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Four Thought

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Following the presentation of Spoken Truths, my research project as a Fellow on the Clore Social Leadership Programme, I was invited to adapt it for the BBC Radio 4 series, Four Thought. The result of the adaptation is Big Business, Big Charity, a new fifteen minute talk on whether supporting big charities is the best way to improve the world.

You can listen to the broadcast on demand here…


For those interested in making a donation to a small charity, then please do consider Survivors Fund, to which you can donate directly here.

You can learn more about the work of Dr Lisa Smirl and her theory of Drive By Development on Spaces of Aid.

And to see where and when to donate blood, please visit Give Blood.


Written by thesocialenterprise

August 11, 2015 at 8:00 pm

Spoken Truths…

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As the final component of my Fellowship on the Clore Social Leadership Programme, I decided to focus my research on the “unspoken truths” of the “social sector”: from how beneficiaries are often excluded from boards of charities and funders to how public schools which cement social inequality are still considered to be charitable institutions.

My research explores just some of these truths. In the hope that in speaking of them, they can be discussed and debated. For if they remain unspoken, nothing is ever likely to change.

Rather than write up my findings in a report, I thought it would be more engaging for you, and more interesting for me, to present my research as verbatim theatre – spoken truths as the spoken word.


Spoken Truths… is an audio recording of the live performance of the verbatim theatre piece that I, David Russell, 2013 Clore Social Fellow, delivered as my research project on 4th December 2014 at Sandys Row Synagogue, London E1.

The first voice that you hear is my own. You will then hear the voices of two actors, Felicity Finch and Rick Warden, who amplify the respondents that I interviewed on the topic. The performance is directed by Rachel Grunwald (Clore Fellow). The script was supervised by Helena Thompson of SPID Theatre Company. Any errors, omissions, exaggerations are my own!

Written by thesocialenterprise

January 16, 2015 at 8:43 am

Dame Vivien

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David Russell speaks to Dame Vivien Duffield about her philanthropy, the Jewish values she inherited and the realisation of her latest vision, the Jewish Community Centre for London, JW3


Arriving at the unassuming offices of Dame Vivien Duffield, in West London, you would not be aware that the Clore Duffield Foundation, which she created out of the merger of the Clore Foundation, inherited from her father, and the Vivien Duffield Foundation, which she set up with her own money, is the leading funder of the arts and culture in the UK.

I enter through a small corridor, at the end of which, are double doors into a large and airy office. Stepping though them, the importance of the woman I am here to meet becomes apparent. It is the walls that give it away. They are adorned with awards and honorary degrees, from the array of institutions in the UK that she has supported through the Clore Duffield Foundation, as well as Israeli organisations that the Clore Israel Foundation in Jerusalem, which she also chairs, has funded.

Despite her reputation as a no-nonsense, straight-talking matriarch of the arts, I found Dame Vivien to be welcoming and even a little cautious. She does not give many interviews, preferring instead to let her actions speak louder than her words. However, as our talk progresses, her boundless enthusiasm for philanthropy and the arts, and a sustained connection to her Jewish roots shines through.

It was from her father that she developed the passion and responsibility for philanthropy, interest in the arts and Jewish values. Charles Clore was a self-made man, establishing his name and wealth through an array of retail ventures, notably the department store Selfridges and the once ubiquitous high street store brands of the British Shoe Corporation. He was to become equally well known as one of the great scions of philanthropy and in particular for his support for Israel.

Dame Vivien knows little of her father’s upbringing in London’s East End. He was born in 1904 to parents who had recently emigrated from Riga. “They came with nothing except a sewing machine, as his father was a tailor. But no one even knows the original family name. He never talked about his past.” This may be due to the difficulty of his childhood. His mother died when he was very young, and his father soon after moved to Israel, where he lived out the rest of his days.

Charles visited his father only once in 1927, and did not return to Israel until he had a family of his own, 30 years later. At the invitation of Sir Isaac Wolfson, they stayed at the Weitzmann Institute. This experience inspired his support for the Institute and other Israeli causes.

By that time, Charles had separated from his wife, Francine Halphen, who he had met soon after the war. Though they had two children, Vivien and her older brother Alan, the marriage did not survive. “She missed France, and returned there. She was much more cultured, from a wealthy Parisian Jewish family. Her father survived the trenches, emerging from the First World War as a decorated Major. But he made a promise to himself that he would never have a cold meal or do a day’s work again, and rigidly stuck to both those. So he was not a great role model.

“However, my mother had a good education, at the Sciences Po, and she was awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery in the Second World War, driving an ambulance for the resistance. Her brother survived Auschwitz and testified at the Nuremberg Trials and her sister had a terrible war too. But they rarely spoke of their experiences. That was true of her generation, more so of those that lived through the occupation in Europe.”

