Q&A: Shai Doron, president of the Jerusalem Foundation

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Shai Doron, president of the Jerusalem Foundation, which seeks to build philanthropic partnerships to “shape the future of Jerusalem,” was in St. Louis late last month and sat down for an interview with the Jewish Light at the Jewish Federation’s Kaplan Feldman Complex. 

Doron and his colleague Amos Giora of the University of Utah School of Law were in town as part of a visit to several American cities, where they met with local business and community leaders. Excerpts of the interview follow:

Describe the Jerusalem Foundation in terms of its origin, sponsorship and goals.

The Jerusalem Foundation, the biggest urban foundation in Israel, was established in 1966 as an initiative of Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek. Kollek saw the Jerusalem Foundation as a means to raise funds for unique projects, with the goal of developing Jerusalem and advancing the city’s society as one of freedom, pluralism and tolerance.

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The Jerusalem Foundation, in partnership with friends of Jerusalem from Israel and around the world, procures funding for thousands of project and initiatives that create opportunities for all of the city’s different populations, regardless of religion, race or nationality. Throughout the years, the Jerusalem Foundation has raised over a billion and a half dollars, serving as a model that has been replicated by municipal authorities throughout Israel.

How has the mission of the Jerusalem Foundation evolved over the years?

At the founding, Jerusalem had many material and physical needs. In the early years, capital projects, parks and gardens were a major focus to repair and improve a city that had been divided for many years, and new neighborhoods were established that required infrastructure of community centers, libraries, sports centers and more. In the last 20 years, the foundation has focused more on programming and areas such as shared living and diversity in the city, culture and arts for all residents and opportunities for vulnerable populations. 

What are the primary financial resources that support the foundation? Is there any Israeli government funding of the Jerusalem Foundation? 

The Foundation is supported through fundraising, and income from properties and endowments in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Foundation is an independent foundation that raises funds for its own projects. However, the foundation does raise matching government funds for projects, creating private public partnerships to leverage opportunities. 

Why was the late Mayor Kollek so committed to creating the Jerusalem Foundation?

He was the first person to understand that modern philanthropy needed to connect donors directly to their projects and not raise unallocated general funds.  He understood that he needed more money to support a city like Jerusalem and that the municipality’s ability to raise sufficient taxes from a poor population with many religious institutions was limited compared to what he knew was needed for his vision for the future of the city.

Are the foundation’s activities blended into the education ministry and other government entities?

The Jerusalem Foundation is often the initiator and pioneer of new projects in education, culture and social welfare. It uses our ability to work with all partners and organizations in the city to bring people together around new initiatives and innovative approaches that then the education ministry or other government and municipal entities join and take over for long-term sustainability. 

How has the foundation improved living and education opportunities for disadvantaged or vulnerable communities?

This is one of the major areas of our engagement in the city. In particular we support the Springboard Program, which alleviates poverty and breaks the cycle in struggling neighborhoods by creating a coalition of local partners, including residents. … In Kiryat Menachem, huge improvements in the education and community connection were felt, and we are currently also in Gilo.

What is the purpose of your visit to St. Louis?

I travel around the world visiting different cities and meeting with people who are interested in Jerusalem and Israel and willing to hear more about the importance of supporting this city. 

Was President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv welcomed by the Jerusalem Foundation?

The Foundation is apolitical and independent. We take no position on government policy matters. The Embassy move was not a major issue for most of Jerusalem’s residents.