Bernie Marcus, the Jewish-American billionaire and Donald Trump supporter, has awarded a major grant of $38 million to Hillel International, the Jewish campus life organization.
The grant, announced on Monday evening at the Hillel International Global Assembly in Orlando, is meant to finance a new initiative aimed at recruiting and training campus professionals. The money will be paid out over the course of several years through the Atlanta-based Marcus Foundation, a family-run philanthropy that primarily supports medical health research, education and Jewish-themed projects.
Marcus, the co-founder of Home Depot and estimated to be worth $3.6 billion by Forbes Magazine, endorsed Trump in an article published in June on the Real Clear Politics website: “The fate of this nation depends on sending him, and not Hillary Clinton, to the White House.” The other well-known Jewish billionaire who supported Trump was Sheldon Adelson.
In his endorsement of Trump, Marcus expressed concern that a Clinton victory would shift the U.S. Supreme Court “leftward for generations.” “She must be stopped,” he wrote.
Hillel’s success in attracting a growing number of big donor grants has proven to be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the money has allowed the local branches of Hillel to invest in better facilities. On the other hand, donors have been known to try to interfere with programming and policy decisions.
It was partly in response to such interference that the Open Hillel movement was established several years ago. The main trigger was a list of guidelines published by Hillel International for Israel-related activities on campuses. These guidelines set limitations on the type of Jewish groups that could be affiliated with Hillel and the type of groups that could co-sponsor events with Hillel. These restrictions included a ban on groups that supported the international BDS movement.
Responding to the huge donation announced by the Marcus Foundation, Hillel International CEO, Eric Fingerhut said: “These grants will not just transform Hillel, but transform the Jewish world.”
The investment by Marcus provided evidence, he said, “that the Jewish philanthropic community recognizes Hillel’s vital role in shaping the future of the Jewish world.”
In August, Hillel International teamed up with Israel's Ministry of Diaspora Affairs in a new initiative meant to strengthen Jewish identity on college campuses abroad. Hillel was one of three organizations to receive a total of $22 million from the Israeli government as part of this Mosaic United initiative.
Unlike Hillel, which has no particular religious affiliation, the other two organizations – Chabad and Olami – are both engaged in Orthodox outreach work. Olami is affiliated with the Aish Hatorah movement.
When the initiative was announced, leaders of the progressive Jewish movements in the United States expressed concern that two of the three beneficiaries of this Israeli government-funded project were Orthodox organizations.
Never before had the government agreed to provide major funding to Jewish campus life organizations overseas. As part of the Mosaic United initiative, the Jewish campus organization have committed to investing two dollars for every dollar provided by the government.
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