By Melissa Kushner
I have been asked the question countless times, “Why aren’t you helping Jews? And my answer is always the same, “I am!” When we engage in tzedakah or tikkum olam of any kind, we perform a kiddush hashem with a seismic ripple effect of good. Good for you, me, God and we!
Let me explain. Eleven years ago I founded goods for good, a nonprofit organization working in Malawi, Africa. goods for good builds businesses to help orphans.
Malawi is the seventh poorest country in the world. Out of a population of 14 million people there are about 1.5 million orphans. The majority of these children live in their village and receive services such as school scholarships, feeding programs, medical care and emotional support from local community organizations. The challenge is that in a country where 90% of people are subsistence farmers, it is the poor taking care of the poorer, and that is where goods for good comes in.
We help meet the immediate and long-term needs of orphans. The businesses we build, in partnership with community organizations, generate revenue to provide schooling, medical care and food for children today. Our businesses also create paying jobs, teach business skills and stimulate the local economy, providing for tomorrow.
goods for good has helped over 80,000 children, but it also has also profoundly helped me. Through my work, I have been able to connect with my faith, my community and my family on a much deeper level.
This might sound counterintuitive, but there is no better way to connect with your Jewish values than to be the only Jewish person in an entire country. From having to explain to village leaders that because I am kosher I can’t eat the chicken they cooked in my honor, to throwing a Chrism-ukah (Christmas/Hannnukah) party at the Catholic orphanage I was living in, I was a walking dugma (example) for the values and traditions of Judaism. This was a responsibility I took seriously and it deeply enriched my love for our faith.
At goods for good, a big part of my job is fundraising. I don’t think anyone really likes to ask people for money (I know I don’t) but through this part of my work I have been able to build relationships with so many incredible people. I have seen near strangers perform acts of such inspirational generosity. Validation in the Jewishness of my work came in 2014 with incredible support from the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York. They are pioneering support for Jewish women social entrepreneurs. It is goods for goods’ community of supporters that make our work possible and gives me faith in the kindness of others.
And last but not least, my work has made me a better mother. With all of the craziness of raising a young family in New York it can be all too easy to lose perspective on what really matters. Our family’s connection to Malawi helps us to appreciate each other and all that we have. But even more than this, my children have relationships with children their same age across the world. From a young age they have come to understand that, while there are differences, at the end of the day we are all the same.
I feel incredibly fortunate to do what I do. Over the past eleven years, my work has shaped my adult life. Each day I appreciate the way these experiences influence me; as a mother, a Jew and a citizen of the world. For that I could never give back enough.
Melissa Kushner is Founder and Executive Director of goods for good.