Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How much stuff costs

I had a conversation with a colleague the other day from a nearby Jewish federation about "how much things cost" for JDC services around the world.

Bearing in mind that costs differ from community to community, and equivalencies aren't as simple as you'd hope ... here nonetheless are some basic illustrative 'unit costs' that give you a good sense of the kind of tzedaka (charity) opportunities you can have when you make a donation.

$180 sends an Israeli with a disability to an independent living skills workshop, like computer skills, healthy living, household management.

$300 send an at-risk Israeli kid to a business entrepeneurship program, helping ease his or her transition into society and keeping them safe and off the streets.

$1000 sends one kid to the Szarvas summer camp in Hungary, changing lives and renewing Jewish community across Europe.

$1750 can cover the cost of an elderly client with food, medicine, home care and winter relief in the former Soviet Union.

$2150 can allow an Israeli woman to take part in a 'Woman of Valor' Employment program, shifting her from economic dependence to independence, and changing the face of Israeli society.

If you're looking for a way to make a difference - a real, powerful, personal difference - in one person's life, consider these ideas when you go to make a gift.
And if you've already made that gift, directly to the Joint or through your federation, then know how grateful we are - on behalf of the people above, and all those whose lives you've enriched, empowered and rescued.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Ukraine and the hardships

JDC's President Penny Blumenstein wrote a good letter to the New York Times the other day about the situation in Ukraine. You can read it here. What I think was most striking was her comment that the economic side of the crisis is a whole other area that people aren't thinking about.

My colleagues in Ukraine continue their inspiring and life-saving work. Some of the general macro-economic updates are worth noting here:

-          Since the beginning of February through the beginning of April 2014, the price for 95 octane gas has increased by 20%.

-          Price surveys for the 25 most frequently purchased medicines (in Kiev) have increased in a range of 7% - 71% since mid-January and the end of March.

-          A survey of the mostly purchased food stuffs shows the following increases:  (cooking) oil - 22%; rice - 20%; chicken - 43%; flour - 20%; beets - 23%; cabbage - 55%; potatoes - 19%; sour cream - 25%; milk, cheese and eggs - 7%; sugar and tea - 12%.

-          Increases in energy costs are being reported.

-          Layoffs and redundancies throughout Ukraine are growing.

You can find more information and backstories here and you can sign up in the top right-hand box on this page to get the blog delivered direct to your email.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

How to save the world

"Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world."
Harriet Tubman

We've always known that it takes one person to change the world, each in his or her own unique and important way. 
But sometimes it takes three sisters.

Mazal tov (congratulations) and Kol Hakavod (well done) to Ilyssa Maisano, Lori Ingber and Jennifer Zairi, on the upcoming third gala event for the Growing Hearts of Africa Foundation. Besides other worthy causes, much of the Foundation's generosity has gone to JDC's life-saving work in Ethiopia: building schools and supporting the life-saving work of JDC's Dr. Rick Hodes. Spines repaired, hearts healed, schools built ... lives changed.

The Joint is proud to have the Growing Hearts Foundation as a supporter of our work around the world. They've allowed us to respond to crises, man-made and natural, wherever they occur. 

Read about Ilyssa, Lori and Jennifer's work here, and if you want to see how philanthropic action can change lives, come to their amazing event on Saturday night, May 10th
Dr. Hodes will be the keynote speaker, and it will be a terrific opportunity to make a difference.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Cheap ain’t always a bargain

I had a fascinating conversation the other day with a colleague in JDC-Israel. We were talking about employment centers, specifically those for the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) population. You can read more about this subject here and also here

When we look at Haredi employment, we look at two levels:
The “inputs” – how much do we need to invest per person
The “outputs” – how much do we invest per success story.

So, for example, how effective (cost-wise) is an employment-training program? Especially in a unique society with cultural and educational challenges and horizons that shape their view differently?

When you look at the number of participants, compared to the number of graduates placed in a ‘good’ job? Or retaining that job after six months? Or promoted after two years?
Sometimes the ‘cost’ of a program isn’t what you think. 