It was Charles who brought up the children, and from whom Dame Vivien believes she has inherited many of her traits. “He was very philanthropic and always very generous, loved the arts, and had a great eye for it.” He also was very protective of his only daughter. After she completed her undergraduate degree at Oxford University, he forbade her continuing her studies in the USA. He also stymied her hopes of following him into business, believing that “the boardroom was no place for a woman”. He was very much a typical Jewish father of that time and no doubt this played some role in Vivien marrying young. Though it was the fact that she was marrying out that aggrieved him more.

It was from this first marriage to John Duffield, who was to become a wealthy financier, that she has two children, Arabella and George. Her marriage did not last, on which she comments “it is possible to enjoy a successful marriage, family life or career, but near impossible to experience all three.” Of her children, she is evidently proud. But her children were not brought up Jewish and she regrets not passing on to them the values she received from her father.

“I am terrible in that respect, as I am passing on almost nothing of Jewish life to my children. However they are very aware of their Jewish roots. George has spent the past five years making an IMAX movie about Jerusalem, which is due out in September and will be screened by National Geographic. He also spent time studying at the Hebrew University. And Arabella has studied at the Weitzmann Institute, and now sits on their board.”

Many institutions have benefited greatly from the beneficence of Dame Vivien Duffield. But two in particular have her to thank for their very existence.

It was on a visit to the children’s museum in Boston, USA, that Dame Vivien had her first eureka moment. She was determined that the UK should have its own hands-on exhibition for children, a place that celebrated both play and learning. She realised that vision in 1992, having committed most of the funding required to establish Eureka! The National Children’s Museum – located at the suggestion of Prince Charles, in Halifax in Yorkshire.

Many questioned the location, chosen in an economically deprived area to serve as a catalyst for regeneration, but it has benefitted a huge number of young people in the north who would never have got to a London museum. Living in Leeds at the time I remember the thrill of such a stunning museum arriving on our doorstep. Now it has 250,000 visitors a year, an impressive number for a regional museum that charges for entry (as Dame Vivien strongly believes all museums should).

Dame Vivien hopes the success of this venture can be replicated with JW3, the Jewish Community Centre (JCC) for London, the second UK institution that owes its conception to her uncompromising vision.

“I had built several community centres in Israel, including the first Arab community centre in Ramallah. I then heard that they were building a Muslim community centre in the UK, and I thought there is no reason we should not have a Jewish community centre too.”

“I was speaking about this to my good friend Julia Neuberger, and she said that I must visit the JCC on the Upper West Side in New York. Together we did. It is spectacular, and as soon as I walked in I immediately wanted to build one for London. That was exactly ten years ago.”

Many questioned whether the JCC model, so well established in North America, could be adapted to the UK, or whether there was a need for such a project.

“It has been a long, hard journey, but we are getting there. I will be full of ideas of what it could be doing. I want to make sure that it reaches more than the Jewish community, for it to be used by the local community too. The first few years will be very experimental. We do not know what the demand will be, how we will use the piazza. But it is exciting times ahead.”

She hopes that its success will exceed all expectations, in the size and diversity of its audiences, in the quality of its programmes. And that, like Eureka!, JW3 will confound critics of its location. It is not in the Jewish heartland of Hendon or Golders Green, nor in the cultural hub of Central London. It is on the busy Finchley Road, across the street from the Camden Arts Centre and Dame Vivien is convinced this will work for it.

Such stubbornness has served her well. Few philanthropists have given away as much of their wealth, or as greater proportion of it. It is estimated that she has donated over £300 million through her Foundations over the last 40 years. Most impressively she has helped to raise many multiples of that, most recently leading a one billion pound fundraising campaign for Oxford University and, most famously, in her former role as trustee of the Royal Opera House, helping to secure over £100 million to build its current home in Covent Garden. And at almost every gallery and museum of note in the UK today, from the British Museum to the National Gallery of Scotland, you will find a Clore Learning Centre.

This partly accounts for her decision, to spend down the funds in her Foundation, as “Israel needs the money now, as who knows what will happen in ten or twenty years there.”

As to her children “They are both into philanthropy, but I doubt they will follow me into supporting Israeli causes as they have their own pursuits. I don’t think it’s fair to burden the next generation with the responsibility of pursuing the aims that you want to pursue. You have to give them the wherewithal to do their own thing. So you have to do what you want to do yourself whilst you are alive.”

She would like to see a more pluralistic and less polarised society in Israel but is deeply pessimistic as to whether that will ever be realised. However, she is encouraged by the indications of a greater engagement in philanthropy in Israel.

“Though Israel has less of a tradition of philanthropy, that is beginning to change, albeit slowly. Around 10% of donations to the Weitzmann Institute is now from Israelis, which has been a significant development. However, they still have some way to go. The small number of very wealthy families should be giving more.”

It is this responsibility to give, which she inherited from her father, and has driven her own philanthropy, and notably that of her children too. “Simply, if you have money, you have a duty to give.” However, she notes that philanthropy is evolving too.

