Gary A. Tobin, Jewish Philanthropy Scholar

By Grant Williams
The Chronicle of Philanthropy
Published: July 23, 2009

Age at death: 59

Major philanthropy job: Founder and president of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, an independent think tank in San Francisco.

How he made his mark: "A leading scholar of Jewish population and identity, he was an iconoclast whose studies routinely challenged the conventional pessimism of other community analysts," wrote J.J. Goldberg, editorial director of the Forward newspaper.

Key accomplishment: He led a study of the biggest gifts to nonprofit groups and found that, per capita, Jews give more gifts of $1-million or more than do people of other religions. In addition, the institute runs a program—directed by Mr. Tobin’s wife, Diane Kaufmann Tobin—that seeks in part to strengthen diverse Jewish communities around the world. Mr. Tobin argued forcefully that Jews should be more welcoming to converts and gentile spouses in mixed marriages.

How he will be remembered: Mr. Tobin’s scholarship “helped to shape our modern understanding of the shape-shifting Jewish identity we all live with today,” wrote Mr. Goldberg in the Forward. “His activism was beginning to point the way toward a new, open, more-generous Jewish community. If he had gone on, he might have seen the community change in ways that we can’t conceive but he knew to be inevitable. But he had more ideas than time.

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