Thursday, September 22, 2016

Helping Israel's poor (or a few easy steps to help get you into the Book of Life)

No, I am not going soft. I am taking a very short hiatus from insulting everyone everywhere to do something positive. So please bear with me and read along. Do not skip any sections; do not skim. I don't want to repeat myself.

In 2014 two of my very good (and I should add, really smart) friends created an extremely worthy Crowd Funding site called Ten Gav. I don't know what that means but it doesn't matter because they do life-changing good work, helping less fortunate Israelis who need a little boost so that they can get on with helping themselves. Since that time they have successfully managed 220 or more mini crowd funding projects from all over Israel.

As they see it, it is crowd funding with a twist (all good stories have a twist).  It emphasizes the donor experience rather than the “raise” itself. (I think that is insider lingo from the crowd funding business.)

The premise of Ten Gav is that Israel’s poor have vast needs that are not being met -- and that many people want to help them in some small, but significant, way as long as it isn't too complicated. 

Here's what they learned during their pre-launch research (I told you they were smart):

1. People want to feel a personal connection to the end receiver of their giving. That's why Ten Gav's platform allows the potential donor to read in short story about a particular family’s situation (pseudonyms are used) and what they need. It's personal!

2. People also want to know that the recipient of their donation really needs it, so each funding project posted on the site is verified by a professional social worker, reviewed by her principal and made on behalf of a person or family with an open file in a municipal social services department in Israel. To add to the donor’s sense of confidence in the giving process, the name of the verifying social worker and the name of his or her agency are posted alongside the story itself. Rather than create an entirely new system of due diligence, Ten Gav relies on the Israeli municipal welfare services system, which has proven to be a good decision.

3. People want to feel like their dollars make a tangible difference to the end receiver so no single need offered for funding on the site exceeds $1500.  This ensures that even a modest gift will have meaningful impact.

4. People who can only afford to give modest amounts, want 100% of their gift to go towards funding the case chosen by the donor. (In case you were wondering, they fundraise separately to cover operating expenses.)

Here’s how Ten Gav works:  You visit and read the stories about real people meeting real challenges.  Each story requests funding for something specific: It might be a request for a fridge, a stove or a washer; it might be a request for prescription glasses, a laptop computer for a student, an orthopedic bed for an ill person being cared for at home or hearing aids for an elderly client. Or, it might be a request for funding for a cosmeticians course for a young adult, soccer club fees for a grade school boy, or a didactic evaluation for a high school student to enable him or her to receive special dispensations in their matriculation exams.

All of the families you read about cannot afford most capital expenses. You choose the family in need to which you want to make your gift.  The counters are reduced as donations come in until the need has been fully funded.  At that point each of the individuals who donated to a particular need will receive notice and thanks from Ten Gav that the campaign has been closed and that they, together with several other good people, have made a real difference in one family’s life.

Unfortunately, the needs of Israel’s poor are many and their primary advocates in the social services system, namely professional social workers, have few places to turn to for assistance on their behalf.
You can help

At this time of the year when many of us are running around filling our refrigerators and freezers with holiday food, and buying new clothes to wear to synagogue, there are real people out there who would be very appreciative if you could siphon off a little bit to help them. It doesn't take much effort to do so – the Ten Gav site is self-explanatory – and it would make a world of difference.

And let's face it, if there is ever a point in the year where we should all be looking for a few last minute good deeds to help us get into next year's Book of Life, this is it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Aliyah: Fifteen (plus 2) things I learned in the last 15 years

Last Friday night in synagogue I sat next to someone who just made Aliyah. She told me that she feels like she has been hit by a bus. Despite the fact that she and her family have been spending their vacations here for the past several years and many people in the neighbourhood assumed they already lived here, the transition from visitor to resident had caught her off-guard. It's a big thing and personally, every time I allow myself to think back to my first year, I have to go to bed and calm myself down. Let's just say that those aren't my best memories.

So, with the help of input from some of my friends who have been there and done that, here's what I know today that I did not know 15 years ago when I arrived.

