Kosher OC: Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation: Connecting and Getting Involved in the Cause

March 2, 2015

Philanthropist Adam Milstein thinks there is a problem with the culture of many Jewish and pro-Israel organizations.  Because their priority is to raise funds, each one wants to stand out as the most important, effective organization.  “Just give us the money, and we can take care of it, is the way they present themselves,” he said.  If they work together, they can’t take all the credit, and then they can’t raise as much money.”

Milstein, 63, thinks he has a better solution.  It started in Los Angeles, where Milstein and his wife live.  He brought big donors together in the council of philanthropists, so that organizations could share ideas and resources.  Functioning as a connector, the Adam and Gil Milstein Family Foundation supports a variety of organizations and ensures that programs funded share resources among multiple groups.  Included are organizations working in the areas of media accuracy and non-governmental organization monitoring, Jewish and Israel education, youth and young professional engagement and outreach, combating anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activity on college and university campuses, health and medical issues, Israeli-American and Jewish community services, connecting non-Israeli Americans with Israel, policy research and democracy think tanks and supporting Israel’s legitimacy.

Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation’s active philanthropy is about connecting organizations, giving financially and getting involved in the cause.

As Milstein told, “Everything that I do, I put a few organizations together, I make them work together, make them empower each other and create a force multiplier.”  Working with the American-Israel Educational Foundation (AIEF), the educational wing of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Milsteins helped to create the Campus Allies Mission to Israel and the Campus Allies delegation to AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference.  Both Campus Allies Missions engage African-American, Christian, and Latino student leaders and educate them to become advocates for Israel.

Milstein’s passion is active philanthropy, which means giving money and getting involved in the cause.  “The easiest thing is to write a check, and nobody knows where they money goes, Milstein explained.  “I wanted to create impact, and I selected programs where I could put my own stamp and connect organizations.”

The Milsteins serve on the board of several organizations; one of them being the board of the Israeli-American Leadership Council whose mission is to build an active and giving Israeli-American Community in order to strengthen the State of Israel and our next generation and to provide a bridge to the Jewish-American community.  Through this organization they not only sponsor, but helped create several programs:

Sifriyat Pijama B’America: The Milsteins believe that by learning about Jewish values from a young age, Jewish children are likely to share a strong appreciation and affinity for their shared Jewish culture and retain a strong Jewish identity as they grow older. This is why they were inspired to help fund a program that provides free Hebrew children’s books to Jewish families across the United States in order to promote the use of Hebrew in the home and establish Hebrew as the language of the Jewish people.

Shagririm (The Ambassadors) is a program that trains and educates current college students to help them build coalitions with primarily non-Jewish organizations in an effort to promote Israel advocacy on campus.

The Israeli Fellows (Shlichim) are young people who have served in the Israeli Army, finished their university studies and have agreed to a two-year mission to work on a U.S. campus as the voice and face of Israel.  They coordinate all the pro-Israel activities on campus for the local Hillel house.  The Milsteins help sponsor many of the Israeli Fellows for the Southern California area and have initiated positions for them at UC Irvine, CSUN, and San Diego State University (SDSU).  Adam and Gila Milstein not only sponsor them but provide resources, connections and funding for many of their campus projects and activities.  There are more than 50 Israeli Fellows nationwide, and the Milsteins stay in touch with all of them.  By introducing them to many organizations, Adam and Gila are able to use them to represent all Jewish organizations on campus.

While Milstein is based in LA, his impact is felt all over California and beyond.  Locally, he supports Shalom Family at Jewish Federation & Family Services, Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School and OC Israeli.

Milstein, who left Israel 35 years ago, explained that charity is very different there.  It is not tax deductible, and religious and secular organizations go their separate ways.  While people volunteer their time and belongings, the culture of monetary philanthropy is lacking, Milstein said.  After his modern Orthodox friend and business partner educated him about ma’aser (tithing), the Jewish tradition of giving 10 percent of one’s income to charity, he created the Israeli-American Council to show by example that charitable giving could be a good thing.

“Israelis are always connected to Israelis, but they are not always connected to Jewish life in America,” he said.  “In Israel they don’t have to pay for schools, and they don’t come from a culture where they pay for shuls and Federations.  We give them some free services, hoping that we connect with them and get them involved.  Now that the concept has caught on, a gala in March raised more than $1 million.”

Connection to Judaism and connection in Israel go hand in hand, according to Milstein.  “We have religion, history, culture, values, homeland and language in common,” he said.  “We are part of one peoplehood.”  He is a “major player” in Birthright, as well as Taglit Shelanu, which sends people of Birthright age who have Israeli parents to Israel.

Milstein became more observant when his daughters started to date non-Jews.  Motivating them by setting an example, he got involved with Aish HaTorah, which introduced him to advocacy organizations.  Believing that the same people who are assimilated are the ones who are disconnected from Israel, he tries to bring people into Jewish life, educating them about philanthropy and connectedness at every stage.