Don’t forget your synagogue, especially now
More than six weeks after Israel was brutally attacked, the Jewish community is still in shock. We aren’t always 100% certain how to deal with it and what to do. We receive emails and WhatsApp messages daily from organizations across the U.S., Israel and elsewhere with appeals for emergency campaigns to save lives, heal the injured and address the trauma of a population. Most of these causes are worthwhile and are truly making a difference in peoples’ lives (others are jumping on the fundraising bandwagon). We need to set priorities and make decisions.
Those who know me will know that I am committed to and always encourage support for Israel and its people, period. For me it is a first and guiding principle.
I am also a firm believer in using our dollars and our efforts to ensure the strength and vitality of our synagogues and other core community institutions. Without those foundational organizations, the fabric of Jewish life in communities across North America would be weakened, and Jewish life in our communities would suffer — and support for Israel would suffer as well.
So how do we approach this question and make sure that we are fulfilling our obligation to help meet the needs and expectations of the Jewish community locally and in Israel? Let me offer the following as important elements to look for in making your decisions:
- Clarity: When you support an organization or a cause, know what you are supporting and the way that your funds, along with those of others, will make a difference. This measure of transparency is important in today’s philanthropic arena.
- Connection: You want to feel and establish a bond to the individuals or families who are being helped through your tzedakah. This offers personal satisfaction to you for having contributed, and is critically important to the organization in cultivating your intention to make them one of your “go-to” choices for giving.
- Community: We are part of a larger whole, a community. We certainly have our differences, and they can become pointed and even divisive. In times like the present, however, when Israel and the Jewish people are under attack, we truly feel the embrace and comfort of community, the divisions are set aside, if only for a time.
Based on these guiding principles, it is clear that, even in a time of crisis and uncertainty, our synagogues must be present among the key priorities of giving in Jewish communities across North America.
There is a clear and present imperative to supporting your shul. The synagogue is an important hub for Jewish life. We count on it being there even when we do not walk through the doors, in person or virtually, as often as we (or others) would like.
Synagogues must be inviting and welcoming. They must offer multiple points of entry and participation without losing sight of their “core business,” which is tending to the spiritual, educational and social needs and expectations of their community. They must be safe places — physically and intellectually — where members and others can find safe haven from the difficulties of the outside world and focus on personal improvement and feeling a connection to others.
That welcoming congregational community must be built, nurtured and supported, and all this must be done in a way that takes nothing for granted.
Let’s approach giving to our local synagogues as a way to build community and bind people together. We can do that by:
- Stressing the core values and purpose of the shul, and building ways for all to connect to them.
- Focusing on the good the funds will do and the results they will accomplish for individuals, families and the community.
- Knowing the community and the people who comprise it, so that the appeal can be made collectively and person by person.
- Doing your research, and then using the data carefully and with discretion. It will yield a more reliably positive result.
- Making the act of giving to your congregation an engaging moment and not just an obligation.
- Actually ask. The oldest adage in the fundraising world is, “If you do not ask, you will not get.” Do not presume that your friend or colleague is at the same place as you are. Talk to them, meet with them, make the case and you will see the results.
In difficult and challenging times like these, we are faced with so many options and paths to pursue. Let’s see how we can do the most, both for our brethren in Israel and for our congregational communities at home as well.
Avrum Lapin is president of The Lapin Group, LLC, a full-service fundraising and management consulting firm for nonprofits, based in Jenkintown, Pa. He is also a board member of The Giving Institute.