Hillel’s Hints for How to Help

Hebrew and then excerpt from Pirkei Avot: "He [Rabbi Hillel] used to say: If I am not for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, then when?"
Source: Sefaria.org

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:

1. United Hatzalah

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.

2. Roots

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.

Beneath a title: Peace-makers at a Time of War, the following options for supporting Roots appear: Book a zoom session for your community on "Peacemakers at a Time of War." Donate to our emergency fund for Peace-makers in a Time of War. Supporting Palestinian peace-makers and their families whose sources of income have dried up as a result of the war and who have no social safety net. Roots is working to ensure that they have basic foodstuffs and essential medicines. Keeping lines of communication open between Israeli and Palestinian peace-makers whose tribal loyalties threaten to destroy partnerships built up over years of painstaking effort. Supporting Israelis uprooted from the Gaza border area, now temporarily living in the Gush Etzion area where Roots operates. Invite Noor Award and Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger to your community in the USA February 18 to March 7 to speak about Peace-Makers at a Time of War

3. Leo Baeck Education Center

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.

Newsletter screenshot: Amidst all this horror, we at Leo Baeck Education Center started taking action. On Saturday we received a group of 300 children who were hiking in the Haifa area and could not return to the Center of Israel. We brought them into our center and took care of them with activities, food, and shelter till their parents arrived in the afternoon. Starting Sunday morning we have been operating on a few levels: We collect/purchase needed equipment for soldiers and reserve soldiers who were drafted within hours and drive them to their gathering points. Over 400 baskets have been sent to the different units. We prepare food, clothes, and toy baskets for families that had to evacuate and leave whatever is left of their homes, behind. Over 150 baskets have been sent to families. We are matching host families from our Leo Baeck community with families who escaped from the South. We opened a day center for children. We have over 140 kids per day, who spend the whole day with us. They enjoy entertainment such as a magician show, a movie, a dance session, a theatre performance, and more. The kids receive some time off the war atmosphere, and the families – in which for many of them one of the parents is either drafted or serves in the emergency forces, receive the much-needed help with the kids.
Next up: organizations that I’ve discovered much more recently, each through some connection with the literary community.

4. Solidarity for Survivors

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.” 

5. Bayit Brigade

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.

6. Off the Grid Missions

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.

Right now, both Deaf Palestinians and Deaf Israeli families are cut-off from vital information and incredibly frightened. We grieve for the lives lost as loved ones' families from both sides grip with fear.We aim not to support governments, rather we support Deaf people in crisis as a nonpartisan organization responding to Deaf people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and regions of the world.If you know of a Deaf person in crisis please message us with the word“OTGHELP”. Off-The-Grid-Missions
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.

7. Harvard Hillel and 8. Hillel at Baruch College

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.

9. World Central Kitchen

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.

10. TiKVA Children’s Home

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.

Announcement: Recent events in Israel have cast a pall of unspeakable heartbreak and loss upon the entire Jewish community. It is difficult to imagine a family in the Jewish world that does not know someone who has been directly affected by Hamas' barbaric brutality. Our TiKVA family is no exception. TiKVA has over eight hundred graduates currently living in Israel, many of whom serve in the IDF or the Reserves. Many of our staff hail from Israel, with families in the areas that were attacked. Our children have been called to battle, and tragically, at least one of our alumni has been reported missing in the south of Israel. Our TiKVA family joins the global Jewish family in mourning for the lost, fearing for the missing, and worrying for our sons and daughters going into battle. Thus, with heavy hearts, we regret to inform you that we are canceling our United Through Hope Gala scheduled for October 17th in NYC. Our TiKVA children know better than most the horrors of war. They have suffered, for the last 18 months, bombings, evacuations, and displacement. They deserve and need our help. So, while we have the canceled the Gala in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel, the desperate need for help of the refugees in Romania and the children and elderly in war-torn Ukraine remains. WE hope that despite the Gala cancellation, you will find it in your heart to continue to support our life-saving activities in Romania, Ukraine, and Israel. We remain United Through Hope.

How could I not support this organization again—now?

word cloud featuring words connected with the concepts of "charity" and "donation" such as "contribution," "community," "assisted," "rescue," "support," and so forth.

6 thoughts on “Hillel’s Hints for How to Help

  1. Jay Yair Brodbar says:

    Hi Erika,

    I look forward to discussing poetry at some point, but I am wondering if you are aware of the New Israel Fund (www.nif.org). I have intimate knowledge of the organization and its incredible impact.

    Jay Yair

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Thanks for your comment, Jay. I’m certainly aware of it–there are many organizations out there that I’m not necessarily as connected with personally as the ones I’ve listed here.

  2. Joe Bardin says:

    Here is another good org promoting understanding between Arabs and Israelis.


    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Indeed, a wonderful organization.

  3. Erika, I can’t thank you enough for putting this list together, on top of your invaluable monthly newsletter for writers. I have felt helpless, overwhelmed, and ill-informed about this conflict, so it was a great resource for me in how I could help. As I am passionate about food and food security, I chose the World Central Kitchen (which by the way has an awesome charity rating re: low overhead and other factors).

    Thanks again for all you do. You are making a huge difference in the writerly and wider world 🙂

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Lindsey, thank YOU. I think you’ll find yourself validated in your choice. WCK has been sending me updates about their work on this particular campaign–again, as they try to help *everyone*–and I’ve been so glad not only to have sent them a bit of money myself, but also to have encouraged others to do the same.

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