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Charity Begins at Home

April 26, 2015 – 10:01 pmNo Comment

By Ron Burdo:

Our sages teach us in Bava Metzia: “Poor of your town – your poor come first.” In Anglophone cultures, this principle is known as “charity begins at home.” Ron Burdo argues that given the changing circumstances in our community and outside of it, the time has come to apply this phrase to fundraising.

In my pretzedakah boxvious post, I discussed the rising costs of living Jewish life in Australia, suggested some possible solutions, and criticised the idleness of the community’s leaders about it. In this post, I will discuss diversion of our community’s resources for use inside our community rather than outside.

Australian Jewish community organisations run dozens of fundraising campaigns which sponsor their activities. These campaigns raise millions of dollars from both private households and businesses, from millions donated by wealthy business people to hundreds donated by Bar/Bat Mitzvah kids, for large organisations like Jewish Care and JCA as well as for small ones.

The volume of fundraising campaigns reflects the spirit of unity, care and involvement that exists in our community.

It is estimated that about 20 million dollars of the total amount of funds raised every year from Australian Jews—a major share of the total—are raised for Israeli organisations and projects in Israel. This ranks Australian Jewry as number one in per-capita fundraising for Israel.

Given the changing needs of our community, and the current economic power of Israel, time has come to divert these funds for use within our community.

The financial needs within our community are growing, while the resources are shrinking. The rising costs of living means not only growing needs; they also means less donations, as potential donors spend their money on their own expenses, like Jewish day schools or living in “Jewish” suburbs. Another reason for the shrinking resources is the decreasing number of bequests, as the generation of Holocaust survivors passes away.

At the same time, more resources are required for taking care of an increasing number of malfunctioning families, drugs and alcohol users, ageing population and the need for after-school Jewish educational and social programs, especially for those who cannot afford the cost of a Jewish day school.

On the other hand, Israel is not a country in need any more. It enjoys an annual GDP of about 291 billion USD (2014 data), or 33,350 USD per capita (PPP)—a little below New Zealand, and defence expenses comprise only 5.3%  of that amount. True, there are pockets of poverty in Israel, but there is also sizeable wealth: Israel is ranked 10th in the world in the percentage of millionaires, higher than Australia. Personally, I feel embarrassed whenever I visit Israel, and see the roads jammed with new cars and the queues at restaurant doors, knowing that back in Australia funds are passionately raised for financially aiding the same country.

Given that, maybe time has come for Israelis to re-nurture the culture of community charities. Their ancestors abandoned community charities, as part of their efforts to create the “new Jew”; perhaps they should return to this pre-state Diaspora practice, rather than begging for donations from the international Jewish community.

Needless to say, given the size of Israel’s economy, the aid it receives from Australian Jewry is negligible, and does not have much effect on its economy and society. On the other hand, 20 million dollars are very significant in helping a community the lives of 100,000 or so Australian Jews, where the community resources are measured in just dozens of millions.

Using donated funds here in Australia also guarantees that the funds are actually used for the purposes for which they have been donated. While Australian charity organisations are subjected to strict regulation and transparency, this is not the case with many Israeli organisations, especially the large, semi-government ones.

It has been reported in Israeli media, that many organisation suffer from politicisation, corruption and disproportional administrative costs: JNF, AWIS and ZDVO are just a few examples. I assume that Australian donors would not like to see their hard-earned money spent on “jobs for mates”— fake jobs for insiders.

But what about our connection with Israel? Well, solidarity with Israel does not necessarily need to be expressed by donations. There are other ways which are more appropriate and relevant to contemporary Israel: investments, promoting business, scientific and cultural relations, activities against organisation that reject Israel’s right to exist, and more.

Donated funds should better stay at home. This is where charity begins.

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