“Jewish philanthropy is still huge. But I don’t know about the next generation. It is not that they are less generous, but they do not like giving to established charities. They like doing their own thing. Also, if you think how much people spend on their art, it would not kill them to give a bit more to arts charities, for example.”

For many years hence though, it is likely that the Clore Duffield Foundation, with Dame Vivien at its helm, will continue to lead and inspire ever greater philanthropy. I am intrigued to know whether there will be any other landmark campaigns that she will personally spearhead now JW3 has opened its doors.

“I do not know what the next challenge is. I haven’t worked out what I want to do next. But there may be one last project.” So watch this space!

First published: Jewish Renaissance Magazine, October 2013 Issue
For more information on Jewish Renaissance, please visit:

Written by thesocialenterprise

October 8, 2013 at 2:43 pm

The Benefactor

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In the second of our series about Jewish philanthropists in the world of art DAVID RUSSELL has the rare opportunity to meet NASSER DAVID KHALILI, collector of Islamic art and one of the richest men in the world

Professor Khalili (c)Terry O'Neill

I meet Professor Nasser David Khalili at his office in Mayfair, on the top floor of a building shared with a fashionable clothing brand. Beautiful young people come and go through the lobby in which posters of exhibitions of Khalili’s collections are on display.

I am shown to the lift, but there is no button to press. The concierge waves a fob and the doors close. When they open again, I see Professor Khalili across a beautifully adorned, airy office. He is sitting behind his desk. There is no anteroom, no secretary. I am fortunate to have secured a rare audience with one of the richest men in the world.

Raphael Fuchs / Shirin Neshat

Around the room is a host of intriguing works from Khalili’s personal collection. They include a contemporary photograph of two arms upstretched, one with tefillin wound around it and the other etched with Arabic calligraphy. This is no doubt representative of Khalili’s two great passions, Judaism and Islamic art.

He has in front of him a copy of my article, in this series on benefactors of the arts, about Elizabeth Sackler (JR, October 2010). “I knew Arthur, Elizabeth’s father, well. A great man and a great patron of the arts, who truly left his mark. It is good to see Elizabeth extending that legacy.”

As Elizabeth Sackler is synonymous with feminist art, Khalili has become synonymous with Islamic art. He has endowed Chairs in this field at his alma mater, Queen’s College in New York, where he received his BA, and at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, where he was awarded his PhD. There is also a Khalili Research Centre for the Art and Material Culture of the Middle East at Oxford University.

Khalili also has smaller but equally distinguished collections of Swedish textiles, Spanish metalwork, Japanese decorative art and enamels of the world. Adding his property interests, managed through his company Favermead, currently developing an innovative energy-efficient 220,000 square foot office block at Holborn Viaduct in central London, his worth is estimated as more than £5 billion. Not bad for a selfmade man from Iran.

Khalili was born in 1945 in Isfahan and brought up in Tehran by parents who were not fabulously wealthy but, according to their son,“rich in spirit”. His father was an antiques dealer and it was from him that Khalili developed his own love of art, often accompanying him on home visits. On one such trip, the young Khalili was wowed for the first time by an artwork, a lacquer pen box. It was given to him by its owner who was moved by his interest and it became the first piece in his collection.

In 1967, after completing his national service as an army medic, Khalili left Iran and travelled to the US to study computer science. It was in New York that his collecting first began, as a means to pay his way. He only resorted to collecting art professionally when he was fired from his job flipping burgers. Within two years he was a millionaire.

He would travel across the country buying up lots of work, keeping only the best and selling the rest. His skill lay in his eye and knowledge of Islamic art acquired from his father and his own study of the genre since childhood, though he admits that he was lucky to begin collecting when there was such a glut of good pieces.

He settled in the UK, which has been his home since 1978, after meeting his wife, Marion, on a visit to London in 1976. Marion was working in an antiques centre, and he knew on first sight that this would be the woman he would marry – if she was Jewish. He bought from her a brooch for his mother and an emerald ring and bracelet, which he gave to her.

Khalili always knew that he would wed within the religion. “The issue is very simple but because people follow their emotion, it is often overshadowed.” As he often does, he explains his position through a quote. “I always follow a beautiful biblical saying, used in Fiddler on the Roof. To paraphrase, when a bird falls in love with a fish, it is all okay; but where are they to go and build a house to live?”

In the early 1990s, Professor Khalili bought 18-19 Kensington Palace Gardens, which previously housed the Russian and Egyptian Embassies. It was this that first propelled him into the public domain, as the renovation he oversaw for the next three years created a residence equal in size to the White House, and second only to Buckingham Palace in London, and seemingly as grand with marble imported from the same quarry in Agra as the Taj Mahal. When finished, their children, Daniel, the eldest, and two twin sons, Benjamin and Raphael, had flown the nest, and as Bloomberg has reported, Marion refused to move into the house, considering it too “palatial”.

