The Day After

Destroyed Be'er Sheva house; photo courtesy JFN.
Destroyed Be’er Sheva house; photo courtesy JFN.

By Andrés Spokoiny

Israel never had a victory parade.

Even when military triumphs were outstanding and even miraculous, Israelis knew wars are not something to be celebrated. They can feel proud of the way their soldiers and civilian sector dealt with threats and challenges to Israel’s security and very existence. Yet, pride is not joy.

Victory has the bittersweet of the lives lost, the dreams shattered and the families destroyed. It is inseparable from the pain of being forced to inflict so much damage on another people, which the justness of our case does not mitigate. To paraphrase Golda Meir, we may forgive you for killing our children, but we can never forgive you for forcing us to kill yours.

This is not the forum for political or strategic analysis. Our focus all along has been on how Jewish philanthropy can help in the most effective way possible.

Now is the time to start asking questions relative to “the day after.” First, we should analyze the reaction to the philanthropic community and extract lessons for future conflicts. At the same time, it is critical not to assume that when the guns fall silent the needs suddenly disappear. For nonprofits and philanthropists, when CNN leaves the real work begins. Toward that end, I want to share some thoughts on “the day after” in advance of when it finally arrives:

1. Coordination works: during this crisis the mechanism established by the government and the philanthropic sectors to validate and prioritize needs worked effectively. The National Emergency Authority was a valuable source of information and coordination. Funders are sometimes reluctant to underwrite such mechanisms, but they demonstrate their true value in times of crisis.

2. Building Capacity and Long-Term Resilience: after Operation “Pillar of Defense” in 2012, many NPOs and funders invested in contingency plans and created systems to respond to a crisis. As funders, we tend to include this type of capacity building under the dirty word of “overhead.” Yet, such investments are vital for an organization to withstand a crisis.

3. Information is Key: during the first days of the war our inboxes were full of pleas from seemingly every Jewish organization asking for support. It was extremely hard to sift through the noise. It’s vital to have access to quality information about where the needs are greatest.

4. Networking: the Jewish Funders Network (JFN), for example, was ready to help by activating a network of funders in which connections between members provided valuable, real-time information about needs on the ground. Naturally, the network needs to be built before the crisis. This enabled our members to identify specific “day after” needs. Among them:

  • Virtually all NPOs in southern Israel have been running “off-budget,” with higher labor costs, more volunteers than intended (with attendant costs of transportation, food, etc.), along with more money than anticipated spent on materials and food. It is probably safe to say that all will be running terrible deficits and will mostly require non-discretionary funding to recover.
  • Trauma counseling – for civilians and military – will be critical. Those around Gaza are shell-shocked from the discovery of the tunnels. At the same time, some IDF soldiers will almost certainly suffer from PTSD.
  • Within that issue, the problem of care providers is generally overlooked. Many worked non-stop under enormous stress and often while their own families were at risk. Helping the helpers is equally important.
  • Small business: while big companies have “broad shoulders” to withstand a crisis, small businesses in the south do not. Issues like free loans will likely be on the table.
  • Capacity building. Provide funding to let NPOs learn from the work they did and improve their operations; this includes funding for documentation, review, analysis, and evaluations.
  • Philanthropists, nonprofits, government and the NEA collaborated better than they had previously, but more improvement is needed. Some NPOs still operated without coordinating with others. The same goes for otherwise well-intentioned volunteer efforts to send tons of food and toiletries to the south.
  • Finally, riots and demonstrations in Arab towns made rifts in Israeli society painfully evident as well as a need for better dialogue between Jews and Arabs. As an example, it’s critical for Jewish and Arab social workers to address together the crisis and its aftermath.

During the crisis, the JFN network realized its potential as a tool for a better philanthropy. We didn’t just pool our resources but our strategic thinking as well. In that vein, I wanted to share some thoughts from a member, David Gappel, of the Schusterman Family Foundation:

“The relative advantages of foundations are a) their quick response time and b) their flexibility and lack of bureaucracy. In order to take full advantage of that, foundations could have pre-approved funding for pre-approved contingency plans. We pretty much know what the needs will be. We can develop these plans, test them with exercises, refine them and then be ready to respond very quickly.”

One thing is sure, the work continues and the learning does too.

Andrés Spokoiny is President and CEO of Jewish Funders Network.