Case Studies

Where Are Jewish Investors Seeking Impact?

Jewish values
February 5, 2019

In October 2018, the Leichtag Foundation invested $10 million in JLens’ Jewish Advocacy Strategy, bringing total investments in the strategy close to $50 million and showing support for JLens’ leadership in Jewish faith-based investing.

The Jewish Advocacy Strategy promotes Jewish values on a wide range of issues, from social justice to the environment—and it’s just one approach Jewish impact investors are taking to reach their diverse goals through the principles and teachings of Judaism. Here are five areas where Jewish investors are seeking impact.

Responding to Climate Change

A prohibition against destroying natural resources appears in the Torah, and many Jewish people today interpret this teaching as a mandate to protect the planet. For this reason, trends such as deforestation and climate change are of concern to some Jewish investors.

The Oregon Jewish Community Foundation‘s Socially Responsible Investment Pool backs renewable energy producers, and JLens has been active in filing shareholder resolutions and participating in investor campaigns to call attention to climate risks and to support clean energy.

Backing Israeli Startups

Many Jewish people around the world feel a strong connection to Israel, and some Jewish impact investors have striven to create a prosperous future for the Jewish state by supporting Israeli startups.

Some investors may adopt the broad aim of boosting Israel’s economy, while others specifically seek out projects that could effect change for underserved groups. For example, the UJA Federation of New York‘s impact funds support Israeli businesses that employ the elderly, at-risk youth, and adults with disabilities.

The Jewish Advocacy Strategy is just one approach Jewish impact investors are taking to reach their diverse goals through the principles and teachings of Judaism.

Forging a Peaceful Resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Just as peace is one focus of other participants in faith-based investing, coexistence and peaceful responses to conflict are valued by many Jewish impact investors. The Jewish ethical text Pirkei Avot states that peace is one of the three pillars of the world. Some Jewish investors pursue peace through initiatives that offer alternatives to violence and support for people whose lives have been disrupted by conflict.

A prominent example is the work of Sir Ronald Cohen, who has channeled impact investments into Palestinian businesses as well as into Israeli initiatives that benefit Arab Israeli people, Orthodox Jews, and other economically disadvantaged groups through the Bridges Israel fund and the Portland Trust. Cohen believes that economic empowerment on both sides of Israeli-Palestinian borders can play a crucial part in ending the conflict.

Supporting Vocational Training

In the Mishneh Torah, the classical text on Jewish law, Maimonides says that the highest form of giving is to provide the support a person needs to become self-sufficient. Thus some Jewish impact investors choose to back initiatives centered on employment services or job training.

The Massachusetts Pathways to Economic Advancement impact bond, for example, provides financing for Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), an organization that has its roots in assisting Jewish immigrants. Today, JVS puts Jewish values into action to help Jewish people—as well as people from many other faiths and ethnic backgrounds—gain skills and find work.

Bringing Fresh Food to Food Deserts

Jewish people traditionally say, “Let all who are hungry come and eat” in the Ha Lachma Anya section of the Passover seder, and this iconic statement affirms the value of providing food to those who need it. Accordingly, some Jewish investors include access to food among their impact priorities.

The Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation has invested in the Michigan Good Food Fund, which offers financing for markets, restaurants, and other businesses that sell fresh food in underserved areas. It has also lent money to Artesian Farms, which grows food locally in Detroit. In addition to furthering the foundation’s commitment to tikkun olam, the concept of repairing the world, these actions are also consistent with Judaism’s traditional emphasis on supporting local communities.

A number of Jewish organizations have held panels and presentations on impact investing, and as impact investors spread awareness, other Jewish investors may decide to join in, opening up new opportunities for growth in faith-based investing from the perspective of Jewish values.

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