New charity helps Israelis who agree to help others

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“Shalom, my name is Sara,” begins an online plea for help by an Israeli. “I am confined to bed and unable to take care of [my three children] by myself.”

“Shalom, I am Chaim Yaakov,” begins another. “I am well into my 80s and I can no longer travel across [Israel] by bus to receive medical care for my war wounds and I have nobody to turn to.”

These people aren’t just asking for help — they will be donors to the needy themselves, through a new, “pay it forward”-style charity, One People One Heart (, which was recently launched by Palo Alto resident Joan Laurence.

The organization’s goal, according to its founder, is to strengthen Jewish community and unity by connecting Israeli Jews in need with other Jews who can help, and enabling those who receive help to get the nachas (joy) that comes from helping others.

One People One Heart requires everyone who receives donations to be a donor as well. All recipients are interviewed by Israeli staff before their stories are posted on the Web site, and when they pick up their check they are asked to give something back.

“Even if you’re poor, everyone has something to offer,” says Laurence. “We encourage people to share a special talent, or just help out in their community.”

The Web site features different categories of giving based on the type of recipient or the cause, such as the elderly, children, at-risk teens or community projects.

Each category features heart-tugging stories about people who need financial assistance, such as a young, single mother who pleads for a refrigerator so she can feed her children and stop throwing out food she can barely afford. If she gets the $500 she needs for a fridge, the young mother can contribute by baby-sitting the children of a working mother or picking up medicine for a disabled elderly neighbor.

This personalized model of online giving connects American and Israeli Jews and teaches and reinforces the concept of tzedakah to children, Laurence says.

Laurence is the daughter of Goodwin Steinberg, the architect who designed Congregation Beth Am, where she practically grew up, she says. The time spent at the temple, combined with her parents’ values, led her to dedicate her adult life to helping those in need and teaching others to do the same.

Before moving to Palo Alto three and half years ago, Laurence lived in Israel for 20 years. There she started a nonprofit organization called the New Seed Foundation, helping abused immigrant girls and their mothers. Later, Laurence ran a program in which she taught parenting skills to unwed mothers.

Laurence was inspired to start One People One Heart by her sympathy for Israelis displaced from their homes by the Hezbollah War.

While the Web site was being built, Laurence worked with South Bay synagogues and Jewish day schools to promote her vision of children giving to children. She launched a “Reaching for the Stars” campaign and hosted a “Tzedakateer” event at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills. Children ages 5 to 11 were given tzedakah boxes and asked to decorate one side of the box, then take it home. Before putting money in the box, they’re asked to perform a small ritual: recite the words “I take upon myself the mitzvah of loving my neighbor as myself,” Laurence explains.

Now that the Web site is up and running, Laurence has entrusted its operation to her business associate and moved back to Israel to run One People One Heart, which provides assistance to more than 250 families in need in Northern Israel.

On the One People One Heart Web site, there is also a virtual tzedakah box for children to give to other children.

Focusing her philanthropic efforts on children is critical, because “the youngest generation is getting farther and father removed from the consciousness of Israel,” Laurence says.

“This Web site will introduce children to philanthropy by showing them how good it feels to give,” she adds. “These values and a connection to Israel must be taught when children are young.”