A flurry of new surveys about Jewish giving in America is sparking both concern and relief in the Jewish communal world. What they most need to do is spark action.
The latest report, “Connected to Give” (connectedtogive.org) brought together a consortium of foundations and Jewish federations to look at who’s giving what to whom. A key finding, not particularly surprising, is that most American Jews give to charitable causes — in 2012, 76 percent did so, in contrast to 63 percent of non-Jews. Among Jews who make charitable contributions, 92 percent give to non-Jewish organizations and 79 percent give to Jewish organizations.
Particularly important is the demographic breakdown, comparing patterns of giving between younger and older Jews. Older Jews give at a somewhat higher rate to Jewish organizations than younger Jews, with 81 percent of Jews over 64 years giving to Jewish organizations. This figure dips to 78 percent among 40- to 64-year-olds, and to 72 percent among Jews under 40.
Yes, the figures show that the younger generation is still giving to Jewish causes. But as another recent report about wealthy younger donors (nextgendonors.org) found: They are giving to religious and faith-based causes, but in contrast to their elders, they are more inclined to want those donations to help the wider world rather than just the Jewish community. And they want to do it all differently.
Giving to non-Jewish causes is a long-held value in the Jewish tradition. But we also have to take care of our own. Never are we more profoundly reminded of our dual obligation than on Yom Kippur.
The prophet Isaiah, whose words we read during the Haftarah, reminds us of the true purpose of the fast: “To unlock the fetters of wickedness /And untie the cords of the yoke /To let the oppressed go free /To break off every yoke. /It is to share your bread with the hungry /To take the wretched poor into your home/ When you see the naked, to clothe him. /And not to ignore your own kin.”
What these studies show us is encouraging that even among younger Jews, the majority still care. But we must also pay close attention to one seemingly obvious conclusion of the Connected to Give study: “Engagement with Jewish community is a paramount driver of Jewish charitable giving and even drives giving to non-Jewish organizations.”
On this Yom Kippur, let’s remember that it’s our job to give generously — to Jewish and non-Jewish needs.
And it is the job of our Jewish institutions to help find ways to engage younger Jews in particular so the legacy of Jewish philanthropy — critical to our communal survival — will live on.