Amos Dor holds a combined U.S. and Israeli flag during a rally demanding the release of Hamas' hostages at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco, Oct. 13, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Amos Dor holds a combined U.S. and Israeli flag during a rally demanding the release of Hamas' hostages at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco, Oct. 13, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Give generously to Israel — but don’t forget the U.S. Jewish community

We are in the immediate wake of one of the most significant Jewish events of our lifetime. Jews all over the world will now mark time as everything before and everything after Oct. 7.

In the sheer horror of the moment, Jewish philanthropy — individual donors and foundations alike — are supporting Israel to an unprecedented degree. This is exactly what we should be doing, and it is not the only thing we should be doing.

Our actions in this moment will have a lasting impact, for better or worse, on the American Jewish community. Right now, the Jewish philanthropic community must have a “yes, and” approach toward funding. Yes, we absolutely need to support Israel and Israelis. We need to contribute mightily to the multitude of needs in Israel, including the orphans, the evacuees, the mental health of the traumatized and the businesses with employees called to the front lines. All of these causes need our philanthropic support. Yes, give.

Meanwhile, the American Jewish community needs to stay intact. Unless philanthropy steps up in the U.S. as well, there is a genuine chance much of the organizational structure we have spent generations building will be stretched to the limits. The structure is holding for now. But I am looking more long-term, over months and perhaps years as this war continues. There are very real risks that could break our community.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the entire world was affected. In this instance, Jews are uniquely affected. The need for increased philanthropy in this moment is great. We must address key areas:

  • Increased security, safety and mental health support for Jewish organizations’ staff and participants.
  • Staffing shortages at organizations that depend on employees living in Israel. This includes the Israel offices of American organizations, and Israeli workers who help sustain Jewish experiences here. For example, Jewish overnight camps rely heavily on Israeli counselors and staff, and recruitment for these positions ordinarily occurs in November and December.
  • Staffing shortages here in North America as professionals say “enough” of emergencies and the mass stress they bring
  • Effective responses to requests from Jewish organizational leaders, educators, curriculum content developers, parents, youth and young adults who need to communicate and educate about what is happening and how to talk and teach about it.
  • Disruptions to educational programs that involve travel to and from Israel.
  • Fundraising needs for organizations whose philanthropic supporters are diverting resources to the much-needed aid for Israel.

These needs are both immediate and will remain for some longer period of time. Our synagogues, day schools, JCCs and  social services agencies — our people and our institutions — are the beating heart of Jewish life outside of Israel. Now more than ever, we must give generously to cement their existence, so that they may cement ours. If we don’t, we risk losing a generation of North American Jews due to fear, fewer options for engagement and a lack of Jewish professionals equipped with resources and training to do their job effectively.

So continue or start giving to Israel.

And continue or start giving to the North American Jewish community.

This is a moment to dig deeper than we ever have for Jewish-related philanthropy, and we need to give more than ever by a large factor. The time is now. The need is urgent.

This may mean giving less to other worthy causes, such as hospitals and museums, that are not in dire need or in a crisis. Instead, direct that money to needs in Israel and to your local Jewish day school, JCC, Jewish camp and Jewish student organization. There are countless worthy Jewish options.

In this moment of despair, I remain intentionally hopeful. “Hatikvah,” literally “The Hope,” defines the Jewish people and the story of Israel. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z”l, juxtaposed “optimism” with “hope” as a call to action:

“Optimism and hope are not the same. Optimism is the belief that the world is changing for the better; hope is the belief that, together, we can make the world better. Optimism is a passive virtue, hope an active one. It needs no courage to be an optimist, but it takes a great deal of courage to hope.”

We must continue to hope. Each of us can be Jewish philanthropists to actively make our situation better. We, the Jewish people, need all hands on deck, and we need each other for the long haul. Generations from now, I see a thriving North American Jewish community, along with a thriving Israel. Both of those will come to fruition, but only if we hope and act.

This piece first appeared on eJewishPhilanthropy and is reprinted with permission.

Barry Finestone (Photo/Courtesy)
Barry Finestone

Barry Finestone is president and CEO of the Jim Joseph Foundation.