By Michael Lawrence
Recently our team hosted a private zoom briefing on major challenges and changing realities related to our priority work with immigrants to Israel and securing paths to Israel for those Jewish people facing extreme hardship or treacherous journeys to a better, safer life.
The corona pandemic and travel restrictions has all-at-once made Aliyah processes rather more challenging but also brought immigration to Israel to the fore as a new or renewed option for many Jewish individuals and families from a myriad of communities around the globe.
For this exclusive, intimate virtual update on these matters, we invited less than a dozen philanthropists, community leaders and thought partners to a meeting with one of our leading professionals who can speak personally to the Aliyah and integration challenges of the day.
Opening and hosting the virtual gathering was one of our most committed and passionate lay leaders, a woman whose dedication to her local community, to Israel and Israelis and to the global Jewish community is unceasing and longstanding.
In opening the meeting she spoke not only of the matter at hand, of what we were there to do that very day on zoom, but about her journey to our work, why she places such importance on the work and impact of her local Jewish Federation and on the reach and influence of The Jewish Agency for Israel in the fields of Aliyah, connecting Jews with one another and with Israel and in strengthening Israeli society and the voice of world Jewry in Israel.
This was no distraction from the urgent topics at hand. This was a woman who chose to bring herself and her family to the table. It wasn’t only about why we were there together exploring the critical work at hand, but how we got there.
How do we as leaders, philanthropists and Jewish professionals come to giving of ourselves and our resources to worthy causes and projects?
Comes the Torah portion this week and suddenly we can recognize that our host at this briefing is continuing a quite special tradition that has its roots very much in the Torah.
In Parashat Ki Tavo this Shabbat we continue what has been several weekly readings that have laid out tips, warnings, guidelines and laws for the approaching new life for the Children of Israel in the Promised Land.
“It will be when you enter the Land that Hashem, your God, gives you as an inheritance, and you possess it, and dwell in it, that you shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground that you bring in from your Land that Hashem, your God, gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that Hashem, your God, will choose, to make His Name rest there”. (Deuteronomy 26:1-2)
Our special host on this zoom and others who gathered with us that afternoon, join so many leaders, pioneers and changemakers who recognize the immeasurable value in identifying when we have been blessed with skills, wisdom, talent, excellent decision-making and ultimately success and means to make a difference.
Exactly as our predecessors were commanded, as we gather our fruits (or as we secure the fruits of our labor, innovation and investment), we dedicate a segment in a way that allows us to express deepest gratitude and thanks for what we have received, for what we have been given.
No matter the efforts we have personally invested – and of course this is path of course in growth and success – we dedicate some of the product and what is now ours, to the community, in thanks to God for where we, our parents and grandparents have come from and to where we have arrived today.
Indeed at Verse 11 the Torah highlights further: “You shall rejoice with all the goodness that Hashem, your God, has given you and your household – you and the Levite and the proselyte who is in your midst”.
Indeed we celebrate with those who did not receive a portion of the Land (the Levites) and with the stranger, the newcomer, and of course the needy, and those less fortunate than us, and if we indeed do so, says the 13th century Torah scholar Ba’al HaTurim, we will always have goodness and happiness to celebrate.
Philanthropic families who preserve the extraordinary values laid out in this Shabbat‘s Torah portion and recall for us all the sacred stories of our ancestors, set a most treasured personal example for humanity and communities in general.
For their families and budding philanthropists, the adoption of this special Jewish story of gratitude and giving thus becomes equally a path worth taking today as well.
Michael Lawrence has been Financial Resource Development Unit Head and Chief Development Officer at The Jewish Agency for Israel since 2016. He is a qualified lawyer in Israel and in his native New Zealand and has lived in Israel since 2000.
He is the author of “Nonprofit Parasha” a weekly look at Philanthropy, Leadership and Community in the Torah portion.