The Giving Pledge sets an excellent example for all

It took the world’s richest trio –– Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett –– to get the big green ball rolling. When they asked 40 of America’s richest to donate at least half their net worth to charity, they were not disappointed.

The Giving Pledge means that $125 billion has now been earmarked for various charities in the years ahead.

Among the 40 were many Jews, including a handful from the Bay Area. Their names should be well-known to j. readers: Lorry Lokey, Bernard and Barbro Osher, Larry Ellison, Herb and Marion Sandler.

These individuals are seasoned givers, for whom philanthropy is like breathing.

By fulfilling the pledge to give half of their assets to charity — in some cases, much more than half — these people will make an incalculable difference in the world. We applaud their commitment.

By the way, many Bay Area Jews worth less than a billion dollars give enormous sums to charities, both Jewish and non-Jewish. They may not be part of the Giving Pledge, but they have pledged to give nonetheless.

It has long been a hallmark of American philanthropy that wealthy Jews contribute not only to Jewish causes, but also to projects that impact the broader community, indeed the whole world.

In the areas of health, the arts, sciences and education, many Jewish philanthropists have made it their mission to make this world a better place for all.

Yet we foresee a flashing red warning sign ahead. Though wealthy Jews routinely give to Jewish causes, there has been a significant decline over the decades in the charitable dollars they give to the Jewish community.

Some, like Lokey and the Oshers, have made Jewish giving a cornerstone of their philanthropy. But those who study the long-term trends forecast that crucial Jewish community needs might get short shrift over time.

What can be done?

For one thing, our local Jewish Community Federations have sought to inoculate against declines with programs that foster philanthropy in young adults and teens. These programs get the next generations excited about giving.

Maybe none of them will end up the next Warren Buffet. The important thing is developing a cadre of young philanthropists who care about ensuring a strong, vital Jewish community, and are willing to invest in it.

The Giving Pledge started with 40 billionaires. It does not have to end there. You don’t need to be a billionaire to give. We urge all to make philanthropy, especially Jewish community philanthropy, a regular part of life. Even if you’re no Bill Gates.