Mike Leven heard something in the summer of 2018 that changed his life. And if Leven has his way, his project, the Jewish Future Pledge, is going to change many more.
Leven was at the Jewish Community Center in Aspen, Colorado, listening to a speech from Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz. The coming years, Horovitz told the crowd, would bring a massive transfer of wealth from the oldest generation of American Jews, to their children and grandchildren. And with that transfer, there could come a major change in the financial situation of the institutions that make up American Jewish life.
After all, it’s no given that the recipients of that wealth will necessarily want to see it used in the same way.
This was striking to Leven, 82.
“I didn’t realize what would happen to so much wealth if, in fact, the next generation after my own, and perhaps the generation after that, would not have the same level of interest in the Jewish world that we were trained to have and has been built into us since we were young children,” Leven said.
Since that awakening, Leven, now based in Boca Raton, Florida, has brought together people with similar worries to do something about it. What Leven came up with, working with Philadelphia-based nonprofit executive Amy Holtz and former chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta Mark Silberman, isn’t predicated on asking for money, but for a commitment. “A moral commitment,” in Leven’s words.
“I HEREBY PLEDGE,” the words go, “that upon my passing, 50% or more of all my assets left for charitable purposes will be directed to efforts to strengthen and serve the Jewish people and/or the State of Israel.”
By convincing Jews across the country to sign such a pledge, Leven believes, the future security of Jewish institutions could be guaranteed.
It’s a big idea, one that Leven believes in fervently. The former president and chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. is funding the project himself, hiring marketing professionals and nonprofits execs like Holtz to get the word out.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Holtz said.
Holtz, of Merion, previously led Mosaic United and Jerusalem U, projects that brought her into contact with a wide range of people in the Jewish nonprofit world. What she often saw was that the people who led these nonprofits had to spend too much of their time fundraising, and not enough dedicated to their mission. With the Jewish Future Pledge, she sees a world where that can be a thing of the past.
“We can take fundraising pressure off,” she said.
Leven was impressed by Holtz early on, and Holtz was impressed by Leven and the mission. Now, the pair are co-founders of an organization that they insist is for everyone.
“I feel like I’m learning from my father. It’s a privilege to work with him,” Holtz said.
It’s not a “billionaires club,” Leven told the Times of Israel. Though they will certainly try to get high net worth individuals to sign the pledge — billionaires Charles Bronfman and Bernie Marcus have already signed, after all — the goal is to make the case so conclusively that people of any level of means will sign on, Leven said.
Part of that is stressing to potential signers that the pledge requires only 50% of the charitable funds they’d leave behind support Jewish causes. There’s no restriction as to what can be funded, as long as its Jewish.
“It doesn’t make any difference to me where the resources are going to be spent in the end,” Leven said.
Jews in the U.S. are living in a “golden age of wealth,” Holtz said. To be able to do what the Jewish Future Pledge is proposing to do is an “unbelievable opportunity.”
As of today, more than 300 people have signed the Jewish Future Pledge. Leven dreams of seeing that number hit 1 million, and not just for his own edification: He believes that this is a chance to avoid an unrecognizable Jewish future in the U.S.
“If the diaspora in North America doesn’t do this,” he warned, “the risk is too great.”