When it comes to Chanukah, the holiday isn't a holiday without gift giving. As a loving relative, thoughtful friend or dutiful employee, you may be on the lookout for clever presents. But what if it's the last minute and you still don't know what to do? To solve this all-too-common dilemma, consider this piece of ancient wisdom. Sometimes the best gift is a nongift.
In the spirit of tikkun olam, we've pulled together a bounty of charitable organizations that operate on the basis of financial assistance. This way, you can honor those around you as well as do some good in the world. What's more, charitable donations show you care with little environmental impact. Need an insta-card? Print out a copy of the home page and personalize your gift with a hand-written note. Even if you're done shopping, think of the opportunity for much-needed tax deductions before the end of the calendar year. Go on, get clicking. The help sure is needed.
In 2004, more than 1.5 million people in Israel lived below the poverty line, with 100,000 more poor Israelis in 2004 than there were in 2003. And the YEDID (www.yedid.org.il) association, which aids the needy, said it received 50 percent more requests for help in 2004, primarily from people having trouble meeting mortgage payments and dealing with heavy debts due to slashed government aid. According to the annual National Insurance Institute, one in every three Israeli children lives below the poverty line. And every day, one in five Israelis goes hungry. Some reports suggest that the poverty rate is actually at least 30 percent higher than these reported measurements. You can extend your hand to immediately help feed Israel's poor by donating to the nonparty international movement, Women's International Zionist Organization's, poverty fund (WIZO.org/english), and Yad Eliezer (YadEliezer.org), which provides food and financial assistance to 17 cities across Israel.
More than 4,000 children of Gush Katif will be celebrating this Chanukah without a Menorah, without a Chanukah gift and without a home. You can lend your support for Jews living in the territories and those displaced by the Gaza pullout through the One Israel Fund (OneIsraelFund.org), which provides humanitarian assistance.
The recent Netanya mall suicide bombing that killed five highlighted the need to support terror victims. A total of 1,080 people have been murdered and more than 7,400 injured by terrorists in Israel over the past four years. These are the people helped by OneFamily Fund (OneFamilyFund.org), Natal (Natal.org.il/eng) and the Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War.
Many Israeli victims are still battling the physical and emotional after-effects of terrorist attacks in hospitals, rehabilitation centers or at home. For as little as $9 (or in any multiple of $9), you can send a Fly-A-Cake holiday care package to a terror victim at JewishUniverse.net/fly_cake/index.htm or call (877) 359-2225.
The biblical commandment to honor the dead is a sacred duty, the greatest form of charity, known as chesed shel emet. This "true virtue" or unconditional thankless giving is understood as actions for which nothing is received in return. Through ZAKA (Zaka.org.il), you can help provide emergency on-site first aid, as well as the rescue, recovery and identification of terror attack victims to ensure their proper burials.
Perhaps you're interested in helping our brethren experience Israel and strengthen their Jewish identities. If you'd like to support experiences for Jewish adults, ages 21-30+, with little or no background in Judaism, consider Livnot U'Lehibanot (Livnot.com). Hebrew for "To Build and To Be Built." The program refers to the physical contribution participants make to building up the land of Israel in two cities: Jerusalem and Tzfat, and to the knowledge and experiences they personally gain during the program. Each group spends time working on community service projects, including helping to create parks and playgrounds, painting murals and apartments for the elderly and for immigrants, running summer camps for Ethiopian immigrants, as well as renovating ancient buildings in Tzfat and digging in the tunnels below the Western Wall. Call (561) 381-4999.
Established in 1988, Peace Child Israel (Mideastweb.org/peacechild ) teaches democratic values, tolerance and mutual respect among Israeli Arab and Jewish teens using theater and arts as tools for cross-cultural dialogue. In January 2006, for the first time in 10 years, Peace Child Israel teens will tour the United States and meet with their American counterparts. Donations can also be made to the Abraham Fund Initiatives (AbrahamFund.org), which promotes coexistence between the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. (212) 661-7770.