For members of Generation X and the Baby Boomers, the future of the Jewish community in the “Heart of New Jersey” is now. Growing numbers of individuals within these groups are naming Jewish communal organizations as beneficiaries in their wills, retirement accounts, and/or life insurance policies, according to Susan Antman, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ.
People of these generations, Antman said, are starting to think about providing planned gifts to secure the vitality of the Jewish future and their lasting legacy as a part of it. “Anyone can make a planned gift without impacting their lifestyle or family’s future,” she said. “With a planned gift you can still take care of your family while also leaving something to preserve the programs and organizations that you care about, perpetuate Jewish traditions that you cherish, express values instilled in you by your parents and grandparents, and convey your commitment to being Jewish. This is the beauty of a planned gift.”
The federation has completed the second year of a four-year partnership program with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation benefitting local Jewish institutions. So far this “Life & Legacy” initiative has secured $11 million in estimated future value from 408 gifts for 16 organizations in the federation community, which encompasses Middlesex and Monmouth counties. Gifts are earmarked by donors mostly to one of nine partner organizations participating in the program. In addition, participating organizations have earned a total of $200,000 in cash incentives that can be used today to further their missions.
“Not only are we talking about millions of dollars in perpetuity,” said program chair Michael Wasserman of Highland Park. In addition, “we’ve trained over 70 committed leaders in fund-raising, marketing, and the stewardship of donors; that’s a tremendous community resource, and that’s what excites me so much.”
“Not only will these institutions have a healthy part of their annual budgets taken care of in the future,” added Wasserman, “but they have strengthened their leadership ranks now.
“I am also encouraged by the reception I receive when I meet with estate attorneys and financial planners in our community who are very open to hear about how our Jewish Community Foundation can benefit their clients when they broach the topic of making a charitable bequest.”
In addition to the federation, participating institutions that have earned incentives are Congregation B’nai Israel, Rumson; Congregation B’nai Tikvah, North Brunswick; Neve Shalom, Metuchen; Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva (RPRY), Edison; Rutgers Hillel, New Brunswick; Temple B’nai Shalom, East Brunswick; Monmouth Reform Temple, Tinton Falls; Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County, Freehold; and Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth.
“Many people and families who are very connected to federation and our mission are also connected to several other organizations in our community,” said Antman. “The wonderful thing is that there is a strong percentage of people giving legacy gifts to multiple organizations. We’re seeing a lot of cross-pollination.
“We have also reached out to other Jewish organizations in the community to assist them in beginning their Life & Legacy programs and encourage their participation in our training programs.”
Joel Weissglass, past president of Congregation B’nai Israel and leader of its Life & Legacy team, said, “The insights provided by Life & Legacy training allow us to respond to our members’ own visions for Congregation B’nai Israel and to develop their confidence that they will be able to achieve their vision and be recognized for it, providing them with authentic engagement.”
The program model, said Weissglass, “not only fits our program, but our strategy as well.” Additionally, “the training we received has taught us to think about our shul from the perspective of our members and to be sure that we are conscious of their beliefs as we go forward.”
“We need to generate a new commitment to involvement in the synagogue,” he said. “The benefit of interpersonal efforts in donating, visioning, and stewarding that the members of our Life & Legacy team experienced cannot be overstated, as we move our next generation into leadership and aid them in finding their vision for their own Jewish experience.”
“I have the pleasure of cochairing two Life & Legacy teams,” said Eric Wallenstein of Highland Park. The first is at Rutgers Hillel, at his alma mater, the second at his daughter’s day school, RPRY. “Each organization succeeded in meeting their goals for the initial two years of the program, resulting in a buzz about securing the future through legacy giving and building a robust cadre of ‘Legacy Circle’ members,” he said. “Attending the quarterly foundation training seminars with the many colleague institutions in our area has been extremely gratifying,” said Wallenstein. “Seeing the diversity of our community focus on a strategic goal has been fulfilling, refreshing, and reassuring.”
“At each meeting and event, the concept of the Legacy Circle — the opportunity to make a meaningful gift in our lifetime or beyond and the easy means to join this initiative — is front and center,” Wallenstein said. “At the heart of this program, beyond the financial planning and focused prep work, has been the meaningful conversations held in the dining rooms of members of our community. To sit down and understand what inspires potential donors has been awe-inspiring.”
“It’s easy to create your own personal legacy by signing a simple letter of intent, which is a nonbinding promise to leave a gift in the future to the organization or organizations of your choice,” said Antman. “Let organizations know if you already worked with a financial adviser to include them in your future plans.” She advised potential participants to go to jewishheartnj.org and click on “Life and Legacy” to access contact information for participating organizations and the letter of intent.
“There is no better time than now or a better place than the federation,” said Antman, “to join with the hundreds of Life & Legacy donors who have committed to the future of a vibrant Jewish community.”
Paul Rovinsky is the coordinator of the Life & Legacy program for the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey.