DIY philanthropy


Six months ago, when Michal Taviv-Margolese started working as the Western Regional director for AMIT, a nonprofit operator of 108 schools in Israel, she started thinking more seriously about charity.

“For the first time, I was involved in a charitable organization and in doing fundraising, and I began thinking a lot more about giving and the requirements of the mitzvah,” she said.

As an observant Jew, Taviv-Margolese, 34, knew she should be giving 10 percent of her income to charity, but she had never really held herself to it. For starters, she never bothered to track what 10 percent of her income would amount to, in dispensable dollars. And even though she had always held salary-paying jobs — including as the former executive director of JConnectLA, the Jewish networking group for young singles — she never considered herself rich. “Philanthropist” seemed out of the question.

“I felt like I would give a little charity here, a little bit there, but I knew I wasn’t giving the requirement,” she said.

So late last summer, Taviv-Margolese decided that the best way to ensure the fulfillment of the mitzvah would be to create a tzedakah fund. 

She began by opening a separate account at her bank that was linked to her checking account and into which she could automatically transfer 10 percent of each paycheck. As a salaried employee, she could easily designate the exact amount for each bimonthly transfer. She nicknamed the account: “Tzedakah.”

“Now, whenever I want to give to charity, I can go and see how much I have in that fund and transfer from my tzedakah fund back into my checking account to pay for it.”

The tzedakah fund serves as a kind of charity holding cell; save now, give later.

“The main thing that’s so interesting about it is how quickly that money builds up,” Taviv-Margolese said. “Before this, I was never really clear on how much I had to give. Now I feel much more generous. Anytime anybody asks me for anything, I can say, ‘Yeah I can give a little bit.’ Actually, I can’t give it out as fast as it’s accumulating.”

After she makes her bimonthly transfers, “I don’t count it as my money anymore,” she said.

Since Taviv-Margolese opened her tzedakah fund in August, she has been able to contribute to a wide variety of organizations, including the Etta Israel Center; Chabad Center of the Five Towns’ Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund; Darche Noam, the yeshiva where she and her husband studied in Israel; the Chai Center; Friendship Circle; Maayon Yisroel on La Brea, the Chasidic center where she attends classes; and Meir Panim, the hunger relief organization based in Israel. She said she has given in increments ranging from chai, $18, to $660, and added that she is currently saving so she can join AMIT’s Chai Society, the organization’s second-highest giving level, which requires an annual contribution of $1,800.

“In my life I had never considered the potential of being a big donor in an organization,” she said, practically gushing with excitement. “I always considered myself not capable of that kind of giving, but now that I have the fund and money is increasing, it’s made me feel wealthier.”

One of the pleasures she derives from having the fund is cataloguing her giving. And the way Taviv-Margolese describes her process almost makes it sound like an addiction: “Every time I make a transfer, I write what it’s for, and it’s so nice to see all these little causes. I wonder, ‘What else can I give to?’ ”

Even though she sounds like a cheerleader on this topic, she admitted that giving didn’t always come naturally. “By nature I’m much more of a hoarder,” she confessed. But the tzedakah fund has helped to alter her perception of her own economic power and changed her overall relationship to money. 

“This has made me feel wealthier, more generous and more desirous to give,” she said. “I mean, yes, I worked hard for that money; but that money doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the world. And it’s my job to contribute to the world. Having a bank account just makes it much, much easier to facilitate the process and helps me feel I’m doing God’s will in this world.” 

Letters


Young Philanthropists

I read with interest Daniel Akst’s excellent article on youth philanthropy in your July 22 issue, titled, “Getting Kids Into Charity Pays Off Big.” The Jewish Journal provides a tremendous service to the community through its informative coverage of this important topic.

In Akst’s article, he recommends that families who want to teach philanthropic values to the next generation should create either a family foundation or donor advised fund. Both of these are available through the Jewish Community Foundation and, in fact, comprise a significant portion of our overall portfolio: Local philanthropists have created more than 600 such funds, with assets totaling more than $300 million.

Many donors have established donor-advised funds for their children and grandchildren as an effective method of teaching them philanthropy. They use these funds to provide grants to many causes in the Jewish community and the community at large. And by establishing a fund here, the donor becomes a partner (vs. a client) in a much broader philanthropic mission with us, because a small portion of each fund automatically contributes to our annual grants program that seeds new projects and initiatives throughout Los Angeles.