For example: an employment center that refers thousands of people after an interview and a quick class looks like it’s “cheap” for the price. But only a small number of graduates stay employed after a year. 

But an employment center that invests in interview skills, workshops, courses, may look more “expensive” per capita. Yet in the long-term its graduates have good jobs and upgraded positions. 

That’s what success looks like.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

A drop of milk

I'll be speaking at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia this coming Wednesday April 30th at 7pm, on "Hunger and Thirst in the Jewish World: Poverty, Food Insecurity and the Search for Jewish Community."

Hope you can join me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

About last week

I spent a lot of time last week answering questions from colleagues and friends about the situation in Ukraine.

Specifically, the “leaflets” issue in Donetsk. Concerned colleagues in Jewish federations, JDC supporters and donors wanted to know the truth, what could be done, and what was being done to stand up to these awful things.

So … we know a lot more about the truth of these issues. And people closer (geographically) and more politically outspoken than me have and will continue to give their views on what’s been done and what can be done. But I want to make one point, that I don’t think anyone has expressed yet. Gratitude.

Remember that whole phrase, “never again”? How we promised to not let our guard down when Jews were endangered, or suffering? Remember that commitment we share that we leave no one behind?
We saw that commitment this last week.
Vigilance, sensitivity, alert appreciation for the rights of Jews in a far-off place.

Every now and then, people will say to you, Jews today don’t care about Jews in faraway places. They won’t stand up anymore if something bad happens. There’s too much alienation now.

Remind them of last week. It ain't so.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Food packages (but not the ones you usually see)

Getting ready for Pesach the other day, sixty-one of my awesome colleagues in JDC-Israel had two volunteer days ... they put 1751 nutritionist-approved food packages together for the needy, which were then distributed to some 24 different communities around Israel.

I love this video because it shows you the mechanics of preparing food packages. Doesn't matter where in the world we have to do it or with whom we partner. The mechanics and logistics are a constant.

Plus you can play the "JDC Employee Drinking Game" (take a shot each time you recognize someone you saw on a mission).

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Three miles of shelves

A wonderful, inspiring report on my colleague Linda and our dedicated archival team. One hundred years of history. Their website is superb, and well-worth checking out too.

The Jewish people’s 911

Local archivist collects a century of JDC photographs

Larry Yudelson • Cover Story NJ Jewish Standard
Published: 18 April 2014

Twenty-six serious men sit around the table.

Two of the men have long beards; half wear mustaches. Scattered between them are two women, one of whom, of course, is the stenographer, known only as Mrs. F. Friedman. The other is the comptroller.

The year is 1918, and the men are leaders of the Jewish community. Most, like the host of the meeting, banker Felix Warburg, and his father-in-law, banker Jacob Schiff, are Reform Jews of German origin. A couple, including those with beards, are Orthodox and from Eastern Europe. Some are rabbis; one is novelist Sholem Asch. The comptroller is Harriet B. Lowenstein.

Meet the founders of the Joint Distribution Committee of American Funds for the Relief of Jewish War Sufferers, the organization now known as the American-Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and variously as JDC or “the Joint” for short.

The men had formed the group four years before the photograph was taken. That was after Henry Morgenthau, the American ambassador to Turkey, who was Jewish, had cabled Mr. Schiff asking for money to aid the Jews in Ottoman-ruled Palestine. The Great War had erupted in Europe a month earlier, and now the Jews of Palestine were cut off from their traditional Eastern European supporters because the Turkish Ottoman empire was at war (alongside Germany and Austro-Hungary) against the Russian (and British and French) allies.

At first, American Jews formed two separate relief organizations in response to Morgenthau’s plea; one by the new Orthodox immigrants, one by the Reform old guard led by the American Jewish Committee. But by November of 1914 they had merged into the joint relief body that would dispense the funds raised by their separate campaigns. (In 1915, a third group joined — the socialist People’s Relief Committee, backed by Workmen’s Circle.) The war hit the Jews of Europe hard. Hundreds of thousands were displaced, many by their own governments.

