History of the Foundation

The Foundation for Ethics and Meaning was established by Michael Lerner, Editor of Tikkun magazine, and Mark LeVine, in 1995. The idea first came to Mark after reading an article in Mother Jones magazine in late 1994 which argued that a major factor behind the victory of the Republicans and their "Contract With America" in the mid-term congressional elections that fall was the incredible (but ill-understood) power of well-funded, well-connected conservative think tanks. Because of the disproportionate levels of funding (compared with progressive counterparts) received by the Heritage Foundation, the Cato and Manhattan institutes, the Christian Coalition, and similar organizations, their close connection with the "mainstream" media, and their ability to project a unified public language and discourse to what in reality was a variety of conservative and right-wing movements (each with their own, sometimes antagonistic agendas), these organizations had given the Right a public perception of unity, cohesiveness, and social and political power that greatly enhanced its political and grassroots effectiveness.


Together, Michael and Mark decided to form the Foundation for Ethics and Meaning precisely to be a progressive counterpart to the Heritage and other conservative foundations and think tanks. [For a full discussion of the philosophy underlying the Foundation, go to the "What We Are" section of this website]. The official launching of the Foundation was the hugely successful 1996 National Summit on Ethics and Meaning, held in Washington, DC. In the year-long process of building the Summit, meetings were convened around the country with local and national religious and labor leaders, politicians, and academics, all with the goal of helping to formulate the Summit's agenda and an Action Plan for the Foundation. Moreover, numerous organizations, representing a wide spectrum of political views and agendas, joined the Summit as cosponsors, helping to realize our goal of creating a truly "post" Liberal/conservative political, economic, and cultural discourse.

For over a year after the National Summit regional conferences were held in half a dozen cities around the country, giving birth to many of our local chapters. These meetings helped establish the Foundation on the grassroots level; in fact, they gradually led the leadership to understand that our path to success lay not in emulating the Right by building a well-funded, well-oiled "think tank," but rather in focusing our efforts on the grass roots level, building what might be described as the first truly "people's think tank."

With this model in mind, the original Board of the Foundation, composed of Michael Lerner, New college of California President and Tikkun Associate Editor Peter Gabel, and Washington, DC attorney Perry Saidman, invited the leaders of our local chapters and national task forces to form a new Board that would shift our focus to the grassroots roots level. At the same time the Foundation received its 501(c)3 tax-exempt status, and moved our national headquarters from San Francisco to Tampa, FL, home to one of our most thriving local chapters. The new Board officially assumed power in late 1998, and at our first Board meeting in December, six-month and one year plans were formulated. [Click here to read our objectives for the next year].

As most of the Board was introduced to the Foundation and the movement through the national and regional summits of 1996 and 1997, we decided that our major objective during the next year and a half would be the convening of a national successor to the 1996 Summit in New York City in the spring of 2000. This event would serve to re-launch the Foundation onto the national political and cultural scene at both the dawn of a new millennium and a pivotal presidential election--two events whose convergence would seem to provide an auspicious occasion for the dissemination of a holistic discourse seeking to build a truly caring, ethical, and ecologically sustainable society.

In cooperation with New York Open Center Director Ralph White, a veteran of the 1996 Summit, planning began for a small leadership training conference to be held in March 1999, with the goal of putting together an organizing committee composed of volunteers from the wide array of communities, professions, and constituencies that together constitute the vibrant tapestry that is New York. To our pleasant surprise, it soon became clear that many more people wanted to participate actively in the planning of the 2000 Summit than we expected--what was supposed to be a leadership-training workshop for about 150 people swelled to a full-day conference of 300 participants, with 200 people unable to register because we simply could not fit them into the auditorium. (Click here for information about the May 2000 conference; for information about the New York Open Center, call 212 219 2527 or vist their website: www.opencenter.org).

As of this writing (late March, 1999) the task forces for the 2000 summit have already begun meeting, while our local chapters continue to spread our message in communities around the country. [Click here for a list of task forces and other planning activities for the 2000 Summit]. We are actively seeking partnership with other grassroots and national organizations around the country (in fact, around the world) who would like to join us in our journey of transforming our culture's bottom line and building a community spirit of caring. If you or an organization/group with whom you work would like to join us, or just want more information, please check out the rest of this website and call our National Office at 1-888-538-7227.

Our Board of Directors

The Foundation for Ethics and Meaning presently has no paid staff. Board members handle all administrative tasks, and the National Office is housed in the office of the Tampa Chapter.

