HOW IT ALL BEGAN
In 1981, two leading Jewish families in Orange County, the Feuersteins and Fainbargs, had a vision for our future – one that would allow local donors to invest their money in such a way as to ensure the growth and continuity of this vibrant Jewish community. Thus was born the Jewish Community Foundation Orange County (Foundation), completely separate from all other local Jewish organizations, with an ongoing commitment to being the endowment arm of Jewish OC. As described in The Tustin News eleven years after its founding, “The Jewish Community Foundation Orange County provides … vehicles for individuals and organizations to meet their own charitable giving and financial goals, [from which it] establishes permanent funding sources that provide for the growth and security of the Jewish community in Orange County.” 40 years later, this independent and non-denominational Jewish nonprofit is stronger than ever. With its outstanding reputation for reliability, transparency, and confidentiality, combined with solid investment strategies, today’s Foundation has over $100 million in held assets. Through the guidance of more than 50 local lay leaders, the Foundation continues to facilitate effective philanthropy for the benefit of our entire community, now and into the future.
The Foundation empowers individuals to engage in effective and meaningful giving that promotes Jewish identity, supports a high quality of Jewish life, and benefits the people of Orange County and Jewish communities around the world. It does this by planning for the continuation of philanthropy into the future, guided by the Jewish values set down by the founders:
• Tzedakah (justice): Ethical and moral responsibility
• Derech Eretz (literally “way of the land” but translates as “proper behavior”): Transparency, accountability, excellent governance
• Dor L’Dor (generation to generation): Continuity of Jewish values and traditions
• Kavod (respect): Integrity and truthfulness
• Torah (learning): Jewish wisdom and teachings
A TWO-PRONGED APPROACH
The Foundation supports the Orange County Jewish community in two ways: first, by providing financial services to local donors at all giving levels, and second, by providing funds from those donations to our local Jewish organizations. Some of the financial services available to donors include:
• Donor Advised Funds: Similar to a checking account, but specifically for charitable giving. Donors deposit money into a fund, get an immediate tax deduction and recommend gifts to charities of their choice.
• Endowments: A fund to support charities of the donor’s choice, in perpetuity. Donors include individuals, families, and nonprofits.
• Bequests: A gift in the donor’s will or trust.
• Create a Jewish Legacy/Life & Legacy program: This program, available to the entire community, provides an easy and meaningful way for donors to leave a Jewish Legacy of their own. By donating through Life & Legacy to a will, trust, retirement account or life insurance policy, donors are assured that the traditions and institutions that mean so much to them will be there for future generations. And it’s working! As of today, 785 Orange County individuals and families have already committed to leaving legacy gifts to 16 local Jewish nonprofits.
• Endowment Book of Life program: This, in essence, is a pledge. By signing the Endowment Book of Life, anyone, regardless of age or wealth, promises to leave a permanent endowment to the local Jewish community. The inscription the donor includes in their pledge details the values, vision, history, and hope that inspired their commitment. Foundation honors Life & Legacy donors who have signed their Letter of Intent at the annual Endowment Book of Life Celebration.
Because of the generosity of our community, the Foundation is able to provide the following resources, among others, to Orange County’s Jewish nonprofits:
• Custodial Funds: Funds managed by the Foundation for the benefit of local Jewish institution partners, including investment, accounting, and administration services, as well as planned giving support and resources.
• Endowment Funds: The Foundation partners with community nonprofits to build and administer endowment funds catered to their needs.
• Grants: Funded primarily through endowed gifts, Foundation donors have made possible 420 community grants, totaling more than $2.2 million, from 1991, when the Grants Program began, through 2020.
As noted by Wendy Chase Arenson, the Foundation’s executive director and president, “One of the best attributes of the Foundation is that our purpose is to empower you – our community members – along with charitable organizations. We are here to serve individuals and families by ensuring their philanthropic giving is easy, tax efficient and purposeful. We serve our local Jewish nonprofits by providing them with governance and legacy initiative training, marketing materials and incentive grants at no cost, on top of providing grants through our committees. And we serve the greater community by facilitating donor advised giving to over 600 nonprofits every year.”
There are numerous examples of the Foundation in action; one in particular is the Albert Weissman & Rhoda Yvette Weissman Endowment Fund, established in 2017. The Weissmans were deeply involved in the arts and wanted to encourage local Jewish arts and arts-related programming. Their legacy gift was used to create the Weissman Arts Grants Program, a joint program of the Foundation and Jewish Federation of Orange County. As of 2021, grants have been used for a wide variety of Jewish arts enrichment, including visiting guest artists, cooking classes, arts programs for those with disabilities and more.
A second is the Life & Legacy Program, established here in 2012 by Ms. Arenson in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Life & Legacy currently has 72 participating communities throughout North America. Proudly, Orange County was among the first to implement the program, frequently serves as a role model for success and has spearheaded this initiative longer than any other community. With 785 legacy commitments worth an estimated future value of $20 million (and $11.5 million already realized), this is an incredible investment in the future of Jewish Orange County!
One final example was this past year, when the pandemic hit full-force and nonprofit organizations were especially hard hit. The Foundation stepped up immediately to provide COVID-specific grants (in addition to its regular grants process) to those in need, streamlining the process to make sure funds went where they were needed, quickly.
As the Foundation celebrates 40 years of service, our Orange County Jewish community is immensely proud of its impact on Jewish life now, but even more so of the legacy we’re leaving for the future. The Foundation’s unique role is to ensure that our children, and our children’s children, experience a rich and meaningful Jewish life. M’dor l’dor—from generation to generation—is the Jewish value we make happen, every single day.
As the Foundation’s Chair of the Board Gideon Bernstein says, “One of our earliest board chairs once told me that his vision for the Foundation was to ‘Guarantee a Jewish Tomorrow.’ I think we can be proud to add that our success is now also ‘Guaranteeing a Jewish Today.’”
Dalia Taft is the archivist of the Orange County Jewish Historical Society and writes a monthly column highlighting images from the society’s archives. She is also chair of the Jewish Community Foundation Grants Committee and co-chair of the Weissman Arts Grants Committee. To reach the Jewish Community Foundation OC, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 949.435.3490.