Finally, an English speaker! That’s the response I heard when I answered my cell phone

June 14th, 2018 by

“Finally, an English speaker!”

That’s the response I heard when I answered my cell phone and said hello, as I walked down the street in Jaffa, Israel that day. He was a 73 year old man living int the US, and he had decided to explore supporting worthy philanthropic projects throughout Israel.

His particular passion is to support Israel’s young people through higher education, especially in the fields of math, science, and technology. At the suggestion of an indirect contact, he called the engineering college where I was on staff, only to encounter a number of professionals with poor English capabilities.

When they referred him to me, he was so relieved to learn that we shared a common language. While I was on my way to a meeting in the Tel Aviv area that day, I did have some time, so I sat myself down on a bench and had an hour long phone conversation with my new friend in America.

He was interested in potentially supporting students with tuition assistance. It seemed he was new to institutions in Israel and exploring the possibilities for collaboration. Not one to rush into anything, and a shrewd businessman, he spoke, he listened, and we decided that I would follow up by sending him some information via email.

I followed through. And that is not something to be taken for granted. Amidst the cultural differences between the US and several organizations in Israel, is the approach to customer service. I saw this potential friend and college supporter as a customer, one seeking a product or a project in which to invest his philanthropic funds. And I could tell by the way he described the latent cognitive talent imbued in Israel’s gifted students that this was someone who wanted to see return on his potential investment.

He intended to invest in Israel’s future, one student at a time. Not only did I speak his language in the literal sense, but I understood that I needed to provide the customer service and representation of my organization in a way that met his expectations.

Together, we were building trust. And friendship. This was the path to a gift that will stand the test of time.

The most surprising thing I learned about him through our hour long phone conversations throughout the year was that he had yet to ever step foot in Israel. We continued our conversations, and we became real friends. And at one point toward the end of the year, he told me that a fellow philanthropist had suggested that donating and naming capital projects was really “the way to do it.”

When he told me that, I shifted gears and told him about a number of capital projects we could offer at the college. I spoke about an engineering lab, as well as an auditorium. And the weeks progressed as we continued to discuss the possibilities. And then he asked about the entire building. We were constructing a completely new classroom and student services building, and we needed funding for it. And through a year of earnest conversations, he decided to make a major gift to name the new building.

I asked him why, since he’d never been to Israel, would he invest so much in supporting projects at several institutions there. His answer was brief, but ever so meaningful. He said, “You know, I may not have yet visited Israel, but I know who I am.”

Throughout our acquaintance, we came to know one another, and he felt confident that our collaboration would be a good match, based on the respect, patience, transparent communication, sharing of ideas, follow-through, and real dialogue we had. These are just some of the many basic requirements for donor relations between Israeli non-profits and supporters, be they in Israel or abroad.

The gift is now fully paid after a number of annual installments. The building is magnificent, and the students are thriving. Every time I’m in his neighborhood, I visit with him. I don’t ask for more support. I report back to him, and I catch up with and visit my friend. He may keep our college in mind for his legacy.

It’s not for me to decide, of course.

But building the solid and lasting relationship with him has brought us to be family. And through his support of his new family in Israel, his legacy will live on indefinitely.

Training man’s best friend and guide: Israel Guide Dog Center

June 11th, 2018 by

Starting in 1991, Israel Guide Dog Center has offered Israelis with visual impairment a new outlook on life. With an estimated 24,000 visually impaired individuals in Israel, the guide dogs give their human companions more independence, versatility, and the loving companionship that make dogs such great friends.

Becoming a guide dog is no walk in the park. Each dog goes through an extensive training program that was developed with the rigors or Israel’s environment in mind.  Every guide dog learns a range of Hebrew commands and go through the new street-scape training.

If you’ve spent much time walking through the busy intersection in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, it’s not hard to imagine how helpful a guide dog can be! The guide dogs are able to faithfully lead their “Partner” through the maze of obstacles that you run into in Israel’s bustling streets..

But that’s just the start!

Over time, the guide dogs and their partners build a truly profound (some call it miraculous) connection. The guide dog–partner relationship is built on deep trust, cooperation, and can only grows stronger with time.

As an added benefit, the guide dogs can be really powerful social magnets, helping partners to meet new people and strike up conversations.

But it’s not just the partners and guide dogs that benefit. Israel Guide Dog’s Puppy Raising volunteer program has become incredibly popular, particularly among university students on-campus. Volunteers get to take their future guide dogs everywhere, even to class!

The volunteers help teach the puppies how to navigate left and right and differentiate between right and wrong. And never take food from anyone except their volunteer guide. If you’ve ever had a dog of your own, you know that’s not an easy feat.

At least at Israel Guide Dog Center, dogs are undeniably man’s best friend.

The story of Belle and her friend, Professor Eliezer Jaffe

June 11th, 2018 by

Legacy gifts are often the result of deep connections and shared values. This is the story of Belle and her friend, Professor Eliezer Jaffe, founder of the OGEN.  Belle lived in New York and had worked for The Merchants Bank of New York before she moved to Israel from the U.S. She knew Professor Eliezer Jaffe and contacted him with a request for assistance.

“You are the one person who can help me with my problem,” she told him. She explained to Eliezer that she was thinking about the future and wanted to make out her will.

Having never married or had children of her own she intended to leave money to non-profit organizations in Israel which carried meaning for her. Happy to help, Eliezer recommended that Belle “do her homework” by reviewing information about various non-profit organizations, and he suggested that she access Giving Wisely. (Giving Wisely, a book and website providing a listing of Israel’s non-profits, compiled by the late Professor Eliezer Jaffe, later became the basis for GuideStar Israel).

Eliezer referred Belle to a lawyer whom he knew to handle preparation of the documents. Belle also requested Eliezer’s help in preparing for the future, purchasing a burial plot and even preparing the inscription for her tombstone. Eliezer felt that Belle needed some assistance with her everyday activities and errands and placed an ad in the Jerusalem Post in search of a volunteer to help Belle on a regular basis. That volunteer who answered the ad became very close to Belle.

Over the next several years, Eliezer would visit with Belle and even took her out from time to time.

On one of their outings, they attended a performance in Israel by Yale’s famed a Capella singing group, the Whiffenpoofs, which she thoroughly enjoyed. Their friendship spanned years, and Belle considered Eliezer both a friend and trusted advisor, more than he even realized. When Belle passed away, Eliezer learned to his surprise that she had named him as executor of her estate.

Eliezer organized Belle’s funeral and took care of selling her apartment and belongings, a true act of loving-kindness. One of the non-profits to receive a contribution from Belle’s estate was Ogen, and a loan fund was established in her name. Beyond her own contribution, Belle’s legacy has inspired others.

During their lifetimes, two of her sisters always marked her yahrzeit with donations for the fund and marked family celebrations too, with additional donations. Belle’s niece continues to contribute to the fund in her memory and to mark special family occasions, continuing a family value of philanthropy and caring for others.

The volunteer who had become close to Belle while she assisted her also established a loan fund at Ogen.

To date, Belle’s fund has provided 108 interest-free loans to working Israelis in financial need, and her legacy of kindness and responsibility lives on in her named loan fund at Ogen, thanks to the close friendship she shared with Eliezer. Legacy gifts to a non-profit with which you identify can be a way to “add a child” to your family. Interaction over time between organization representatives and people seeking to secure a lasting legacy is a great way to identify the “family” with which you want to share your values.