Changing the Face of Jewish Philanthropy, One Investment at a Time

Changing the Face of Jewish Philanthropy, One Investment at a Time

Photo: Youth workers aged 16-18 are employed by Derech Hayadaim (“By the Hands”), a landscaping company and Dualis investment.


By Avi Deutsch

The Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation is reimagining the role of philanthropic foundations, and people are starting to notice.

“Foundations can be so much more than private investment houses that give away 5% of their assets each year. We have the opportunity to put a larger portion of our assets to work for impact.” says Phillip Fisher, the Fisher Foundation’s Vice Chair. “There is a deep connection with tzedakah here. If philanthropy is truly justice work (the direct translation of tzedakah), then we need to use all the tools we can to repair the world (tikkun olam). I’m passionate about using both for-profit and for-impact strategies to accelerate positive community change”.

Acting on this inspiration, in 2012 the Fisher Foundation launched an attempt to get large Jewish foundations to begin aligning their assets with their missions. In collaboration with the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the campaign called for Jewish foundations to earmark just 1.8% (chai) of their assets as a first step towards mission-aligned investments.

“We truly felt we had to act our way into this new way of thinking, instead of trying to think our way into it. Starting with a very modest 1.8% carve-out seemed like a reasonable way to jump in and for us to learn together,” says Doug Bitonti Stewart, the Fisher Foundation’s Executive Director. Although other foundations expressed some interest in learning more about the effort, no other foundation joined the initiative.

While Jewish foundations have been slow to act, large non-sectarian foundations and traditional investors are leading the charge on impact investing, or investing for financial returns alongside measurable social, and/or environmental returns. Large foundations, including Rockefeller Foundation, W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Clinton Foundation, and most recently, Ford Foundation, have created a powerful track record causing other, smaller foundations to follow suit.

The Fisher Foundation’s inspiration came from another leader in this movement, and one of the first private foundations to go ‘all in’ and pledge 100% mission-asset alignment, F.B. Heron Foundation. (For educational purposes, their entire portfolio is available on their website.) The idea that a foundation could use its entire portfolio to pursue its mission, in addition to the 5% distributed annually through grants, resonated deeply with Phillip Fisher.

Not deterred by other foundations’ reluctance, the Fisher Foundation proceeded with their own commitment to align 1.8% of their total assets, or $4.2 million, with their mission, using two strategies. The first, Program Related Investments (PRIs), are made from the foundation’s program budget, which is traditionally allocated to grants.

The second strategy, known as Mission Related Investments (MRIs), involves investments made from a foundation’s endowment, the 95% of assets not distributed annually. While PRIs are usually expected to achieve below risk-adjusted market-rate returns, MRIs must be expected to perform on par, or only slightly below, traditional investments in order to meet fiduciary standards.

Employing a combination of these strategies, the Fisher Foundation began successfully deploying capital to further the Foundation’s work in Detroit and the global Jewish community. Investments spanned loans to Hebrew Free Loan, and investments into variety of Detroit focused impact funds, including the Michigan Good Food Fund in partnership with W.K. Kellogg Foundation (see the full list of the Foundation’s impact investments).

By 2015, with a number of successful investments under their belt, the Foundation was ready to increase the percentage of assets allocated to mission investing. The new target was set at 3.6% of the Foundation’s assets, or $10 million. However, one important goal remained unachieved – making an impact investment in Israel.

The Fisher Foundation has long had a commitment to at-risk youth in Israel. So when in 2014 they met Allan Barkat, the Founder and Chairman of Dualis, an Israeli impact fund investing in social enterprises, (many of which employ at-risk youth in the service industry) an impact investment into Dualis seemed like a natural partnership. There was only one problem – no one they spoke to had ever made a PRI from the US into Israel.

Thus began a series of conversations with potential intermediaries and advisors, including donor-advised fund managers, private equity firms, Jewish philanthropic organizations, and philanthropy advisors. After two years of conversations, it turned out that the easiest way for the Foundation to make an impact investment into Dualis was by doing just that – writing a check directly to the fund using an expenditure responsibility agreement– a legal tool that allows foundations to make program investments into mission aligned organizations internationally.

The investment was concluded in late 2016 when the Fisher Foundation made a $250,000, 7-year loan, with a 3% interest rate, to Dualis. While the investment was not made through an intermediary, the Foundation is still intent on sharing what they’ve learned to help other Jewish foundations enter the impact investing space. To encourage collaboration, the Foundation helped launch an impact investing peer learning network which convenes quarterly at the Jewish Funders Network (JFN) – for funders interested in impact investing.

