I apologize that I am late in responding to your recent piece in The Jewish Chronicle (“The future of … philanthropy, April 5). As one who used to head one of the major foundations in Jewish life (the no longer existing Bronfman Foundation of the Seagram Company), I now spend most of my professional life outside of the Jewish world and have a slightly different take on all of this.
The underlying assumption is that Jewish interests are advanced by supporting historically Jewish organizations. In fact, in an open society, many “Jewish” communal needs are met by secular institutions.
Universities, for example, teach Jewish studies, have kosher food, etc. Governments provide social services, which historically might have been provided only by and for Jewish organizations. Museums include Jewish board members and therefore have exhibits of interest to the Jewish world. And in many countries (not the United States) even day schools receive government support.
So the idea that Jewish interests are only served by contributing to Jewish organizations is not accurate. Moreover, there are advantages to encouraging the options, which an open society brings.
What was not stated so clearly was that many who support secular organizations are not rejecting Jewish interests, but are reflecting a different vision of society and the role that philanthropy plays in it. At the risk of being a bit opinionated on this: After a long career inside the Jewish world, it is incredible how insular it appears from the outside.
Richard A. Marker
(The author is a co-principal of Wise Philanthropy and founder of the NYU Academy for Grantmaking & Funder Education.)