Jewish Donors Fund Civil Liberties at Unprecedented Rates Post-Election

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November 28, 2016; Forward

The Forward reports that following November’s election, Jewish donors are donating at a rate far higher than usual to civil rights and civil liberties groups. Many will remember that as the election wound down, a high number of bias-related incidents were reported, with a number being anti-Semitic. The Forward ran an article on the topic the day before Election Day.

Heidi Feldman, a professor at Georgetown Law, says, “In addition to supporting more general organizations, I thought it was important, with the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-black rhetoric, to support organizations with a historic tie to the Jewish and African-American communities.” At that time, she made a monthly pledge to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and to the NAACP as an investment in the future.

“Things would have to get pretty horrible financially for me to go back on [donating],” said Feldman. “I consider it an ethical and moral choice.”

ADL has seen a 50 percent increase in donations since Election Day. The National Council of Jewish Women has also seen a significant uptick. Robert Bank, president and CEO of American Jewish World Services, described the flow of funds as “tikkun olam [repair of the world] on steroids.”

Even at the Forward itself, where journalists “have received tweets and phone calls with Holocaust imagery and threats over the course of the whole election campaign,” donations poured in at five times their usual rate the week following the election. Michael Sarid, the Forward’s chief development officer, said donors are “responding like they’ve never responded before.”

Aimee Levitt, writing for the Forward, reports that both ADL and NCJW have been clear about their political positions on appointments like that of Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions, and about divisive issues such as reproductive rights.

The increase in Jewish philanthropy post-election comes as no surprise to David Teutsch, former president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and current director of its Center for Jewish Ethics. “The word tzedakah [charity] comes from tzaddik [righteous one],” he explained. “We all have the obligation to ensure justice. There’s no reason to believe that if the anti-Semitic incidents continue, there won’t be more money in the Jewish community flowing to civil liberties and defense organizations.” On the other hand, the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, a human services group that takes no political positions, has seen no increase from the usual.

For their part, the organizations are happy to receive. “It’s good news and bad news,” said Nancy Kaufman of the NCJW. “We need the funds to strengthen our messaging. It’s a whole new game. I’ve never seen anything like this.”—Ruth McCambridge