When asked what percentage of our family foundation’s support goes to Jewish causes, I always reply: “Every penny”.
This often elicits confusion, usually leading to a supplemental question: “But, you are funding projects in Africa and Nepal?’.”
“Yes,” I reply. “These are all Jewish causes.”
Jewish conversations about charitable giving have long been dominated by dichotomies: Jewish versus non-Jewish, local versus global, advocacy for Israel versus civil rights within Israel.
These conversations assume clearly-defined boundaries and zero-sum games. For me, the reality is more complex.
Agahozo Shalom is a residential school in Rwanda supporting orphans of genocide. It was founded by Jewish philanthropy and is modeled on orphan youth villages in Israel.
Many of its volunteers and experts are Jewish. An Israeli-developed solar-panel field is located on its grounds. Is this a Jewish cause or a non-Jewish one?
Tevel b’Tzedek is an Israeli NGO, founded by an Orthodox rabbi, working on development projects in Nepal.
Its staff and volunteers are a balanced mixture of Nepalese and Jews. Dr Bishnu Chapagain, their country director, is Nepalese but received his PhD in agriculture from Ben Gurion University. Is this a Jewish cause or a non-Jewish one?
Tzedek is a British NGO working in Ghana and India, supporting local development projects and schools. It also supports education in the UK, linking Jewish students and teachers with their counterparts in the developing world. Additionally, Tzedek runs The Ghana Project, a volunteering programme for young Jews. Is this a Jewish cause or a non-Jewish one?
These examples defy “either-or” categorisations – our world is complex and interconnected.
Within our community, there are people and organisations that intrinsically understand this. They champion a Jewish call to action to improve the world. Rooted in our tradition, they ask big questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What is our responsibility?
Their values-driven, action-oriented, outward-facing approach appeals to increasing numbers of young adults, who are searching for ways to make their Judaism more relevant and simultaneously address the needs of the wider world.
Often these organisations do not receive the recognition and support that they deserve.
This is why I am delighted that OLAM, a platform for promoting Jewish engagement in international development, will this week launch its first UK tour, A World of Opportunities.
In collaboration with UJS and other Jewish organisations, several of OLAM’s 46-strong coalition partners – including JDC Entwine, Project TEN, Tevel b’Tzedek and Tzedek – will showcase numerous opportunities available for young people to volunteer abroad in a Jewish context.
Experience has shown that alumni of such programmes do not forsake local needs. The encounter with another culture, coupled with the experience of leaving one’s comfort zone, often engenders an increased commitment to the Jewish community and a heightened sensitivity to social inequality at home too.
British Jewry has the opportunity to confidently write the next chapter in our story – one that is caring and cosmopolitan, attentive to local concerns and the world at large, and, most of all, undeniably Jewish.
This article was published in the Jewish Chronicle on the 24th November 2016.