Guest blog by Alan Gill, JDC Executive Director, International Relations
Here in Israel, Tisha B’Av is a solemn day during which religious and non-religious Jews alike engage in individual and communal soul searching, whether through fasting, prayer, dialogue, study or self-reflection as we remember the destruction of Jewish sovereignty in our homeland. It is also a day that for many ends in renewed commitment to strengthening the ties that bind us together as a people and as a nation.
Given recent events here, this week Tisha B’Av has taken on special meaning. Just a block from our home, a tent city has sprung up, one of hundreds that have appeared throughout the country since one young woman in Tel Aviv set up her tent in protest over her inability to make a decent life for herself in Israel. Each evening, thousands of Israelis, mostly young adults, sleep on the streets and call for a change in domestic government priorities. On Saturday night. thousands gathered and on Sunday morning they calmly went back to work. Israeli democracy in action.
As media coverage focuses on the “next generation” of Israelis’ challenges: How can they afford to raise children in an economy where the apartment ownership is a dream and rents continue to skyrocket? And, if they move to the more affordable periphery, where will they find work? These are real concerns of a deeply committed and patriotic next generation, one whose “miluimnikim’—the reserve soldiers—continue to show up in “peacetime” in huge numbers for training, some serving more than a month a year away from their loved ones.
Joining a Tisha B’Av study session, I was deeply impressed by these middle class “next gen’ers” who spoke passionately—not about their own needs—but about the “have-nots” of Israeli society, ”the other Israel.” And, of course, it is they upon whom JDC has been exclusively focused since its founding inIsrael nearly 100 years ago.
It is this spirit—a shared concern for a more compassionate and strong society—that reminded me of an interview (full text below) with fellow JDC Board member, Jay Ruderman, and his wife Shira that recently appeared in Israel’s largest daily newspaper, Yediot Achranot.
The Rudermans are JDC’s and the Israeli government’s partners in Israel Unlimited, a major national partnership for Israelis with special needs. “Israel Unlimited” — it says so much in just two words. It speaks to the endless potential of Israeli society, to a ”Start-up Nation” for all, reminding us what can be accomplished when we pull together and focus ourselves on the core Jewish value of mutual responsibility.
Jay and Shira Ruderman who are blessed to be in a position to dedicate themselves full-time to the continuous task of nation-building are also “next gen’ers” of Israel. And the good news is that they are not alone. There are more and more Israelis of their generation who are diving in and taking it upon themselves to make Israeli society a stronger one. Our very future depends upon them. — Alan Gill
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From Yediot Achranot
Shira & Jay Ruderman
Social Entrepreneurs and Philanthropists
To whom do you usually contribute?
Our family foundation focuses on organizations which operate in conjunction with disabled children, youth and elderly in society – among them “Kesher” (Connection), “Negishut Israel” (Israel Accessibility), “Bezchut” (By Right) and others. These are organizationally wide – they do not focus on specific population groups, but deal with a ongoing range of disabilities from the point of view of social, legal, emotional and bureaucratic needs of the disabled and their families. We chose to focus on this field because of the difficulties that they experience and the urgent need to deepen the awareness towards those who are “different” and increase society’s patience towards them. An additional field in which we operate deals with the connection between Israel and the Diaspora. Jay was born and raised in the United States, and even served there as a District Prosecutor. This connection brought us to a point of interfacing during the past year with the first cycle of the “Ruderman Friends” program – a learning seminar for Knesset members in the United States on the subject of the American-Jewish community.
What change do you feel your contribution makes?
Through our activities, we succeed in bringing about the understanding that people who are in need deserve a quality of life – by right and not charity. We see how the full integration of disabled people into society enhances and improves their lives. In a program called “A Family Friend” for example, we support the city of Rehovot through a variety of activities — such as sports, parties and so on – in cooperation with volunteers who work with the families of children with special needs. An additional example is that of a mother of two special needs children who is usually skeptical and bitter. Through an empowerment program of “Kesher,” this mother has become stronger and more positive – she is now a woman who believes in herself and her abilities.
Do you receive reports regarding the results of your contributions?
We are involved and active partners in all the projects which we are involved in – from the planning stage, through its development and up to its implementation. According to this work pattern, receipt of reports becomes less significant.
What is your most significant contribution?
Two years ago, together with the JDC and the government of Israel, we established “Israel Unlimited” where each of the participating partners contributed $2 million. The goal of this partnership is to develop and expand programs which operate to integrate the disabled into Israeli society. This initiative is designed to serve as a platform for the Israeli government – within three years – to formulate a policy and provide services. Israel is not able to devote enough resources for this without money from outside sources.
Which contributions have given you satisfaction and which have been disappointing?
We get a sense of satisfaction from working with organizations that know how to see us as real partners and not just an external financial source. Those are the organizations which take into account our professional opinion and include us throughout the entire process. When organizations do not understand our outlook, and operate according to the old model of “give us money, see you next year,” then there is a feeling of disappointment, and it is likely that we will not continue our relationship with them.
Do you encourage your children to contribute and be socially active?
Our children are still quite young. However, we have already begun to try and expose them to various social activities which are appropriate for their age group.
Have you drawn inspiration from any specific philanthropic personality?
At any given time, there is someone we can relate to. Lately, it has been Bill and Melinda Gates, who have provided us with a lot to think about. We are not impressed by the size of a contribution or whether the donors are famous. What is important to us is their ability to leave their mark.
What is your advice to beginner social philanthropists?
Make a distinction between benevolence or charity and social investment. Focus on one subject which should be chosen carefully and relate professionally, responsibly and modestly to the activities. Try to create as many partnerships as possible, including government agencies. And no less important: Work with your soul, let yourselves feel and become excited. And remember that at the end of the day, success depends on the person standing in front of you and not an idea.