In February of 2024, the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and the Ruderman Family Foundation released American Jewish Philanthropy 2022: Giving to Religious and Secular Causes in the U.S. and to Israel. This benchmark report gives insights into the giving habits of American Jews, providing a unique window into this philanthropic community. 

Giving Compass spoke to the report’s authors, Dr. Patrick M. Rooney and Dr. Hanna Shaul Bar Nissim, to learn more about the research and what it means. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Q: Can you share some of the findings from this research that stood out to you?

Dr. Shaul Bar Nissim: This is what we call a baseline study. We looked at all the usual questions, such as: How much do Jewish households give to our causes? We also took a deeper dive into some of the factors in the environment of American Jews; families, communities, and how that impacts who they give to and how much they give. This report provides a very interesting, in-depth look into giving to Israel, which is something we haven't really seen in the past. About a quarter of American Jewish households give to Israel. The causes they give to are also very different from the causes that they give to here in the U.S. The main causes here are what we call “basic needs and human services” like food and shelter and clothing, education, and health care. Giving to Israel is more focused on advocacy for Israel. And when we say giving to Israel, it could be giving here in the U.S. towards causes to support Israel. So, advocacy and lobbying for Israel here or in Israel. It could be for social issues in Israel, like civil society and nonprofit organizations there. 

Dr. Rooney: The most surprising outcome might be that the socioeconomic demographics of those giving to Israel were consistently different from the socioeconomic demographics of Jewish households and their giving in the United States broadly. I think that merits further study. 

The younger two generations are both giving the most, on average, to congregational giving. This is almost orthogonal to what we see in most U.S. samples of all faiths and all age groups. So, I think that there's something different going on here.

Q: The research highlights different segments of the Jewish community who donate to Jewish and non-Jewish causes, including giving to Israel. Can you explain these differences? 

Dr. Shaul Bar Nissim: The majority of Jews in the U.S. are Ashkenazi Jews, who are descendants of Jews from Eastern and Central Europe. There's a small percentage, less than 10% of Sephardic Jews, who are descended from Jews who were exiled from Spain in 1492. There are Israeli Jews, like me; they sometimes term themselves Mediterranean Jews. It was not much of a surprise on giving here in the U.S., Ashkenazi Jews comprised the majority of givers. In Israel, we saw a completely different pattern. Those who identify as Mediterranean Jews, those who come from the Middle East originally, are actually the biggest givers to Israel. For us from Israel, it's not surprising, but it's the first study that actually identifies those groups and shows that they give more.

We did find that Orthodox Jews give more to Israel, volunteer more, and they're very generous. That was not a surprise. But we know so little about ultra-Orthodox Jews because their philanthropic systems are not very integrated and connected to those reform conservatives and Reconstructionist or unaffiliated Jews here in the U.S. It's a different world. Any piece of information we can gain about those systems, levels of generosity, and giving patterns, is unique. 

When it comes to Israel, the rules of the game are a little bit different. Normally you would see across communities the higher the education, the larger the gifts. For Israel, it actually stops after a bachelor's degree. Those with a high school education are the biggest givers in some cases. Single men are the biggest givers to Israel. Here in the U.S., married couples who are married to Jews are the most generous givers.

Q: The research revealed that “Jews who personally experienced antisemitism give statistically significantly more than those who did not.” What does this mean for Jewish giving now and in the future? 

Dr. Rooney: An aspect of the findings that really jumped off the page to me was the role of Jewish identity and antisemitism. Those who identify that their Jewish faith is important to them were much more likely to give and gave significantly more. And we see that both psychologically, “I feel Jewish and Jewish identity is important,” and behaviorally, how often they attend congregation or synagogue, is positively correlated with how much they gave or whether they gave at all. People who experienced antisemitism gave 10 times as much as those who had not. I'd say that is a mind-boggling order of magnitude difference.

Dr. Shaul Bar Nissim: It's not that those who experience antisemitism give more to religious or Jewish causes. They give more to all causes. They are more generous. Which is a huge statement, right? Because you would think “They experience antisemitism, they probably give more to the community. They're more religious, they probably give more to the congregation.” They give more to religious and non-religious causes. They give more to religiously identified organizations and non-religious organizations. And of course, they give more to Israel. 

It adds another layer to our deeper conversations on Jewish generosity, on the Jewish culture of giving. What does philanthropy mean in your daily life as a Jew? Is it another way to express your Judaism ethnically, religiously, or both?

Q: The events of October 7th evoked a significant response from the Jewish community. Can this research shed any light on how this will impact American Jewish giving? 

Dr. Shaul Bar Nissim: This data is from 2022, which is actually important because in order to understand change over time, it's good to have a recent baseline. We are always talking about not just understanding how much has been given since October, I think we can all comfortably say a lot, but how will this affect the ongoing, philanthropic support of American Jewish households towards Israel? Is what we've seen in the last six months going to extend in a year or two? We have good baseline data. We know what's been done so far. We do not know how it will impact giving. 

The other important element is that when antisemitism is on the rise. For many American Jews, it's scary to go to school or to go to synagogue in places where there's a large Jewish community, like New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. There's a very large need here. And at the end of the day, there will be an inherent tension between the local needs of the Jewish community here and those of Israel.