Supporting Israel with All of My Charitable Giving

Environment IsraelBy Jason Langsner

Millennials give. My generation is an often misunderstood one. We may not give in a traditional way, such as how our parents or grandparents gave back; but according to the most recent Millennial Impact Report from the Case Foundation – approximately 84% of Millennials made a charitable donation last year.

When I think of how Millennials give, I often think of how my friends and I choose to give and specifically how that relates to Maimonides’ Eight Levels of Tzedekah.

The chabad.org website describes, “the greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others.”

It is the old adage of giving a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teaching a man to fish and he eats for life…  But rather than fish, I proudly find ways to support Jewish and Israeli causes that I believe in through volunteering my time, applying my professional honed skills in marketing-communications for their charitable causes, and (of course) donating money to help these organizations to continue to do the important work that they do year-in-and-year-out.

Last year, as I made a career change from a full-time professional for a Jewish communal organization (e.g. B’nai B’rith International) into the private sector, I choose to make all of my major tzedekah in the form of Jewish giving for the year. Yes, I did get swept up into the ice bucket challenge craze; I participated in friend-raising campaigns as individuals ran marathons for other charitable causes; and I gave to my alma mater and graduate school – for some ad hoc giving – but I made a conscious decision to try to give Jewish first where and when I can. I choose to give to Jewish nonprofits whose missions I believed in. And I choose to give to them both in standard donations of cash as-well-as through a double mitzvah where I would purchase Israel bonds online for these charitable organizations.

I’ve held many Israel bonds in my own investment portfolio, which I try to keep balanced between stocks; bonds; cash; and property – but last year was the first year I choose to purchase additional Israel bonds and donate them.

It was my decision then to “support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan,” but rather than simply making a loan to another Jew – I choose to make a loan to the democratic Jewish State of Israel. And I choose to have that loan paid back, not to me, but to Jewish causes that I believed in. I purchased and donated Israel bonds to The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, to the Jewish National Fund (JNF), to B’nai B’rith International, and to other organizations that I know are doing incredible work to support the Jewish people in Israel and Jewish people in the Diaspora.

This year, in 2015, I have continued that practice. I made purchases of Israel bonds online and donated them to those charitable organizations and others. Faced with a need to respond to a new wave of threats on the streets of Jerusalem and across Israel, and as I was impressed with a Magen David Adom social media program that mirrored the ice bucket challenge social strategy, I choose to make an Israel bond purchase for the American Friends of Magen David Adom this year. I had several conversations with an old friend that moved over to work for the Friends of the IDF and I thus learned more about their work supporting the people that support the freedom and security of Israelis. And as I learned more, I choose to purchase and donate a couple Israel bonds for the FIDF. And I also choose to do something even more different in 2015…

For the last seven years, I have donated not just dollars but a considerable amount of time to the alumni relations activities of Georgetown University – where I received my graduate education. Georgetown provided me with a world class education and I was thankful to have had that opportunity to advance my career and self because of what I learned “on the hilltop.” I was and continue to be thankful of the Jewish learning and opportunities for Jewish engagement on the Georgetown campus; and I still attend High Holiday services at Georgetown University as an alumnus. For these last seven years, I gave back to my graduate school not just in a gift to the annual fund but as the volunteer executive vice president of membership and communications for the Georgetown Alumni Club of Metropolitan Washington, DC, which served the 40,000 alumni in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia community by keeping them connected to the university.

Far too often the American-Jewish community hears only about the negative, and out-right anti-Semitic, experiences that are happening on some college campuses across the U.S. due to some academics and some student groups’ misplaced criticism of Israeli policies (or simply to scapegoat other problems by blaming Israel or the Jewish people). I did not experience that at Georgetown. Georgetown, as America’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university, promotes a culture of open and honest debate and discussions from all parties with a focus “on educating the whole person through exposure to different faiths, cultures, and beliefs.”

Unfortunately we don’t hear about the pro-Israel and supportive experiences on college campuses, like Georgetown’s campus, for Jewish students and alumni. So, as I choose to step down from my volunteer leadership position with the Georgetown Alumni Club to focus more on my professional career and my time commitments to the Jewish community, I purchased an Israel bond and donated it to Georgetown University – my first time giving an Israel bond to a non-Jewish institution. Before that Israel bond matures the funds are put to good use in Israel, and at maturity the interest and the principle amount will go to support the needs of the Georgetown community in the near future.

I shared on my social media accounts how I choose to support Georgetown University, which in 1968 became the first Catholic university in the United States to hire a full-time rabbi on campus, through the donation of an Israel bond. Many of my Facebook friends asked me about the experience and contacted Development Corporation for Israel/Israel Bonds to get more information. Together, a handful of friends and I have supported eight American universities with Israel bonds in 2015. We hope to continue this trend in 2016 and directly respond to those that are calling for the divestment of Israel on college campuses with our own personal decisions to instead “invest” rather than “divest” from Israel on campus through our alumni giving in our own non-traditional Millennial way.

Jason Langsner is an active lay leader in the Washington, DC Jewish community. Beyond his volunteer posts, he formerly drove the digital strategy and online conversation for B’nai B’rith International.