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. â€œI was one of the only Jewish kids in the public school systemâ€ in East Hanover, N.J., she said. â€œI didnâ€™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 didnâ€™t have much to give and she didnâ€™t want to go it alone.
So she joined Birthright NEXTâ€™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 Manhattanâ€™s Diamond District. They learned how to evaluate grants and met with philanthropists like Charles Bronfman (â€œHeâ€™s a calm, little man who looks like everybodyâ€™s grandpa, but heâ€™s unbelievably generous with the amount of money he gives away,â€ Kleter said). They were each responsible for researching a Jewish charity worthy of the groupâ€™s collective funds.