Map of Hope

Oct. 7 attacks, Gaza war bring out unprecedented levels of volunteering, fundraising among Israelis 

Breaking yearslong, global trends, new Hebrew University study finds that the majority of money raised so far has come from lots of small donations, not a few multimillion-dollar gifts

The Israeli artist Zeev Engelmayer drew a fictional map of the State of Israel titled “A map of fear and anxiety.” The image was drawn in muted colors — mostly blood red, orange and various shades of brown — and featured three faces screaming in the style of Edvard Munch. It redesignated the regions of the country: The area around the northern port city of Haifa became “the bay of crying” and the Tel Aviv metropolitan area became “the sadness plain.”

The image, which he posted on Facebook, depicted the new version of the country that was created in the wake of the Oct. 7 massacres and ongoing war, one filled with sadness and terror and tragedy.

Engelmayer drew swift rebuke from fellow artist Doreen Rubin. “Between the sea of tears and the mountains of crying, there are pops of other new, totally different hues. I think it is worthwhile and recommended to update your map with the paths of hope, the causeways of friendship, the good-hearted mountains, the lakes of fraternity, the springs of healing, the pools of help, the baths of caring, the straits of generosity,” she wrote in response.

Englemayer accepted Rubin’s criticism and a day later published a new image, drawn in bright greens and pinks and yellows, a “map of hope, of compassion, of generosity and mutual responsibility,” he wrote. The new drawing, “Israel: Map of Hope,” included regions like “blood donations” and “help with homework,” next to a “sea of optimism” that was filled with “waves of love.” The new map reflected the other new version of Israel that has emerged since Oct. 7, one filled with never-ending stories of Israelis opening their homes, hearts and wallets to help others as much as they can, in any way they can.

It turns out that Englemayer’s new map of Israel highlighting the unprecedented levels of generosity and compassion has a scientific basis.

A new initial study by Hebrew University’s Center for the Study of Civil Society and Philanthropy has found that roughly half of all Israeli adults have taken part in a volunteering effort following the Oct. 7 attacks, a figure made all the more impressive by the fact that it does not include the more than 360,000 people who have been called up for reserve duty and when considering that hundreds of thousands of people require that help and thus cannot necessarily volunteer themselves.

“This is a mega event for civil society in Israel,” Michal Almog-Bar, the head of the Hebrew University center, told eJewishPhilanthropy this week. “This is even in comparison to other crisis situations. This is very different. For example, we had our first survey of volunteering. We came up with the number that 50% of the Israeli (adult) population is volunteering.”

The volunteers and donations have also come from all parts of Israeli society, she said, something else that has never been seen before. “The philanthropy and volunteering was seen in every sector of Israeli society: Haredi, religious, secular, Arab, Bedouin, Druze, Christian,” she said. “That is different from every other crisis. Even if the sectors did not volunteer equally, they all did it.”

Almog-Bar said that volunteering has taken many forms. “People rescuing people on [Oct. 7], initiatives to distribute food and supplies, finding apartments for displaced people, offering mental health care, fixing bomb shelters — there was everything, everything. There were even people who made sure that at every funeral there would be flowers,” she said.

“Having said that, it’s because there was no one else doing it,” she said. “Disappointment in the government’s response led people to do more.”

These efforts are being coordinated by grassroots teams — neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city — and by larger national organizations, with help from some high-tech firms who have developed software to track needs and resources.

In addition to offering their time, Israelis are also donating money at an unprecedented level, raising hundreds of millions of shekels in the first few weeks of the war — and not just from major donations by wealthy citizens.

“A lot of money from the first two weeks was from crowdfunding. Hundreds of campaigns, different campaigns,” she said. “In some cases, hundreds of thousands were raised and in others tens of millions were raised — hundreds of millions of shekels only from crowdfunding. That’s something we never saw here or anywhere else in the world.”

In recent years, the large donations by a small number of high-net-worth individuals have almost always eclipsed the smaller donations from larger numbers of less wealthy people. This has been the case with the unprecedented amount of money that has been raised in the U.S. for Israel since the outbreak of the war, with major donors making up the majority of the money raised. (See: Michael Bloomberg pledging $44 million to Magen David Adom, matching the same amount raised by nearly 34,000 smaller donors.)

“In a normal period, that’s what we see here [in Israel] as well. But since the war, we see that most of the money… is coming from lots of different sources,” Almog-Bar said. “There were some big donations, but a lot of the money was for a few hundred shekels.”

These crowdfunding efforts were an “innovation” in the current crisis, with fundraising relying on a number of websites — Jgive, Charidy, Giveback and others — to receive donations and soliciting those funds primarily through WhatsApp and other social media platforms.

Almog-Bar said she expects the crowdfunding efforts to fade and large donations from a smaller number of wealthy funders to increase over time. “That’s what we normally see,” she said.

Almog-Bar said her center’s study relied on five main collection methods to track volunteering efforts and donations: data provided by the Forum of Foundations in Israel; public crowdfunding campaigns; conversations with volunteering and fundraising operations across the country; information from nonprofit organizations; and media reports.

It is still too early for Almog-Bar and her center to release firm numbers on the amounts of money that has been raised, but they estimate it in the hundreds of millions of dollars. This is on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps close to $1 billion, that has been raised in the U.S. so far. “This is a huge amount [of domestic fundraising] that hasn’t been seen in Israel before,” she said.

This money raised also does not include less easily counted donations: People offering spare rooms, apartments and houses to those displaced by the fighting or paying for rental cars and gas to shuttle people from one part of the country to another.

Eventually, Almog-Bar said her center plans to develop a total estimate of how much money has been raised, factoring in dollar donations, material donations, as well as volunteers’ time. “But that is hard to do now as it is continuing,” she said.