The Milstein Foundation Campus Allies Mission to Israel is designed for pro-Israel political activists and student leaders who are non-Jewish. Participants experienced the land of the Bible, gained a deeper understanding of the strategic and social issues facing Israel today, and examined the challenges and opportunities associated with the U.S.-Israel alliance.
October 2015: Gila and Adam Milstein accept the Humanitarian of the Year Award at the Magen David Adom Red Star Ball
Adam Milstein — an Israeli-American entrepreneur and community leader — speaks about the principles of active philanthropy and his work to strengthen the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
Adam Milstein is among Los Angeles’ most visible Israeli-American philanthropists. Through the family foundation that he runs with his wife, Gila, the San Fernando Valley resident gives upward of $1 million annually to dozens of organizations, including the Birthright Israel Foundation, the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange and Hillel.
But Milstein, 63, who was born in Haifa and served in the Israeli army during the Yom Kippur War with Ariel Sharon’s brigade, wasn’t always so giving.
Three years after moving to Los Angeles in 1981 to attend business school at USC, he began what has been a successful career in commercial real estate with Hager Pacific Properties, where he continues to work full time as a managing partner. In 2007, Milstein — a member of Valley Beth Shalom and father of three — co-founded the Israeli-American Council (IAC), and he recently was named national chairperson.
Somewhere along the line, Milstein was introduced to the idea of philanthropy. He recently sat down with TRIBE to talk about Israeli philosophies on giving, who and what led him to take a different route, and what he’s doing to instill the value in the next generation. An edited version of that conversation follows.
Books from the Sifriyat Pijama B’America program that is funded by the Milstein Family Foundation.
TRIBE: Did you learn to be philanthropic from your parents?
ADAM MILSTEIN: No. Really what the Israeli and Israeli-American community is missing is philanthropy. But the Orthodox Jews have grown up with philanthropy … and the fact that I had a [business] partner who is Modern Orthodox, I got introduced to philanthropy at a very young point in my life, and introduced to the joy of giving and the rewards of giving. I remember about 15 years ago I had many discussions with him, as to, “So, what do we do now?” It’s not satisfying just to continue to make more money and more money. At some point, you want to do something valuable with your money, leave an impact, create a legacy, make your community better. This was really the point that I got more involved in philanthropy.
My wife and I established the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation. Over the years, we have established a specific mission. We want to strengthen the Jewish people, we want to strengthen the State of Israel and we want to strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance. So, all the charities and entities we give money to need in some way to accomplish our mission.
T: Would Israelis and Israeli-Americans argue with your point that they aren’t naturally charitable?
AM: They would not argue. In Israel, there is a phrase called “freier.” Freier is a sucker. In Israel, to give money to charity, you are a sucker. This is the attitude. In Israel, the public gets everything free from the government — from social services to schools to temples. So people aren’t used to giving money. As of now, it is being introduced more and more because there are a lot of people in Israel who don’t have a home or don’t have food. So when we created the IAC, we said we want to encourage and inspire philanthropy.
T: How do you do that if people aren’t used to giving?
AM: One of our slogans is, “We aspire to be a freier.” You think that to be a sucker is stupid; we think it’s smart. We want to lead by example. We are givers. People see that we get respect and make accomplishments by giving. They see if it’s good for [entertainment mogul] Haim Saban to give, if it’s good for Adam Milstein to give, if it’s good for [IAC co-founder] Shawn Evenhaim to give, then it must be a good thing to give.
The other thing is [to] speak about it, speak about the fact that the giver gets much more than the receiver. In fact, there was an example that happened to me in my early partnership that convinced me that charity is a no-brainer. The way that the Modern Orthodox present philanthropy is they say it’s not that you have to give 10 percent of your earnings as philanthropy. It’s the opposite. Whatever you give, God gives you 10 times more. …
What do you mean? … I had some incidents with my partner where we were philanthropic one day and the next day something beautiful happened — suddenly we made a lot of money. The examples were so close that I couldn’t argue. It works this way: I think God is blessing the people that are blessing anyone else. God wants to really empower the people who are givers. And if I am a giver, God will say, “Let me make this person more successful so [he] can give more.”
T: Was this a hard talk with your wife?
AM: She was a partner from the get-go. We discuss the different program and grant requests. We make mutual decisions. She is the president of an organization called Stand By Me that helps families combat [cancer]. … So, my wife is more the soul of the philanthropy. Her heart is more into social justice, and I am more focused on strengthening Israel, the Jewish people, the U.S.-Israel alliance.