1.       No matter how hard you try, you are not going to turn Israel into whatever place you came from. At some point you are going to have to accept the old adage "when in Israel, do as the Israelis". This includes learning the fine arts of strategic impersonal yelling, holding your place in line without getting in line, being in two lanes at once, parking wherever it suits you, and the willful rejection of the word "no".
2.       This is not wherever you came from. The country is counter-intuitive. Nothing is done the same here as it is "there". This includes: returns in stores, wedding ceremonies, banking, crossing the street, expecting service with a smile. How ever you are used to things working, it's the opposite here.
3.       Aliyah is difficult and even if you are a capable Hebrew speaker, it is going to turn your world upside down for a while. You may think you are mentally, physically and even spiritually prepared for the move but I am willing to bet buttons to beer caps that you are not. All you need is a day dealing with any branch of officialdom (personal favourites: Bituach Leumi, Misrad Ha P'nim, the maccabi4u website) and you will quickly realize that you are no longer in Kansas and no twister on Earth will ever get you back there.
4.       The ideal development of your child involves their ability to hold their own on the playground ("use your words" is not an Israeli concept) and independent learning until – approximately -- 10th grade, when the teachers finally shift into gear and start catching-up on every drop of curriculum they forgot to teach your child for the previous nine years. These are truly the roots of Start Up Nation; not the army.
5.       When people tell you that your child will be a fluent Hebrew speaker by Chanuka do not get it into your head that they mean THIS Chanuka. They mean Chanuka several years from now.
6.   Kids turn out differently here. They know that they are all vital components of a country/a people/ a history. They want to do their part to give back to society. They do not need to make academic and extra-curricular decisions based on how to impress a college admissions advisor – they know who they are and what they must do.  Army service, while nerve-wracking for their parents, is a great source of much pride that turns our children into adults so much better than they would have been without the experience.
7.       Going to the army (and some national service) may be similar to getting an undergraduate degree, except for the shitty dorm rooms, worse food, and Hamas and Hezbollah instead of BDS.  It is a valuable experience that will matter later in life – just like university. However, that life and death element is a bit of a game changer.
8.       If you don't want your children to mingle and possibly marry Israelis, moving to Israel may not have been your best idea because there a lot of Israelis here. And as surprising as it may be, Israelis prefer to speak Hebrew and live Israeli lives. You may also have to accept customs and traditions that you believe are uncomfortable for you or bad for your health. I personally like the Sephardi tradition of green-onion-as-representational-whip at the Pesach Seder but I am no fan of meat for lunch.
9.       Winter is colder inside your house than outside. The lack of insulation results in a situation where wearing a coat or heavy sweater to bed begins to seem obvious. Even my dog prefers to go outside in the winter and she is normally no friend of fresh air.
10.   Dead people go straight into the ground. No coffin, just a tightly wrapped shroud. It is incredibly unnerving the first four hundred times you see it.
11.   Israel has a very robust economy. It almost looks like a first world country. There is a crane overhead almost everywhere you look in the center of the country and roads constantly under construction. However, it is all part of the most elaborate sleight-of-hand ruse you will ever see -- you still have to pay Mercedes prices for a Mazda, and $15 for a decent pair of underwear.
12.   Fruit tastes like whatever it is, and can only be found in season. Tomatoes like tomatoes (not wet cardboard), strawberries like strawberries. And dairy products taste like the cow made them specially for you in your backyard five minutes ago. Once you eat here you will never enjoy food anywhere where mass production rules.
13.   The guys carrying visible guns on the street, on the bus, and on the beach, are the good guys and you are really glad they seem to be everywhere.
14.   No one plans ahead. It may have begun as gallows thinking – why plan ahead when we may be dead by then -- but has over time become part of the fabric of Israeli thinking. And oddly enough it works and is truly addictive. Thinking about getting married? Why not next week? Definitely no later than two months from now! Bar mitzvah party venue burned down the night before the party (this really happened), just move the food, the DJ and the guests up the street to the next available party location and carry on.
15. You do not have to be post-secondary school educated to have an opinion on everything from the American presidential elections, to the pros and cons of the interest rates set by the Bank of Israel, or who is right: Boogie, Boujie or Bibi. Every garbage collector, bus driver, gardener, and delivery person has an opinion about what is going on and how things should be.
16.   Oh, and one last thing. The reason Starbucks failed in Israel is because Israelis do not like the taste of Starbucks coffee. There is no conspiracy.
17. Oh, and another thing, lizards have to live somewhere and apparently their somewhere is Israel's everywhere.