Mark LeVine, Florence, Italy, NY, Founder, Past Co-Chair, Religion/Spirituality and People-Centered Globalization Task Forces Co-Coordinator
Along with Tikkun magazine Editor Michael Lerner, I founded the Foundation for Ethics and Meaning in 1995 (see history) and was its first National Coordinator. I am a former Fulbright-Hays Fellow and completed my Ph.D. at the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at New York University, after which I spent a year as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University's Society for the Humanities. During the last year, I also served on the organizing committee of the Re-Imagining Politics conference put on by the Foundation, and was the Culture/Music coordinator for the Shadow Conventions organized by Arianna Huffington, Call to Renewal, United For a Fair Economy, the Lindesmith Center, and other organizations.
I am spending the 2000-2001 academic year as a Jean Monnet Fellow at the Robert Schuman Center for Advances Studies at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, where I'm exploring Middle Easterna nd European cultural experiences of and responses to globalization in comparative context with the goal of using these perspective to increase our understanding of how these processes are shaping America's politics, culture and economy. In addition to my academic and Foundation activities, I am a journalist and Contributing Editor to Tikkun magazine, and am also a professional musician, working with musicians such as Mick Jagger, Dr. John, Johnny Copeland, Albert Collins, Chuck D, Michael Franti, and other R&B and hip-hop acts. Lately, having soured on the music business--and the music it produces--I have been studying Middle Eastern and gypsy music, and am recording and performing with French-Israeli singer Sara Alexander and a diverse group of world musicians, both in the Middle East and France. The combination of my musical, scholarly and activist activities has lead me to found the "culture jamming" project, which will bring together artists, activists and scholars from around the world to examine how these three disciplines can interact more fruitfully within the struggles to imagine and realize alternative, holistic paradigms of globalization. My new website, www.culturejamming.org, is currently under construction.

Rick Ulfik, NYC, Co-Chair, Media Watch & Education Task Forces Coordinator
I first heard Michael Lerner speak in January 1995 at a Tikkun conference, and was inspired by his message. My enthusiasm led me to become a principal organizer of the 1996 and 1997 summits in Washington, DC and NYC and leader of the NYC chapter of the Foundation. I have also been deeply involved in the United Nation's "Celebration for the Children of the World," and the Season for Nonviolence, which has been endorsed by the Dalai Lama, and involved UN Sec. Gen. Kofi Annan, Jesse Jackson, and Arun Gandhi. By training I am a music and math teacher, with experience teaching in the NYC public schools. By profession, I am a musician, composer, and music, television, and movie producer, having one several awards for my work. I have just returned from the representing the Foundation at the World Parliament of Religions, and am presently working on my own project, called "We, The World", which aims to integrate the unifying potential of the arts/entertainment media with the scholarship and grass-roots political activism of the Foundation. Information about We, The World can be found at my website, www.wetheworld.org.

Nanette Schorr, NYC, Legal Task Force Coordinator
I began my sojourn with PoM in Israel in the summer of 1991, when I attended a Tikkun conference there. I was greatly moved by the language of the conference regarding the need for mutual recognition between Palestinians and Israelis. In the context of that conference this need was defined as a continuous effort to understand, acknowledge and engage the needs of the other. I felt that in the language of that conference, I had found a political home. Thus I joined in a variety of PoM related activities, and at the same time, began to think about how I could apply PoM to my work as a lawyer and the crisis in the legal profession. At the 1996 Summit a "law plank" was presented and some fifty lawyers met to discuss law and meaning; since that time I have been the coordinator of the Legal Task Force. I feel my involvement in PoM to engage my passions for social activism and justice, and to engage--in the fullest way possible--my mind and my heart.

Jan Roberts, Tampa, FL, Vice-Chair, NGO/Coalition-building Task Force Coordinator
I am a longtime civic activist, former psychotherapist in private practice, founder of several nonprofits, including women's and behavioral health agencies and am founder and president of the Institute for Ethics & Meaning in Tampa, an independent 501(c)3 organization that also serves as the Tampa chapter of the Foundation. I was first moved by the appeal in Tikkun for the 1996 Summit, which coincided with a realization that my liberal left actions were not meeting my need for higher purpose, and since it fell on my birthday, I thought that was a sign I should be there. That was the beginning that sparked the Spirit of Caring movement in Tampa, which would up holding a regional summit that attracted 800 people.

Bruce Novak, Chicago, IL, Secretary, Education Task Force Coordinator
I first became interested in the Politics of Meaning for its ideas--being an activist was just not for me. But the 1996 DC summit changed that, and led me to plan "Re-Awakening Hope in a Time of Cynicism," the Chicago Summit that took place just prior to the 1996 Democratic Convention. My engagement with the Foundation and the Politics of Meaning have been mirrored by a deepening commitment to my spiritual/religious development--what I once thought were dramatic personal choices I now happily recognize as eruptions from a 3,500 year old volcano, and my commitment to a better future seems stronger and far more meaningful for being anchored in the deep past.

