October 21, 2011
The giving network
Read this article in Hebrew here
Later this month, the Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal CityWalk will become Caesarea, the Israeli amphitheater renowned for its magical atmosphere and unparalleled performances.
On Nov. 20, approximately 6,000 concertgoers, most of them Israelis, are expected to descend upon the L.A. venue for appearances by two megastars – Moshe Peretz, an Israeli pop heartthrob, and Matisyahu, a Chasidic reggae luminary – and you can expect all the who’s-who in town to be there. This special night at the Gibson will be buzzing with energy and pulsating with good vibes.
This won’t be a night just about the music. The 6,000 attendees will go home having made a commitment to do some volunteer work because just by purchasing a ticket, they are joining I.L.Care, a new giving network.
I.L.Care is an ambitious initiative created by the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC), an organization that in five years of existence has made great strides to unify and mobilize Southern California’s sizable Israeli population.
The November concert, to be held at the largest venue ever attempted by an Israeli organization in Los Angeles, is the launch event of I.L.Care. In comparison, Israel’s community-wide 60th anniversary celebration was held at the 3,332-seat Kodak Theatre. The mission of I.L.Care is to get Israelis hooked on giving – their time, money, resources, skills or whatever they have to offer. Imagine 6,000 Israelis multiplied by four hours of volunteer service (that’s how much each ticket holder must commit): That adds up to 24,000 hours of Israeli-style drive, straightforwardness, iron work ethic, innovation and tenacity out there.
And that’s just the first step in this project.
What makes I.L.Care unique is not that it sets out to get a mass of people to offer their services. It’s that the ILC found a new way to address what its Israeli leaders see as a problem in the Israeli expatriate community of which they are a part. For most Israelis, volunteerism is not a fundamental value.
Unlike Jewish Americans who grow up learning tikkun olam along with the Alef Bet, and whose altruistic bar mitzvah project is just as central to their coming of age as reading from the Torah for the first time, Israelis are raised to value independence, mental acuity and life skills that will serve them in the aggressive and often merciless society of the Middle East. Giving back to the community is just not at the top of that list of life skills.
“We want to change the DNA of Israelis,” said Eli Tene, who serves as co-chair of the ILC, along with Danny Alpert. “Right now, volunteering is not in the culture. It’s not a way of living. It’s a major movement we took on ourselves: to transform thousands of people.”
And the concert is an incentive with something of a gift. Tickets for a production of this caliber normally cost $90 a pop, but the ILC is offering them for the subsidized price of $18 in exchange for the volunteer hours — a price made possible by the Saban Family Foundation, along with the Jewish Community Foundation in Los Angeles and the ILC board members.
I.L.Care director Donna Kreisler, who moved to Los Angeles from Israel to head the project, explained how the program works. Participants buy tickets through ilcare.net and fill out a questionnaire indicating their areas of interest, expertise, availability and desired location. Every ticketholder, including children (6 years old and up), is required to volunteer. The long-term goal is to encourage all Israelis and their American-born children to make volunteering a fundamental value and a way of life.
A major component of I.L.Care will be the database it builds to connect this new army of volunteers with the many organizations in the community, both Jewish and not, that need assistance. The site will have all the necessary information for both sides, and registrants will receive occasional e-mails from I.L.Care with volunteer opportunities tailored to their preferences. The Web site also will include a social-networking element to foster a sense of community and link people with common interests, to build community among this unique network of givers.
“We’re going to make volunteering simple and easy,” said Kreisler, a former business consultant and marketing executive. “We will provide everything people need to volunteer anytime, anywhere they want, on their schedule and with the causes they care about most. We want 6-year-olds to 60-year-olds to be inspired, excited and moved to give back.”
Enlisting 6,000 Israelis may seem like a monumental task. Asked how that number became the goal, Tene responded nonchalantly, “That’s how many seats there are in the auditorium, and we’re going to sell out.” But even bigger challenges lie ahead.
“The magic lies in inspiring people to fulfill their promise to volunteer,” Kreisler said, sitting in ILC headquarters in Woodland Hills two weeks after she arrived from Israel and 10 weeks before the big event. I.L.Care uses an honor system, relying on participants to self report their hours on the site. In another leap of faith, the concert takes place before the community service is completed.
And, assuming the majority of participants follow through on their promise, who’s to say that they will continue to volunteer beyond those four hours?