Obviously there are hundreds and hundreds of Jewish organizations in the United States. The names are confusing and you never know who is doing what. So over the years, we took it on ourselves every year to help another five organizations. I thought the only way you can learn about an organization is to give them money, come to their meetings. Now I think we have like 100, and I’ll tell you how we give: Besides the mission statement, we have a model of operation, and the model of operation says, first of all, we want to be active philanthropists, not just give money and forget about it, to make sure that there is an impact. Many times, we will create programs that didn’t exist. Organizations would come to us and say, “Can you help us?” And we will ask the organization, “Which programs are you running or which program would you like to run if you had the money?”
T: Can you give me an example?
AM: Let’s talk about AIPAC. … They said, “There is a program that we love, [but] we don’t have money for it. We would like to take non-Jewish student leaders to Israel, the people that will be the senators and congressmen of the world. They are in college today. We have identified them.” We said it’s a no-brainer to take non-Jews. Anyone you take to Israel comes back as a friend. So it has been maybe eight years since we established a program called the Milstein Family Foundation Campus Allies Mission to Israel.
The other program, for example, is Sifriyat Pijama B’America. Gila and I met Harold Grinspoon, the founder of PJ Library, on a trip to Egypt in 2010. We got friendly and we said, “We need to do a program together.” Then I thought, “We want to reach Israeli-Americans. The easiest way to reach the Israeli community is to give books in Hebrew to their kids.” I told Harold, “Why don’t we create the PJ Library in Hebrew in the United States?” And he loved it. We started with 1,000 families in 2011 and now we have 18,000.
T: I imagine you have to say no sometimes. Is it hard to say no?
AM: No. It is very easy. I am going back to the model of operation for our foundation because it is important. The first concept was active philanthropy. The second concept is synergy. That means every program we do needs to help other programs. We don’t like to help projects that are stand-alone and have no impact on anything else. We are looking for partnerships. We are looking for ways to make stronger relationships between organizations and to be creating a force multiplier so that one plus one equals five. … And the last [concept] is life pass. … Life pass impact means we don’t want to shoot and do one program here and one program there. We want to impact the life of our next generation, our young generation, in a systematic way. We have programs for every age group. The programs that we support are going from age 2 to age 40.
T: You have a pretty robust presence on social media, including nearly 40,000 Twitter followers.
AM: In general, anything I do I want to be good at. About two years ago, I was introduced to Twitter as a way to reach a wider audience of younger people. I decided to experiment with it. I think what it does is expand our circle of friends and partners, people reaching me from all corners of the world with ideas.
T: It seems like you really enjoy your role as a philanthropist.
AM: Yes. I am really very lucky to be in this situation. I have the resources to do whatever I want. If I want to sponsor something, I don’t have to look for money. I have enough experience with what works and what doesn’t work. I have enough connection with other organizations to see how it helps everybody. I am in a situation where I can really make an impact. For me it’s easy, but I think I am very fortunate to be there.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Leslee Komaiko is a freelance journalist and full-time mom. She lives in Sherman Oaks.
In his opening remarks, in front of the Israeli American Council’s 2nd Annual National Conference this month, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu said: “I appreciate all of the work that the Israeli-American Council does to strengthen the critical US-Israel Alliance”. The event – representing largest gathering of Israeli-Americans in history, with more than 1,300 attendees, up from 650 the year before – marked an important milestone in the development of a new Movement across the United States.
Adam Milstein with Joe Lieberman and Mitt Romney at the IAC 2014 convention (Shahar Azran, IAC).
During the conference, Israeli government officials on the left and the right – from Isaac Herzog to Yuval Steinitz to Ayelet Shaked– embraced Israeli Americans as a strategic asset for the Jewish State and the Jewish people. This would have been unthinkable just a decade ago, when Israelis in the Diaspora were often diminished, called names like yordim – those who went down (from Israel) – and much worse.
In the last ten years, we have also seen a shift in mindset among those of Israeli descent in America, a population that lived on its “suitcases packed” for decades. Despite U.S. passports, English-speaking families, and American homes and businesses, we always thought that we would return to Israel one day. Since we didn’t feel rooted in the United States, we saw little need to cultivate community – and generally remained disconnected from synagogues and in Jewish community organizations.
This mentality did not serve our community well. Oftentimes, our children sought to distance themselves from our foreign culture, and quickly began assimilating, in many cases leaving both their Jewish and Israeli identities behind. Our insistence that we were not Americans alienated the Jewish-American community and our neighbors in the U.S. And because we lived outside of Israel, Israelis never fully accepted us as one of their own.
