Israeli Ag-Tech (illustrative)

[This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 27 – “Philanthropy and Jewish Peoplehood” – published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.]

By Reuven Marko

We need to set the stage and plan a future where less will come into Israel from abroad, and more will go from Israel to support Jewish causes outside of Israel. 

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Two decades ago, when I founded my own business I made a strategic decision that the company, beyond having to provide excellent service in its field and be profitable, will also have a philanthropic facet to its work. This could be achieved in two ways: first through a cash-based philanthropy, or the second through an action based philanthropy. The former implies the investment of a portion of our profits philanthropically; the latter, investing time and effort in areas where we can make a difference. I opted to be involved both ways. Volunteering my time was not new to me. I grew up in one of the first Israeli Reform synagogues in Netanya, a shul which my parents were among its founders. At the age of thirteen, after losing our cantor to an American congregation, I volunteered to become the congregation’s lay cantor, which I still enjoy doing today, fifty years later! 

The past decade, though, has made me much more aware of the needs of the Jewish people. Not that I was not aware of them, but, as many native Israelis of my generation, the belief was that Jews in the diaspora have a responsibility towards the Jews striving towards the rebirth of the Jewish nation in our homeland. However, it came about that I became increasingly involved with the Israel Reform Movement and exposed to its breadth and depth. Moreover, being a hi-tech professional, I got to know Jews from around the world, mainly in the USA and primarily on the west coast. This opened my eyes even wider to the Jewish diversity and a different conversation from the discourse I was used to originally. Working together and listening to each other made me think very differently about the roles I wished to take on the path to make the world a better place to live in. 

One of my first decisions was to concentrate my efforts on only three non-profit organizations. To one, Reut – a rehab hospital in Tel Aviv, we donate money annually. 

I was introduced to this institution by close family friends, was convinced that our donations would be impactful, and became committed as a financial donor. The second organization, Unistream, focuses on the entrepreneurial education of high school students throughout Israel. The organization was founded by a successful Israeli entrepreneur who felt it was time for us to also educate the next generation and make them better prepared to contribute to Israel’s start up ecosystem. In this case, we donate both money and time. For me it is an opportunity to meet young Israelis of all walks of life and religions. The advances we have seen these youngsters make over the past decade are impressive and I am proud to be associated with this organization. 

Last but certainly not least is the Israel Reform Movement. Over the past decade, I have served on board committees, on the board itself, and from 2014 to 2019, I served as the board’s chairperson. Many important accomplishments were achieved during this past decade, too many to name. These include the successful establishment of a pre-army social leadership program, Mechina, a growing youth movement, more than a doubling the number of congregations from 23-52, fighting for equality at the Western Wall, making strides towards equal state funding to non-orthodox streams of Judaism, and much more. The primary focus of our philanthropy including our financial resources, efforts and time, are in this sphere. 

After the collapse of the Israeli government resolution on the Kotel, and the shameful withdrawal of the prime minister from agreements that were masterfully woven together, I observed with increasing concern how that negatively influenced Jewish peoplehood. Unfortunately, agreements aside, Jews outside of Israel have been constantly pushed away and ignored, especially the non-orthodox Jews. This is something that Israel cannot afford. It may be worthwhile in terms of short-term political gain, but may yield disastrous results when Israel will most need the support it has counted upon for decades.

One of the unfounded arguments I often hear is that Reform Jews are going to disappear. I have been hearing that for the past 50 years. In fact, I keep a newspaper clipping in which a writer in the early 70s predicted that there would be no more Reform Jews in America within fifty years. The results are clearly far removed from this prediction. Nonetheless, it does not mean that the challenge there is less significant. The opposite is true. While Judaism may well survive in the USA and elsewhere, with all streams, the connection with Israel is a different matter. Moreover, as a committed philanthropist in Israel, and an avid Zionist, I think we need to take a very different stand. 

Our challenge today, here in Israel, is on one hand to build an accepting and welcoming society that will include all the Jewish streams in equality, dignity and respect

In addition, we must lay the foundation in which the responsibility for the future of Israel and the Jewish people will be shifted away from Jews living outside of Israel to Jews living in Israel. We need to set the stage and plan a future where less will come into Israel from abroad, and more will go from Israel to support Jewish causes outside of Israel. There is much to share, there is much to be responsible for, and we will need new methods for doing so. Jewish peoplehood will count on that, and Jewish philanthropy will have to lead the way to that change

Reuven Marko is an electronics engineer who has over two dozen patents under his belt. He enjoys being involved in different areas, including music (composed a new melody for Kol Nidrei) and published a book (a collection of sermons he delivered over the past decade). He is married, a father to two daughters and four sons, and is the grandfather of three. 

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