The (mostly) men of the JDC had reason to pose on that July day in 1918; they had mobilized the Jews of America to aid their overseas relatives. They had led Congress to proclaim a Jewish War Relief day in 1916. And when their wartime contributions would be tallied three years later, it would turn out that by 1921 the Joint had raised $15 million for relief in Europe and Palestine and had facilitated the transmission of $10 million in personal direct aid to the war zone.

In the century of whirlwind Jewish history that followed, the JDC’s work continued around the globe, through the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel, to the mass migration of Jews from the Middle East and the Soviet Union, to fragile Jewish communities in Ethiopia and Sarajevo and Argentina and beyond.

Its actual fundraising, however, was put on pause for many years. After competing after the Great War with Zionist fundraisers over whether Jews should be helped in Europe or in Palestine, the two groups joined forces on the eve of the Holocaust in 1938 to form the United Jewish Appeal, whose funds were allocated between the JDC and the Zionist Jewish Agency.

More recently, as the flow of money slowed from the Jewish federations that funded the United Jewish Appeal and its successor organization, the Jewish Federations of North America, the JDC, like the Jewish Agency, began its own independent fundraising again.

The JDC now spends half of its $360 million budget in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, feeding elderly Holocaust survivors and supporting a revival of Jewish communal life for those Jews who remained after the Holocaust and mass emigration to Israel. Another 40 percent of the budget is spent in Israel, where the JDC funds a range of social service projects.

Now, as the JDC marks its centennial, that 1918 photograph of the JDC’s founding leaders fills the first page of a new commemorative book: “I Live. Send Help.” The book is subtitled “100 Years of Jewish History in Images from the JDC Archives.”

It is edited by Linda Levi, who heads the JDC’s archive and lives in Teaneck with her husband. The couple, who have two grown children, are members of Congregation Keter Torah.

Ms. Levi grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts. She went to nearby Brandeis for college, and spent her junior year abroad at Hebrew University. It was in Jerusalem that she took a course with Dr. Michael Rosenak, called “Issues in Contemporary Jewish Life.” In later years Professor Rosenak would become known as the premiere philosopher of Jewish education. In those years, his class already was packed, and Ms. Levi was far from the only student who left the classroom wanting to devote her life to a career helping the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

She went on for a graduate degree in contemporary Jewish studies and Jewish communal service at Brandeis, and then, when she finished, she moved to Israel.

“My dream job was to work for the Joint, which was in my eyes then and still is the premiere organization that was helping Jews in need around the world,” she said.

Her first job was the Jerusalem Y. Then she spent four years with Eshel, a partnership between the Israeli government and the JDC that provided social services for the elderly.

Then, when family concerns brought her back to America, she found a job with New York’s UJA-Federation.
In 1989 she joined JDC as associate director of program planning and budget.

“We were helping large numbers of Soviet Jewish transmigrants who were leaving the Soviet Union and deciding not to go to Israel,” Ms. Levi said. (Transmigrants are people moving from place to place, before they arrive at their final destination.) “Our offices in Vienna and Rome were caring for Soviet transmigrants as they were waiting for paperwork to enter the U.S. We were working in Eastern Europe in countries that were still under communism. We were trying to find those openings that would help us revitalize Jewish life.

“And then, with the end of Communism, the JDC began to operate in the Soviet Union, in a place that was vast, as a community that was cut off from its Jewish heritage for so long, and we had to figure out how to begin.

“Unfortunately, the economic dislocation following glasnost and perestroika led to the end of the safety net that Soviet citizens had been able to depend on. We began addressing the needs of the Jewish elderly. A lot was done with the help of the Claims Conference” — which receives money from German reparation — “to fund those programs for victims of the Nazis. We developed a major welfare program, providing food packages and home care for needy Soviet elderly, and later for children at risk,” she said.