While progress on impact investing has been modest (more on that here), the past several years have seen a steady growth in both interest and actual investments made by Jewish funders. Increasingly, these are not limited to Israel. For example, Simone Friedman, from Emanuel J. Friedman (EJF) Philanthropies, is promoting better treatment for animals within the kosher meat industry by providing loans to kosher meat companies to help build supply chains for humanely raised beef.

The increasing demand for impact investments has not gone unnoticed. For the first time, this year the annual Jewish Funders Network (JFN) Conference — the largest annual convening of Jewish funders and philanthropists — featured an impact investing track developed in partnership with LAVAN.

Despite the slow start, impact investing is definitely showing signs of catching on in the Jewish world. “Mission-aligned investing is going to be an increasingly important tool for our shared work with partners; both for-profit and for impact”, says Bitonti Stewart, “progress is inevitable, and it’s just a question of what leadership role Jewish foundations want to play in this exciting evolution.”

So, What Exactly is Investing with Jewish Values?

So, What Exactly is Investing with Jewish Values?

By Beth deBeer and Avi Deutsch

Judaism is widely acknowledged for regulating every aspect of human life, including food, shelter, sex, rest, etc. Can it possibly have nothing to say about how we invest our money? True, there is nothing obvious about the idea of investing with Jewish values. What are Jewish values anyway? And how does one invest with them? While these questions have no simple answers, they require our attention.

When considering how to integrate Jewish values into investing, many of us naturally gravitate towards the final outcome of the investment process – the products we invest in. However, this approach misses important opportunities to integrate purpose and meaning into the different stages of the investment process. The final investments are only one piece of the puzzle, and while certainly important, exploring why and how we make investment decisions are crucial to finding purpose in our investing.

Following this framework, every investor should consider the following:

  • Why we invest – how are our investments an extension of our values? What, specifically, are the values in our lives that govern our investment decisions?
  • How do we invest? What are the procedures, institutions, and stakeholders we engage in the investment process?
  • What do we invest in? What types of products and vehicles do we invest in? How do these investments impact the world?

The answers to these universal questions are obviously deeply rooted in subjective value systems. At LAVAN we consider how Jewish values, traditions, and motifs, inform our response to these questions so as to guide and infuse meaning into individual and communal investment decisions.


The motivations and intentions of investors have long been part of the dialogue around meaningful investing. The generally accepted definition of impact investing requires intentionality as a prerequisite, even in investments that clearly have a positive impact. How then can we identify the Jewish values that should guide our investments?

We can begin by exploring the themes underlying Jewish economic thought. Perhaps the most fundamental principle of the traditional Jewish economic system is the Divine origins of wealth. Judaism sees humans as merely temporary stewards of wealth, therefore permitting individual wealth to be directed towards religious and communal ends. The best known example of this principle is the shmitah—the practice of forgiving all debts and ceasing agricultural work during every seventh year.

Judaism recognizes the individual human pursuit of basic needs, so long as this pursuit happens under the sanctity of Jewish law and in a manner that also contributes to collective welfare and gains. This idea is first found in the story of the creation, where Adam is given dominion over the earth and the animals on it, but at the same time is commanded to “tend it and keep it”. Our individual responsibility is to grow and protect individual and communal resources.

In short, Judaism does not accept the separation between an individual’s actions as an economic agent and as a moral agent. The Jewish values that guide investing must both encourage personal gains, and fulfill one’s responsibilities as a steward of wealth. We invest out of a belief that our actions can influence both our individual and collective future, in a manner that is aligned with the Jewish ideal of a virtuous life and just society.


The impact investing movement has been a part of several trends in investment practices, namely, the emergence of investing groups and clubs, and an unprecedented demand for transparency. At LAVAN we build off these trends and work to enrich our investment practices by drawing on Jewish practices and the motifs of community and integrity.

Few ideas are more associated with Jewish life than community (Kehila). In both law and practice, from the ancient tribes, through the shtetls of Europe, to modern-day vibrant Jewish communities, Jewish communal life and collaborative learning and debate have been the backbone of Jewish continuity.

The strengths and benefits of Jewish community can be integrated in different ways into the investment process, according to the different types of investors, asset classes, and investor preferences. However in all forms, the benefits of the communal structures include:    

  1. Explicit framing of motivations and intentions. The community allows dialogue and reflection that is hard to achieve in isolation.  
  2. Sharing of best practices and the opportunity for communal learning.
  3. Multiplying the impact of investments through the synergy of a communal effort.

