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Making an Impact Around the Kitchen Table

By Atlanta Jewish Foundation, PHILANTHROPY

How Michael and Caren Merlin share their love of philanthropic giving with their children

Growing up in Atlanta, in the Briarcliff/Lavista and Dunwoody neighborhoods, Michael Merlin was raised with philanthropy, as he puts it, “in my family DNA.” Passed down from his grandparents to his parents and then to him – l’dor v’dor – he was surrounded by examples of commitment to helping the Jewish community here thrive

What this looked like: His dad served as president of Shearith Israel, his mom was active with the Jewish day school he attended, Hebrew Academy, and his grandmother was a regular volunteer with the Mizrachi Women at the JCC.

 “Giving back is something that is innate to the Jewish ethic and Jewish identity,” Michael said. “It’s the reason Caren and I feel so passionately about Jewish education and Jewish day schoolbecause they teach you about Tikkun Olam from a very early age.”

No surprise then that Michael and his wife Carena board member and Vice President of the Epstein Schoolhave instilled their own children with an ethos of helping others, starting when they were just totsAnd when the Merlin family gathers around the kitchen table, they frequently discuss how to give strategically through their Donor-Advised Fund (DAF) with Atlanta Jewish Foundation (AJF).

Their sons, 15-year-old Jonathan and 12-year-old Ryan, are especially precocious when it comes to philanthropyMichael can remember one winter when six-year-old Jonathan asked what Jewish Family & Career Services (JF&CS) didThe youngster had been watching his parents spending lots of time there as volunteers, and it had piqued the kindergartner’s curiosity.

“They help people,” Michael recalls explaining. They feed hungry people and clothe homeless people.”

Because it was so cold outside, Jonathan left and returned with a $5 bill and instructed Michael and Caren to give that money to JF&CS. Michael proudly recalls his small son explaining: Because it’s cold outI want to keep people warm.”

Fast forward almost a decade, and both boys still feel strongly about addressing homelessness in Atlanta – frequently hosting lunch drives for the Zaban Paradies Center.  Jonathan, a freshman at Pace Academy, and Ryan, a 6th grader at the Epstein School, have also broadened their philanthropic involvement as they’ve gotten older. 

 Jonathan is leading a fundraising campaign for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and has raised to date over $157,000.  He and Caren also serve as members of the Sandy Springs Chapter of the Young Men’s Service League.  Additionally, Jonathan has been nominated for citizenship award at Pace, where he also serves as an ambassador to prospective students.

Ryan is especially passionate about environmental stewardship, and will no doubt be addressing his concerns in this area with his upcoming bar mitzvah project.

Together, the Merlin family gives to around 15-16 charities a year through their DAF, each voicing and validating the causes that are nearest and dearest to their hearts, framed within their DAF’s mission and purpose statement.

These causes include The Epstein School, University of Haifa (Judaics Studies Teacher Exchange Program)Congregation B’nai Torah, the ML4 Foundation, JF&CS, Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation, Emory Winship Cancer Centerand many, many more.

“It is clear to me that having a Jewish education helped us instill a culture of giving back in our boys,” Michael said. With that foundation the Merlin Family had many fun and rewarding conversations in setting their philanthropic priorities together. “When I asked my kids about their three highest priorities, they said homelessness, Israel, education,” Michael 

Sparking Conversations to Leave a Legacy

By AgeWell Atlanta, Atlanta Jewish Foundation

Sparking Conversations to Leave a Legacy
Fueled by a lifetime of volunteerism, fundraising and Jewish community advocacy, Stephanie Abes found it easy to say “yes” when asked to represent Federation Women’s Philanthropy in the LIFE & LEGACY® initiative of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. LIFE & LEGACY, now in its second year in Atlanta, provides training, support and incentives to secure endowments for Atlanta’s Jewish future.

“It was the right time in my life to help spark and steer conversations with my peers about leaving a legacy gift to our community,” Stephanie says.  “As I’ve progressed in my commitments as a Jewish woman, I can see that all I’ve worked for over the years leads to this. There are so many motivations to support LIFE & LEGACY. When I see the outstanding education my grandchildren enjoyed in our Jewish day schools, and as I watch my grown children step up and serve on the boards of our backbone agencies, I want all these organizations to be strong and sustainable going forward. It’s up to me and my family to ensure that these Jewish institutions continue for future generations.”

