Magazine article Tikkun

Fifteen Year$ Ago

Magazine article Tikkun

Fifteen Year$ Ago

Article excerpt

Fifteen Year$ Ago...

Lawrence Bush and Jeffrey Dekro are co-authors of Jews, Money and Social Responsibility. They can be reached at The Shefa Fund, info@shefafund.org. Torah of Money is a service mark of The Shefa Fund.

Fifteen years ago, the movement for socially responsible investment was hitting its stride. Colleges, corporations, foundations, and whole cities were approached, and often convinced, to divest their portfolios of apartheid-linked stocks. The effort peaked in October 1986, when Congress, overriding President Reagan's veto, finally passed a bill implementing mandatory sanctions that prohibited all new investment in South Africa.

The American Jewish community floundered throughout the anti-apartheid campaign, unable to develop a unified position on divestment. Israel's military collaboration with apartheid South Africa had fuzzied American Jewish thinking, which was being polluted generally by neoconservatism and by Likud domination of Israeli politics (and American Jewish lobbying on behalf of Israel).

What could a Jewish anti-apartheid divestment campaign have amounted to, in dollars? According to Dr. Jack Wertheimer (American Jewish Year Book, 1997), the annual fundraising campaign of the United Jewish Appeal-Jewish Federations topped $738 million in 1986. This was money that passed quickly through the coffers, however, to fund Jewish agencies and services worldwide. Investable monies that year included an additional $432 million raised from foundations, endowments, and other sources, which brought the total of investable Federation monies to approximately $2 billion. In addition, the religious sector--synagogues, religious schools, day schools, summer camps--was commanding annual revenues of nearly $2 billion, a small chunk of which was also investable, and Jewish family foundations were beginning to mushroom in numbers and assets. In total, at least a billion Jewish institutional dollars could easily have been added to the nearly $600 billion of American investments "screened" against apartheid.

In subsequent years, investable funds have come to constitute as much as 50 percent, or even more, of the $1.5 billion now raised annually by the Federation system. In fact, the "umbrella" style of federated giving, while still prodigious, today accounts for less than 15 percent of tzedakah given to Jewish causes. More than 7,500 Jewish family foundations now exist under Federation supervision, according to Wertheimer, and thousands more have been established independently. …

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