During the the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference concluded its discussions and deliberations in Glasgow. Since it began two weeks ago, hours of negotiations have taken place between the 200 countries present about how to best tackle and mitigate the global challenge posed by climate change and the impacts of it. Promises were made, goals were set, yet the impact of the decisions taken will only be felt years, likely decades, into the future.
On taking a step back from the details of the agreements, framing COP26 was the issue of legacy and a single, fundamental question that should concern us all, whatever our profession or position within society: What kind of a world do we want to leave for future generations?
The concept of a legacy often challenges our natural human instincts. It requires us to prioritise long-term planning over short-term gain. It calls on us to recognise the value of things, not just their price. It forces us be unselfish when our inclination might be otherwise. It needs us, as the late Rabbi Sacks zt”l said, to focus on the ‘We’ not the ‘I’ – on what defines the common good, not just our individual needs.
Within the UK Jewish community, we have had an impressive record of doing just that. In a 2016 report by the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, 93% of all Jews surveyed said that they had made at least one charitable donation in the past year, either to a Jewish or non-Jewish charity. Yet according to other research, only 25% – that’s only one in four members of the community – leave a charitable legacy in their will.
To address this specific challenge, several Jewish charities, large and small, within the community came together eight years ago to establish Jewish Legacy. Since then, our mission has been to raise the profile and understanding of what legacy giving is about and to encourage everyone to consider donating to their chosen charity as part of their will. Today, remarkably, 44 Jewish charities are working in partnership to achieve this common goal.
What Jewish Legacy and its partner charities are hoping to do – not just during November, which is Jewish Legacy Month, but throughout the year – is to reframe how our community thinks about its charitable giving in a way that ensures we are not just addressing the important immediate challenges, made more severe by the ongoing Covid pandemic, but about how we can secure the support for these charities beyond our own lifetime.
Recently Garry Kasparov, widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest chess players, released an online video series, giving the world an insight into how he approaches the game. Part of his success is born from an ability to make the crucial distinction between tactics and strategy. As he once said: “Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do. Strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do.”
Understanding that distinction is a crucial element to achieving success in chess. The same is true in international climate change negotiations among nations, or in dealing with the myriad of issues we face as a community. Often I’ve felt that our community is especially strong at short-term tactical responses, but less so when we have to undertake long-term strategic planning and, as Kasparov says, “know what to do when there is nothing to do.”
Thirty-six-hour, online crowdfunding campaigns, the likes of which we have seen raise enormous sums of money to support our community during the pandemic, are an important short-term tactical response; they are not a long-term strategic solution. Legacy giving is. It might not be as exciting, but it is just as vital. By investing more in our collective legacy giving, we can secure a communal charitable legacy of which we can all be proud.