Israeli Donors Strengthen Israeli Jewish Identity

Daniel Goldman, a managing partner in a private equity firm in Israel, wanted to pass on to his children the love for tzedakah and charitable giving that his parents had taught him.

Israeli Jewish identity

“The best way to do this is by example,” says Goldman, who grew up in England and made aliyah 19 years ago.

That’s why he was keen to become a donor to the Pseifas fund, a matching grants program that encourages Israeli donors to contribute to organizations that strengthen Jewish identity and renewal programs in Israel.

UJA-Federation of New York and the Avi Chai Foundation, in collaboration with Tmura – The Israeli Public Service Venture Fund and the Jewish Funders Network, launched Pseifas, Hebrew for mosaic, in 2010. Since then, the fund has grown from the original $500,000 in matching grants to a total of $3.2 million channeled through the program to Israeli organizations offering substantive Jewish identity educational and cultural programs and Jewish experiences.

That emphasis on developing Israeli Jewish identity held a strong appeal for Goldman.

“It’s inspiring that Pseifas chose to focus on Jewish identity,” he notes. “This is a good way to give Jewish identity a higher priority and look at longer-term questions of Israeli society, and address questions of what holds us together as a community.”

Pseifas has awarded 55 grants to 35 Israeli nonprofit organizations that offer pluralistic study groups, secular or religious-secular pre-army preparation programs, and community-based Jewish renewal initiatives, websites, and other projects that nurture an awareness of and connection to Jewish identity by highlighting tradition, history and culture.

Building Community

One of the organizations that benefited from the fund is Gesher, which has worked to bridge gaps among Israeli society for 40 years.

Because of the Pseifas fund, Gesher was able to start a new program to make required high school civics classes more relevant to students — and transform students’ understanding of the issues that Israel faces as a Jewish state and model of democracy and foster Jewish identity, explains Ilan Geal-Dor, executive director of Gesher.

Gesher’s program, “Re-energizing Civics: Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State,” focuses on timely topics in Israeli society, everything from the return of Gilad Shalit to laws about who is a Jew, Geal-Dor says.

The program has created a new curriculum, a textbook, and training for teachers. Nearly 1,000 teachers across Israel have attended training conferences on innovative ways to teach civics to eleventh and twelfth grade students.

For Goldman, the Pseifas fund has offered a way to build Jewish identity in Israel, and a chance to give a message to his own children.

“I’m trying to show my kids that in an increasingly selfish world,” he says, “it’s possible to live a good and rounded life and contribute to the community.”

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