Like many Jews, I encountered this famous aphorism, attributed to the ancient sage Rabbi Hillel and compiled in the teachings known as Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers), fairly early in my Jewish education. I’ve thought of it again, often, in these first two weeks since Hamas launched its inconceivably brutal attack on southern Israel. And I’ve recalled it for multiple reasons. But what I want to focus on here is how it has guided my most recent charitable giving.
From my comfortable perch in New York, I’ve tried to alleviate an overwhelming sense of helplessness by contributing money to a variety of efforts. I’ve donated to explicitly Jewish/Israeli-driven organizations (I am not for myself, who will be for me?). I’ve given to global nonprofits that are currently rendering assistance to Israelis and to Palestinians (if I am only for myself, what am I?). And, as much as possible, I’ve tried to respond to appeals quickly (and if not now, then when?).
In part to assist these organizations beyond my (sometimes too-token) financial contributions via amplification, and in part because I’ve received multiple requests to suggest worthy causes for others to consider, I’ve compiled this annotated list to share.
I’ll begin with a few organizations that I’ve been supporting since learning about them through travel in Israel with members of my home congregation:
As its website explains, United Hatzalah is the “largest independent, non-profit, fully volunteer emergency medical service (EMS) organization that provides the fastest emergency medical service throughout Israel, and we do it completely free of charge. Our goal is to provide immediate lifesaving medical intervention during the critical window between the onset of an emergency and the arrival of traditional ambulance assistance.” It may be worth highlighting here that “United Hatzalah’s services are available to all people regardless of race, religion, or national origin.” Its service providers/medics similarly reflect Israel’s diverse population.
They are, literally, first responders. So I wasn’t surprised that the first appeal that landed in my inbox after October 7 came from them.
I last traveled to Israel in 2016. Among the most memorable days of that trip was the one when our group visited the West Bank. There, we were hosted by representatives from Roots, which is cultivating “a grassroots movement of understanding, nonviolence, and transformation among Israelis and Palestinians.” The West Bank is not southern Israel or Gaza; the Roots populations are nonetheless in need of additional support, too. Note some options below.
I’ve twice visited the Leo Baeck Education Center—“a vibrant, pluralistic education center comprised of schools, community centers, and a progressive synagogue”—in Haifa. Although that city may not be in the news that you’re catching at the moment, the news has come to Haifa. And when I read LBEC’s first update after October 7, excerpted here, I knew that I had contribute something.
Next up: organizations that I’ve discovered much more recently, each through some connection with the literary community.
The first call I saw for financial support specifically for the survivors of the attacks on southern Israeli kibbutz communities (kibbutzim) was organized by an Israel-based literary agent I know. She was collecting funds and depositing them into the bank accounts of the kibbutzim that Hamas had decimated. I sent her some money via Paypal.
Soon enough, however, she was redirecting donors to the Solidarity for Survivors website, a platform for tax-deductible contributions to the kibbutzim. “Your support is desperately needed to help families whose lives were torn apart by the recent terrorist attacks across Israel. Many have lost everything –their parents, children, and friends were killed or kidnapped, or severely injured. They lost their homes and possessions, their physical and emotional health. Those who survived are now facing the heavy burden of rebuilding their lives, and they need your help.”
In “ordinary” times, Bayit Brigade helps Lone Soldiers find affordable housing. “Bayit” is the Hebrew word for “house” or “home”; a “Lone Soldier,” as the Bayit Brigade website defines it, is “a soldier in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] that has no immediate family in Israel. There are 6,000 Lone Soldiers from 80 countries in the IDF today. Half are volunteers from abroad that leave home to fight for Israel, many coming from North America, Europe, Russia, and Ukraine. Others are new immigrants, Israelis from broken homes, and former ultra-Orthodox with no connection to family.”
I have several friends within my writing communities whose offspring, siblings, or other family members are currently Lone Soldiers. So when I discovered the Bayit Brigade this month, I was inclined to donate, even before I read the update about their post-October 7 activities:
At this time, all 31 soldiers living in Bayit Brigade apartments have been called to duty. They left their homes on Oct 7th and reported to army bases throughout the county. In addition, Bayit Brigade staff who are reservists, as well as two of our board members have been called to action.
Amidst one of the darkest days in Israel’s history, they are all answering the call. Now it is our turn. Many have asked how they can help. In response, we have set up an Emergency Support Fund that will provide immediate aid to all our Lone Soldiers. 100% of the funds raised will go directly to soldiers and the victims of terror in Israel. In addition, we have setup an Evacuee Host Program to match displaced citizens from Southern Israel with hosts in safer areas.
I’ve only recently learned about this one, “the only NGO dedicated to providing Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing individuals access to life-saving resources in high-risk and disaster-stricken regions around the world,” via author Sara Nović, who shared it in a Substack post.
A few final favorites: As with the first batch above, these are organizations that I’ve supported for some years. Each has called for additional help at this difficult time.
In many countries, college and university environments have proved increasingly challenging for Jewish students for years. But if you’ve been following the news, you’re likely aware of particularly upsetting episodes and incidents that have unspooled over the past two weeks. Mindful of the environments on both the campus where I was a student and the one where I currently teach, I decided to send some financial support to the Hillel organization for each.
Maybe you’re already familiar with Chef José Andrés and the incredible work his teams and their partners do “providing meals in response to humanitarian, climate, and community crises.” As soon as I read their first email about “feeding families impacted by the conflict in Gaza and Israel,” I knew that I had to contribute.
I discovered this organization—tagline: “supporting Odessa’s Jewish population since 1996 & supporting thousands of children and war refugees today”—shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
Within a couple of days of the assault on southern Israel, TiKVA had announced the cancellation of its fall fundraiser in New York, which had been scheduled for October 17.
How could I not support this organization again—now?