East Bay foundation makes giving personal

Giving money away is a hard job, says Moses Libitzky, but he wants to make it easier for East Bay Jews.

As president of the Jewish Community Foundation (part of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay), Libitzky has a mission to grow the foundation’s endowment fund. He has a first-rate partner in new executive director Lisa Tabak. Together they comprise the foundation’s lay-professional leadership.

Tabak formerly ran the federation’s annual campaign. Now she hopes to increase the foundation’s positive impact on the Jewish community.

“When I came in, there was this beautiful machine that needed to be dusted off and taken for a ride,” she says of the endowment. “We have a great set of donors already, and we want to service them better and offer fantastic ways to help.”

She and Libitzky have reason for optimism. In the past year or so, foundation assets increased from $54 million to $76 million. Both attribute this success in part to the foundation’s expanded choices for donors, particularly with what they call donor-advised funds.

“Society has become much more entrepreneurial in its giving,” says Libitzky. “The old model was: You gave money to an organization and they would do good things with it. Today, people want to be more involved. We provide more opportunities to direct where their dollars go.”

Some of those opportunities take the shape of endowment “platforms” that allow donors to pinpoint their giving. “One [platform] is Jewish education,” says Tabak. “We developed an endowment aimed at kids with special needs. We plan to fund religious schoolteachers who want to teach those kids.”

Other platforms will include Israel and world Jewry, summer camp scholarships, young leadership development and services for Jewish seniors. Moreover, custom designed funds managed by the foundation have contributed millions to donor pet projects, such as leukemia research and university alumni organizations.

“Jewish people tend to be very philanthropic,” says Libitzky. “Say you have a general interest in education. You may not know about all the programs out there. People need to be aware that this vehicle exists.”

Libitzky, a successful real estate investor, has been active in Jewish philanthropy and communal work much of his adult life. The son of Holocaust survivors, he feels a special obligation to give back.

“My parents suffered much and lost much,” he says, adding of his activism, “It’s about my commitment to them and my love for the Jewish community. In my younger days, I explored all kinds of spiritual avenues, but I found everything I was looking for is within Judaism.”

Tabak claims similar devotion. She, too, is the child of two Holocaust survivors, growing up in the Sunset district of San Francisco Tabak cut her teeth working with the S.F.-based federation before crossing the Bay Bridge in 2004. Following her stint as campaign director, she took over the foundation directorship 18 months after Penny Sinder ended her long tenure in the post.

“This was a natural next step for me, helping [the foundation] secure its long-term strength,” she says. “I was approached with the offer and I said, ‘Wow, let me try that one on for size.’ Now it’s really exciting to be working with this dedicated team of lay leaders, led by Moses. I feel fortunate to be working with such a supportive CEO [Loren Basch] and colleagues at the federation.”

Together with their lay volunteers, small professional staff and committee members, Libitzky and Tabak plan to broaden the foundation’s reach across the East Bay, from Berkeley to Contra Costa County. It’s a region with a sizeable Jewish community, but one that presents unique challenges for solicitation.

“Who was it who said all politics is local?” says Libitzky. “The East Bay is such a broad and diverse area, a lot of people tend to focus their giving locally, with their congregations for example. Our job is to establish a federation and foundation presence. The foundation is a vehicle whereby people can take care of their local needs.”

Whatever those needs, Tabak hopes the foundation can help. “My wish list,” she says, “is about heightening Jewish awareness and building Jewish identity, allowing every Jewish person in the East Bay an opportunity to connect in whatever way they desire.”

For more information on the Jewish Community Foundation of the Greater East Bay, call (510) 839-2900 or visit www.jfound.org.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.