“I run a very democratic family, and my family has a huge say in what we do. I have a saying that if you are in a crowd and you do not know where to go, put your child on your shoulder and they will point you in the right direction.” He compares his family to a secure home. “Myself and the three boys are the columns, and my wife is the roof. Any weakness will bring the house down.”

The house of Khalili though is constructed on strong foundations. 18-19 Kensington Palace Gardens is still the most expensive private residence in London, now owned by the Indian steel tycoon, Lakshmi Mittal. It is one of the many records Professor Khalili holds, of which he is evidently proud. These include being the longest-serving governor on the Board of SOAS (for 17 years); the youngest published author in Iran, at just 13 years old, when he wrote a compendium of 223 geniuses, a response to ridicule from a teacher at his Jewish day school for aspiring to be one himself; and, most famously, the custodian of the largest private collection of Islamic art in the world, in addition to collating the largest publication in art history, which will catalogue the 20,000 artworks in 27 volumes.

The secret to his success? “You dream, you plan, you pursue. If you don’t do that, you don’t get anywhere.” He adds: “In every field in which I have collected, I became an expert in the field before I collected.” This and a famously retentive memory have helped him to assess better than anyone the value of the art in his chosen fields.

Though amassing his collections is his life’s work, he has still to realise his most long-held dream – a dedicated museum for his collection of Islamic art in London. He reveals to me, exclusively, that this will happen before his 70th birthday in 2015.

“Many great collections have become dispersed because they did not think about how to maintain a museum. But we are working to establish a large enough endowment to secure our museum in perpetuity.”

Though I do not ask, I assume the museum will be named the Khalili Museum of Islamic Art. I note that each project he funds inherits the Khalili name. Is this the legacy that he wants to ensure? “I am not here to be praised. The praise should be reserved to go to the souls of the artists who have produced the magnificent works. I have just been lucky to be able to put them together for humanity.”

He tells me that it was the University which offered to give his name to the lecture theatre he funded at SOAS. “They insisted on there being a bust of me made to sit outside the theatre, alongside which there is a beautiful Japanese vase for which I give fresh flowers to be arranged every day.”

Though no longer a governor of SOAS, Khalili continues to teach at the controversial hotbed of anti-Israel sentiment. I ask whether he ever has difficulties with the politicised students there. He has not personally experienced any antagonism. In his view “religion and politics have their own particular languages, and their own agendas. Art and culture are unique in having a universal language; ‘it is an ocean without shores’.”

Sharing the art he has collected with humanity is his mission. “I hate telling people I am here to educate you. I am here to inform you and to allow you to form your own opinion. It is my philosophy.” He refers to the need to learn about others’ way of life as being the philosophy of Maimonides, which he follows, “because by learning about it we will find there is more that unites than divides us.” It is for this reason that he set up the Maimonides Foundation, to foster dialogue and understanding between the Abrahamic religions.

This is a view he shares with Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, with whom he has a “special relationship”, and who is a mentor to his children and an inspiration to him. “I consider the Chief Rabbi one of the greatest brains in the history of Judaism.” At Rabbi Sacks’ request Khalili funded the refurbishment of the Bloomstein Hall at the Marble Arch Synagogue.

Unlike many other billionaires, he has not offshored his great wealth. He takes pride in paying his taxes, believing it important to play a full role in contributing to the economic well-being of his adopted home. “I am a good advocate, because I talk to other wealthy people who try to avoid taxes and tell them to use their energy for making money and not to waste t avoiding taxes.”

Though he identifies first as an Iranian Jew, he is proud to be British too. “I am extremely fond of the UK, its tradition and its contribution to humanity.” He is proud also of his Iranian heritage. “Iranian Jews are the oldest Jews in the world and Iran has been a cradle of democracy since Cyrus the Great. Empathy has always existed between the Jews and Muslims in Iran. If anything, the way that Jews have been treated by the Muslims in Iran should be used as an example.”

Khalili continues to support the Jewish community in Iran, “but under the radar, as I learned from my parents, G-d bless their soul, that you should do things not for the heck of it, but for the sake of it.”

It is this value that he hopes to have instilled in his children. He does not plan to pass down all his wealth to them. “I wanted to ensure that my kids had an education, that they had independence and can follow their passion like I did. If I do more than that, I will dilute their mission in life. I want them to live and look forward to something and to achieve their own thing and get credit for it.”

Professor Khalili concludes the interview with an appeal. “Don’t concentrate so much on me, but concentrate on the art. I wish to shed light and understanding on how people run their lives. Each time I give an interview I want to have a message: the role culture can play in the betterment of people’s lives. There is no better bridge-builder. If I can change the life of even one person, then I will have succeeded.”

And what of his plans once the museum is established? “I plan to write my autobiography, but not for another 10 or 20 years.” This will be quite some story, of the Jewish man from Iran and his plan for the world’s greatest collection of Islamic art.