Her role in the budgeting process gave her a top-level view of the JDC’S decisions, and “its funding allocations in response to global needs around the world,” she said. During this time, she traveled around the world, “visiting many, many communities, seeing the needs.”

In 2009, the JDC’s longtime archivist retired and Ms. Levi took over the job. She turned her attention to the JDC’s history, and “how the treasures of our archives could be used for the benefit of the JDC today.”
All told, the JDC’s documents span three miles of shelving, some in Israel and some in a climate-controlled facility in Long Island City. The archive boasts some hundred thousand photographs, about 160 sound recordings, and more than a thousand films.

An oral history project features transcripts of interviews with JDC staff and leaders “who were involved in major historical events of the work of the JDC from the time of the Holocaust and later,” Ms. Levi said. “Many of the oral histories of the Holocaust are of survivors. Ours are of the caregivers. It gives a whole different insight.”

Much of the archives have been digitized and are accessible online at, a website that showcases the organization’s photos. A name search provides easy access to records that contain more than a hundred thousand names. It is a great boon for people researching their family history.

“In the archives of the Joint I have found correspondence from my great grandfather, who was a leader in the Jewish community of Vienna in the 1920s,” Ms. Levi said. “He was corresponding with the Joint about the visits he took to see the situation of Jewish refugees from Galicia who were in Lemberg, and about the help the community was extending to the refugees.

“I also found records in our archives of when my grandfather came to America. There are notes about two different times he came to meet with JDC leaders to impress upon them the terrible situation of the Jews in World War II, specifics about particular problems that needed to addressed with and dealt with at the time,” she said.

“We indexed some very historic lists. We have a list of over 9,000 refugees who were being helped by the JDC around 1940 in Vilna, refugees from Poland who had moved to Vilna. That list has the names of many familiar rabbis like Aron Kotler, and Zionist leaders like Menachem Begin,” she said.

After the war, “JDC was very active in the DP camps,” she continued. “We had an emigration service working out of Vienna and Munich. We had an index card of everyone we helped. All those cards, something like 80,000 of them, have been indexed.”

And this reporter discovered that one of his great grandfathers had been a vice president of a national Jewish organization that had corresponded with the JDC and whose letterhead had been digitized into the archives.
“When you delve into our archive system, you get a sense of the enormous length the JDC went through and continues to go through to help Jews, particularly during crises,” Ms. Levi said. “When you read some of the field reports of what was witnessed and done, both in reaction to World War I and World War II, and the number of countries we worked in, the efforts to get papers for people coming from different countries, trying to match people’s backgrounds with countries that had some openings, the array of countries — particularly during World War II — refugees in Casablanca and Tangiers and Shanghai, refugees sent to Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, India, all over the world — it’s really quite astounding.

“It makes me very proud to be part of an organization that has this kind of illustrious history.”

The archives have provided her a window of what Jewish rescue required back in the days of telegraphs and steam ships. “When you read some of the old reports and you understand what it took to get to places and communicate about it — the operation had the same alacrity in trying to respond to problems, but the effort was so much greater and the communication about it was so much slower,” she said. “Today you send an email. Things go so much faster.”

The JDC describes itself as “the 911 of the Jewish people” — a phrase that would have been incomprehensible to the men sitting around that table a century ago. But though the situation has changed, and one of the three Rs in its description has morphed over the years, from “reconstruction” to “rehabilitation” to “renewal,” its core mission “has remained constant: rescue and relief,” Ms. Levi said.

We suspect that Mr. Warburg and Mr. Schiff would have approved.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

The best joke I heard all week*

Because I was thinking about my colleagues around the world, about the legacy of our history, and because, hey, it's Pesach and I want to write something that makes me smile ....

A Soviet citizen was approached by a new American diplomat in Moscow, who was trying to learn as much as he could about communism.

"Tell me," said the curious diplomat. "As a communist you share everything?"

"Yes," said the local.

"You mean, if you had two houses, you'd give me one?"

"Of course."

"And if you had two cars, you'd let me have one?"


