October 21, 2011
From the Editor: Getting that giving is getting
When Eli Tene, co-chair of the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC), first called to tell me about a new initiative they had cooked up, I knew it was something big. I could hear it in his voice.
And as I sat down with Donna Kreisler, whom the ILC had plucked from a successful career in Israel as a business consultant to bring her here to head this massive project, I could see I.L.Care’s unique vision: to create a tight-knit community of Israeli and American-Jewish volunteers, changing lives — the lives of people in need, as well as their own. Getting involved by giving, Tene told me with conviction, had changed his own life.
Throughout my interviews with the leaders of I.L.Care, they explained the challenge they faced within the Israeli community and, therefore, the enormous potential impact of the project: Put simply, most Israelis aren’t volunteers or philanthropists. And the ILC wants to change that.
I am only beginning to realize just how monumental the ILC’s challenge is.
I bought my ticket to the concert, and I wanted all my friends and family to come. I sent an e-mail to my sister and my two sisters-in-law: “Tickets are only $18, but the catch is you have to promise to volunteer four hours in the next year, which I think is amazing, but you’ll have to get your guys to volunteer, too.”
For some reason, I knew the women (none of whom are 100 percent Israeli) would be on board, but I had a feeling the men (all Israelis, including my sister’s boyfriend) would take some convincing. But, Moshe Peretz for $18?! It couldn’t be that hard a sell, could it?
“He wasn’t into the whole volunteering thing,” one of my sisters-in-law wrote back.
Not into the volunteering thing? Who says that?
An Israeli, that’s who.
And herein lies the challenge. It’s not that Israelis aren’t wonderful, giving and generous people. In fact, my brother-in-law is one of the kindest, most unselfish individuals I know. He is always the first to lend a hand to a friend in need. Which is why I was quite shocked at his response. So I asked him about it.
He shrugged and said he doesn’t have time to volunteer. When that excuse didn’t get me off his case, he went with the “it’s just not for me” defense. By the end of the night, after relentlessly chipping away at him, I managed to elicit a not-so-promising, “I’ll think about it.”
The truth is, most Israelis are not into the whole volunteering thing. They weren’t raised to be. Volunteerism, it turns out, is a learned cultural value, and as I wrote in this month’s cover story, there are clear explanations as to why Israeli culture has not yet adopted the tikkun olam (healing the world) mentality.
My other sister-in-law, who is Russian but moved to Israel when she was a teen and always had a difficult time adjusting to the Israeli mentality, put it well: “In Israel, you learn that you never do something for nothing.” There’s a word for that in Hebrew: frier. It’s a mentality that doesn’t leave much room for giving for the sake of giving.
Changing this pattern of behavior in an entire community is precisely what I.L.Care is attempting. This is not just about convincing a bunch of people to volunteer — there’s nothing new or remarkable about that — it’s about re-educating a population and introducing a new value: Giving is the greatest gift you can give to yourself.
The late Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Israelis don’t know they want to give, but the ILC is going to show them.