First published: Jewish Renaissance Magazine, October 2011 Issue.
For more information on Jewish Renaissance, please visit:

Written by thesocialenterprise

October 23, 2011 at 7:53 am

The Matron of Feminist Art

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Arthur M. Sackler, along with his two younger brothers Mortimer and Raymond, made his fortune in pharmaceuticals. Between them they donated to many of the world’s leading cultural and academic institutions. In fact it is hard not to take note of a Sackler Wing or Sackler Center. There is one at the National Gallery in London, the Smithsonian at Washington DC and the Louvre in Paris and at Tel Aviv, Oxford and New York universities.

Arthur’s second daughter, Elizabeth, has continued along the path illuminated by her father, and two uncles. As President and Chief Executive of the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, she is responsible for maintaining and lending over 1,000 of the most important works of Asian art collected by her father over his lifetime.


Elizabeth Sackler with her father (Arthur M. Sackler) at the inauguration of The Sackler Wing (Temple of Dendur), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, 1978


However, it is as “matron” of the arts, as she coins the term for her role, that she is emulating her father. Her first endeavour that brought her international reclaim was her pioneering activity in repatriating Native American ceremonial materials.

“Of all the work that I have undertaken, it is the most ‘Jewish’. The return of ceremonial objects, repatriation and restitution, is only a relatively recent phenomena. Questions of Nazi war looting, and the need to return looted art for example, only really came to prominence in the 1990s. Only then did people begin to fully understand the issues.”

“To assist the uninitiated, I equated what a Jew would have felt seeing the bones their grandmother on public display with the exhibition at the Natural History Museum in New York in the 1970s of the human remains of a Native American woman.”

It was this empathy that moved her to act by publicly purchasing three katchina masks at auction at Sotheby’s and returning them to their rightful owners, the Hopi and Navajo Nations. Out of this act, developed the American Indian Ritual Object Repatriation Foundation, which she founded in 1992, and which continues today to educate about the importance of repatriation, and the distinction between that which is appropriate for sale or exhibition and that which is not.

Then in 2001, at a meeting with the Director of the Brooklyn Museum, Arnold Lehman, she presented him with a book about Judy Chicago’s iconic feminist megasculpture, The Dinner Party. Enquiring whether he would like it, he responded enthusiastically. However, she did not mean the book, she meant the work itself. Lehman was stunned.

Elizabeth was first introduced to Judy Chicago in 1988. The Dinner Party, her most epic work, consists of a triangular table 48 feet long on each side, with place settings for 39 notable women from Primordial Goddess to Georgia O’Keeffe, and set on a white floor inscribed with the names of a further 999 notable women.


The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Centre for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum, NYC (credit: Donald Woodman)


Chicago is a pioneer of the feminist art movement who in the 1960s changed her name from Judy Cohen in a move that denounced the masculinisation of her roots. When Elizabeth arranged The Dinner Party’s gift, through the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation, to the Brooklyn Museum as the centerpiece for a center for feminist art, Judy’s dream for its permanent housing was realised.

“My relationship with Judy was first a friendship, then a supporter of her work. She had been concerned about The Dinner Party, which had not found a permanent home. In addition to being an extraordinary work of art, The Dinner Party is a unique educational exposition on women’s history – as so many of the women it features are under recognized or not known at all.”

This is the point of connection between her projects – erasure. “The erasure of women in history; and the attempted erasure of American Native history; to that extent there is a common bond between the projects. As a Jew, it is also something that resonates strongly.”

Not only did she offer the work for permanent display but also the gift of a new wing of the museum to exhibit it. “Initially, I had no desire to have my name carved in stone, as it were, but after lengthy discussions with my sister I thought: Well, ‘the boys’ (as my grandmother referred to her three sons, my father and my uncles) have, with all the Sackler Wings here and abroad, created a great launching pad. My name could be a service to raising awareness of women in the arts – to which people might then pay more attention.” Thus came into being the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art – now the pre-eminent (and still possibly only) institute of its kind internationally.

Elizabeth’s interest and passion for art developed at an early age. Her earliest memories were of being taken to museums. “I remember vividly when I was 8 years old being in the Louvre and staring up at the Winged Victory of Samothrace (the classic sculpture honouring the goddess Nike), and being overwhelmed by her beauty and power.” When she was 15, the first Sackler gallery opened, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York – featuring monumental Chinese sculpture that her father collected.

As a Jewish family, the Sacklers placed greater emphasis on the values than the practice of the religion. “There is no question that the world in which I grew up in was one steeped in justice and equality, and that this informed the education I received at home and in my schooling. I cannot speak for my father, or his brothers, but Jewish principles and ethics continue to infuse all my work – both as a social activist and public historian.”

“My father was a true collector, a connoisseur. He did not consider himself a philanthropist though. Giving was not a cheque writing exercise, nor about naming opportunities, but about participating in the cultural landscape which improves knowledge, education, and understanding. He felt it an honour and privilege to envision what was possible, and making that a reality.”

