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Philanthropy to Israel at all-time high following Oct. 7

The JFNA emergency fund's initial goal of $500 million was surpassed in less than two weeks.

A heart painted on an Israeli flag in Jerusalem, Dec. 25, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
A heart painted on an Israeli flag in Jerusalem, Dec. 25, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

The Hamas’s Oct. 7 invasion of Israel has spurred a historic level of Jewish philanthropy, with the largest emergency fund set up when the war broke out alone raising nearly $800 million, the Jewish Federations of North America said on Monday.

The surge in donations following the Hamas massacre that triggered the now four-month-old war created a huge surge in interest in giving to the Jewish state as it fights the Islamic terrorist group after years of decline in giving.

“In these past months, we have witnessed our community coming together in extraordinary ways, and rising up to support Israel on a level rarely seen in our lifetimes,” said Julie Platt, chair of the Board of Trustees at the Jewish Federations of North America, in a written statement.

“The impact these dollars have had in supporting emergency services, trauma care, housing and food needs, populations with special needs, and rebuilding communities can be felt by nearly every Israel during this painful period,” Platt continued.

About $350 million of the funds that were raised have been allocated, including about $60 million to the Jewish Agency for Israel, $40 million each to the Federations’ Israel Emergency Loan Fund and to NGOs in frontline communities, $20 million to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, $7 million to Magen David Adom and $6 million to United Hatzalah.

The emergency fund’s initial goal of $500 million was surpassed in less than two weeks, a JFNA spokesman said.

Wartime footing

Several charities sprouted following the attack, which, with some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, murdered on Oct. 7, was the worst single-day attack on the Jewish nation since the Holocaust. Existing nonprofits for giving went on a wartime footing.

“The incredible support from our community for the soldiers of the IDF since the October 7 attacks has been truly remarkable and unprecedented,” said Steve Weil, CEO of the New York-based Friends of the IDF (FIDF) which has transferred more than $60 million to the IDF. “This has enabled us to meet every critical and urgent request within a 24-hour timeframe.”

Canadian-Israeli philanthropist Sylvan Adams gave $100 million to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheva to strengthen the country’s south, in one of the largest donations ever made to an Israeli university.

Rattled as never before

“The war really rattled people no matter what their [political] opinions were in ways you have never seen before, and united us globally on a new level,“ said Seth Davis, founder and CEO of Giving Group Community, an American nonprofit that connects philanthropists to Israel. “What we are seeing now is at a new historic level. …people opened their hearts and want to give.”

The nonprofit, which was established two years ago with a focus on offering philanthropists information on closely vetted, high-impact Israel-based social ventures, has brought in more than $12 million through its network of 200 families worldwide. It is expected to bring in $7 million this year.

“The attack on Israel and the war against Hamas along with the surge in global antisemitism have acutely defined for Jews around the world the importance of being connected both to Israel and their Jewish identity,” Davis said in an interview with JNS. “They understand it is not a choice but a given.”

Next-generation philanthropists

The New York-born, and Ashkelon- and London-raised Davis, who previously served as CEO of IsraAID US, is the second generation in his family to work in philanthropy; his father was CEO of UJIA in London.

He noted that over the last decade before the war there had been a downturn in philanthropic giving to Israel due to a variety of reasons, including a misperception that Israel was well-off as the Start-Up Nation, a focus on needs within local Diaspora communities, and a culture gap where donors who wanted to control where their donation was given and see its impact did not always know exactly where their money was going.

“Twenty or 30 years ago, people gave more emotionally to build up the State of Israel,” Davis said. “Then it turned into more business-like philanthropy.”

The surprise Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7 brought out the emotion-based giving again, although he added that this will transition back to business-like donations on “the day after” the war and that the key was to keep philanthropists connected and motivated.

“Our goal is to create the emotional connection between the philanthropist and the local organization whose cause is their passion,” Davis said. “There is something for everybody.”

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