"And if you had two stoves, or two TVs, or two fridges, you'd give me one of each?"


"And if you had two shirts, you'd give me one?"

"No. Not two shirts," said the local.

"Why not?"

"Because I have two shirts."

* It might not be the best joke you'll hear all week. But I didn't get out much.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The first free Pesach

Bakery workers in Berlin worked two shifts a day from February on to produce some 25 tons of Passover matza in 1946, the first to be baked in that city in 10 years. Together with other kosher for Passover items shipped by JDC, it made “this first free Passover a real Passover.” Germany, 1946

There's a beautiful and incredibly moving story about Pesach in Germany in 1946 here.

Chag sameach - a peaceful, happy and healthy Passover to all those celebrating.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The limits of my language are the limits of my world*

I’ve spent a significant amount of time in various partnership cities.

These are places where we help build strong relationships between North American Jewish Federation communities with a community in Israel, or Europe, or the former Soviet Union. There are layers and layers of relationship models – schools, JCCs, projects, programs, personal ties – that deepen each year. They enhance Jewish identity and connectivity for everyone involved.

The basic components of these partnerships are unique to the communities. At some point we’ll get some ideas together about the best practices – feel free to send me some ideas and I’ll start sharing them too. But two ideas keep coming back to me.

First, when we build partnerships in, for example, a Russian-speaking country, one of the best ways to deepen that connection Stateside is to have a Russian “ulpan” for the leadership. You don’t have to learn the language to fluency, but even a basic grasp of a few common words makes a huge impact on your audience and friends when you travel there.
Think about what happens when you go to a foreign country and you can say a few words of their language when you walk around. Same thing here.

Second, there’s a single common language that we share in our communities.
It’s Hebrew.
In practically every country I've ever visited in my work in the Joint, I've met with someone from the local leadership who speaks Hebrew. You name it, they speak Hebrew there.
If we want to deepen these partnerships – and strengthen the Jewish identity on both sides – learning Hebrew is one of the best, most effective and most powerful ways to do it.

And hamevin yevin.

*Ludwig Wittgenstein.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Siberia and Shanghai

I’m taking a small group to Siberia and Shanghai this coming September. It will likely be one of the most stunning and memorable missions/visits you’ll ever get the chance to experience.

We’ll see some incredible sights, visit with the local Jewish communities, and much more.

If you want to join ... email me or call me. Space is limited.

Fly to the Far East and uncover Jewish life in unexpected places. 

Connect with Jews living in Shanghai who are building a dynamic new Jewish community in the heart of China. Provide warm meals to impoverished children and elderly in Birobidzhan—the region Stalin envisioned as a Jewish state and today is still home to thousands of Jews, many of whom depend on JDC support.

Dates: September 5-11, 2014
Cost: $6,200 per person single occupancy; $5,400 per person double occupancy(covers in-country travel, unique visits, hotels, meals, and guides; does not include transatlantic flight or flight between Khabarovsk and Shanghai)
Deposit: $1,000

  • Spend Shabbat evening with young Jewish students from the Khabarovsk Hillel.  In the Former Soviet Union, JDC has helped establish 27 Hillels, playing a key role in Jewish renewal.
  • Participate in Havadalah ceremony with Khabarovsk’s Moishe House.  MoisheHouse is a network of homes around the that provide meaningful Jewish experiences for young adults.
  • Visit the city of Birobidzhan, the capital of the Jewish Autonomous Region.  In 1927, the Soviet authority planned to create a homeland for the Jews. Today, this community offers Jewish cultural courses, organizes Shabbat celebrations, and is home to many different Jewish institutions.
  • Experience a home visit to the elderly Hesed clients.  Meet face to face with Jewish elderly and learn about their critical needs and JDC’s commitment to caring for them.
  • See sites of Jewish heritage in Shanghai, including Ohel Moshe Synagogue, built in 1927.
  • Enjoy a day excursion to Zhujiajiao, an ancient water town built during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Participation requires a meaningful gift to help support JDC’s rescue, relief, and renewal programs around the world.