Eight years ago, I came together with several other Israeli-American businessmen in Los Angeles to meet the needs of our unique community. Before we founded the Israeli-American Council (IAC), no one used the term “Israeli-American.” You were either American or an Israeli who was living in the U.S. Today we can proudly embrace an Israeli-American identity – centered on that the idea that our home is in America, while our Jewish homeland will always be Israel. Accepting the fact that we are American has unified our community like never before – and now we are mobilizing it as movement across our country, with a three-part mission.
First, we transmit “Israeliness” – our Israeli culture, Hebrew language, our Jewish heritage and values, and connection to the Land of Israel – to the next generations.
Second, we cultivate Israeli Americans as Jewish leaders within the U.S., enriching Jewish life across the country.
Third, we are strengthening the U.S.-Israel alliance. Our fluent understanding of both cultures uniquely positions us to serve as a nexus between the Israeli people and the American people – and to offer a personal perspective on the current debates about the Middle East.
The IAC’s rapid growth from a single office and a few hundred members into a national movement with regional councils in nine cities and an active constituency of 250,000 illustrates the great need for our organization.
Adam and Gila Milstein, with Joe and Hadassah Lieberman and Mitt Romney at the IAC 2014 convention (Shahar Azran, IAC).
I’m confident that we are just getting started. Rooted in our emerging Israeli-American identity, we will continue to expand all across the country. We need all members of our community to be part of the process by engaging in our programs, getting involved in their region, and bringing others into our movement.
The IAC is filling a hole that many Israelis living in America have long felt. When 1,300 came together, we sent a message to the world. We are proud to be Israeli-Americans; We are energized and feel a sense of purpose; We all inspired and support the mission of our movement. The infrastructure is growing. Our collective voice is louder than ever before. The Israeli-Americans are not only a new identity, but an historical game changer!
During time of increased conflict in Israel, a record-breaking $12m is raised at American Friends of Magen David Adom event
LOS ANGELES — It was an evening to rival any number of Los Angeles red carpet events as The American Friends of Magen David Adom celebrated its third annual Red Star Ball at the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom on October 22.
Men donned smart suits and tuxedos and women shimmied in tulle, taffeta and silk, many in MDA’s signature red and black colors as they sat down to a three-course dinner at the fundraising event.
Celebrity attendees included an Israeli film star making her mark in Hollywood, Odeya Rush, actress Karla Souza (“How to Get Away with Murder”), Michael Richards (who played Kramer on “Seinfeld”), and comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who was the special guest performer of the evening.
A longtime American Red Cross supporter (Magen David Adom is its Israeli affiliate), Seinfeld performed a 30-minute set that comes before his Israeli stand-up debut, with four sold-out shows this December.
According to a recent Maxim magazine, Seinfeld is the highest paid comedian of 2015. Also a well-known philanthropist, Seinfeld is attached to several charities, including his wife Jessica’s Baby Buggy initiative, and has made “surprise” appearances for other foundations, including at a Gregg’s Gift comedy night dedicated in the name of Gregg Grossman who died of addiction problems at 27.
But it was the cancellation of a charity appearance that in 2011 sparked a high-profile media row between the comedian and the Donald.
Seinfeld, who has donated to both Democrat and Republican politicians’ campaigns, pulled out of an Eric Trump Foundation benefit, to be hosted by father Donald, aiding the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital because the comic was “increasingly uncomfortable” with the current leading Republican candidate’s personal attacks against US President Barack Obama.
It’s unlikely Seinfeld would be welcomed at a Trump White House: Back in 2011, as an end-cap to the Trump affair, the star told Extra, “Let me say this about Donald Trump. I love Donald Trump, all comedians love Donald Trump. If God gave comedians the power to invent people, the first person we would invent is Donald Trump… God’s gift to comedy.”
‘All comedians love Donald Trump. If God gave comedians the power to invent people, the first person we would invent is Donald Trump’
At the LA charity ball, following a short film showing Magen David Adom volunteers at work in life-threatening situations, Seinfeld quipped, “I always like to perform after emergency activities are shown with injured people and blood flowing. Perhaps we’ll have a little more blood flowing tonight after my show.”
But as the video made clear, this wasn’t just an evening of glitz and glamour. It was also one of gravitas. AFMDA set a $10 million fundraising target for the night to help Magen David Adom in Israel purchase among other things, new ambulances and emergency medical supplies.
The bar was set high because Magen David Adom relies solely on donations, as the Israeli government does not fund it. By evening’s end attendees had donated $12 million (double the amount raised at the 2014 ball) – including a $5 million donation from philanthropists Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. Many of the funds raised will be put toward the building of MDA’s national underground blood services center.
