Charity keeps society sane

By: David M. Weinberg

Sep 11, 2020

Published in The Jerusalem Post, September 11, 2020.

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A pre-Rosh Hashana column highlighting three worthy charities: Ten Gav, Chaim bePlus and Leket. They keep some Israelis sane by offering the opportunity to give, and others sound by warding-off misery and destitution. At this time of coronavirus uncertainty and all its attendant ills – which threaten to overwhelm Israeli, indeed global society, this winter – giving some tzedaka can have many rewards. “To ease another’s heartache is to forget one’s own.”

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Anybody who has been to a High Holiday prayer service will be familiar with the tripartite key taught by Jewish tradition for forestalling disaster: “Repentance, prayer, and charity stave off dreadful decrees.”

At this time of coronavirus uncertainty and all its attendant ills – which threaten to overwhelm Israeli, indeed global society, this winter – applying this formula should be a priority. Repentance and prayer are hard work; giving charity can and should be easier. And yet, Israeli charities are reporting a downturn in Israeli giving, perhaps because many people have lost income.

Jewish tradition teaches that charitable giving has many rewards. The almud (Bava Batra 10) promises smart and successful children to those who give tzedaka (charity). The Jerusalem Talmud (Peah 1) says that givers earn respect in this world and everlasting life in the next world, and that charity is as important as all the other biblical commandments combined.

The Talmudic sage Rava adds that the three defining marks of the Jew, inherited from Abraham, are (or should be) mercifulness, modesty, and charity. Rabbi Yossi asserts that charitable giving brings redemption near, quoting Isaiah (56:1).

Other sources make it clear that charity is essential to character-building. Refined people are those who have learned to downplay their own problems to relieve the pain of others by expressing kindness through charity and good deeds.

This fall would be a good time to double down on charitable giving, and not just for the reasons mentioned above. Charity also helps beat stress and spreads positivity. Since everybody is a bit traumatized and depressed in these times of pandemic and economic insecurity, giving charity is akin to taking strong medicine or an effective vaccine.

Only the stingy would fail to grab this potent opportunity to lift themselves up; to keep themselves sane; and to simultaneously help heal our distressed and disordered society.

Highlighted here are three charities that I think help beat stress and spread positivity, and which make unique corona-related contributions. Incidentally, all three are based in Raanana, and run by Canadian and American immigrants with sterling reputations.

Ten Gav (tengav.org) receives applications from municipal social workers around Israel for goods and services that their clients need, but that are not covered by government budgets. Naomi Brounstein (originally from Hamilton, Ontario) and Vivi Mann (Baltimore, MD) review the requests, and provide the public with meaningful, verified giving opportunities (via personal stories) on their crowdfunding website. They have assisted 2,000 individuals or families in just six years.

The organization operates several funds on behalf of specific populations, including a corona relief fund for out-of-work people who can’t currently pay rent; for school children, the elderly, and haredi people entering the workforce who need computers; and for at-risk young adults, single mothers and other who require job retraining assistance. Ten Gav changes lives, one person at a time!

Toronto-born Mindy Ajzner was volunteering as a debt counsellor for families who unwisely took gargantuan loans from Ultra-Orthodox gemachim (free loan societies). She discovered that almost none of the borrowers had the most basic financial literacy; they were living recklessly.

She decided that financial education for young people was imperative in addressing debt and poverty, and thus Chaim BePlus (chaimbeplus.org) was born. The organization trains dynamic college students to be financial mentors for high school students.

In five counseling sessions, students learn practical tools of money management, including budgeting and the importance of saving funds for the future. Over 15 years, Chaim BePlus (which means, living in “plus” – in the black) has taught over 15,000 students, including haredi, Arab and Bedouin students.

Leket Israel – the National Food Bank (leket.org) has been at the forefront of rescuing excess food from farms, packing houses, hotels, caterers and army bases for distribution to its 200 nonprofit partners serving people in-need from all sectors of Israeli society.

Founded 17 years ago by Joseph Gitler (a New Yorker, married to a Torontonian), Leket had to re-do its business model when corona hit. Hotels and restaurants, which had been supplying the organization with surplus cooked food, closed. The organization shifted gears to collaborate with catering companies in cooking packages of 6-8 fresh meals that recipients could refrigerate and reheat. Since March, Leket has delivered 1.8 million hot meals and 14,000 tons of fresh produce to over 9,000 Israelis, mainly people out of work and at risk.

Leket has attracted many sponsors and partners, but most important are its 37,000 annual volunteers – who collect, sort, package and deliver food. The organization also has developed a unique Zoom workshop series on nutrition, geared to Israelis suffering from chronic food insecurity and attendant dietary-metabolic insufficiency. Leket teaches them how to purchase a healthy food basket.

The three organizations are worthy of support (as are many other nonprofits and cultural institutions). They help beat stress and spread positivity, for donor and recipient alike. They keep some Israelis sane by offering the opportunity to give, and others sound by warding-off misery and destitution.

Abraham Lincoln said: “To ease another’s heartache is to forget one’s own.” Winston Churchill said: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” The week before Rosh Hashana is a good time to remember that.

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About David Weinberg

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »


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