“It has taken me until now [referring to the establishment of the Center for Feminist Art] to know what he meant by that – when you see a vision grow and take hold.”

“What I also learnt from him is the importance of having an intellectual and cultural and emotional relationship with the work that one does. Practically, he taught me how to have a relationship with institutions and how to negotiate with museums.”

It was this that held Elizabeth in good stead in later years.

She recognises that her interest in the feminist movement also can be traced back to her family. Throughout his medical career, Arthur Sackler was a forerunner in acknowledging and supporting contributions of women doctors and nurses and at the height of the feminist movement in the 1970s, he worked with established groups to increase the number of women accepted into medical school and related fields.

“Any father with daughters is likely to become a potential feminist activist, naturally wanting the best for his children. I grew up in a family where sexism did not exist. But I am aware that in the Jewish community there is a tension.”

She recalls the time that her son was preparing for his Bar mitzvah, and she took the opportunity to study too, at Congregation Shearith Israel, the historic Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in New York City. Under Rabbi Marc Angel, she became aware of the tension within the Orthodox tradition from the separation of women from the Torah.

“He was struggling with how an Orthodox synagogue, how a man of Orthodox faith, can both acknowledge the role of women, but respect the separation commanded by Torah. It is a difficult area, and though I do not engage in the debate, I do observe it.”

Elizabeth’s son Michael, now 27, along with her daughter, Laura, 37, have made her a proud parent, and grandparent. “As I learnt from my father, my children are watching and learning from me. Laura founded Global Children in 2000, which is dedicated to assisting disadvantaged children in Cambodia.”

“This strong involvement in social causes I observe with my cousins too. Many are very active. Whether we do things on a small scale or a large scale, relationship with the family, betterment of community, is what life is all about.”

Her focus in the immediate future is on the Center of Feminist Art. “It is still just a toddler in terms of the life of a cultural institution. I want to ensure that I give it a good solid upbringing, and that the child – which is how I see it – grows up healthy and strong. The Center is beloved in New York, has increased the value of feminist art and as importantly is influencing museums worldwide to recognise and engage with it.”

Returning to her father, she recalls him first and foremost as a scientist. “His approach to art was scientific, collecting the largest corpus of data with an eye to synthesise information from a variety of places, and produce new thinking. He truly was a genius, a member of MENSA, with a passion for art which he had the fortune to share with the world.”

Arthur Sackler once said, “Art and science are two sides of the same coin. Science is a discipline pursued with passion; art is a passion pursued with discipline. At pursuing both, I’ve had a lot of fun.”

Concluding the interview, Elizabeth mentions that she is currently reading “The Lost” by Daniel Mendelsohn. “As a Jew, one comes across a book on the Holocaust, and the echo of the history of the Jews is such that one is just grateful to be alive, to be a Jewish woman at this moment of time. It is a privilege as my father told me. I take it with great joy. I am pleased and proud.”

First published: Jewish Renaissance Magazine, October 2010 Issue.

For more information on Jewish Renaissance, please visit:

Judaism and Charity

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Charitable giving is a requirement of Jewish law. It is prescribed as a mitzvah (commandment). “When your brother will become poor, you will extend your hand to him” (Leviticus 25:35) and care for the “the stranger, and the orphan and the widow” (Deuteronomy 19:29).

Ever since the time of Abraham, there has been an obligation “to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right (tzedakah)” (Genesis 18:19). But “what is right” has been a subject of rabbinic interpretation ever since. The primary sources on this vast subject are Mishneh Torah, the first systematic codification of Jewish law by Maimonides in the 12th century, and the Shulchan Aruch, collated by Rabbi Joseph Karo in the 16th century.

The practice of ma’aser kesafim, giving 10% of one’s income, derives from Jacob’s commitment to God: “of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you(Genesis 28:22). In the Talmud, an upper limit of 20% of income is set, based on the reasoning that a higher percentage may result in the giver himself becoming needy (Talmud, Ketubot 50a), but this does not apply if there is a need to save life.

Maimonides records eight levels of giving. The highest level is to help the recipient to become self-supporting, by finding or giving a job to the person in need, or making a loan to enable them to start up a business. “The giver who knows not to whom he gives and the recipient knows not from whom he receives” is the second highest level. The least good is the giver that is pained by the act of giving.

Rashi postulates in his commentary on Leviticus 25:35 that there is an even higher level of giving, that is to help people before they even require help on the basis that if a load “is still on the donkey, one person can grasp it and hold it in place. Once it falls to the ground, however, five people cannot pick it up” (Torath Kohanim 25:71). Giving before one is asked is particularly important in protecting the self-esteem of the person in need – as well as encouraging others to give as: “greater than one who does the mitzvah, is one who causes others to do a mitzvah” (Talmud, Baba Batra 9a).

