'Young donors not giving enough'

By Jessica Elgot, January 26, 2012
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Steven Lewis chats to Vicki Minsky in the art room of the day centre at the charity's Maurice and Vivienne Wohl campus in Golders Green

Steven Lewis chats to Vicki Minsky in the art room of the day centre at the charity's Maurice and Vivienne Wohl campus in Golders Green

New Jewish Care chairman, Steven Lewis, has attacked a "lack of responsibility" among younger donors who he says are not giving as much as they could to Jewish charities.

The 49-year-old, who has been supporting Jewish Care for almost half his life, claims his generation does not match previous ones on charitable giving. "We are generous compared to other communities," he said. "But given the amount of wealth that has been created by a lot of people in the last 20 years, particularly those in their 40s now, our giving has not increased at the same rate.

"That's what troubles the elder statesmen of our community." It is an issue he wants to address as chairman.

In difficult financial times, "some do use the recession as an excuse. Some have genuinely had to rethink how much they give." But more would be expected from those who could afford to contribute. If donors did not play their full part, Jewish Care's provision would suffer.

"If we can't raise the money, we will have to cut services. I find that unacceptable. We are not a cash-rich charity, but people seem to have that impression of us. We are not sitting on big reserves."

The father-of-four runs a chartered surveying and property investment consultancy. After a leadership role in Young Jewish Care, he was Jewish Care's deputy chair from 1998, succeeding Stephen Zimmerman at the helm at the end of last year.

His initial involvement in the charity was prompted by a phone call from the late businessman and philanthropist, Adam Science. "I was a traditional Jewish guy who felt that was important. My uncle [David Lewis] was behind the creation of Jewish Care."

One of his first tasks in his new role was to give an address at Downing Street on the future of elderly care and he stresses the need to work with government. "We hope something positive will come out of the Dilnot Commission [on new funding systems for elderly care]. Our costs are not getting smaller. This is not a Conservative or a Liberal thing. It affects all of us and we have to hope government realises that."

Although the Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue member says fund-raising will be his focus, he will keep abreast of other issues. For example, he visited the charity's Hyman Fine home in Brighton after complaints over care. "We are never going to get everything right all the time. But I feel we dealt with it correctly." He would love to make every facility as good as the £44 million Maurice and Vivienne Wohl campus in Golders Green.

Expansion was not a priority. "People have this perception that we want to take over the world. It is really upsetting the way that Jews like to talk about each other. If an independent home contacts us, of course we are going to talk to them. But most don't want to do that unless they have to. We are not seeking it out."

However, he is a firm believer in similar Jewish charities working together to raise and save money.

    Last updated: 1:38pm, January 26 2012