Sending Money to Israel? What’s Your Return? (Guest Author: Chaim Landau)

TNJ_PT9.Cover_16Oct09

Chaim Landau reflects on the history of Diaspora giving to Israel and where we stand now. This piece was originally published in PresenTense Magazine’s philanthropy issue.

Sending Money to Israel? What’s Your Return

Well before the founding of the State of Israel, Jews in the Diaspora have been sending money to support a variety of causes in the land of Israel. The simple model, however, of Diaspora Jews as donor and Israeli Jews as recipients, has become outdated.

The Old Paradigm of Giving

It is no longer axiomatic for many young Diaspora Jews that they need to send money to a successful country whose fate seems to have little impact on their own lives.

Money invested in Israel, whether by the individual or the Jewish community as a whole, must benefit both donor and recipient, and needs to be seen as part of a holistic two-way relationship. Such philanthropy, instead of being divorced from Jewish life in the Diaspora, needs to enhance and contribute to it.

Source: Tzedakah.org

Source: Tzedaka.org

The money that Diaspora Jews sent to Israel throughout the years was indispensible in absorbing millions of immigrants, building up the State’s infrastructure, and maintaining an army capable of defending Israel.

What these donors received in return was pride in Israel’s very existence: its military victories, developing infrastructure, and its vigorous and thriving society. They could feel themselves a part of the Jewish people, and active partners in building up the Jewish state even if they did not reside there themselves.

Jewish Poverty in the Diaspora

Yet Israel’s current condition is not the same as in its early years when it was undeveloped and unstable, and American Jewry has its own pressing needs. Jewish education in the Diaspora is still a luxury for many.

— Keep reading for best practice models in engaging donors —

In November 2007 Ha’aretz reported that the Jewish poverty rate was higher in the U.S. than in Israel. In the wake of the Madoff scandal and the economic crisis, philanthropic dollars are scarcer than ever before. In this context Diaspora Jews want to be sure that they are receiving a good return on money that is being sent to Israel, especially in light of increasing needs at home.

Jewish Youth: Perceptions of Israel

TNJ_BeyondDistancing.ACBP_16Oct09

Furthermore, according to prominent sociologists Steven M. Cohen and Ari Y. Kelman in their study “Beyond Distancing: Young Adult American Jews and Their Alienation from Israel, [link leads to download] the attachment of Diaspora Jews to Israel is decreasing with each generation.

If donors give money to causes which they are passionate about, then the future of Diaspora donations to Israel is in great peril. Young Diaspora Jews will not send money to an Israel they feel apathetic about, which has no connection to their identity, or worse yet, which embarrasses them.

* If you’re having trouble with the link above, try here.

Reassessing the Paradigm

A few forward-thinking Israeli figures have recognized this changed situation. In the 1990s, well before Taglit-Birthright Israel’s existence, then government minister Yossi Beilin spoke of the need for U.S. Jews to send their children, and not their money, to Israel.

More recently former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called for a paradigm shift in Diaspora Jews sending money to a strong and economically vibrant Israel while Diaspora Jews have increasing needs at home. The old way – Diaspora Jews writing a check and simply taking pride in Israel’s very existence – is no longer viable.

Models of Giving to Israel

Increasing needs and scarcer resources at home have not deterred Diaspora Jews from continuing to send money to Israel. For these donors, sending money to Israel still retains special significance. More thought, however, must be given to the return that the donors receive from their donations. Ideally this would be in the form of enhancing donors’ Jewish experiences, and especially when it involves making Jewish Diaspora life richer and more attractive.

Following are three examples of organizations that bring Diaspora Jewish money to Israel and offer something palpable to their donors in return.

Partnership 2000

Partnership 2000 twins Jewish Diaspora communities with Israeli communities, allowing Diaspora Jews to be active partners in giving. The Boston-Haifa partnership is a prime example of that two-way relationship, creating living bridges and strengthening the social fabric of both communities.

In addition to monetary donations, the partnerships yield such advantages as people-to-people networking, volunteering on city projects, Shabbat hospitality, and collaborative fieldwork.

The donating community receives in return a more intimate and personal connection with an Israeli community and its residents. Some young Israelis from these communities are deferring their army service for a year in order to spend time living and volunteering in their twin Diaspora community.

During that time they are able to enrich the Diaspora community they are visiting, for example by teaching about Tu B’shvat, an important ecological holiday in Israel that many Diaspora Jews are not even aware of. While Israeli communities may not be sending money to build community centers or support after school programs in the Diaspora, Partnership 2000 allows them to enrich and support Diaspora communities in other ways, making it into a two-way relationship.

Meir Panim

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Meir Panim is Israel’s largest supplementary welfare services agency, providing food and social services to Israel’s impoverished residents. By allowing donors not only to contribute money but also their time and skills, Meir Panim enables them to become active partners in a meaningful way.

Whether volunteering on a weekly basis or for two hours during a trip to Israel, Meir Panim tries to involve donors on multiple levels. According to Aliza Solomon of Meir Panim’s resource development team, this strategy reflects a philanthropic culture whereby donors do not just cut a check and suffice with a receipt. Donors want to see the real impact of their donations, and in return to be given a chance to be involved in the giving process.

New Israel Fund

The New Israel Fund focuses on strengthening civil society and promoting democracy, tolerance, and social justice in Israel. For young liberal Jews who are concerned with human and civil rights, the NIF represents an outlet where one’s donations can benefit all of Israel’s citizens, Jew and Arab alike.