The Talmudic concept of tovat hana’ah affords givers the right to choose the recipients of the money in a manner which provides them indirect benefit (Matnot Aniyiim 1:8). It is advised, though, that all funds should not be given to a single level of priority.

The amount that one gives should be calculated with care and ideally a separate fund should be established for funds to be held in trust for the ultimate recipients (Sefer Ma’aser Kesofim 50-54). Tzedakah should be given with compassion and happiness (Mishneh Torah 9:4). It should be made easy for recipients, so each community should have tzedekah administrators so the poor do not need to go house to house collecting (Sefer Tzedakah U’Mishpat 43). One should not brag about one’s giving, but it is acceptable to put one’s name on a gift for communal use (Shulchan Aruch 249:21).

Talmudic sources also wrestle with the ever-present issue of how givers are to decide on priorities.  Most sources place the saving of life first (an interesting insight into the life of the times is the inclusion of ransom for captives in this category).  We are told elsewhere that first comes closeness to the giver (relatives ahead of non-relatives); second comes intensity and nature of need (priority for those requiring food over those requiring clothing); thirdly, level of education (Torah scholars take precedence over non-scholars); fourthly gender (women take precedence over men). All these come before lineage, where a Jew takes precedence over a non-Jew.

Whilst strong ties of kinship and community are priorities for giving, as they are amongst all peoples, elsewhere in the Talmud we read: “We feed non-Jewish poor together with Jewish for the sake of peace (good relations).” (Talmud, Gittin 61a).

To conclude, there are no definitive answers to practical dilemmas of giving. Every Jew is commanded to give charity and help the needy. Jewish law leaves that open to interpretation, though within the parameters of these guidelines. Ultimately, this is our choice, and privilege.

First published: Jewish Renaissance Magazine, April 2010 Issue.

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September 12, 2010 at 2:12 pm

The Dame doing good

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If you ever spend time in Hampstead, it is likely that you will see an electric car emblazoned with green leaves zipping around, with a lady in a colourful dress at the wheel. Or you will see the car plugged in, its battery charging, off a small side street which is the base of Dame Hilary Blume, and the Charities Advisory Trust.

Dame Hilary Blume and genocide widows in Rwanda (with goats from the Good Gifts Catalogue)

Dame Hilary is the charity entrepreneur eminence, creator of initiatives ranging from the Good Gifts Catalogue to The Green Hotel in India, to Peace Oil – an initiative that brings together Israeli and Palestinian farmers on the foothills of the Carmel Mountains to produce Olive Oil. The Charities Advisory Trust, the organisation that she founded in 1979 and continues to direct, is an umbrella for these enterprises and more, and has generated over £100 million in the past 30 years, which is channelled to an array of causes (in full disclosure, of which my organisation, Survivors Fund (SURF), is a beneficiary).

Born in London and brought up in Manchester, Dame Hilary inherited strong values from her parents. “They were very good people, always going out of their way to help others, whether visiting neighbours who were ill, or in the case of a friend of my father’s who went bankrupt, helping him to set up in business again. Though not wealthy, they could certainly be classed as comfortable, but were never ‘showy’ with their money. Charity was just central to their social life, playing in charity bridge tournaments and active in WIZO and the League of Jewish Women.”

Her father, Henry Braverman, was the eldest son of immigrant parents, and left school at 15 to help support the family. “The step he took out of poverty was a far greater step than any I had to make.”

At age 8, she remembers her first experience of fundraising, “shaking a bucket, collecting for the planting of trees in Israel for the JNF.” Her interest in horticulture continues to this day, as a patron of Trees for London and proud winner of the Best Front Garden in Camden Award.

Being brought up in a family in which everyday life would involve helping others when asked, has remained her guiding philosophy today. “People who knew me when I was younger, would tell you that I have changed amazingly little.” She is not afraid to say exactly how she sees it, and how she expects things to be done.

How she has changed has come with the opportunities unavailable to her growing up. “Though I have always been religious, and had an interest in Jewish history, I just never was given the chance to study. It is a wonder now how little I was taught despite having a Jewish education, though that was likely true for most Jewish girls in Manchester in the 1950s.”

That is an opportunity that she now relishes, studying Talmud which she says “is like taking my brain out for a walk.” It is from that study that her philosophy of giving originates. She gives 10% of her income. “My notion of giving a small amount, is much larger than most people, but I think for those that do give 10% they will find themselves naturally giving more.”

Giving is an art, not an exact science, for Dame Hilary. She recognises that, like for many others, it is often guided by sentimental motives, as to what appeals emotionally.  “The reality is that different causes interest different people. Some appeal, some don’t. However generally I give to those that take the trouble of asking, unless I have very strong feelings about it.”

She is Co-Chair of Finnart House School Trust, which helps needy Jewish students in the UK to fund college and university, “an issue that has become particularly pressing in recent years, of which very few people in the community seem aware.” Her involvement grew out of a family connection, as her late father-in-law was the Chairman.

