Dead Foundation Money

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney recently called on Canadian corporations to start spending the over 500 billion dollars of cash, “dead money” as he called it, sitting on their balance sheets. “Their job is to put money to work, and if they can’t think of what to do with it they should give it back to their shareholders.”

Not surprisingly, corporate Canada disagrees with this assessment, arguing that--due to economic uncertainty--they need to keep large cash reserves. Furthermore, some argue that they are actually gathering cash to have the capital needed to make large investments in the future.

The governor has the interests of Canada as a whole in mind, whereas individual corporations make decisions based on the best interest of their individual corporate stakeholders. Usually, these two differing motivations--making money and serving the public--coincide, but in this case, it appears the opposite is true. Governments can solve this problem by, say, lowering tax rates on dividends, taxing “excess” cash (much like there used to be a capital tax), which might then change the calculus of individual companies.

Tragically, in our own community we, too, have billions of dollars of “dead money”. I refer to the billions of dollars sitting in charitable foundations, doing little to address the economic needs of our community. Like Canada, our community is strong, perhaps the strongest in the Diaspora. It is well organized, committed, and boasts high levels of Jewish participation and day school enrollment. Yet the many positives blind us to the wider picture of Jewish communal life, with its rampant assimilation, intermarriage, indifference, ignorance and apathy.

As the cost of a Jewish education expands out of reach of the average Jewish family, we risk a “depression”. Despite the growth of the general Jewish community, here in Toronto, enrollment in Jewish schools is now contracting.

While it might be argued that corporate investments delayed for a few years may eventually yield greater results, no such argument can be made for our lack of investment today in Jewish education. Unlike the economy, with its normal cycles of growth and recession, Jewish life that is not nurtured in the formative years is not something from which we can generally recover. The uneducated Jew of today is the indifferent Jew of tomorrow and the vanishing Jew of the future. If we do not invest today in our most precious assets-- Jewish children--there will be fewer and fewer Jewish grandchildren and great-grandchildren to invest in.

Like Mark Carney, I am frustrated. Free access to education is a fundamental right of every child, and a fundamental responsibility of every community. Every government in the world understands that; yet somehow, when it comes to Jewish education, this basic notion is ignored. Whereas previous generations may have argued that they could not afford to do so, such arguments ring very hollow today. We are by far the wealthiest generation of Jews in history. Yet we are also likely the most ignorant in all of Jewish history. If only a small part of the billions of dollars already sitting in Jewish charitable foundations would be put to work today, the tuition crisis would be solved overnight, “insuring” the sustainability and growth of our community.