* all trips are subject to change
** Priority for JDC Ambassadors trips are given to members of our Ambassadors Circle and Society. 

Monday, April 7, 2014


I love meeting with teen groups. You can spend time with a Jewish federation teen philanthropy group and come out feeling optimistic about the future of Jewish community leadership.

Yesterday I presented some programs to the “Jteam” teen philanthropy initiative at the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County in NJ. 
Programs like “Better Together” in Ashkelon, working to empower the weakest and most vulnerable populations. At-risk children, weaker immigrants, difficult socioeconomic backgrounds. Programs like the Elderly Food Program for Jews in the former Soviet Union, saving tens of thousands of lives every day.

But … here’s the catch. Would we continue these programs without the teens’ funding? Absolutely. So why are we asking?

For two reasons.

First … because every dollar makes an impact. A one thousand dollar donation, on average, can save one elderly Jew in the former Soviet Union. Enough extra food, medicine and homecare to give life for a year. So the lesson that saving one life is like saving the entire world really has meaning.

But second – and just as important – because conversations with teen philanthropy groups aren't just about the vulnerable, the poor, the weak at all. They’re about us.

They’re about the future of our Jewish communities, how we think about philanthropy and continuity.

They’re about the kind of leadership we want to see in twenty years time … and how we prepare them today.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The dilemma we like to have

I spent a day this week with the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley, meeting with senior leadership and their Board. We talked about the Jewish world, Ukraine, the work we do together and how we tell our stories.

One issue came up that struck me, and I want to spend a moment on it here.

Sitting at dinner with some lovely, inspiring leaders of the federation, I discussed “success” and our exit strategy. I've looked at exit strategies before – it’s a critical component of how we look at our work around the world. It means that we’re aiming for local empowerment. Local capacity. Local leadership. 
So we don’t run religious services in Cuba, we don’t run major JCCs in many Russian-speaking countries, we don’t manage Heseds with American or Israeli staff. 
More and more programs are indigenous. Leadership is locally-trained (or, even better, internationally-trained in incredible places like our Szarvas Camp in Hungary).

But there’s one challenge we have to face.

We want to empower local leadership … so we have to let them strive, and grapple … and even fail.
But on the other hand – we have amazing models of Jewish communal leadership here in North America. We know, in our federations and Jewish communal structures, how to train leaders. We know how to solicit gifts. We know how to articulate our work. And we want to share these ideas.

So this dilemma – reduce our role while sharing (and encouraging) best practices – is a good one to have. These are the kind of challenges we should encourage.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give*

I think we need to share this widely ...