LIFE & LEGACY is a joint venture between Atlanta Jewish Foundation and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation with a goal to build robust endowments that will support the financial future of Atlanta’s synagogues, day schools, and core Jewish organizations. Currently, 18 different Atlanta Jewish organizations are in training with fundraising professionals from LIFE & LEGACY, learning how identify potential donors and have values-based conversations with them to secure legacy commitments to the places they care about most. By participating in these trainings, Stephanie has discovered there are many ways to leave a legacy.

Abes underscores that anyone can make a legacy gift, not just the wealthy. “LIFE & LEGACY gifts can be after lifetime gifts, enabling the donor to give more than they ever thought possible during their lifetime.  The trainings have opened my eyes to the many options that exist for planning and ultimately committing to a legacy gift.  For example, a person can designate a portion of their IRA to organizations they care about so they can continue doing their amazing work into the future.”

Stephanie was moved by a story presented in training of a woman with modest assets. The woman wanted to support her synagogue’s future but didn’t think she had the means. She realized that her small condo was a possible resource, so she checked in with her kids to ask if, upon her death, making that asset a legacy gift was OK with them. Her children let her know that they’d be fine if she did it.

“Stories like that give me the tools to open up conversations with friends about making a legacy gift. I tell them, I’m not your financial planner, but through Atlanta Jewish Foundation, you can get the advice you need. They can help you look at your assets and determine what makes sense for you.

“My experiences co-chairing Federation’s Community Campaign, plus serving on the overseas allocations committee took me to our sister city of Minsk many times. Seeing the magnitude of human need for Jews in Minsk, made me realize how important it is to support Jewish infrastructure there. And of course, it reminds me that we should be proud and grateful for the incredible Jewish institutions we have in Atlanta. They need our support, too. If I can be an influencer to help someone make a gift that ensures the Jewish future here, I’m happy to do it.”

A Focus on NextGen Philanthropy

By Atlanta Jewish Foundation, NextGen Atlanta, PHILANTHROPY

Lindy and Norm Radow: Giving Thoughtfully and Strategically

For Lindy and Norman Radow, philanthropy is about gratitude, of course. But even more, it’s about making an impact and leaving a legacy that expresses their highest values. By establishing The Radow Family Foundation and a donor-advised fund at Atlanta Jewish Foundation, they sat down with their adult children and did the thoughtful work of hammering out mission and vision statements and articulating the four pillars that support their generosity. It reads:

“Inspired by Jewish tradition and values, the mission of the Radow Family Foundation is to help improve the world by investing in organizations that lift up individuals through impactful programming and needs-based initiatives. The focus of our giving is defined within these pillars: educational, communal, pro-Israel and the arts. Priority is given to those causes which help support the continuity of our Jewish people.

“We both grew up in pretty humble surroundings,” Norman says. “I lived in public housing in Brooklyn, in the same neighborhood as investment banker Lloyd Blankfein. I guess we both did okay as adults,” he laughs.

Lindy lived in Mexico City, Ohio, and Europe before coming to Atlanta. Here she built a successful career selling telecommunications products and only retired two years ago, largely to focus full time on philanthropy and Jewish community building.

A committed couple since 2007, Norman and Lindy have been married for just three years. Lindy’s decision to join the Jewish people only amplified and accelerated the Jewish dimensions of their philanthropy.

“Early in our relationship, Norman asked me to go to synagogue with him, and I did. I immediately felt comfortable at Congregation Etz Chaim and felt a natural pull to Judaism. I also came to love the peace of Shabbat and the cycle of the Jewish holidays. It was important for me to have a Jewish wedding, so I studied with Rabbi Shalom Lewis and in time I became the first person to immerse for conversion at MACoM, Atlanta’s non-denominational community mikvah which I helped found.”

As a couple, the Radows also feel deeply bound to Israel. When Norman’s son left Atlanta to join the Israel Defense Forces as a “lone soldier,” they became ardent supporters of Friends of the IDF. Norman’s son made Aliyah and is raising a family in Israel — now that they have become grandparents, they visit Israel even more often.

