Jonathan Cohen and Ellie Friedman [NIF’s founders] asked me to help plan an entity that would provide funding and assistance to Israeli organizations that were working in areas ignored by mainstream Jewish philanthropy. I had lived for almost two years in Israel and written a book-length report on the occupation.
We had dinner at their house and ours and worked on the structure of what would become the New Israel Fund. As conceived, it had a few singular characteristics. Shatil, a unit of the Fund would provide active assistance to grant recipients to increase their effectiveness and viability. Another unique element was dual boards; one in the US and one in Israel. Israelis would be active and equal participants in the process of identification of problems, entities capable of making a difference, and the allocation of the Fund’s aid. Using active litigation as a tool to accelerate change was a third element in the formulation.
Later, I worked on establishing the first advisory council, now called Regional Councils. The objective was to give donors an opportunity to participate in policy formulation and to be more involved than simply writing an annual check and reading about the achievements. The first meeting was held in my law office. The model was replicated all over the US and I was a participating member for a number of years.
As I look back over the metamorphosis of NIF, I am happy to feel that I may have suggested elements of the structure which increased its effectiveness as a change agent. Jonathan and Ellie deserve all the credit for their vision and the determination to make it a reality.
Other than our children, most of what we do in life is evanescent. It’s gratifying to leave a positive residue. To that end, Judy and I have both made financial contributions to institutions that have been meaningful in our lives. Our commitment to the NIF Legacy Campaign reflects our conviction that NIF has had a palpable positive impact on all aspects of the Israeli society. We are happy to have had a role in its formation and want our involvement to transcend our finite lives.
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