Why Fund-Raising Is Fun

Arthur C. Brooks
New York Times, March 29, 2014

ONCE, I asked a class full of aspiring social entrepreneurs — all with business plans and ambitions to start nonprofits — how many of them were looking forward to fund-raising. Exactly zero hands went up. The consensus was that raising money might be a necessary evil, but it was a distraction from a social enterprise’s “real” work.
To their disappointment, I told them that today, soliciting donations is often the single biggest part of a nonprofit leader’s job. For example, I lead a research institution in Washington. Private philanthropy makes up our entire budget, so I travel every week, and the majority of my time is spent fund-raising.
Sound like fun? Actually, it is. Here’s why.
In 2003, while working on a book about charitable giving, I stumbled across a strange pattern in my data. Paradoxically, I was finding that donors ended up with more income after making their gifts. This was more than correlation; I found solid evidence that giving stimulated prosperity. I viewed my results as implausible, though, and filed them away. After all, data patterns never “prove” anything, they simply provide evidence for or against a hypothesis.
But when I mentioned my weird findings to a colleague, he told me that they were fairly unsurprising. Psychologists, I learned, have long found that donating and volunteering bring a host of benefits to those who give. In one typical study, researchers from Harvard and the University of British Columbia confirmed that, in terms of quantifying “happiness,” spending money on oneself barely moves the needle, but spending on others causes a significant increase.
Why? Charitable giving improves what psychologists call “self-efficacy,” one’s belief that one is capable of handling a situation and bringing about a desired outcome. When people give their time or money to a cause they believe in, they become problem solvers. Problem solvers are happier than bystanders and victims of circumstance.
If charity raises well-being, there is no obvious reason it would not also indirectly stimulate material prosperity as people improve their lives. By the time I published my results in an academic journal and book about philanthropy, the only real question was why I hadn’t intuitively understood this all along.
But studying the link between service to others and happiness changed more than just my research; the evidence led me and my wife to reconsider our personal behavior. We raised our financial support for the causes we cared about, increased our volunteering, and — proving that the path to the human heart can run through 100 megabytes of social science data — adopted our youngest child. These things have enriched our family beyond imagination, just as the research promised.
I also began working with nonprofit leaders, helping them to understand the transcendental benefit to donors and recipients alike. And after a few years I finally made the leap to fund-raising myself, leaving academia to lead my current institution, an organization with a mission to which I was morally committed: improving policy and defending American free enterprise.
In this role, I have found that the real magic of fund-raising goes even deeper than temporary happiness or extra income. It creates meaning. Donors possess two disconnected commodities: material wealth and sincere convictions. Alone, these commodities are difficult to combine. But fund-raisers facilitate an alchemy of virtue: They empower those with financial resources to convert the dross of their money into the gold of a better society.
Of course, not everyone shares the principles that motivate my institution’s scholars and supporters. But with millions of 501(c)(3)s and houses of worship nationwide, no one needs to wait on the sidelines and hope that politicians will marshal government power in service of their priorities. By investing their own time, talent and treasure, every American can bring his or her core principles to life. That can mean promoting literacy, conserving nature, saving souls or something else entirely.
None of this is exactly revolutionary; after all, Jesus himself taught his followers, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Poets and philosophers have often made this point. One example I love is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s lyrical test of success in life. In the poem “In the Churchyard at Cambridge,” he contemplates the grave of an unknown woman:
Was she a lady of high degree,
So much in love with the vanity
And foolish pomp of this world of ours?
Or was it Christian charity,
And lowliness and humility,
The richest and rarest of all dowers?
If the lady passed the test and gave of herself to others, who knows? She might have had a fund-raiser to thank.
Nonprofit leaders serve others, and help build causes. But just as important, by providing opportunities to give, they empower us to breathe more meaning into our lives.

*Sir Winston Churchill

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.*

Springboard is an amazing program, one of my favorites in Israel. The idea is to take a seven-year investment in soldiers from at-risk families. Two years before the army, the three years of military service, and two years after. It’s geared towards Ethiopian-Israelis … but not just them.

We’re investing in these soldiers because we want them to arrive prepared and ready for army service. We want them to have a meaningful service in the army itself, serving in good positions that reflect their potential. And we want them to re-enter civilian life successfully.

The problem is often that army service is going to be the first time that they leave their “bubble” and their comfort zone. For many of the at-risk kids, their parents don’t have experience with army service so they can’t provide any support.

I sat with Eliora & Li, two soldiers who work with Springboard as part of their army service on a recent visit. And we discussed three fascinating things:

 (1) The importance of the family in Ethiopian-Israeli society. Often the child becomes the dominant personality in the family. If you're needed at home, you're likely to go, even if you're a soldier and should remain at your post. So we need to sensitize the army to what’s happening in a soldier’s home. Sometimes a commanding officer may not have figured this out.

(2) Your parents didn’t serve in the army. So they can't help you and they don’t understand what you're going through. There's a lot of fear, misunderstanding, lack of clarity. Ethiopian-Israeli kids lack the networks which can help their peers solve problems.

(3) The standardized tests discriminate against Ethiopian Israelis, as do the interviews. Israeli society needs to change ... and Ethiopian-Israeli society needs a stronger sense of cultural pride and identity.
It’s going to take a lot of mentoring, guidance and support. But this is worth doing.

*Andy Warhol