Finally, Judaism reminds us to stay true to our values throughout our business dealings. When discussing matters of money, the Bible makes a point of referring to the other party as your brother, to remind us that our actions affect the wellbeing of people like us. Investment decisions are moral decisions, and throughout the due-diligence process, screening of investments, negotiation of terms, we must continue to treat our counterparts as our brethren, and not a means to an end.


Like the boarder impact investing sector, the final outcome of investing with Jewish values includes a wide breadth of investment. These can impact Israel, the global Jewish community, or non-sectarian causes related to Jewish principles.

For some investors, the Israeli economy, either as a whole, or in specific impact themes or sectors, is an obvious impact investment choice. For example, Israel bonds or investing in Israeli public companies offer both financial returns and furthers their Jewish agenda. At LAVAN, we highlight the work of Israeli startups tackling global challenges in education, healthcare, poverty alleviation, and the environment.

Other investors use their capital to affect change in Jewish communities and institutions outside of Israel. For example, Simone Friedman, Head of Philanthropy and Impact Investment for Emanuel J Friedman Philanthropies, has advocated the use of shareholder voting rights held by Jewish investors and institutions to influence the treatment of chickens by kosher meat companies. Additional investment opportunities may include microfinance for Jewish communities, loans to Jewish non-profits, bonds to support Jewish day-schools, and more.

Finally, investors may choose to make investments that may not be labeled as Jewish, but are otherwise aligned with their Jewish values. It is difficult to draw a definitive line around these types of investments which are open to personal interpretation. Jewish philanthropy and civil society have a long and rich history of supporting non-sectarian causes, though not without debate. Some may choose to invest in their local neighborhoods, as a manifestation of the principle that the poor of your city take precedence (ani’i ircha kodmim), or investing in clean energy bonds as an expression of do not destroy (baal tashchit).

While this final category of investments may seem too amorphous or controversial to be of value, it is none the less important to consider and debate. Under no prudent investment strategy would a portfolio consist solely of investments in Israel and the Jewish community. The majority of the Jewish private and communal assets will always be deployed in diversified financial products, and we must consider how to align these with our Jewish values to the best of our ability.


Investing can be a Jewish practice when guided and executed by intention, meaning, and purpose. At LAVAN we take a holistic approach to integrating Jewish values into all stages of the investment process by looking at the “Why, How and What” of our investing. We see our investments decisions as an extension of our values, and as an expression of our Jewish identity.

How do Jewish values influence your investment decisions?


This article was co-written by Beth deBeer and Avi Deutsch

Beth deBeer is a board member of LAVAN and founder of iImpact Consulting Network, finding innovative ideas and sustainable solutions to today’s global challenges. 

Avi Deutsch is the Co-Founder and CEO of LAVAN, a global community bringing together Jewish values and the power of business to repair the world. 

This article was originally published in the Times of Israel

Thank you for joining us at our Startup Impact Booster!

Thank you for joining us at our Startup Impact Booster!

A big thank you to everyone who attended our Startup Impact Booster last night! We could not be more inspired by our fantastic entrepreneurs - Danny Weissberg of TalkItt and Eran Orr of VRPhysio - who are working to give a voice to the voiceless and to bring physical therapy to those who need it most. That's Tzedakah!

To the amazing members of the LAVAN community who came to offer their guidance and support- thank you for working with us towards our vision of a global impact community bringing together Jewish values and the power of business to repair our planet!

Leaders or Laggards: The Role of Jewish Institutions in the Impact Investing Movement

Leaders or Laggards: The Role of Jewish Institutions in the Impact Investing Movement

If you participated in a conversation about philanthropy in the past couple of years, you probably heard the term impact investing. This once niche subsector is quickly moving towards the mainstream of the philanthropic world, with prominent foundations such as the Gates, Rockefeller, Kellogg, and others, publicly voicing their support.

Conspicuously missing from this mix are large Jewish institutions. These have chosen to remain on the sidelines of impact investing, foregoing powerful opportunities to significantly increase their impact in their core giving areas and to engage the next generation. This is especially surprising given the Jewish community’s social consciousness and financial savviness. In the immortal words of my second grade teacher, it seems they are not achieving their full potential. How can we turn Jewish institutions from stragglers to leaders of the impact investing movement?  

