Funders supported Israel in crisis. Now we need to help build a better future.

In eJewishPhilanthropy’s exclusive opinion column “The 501(C) Suite,” leading foundation executives share what they are working on and thinking about with the wider philanthropic field

In the weeks following the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks, the Jewish philanthropic community contributed to one of the most significant emergency responses in recent memory, rallying together to support Israel in a time of immense pain and crisis. Like many of our fellow funders, our organizations quickly funded emergency aid and disaster-relief efforts, working closely with grantees, partners and colleagues in Israel to identify the greatest and most urgent needs.

Since then, we have had the privilege of traveling to Israel together twice to bear witness and learn more about the issues facing the Israeli people. While we have seen considerable trauma and uncertainty, we also have experienced the incredible resilience and sense of hope among Israelis — and their deep and abiding commitment to caring for one another.

Nearly six months since Israel’s deadliest day and with the ensuing war ongoing, we must continue to invest in interim and longer-term recovery with the same urgency and shared purpose we did in the days and weeks after Oct. 7. As we start to shift from emergency response to support for rebuilding, we want to highlight three essential ways funders in the United States and beyond can strengthen Israel’s security and support Israeli society, even with an unpredictable road ahead.

1.     Elevate and invest in women’s leadership.

At an event we hosted last week during the Jewish Funders Network’s international conference in Tel Aviv, leaders representing the business, nonprofit, military and public sectors came with a shared message: Investing in women’s leadership is essential for building an inclusive, democratic society and a secure future for Israel. Decades of research back this call to action. When women hold decision-making power, communities are healthier, governments are more effective and businesses are more profitable. As Israel recovers from Oct. 7 and faces its longest war in more than 70 years, the country needs women in decision-making roles.

From left to right: Stacy Schusterman, chair of Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies; Lisa Eisen, co-president of Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies; Yonit Levi, Israeli journalist; Rachel Garbow Monroe, president and CEO of The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation; and Paula Pretlow, chair of the Weinberg Foundation’s board of directors, at an event on women’s role in securing Israel’s future held at the Jewish Funders Network conference in Tel Aviv last week. Courtesy

Yet even as women have stepped up as soldiers, on the home front and in civil society, research shows their influence over decision making in Israel is at an all-time low.

Essential work is already underway to address this pressing issue. Forum31, for example, strives to more than double the number of female mayors (from 15 to 31) to strengthen local leadership, in addition to creating support networks for women leaders. The Dvora Institute, along with the National Council of Jewish Women, pushed the United Nations to formally acknowledge the sexual violence and war crimes perpetrated by Hamas. Dvora is now focused on addressing gender inequality across Israel. HaOgen provides child care, meals and other support services through a network of volunteers to more than 10,000 families of reservists, allowing their spouses — who are mostly women — to continue working.

Funders can help by investing in these and other organizations that elevate women’s leadership, as well as those serving and led by women.

2.     Take time to listen and learn from communities across Israel.

In our recent trips to Israel, the talented and extraordinarily dedicated people we had the opportunity to meet left the greatest mark and offered the deepest insight, whether families of hostages, leaders documenting the atrocities women and girls suffered on Oct. 7, or doctors and nurses providing care to young children released from Gaza. These powerful personal interactions remind us that funders do not have anywhere near all the answers. Especially in times of crisis, we have a great responsibility to listen to the people we seek to serve, whether in person or through local partners, grantees, colleagues and experts. 

These experiences have underscored the importance and value of engaging affected communities across the country, including the over 2 million Arabs, Bedouins and Druze who call Israel home, as well as those often marginalized. The well-being of all populations matters, and strengthening every segment of society, and the bonds among them, strengthens the whole nation. Many organizations are working on Israel’s southern border and throughout the country to support communities in various ways. For example, Desert Stars, which works with Bedouin youth, has supported Jewish and Arab families in the Negev affected by the war; ELEM supports trauma and mental health needs among youth; SAHI, which engages youth from underserved areas in volunteerism and social activism, has opened programs for evacuees; and Tenufa Bakehila is rebuilding and repairing homes damaged by rockets.

We have seen the power of engaging affected communities among partners in the United States. The Natan Fund, for example, generates and funds new ideas to address Jewish poverty; half of its grants committee consists of people who have experienced poverty. These efforts reflect an understanding that each community knows its needs best. By listening to the voices of those closest to the issues, funders can play an important role in supporting and scaling the most essential and effective solutions. 

3.     Embrace flexibility and be ready to address needs as they emerge.

As Israel’s reality changes, our grantmaking strategies and processes need to evolve. We must be nimble and creative — like the community leaders who have been leading the emergency response — ready to reimagine our priorities based on emerging needs.

To that end, providing general operating support to grantees is one of the most effective ways to foster flexibility and innovation while still pursuing focused, long-term strategies. We can also offer our partners on the front lines much-needed grace and moral support by expediting funds, waiving deadlines and reports, understanding missed benchmarks and serving as thought partners in adjusting goals.

One of the bright spots in the aftermath of Oct. 7 is the spirit of partnership that arose among Jewish federations and funders, resulting in collaborative giving funds that are distributing tens of millions of dollars across a range of areas and communities. These funds create efficiencies for donors and for grant recipients. Moreover, as evidenced by last week’s sold-out conference in Israel, the Jewish Funders Network is playing a vital role in bringing together individual donors, foundations and corporate philanthropy to learn best practices; collaborate with and challenge one another; and ultimately promote effective philanthropy during this difficult time. 

As the road to recovery becomes clearer, we can build on this commitment and join forces with one another and with critical civil and social service agencies to bridge important gaps between public and private efforts.

While we don’t yet know the full impact of this crisis, we do know that contributing to rebuilding and recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. We are in the early stages of what may be one of modern Israel’s most pivotal chapters. Fortunately, we have the invincible spirit of the Israeli people to inspire and guide us.

Though this moment is born of painful origins, we must embrace this opportunity to help support Israel on its path to a more secure, just and inclusive future.

Lisa Eisen is co-president of Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies.

Rachel Garbow Monroe is president and CEO of The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.