Big Mitzvah message: Today you are a philanthropist

It’ll sure look like a bar mitzvah party: a speech about the Torah portion, goofy sunglasses, DJs and dancing girls. But organizers of the Big Mitzvah won’t be celebrating a 13th birthday. Instead, they mark the coming-of-age of a new generation of Bay Area Jewish philanthropists.

Mathew Goldman

The Big Mitzvah takes place Jan. 26 at San Francisco’s famed Fillmore. The bash, which organizers hope will draw 350 people and raise thousands of dollars, is a project of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and its Young Funders Impact Grants Initiative (IGI).

On tap are performances by Jewish comedian Nathan Habib (who will give the bar mitzvah speech), rapper Lyrics Born and the female DJ duo the Jane Doze. The event is scheduled to run from 7 p.m. until midnight, and profits will go to such IGI grantees as Reboot, G-dcast and the JCC in Palo Alto.

As an added bonus — and as a sample taste of how the Young Funders IGI works — partygoers will get to participate in a “speed round” that will decide how much of the funds raised by the Big Mitzvah will be allotted to which organizations.

Avital Ungar

“The concept is to take what we did in IGI and empower it to the people,” committee member Avital Ungar said.

“IGI does two things at once,” explained David Katznelson, the federation’s director of strategy. “One, it builds a community of new leaders and philanthropists while, two, strategically funneling money into the community. We bring people around the table, and they learn how to do philanthropy together.”

The Young Funders group is just one of the IGI groups that the federation has created within the past year, aiming to bring people into the philanthropy process who normally aren’t involved.

Other IGI committees include a South Bay group, a North Bay group, one composed of Russian American Jews, and another focused on Israel.

The Young Funders group, which is overseen by Katznelson and Debbie Berkowitz, the director of young adult philanthropy for the federation, was formed in large part because young adults are traditionally a tough sell when it comes to getting involved in Jewish philanthropy.

Brothers Matthew and Jason Goldman,  26-year-old grandsons of the late philanthropist Richard Goldman, had the idea for the Young Funders group while participating in the initial IGI pilot program. They thought their 20-something age group should be involved, as well, and 18 people soon formed a group.

“There was a wide range of experience,” Matthew Goldman said of his fellow committee members. “From people who never had tangible experience with philanthropy to one member who is executive director of a nonprofit.”

“There was an instant click,” said Emma Mayerson, 25, program director of the Alliance for Girls. “We were all sitting around the table, talking about the impact we want to have on the world.”

The Young Funders IGI was given $200,000 from various federation entities with which to make grants. The committee raised an additional $30,000 out of their pockets and through solicitations of their peers.

The Goldman brothers were co-chairs of the committee, which officially has reached the end of the line. The $230,000 has been disbursed — and an all-new cohort will be formed soon — but the Young Funders members continue to meet and check the progress of their grantees.

“The people in this group are incredibly inspiring,” said Ungar, 27. “Being surrounded by them and learning the formal process in which people give to organizations was extremely valuable.”

As for the Big Mitzvah party, organizers promise a shindig for the ages.

“We’re taking all the elements of our bar/bat mitzvahs in the ’90s and reliving them,” Matthew Goldman said. “We want to be a little nostalgic.”

Katznelson said some older local philanthropists are concerned whether the next generation has what it takes to assume the mantle of leadership in the Jewish community. But after seeing what the first group of Young Funders has accomplished, he is not worried.

“When you see these young people, so smart with how they engage in Jewish philanthropy and sustaining the community, it’s really refreshing and inspiring,” he said.

The Big Mitzvah, 7 p.m.-midnight Jan. 26 at the Fillmore, 1805 Geary St., S.F. $36 advance, $45 at door, $100 for VIP reception., or (415) 777-0411

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at