By Gina Ross, Chief Executive, Jewish Legacy
Having worked originally as a solicitor and then as a teacher, I applied to work for Jewish Legacy in 2012 in the hope I would be able to combine working with doing something worthwhile in the community.
Jewish Legacy, a non-profit charity campaign, which launched in November 2012, offered me that opportunity. The organisation was created to address the alarming decline in legacy income for Jewish charities. Its main aim is to encourage members of the community to think about legacy-giving to a charity of their choice and, at the time of its inception, was working with around 21 Jewish charities to promote this concept.
Working initially as an administrator, I took on more and more responsibility and, after working for a year as executive manager, I’ve now been promoted to chief executive.
Although I am essentially Jewish Legacy’s only member of staff, I am strongly supported by members of the board and trustees and report to them frequently. I really enjoy the work, although I have to say working for a campaign that is trying to encourage people to think about their deaths has presented a challenge at times.
While my closest friends have been discussing their work in media, fashion and so on, I inevitably ruin the mood by discussing my work in wills and deaths. I have also become accustomed to emotional phone calls from people, some with illnesses or ailing parents, looking to leave money to one of Jewish Legacy’s 49 charity partners.
There have, of course, been amusing moments. Several months ago, I was contacted by several people wishing to pay me money to attend Jewish Legacy: the Musical.
Then there was the Nigerian princess who contacted Jewish Legacy on Facebook, stating she had fallen in love with him.
On a serious note, the campaign is essential to our community and the most important work I have undertaken. It is working with 49 charities across the spectrum, with a target of increasing legacy-giving by five percent in the next three to five years.
This is ambitious, especially bearing in mind that although 75 percent of the Jewish community gives to Jewish causes during their lifetime, research shows only one in four leave a gift to charity in their wills.
Legacies are such an important source of income for organisations such as ours, especially today when, apparently, one in six charities believe cuts in public spending and falling donations may force them to close within the next year.
For example, the Jewish charity Drugsline has helped tens of thousands of Jewish people and their families as they struggled with all manners of addictions. In September 2012, it had to close owing to acute financial difficulties, although it has now reopened thanks to a partnership with Norwood. However, in today’s financial climate, it looks as if we are set to see closures happen increasingly often.
With rising levels of anti-Semitism (according to a report by the Anti-Defamation League, one in four people around the world expresses anti- Semitic views) and all manner of extremism in Europe and the Middle East, who can we depend on today to support the most desperate members of our community if not ourselves?
Moreover, as Jewish people, we have a duty to perform tzedakah, or the obligation to give to charity. Some even suggest giving assistance and money to worthy causes is the most important of all the commandments.
My view is that a stronger network of charities will provide the Jewish community with better support and a stronger unified voice. Thanks to their association with Jewish Legacy, our 49 charity members have a louder voice than they would individually when it comes to stressing the importance of leaving a charitable legacy.
As Steven Lewis, chairman of Jewish Care and a trustee of the Jewish Leadership Council, rightly warned in a recent article: “Unless we, as Jewish people, look after our own institutions, they won’t be there.”
When I think about the next generation and the future of my little girl, that’s a sobering thought.