When Dorothy Saxe was a child in Michigan City, Indiana, her parents kept a blue pushke (tzedakah box) on the top of the basement stairs, and they regularly fed it with donations. During the Depression, those coins were sorely needed.
“I remember a lot of unfortunate people coming to the door, and my folks always having something for them, food or money,” Dorothy said. “There must have been some big map showing the way to our house.”
Saxe has continued that tradition of philanthropy her whole life. She and her husband George Saxe, a successful real estate developer who died in 2010, became actively involved with numerous Jewish, charitable and arts organizations after moving to the Bay Area in 1959. And with three children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, she’s passed that commitment to philanthropy along to the next generation.
“[Philanthropy] was modeled by the behavior of our parents and grandparents,” explained Dorothy’s grandson Aaron Saxe, 34, who serves professionally as philanthropic adviser for the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. “I would see my dad go off to board meetings and committees.”
Board meetings and committees have filled the Saxe family calendars: Aaron’s father, Loren Saxe, has served on the board of Palo Alto’s Oshman Family JCC and as president of Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, where his father had also been president. George also served on the board of the federation, the Jewish Home of San Francisco, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and California College of the Arts. Dorothy is a trustee of the Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco and has served on the boards of AIPAC and the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services. Aaron’s aunt Ellen Saliman helped found the Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City. And the list goes on.
Three generations of Saxes recently gathered to discuss their family’s tradition of giving at the federation’s fourth annual Day of Philanthropy in San Francisco on Oct. 30, in a panel interview titled “Three Generations of Giving and Leadership.”
In attendance were Dorothy, her children Loren and Ellen (another son, Joel, lives in Oregon), and Loren’s sons Aaron and David Saxe. (Loren has another son, Daniel, who lives in New York, and Ellen has three adult daughters.)
For Dorothy, that tradition of giving and service was nourished in childhood. “We were a very Jewish family,” she said. “My mother lit candles every Friday night. My father was president of the temple for 19 years. It was more like a sentence, I think. It was very much a Jewish family that was devoted to Jewish service.”
Dorothy and George continued to lead by example with their own three children.
“When we started celebrating Halloween, it was always trick-or-treat for UNICEF,” Loren said. “We had an orange can, and we collected nickels and dimes. We would take them to Sunday school the following Sunday and pool them” with their classmates’ collections.
When David, the oldest grandchild, was in college, his grandparents established donor-advised funds through the federation for each of their six grandchildren in order to give them first-hand experience in philanthropy. Every year, each grandchild would donate half the accrued interest to the charity of his or her choice. All six grandchildren would pool the other half of the accrued interest and decide together where to donate it. Typically, they would hold these discussions during annual family vacations
“It not only made them aware of their responsibility in the world and needs that need to be met, but it also gave them an opportunity to bond as cousins,” Dorothy said.
David, 36, now gives his own money to the donor-advised fund his grandparents started and contributes to the federation, the Contemporary Jewish Museum and to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. He serves on the federation board as president of the Young Adult Division, and he received the Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Young Leadership Award at the Day of Philanthropy luncheon. His work with the federation has made him aware of the interests of the next generation of donors.
“We’ve noticed that people in their 20s like to have a hands-on impact right away. They want to be involved and not just write a check,” David said. Part of his work with YAD is creating social, service, educational and networking events to make young adults feel engaged. “We hope more people become donors to the federation.”