Holocaust Education - the parallels between now and then

By Andres Spokoiny, CEO, Jewish Funders Network

Last November, as part of a visit organized with Australian Jewish Funders (AJF), I had the pleasure of speaking for a group of JCA leaders in Sydney. Besides being impressed by the strength and vitality of the Sydney Jewish Community and the JCA as its flagship institution, I was also able to discuss with communal leaders, the changes to Jewish philanthropy around the world.

Jewish Funders Network and AJF are, in fact, the only two organizations in the Jewish world exclusively dedicated to working with and for funders, and that gives us a unique perch from where to observe the mutations and transformations of that field.

Those changes have been gestating for decades and are related to the acceleration of modernity since the end of the 20th century. The 21st century gave rise to the “hyper-empowered individual”; a human being that has more freedom and agency than ever before in human history. The 21st-century individual interacts directly with the world without intermediaries and has unprecedented freedom of choice in every aspect of her life. As Tolstoy said, Jews are like everybody else, just more so, and therefore, Jews are especially affected by these changes. They are challenging traditional organizations and looking for greater opportunities for self-expression and self-realization. Jews of today don’t want to be constrained by organizational boundaries and connect with Judaism in different, more fluid ways. While these changes challenge some so-called “legacy organizations”, they also open the floodgates of creativity and entrepreneurship in Jewish life, something upon which initiatives like LaunchPad try to capitalize.

This new “zeitgeist” naturally impacts the world of philanthropy. Funders now want more choice in their giving and more personal involvement since that allows them to make a distinct and unique contribution. The key concept for donors today, and what most motivates their giving is not “obligation” but “impact.” Funders, who are becoming more strategic and focused want to measure and evaluate how their giving is achieving goals and actualizing a philanthropic vision.

Besides these epochal changes, my visit was conducted under the shadow of the October 7th massacres and as battles raged in Gaza, so I could reflect on the role of philanthropy in the crisis and the lessons learned for the nonprofit community.

October 7th and its aftermath showed the critical importance of a robust philanthropic and nonprofit system. It’s no secret that the government of Israel was either absent or ineffectual during the first weeks of the crisis and it fell on the philanthropic sectors to mount an effective response and serve urgent needs.

What we saw then was that capacity building is vital. Many times, funders push organizations to be uber-efficient, and cut things that are seen as “overhead.” The result is that organizations are left without the structural capacity to respond to crises. What we saw in Israel, however, is that organizations that best responded to October 7th were those that had a strong presence on October 6th. In other words, the best time to prepare an organization for a crisis is before the crisis. When the crisis hit is generally too late.

Another important lesson is the centrality of cooperation and coordination. Again, those mechanisms work best when they exist before and independently of the crisis. JFN, for example, has long had regular communications with the IDF’s Home Front Command and thus could immediately direct philanthropic resources to priority areas.

In Australia, sadly, I observed the historic uptick of antisemitism that I’ve seen in other places around the world. But I’ve also seen how Jews, especially the young, are finding comfort and purpose in Jewish organizations. In the US, Hillels (student centers) have seen a 10% increase in attendance, the teen organization BBYO, has around 12%, and Jewish Day Schools are expecting a 15% bump in recruitment. At the same time, security needs are skyrocketing. Hillels alone will need a staggering 35 million USD to secure their hundreds of facilities.

All this is to say that now it’s not the moment to defund local organizations in order to support Israel. This is arguably the biggest crisis that our generation will face, and our response has to be commensurate with the challenge. Support to Israel has to be bold and generous, but it needs to be above and beyond our continued support of local needs. Residents in a Sydney Jewish Old Age Home shouldn’t be penalized because of Hamas’s action, and neither should young Jews who now need their community more than ever.

I’m sure that JCA agrees!