Lynn Schusterman - The philanthropist dedicated to uniting Jews worldwide

Schusterman, 76 and of German-Jewish ancestry, is the head of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, which she established with her husband.

Lynn Schusterman (photo credit: Courtesy)
Lynn Schusterman
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It was a family trip, traveling from Oklahoma City to the cobblestoned streets and ancient archways of Jerusalem, that cemented Lynn Schusterman’s connection to the Jewish people.
“Ever since that moment, I have felt that all Jews should have the opportunity to experience that feeling of community and connectedness to each other and to Israel,” Schusterman wrote in an email to The Jerusalem Post.
Schusterman, 76 and of German-Jewish ancestry, is the head of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, which she established with her husband. The main goals of the foundation and its many offshoots, including the Schusterman-Israel Foundation, the ROI Community, a network of young Jewish leaders and entrepreneurs, and the Jerusalem Season of Culture are strengthening community, supporting arts and culture and child advocacy, and in the Israel branch, strengthening Jewish education and connection to Israel.
“Just as we rely on Israel as a continual source of inspiration and renewal, Israel relies on us,” Schusterman writes as explanation for her passion for helping young Jews experience Israel and strengthen their Jewish identity. “There is so much we can do to share Israel’s promise and potential, and to help people understand how the Jewish and human values upon which Israel was built – democracy, freedom of expression and progress through innovation – drive its creativity, complexity, beauty and depth.”
When Charles died in 2000, Lynn became the head of their philanthropic powerhouse. Forbes put her net worth at around $3.7 billion, made from her husband’s oil and gas company and other investments.
The philanthropic arm continues to grow and as one of the top 50 most influential Jews, Schusterman’s leadership, poise, wisdom and empathy are all qualities that benefit the organization and the Jewish people.
Can you share a moment of professional hardship and how you overcame it?
When my husband, Charles, passed away in 2000, I took over as chair of our family’s foundation. As I was mourning his loss, I also had to keep the foundation moving forward and to chart a course into what was then a very male-dominated philanthropic world.
It was not easy; there were meetings where I was ignored, my comments and recommendations overlooked. But I was determined and, along the way, I benefited from the wisdom and partnership of many incredible role models and peers. I also learned to develop my own leadership style, to find the core issues on which to focus my energy and, perhaps most importantly, to develop a talented professional staff to help me guide the foundation into the 21st century.
My experience has taught me that women must play a major – and equal – role to that of men in shaping the Jewish future.
More women are rising to the highest positions in Jewish philanthropy and communal leadership and are helping to lead the way in Jewish innovation. Even more, we are currently raising a generation of smart, passionate, capable Jewish women – my own granddaughters included – who will influence and change our community in unimaginable and positive ways.
In your opinion, are there fundamental qualities that unite the Jewish people, regardless of religious observance or cultural norms?
The Jewish people are very diverse, and I believe this rich tapestry of identities and experiences strengthens our community.
The strongest thread that binds us as a global people is our shared values: a commitment to repair the world, to serve others, to build strong families and communities, to ensure all have the opportunity to learn, to seek justice and to treat everyone with mercy, kindness, care and respect.
I am passionate about helping the next generation of Jews draw on these values to inform the way they work, love, live and give. I know that for young Jews, being Jewish is one aspect of a multifaceted identity that is constantly shifting as they develop new skills and talents. From one day to the next, they are students, social activists, global citizens, entrepreneurs, friends, siblings, partners – and also Jews.
I also know that young Jews today are eager to live purposeful lives, to make a positive impact and to be part of something larger than themselves.
I want them to see that Jewish values can be a driver for achieving these goals and that the universal values that inspire them to act as leaders are also Jewish values that emanate from the core of Jewish thought and tradition.
What are the most important elements in empowering young entrepreneurs? Is it raising the capital for their project, or fostering opportunities for personal connections?
When I think about how best to support young Jewish entrepreneurs, I am reminded of a powerful maxim: Give a person a fish, feed her for a day. Teach her to fish, she can start a business and feed her family (and her community) for a lifetime.
I want to ensure young entrepreneurs learn to fish, which is why we place our emphasis on helping them to build the connections they need to be successful over the course of their careers.
Within the ROI Community, Schusterman’s global network of entrepreneurs and change-makers, we use the concept of “connect and create.”
We provide individuals with ongoing opportunities to expand their personal and strategic networks so they can form partnerships and offer each other the support and inspiration to test, scale and create new projects. These in-person experiences are further reinforced by professional development opportunities that can be customized to deepen the skills of the individual.
As I tell many young people in the Schusterman network, some ideas will succeed and some will not, but the partnerships and skills they gain along the way will prove essential not only to raising capital but to becoming leaders capable of creating substantive and lasting change.
What are the benefits or hopeful outcomes of engaging non-Jews in connection to Israel and connection to the Jewish people? Who are the people advocating for Israel that Jews should be aware of? Who are those speaking against Israel?
Israel is a fount of inspiration for people regardless of whether they are Jewish or not. A spiritual center and a leader in technology, entrepreneurship, business, science and arts and culture, Israel attracts people of all backgrounds to learn, work, invest and explore.
It is incredible to see how deeply and personally Israel resonates with citizens and visitors. It is critical that we provide opportunities for people to engage with Israel and form connections based on their own interests and experiences, both so they will develop a lifelong relationship with Israel and also so they will share Israel with their peers, family and colleagues.
I was reminded of this recently when I spoke to a group of business students who were in Israel to intern with leading Israeli companies.
The students expressed how eager they were to spread the word to their friends and peers back home about all that Israel has to offer. It is these types of experiences and connections that will truly change the narrative around Israel on our campuses and in our communities.
On a broader scale, we also need to look at the influential voices of investors, artists and performers who have the potential and the platform to carry a powerful message about the values for which Israel stands. They can help to convey a richer, more nuanced perspective on Israel, just as those students are doing in their classrooms and on their campuses.
What is your hope for Israel in the next 20 years, either internally or on the world stage – achievements, progress, innovations, or otherwise?
My greatest hope is that we will see a day when Israel will stand tall as a symbol of belonging across the Jewish world, and when global citizens will look to Jerusalem as the vibrant, modern, inclusive capital of Israel.
I hope we will see a day when Israel will be respected and appreciated as the Jewish homeland, and a full and legitimate modern state.
I hope we will see a day when Israel will be a natural part of media and academic discourse, covered from diverse perspectives by growing ranks of outstanding journalists and scholars.
Most importantly, I hope we will see a day when Israel can fulfill its calling as a light unto the nations and achieve the hopes and dreams of its citizens, of the Jewish community and of the world at large.