Daniel Solomon receiving the Founders Award from N Street Village.
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This is the third installment of “Spotlight.” In each feature, a Jewish Youth Philanthropy Institute teen interviews a local philanthropist.

Spotlight on Philanthropy: Daniel Solomon

President, Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation
Interviewed by Ian Eppler, 11th Grade, Georgetown Day School

Q: What do you believe philanthropy is?

I believe that the essence of philanthropy is taking care of your neighbor. Everyone should be involved in philanthropy at whatever level is appropriate for them. Many more people can give away $20 than can give away a million dollars, but both are equally important. JYPI does a great job of training teens in the skills of philanthropy, whether giving $1 million or $20.

Q: How did you get involved in philanthropy?

When I came back to DC after college, my friend knew I was interested in progressive politics so he asked me to join a foundation that supported community organizing. At the first Board meeting, I noticed that nobody was having fun, and I realized that this organization had many internal flaws. That foundation failed, but I learned a lot about organizational dynamics from the experience. My work with other national organizations led me to the Jewish Funders Network through which I met Jeffrey Dekro, who is the founder of the Shefa Fund. The Shefa Fund is a group that connects progressive Jews to organizations that work for social change. I worked with him to organize the Tzedek Economic Development Fund, which uses a microcredit model to support job training and housing programs. I helped raise $1 million for the Fund, which is now used as a model for similar organizations around the country.

Q: What advice would you give to JYPI teens as they prepare to make funding decisions?

Think about what is important to you and your values. Take into account what you know about the world and what you have learned from your time with JYPI, and look outside of your own neighborhood to see where support is most needed. Try to be involved with the organizations that you support, even after the grant-making process is complete. Remember that philanthropy is only one part of creating social change.

Q: As a Jewish philanthropist, how do you resolve the conflict between supporting Jewish and non-Jewish organizations?

I believe that Jewish teachings require support for the entire community, both Jewish and non-Jewish. I work in the Jewish community because it is where I come from, but I support secular organizations because of my personal values. My support for DC Vote is an example of my philosophy. I believe that without political power, positive changes cannot be made in DC. Even though the majority of the residents of DC are not Jewish, it is important to help DC do better, because DC is also my community.

Daniel Solomon with Susie Gelman, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington
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