The Power of the Cirlce

by Tamar Snyder

Staff Writer: Jewish Week of New York

The Power Of The Circle: the Next Phase in Jewish Philanthropy
Rochelle Kleter never pictured herself as a philanthropist. The first-generation American, born to parents who grew up in the Ukraine, had a hard time finding her place in the Jewish community. “I was one of the only Jewish kids in the public school system†in East Hanover, N.J., she said. “I didn’t know what it meant to keep kosher for Passover. And when I took Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur off as personal days, I was made fun of.â€
Yet two months after participating in a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip, Kleter, a financial analyst with Citibank, enrolled in a crash course on Judaism. She learned to read Hebrew and recently had a bat mitzvah at the age of 25. After discovering her faith, she says, she wanted to give back, to practice the mitzvah of tzedakah. But she didn’t have much to give and she didn’t want to go it alone.

So she joined Birthright NEXT’s Young Philanthropist Committee, a group of 20 Birthright alumni who each contributed $250 to a communal giving pot (previous YPC groups gave a minimum donation of $500, but the amount was lowered due to the tough economic climate). Birthright matched the combined $5,000, effectively leveraging the individual $250 contributions into a sizeable $10,000 donation.

Over the course of three months, the group met weekly at a conference room in Manhattan’s Diamond District. They learned how to evaluate grants and met with philanthropists like Charles Bronfman (“He’s a calm, little man who looks like everybody’s grandpa, but he’s unbelievably generous with the amount of money he gives away,†Kleter said). They were each responsible for researching a Jewish charity worthy of the group’s collective funds.