The greatest form of tzedakah

As Andrés Spokoiny, president and CEO of Jewish Funders Network, pointed out in his recent op-ed in eJewishPhilanthropy: We Jews are on our own. Non-Jewish philanthropies are focusing exclusively on helping Gazans. There is not a word about Jewish refugees internally displaced by the Oct. 7 attacks and the ongoing war. Our people in Israel are hurting. They need our charity because they have no choice, and we need to provide that help now and give generously because that is what our people need to survive. But what Israelis are asking for is help so that they can support themselves. They need this to maintain their dignity, restore a sense of normalcy and regain hope. 

I was in Israel when the war broke out on Oct. 7. I flew home because I had a business to run and children who needed to go back to school, but was determined to return and volunteer in some way. 

I just came back from a whirlwind week in Israel. To repeat what others have said: The people of Israel are amazing. They are traumatized but unwavering in their commitment to endure and triumph. What I heard was a resounding message: While there is an immediate need for generous financial support, what most Israelis are asking for is help to enable them to sustain themselves. 

Which brings me to how I volunteered. While picking vegetables would be a welcome change from my deskbound existence, I thought hard about what unique skills I could contribute during my limited time in the country. I decided to reach out to Gvira Milworm, CEO of Temech — a trailblazing NGO that empowers Haredi women (an underserved group) to pursue their professional dreams via classes, coaching, consultations and conferences — and offer to deliver a coaching workshop. 

What I learned from the participants in my workshop blew my mind. These are amazingly talented artists and entrepreneurs. They have grit and determination; one traveled 90 minutes by bus to come to the session. They are intelligent and gifted, and the products they shared rival any I have ever seen. 

Some have husbands fighting in the war. Some are the sole breadwinners of their families. Their businesses are in jeopardy; many are on the verge of closing.  A talented cook has created an incredible cookbook, an artist designs beautiful jewelry, mezuzahs and customizable clothing, another produces unique metal art portraits of rabbis and depictions of holy sites — but the thing all of these women have in common is the need for opportunities and/or resources to market their creations so they can cover their expenses and make a small profit. And there are so many others like them.

A limited-edition necklace by Israeli artisan Adi Raffeld Podhorzer featuring the words “Strong Together” in Hebrew. Raffeld Podhorzer is a mother of three; and her husband, a reservist, has not been home since Oct. 7. Adi Raffeld Podhorzer/Instagram

Israeli artist Naama Goldberg exhibits her portraits at a fair in Beit Shemesh, Israel, in this undated photo. “Crafted from stainless steel, these unique Gedolim portraits are a new take on the timeless greatness of Torah leaders,” her website says. Courtesy/Ben Zion Metal Arts

More than anything, they need our caring, personal encouragement and active support. 

My message to women and all who care: Our sisters are hurting — and we each have skills  or resources to share to help them boost their businesses and earn a living. There are so many possible ways to help:

  • Meet women artists, owners of small businesses and aspiring professionals. Listen to their stories.
  • Create a boutique in the lobby of the hotels hosting our conferences so these women can showcase their wares and promote their businesses.
  • Offer to create niche websites where women entrepreneurs can directly market their goods to their target audiences. Promote the websites on Instagram, Facebook, X and LinkedIn. 
  • “Adopt” a woman entrepreneur. If relevant, sponsor her trip to the U.S. so she can promote her work. In the case of the cookbook author, use your contacts across the country to set up cooking demonstrations and presentations in different cities. Since coming home, I have been WhatsApping her around the clock, finding ways to get her cookbooks here to the U.S. and brainstorming on ways to promote her work.
  • Mentor or sponsor professional mentoring for a woman professional or entrepreneur. If you have business or professional expertise, offer to share it. If not, offer to pay for a professional mentor or coach. Many women, especially now, cannot pursue continuing education to advance professionally because of their many responsibilities and constraints. Professional mentors can share their expertise and help women grow.
  • Buy and promote products made by women in Israel and encourage your friends around the world to do the same. 

We Jews are on our own because we have a unique set of values. Tzedakah, too, is a cherished Jewish value — and as Maimonides teaches, helping another provide for her- or himself is the highest level of tzedakah.

Rivkie Feiner is the CEO and chief visionary officer of Feiner Grant Strategies, a program development consulting firm that assists clients in obtaining program funding.