Tikun Olam: Opportunities – or Missed Opportunities

by Michael Steiner

I have news for you. We need Tikun Olam (healing of the world) because of one main reason – the world is NOT perfect … in fact it is broken, cracked and needs a lot of healing.

To explain further, I see the world around us as a broken “vessel” (as I call the world, the life in it and the things around us), with more cracks than neither you nor I can fix!

From my perspective, things are even more complicated – the imperfections in the world. In fact, in most cases I have no idea how to fix the “broken” things that require healing. The imperfections I see: hunger, poor and suffering people, things that others deserve and don’t have, dreams others have and cannot achieve, sorrows and suffering – all of these and so much more – I have no idea how to fix them. The world is not perfect and things are more complex than I can figure out ways to fix. God (thank God!) gave me the sensitivity to see these imperfections but did NOT give me the ability to figure out ways out of all the miseries! Even if I had a way to know all the answers … I don’t have the ability to implement all the solutions. Beyond the wisdom of seeing solutions, I also need the capacity to implement programs. I am not the Sharon Stern, Josh Donner, Sue Linzer, Aryeh Sherman and many others whom I have worked with who are the people in this world who are so good at doing things. In fact, I have someone in my family “just like that”. Thank God I am also married to her!

Before I spell out (for you) my approach to Tikun Olam, a possibly unconventional one (just as the title of the Blog), let’s stop for a minute and see what could be the alternative to my suggestion here on what can be Tikun Olam. Let’s try and demonstrate it through an example:

An organization pitches to prospective donors an area of need where they are asking for their support. Their pitch is the following: “There are children in need in orphanages in Russia. We are an organization who has a track record of working in this field. Write us a check and we will do all the rest. We know how, we will send you reports every X months to update you on what we are doing with your money, and you will be able to follow your dollars … etc.” (Naturally they say much more to donors on how they will work to help the children – I did not go into these details here.)

Coming back to the proposed approach to Tikun Olam, allow me to use a real-life example. You may ask yourself what does this type of example mean? A real-life example means that I am giving you a REAL example to demonstrate the concept of my work with Tikun Olam throughout the last two decades.

This is important to make clear as I want to make sure I do not preach, but share ideas and examples that you could try yourselves. I once needed to make a difference in the area of victims of terror; a complex area in many ways. There are many reasons this area is complex (and I don’t only mean because terror has many treacherous faces!), but because it impacts individuals in so many diverse ways.

Making a difference and helping victims of terror requires an approach which is creative and helps victims of terror (VOT) in ways that gives each of them a feeling of “difference” in a very special way. Think of impacting a needle in a haystack … without going too much into the details of the program or its needs, it was clear that a program like this requires an approach which is “different”. Leaders to engage with those that have built-in diversity in their background, people who have seen ups and down, people who manage very diverse businesses, who have the sophistication of running international businesses but also street smarts, people who have the ability to make you feel like you’re with the best social-worker/psychologist you ever met. Once the Jewish Agency for Israel – director of the Victims of Terror Fund – Eli Carmeli and I met such a couple here in Pittsburgh, this approach to Tikun Olam was implemented.

How was it implemented? Instead of coming up with a list of well researched and thought out solutions by our (top-notch) planning professionals, we met with the prospective donors, where we introduced the need, shared the difficulties and frankly said that we don’t (yet) have a clue how to make a difference. The only thing we know is how to give the victims checks identical as those from social security, but if we want to develop a more diverse, personalized program that will address each of the victims needs – we need to go together and “figure this out”. The prospective donors agreed to travel and survey the area of need; meet victims of terror, visit with school children who have been impacted by terror and interview professionals who could shed light on this critical need. This … while my role is to learn together with them, help sort all of this out and follow up on the many issues that are left open from every meeting we engage together in.

I am not sure if you are getting the gist of the picture: As we move along and learn about the area of where Tikun Olam is necessary (helping victims of terror in this case), we also naturally build a significant body of relationship (are you seeing this?) versus coming from an organization (be that the Federation or any other organization) to prospective donors with an “approach” where we already believe we have many, if not all the answers. Hard to build momentum or long-term relationships this way.

Tikun Olam is an opportunity to heal the world in more ways than meets the eye. If we recognize the greatness of opportunities that it embodies, if we recognize that the vessel in which we have a part is broken, that we have a significant role in fixing it and yet not in a simplistic way – only then Tikun Olam can become a meaningful part in our life as we engage others and therefore also turning Tikun Olam into being so meaningful for us.


Michael Steiner

With extensive background in training, Steiner – an Israeli born, started his not-for-profit background as a management and marketing consultant in Israel and Europe. Later to assume the role of the director of JDC in Moscow Russia in the mid 90’s. More recently he served as the director of donor development at the Pittsburgh Federation.