Our Jewish community is marked by diversity—varied interests, levels of observance, young and old, single and married. Treating everyone in an inclusive manner, understanding their needs and responding to them appropriately are critical to bringing our community together.
A critical community for Federations are emerging philanthropists—people truly interested in expanding their horizons and finding meaning and purpose in how they impact the world. Our goal as community builders is to engage these philanthropists in a way that stimulates, educates and inspires them to make a difference in the Jewish world.
I had the privilege of meeting with a group of these philanthropists recently when I spent Shabbat with alumni of Fisher FLIGHT, an amazing program that combines Jewish learning with immersive experiences for eight to 10 Jewish couples ages 40-50. Through three interactive programs over a 12-month period—one week-long experience in Israel and two weekend retreats—Fisher FLIGHT inspires participants to reach their potential as Jewish philanthropists and community leaders by focusing their charitable giving on Jewish and Israeli causes.
The success is obvious.
Since its inception in 2006, more than 100 people have participated. Inspired by this program, they have had significant impact locally, nationally and globally through their philanthropy. The experience has also boosted their giving: Fisher FLIGHT alums have donated more than $9 million to Jewish causes and increased their Annual Campaign gifts by 56%.
It all started with a desire to honor the legacy of one of our community's greatest leaders: Max Fisher. Max played a primary role in nearly every major Jewish communal organization, including the American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith International, Council of Jewish Federations (a predecessor to JFNA), HIAS, JDC, United Israel Appeal, The Jewish Agency for Israel and United Jewish Appeal. He was the founding chairman of The Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors and received numerous awards for his dedication to public service in Israel and the Diaspora.
Max made the impossible happen, as both a Jewish and a public figure. He took the lead on every critical Jewish issue of the day, offering not only his well-honed guidance but also the crucial financial support to ensure a program's success. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he was instrumental in pushing through the airlift of U.S. arms to Israel, providing a lifeline to the Jewish State. His leadership in Operations Moses, Solomon and Exodus, among other critical moments, positively altered the history of the Jewish People for more than half a century.
Known for his wise counsel, Max was quoted as saying, “We are all trustees of our Jewish heritage...with an obligation to cherish it, improve it and guard its future.”
The Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Family Foundation sought to inspire that kind of Jewish leadership among emerging philanthropists. Working with Federation professionals, Jane Sherman, Max's daughter, helped develop this idea into the continental Fisher FLIGHT program, which has sparked a new generation to give generously to Jewish and Israeli causes. It has truly been a beautiful way to honor Max.
Participants over the past decade have built an incredible cohort, learning together and making a difference in their communities and in Israel. Their passion is palpable, their dedication strong.
That commitment was on display when Ken Stein, a Middle East studies professor at Emory University, spoke during the recent Shabbat program on the delegitimization of Israel on college campuses. Participants asked passionate questions, thinking about how they would prepare their own children to deal with these issues at school.
That commitment was also clear during my one-on-one conversations with participants and alumni. I met Jonathan and Rachel Hoffer, a Phoenix couple both in their 40s. While they have long been involved in the Jewish community, they say Fisher FLIGHT is helping them focus their philanthropy, giving them a much better sense of the power of the collective and truly opening their eyes to Federations’ global work.
Rachel, who has family in Israel and has visited there many times, marveled at how much she didn’t know about Federations’ worthy programs until Fisher FLIGHT. “I saw projects that I didn’t know existed,” she said, pointing to at-risk youth centers, Ethiopian absorption centers and a pre-military project for women living in the periphery.
Rachel calls Jane Sherman and her husband, Larry, “game changers” who lead by example. It’s an apt description, especially for Jane, who takes part in the program, acting as a personal mentor and coach to each couple. Her passion is unwavering, the time she gives the program laudable. In Fisher FLIGHT, we see not only her values and those of the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Family Foundation, but we also see the worthy and admirable values of Max himself.
Jane, Larry and the Foundation have put into action the responsibility that all of our Jewish communities have: to build relationships as we meet people where they are, engage families in tikkun olam, inspire them—and, most importantly, give them a sense that they have an important role to play in giving to Jewish causes above all and in leading and shaping our shared Jewish future.
True to Max’s vision, that’s what “trustees of our Jewish heritage” do best.
Jerry Silverman is president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America
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