Passing the philanthropic torch to the next generation is a top priority. Norman and Lindy’s daughter, Lisa Rose Hurd and her husband Joe live in Sandy Springs and are officers in the Radow Family Foundation. Joe has joined the Innovation Committee at Federation and the whole family is involved in something new from Atlanta Jewish Foundation.  “They’ve launched the Jewish Foundation Forum, which gives a group of us who have family foundations, large-scale DAFs and supporting foundations, a way to gather and discuss community issues and trends in philanthropy,” Norman says. “We’ve seen that some of the ways we give that were once the holy grail of charity have all but disappeared  — think the March of Dimes. Now that polio has been eradicated, it seems less relevant. Our group is excited about new ways and new vehicles to support the Jewish people. We know that millennials give differently and are excited about organizations like OneTable, InterfaithFamily, Honeymoon Israel, and other organizations that provide fresh connections to the tradition.”

As sophisticated investors, the Radows see Atlanta Jewish Foundation as an essential tool for managing wealth and leaving a legacy. They want to see more and more people use AJF’s expertise. Norman is upbeat about the special philanthropic advantages of donor-advised funds. He funded his DAF with partnership interests in his projects, which allowed him to take tax deductions at market value. As his projects sold, the DAF was the beneficiary of the cash distributions.

“I love how our investment in AJF supports the whole Atlanta Jewish community. It amazes and humbles me that such a relatively small Jewish community has created so many institutions and such a robust infrastructure from camps, to synagogues, to day schools, the Jewish Home and more! It’s rare and wonderful to see the love and commitment of so many people combine to build our future.”

Empowering Our Daughters

By Atlanta Jewish Foundation, PHILANTHROPY

Taking Family Philanthropy To New Heights

A native of Long Island, New York, Valerie Weitzner grew up in a community with a strong Jewish presence and two hardworking parents. She noticed that her parents always made small philanthropic donations to charities that had personal meaning to them. This was the spark that ignited a lifelong path of philanthropy for Valerie — a value that she’s now passing on to her own children. Valerie and her husband Peter, whose mother was a Holocaust survivor, established the habit of giving early in their marriage and were committed to developing a strong Jewish identity for their children.

After moving to Atlanta, they became members of Temple Sinai. Eventually, both daughters, Gillian, now a high school senior, and Zoe, a college sophomore, attended religious school at Congregation Or Hadash. Valerie expressed that it was “very important to give our girls the Jewish education we never had access to growing up.” The family-centered approach to Jewish education at Congregation Or Hadash inspired Valerie to become a Bat Mitzvah along with her youngest daughter Gillian.

“We have an amazing community in Atlanta. I’ve made friends with so many smart, warm and generous women and families in the community here,” Valerie said. Those connections have led to mission trips abroad, board involvement, and philanthropic opportunities for their entire family.

Over the years, the Weitzners have used their Donor-Advised Fund to make charitable donations to a far-reaching list of organizations, including AIPAC, Atlanta Scholars Kollel, Alzheimer’s Association, Birthright, Congregation Or Hadash, Friends of the IDF, Jewish Educational Loan Fund (JELF), Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, Planned Parenthood, Temple Sinai, the Zaban Couples Center, and many others. And they’ve kept their girls in the loop every step of the way.

Just before Hanukkah last year, Valerie was inspired to give her daughters Donor-Advised Funds to manage on their own. “Peter and I have laid the groundwork for our girls to take philanthropy into their own hands and enjoy seeing them become engaged,” Valerie said. Recently, Peter and Zoe met in Washington, D.C. to attend the AIPAC Policy Conference together. The Weitzners have taken their daughters on two trips to Israel, and Zoe will travel with a group of summer camp friends to Israel on Birthright this summer.  It’s a source of pride to see all their years of charitable giving, volunteerism and community involvement being reflected in their daughters’ philanthropic priorities.

“We chose DAFs for the girls because it captures all donations in one place and makes tracking charitable gifts simpler for all of us,” said Valerie. The option to see fund balances and recommend grants online will make it easy for Gillian and Zoe to manage their philanthropic involvement and take it to the next level.

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