Martin Henner, Eugene, OR, Treasurer
I grew up in New York, trained in law and social work and am an arbitrator/mediator/ombudsman in Eugene, Oregon. I was formerly a professor of law at the University of Connecticut and Oregon State University, and a labor lawyer. I am also a Board Member of the ACLU's Oregon Affiliate. I was first introduced to the Foundation through Michael Lerner's PoM analysis, and hope to see more discussion of how the bureaucracy and isolation caused by living in all organized societies are related to the market economy, selfishness and materialism that PoM critiques.

Jim Fary, Silver Spring, MD, Y2K Task Force Coordinator
I work for the Federal Government, specifically for the Environmental Protection Agency, as the Learning Officer and Master Facilitator for the Superfund hazardous Waste Cleanup Program. In early 1996 I was reading the Utne Reader on the Metro when my eyes saw an ad for the National Summit on Ethics and Meaning. I read on about the need for caring and sustainable communities and the necessity of changing our societal bottom line. YES, YES, my mind called out, our values are no longer relevant to current global ecological conditions. I went to the Summit, met many wonderful people, and joined Politics of Meaning groups hoping to change the bottom line, but the ideas didn't catch. I now think that they were premature. I then read the work of Paul Ray and realized that there was a growing group of "culturally creative" people who would eventually get the message of "restoring hope and possibility in an age of Cynicism"--the subtitle of "The Politics of Meaning. So when the call came to reorganize the Foundation, I volunteered to join the Board.

Gayle Irvin, NYC, Work Issues/Labor/Corporate Responsibility Task Force Coordinator
I am an Organization Development Consultant with an emphasis on leadership, and an associate with the National Coalition-Building Institute. Before moving to NYC late last year I was the leader of a local chapter of the Foundation in Lehigh Valley, PA. A little over three years ago a friend came up to me at an Unitarian Church coffee hour and gave me a cassette of dealing with the PoM. I was skeptical, and a very busy person but one I began listening to the tape I couldn't turn it off, sitting in the parking lot of this high rise office building long after I should have been at work, listening at lunch, on the way home, listening, listening. For me PoM frames what is happening in our relationships, at work, in education, in healthcare, and in our society in a more sophisticated and accurate manner than any other analysis I have come across. It speaks to the powerlessness and hopelessness we feel and answers how to get out of our isolation, and join together to create a counter force for change in our society.

Heather McKenzie, Ann Arbor, MI
I became involved with the Foundation after being inspired by the open dialogue of Tikkun magazine; first helping to organize the Ann Arbor regional summit, and then becoming a local chapter leader. I believe that it is imperative to reconsider the insidiously accepted values of power and money in our society. In am hopeful that the time is ripe for expecting ethical considerations to be part of the policy-making process, and that our society has begun to tire of the money/power agenda as the focal point of our collective values. Appreciating the notion that all good things take time, I'm not expectant of an overnight conversion, but of a good, long dialogue, and trial and error being part of the process. The sparkle of expectation that change will happen is constant within me and I find joy in that shared feeling with many other people.

Jesse Rabinowitz, Richmond, VA
I have been involved with the Foundation since the 1996 Summit. I am also a founding member and Chair of the Richmond Community of Ethics and Meaning, the local chapter of the Foundation. I have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and work as the Director of Psychological Services at Jewish Family Services in Richmond, VA, and am married to the co-founder of the Richmond chapter, Brenda Goodman, a gerontologist. I came to the FEM Board with a background of searching for the path to make everything we do sacred, aspiring to let spirit infuse work, relationships, activism, and artistic expression.

Ron Winley, NYC, Religion/Spirituality Task Force Co-Coordinator
I am an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ (UCC), and pastor of the Church of the Evangel in Brooklyn, NY. I am presently completing my doctoral studies at Teacher's College of Columbia University. I also work, along with my wife, Diane (also a minister) on the Social Justice Committee of Riverside Church, in Harlem, NYC, and on UCC committees dealing with similar issues. I became aware of the PoM through my reading of Tikkun, and have been involved with the Foundation in various capacities since 1995.

Local Chapters

If you don't see a group in your area, please call the National Office, as there are new chapters forming all the time. Or start your own chapter or discussion salon.

New York City: Rick Ulfik, 212-704-0888, rickulfi@ix.netcom.com.

Eugene, OR: Martin Henner, 541-345-6466, henner@teleport.com.

Seattle, WA: Cynthia Gayle, 206-283-9301 Cygayle@aol.com.

Chicago, IL: Bruce Novak, 773-288-2145; fax:713-702-6486, bjnovak@midway.uchicago.edu.

Richmond, VA: Jesse Rabinowitz, 804-730-0706, jfsr@richmond.infi.net.

Ann Arbor: George Kao, 734-615-4308, gkao@umich.edu.

Tampa, FL Jan Roberts, 813-254-8454; fax:813-2510492, roberts@meaning.org.

Silver Spring, MD: Jim Fary, 703-603-8899, Fary.Jim@EPAmail.epa.gov.

Dallas, TX: Molly Hanchey, 903-345-6673, molly2@airmail.net.