A Sad Day for Outreach

Two weeks ago, I was eating lunch with employees of the Robert I. Lappin Foundation, as fellow workers in interfaith outreach marveled at the foundation’s programming and sophistication. On Friday, these employees–and everyone else who worked for the foundation–lost their jobs.

The Foundation was the victim of securities fraud, as it saw its entire $8 million in assets frozen–and probably lost–in the fraud investigation into New York investor Bernard Madoff’s hedge fund. On¬†Dec. 11, Madoff was arrested after admitting that his fund was essentially a $50 billion “Ponzi” scheme.¬†

For 16 years, the Lappin Foundation provided programs for unaffiliated Jews, with a particular focus on interfaith families,¬†in communities on Massachusetts’ North Shore. It funded a trip to Israel for more than 100 high school sophomores and juniors, conversion and introductory Judaism classes for adults, holiday celebrations for unaffiliated Jews and many, many more programs. Its financial resources and organization were the envy of other communities.

At InterfaithFamily.com, we certainly had our philosophical disagreements with the foundation. Its stated purpose was “to keep our children Jewish, thus reversing the trend of assimilation and intermarriage.” Fighting intermarriage was either implicitly or overtly the theme of much of its work. It pushed conversion as the best option for non-Jewish spouses in interfaith families. It sought to “imbue our children with the desire to stay Jewish and marry Jewish.”

But despite our disagreements with their philosophy and sometimes, their tactics, the net effect of the Lappin Foundation’s largesse was the engagement of more Jews with Judaism, including many Jews from interfaith families. Thousands of Jews and their families in the North Shore benefited directly from the organization’s work. For the Jewish Federation of the North Shore and the synagogues in the area, providing programming for the unaffiliated is¬†going to be¬†a much greater financial challenge.

While some of their goals may have been misguided, the Lappin Foundation still helped engage many interfaith families with Judaism. And in Judaism, your deeds count far more than your words.

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2 thoughts on “A Sad Day for Outreach

  1. As disappointing as the demise of the Lappin Foundation is, they were largely responsible for those initial and successful attempts at reaching out and bringing back the unaffiliated at a time when the general trend was to just “let them go.”

    I’d expect that Madoff’s escapade will negatively affect a great number of philanthropies more in the coming weeks.

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