According to CEO Larry Garber, the NIF represents a “vehicle for Progressive Jews,” by introducing a discourse relating to social change and civil society in Israel instead of the usual focus on physical security.

The donors return is that they see an Israel where religious pluralist values and civil and human rights are fought for, the environment is sustained, and Jewish-Arab equality and co-existence is promoted.

Moving Forward

The examples are just some of the options in making philanthropy to Israel a two-way relationship where donors benefits as well. Some donors may seek a more direct connection with the beneficiary as Partnership 2000 offers, others may want the chance to play a more active role as Meir Panim allows for, and others may want the chance to donate to causes that have traditionally not been on the radar, as with the NIF.

The common element is that donors feel that they are receiving something meaningful in return.

All this, however, is still predicated upon Diaspora Jews caring about Israel, and in that sense the study of Cohen and Kelman is very disconcerting. Diaspora Jewish leadership, before sending money to Israel, must make provisions for their own community’s needs.

Diaspora Jews must worry about themselves and make sure that emerging generations have the benefit and opportunity of an attractive Jewish education, experience, and identity.

Israel should play an important role in making that happen, but support for Israel cannot be seen as a substitute for what must happen at home.

If anything, support for Israel can only be the consequence of a strong Jewish identity and a commitment to the Jewish people.

The added value of donating to Israel is that it enables Diaspora Jews to meaningfully connect in a variety of ways. The greatest return that Israel needs to give its Diaspora Jewish donors are the tools and inspiration for a successful and vibrant Jewish life around the world.

In this sense it will not be Diaspora Jews giving to Israel, rather the relationship will become more of a two-way street. This in turn will help ensure that Diaspora Jews, especially younger ones, share a passion for Israel and in using their resources (financial or otherwise) to make it a better place.

About the Author

Chaim Landau

Chaim Landau

Chaim Landau has a post-graduate degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He is an American-Israeli Middle East analyst living in Jerusalem and has previously worked as a Legacy Heritage Fellow.

Chaim has just completed the PresenTense Summer Institute 2009, developing “Perspectives Israel,” which aims to educate about the complexity of the challenges facing Israel from a wide variety of viewpoints within the Israeli-Jewish spectrum.

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7 Responses to Sending Money to Israel? What’s Your Return? (Guest Author: Chaim Landau)

  1. Paz Cohen says:

    The real challenge is to transform social entrepreneurs from the philanthropy-based model to a going concern/business model.

    In many cases the donator can become an investor if the project develops a business plan that proves ROI or SROI.
    It is ‘right’ that profit for the shareholders is not the main goal of such company, but a tool to promote a larger vision

    That’s what Sompany’s trys to do this days accompanying several social entrepreneurs. We works closely, and in cooperation, with the local municipality of Matte Yehuda, Project 2000 of the Jewish agency, and several other governmental organizations willing to bring a new message to the world: “you can help humanity and still earn a profit.”

  2. Jason Goodfriend says:

    I agree with Paz Cohen. In addition to regular giving, imagine what would happen if there was major Jewish investment in companies, such as Zenith Solar, which has the most efficient system in the world for generating heat and electricity from solar power! Jewish investment in Israeli companies could both produce jobs as well as result in a return for the investor!

  3. […] was originally published in PresenTense Magazine’s philanthropy issue. Sending Money to Israel? Read More » Share and Enjoy:Tags: diaspora, guest author, landau, philanthropy, sending money Categories: […]

  4. Gary Kulwin says:

    I also agree with Paz’s comment, but my view is slightly different. Beyond encouraging either philanthropy or investment from the Diaspora, we really need to encourage American Jews to become consumers of Israeli goods (esp. culture-specific items – music, movies, etc.). Indeed, in this “post-Capitalist” world of ours, what we buy is often the cornerstone of our individual identity, and helps define the “affinity groups” that we belong to. Indeed, the whole idea of being one people is based on having a set of shared experiences, regardless of where one lives. For me, the most incredible paradox of modern Jewish history is that back in the 1930s (when Jewish life was physically precarious) much of the Jewish world was linked together via a trans-national Yiddish culture. Today, with the existence of a flourishing Jewish state, the links are weak and Jewish literacy in the Diaspora is often quite poor. Meanwhile, for-profit media outlets like the Jerusalem Post and Ha’Aretz are among the most significant “links” to Israel that Diaspora Jews have. I still love the idea of trying to bring more Israeli franchises (Aroma?) to the States.

  5. GekMuraMutt says:

    Very Recently, there has been a great deal of investigation by the
    American FTC against blogs and website developers
    for not stating their advertising income, or potential
    relationships with advertising agencies.

    What are your thoughts about how this could potentially impact
    the blogging community?

    • Maya Norton says:

      Hi There,

      You raise an interesting question. On the one hand, I believe strongly in transparency in all parts of the nonprofit world. This includes nonprofit blogs that we read in order to learn the authors’ opinions on the field– we want to better, and fully, understand who and what has influenced their decisions.

      On the other hand, and here I am speaking from my personal experience as a blogger and writer whose work is often posted online, bloggers often deal with anonymous commenters who demand things of them without every coming out in the open about their own identities and agendas. This is a double standard. I welcome conversation, but I want to know with whom I’m conversing.

      As for reporting blogging income, I’d think that would be more IRS than FTC, although this isn’t something I have in depth knowledge about as I’m not in the US.

      I’m off to read your blog now. What are your thoughts?

      ~ Maya

  6. […] “Sending Money to Israel? What’s Your Return? (Guest Author: Chaim Landau)” […]

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