LAVAN Community Makes First Impact Investments

LAVAN Community Makes First Impact Investments

Just weeks ago, members of the LAVAN community gathered in New York and San Francisco for two unique evenings bringing together Jewish values and the power of business to repair our planet. Following presentations by four outstanding entrepreneurs, members of the LAVAN community are now making impact investments in three Israeli startups tackling global social challenges! 

Our New York event, held on May 16th at the beautiful WeWork Ballroom overlooking Braynt Park, brought together over 50 investors and leaders in the impact investing space, including representatives from Investors' Circle, Acumen, Presentense, UJA Federation, and more. Two days later, we held our San Francisco pitch at the offices of Cushman & Wakefield in downtown San Francisco, with over 30 savvy tech professionals, investors, and young professionals. 

Benjamin Pinkhasik, Chief Operating Officer for Equity Asset Management Services at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and a member of LAVAN's New York community, said that "the event provided great exposure to well deserving up-and-coming companies built on Jewish values. I am excited to be part of the impact investment movement and the work that LAVAN is doing to bring it to the forefront. I am already looking forward to the fall event!"

Highlights from our New York event

Our Spring 2016 Pitch Events set the cornerstone for the creation of a global community that sees social entrepreneurship and impact investing as meaningful expressions of Jewish identity. Investing with Jewish values means supporting entrepreneurs that are providing a safety net for patients with chronic illnesses, teaching kids of all backgrounds important tech skills, finding cures to rare diseases, and rehabilitating victims of brain dysfunction.

We thank everyone who joined us at the events and in our journey to build the LAVAN community. A special thank-you to our amazing entrepreneurs: Yishai Knobel of HelpAround, Jonathan Schor of CodeMonkey, Dr. Son Preminger of Intendu, and Guy Seemann and Yuval Tabach of Rethink Pharmaceuticals.

LAVAN will be holding pitch events and educational workshops regularly. To learn more about joining the LAVAN community, please visit our website or contact Avi Deutsch.

What’s Jewish about Impact Investing?

What’s Jewish about Impact Investing?

By Avi Deutsch


Contrary to popular belief, eating is not inherently Jewish. In fact, nearly every Western religion employs this basic human need in the service of religious practice. It is not the eating that is Jewish, it is how we eat that makes it meaningful.

The same is true of investing- it is definitely not inherently Jewish, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it a meaningful Jewish experience.

The idea that investing can be a meaningful experience has grown in popularity in recent years. More and more individuals and institutions see their capital as way of furthering their values. If in the past we only expected financial returns on our investments, today impact investors also seek measurable social or environmental returns. Not instead of, but at the same time. However, impact investing is an agnostic tool; it doesn’t tell you what the good is, only how to realize your values. That is where Judaism comes in.

The vastness of the Jewish corpus makes it possible to claim many behaviors and practices as Jewish. However, this type of cherry-picking adds little value. The question is not what makes something Jewish, but rather how do we draw on thematic Jewish principles and values to enrich our lives and infuse meaning into a variety of practices. Here’s how we can apply some of our most significant values to investing.

To Love God with all your Money

Unlike other religions, Judaism does not seek to separate the spiritual from the physical. Abstinence is not a quintessential Jewish value, and Jewish leaders build families and live within the community. Instead, Judaism seeks to bring all aspects of life under the umbrella of holiness, even the physical and the mundane.

One of the clearest and least-known iterations of this unity comes from the most famous Jewish prayer- the Shema. Many Jews know to recite V'ahav'ta eit Adonai Elohekha b'khol l'vav'kha uv'khol naf'sh'kha uv'khol m'odekha, but few know the meaning of uv'khol m'odekha, often translated as ‘to love God with all your might/very-ness’. The Talmud interprets me’od as money or possessions.  Our earthly possessions are not exempt from our greater responsibility towards something greater than ourselves.

The notion of loving God with all our possessions poses multiple questions. What does it mean to love God with your money? What are the implications on personal property and wealth distribution?

Stewardship vs. Dominion

The origins of the Jewish notion of property and wealth can be found in the two different stories of creation found in the book of Genesis. In the story that unfolds in Genesis 1, man is made in the ‘Image of God’, and is commanded to ‘subdue’ the earth, and have ‘dominion’ over all other living creatures. This would seem to imply that the earth and all that in it are ours to do with as we please.

