Strategic Philanthropy and Vintage Tzedaka

Even the most advanced Jewish philanthropic portfolio, should have an allocation of “vintage Tzedaka”, which is earmarked to sustain the weakest and neediest of our communities. 

Few Jewish customs are as time-honored and widespread as the giving of Tzedaka. General acts of loving kindness are ingrained into Jewish children from an early age by their parents and the Jewish society that surrounds them. Whether earmarked for a local institution or a  national cause, it is unlikely to find a Jewish home that is not charitable. 

This is with good reason and not by chance. Kindness is hailed in the Talmud as one of the fundamental traits of the children of Abraham and Sarah (Talmud Tractate Yevamot 79a). Tithing one’s income is the only act where we are encouraged to “test” God’s reciprocal reward (Talmud, Tractate Taanit 9a). Feasting on the Jewish holidays without tending to the poor, is considered a shameful disgrace (Maimonides Laws of Festivals 6/18 ). One of the main factors for the destruction of the Second Temple was due to moral corruption and neglect of society’s weakest.

The famous quote “Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime”, is actually rooted in Maimonides’ "Eight Degrees of Charity" (Maimonides Laws of Charity 10/10), where he states that the highest form of charity is giving a person a job so he can sustain himself. This more sophisticated approach to charity is likely the impetus for today’s modern evolving of Charity into Philanthropy.

Wise donors utilize their professional skills to continuously review and reshape the most effective methods of philanthropic “investing” that will deliver a maximum ROI. Philanthropists who have the capacity, may attempt deeper strategic goals, such as uprooting the causes of inter-generational poverty via education, career counseling and public policy. Ideological “Big Idea” investors may choose to focus vast resources on impacting social change, economic policy and political outcomes, which can produce highly leveraged long-term outcomes for society.  

However, upgrading our standard of charitable giving has also had challenging consequences. For many donors, classic charity is no longer sophisticated or cutting-edge enough, especially since it is definitively more of a band-aid and less of a solution. Moreover, there is often an ill notion that poverty is self-inflicted, since certain sects of society still choose to live on welfare.

Instead of simply feeding the poor, innovative philanthropists may seek to utilize food as a means of initiating social change or nutritional education. Donating medical equipment to disabled populations is no longer as appealing as advocating for disability legal rights.  While this advancement and sophistication of charity is a huge blessing, how will we remain committed to providing Tzedaka for Jewish children who go to sleep hungry or a handicapped mother who cannot afford an electric wheelchair? 

Even the most advanced Jewish philanthropic portfolio, should have an allocation of “vintage Tzedaka”, which is earmarked to sustain the weakest and neediest of our communities. These valuable resources, should all be executed strategically (effective utilization and leverage of funds), transparently (vetted accountable organizations, professional leadership, accessible data) and professionally (benchmarks, milestones and KPIs). It is critical that we all utilize our philanthropic resources to invest in promoting the religious and social values that shape society, the Jewish people and the State of Israel. However we must be mindful to preserve Judaism’s historical value of Tzedaka, and not abandon our weakest brothers and sisters.

Joseph Gitler (a JFN member) is a graduate of Yeshiva University and Fordham University Law School. After making aliyah in 2000, he worked for three years as Director of International Sales & Development for a family software business. He founded Leket Israel in 2003 after witnessing significant food wastage in Israel at a time of rising poverty. Joseph’s vision and steady hand have led the organization from a simple, one-man operation to Israel’s largest food rescue organization. He is married to Leelah, has five children and enjoys biking, traveling and spending time with his kids.