Donor wants more aid to Jewish causes

"If Jews don't give to their own, no one else will," philanthropist Oudi Recanati tells the Post.

"If Jews don't give to their own, no one else will," believes Israeli businessman and philanthropist Oudi Recanati, speaking to The Jerusalem Post last week in the wake of the Jewish Funders Network gathering in Jerusalem. The network is an organization that wants to offer Jewish donors - those who contribute at least $25,000 a year to causes related to Jewish values - the ability to learn from each other, collaborate on philanthropic projects and locate new targets for donations. In a sign of the times for Jewish philanthropy, it is also serving to link up American Jewish donors and foundations with a new breed of Israeli philanthropists. For Recanati, who donated an international school to the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, two wings of Beilinson Hospital and served as the former president of the Maccabi World Union, this connection is crucial to the Jewish future. Currently, he believes, American Jews' philanthropy may signal that they are not as attached to their Jewish identity as they could be. "I joined JFN when I discovered that major Jewish donors in the United States give maybe $10-12 billion each year. Only about 6 percent of that goes to with Jewish activities or Israel. That scared me. When I saw that I said, 'we're moving away from Judaism and Israel.' Now when I see an endowment of $100 million given by Jews to Harvard or Stanford, I know others would have given it. But nobody will give to Jewish causes. So I hope American Jews will become part of the Jewish people first and Americans second." Recanati understands why donors do this. "I'm not criticizing. It's their money and they can give it however they want. A person's environment influences them a lot. If there's a struggling hospital in [a donor's] hometown or a synagogue that someone attends, they will tend to donate to that institution." Besides, he says, "Israelis are as provincial as Americans. Over 80% of what I give goes to Israel. In this regard, more and more I'm discovering that American Jews are American first and Jewish second." Calling himself "very non-religious," with part of his childhood spent in America and currently residing in Switzerland, Recanati nevertheless defines himself as Israeli and says this identification keeps him close to the Jewish people. "They tell me it's not okay to say this: I'm a Jew because I'm Israeli. And the Jewish people are important to me. It's important to me that everywhere I go in the world there are people who identify with values similar to mine." That basic sense of belonging needs to be strengthened among Jewish philanthropists worldwide, he believes. Indeed, he joined the JFN in part because "I want to encourage those Jews, mainly in the United States, to contribute to the Jewish people." But first, he wants Israelis to contribute more. "There's a change in the Israeli mentality. The hard years after the founding of the state taught Israeli society to schnor, to take money from America or from Europeans with guilty consciences. That mentality is changing. Israelis aren't suffering so much anymore. There's a small layer in society that can contribute greatly." Now, he believes, Israeli philanthropists should take the lead in Jewish philanthropy in order to inspire overseas Jews to do the same. "One of the goals of JFN is to bring Israelis to hear the plight of the Jewish people - to give them access to the Jewish people so they can give more than they have done. Our activities can be contagious for American Jews. This is about fulfilling our own Zionism, not teaching them theirs."