Young N.J.-based donors send huge gift to Israel
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Young N.J.-based donors send huge gift to Israel

An anonymous group of New Jersey-based philanthropists is helping the Jewish Funders Network launch a multi-million-dollar effort to rebuild northern Israel, aiming to make communities there even stronger than they were before the war with Hezbollah.

The private donors will contribute $10 million toward a total JFN reconstruction package of $60 million, which also includes funds from the Israeli government and other philanthropists. The money will be distributed by Sacta-Rashi, one of JFN’s member foundations and a partner in the reconstruction effort.

While Mark Charendoff, president of JFN and a resident of Englewood, would not specifically identify the donors who raised the $10 million, he said they were "young entrepreneurs with a New Jersey connection." The money, he said, would not only be used for reconstruction but also to address pre-existing problems in the northern communities, like the quality of the public school system.

"After the war ended and people … took a look at the north of Israel, to a certain extent it was the same reaction people had after Hurricane Katrina: Even if we dry up all the water, there were problems here long before the hurricane happened," Charendoff told The Jewish Standard. "What we really have to do is address the underlying problems. The same thing can be said about the north of Israel."

While some of the money will be used to repair physical damage, funds will also go toward programs, run in partnership with the Ministry of Education, to increase opportunities for children. Efforts will include measures to provide accelerated learning to reduce educational gaps, provision of emotional and nutritional support, new techniques for dealing with learning disabilities, sports activities, and other cultural enrichment programs. Other areas to be targeted include at-risk families, small businesses, and the non-profit and municipal sectors.

"This effort is primarily going to public schools in the north of Israel to try to … make them models of excellence that can be replicated throughout the north," Charendoff said.

Although the government is providing funds to repair damage inflicted by Hezbollah rockets, these additional funds will allow construction to go beyond what JFN called "minimal needs," he said. Additional upgrades will be made to playgrounds, laboratories, bathrooms, public areas, and shelters.

"The real work here is not just fixing what was damaged during the war," Charendoff said, "but investing in the development of an area of the country that’s been sorely neglected. That kind of investment cannot happen as an isolated episode."

JFN launched a matching-grant program last year to encourage first-time givers to Israel. Many have now made their second gift, for relief efforts, making Charendoff optimistic about fundraising for northern reconstruction.

"It’s not the job of private philanthropy to provide education in a public school system, whether it’s here or in Israel," he said. "That’s the job of the government. Our efforts can be most effective when we’re helping the government move in a direction they ought to move in, or they want to be moving in."

It is important that this package not be an isolated contribution, Charendoff said. Otherwise, it might do more harm than good, raising expectations and leading to irresponsible spending.

Sacta-Rashi is a French foundation that works primarily in Israel, particularly in areas of education, social welfare, and health. Established in 1984, the foundation generally works in coordination or partnership with the government — which, Charendoff said, makes it a "wonderful partner."

Based in New York City, JFN is an international organization of family foundations, public philanthropies, and individual funders, dedicated to advancing the quality and growth of philanthropy rooted in Jewish values. Members include independent philanthropists, foundation trustees, and professionals.

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