Fostering Positive Change
As I write this, Targum Shlishi is nearing the quarter-century mark and has supported more than five hundred initiatives, all with the objective of fostering positive change in the Jewish world. The foundation has evolved tremendously in those years, both in response to the challenges and needs that have faced the Jewish world and as a result of expansion and maturation.
Targum Shlishi was founded in 1992, after I sold my publication company in New York. When I looked at the organized Jewish community I saw parameters, priorities, and structures into which I knew I could not fit. I saw funding organizations that were well-intentioned but that were guided by priorities I considered misplaced. There was overlap of purpose; there were organizations collecting huge sums of money but representing only their own very narrow interests. Little power was in the hands of thought leaders with genuine commitments to their communities—the clergy, academics, and activists.
While we understand and respect the roles of the larger mainstream organizations and the generous donors who fund them, we focus on projects that include these often-neglected thought leaders in the process. We are interested in projects that allow us to contribute financial and venture resources in manners that amplify the potential of the grantee, with the hope that each successful project will impact the community in a significant way and eventually alert the larger organizations to such opportunities.
While Targum Shlishi has allocated a small percentage of its distributions to traditional charities, the better part of our focus—and all of our heart—is on innovative initiatives that have the potential to positively change the status quo. We tend not to fund the groups we grew up with. Because of the size and budgets of long-standing, well-funded national Jewish organizations, we would not be able to meaningfully impact projects and their direction. Rather, we seek out groups that can help us look at problems in a new light and that stimulate us to find forward-thinking solutions.
In its first decade, the foundation deliberately maintained an extremely low profile, almost to the point of anonymity. During its second decade through the present, we abandoned anonymity in favor of building a presence, a platform, and a voice in the Jewish world. We believe that we have much to offer and that being recognized for our accomplishments and our aspirations will not only help us get things done, as in the case of joining with other funders on select projects, but that as a foundation, our philosophy can serve as an example and an inspiration.
As we near our quarter-century mark, it is clear that there remains much to be done. At times, the possibilities seem endless and at once exhilarating and overwhelming. With nearly 25 years and more than 500 projects to our credit, our objective remains exactly as it was when we set out: to support constructive, creative change for the greater good. Likewise, our method is the same: to seek out the most promising projects and organizations, determine how best we can help them, and then help them. For a foundation dedicated to promoting change, some things remain the same.
And yet, we’ve learned much from the past 24 years, from both our successes and our failures. We have learned, for example, that substance wins over style, every time. We would rather support a great idea from a small, struggling organization than a vague notion from a high-profile group or personality; vague notions have a way of dissolving, while great ideas remain just that. We have learned that a great idea can be replicated, and we derive substantial satisfaction from supporting the implementation of successful projects in new communities.
The amounts we distribute are small compared with the mega-funds available in the broader Jewish landscape. But we allocate our grants strategically, with specific goals and achievements in mind and with built-in follow-up mechanisms. Our objective is to employ the same creativity, efficiency, and criteria for accountability in the philanthropic world that we successfully employed in the for-profit world.
After years of stagnation, a renaissance—spearheaded by a new generation of activists and funded by a few visionary philanthropists—is underway within the Jewish community. If this renaissance is to continue, the Jewish community needs to tap into this rich vein of energy and funding. If we fail to do so, donors will go elsewhere, activists will find other causes, and we will miss out on extraordinary opportunities.
As a people we have always believed that history has a purpose and that all Jews are responsible for one another. We face formidable challenges to our physical well-being and spiritual survival in both Israel and the Diaspora. These challenges require creative and novel approaches if we are to find solutions and to endure as a thriving people. It is time to redouble our efforts, time to take action, if we are to uphold our proud tradition as a “light unto the nations.” It is time for new ideas.
At Targum Shlishi, we are seeking these new ideas.