Finding an accessible vehicle for Israel-Diaspora connection

During a trip to Israel in June 2023, I had the opportunity to meet with a small business owner who made aliyah from Ukraine. The woman, who runs preschools, told me about the impact of receiving a loan that enabled her to expand her business. Just two months later, when I visited Ukraine in the heat of wartime, I saw firsthand what it means to be an internally displaced person. Today, these experiences converge in my mind: Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been displaced from their homes due to the current war; and SparkIL, the peer-to-peer lending platform that provided assistance the aforementioned Ukrainian-Israeli business owner, continues to enable individuals across the Jewish world to support the small business of their choice in Israel.

Israeli small businesses affected by the war now have access to SparkIL’s Emergency Loan Fund, which offers each business up to NIS 100,000 ($27,000) in much-needed assistance. There is a more important number, however, and it is a much smaller one: $25, which is all that lenders in the Diaspora need to commit to make a difference on the ground in Israel.

Around the Jewish world, so many of us are looking for ways to make a difference for Israelis at their darkest hour. At the same time, not every one of us has the means to donate in $10,000 increments or the like. Therein lies the power of SparkIL, which makes impactful philanthropy accessible to anyone who is seeking to make a difference. Each loan of $25 or more helps turn hurt into hope for Israel’s small business owners in this moment; and in the long run, it plays a role in ensuring that the Jewish state’s economy and society can recover and thrive. In this way, Diaspora lenders can feel like they are making a tangible contribution to Israel’s war effort.

Yet the impact of a SparkIL loan extends far beyond the assistance received by Israelis. This crowdfunding process is a genuine two-way street that builds Jewish peoplehood by forging meaningful connections between the loan recipients in Israel and lenders in the Diaspora. These connections are precisely why I chose to serve on SparkIL’s board of directors, as they embody the core strategic goals of my philanthropy in general.

When my mother died in 2015, I established my own foundation, but I did not want to name it after myself. I called it the Zeff Kesher Foundation. Kesher means connection in Hebrew. It is not about me, but about the impact we can make. It is about what I am trying to achieve, which is a connected Jewish people.

From conversations with my four children, I am constantly reminded of the need to strengthen the connections between American Jews and Israelis. My older two sons grew up in Israel, served in the IDF and currently live in Israel; having never lived outside of Israel, they have a completely Israeli Jewish mentality. On the other hand, my younger two children have more of a Jewish American mindset, as they grew up in Israel but moved with me to Denver 18 years ago.

Through the variation in their backgrounds and perspectives, my children serve as my checks and balances. They demonstrate to me that despite our shared identity, Jews living on different sides of the Atlantic do not necessarily feel the same way about every issue that confronts world Jewry. In these circumstances, we need to intervene and create opportunities for connection for the sake of keeping us together as one people. This is a personal imperative for me, because ignoring this need would literally tear my family apart.

When I first learned of SparkIL, my enthusiasm for the cause derived from memories of my daughter’s middle school project with Kiva, a different peer-to-peer microlending platform. I witnessed firsthand the sense of connection that she felt, and now I see how this mechanism can be used to cultivate Jewish peoplehood. SparkIL effectively reaches the Jewish community’s younger generations by helping them make an impact that matters to them, including in the realm of social justice issues. For instance, they can support small business owners who are members of Israel’s most vulnerable populations, such as Arabs and Haredim. For as little as $25, they can invest in positive ways to effect change. It is smart, accessible and impactful philanthropy.

For American Jewish and Israeli communities, any opportunities that we can find to meet and connect will make a difference — on the individual and collective levels, and in wartime and more normal times alike.

Diana Zeff Anderson is the president of the Zeff Kesher Foundation, whose mission is to connect the Jewish community in America to the Jews in Israel. In addition to serving on the board of SparkIL, she is chair of planned giving for JEWISHcolorado and chair of the shlichut subcommittee on the board of The Jewish Agency for Israel, among other leadership roles.