A Model Philanthropist

by George Perlov


Philanthropists face many choices. Unlike many 80 year olds, Murray Koppelman has chosen to make his $500,000 matching gift to the New Israel Fund (NIF), a progressive Israeli foundation that supports democracy, religious pluralism, and the rights of women, Israeli-Arabs and other minorities. Most of his contemporaries would rather support one of the mainstream pro-Israel lobby groups like AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), but Murray sees things differently and isn’t afraid to take a stand.


Having visited Israel numerous times since he was a teen, when he worked on a kibbutz and cleared rocks from fields so they could be planted, Murray has a deep and abiding love for the country. But he’s become concerned that religious and political extremists are beginning to cross the line when it comes to the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all Israelis. That’s why he decided to support NIF and a public communications campaign that launched today in the New York Times and other media vehicles. And that’s where Citizen Group came in.

Planned and created by Citizen, the campaign and New York Times ad focuses on how the religious right in Israel are systematically trying to erase images of women from the public sphere. And it reminds readers that, “Israel is not made stronger by making its democracy weaker.” Focus group testing of potential ads helped us understand that our audience wanted to know more about who Murray is, so we created the short web video (see below) where he tells his story in his own words.

Having met Murray a number of times during the planning and creation of this campaign, I’ve got to say that he is truly a man of his words. A man who sets an example by doing, and doing so in a way that inspires others to give, too.

Check out the press release below and the web link to the campaign below to learn more about New Israel Fund and Murray Koppelman’s gift.




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New York: It all started with a visit to Teheran.


Murray Koppelman, a New York philanthropist, visited the Iranian capital last November, out of curiosity about its history and controversies. While there, he noticed women lining up at the back door of public buses. After they boarded, they sat in the back.


This rang a bell.  Just before leaving New York, Murray attended a New Israel Fund dinner honoring Alice Shalvi, one of the founders of Israel’s feminist movement. He heard about Israeli women being pushed to sit in the back of public buses in religious neighborhoods, and other evidence of gender segregation and the growing exclusion of women from the public sphere.


Disturbed by his experience in Iran and determined to ensure that Israel maintains an unwavering commitment to women’s equality, Murray sat down with NIF leadership a few weeks later and proposed a donation, and matching campaign, of up to half a million dollars.  A lifelong Zionist concerned by the growth of religious extremism in Israel, he asked us to dramatize the issue with a full-page ad at his expense in the New York Times and other outlets.  That ad, below, will run Wednesday, April 18.


The ad uses a photo of an actual defaced image of a billboard originally posted by Yerushalmim, a NIF-supported group that works for pluralism and tolerance in Jerusalem.  The billboard was placed in response to the trend of Jerusalem advertisers gradually eliminating photos of women in that city, caving in to the demands of extremist ultra-Orthodox groups. As a result, images of women had become conspicuous by their absence from the city’s streets, and Yerushalmim pledged to restore them.  The defaced billboard demonstrates the determination of some ultra-Orthodox extremists to remove every female image from the public sphere.


The woman pictured is Roni Hazon Weiss. She is an Orthodox Jew, a teacher, a mother, and a volunteer with Yerushalmim.


“We are incredibly grateful to Murray for the visibility and support he is bringing to the New Israel Fund and to these critical issues,” said NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch. “Religious extremism in Israel and the growing trend of excluding women are at odds with Israel’s democratic culture. Israelis who are resisting these trends need to know that we are with them every step of the way. This matching campaign offers an important opportunity to strengthen NIF’s efforts for a pluralist and egalitarian Israel.” 


“The ad asserts that Israel is not made stronger by making its democracy weaker,” says Robin Raj, founder of Citizen Group, the agency working with NIF to develop the campaign. “But it also demonstrates how Israelis, NIF, and the progressive community are mobilizing to meet these challenges. Murray Koppelmen’s personal experience and generous contribution have served as a catalyst to elevate this issue at a critical moment.”

Founded in 1979 to advance equality and social justice in Israel, the New Israel Fund has focused on religious pluralism as a core issue since its inception.  Recently, with the governing coalition in Israel politically indebted to ultra-Orthodox parties, the trend towards ever-harsher interpretations of Jewish law has accelerated.  Some neighborhoods in Jerusalem are erecting barriers on public streets, in shops and in polling places to separate men from women.  The Israeli army has been caught in the middle by religious soldiers’ refusal to hear their fellow (women) soldiers’ singing at public events, and by a prominent rabbi’s instruction that they must defy their commanders and walk out on any such celebration or commemoration.


Conversions have been retroactively annulled in cases where a convert’s religious observance was deemed insufficiently scrupulous by rabbinic authorities. And a group of forty-nine municipal rabbis joined together to sign an edict declaring that it is forbidden by Jewish law to rent or sell property to non-Jews.


The New Israel Fund and its family of organizations have responded. With public events, ranging from protests in the troubled city of Beit Shemesh to women’s concerts in Jerusalem, NIF organizations have rallied secular and traditional Israelis to public support for gender equality.  Through lobbying efforts in the Knesset, empowering women activists at the local level, taking on the rabbinical courts – NIF-funded groups are staking out new ground in opposition to religious extremism.  In the Orthodox community as well, NIF is supporting groups bringing moderate, pluralistic voices to religious education and institutions, combating racism and identifying Judaism with tolerance and respect.


Explaining his challenge donation to the New Israel Fund, Murray Koppelman said, “What I’m trying to do in my life is make a small difference. I don’t expect to change everybody’s mind or make major changes in the world, but if I can convince a few people of the justice of what I’m trying to do, when I’m gone, I’ll be happy. That’s it. Make a small difference.”

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