Israel Trips & Giving Circles: A Reinvestment Opportunity for the Jewish Future

By Dr. Bradley Caro Cook

There’s a palpable excitement in the faces of young men and women who have just returned from Israel engagement programs like Birthright Israel. They’re inspired by the country they’ve discovered, connected in a new way to their heritage and the land of their people. In every way, the program has been a success.

But now, there’s a new challenge: how to take that excitement while it’s still fresh, extend it well past the return to “real life” and channel it into the larger Jewish community. Young people have a singular drive and passion perfectly suited for activism and social change; given the right opportunity, they can have a groundbreaking impact on the Jewish World. With this in mind, Project Beyond has seized the opportunity to deepen the students’ connection to Israel even further with personalized, Israel extension trips, while integrating a Jewish social action component to engage students after they have returned home. One of our methods is with Amplifier’s Giving Circle Express, a dynamic reinvestment opportunity, which works with local Jewish organizations to infuse alumni’s enthusiasm for Israel into the community back home, and to increase future gifts to these communities, Israel, and Birthright itself.

Our proposed basic model starts with the return of a participant from an Israel trip (and, hopefully, a subsequent Project Beyond group extension), after which they can apply their original $250 deposit (or other selected fee) to “pay it forward” to Birthright, which is then matched by the local federation or foundation to be reinvested into the community. With one Birthright bus, this could potentially mean a $10,000 reinvestment into the community and the development of young adult philanthropists. The participants of the giving circle would then determine the type of organization, be it in the US or in Israel, that would receive their giving circle grant.

The next step would be raising awareness about this giving circle grant with a post on a system like [Natan’s] Amplifier, an online portal for giving circle giving and grants, followed by receiving proposals from local and Israel organizations that match their grant description (for example, Latino Jewish groups, LGBTQA, Young Leadership, Israel education, African children in need, and others). At a follow-up event designed to promote reconnection and retention, such as a Shabbaton or other, the Birthright bus group will review their proposals and reach their decision, then award the $10,000 (or other amount) to the organization they selected. Using this model, the alumni are engaged both with each other and their local community, while a meaningful organization to the members of that giving circle receives support.

But the benefits to this model reach even wider. Firstly, while the number of original participants in the giving circle will likely decrease, it is potentially beneficial because it enables a stronger giving circle amongst a self selected group. As a result of their involvement and education as part of the program (using a model similar to Keren Baktana, an Israeli monthly-pledge giving-circle movement), they will perpetuate their giving circle on their own – ideally through their connection to Birthright, philanthropy, and Israel.

According to Jewish tradition, one who uses his own tzedakah to empower another (in this case, the funds for the original Birthright Israel trip and the matching grant from local federations, reinvested into another organization) is to be esteemed. Further, this grant is the highest level of tzedakah, according to Jewish tradition, as it enables others to establish their own business, so that they no longer need tzedakah (the “teach a man to fish” model). This giving circle model circle has enabled young adults to establish their own business; the business of philanthropy. By enabling young adults to invest in themselves and their future in such a way, the perpetuation of the Jewish identity and Jewish people is ensured. (This is a future benefit to Birthright Israel Foundation, to whom they will be eager to give considerably more in the future.) An additional benefit is during this process, members of the giving circle will learn about and research organizations of interest that they can then become involved with beyond the giving circle. It connects, inspires, and enables Jews to live and act like Jews by fulfilling the mitzvah of Tikkun Olam.

Our goal is to facilitate Giving Circle momentum through Project Beyond, and for a few of the cities that we do extensions for to establish those groups in their home communities. Project Beyond, as it falls in line with our mission to extend beyond the “extension” and contribute to the Jewish world at large.

Dr. Bradley Caro Cook, who lives in Jerusalem, is the executive director of Project Beyond, CEO of Jewish Social Response, a proud member of the 2014 Upstart Bay Area cohort, and can be reached at Bradley@project-beyond.com.