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Giving better after Oct. 7: Personal and professional insights
The deadly attacks on Israeli communities in the Gaza Envelope on the morning of Oct. 7 have presented me with a mix of professional and personal challenges. As a practitioner in the field of philanthropy seeking to assist these much-needed communities, and due to my intimate familiarity with the communities as well, these events have deeply affected me and led me to some initial conclusions.
I was born and raised in Kibbutz Nahal Oz, located less than one mile from the Gaza border. For me and my friends, the kibbutz and the Gaza Envelope region were a paradise where we could ride bicycles in the fields along the dilapidated fence with Gaza, drive to the sea through Gaza City and even shop there.
Kibbutz Nahal Oz/Facebook
For the past two decades, the communities in the Gaza Envelope have lived under the constant threat of rockets and mortar bombs, but nothing could have prepared them for the horrors of Oct. 7. Although I left Nahal Oz many years ago, that morning I was suddenly transported back to being a young boy again.
The names of childhood friends who were murdered, along with their children or parents, are incomprehensible. The physical and mental destruction of these communities is beyond imagination. But from this pain emerges a resilience that drives these communities to organize, act and look to the future with inspiring speed.
These are people of the land, people of labor, who never asked for handouts but now find themselves in a helpless situation. Their pride has always been their independence, not relying on philanthropy. Deep loss of trust in the government and the army following the events of Oct. 7 has led them to the conclusion that they must fend for themselves. They also understand that if they don’t rebuild their communities even stronger than before in terms of employment, education, culture, welfare and more, it will be difficult to convince people to return.
On the other side of the ocean, Jewish communities are mobilizing to provide unprecedented support and aid. The ambitious fundraising goals of the Jewish federations to raise $500 million have already been exceeded by 50%, and the willingness to help remains high.
The big question is how to ensure that the funding makes a difference within the intended destination: 24 communities, including five kibbutzim severely affected and in need of long-term rehabilitation, and 130,000 Israelis who were evacuated from their homes on the southern and northern borders to hotels and other venues around the country.
Following four months of intensive philanthropic investments and personal volunteering within the Gaza Envelope communities, I believe that there are a few takeaways that can make philanthropic investments even more effective.
Most of the affected communities have never been involved in fundraising; however, they are very well-organized communities with strong management capacities. Philanthropy can help them build their own capacity for resource development in the short and long term. With initial philanthropic help, some communities have hired professional resource development officers, started crowdfunding campaigns and even opened tax-deductible channels for support. Relatively small philanthropic investments in the first weeks have yielded larger investments for these communities.
It is very likely that a dollar donated with the best intentions to the nearest entity in your hometown will pass through multiple sets of hands before it arrives at the affected community, often by means of an external nonprofit that provides services ranging from emotional help to informal education.
Alternatively, by funding communities directly and helping them to establish community funds, less money is wasted on accumulated overhead through multiple intermediaries. The communities that were most severely affected are small communities that have strong social structure. They have the capacity to manage the funds and allocate the money effectively and transparently according to their own needs.
Leave no one behind
Disaster makes the most vulnerable parts of a community even more vulnerable.
After a period of malfunction at the beginning of the war, the Israeli government is offering significant support to the communities. However, some individuals fall through the cracks due to their limited ability to use government resources or special cases that do not meet official criteria. Supporting a flexible fund for emergency needs within welfare departments, as implemented in one regional council, has proven successful in mobilizing support for cases that do not meet government criteria. The key is to trust government officials and give them the flexibility to allocate funding to those who need it the most.
One last takeaway on how we approach these communities is that we respect people’s grief. Paying a visit to people who lost their beloved ones is a mitzvah in Judaism. However, some of these communities have experienced the most horrific incidents of human brutality. Many delegations from around the world are visiting the kibbutzim that were attacked by Hamas. It is important to coordinate the visit with them, remember that you are a visitor in their ruined home and listen to their stories respectfully.
The path to recovery is still long and uncertain. These are strong communities, but they will need help for a long period to build back better. The physical reconstruction is yet to come, and philanthropy could play a pivotal role also in this area by mobilizing capital along with knowledge in business development and other expertise.
Ariel Dloomy is the director of the Beracha Foundation.