by Dara Steinberg, Executive Director
Milestones are a moment to reflect back, examine the present, and look ahead. 2016 marks the 50th Anniversary of Lippman Kanfer Family Philanthropies. In 1966, Jerry Lippman founded the Jerome Lippman Family Foundation. He had turned his tenth grade education and the special soap he developed to safely remove carbon black from rubber plant workers’ hands into a business, GOJO, with his wife Goldie, who had a keen head for numbers. Creating the foundation in 1966 provided a framework for the tzedakah that was already a part of their lives and created a formal way to continue to do it together, first with their nephew Joe Kanfer, and eventually with Joe’s children as well.
The Jerome Lippman Family Foundation became, over the years, Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation and Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah – two modern entities that still have their roots in the family and efforts begun by Jerry and Goldie.
Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah champions applied Jewish wisdom as a philosophy and structure for helping people live better lives and make a better world, an approach that is rooted in the example set by Jerry and Goldie, and that links all of the family’s philanthropic work. To “walk our talk” and mark the 50th anniversary in a meaningful way, the boards of the foundations engaged in text study around Shmittah and Yovel. Yovel occurs every fifty years and extends the principles of Shmittah. Since last year, 5775, was a Shmittah year, these ideas felt timely and many board members had been studying these concepts on their own.
One of the key elements of Shmittah is the forgiveness of loans. Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation actually had 2 outstanding loans to Jewish educational institutions, both of which it had undertaken just two years ago. Making loans was a completely new area for the foundation and we experimented with this form of support when a need arose (coincidentally) for two grantees in quick succession. This was lucky for the foundation since we could build on what we learned about how to make a loan the first time in crafting the second. Jerry and Goldie’s pragmatism and desire to help others be self-sufficient was reflected in the foundation’s decision to make the loans. And for the 50th Anniversary, the board of Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation felt it was fitting to forgive $50,000 of the balance of each of those loans to accelerate the pace that those organizations could move ahead.
For Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, the board applied the ideas of Yovel in a different way. The foundation had no loans, and instead decided to utilize both the idea of celebration and the significance of doing something that felt like a bold marker of the occasion. If Shmittah, occurs every 7 years and is the “Shabbat of Shabbats,” then what must Yovel when it occurs every 50 years and sees bold moves as freeing slaves and returning the land to its original owners? Inspired, the board decided to try something different and established the inaugural Lippman Kanfer Prize for Applied Jewish Wisdom. The prize celebrates the spirit of learning that Jerry and Goldie employed in their lives and work, recognizes and rewards exemplary programs, and also creates a platform to spotlight the breadth of programs that are doing strong work in this field that we think can change lives and change the world. It is an honor to remember and celebrate the broad view and vision that Jerry and Goldie employed, and the foundation hopes that this prize might inspire others to engage with these ideas and the growing number of people and programs using them with great success.