1980s: Philanthropic Establishment—Jews, Class, and History Series

October 13, 2020

This roundtable will explore the relationship between philanthropy, American capitalism, social movements, and the state, with a focus on the 1980s and 1990s. This was the period of neoliberalism, Reagan and later of moderate Democrats, privatization of public services, and the celebration of the free-market. How did philanthropy and Jewish communal institutions transform at this time, and how did these changes set the stage for contemporary activism? Many Jewish activist groups today target and criticize “the Jewish Establishment,” a collection of Jewish non-profit communal institutions. How useful is the concept of “the Establishment” for describing non-profits? In what ways do these institutions wield power, and to what effect?

HERE IS A STORY you might find familiar:

The early 20th century was a golden age of Jewish working-class radical activism. But after World War II, upward-mobility, suburbanization, and assimilation into whiteness caused many Jews to lose their moorings and embrace increasingly conservative ideas. The new organized “Jewish Establishment” exponentially grew its wealth and influence and began to undemocratically shape Jewish communal life.

How much of this narrative is true? And what does it mean for communities struggling for justice today?

These and other pressing questions will be discussed by our participants, who range from historians of American Jews, to scholars of labor, gender, wealth, and philanthropy, to journalists, politicians, teachers, and political organizers. Join us for this intellectual and historical event.

Hosted with support from the Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History.

Katherine Acey is the Director of Strategic Collaborations at GRIOT Circle, an LGBTQ elders of color organization based in Brooklyn. Previously, she served as Associate Director of North Star Fund, Executive Director of Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, and Senior Activist Fellow Emerita at the Barnard Center for Research on Women.

Lila Corwin Berman (@LilaCBer) is professor of history at Temple University and author of The American Jewish Philanthropic Complex: The History of a Multibillion-Dollar Institution. Her articles have appeared in scholarly and popular publications, including the American Historical Review and the Washington Post.

Amy Schiller is a Dartmouth Society of Fellows postdoctoral fellow. She researches, consults, and writes about the role of philanthropy in contemporary society. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and The Nation.

Moderated by Rebecca Pierce, a writer and filmmaker based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her writing has been published in Jewish Currents, The Nation, The New Republic, and The Jewish Daily Forward.