the family foundation, Franz directs almost all of her volunteer time to Jewish groups, holding leadership roles at her synagogue, the Mitzvah Food Pantry and Federation.
"My life has pretty much become philanthropy," she joked. But "they say if you don't give Jewishly, who's going to take care of the Jewish community?"
Franz has begun teaching her three boys about philanthropy. At an upcoming school career day, she'll ask her son's class to decide which of three charities they'd like to give a pretend donation.
Obviously, Franz said, it's hard to be philanthropic when you're in your 20s and 30s, and paying for expensive things like a car, a house and kids. The community needs to shift the culture so that these young people don't feel bad about not having money to donate, and energize them to participate in other ways. Once they become involved, she said, the money will follow eventually.
"All you have to do is get out there in the community to see that there are people who struggle for reasons that aren't in their control," she said.
"Once you see it, you just can't turn away. You just can't."