The Jewish Community Foundation is deeply rooted in our local community, and has more than 50 years of experience working with Los Angeles donors and nonprofits.

Our mission, unlike that of Fidelity or Citigroup, is focused on building charitable assets to strengthen our local community, today and for generations to come. With a breadth of resources to assist donors in identifying their philanthropic interests, we can provide practical support and consultation to donors who want to involve their children.

For more information, I invite your readers to contact us at (323) 761-8700 or www.jewishfoundationla.org.

Marvin I. Schotland
President and CEO
Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles

Bird and Bees

Our child has attended Alonim for three years and was a participant in the sex and Jewish ethics program covered in The Jewish Journal (“Beyond the Birds and the Bees,” July 15). As parents, my wife and I also participated.

I would have to say that the afternoon was pleasant but was totally devoid of Jewish ethics. Our facilitator basically gave us “Sex Ed. for Parents of Teenagers,” which could be given at almost any public or nonreligious private school.

In the process, she claimed that 10 percent of the U.S. population is homosexual, a statistic which even most homosexual advocacy groups no longer posit, and then defended the statistic when I challenged her on it.

My daughter remembers enjoying some sessions and falling asleep at others, but doesn’t remember any specifics.

I would still like to know what Camp Alonim thinks Jewish ethics says about teenage sex, especially if they are going to export this program to other camps.

Name withheld by request
Sylmar

AMIT Program

Thanks to Larry Derfner for (“Hope for At-Risk Youth at Yemin Orde,” June 3) and Karen Koosterman for (“‘Mothers’ Offer SOS for Abused Children,” June 24). It is important to know that needy children are being cared for in this way. A hearty yasher koach to Yemin Orde Wingate Youth Village and to SOS children’s villages, so similar to the many AMIT schools and youth villages.

AMIT is an 80-year-old organization whose members support and maintain the education and care of more than 15,500 children in more than 60 schools, youth villages and surrogate family residences throughout Israel. It was AMIT that first established surrogate family residences where up to 12 children are cared for by a married couple in a loving family unit.

Abused, neglected, disturbed and abandoned children do indeed need good homes and schools, and that is the purpose and history of AMIT. The youth village in Kfar Batya is internationally known.

Visitors to AMIT schools and homes are always welcome, and arrangements can be made either in Israel or the U.S.A.

Belle Sokoloff
Los Angeles

Words

Regarding “‘Yeah, But:’ 2 Words Lead to a Dark Side” by Hesham A. Hassaballa, (July 22), it would be wonderful if all Muslims believed — and practiced — as he does, that Islam is indeed “a religion of peace” — at least as we understand what is the meaning of “peace.”

Unfortunately, too many Muslims take the Koran literally when it says: “As for the unbelievers [non-Muslims] … grievous punishment awaits them” (2:1); “Slay them wherever you find them. Drive them out of the places from which they drove you” (2:190); “Take neither the Jews nor the Christians as your friends” (5:51).

Need I continue?

Is there a solution to this dilemma? Yes, but I don’t think we are pursuing it at this time. We are merely treating the symptoms.

George Epstein
Los Angeles

Palestinian Aid

Your news brief (July 15) titled “G-8 Pledges $3 billion in Assistance for Palestinians” misstated the amount. The correct figure, as set forth in the official G-8 statement on July 8 is $9 billion — $3 billion per year for three years.

In addition, on July 6, President Bush released his report under the Middle East Peace Commitments Act of 2002, which requires reports on PLO and Palestinian Authority compliance with specified commitments, including their “[r]enunciation of the use of terrorism and all other acts of violence” and their assurance that violations would be prevented and violators disciplined.

Since the president found the Palestinians had not kept their commitments, he was required under the act to impose one of four sanctions, ranging from prohibiting U.S. assistance to the West Bank or Gaza to downgrading the status of the PLO or P.A. office. He chose the mildest sanction — downgrading the PLO office — and then waived it on grounds the waiver was “in the national security interest of the United States.”

Thus the Palestinians, formally in breach of their commitments to fight terrorism, nevertheless escaped American sanctions and got a $9 billion pledge from the G-8 — on the day before and the day after the London terrorist bombings.

Rick Richman
Jewish Current Issues