The Rashi Foundation’s president and its partnerships director, Hubert Leven and Ronit Segelman, sixth and fifth from right, met with lay and professional leaders of the Central federation, from left, Phyllis Bernstein, Gordon Haas, Norman Weinberg, Renee Golush, Eleanor Rubin, Leonard Posnock, Stanley Stone, Jessica Mehlman, Marcy Lazar, and Amy Cooper.
Photo by Elaine Durbach
April 23, 2009
With belts tightening in the philanthropic world, potential collaborators are looking for ways to work together to cut costs and expand effectiveness.
With a view to such partnering, leaders from the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey met with the principals of a Paris-based foundation that focuses on, among other things, educational and social programs that break the cycle of poverty.
Hubert Leven, president of the Rashi Foundation, and his Israel-based director of partnerships, Ronit Segelman, met with federation officials in Scotch Plains earlier this month.
Although neither side talked specifics, they hoped to promote partnerships like the one between the two organizations in Arad, Israel, where Rashi and the federation have funded an extended-school-day program for children from kindergarten through fourth grade, complete with hot meals.
Leven said that given the current financial anxiety, “we are more ready than ever to avoid duplication” and are prepared “to coordinate” with other organizations in the interest of furthering their goals.
Segelman quipped, “The only way to get it together is to do it together.” That drew smiles and nods of agreement around the table.
Their visit to the federation offices at the Wilf Jewish Community Campus came in the course of a trip across the United States in search of potential partners. Over the past two years — building on a practice of collaboration established not long after it was established in 1984 — the foundation has made its administrative and operational infrastructure available to a number of other nonprofit organizations working in Israel.
The overarching goal is to strengthen Israel. “Friendships with countries come and go,” Leven said, “but Israel needs to be strong enough to support itself. The future of the Jewish people depends on the future of Israel.”
Federation executive vice president Stanley Stone said that five years ago the Rashi Foundation was one of the first organizations the federation turned to for guidance on expanding its philanthropy in Israel.
“We got very good, practical advice,” he said.
The federation recently found itself partnered in a new way with the foundation, as supporters of the Technoda Dorset Science and Technology Education Center in Hadera. The Technoda provides programs for students from around the region and additional help for children from the impoverished neighborhood in which it is situated. The federation was introduced to the center by longtime federation leaders Gerald and Marilyn Flanzbaum, who have a home nearby, and has just underwritten the center’s new library, through a grant from its Mack Ness Fund (see “Technology grant closes education gap in Israel,” March 26). The foundation, for its part, has been one of its major funders for a number of years.
‘Empower the weak’
As the discussion in the federation boardroom progressed, the two teams compared notes on various programs. These included the ones in Arad and Beersheva that are designed to boost education and stimulate employment opportunities, and efforts to improve security and the quality of life in communities like Sderot.
Leven explained that his family has been in the philanthropy business for generations. His great-grandfather, Narcisse Leven, established the Alliance Israelite Universelle 150 years ago in France, to combat discrimination against Jews and non-Jews and to provide education for Jews living in poverty in Arab countries. His uncle, Gustave Leven, who started the Perrier bottled water company in 1948, went on to establish the Rashi Foundation 36 years later.
“Our objective is to empower the weaker segments of the Israeli population,” said Leven. “We started small, but we were not having sufficient impact on the system.”
To have a systemic impact —— to affect the lives of individuals and at the macro level, to reinforce the efforts of the state — they needed to coordinate with the state and with other groups to increase the level of potential funding.
They moved, Leven said, from “check-book contributions” to “venture philanthropy,” taking on a much more proactive role in establishing programs and creating the physical and administrative structures needed to run them.
The federation lay leaders present included Ness Fund cochairs Eleanor Rubin and Norman Weinberg and others involved in the federation’s finances and its Partnership 2000 projects in Israel, among them Renee Golush, Marci Lazar, Phyllis Bernstein, Leonard Posnock, and Gordon Haas.
The professionals present, in addition to Stone, included two who work with the federation’s Israel programs, associate executive vice president Amy Cooper and Jessica Mehlman, assistance director of financial resource development.
Weinberg, describing the federation as “the new kid on the block,” asked about potential pitfalls.
In response, Leven cited duplication and unnecessary overhead costs; avoiding them, he said, is a key reason for groups like theirs to work together.
Assessing the success of different projects is equally important. Bernstein asked if the federation could make use of the evaluation forms the foundation provides on its website. Segelman gave her an immediate “yes.” It was a very pragmatic step toward the kind of sharing of expertise that both groups seek.