My family used to keep a JNF tzedakah box on our kitchen counter. You know the one I’m talking about, that little blue box speckled with images of greenery and Israeli flags. In my home, the JNF tzdeakah box served as a constant reminder of the Jewish rebuilding of our ancestral homeland. The advertising of the JNF really works. As a kid, I believed that with each quarter I dropped into the box on Shabbat, I was individually contributing to the heritage of chalutzim. Turning swamps into forests. Adding oranges to the desert. Helping to build Israel all the way from my kitchen table.
As my first memory of tzedakah, the JNF box continues to permeate my conception of how I should be giving money. While my parents were the ones who chose JNF as the recipients of our weekly tzedakah moment, my instinct is now to focus on Jewish related causes when I choose to donate. Giving means more to me if my money is channeled into organizations working to preserve Jewish heritage and keep Jewish culture flourishing.
Most importantly, the JNF box taught me that actual change is possible through tzedkah. Their campaign is effective because the tree project boasts tangible results. You can visit plots of JNF trees, and know that your weekly quarter-after-quarter-after-quarter finally added up to tree-another-tree-whole-forest. This legacy of quantifiable contributions stuck with me; even now, I’d rather give a buck to a specific cause rather than a hundred dollars to an organization in general.
Now that I have entered the Jewish professional sphere, I am amazed to see the inner workings of how institutional Jewish communal life operates. The magical mystery of the JNF tzedkah box has disappeared: a lot of conference calls, marketing meetings, surveys, dinners, paperwork, emails, and coffee are required before any social action is possible. I am in awe of all the work accomplished behind the scenes in offices worldwide in order to produce the tangible results I so deeply rely on for motivation to continue giving.
I work at Masa Israel Journey, an organization that awards Jewish students and young professionals grant money to participate on Israel programs of five months to a year. These grants are possible through our association with the Jewish Agency, an organization that receives their funding from generous tzedakah and philanthropy contributions from Jews around the world. These Masa Israel programs are, in my opinion, the JNF trees of today. While planting might have served to warm Jewish hearts in America toward Israel for the past 60 years, the future of Israel now relies on successful Israel trips to keep American Jews committed to the Zionist legacy. Studies show that Birthright is the single most successful Israel advocacy tool at work today. Here at Masa, we expand Birthright’s ten days to five months or a year, giving participants the opportunity to live Israel “like a local”, and ensuring that Israel stays a vital and vibrant part of American Jewish identity.
Every day, I hear participants give testimony to the life changing influence of their Israel experiences. For me, this is the JNF forest in human form, evidence of how far donations can go toward preserving Jewish heritage and keeping Jewish culture flourishing. The impact of our grants and scholarships is a new type of rebuilding Israel, populating the land with students, volunteers and interns who will hopefully remain committed to Israel forever. Seeing from the inside that the donations we receive actually make a difference will keep me adding quarters to tzedakah boxes forever.email print