The Jewish Future Pledge ensures funding for the Jewish Future
By Ilene Schneider
“We are working to ignite a surge in Jewish
pride, secure funds to ensure the Jewish
future, and spark critical intergenerational
conversations about why the Jewish
BUSINESS EXECUTIVE AND philanthropist Mike Leven grew up in a Jewish household, went to a Jewish camp, and worked at a Jewish camp. He went to college, became an attorney, got married, had children, and joined a synagogue in a variety of different places where he lived during the time between ages 24 and 48. At 48 Mike became president of a company in Atlanta, Georgia. He received a call from the head of the annual giving campaign for the Jewish Federation. “He said you’re going to give a $5,000 donation to the Federation, which put me in a young leadership program.” Leven got involved and has been involved ever since, discovering and returning to his roots and participating in many legacy Jewish organizations. As time went on and he had more resources, he became more involved, from a giving standpoint. His children saw what he was doing and began to do likewise. Leven currently serves on the boards of The Marcus Foundation; AEPi Fraternity Foundation; Birthright Israel Foundation; Board of Advisors of Prager University; HERSHA Hospitality Trust; Independent Women’s Voice; Turning Point USA Board of Advisors and SESTRA Group.
However, he sensed a problem. As he explained, “One of the big issues facing the Jewish community is engagement with the organized Jewish community – the legacy organizations. How do you get people involved if they don’t have any kind of background? About 30 percent of the Jewish population is involved in the Jewish community. What will happen to future generations?”
He added, “The Jewish community is at a crossroads. A rising percentage of young people are disconnecting from their Jewish identity and Israel. Jewish institutions are struggling to attract the next generation of donors. We are working to ignite a surge in Jewish pride, secure funds to ensure the Jewish future, and spark critical intergenerational conversations about why the Jewish people matter.”
Inspired by Warren Buffet’s and Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge, Mike co-founded the Jewish Future Pledge to carry on his family’s commitment to Judaism. Leven explained, “I got into the Jewish future pledge, because I want to make sure that 30 percent continue their involvement to the next generation and to the generation after the next generation. The problem is that so many Jewish organizations need support from the existing donors that they spend most of their time on the existing customers and forget the fact that they have to find new customers, so I set up the organization differently.”
The Jewish Future Pledge is a worldwide movement inspiring Jews to make a commitment that from the funds they leave to charity at their passing, at least half will be earmarked to support the Jewish people and/or the State of Israel. Taking the Pledge sends a signal to family, friends, and the community that the Jewish Future matters. The Pledge is not a fundraiser for a specific Jewish organization or a commitment for a specific amount of money. It is a moral commitment to the Jewish people, whether people plan to leave $10 or $10 million to charity.
Leven, who has served as the chairman and chief executive officer of the Georgia Aquarium, president and chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, chairman and chief executive officer of US Franchise Systems, president and chief operating officer of Holiday Inn Worldwide, and president of Days Inn of America, said that $68 trillion will transfer to the next generation in the next 25 years. About 20 percent of these charitable dollars will be given by Jewish donors. The Jewish Future Pledge aims to ensure that half of the amount allocated to charity by these Jewish donors, more than $600 billion, is set aside for Jewish causes.
Leven explained, “The reason I did it was because I saw David Horowitz from the Times of Israel give a lecture a number of years ago. He said he’s worried about the wealth transfer and whether that portion of wealth will be delivered in the same way it’s being delivered today. So that’s the reason I started the Jewish Future Pledge, and then I came up with the Jewish Youth Pledge, because I think we have to start earlier than that. I’m not resting only on the people who are the parents and grandparents and great-grandparents. I want to see kids making sure that they pledge to commit themselves to the Jewish future and Israel’s future.”
He concluded, “One of the things I’m proud of is we have 12,500 signatures already. If you even take $25,000 a signature that’s going to be left Jewishly, which is a low average considering that we have some big donors and major foundations involved, we’re talking about a serious amount of money. We’re running at about 1000 signatures a month on each pledge at the moment. We even have a number of pledges from people who don’t appear to be Jews. We have signatures from all over the world, but the majority of the money that’s given is from the United States and Canada to Jewish causes and Israel.”
THE JEWISH YOUTH PLEDGE
Asking Jewish teens and young adults around the globe to commit to being active, contributing members of the Jewish community throughout their lives, the Jewish Youth Pledge attempts to spark Jewish pride to give Jewish youth, ages 13 to 24, the motivation and confidence to contribute to a strong Jewish future. A first-of-its-kind initiative, the Jewish Youth Pledge asks Jewish teens and young adults to commit to being active, contributing members of the Jewish community throughout their lives. There are three steps. Using a turnkey program, young people work with a pre-planned lesson, including videos and discussion prompts, to engage with their Jewish heritage and role in the Jewish community. After completing the Jewish Youth Pledge program, participants are asked to write a letter to their future selves answering questions such as, “If you could meet yourself in the future, what would you hope to hear that you had accomplished or contributed?” The letter is stored in a secure Digital Time Capsule and shared with participants at key junctures throughout the next two decades of their lives.