It is on this note, that it becomes evident that Dame Hilary is just one half of a charity double act, as her husband, Michael Norton, is equally prolific. A merchant banker turned social activist, he transformed the charity world by setting up the Directory of Social Change – which today is the leading source of information and training to the community and voluntary sector – and more recently by establishing the unLTD foundation, set up with an endowment of £100 million from the Millennium Commission, which funds new ideas of social entrepreneurs to bring positive change across the UK.

Her son, Toby Blume, is also in the charity world, Chief Executive of the Urban Forum, which supports communities to have a greater say over decisions that affect them. He recently was nominated as the most admired charity chief executive, an award that Dame Hilary believes that she would never win, “Toby is much more likeable than me.”

Her giving to non-Jewish causes is out her belief in supporting the widow, orphan and the stranger. ”You only need a little imagination to realise how hard life is for some people. God’s bounty is not just for us in the West.” Her funding extends from supporting Dalit girls into education and employment in India, to helping genocide widows and orphans in Rwanda sustainably farm (through the charity I direct, SURF).

“These are causes that I was introduced to, and continue to support, as I believe in them. They are helping the needy and vulnerable, as small charities that make a big difference in the lives of many. I believe that once I give money, then the money is out of my hands to control. So it is important that I can trust those organisations I support. Administration is critical to keep a charity going, but too many big charities waste too much money.”

It was through training and seminars that Dame Hilary first began guiding big charities to trade more effectively and the Charities Advisory Trust was set up. Thirty years on it continues to do so.

In concluding the interview, I ask her advice on how we can get more people to follow her lead. “Simple,” she says. “I feel you should ask on behalf of those that have no voice, and to get people to give more, you just need to ask more. People give when asked, and people don’t ask enough. I ask people all the time to give, and they are terribly shocked.”

Her new initiative, is Happy Givers, through which she is planning to support amongst other new causes, the Memorial Scrolls Trust (which repairs scrolls damaged by the Nazis) “because I like Torah.” She recently commissioned a new Torah scroll to be written by Josh Baum (see Jewish Renaissance, July 2007).

Happy Givers aims to encourage young Jews to give more. “Giving brings lasting happiness, not hardship. It should be enjoyable, and sociable.”

First published: Jewish Renaissance Magazine, April 2010 Issue.

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April 28, 2010 at 4:42 am

Happiness is a pitch for philanthropy

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Young British Jews are giving less to Jewish causes and to all charitable causes, and feel no responsibility to give more, reported the first and thus far only systematic study “Patterns of charitable giving among British Jews” (Institute of Jewish Policy Research, 1998).

Happy Givers, a program launching in London September 23, will introduce what some feel is a missing factor amongst young Jews balancing whether and how to give philanthropically: peer pressure.

Happy Givers will introduce public competition into the giving process through quarterly events. For each, four projects will be selected based on innovation, need, and interest. Any charity with a Jewish connection — supporting Jews in need or Jews helping others in need – may apply, with smaller projects prioritized. At the event, the presenters have six minutes to make the case for deserving funding using any means: film, comedy, even in-person appearances from beneficiaries. The audience has a six-minute window to fire off questions. Then, the audience votes. Attendees are given back £10 of their £20 entrance fee to add to their personal funds to publicly pledge to the project of their choice. The £10 balance covers the cost of organizing the event and grant administration.

The competition between the charities is designed to appeal to our generation, brought up on the likes of X Factor and Big Brother.

“When the idea of such competitive and public giving was suggested, I must admit I was not immediately convinced,” says Teddy Leifer, 26, a founding member of Happy Givers and creator of RISE Foundation, which funds education programs for underprivileged children. “From personal experience, I know how hard it is pitching to prospective donors. I can only consider how much more daunting that would be in front of a live audience, and then having to face their vote.”

“But the more we considered the possibility,” Leifer adds, “the more sense it made, knowing how easy it is to give little or nothing at all at synagogue or charity dinner appeals with pledge cards. There is no fun in that either. But whether this model of giving is ultimately successful will be proven by the funds raised. ”

Ivor Baddiel and Tracy-Ann Oberman compere the first Happy Givers

That is where the MC will be critical. A UK Jewish television celebrity will cajole and encourage the audience to secure ever-greater sums, which the group hopes will be matched by an established philanthropist. The aim is to raise at least £1,000 per project at the first event, which over 100 young Jews will attend, before it is matched.

The Happy Givers idea was developed by Dame Hilary Blume, Director of the Charities Advisory Trust and leading social entrepreneur. Previous projects include restoring an Indian palace in Mysore as a community-run Green Hotel, pioneering ethical present-buying catalogues, and Peace Oil, a joint venture between Israeli and Palestinian olive farmers.

First published: PresenTense Magazine, October 2009 Issue.
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September 17, 2009 at 8:16 am