Like students of behavioral psychology, Tene and Alpert, along with ILC board member Shawn Evenhaim and the other ILC board members, set up an incentive structure that starts with the concert and extends to continuing large- and small-scale events throughout the year, all with subsidized entrance fees as well as a membership card that includes discounts, special offers, exclusive deals, VIP treatments, etc.
“The message we’re sending out is that people who give to their community are special, and they deserve special treatment,” Kreisler said. “When you give, you get.”
The ultimate reward, Tene said, is a better life. Tene discovered that for all his financial success and full family life – he runs a multimillion-dollar real estate aggregate, has been married 21 years and has three children – he says he gets a unique kind of fulfillment from giving to others.
“From L.A. With Love was the switch for me,” Tene said, referring to one of the first ILC projects, which provided a dream trip to Los Angeles for young Israelis who had lost a family member while serving in the Israel Defense Forces. “I realized how giving back gives you back. I became a better person for it. And that’s what I want Israelis to get. They will become better parents, better businessmen, better citizens, better people.”
So why is it Israelis do not grow up with the same emphasis on tikkun olam?
Perhaps they are too busy fighting to get through each day, suggested board member Evenhaim, who will be overseeing I.L.Care. Or maybe the fact that most Israelis are required to serve one to three years in the army is enough giving for them.
ILC’s new CEO, Sagi Balasha, who also recently moved to Los Angeles from Israel to join the organization, offered another possible explanation.
Israel’s founders were socialists. They built Israel in a way that the government provided everything: education, health care, cultural events, religious institutions, social services. Capitalism, by contrast, educates people that government gives the minimum to create and maintain a civil society, while the community is responsible for providing everything else.
“Israel is becoming much less socialist,” Balasha said. “The economy is good, the standard of living is high; young professionals have more disposable income and free time. The whole culture is shifting, and the number of NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and volunteer institutions are growing like mushrooms after the rain.”
Still, even those Israelis who have lived in the United States for several decades often are new to the concept of giving back, for the most part.
“Jews who have lived in the Diaspora have been forced to build a community,” said co-chair Alpert. “Israelis never needed to help each other in a foreign land until very recently. This is the first time Israelis are experiencing the need for community, and giving back is a big part of creating that.”
There are Israelis here who have already incorporated tikkun olam into their lives. Evenhaim, who has a successful career in the building industry, has been active in the community for many years, both as a donor and an Israeli leader locally. He served as president of Kadima Hebrew Academy, and the campus is named after him in honor of his large donation to the school.
“Do something bigger than yourself,” he tells his children, and in his business he implemented a company policy whereby employees get paid for volunteer hours.
When he heard about the idea for I.L.Care, he immediately jumped in to take the lead.
“I was so in love with the concept,” Evenhaim said. “It’s a chance for us to be Israel’s ambassadors to the world. Everything we do reflects on Israel.”
For better or worse.
“When you get Israelis excited about something, we go all the way,” he continued. “Sometimes we just need someone to show us the way. The sky is the limit with this, and one day, we’ll look back and say, ‘Wow, look what we did.’ ”
The ILC hopes that a high-octane performance with the likes of Peretz and Matisyahu will be the key. Young, attractive and charismatic, Peretz is “the most sellable item in Israel today,” Tene said. This will be the singer’s first L.A. performance. His Mizrahi-style love ballads are wild hits in Israel (see accompanying Arts story, Page 27).
“I was inspired to be part of this,” Peretz said in an interview from Israel, “and honored to be invited.”
“Iyeh kef gadol,” he added, promising a really fun show, and hinting that perhaps he and co-headliner Matisyahu will prepare something special for the concert.
Matisyahu brings a different flavor altogether. His spiritual, cerebral mash-up of reggae, hip-hop and beat-boxing will make for an intriguing contrast. The ILC hopes that together the entertainers will attract a wide and varied audience that ranges from young children to the elderly, from Israelis to Americans, from city dwellers to residents of the Valley and beyond.
“This is an incredibly unique and ambitious undertaking,” said David Siegel, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, who arrived in August and has already had several meetings with the ILC and was briefed on the project even before taking office. He will speak at the event and enjoy the concert with his family.
“Paving the way for thousands of people to be involved and give back is fascinating,” philanthropist Haim Saban, a major funder of the ILC’s projects, wrote in an e-mail. “I don’t know about any other event of this magnitude that allows people to come and enjoy such an evening in such a venue in exchange for giving back community volunteering hours — a brilliant idea to get people involved.”
To purchase tickets to the Nov. 20 concert, go to ilcare.net.