simi ben-hurBy SIMI BEN-HUR

 I recently started my new job as executive director of Shaare Zedek UK, a long established charity raising funds for Jerusalem’s fastest growing hospital. As well as the congratulatory remarks I received for my new adventure, I was struck by how many people told me just how big a challenge I’d taken on – especially when it comes to getting the next generation of young British Jews to support Israel.

If general opinion is to be believed, my contemporaries are a generation whose Zionism is dwindling and for whom charity is not a priority. The latest statistics from JPR show a decline in the importance of both of these elements as part of this generation’s Jewish identity. As a Jew and a fundraiser you have to remain an optimist when all the odds are against you.

When it comes to politics, there has certainly been a shift in people’s relationships and the way that they choose to publicly associate themselves with Israel. Even so, since I started working for Shaare Zedek, I have witnessed a generosity of spirit and financial benevolence that shows strong support for Israel in hearts, minds, and wallets. Philanthropy has always been an important part of Zionism, even before the state of Israel existed. Indeed, Shaare Zedek hospital opened its doors in 1902, thanks to a committee of European Jews. While Israel has become more prosperous 112 years later, its new wealth is not broadly spread and its long-term needs for welfare services continues to be significant. In the UK, you’ll find every generation is still playing its part, from teenagers donating their babysitting earnings to knitting circles at care homes.

For many Jews, there is an inherent connection to Israel, even if we can’t vocalise what that means to us. Regardless of political affiliation or level of religious observance, when it comes to Israel, people have their own personal, private relationship. You just have to look at the unfortunate recent events to see that in times of trouble even the most discreet friends of Israel find their voice, stirred by humanity to help those in need and their personal connection with Israel. The tech-generation took to social media last week, venting their frustration and spreading awareness, organising prayer services and other activities in solidarity with the boys. The next generation do care. We shouldn’t just write them off.

If the charge thrown at younger generations as those who do less and give less proves to be right, have we asked why? As someone involved in youth empowerment and leadership development, I meet plenty of charismatic young people hungry to find their place in our community, but with no obvious route in. Not everyone is a leader, but everyone should be able to play their part, if only they were approached in a meaningful way. Many charity campaigns targeted at young people are short-term social media activities aimed at eliciting a one-off donation. In contrast to the United States, we have not created a strong enough culture of philanthropy for the majority of young people to feel they have to give. The $10 donors to the Obama election campaign felt part of his success as they were made to feel part of the story.

People give to causes that mean something to them. Charities must reach out to potential supporters in a meaningful way, enabling people to find their passion with a cause they truly identify with and build long-lasting relationships. The future of our community depends on getting these relationships right. Major donors will continue to play a central role in Jewish charities, but as the nature of giving evolves, so too must charities. It is only by investing in younger generations now that you will find the big givers of the future. In a lay capacity and in my professional life, I can only effectively raise funds for a cause I truly believe in and I do, passionately, believe in Shaare Zedek. In fact, I believe Shaare Zedek embodies the very principles on which the state of Israel was founded – an institution run in accordance with Jewish values with an emphasis on sanctity of life and human kindness, that provides and cares for all who rely on it equally, giving the same opportunities to all. Shaare Zedek is an outlet for my Zionism and is pillar of hope from which we can all take inspiration for Israel’s future.