Ready. Aim. Donate.
Learn what is needed and how to give it efficiently
War stirs up people’s emotions and produces inefficient patterns of giving. Let’s come back to our senses, as our resources are limited.
In the movie “An American Pickle,” Herschel Greenbaum (played by Seth Rogen) asks his great-grandson Ben (also Rogen) how many pairs of socks the young man owns. He is floored by the answer. “My grandson, 36 pairs of socks…” he says. Originally from an early 20th-century Jewish shtetl, Herschel found himself in early 21st-century Brooklyn after he was accidentally pickled, and this scene exemplifies the inconceivable (for him) revolution in standard of living that his family experienced within the span of less than 100 years.
I bring this up because many people with good intentions fall into this gap between perception and reality and end up donating their resources in inefficient ways, driven by outdated information or emotions rooted in the past rather than rational thinking and knowledge of current needs.
Allow me to explain: I live on the Gaza border. As a combat medic, I was preoccupied with caring for wounded soldiers and civilians on Oct. 7; then, after nightfall, I joined my IDF unit in the north, where we were flooded with donations of toothpastes, food and, of course, socks.
People abroad also started raising money for military equipment (or as they like to refer to it, “tactical gear”). While the impetus came from a good place, in most cases those who were raising money had no idea what was really needed — and then, even after they raised the money, they had no idea where to buy this tactical gear.
For example, people raised money to buy ceramic vests for soldiers, body armor that can protect them from gunshots. As a medic on the front lines on Oct. 7, I can testify that this form of armor definitely saved lives, reducing the impact from a direct hit by a Kalashnikov to a superficial wound — but this is only true if you use the correct type of vest. If you have no idea what the difference is between Level 3 and Level 4 vests, you would be better off not raising money for it.
You could also easily be deceived by crooks, like the ones arrested two weeks ago for supplying defective equipment after taking millions of dollars donated by good people. It was recently published that only 500 out of tens of thousands of vests donated were actually approved and accepted by the IDF.
Even if you were to get the right type of equipment, you don’t know how to allocate it efficiently. Let’s say someone is sending this particular body armor to units in the North: If the unit’s mission will be to walk 20-30 kilometers into Lebanon with full gear, that will be impossible to do with 10 additional kilograms of ceramic vests per person.
Moreover, the IDF has more than enough money to buy everything it needs; it just takes time to deliver everything to the right places. That is why the IDF banned all factories from selling to civilians: those sales harm its own procurement efforts.
The same goes for non-military equipment donated to soldiers. Yes, it’s nice to get a pair of socks for free; but in most cases, soldiers know how to take care of themselves. We don’t need socks to be bought at Costco in California and flown to Israel. Israel is not a shtetl but rather an OECD country. Supply lines are open and we can buy everything we need here. We saw the results of this non-strategic overgiving during Protective Edge as well, when tons of donated supplies went to the landfill still in their original packages.
I totally understand the desire or even need people have to feel like they are helping the soldiers on the front line of today’s war — but this is an emotional reaction, not a rational, strategic plan. If you still want to give to soldiers, please do it through one of the large organizations that have a long-standing relationship with the IDF so it is done efficiently and effectively.
You can also focus on supporting Israeli civil society. Helping evacuees and rebuilding communities are areas where donors and volunteers have the highest chances of making a real impact and gaining real social return on their investment. Supporting public diplomacy, or hasbara, is another front: one of the major projects I am working on right now, for example, is conveying messages to the Arab and Muslim world saying that Islam itself is against Hamas and that what Hamas did jeopardizes them as well. With less than $2 spent on online promotion, we got over 25,000 views on one of our videos. Imagine what we could do with the money that went down the drain when spent on a single unnecessary and unstandardized ceramic vest.
The amount of giving and solidarity with Israel around the world is overwhelming and heartwarming. Let’s just make sure we give not only with our hearts fully open, but also with our minds fully focused. We have limited resources and should allocate them strategically as a nation.
Aharon Ariel Lavi lives on the Gaza border and manages the Hakhel Community Network, a Jewish intentional community incubator program for Adamah, and the Ohr Torah Interfaith Center. He is also a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Divinity School.