In the second story depicted in Genesis 2, man is made ‘from dust’, to which he shall return, and he is commanded to ‘guard’ the Garden of Eden. This story evokes a notion of stewardship: the earth is not ours, we are merely charged with safeguarding and improving it. While the term stewardship is commonly used today in reference to environmentalism, the notion has much broader implications on questions of wealth distribution, income inequality, and fiduciary responsibility.

These conflicting accounts are not reconciled in the scripture, leaving us with a deep tension that is more relevant today than ever. Later essential commentary (ha’Tora sh’bealpeh) tended to reconcile the two by associating ‘dominion’ with just ruling for the benefit of one’s subjects, and thus in the ‘Image of God’ (see Bereishit Rabbah 8:12).

If we accept the concept of stewardship, we must at a minimum strive to do no harm to our planet and society. To love God with all our money thus becomes an obligation to safeguard his creation. In practical terms, we could employ investment strategies that screen companies based on social and environmental performance. But is not harming enough?

A Commitment to Repairing our Planet

While stewardship requires that we don’t harm the planet, other Jewish values may require that we do more than that, that we actively work or repair it.

The obligation to improve the world we live in runs deep in the Jewish tradition. Modern Jewish movements often cite Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) as a core Jewish value, though in reality this term appears for the first time only in the Mishna and is used to justify only a handful of rabbinical decrees. The modern interpretation of Tikkun Olam draws heavily on Kabbalistic teachings. Other related values such as Gemilut Chasadim (acts of kindness) and Tzedakah (justice or charity) are deeply grounded in mainstream Orthodox Judaism, but historically their focus has been on helping the Jewish community.

A contemporary account of this moral imperative to repair our plant can be found in the teachings of Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg. According to Rabbi Greenberg, the ideal of a perfect and just world lays at the heart of Judaism. However, due to the forces of inertia, this perfection cannot be achieved overnight. Instead, it is a step by step process made possible through a covenant between God and Jewish people. In return for God’s protection and assistance, each Jewish generation must do its best to move the world towards this ideal. The process thus becomes an ongoing, gradual task, regulated and administered by the Halacha (Jewish law). Dietary laws, to return to our earlier example, are intended to minimize the suffering of animals, and make us more conscious of the food we are putting in our mouth.

A similar approach should therefore guide our investment decisions. To love God with our money implies not only that we do no harm, but that we use our money as a tool in the pursuit of making the planet better.

An Active Approach      

What then does Jewish law have to say about the use of capital for improving our world? As it turns out, very little. This is hardly surprising; the financial tools and legal frameworks used today are a recent phenomenon. Jewish law does however address the most ancient financial tool- lending.

Jewish law explicitly forbids predatory lending. However, it goes one step further and explicitly commands that we use our capital to help those in need. In Deuteronomy 15, we are commanded to not ‘harden thy heart’ and to lend money to the poor, to the unbankable and to the un-credit-worthy. Not to give, but to lend.

This obligation serves as the basis for Maimonides famous assertion that the highest form of charity is to provide a poor person with a job, enter into a partnership with him, loan him money, or as a last resort, give him a gift. The goal is to help the poor in the most respectful manner and to ‘strengthen his hand until he does not any longer need to ask others for help’ (Mishneh Torah, Gifts to the Poor 10:7). One can’t help but think of the slogan of the Acumen Fund, one of the forefathers of the impact investing industry:  ‘A bold new way of tackling poverty that’s about dignity, not dependence, and choice, not charity’.

Don’t Fight Them, Embrace Them

In the final decades of 19th century, Orthodox Judaism was confronted with a mass defection of young Jews attracted by the budding ideological movements, including Zionism. The mainstream Orthodox institutions viewed these individuals as lost souls, and blamed their desertion on poor education and the temptations of modern society. However, one Rabbi stood apart in his view of these secular ideologists- Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook.

Rabbi Kook, who later served as first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine, believed that the problem was not in the defectors, but in the shortcoming of modern Judaism. A mass defection towards ideological alternatives revealed a lack of moral leadership within modern Judaism. The atrophied religious institutions were unable to provide their young constituents with relevant forms of Jewish practice. Within the competing ideologies he saw sparks of Divinity which were the key to restoring Judaism and reengaging the young idealists.

The need for moral leadership and contemporary Jewish practices is still visibly acute. Impact investing offer us a unique opportunity to inspire and engage. Let us embrace the growing interest among young Jews in using business as a tool for good, and infuse it with meaning by drawing on Jewish sources, debating Jewish values, and connecting with the State of Israel. 


Photo credit: Guido Heitkoetter