The center will eventually house and protect Israel’s entire blood supply from terror attacks and natural disasters.
Last year, the event focused on the work done by Magen David Adom during Operation Protective Edge. This year the focus turned to the recent spate of stabbing and shooting attacks around the country and the thousands of Magen David Adom volunteers who risk their lives to save others.
Dina Leeds, who hosted the evening with her husband, Fred, read out a list of sobering statistics, noting that between October 1 and October 20, MDA teams have provided medical treatment for 174 casualties in Israel. Of those, many were treated for shock, 115 were injured, 78 are listed in mild condition, 18 in moderate condition, 11 in severe condition and nine have died. Leeds then went on to name each of the nine individuals that were murdered.
In what has become a tradition of the gala, AFMDA flew out several MDA volunteers and those who have been helped by MDA in Israel. Among them was Hananel Alvo, who several years ago was stabbed on his way to work. Thanks to the life-saving work of MDA paramedics, Alvo survived severe injuries and decided to give back by becoming an MDA paramedic.
The night was also an opportunity to honor several individuals who continue to support Magen David Adom and the State of Israel. Ruth Flinkman-Marandy and Ben Marandy received the Lifetime Achievement Award, while philanthropists Gila and Adam Milstein received the Humanitarian Award. They are the founders of the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, which supports 80 Jewish and Israeli organizations.
‘There is no question that Magen David Adom is the margin between life and death. Make no mistake — there will be more attacks, more rockets will be fired and unfortunately more missiles will be launched’
Israeli-born Milstein said, “Tonight our thoughts and prayers are with our brothers and sisters in Israel who are now facing a wave of terror attacks. Moments like this bring great focus to simple truths. Our support for Magen David Adom means no less than the difference between life and death.”
He went on to speak of two recent stabbing victims: a 13-year-old Pisgat Ze’ev boy and the 20-year-old female soldier stabbed in the West Bank just north of Jerusalem. Both, he said, are alive today thanks to the lifesaving efforts of MDA emergency services that were on the scene within minutes.
Ensuring that AFMDA continues its efforts by reaching out to the younger generation, Barak Raviv was honored with the Next Generation Award. A senior vice president and portfolio management director at Morgan Stanley in Los Angeles, Raviv also has his own foundation and recently donated a pediatric examination room at Share Zedek medical center in Jerusalem.
In a short film clip, Raviv said, “But the charity that is closest to my heart is Magen David Adom. Their humanitarian efforts around the globe impressed me and I wanted to be a part of it. I partnered with friends and donated my first ambulance to MDA at the age of 30.” He’s since donated several more.
Accepting the award, Raviv said, “There is no question that Magen David Adom is the margin between life and death. Make no mistake — there will be more attacks, more rockets will be fired and unfortunately more missiles will be launched. And when we ask ourselves, ‘What have we done to help the people of Israel?’ you will be able to proudly stand and say, ‘I was here. I funded the underground blood center; I helped save lives in Israel.’”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.
JNS.org) The fast-growing Israeli American Council (IAC) recently drew 1,300 Israeli Americans to its second annual national national conference in Washington, DC, with conference sessions ranging from the Iran nuclear deal to Israeli culture to fighting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Expanding beyond its Los Angeles headquarters in recent years, the fast-growing IAC says it now reaches 250,000 people nationwide through its nine regional offices.
“We have become a movement,” said IAC National Chairman Adam Milstein. “America is our home. Israel will always be our Jewish homeland. And as Americans of Israeli descent we are uniquely positioned to strengthen the relationship between both countries.”
At the Oct. 17-19 conference, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said IAC “represents a powerful idea whose time has come.”
“If Israel’s enemies can’t do it with their armies, and they can’t do it with terror, they’re going to try to do with an economic boycott. This is what the IAC is here for,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.).
JNS.org profiled IAC before its first national conference was held in November 2014.
“I think the Israeli people are best equipped to communicate the truth about Israel, because they are not naive like many in the American Jewish community,” Milstein told JNS.org at the time. “They know the Israeli people, they know that we have very high standards of human rights and freedom, they know the propaganda war of Hamas and Iran.”
IAC is the lead partner in the launching of the new Talk Israel mobile app, which calls itself the “first mobile app to bring you pro-Israel digital content from dozens of sources tailored to your personal preferences and interests using machine learning.”
The mission of The Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation (“MFF”) is to strengthen American values, support the U.S.-Israel alliance, and combat bigotry and hatred in all forms.
MFF also works to strengthen the Jewish people and their affinity to the State of Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, by instilling pride in their Jewish identity and fostering the courage to stand up and combat their detractors… Read More
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