Jewish Charities


Jewish Charities


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Navigating the Myriad of Charities

By Soriya Daniels

"When in a settlement in the land that G-d your Lord is giving you, any of your brothers is poor, do not harden your heart of shut your hand against your needy brother. Open your hand generously…make every effort to give him, and do not feel bad about giving it, since G-d your Lord will then bless you in all your endeavors, no matter what you do. The poor will never cease to exist in the land, so I am commanding you to open your hand generously to your poor and destitute brother in your land." Dvarim (Deuteronomy 15:7-11)

One of the most famous phrases of the Jewish New Year is "Repentance, Prayer and Charity Avert the Evil Decree." Okay, sounds direct. But, is it? Trying to navigate the myriad of charities, especially Jewish charities, is confounding. There is often that extra layer of complexity that comes with evaluating an American arm of so-and-so charity (A.K.A. "Friends of - -fill in the blank) benefiting some sector in Israel, or Jewish people living in distressed conditions in a far-off country and so forth.

Then come questions of how much to donate and in what manner to give. Next, you may wonder what percentage of money received by the organization is actually funding the programs and services defined by the charity's mission statement, and what amount is contributing to hefty paychecks and perks to the charity's Presidents and Chief Officers. And somewhat surprisingly, the question that most people don't ask themselves, but should, is "how do I ascertain which charitable organizations are legitimate or which are fraudulent?"

Discouraged? Don't be, and certainly, don't stop giving, just give wisely.

We spoke with Suzanne Coffman, Director of Communications at Guide Star, the National Database of Nonprofit Organizations, which maintains an online database on thousands of non-profit organizations based on their IRS filings.

"If you find a charity on Guide Star, at the very least, it is a legitimate organization," says Coffman. However, she cautions this newspaper that you cannot infer that an organization is fraudulent simply because it is not included in their database. "For instance," she tells us, "faith-based organizations are not required to register with the IRS, so they wouldn't be on our website." She advises people considering donating to a synagogue or a Jewish educational center to ask to see their IRS Letter of Determination, a form excluding them from filing certain forms those other charities must file annually.

"One of the ways we recommend to see if an organization is on the up-and-up," adds Coffman, "is to look at their mission statement and the specificity of their programs and ask yourself how verifiable it is. Look out for organizations that are vague in the way they describe their programs and purposes, and how they will accomplish them."

If you are approached by an unfamiliar charity, check it out. Most states require charities to register with them and file annual reports showing how they use donations. Also, beware of sound-alikes. Some crooks try to fool people by using names that are very similar to those of legitimate, well-known charities. The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, which reports on charities and other soliciting organizations, offers free "Charity Reports" on their website,

Like Guide Star, the list of charities evaluated are not exhaustive, especially those whose primary operations are in Israel. If you seek to verify the authenticity of a local charity that solicits regionally, contact the local Better Business Bureau. Often, the Better Business Bureau points out, the best source of information is from the charity itself. You can contact the organization directly and request a copy of its most recent annual report and IRS Form 990. There, you can find out how much of the money it receives goes toward its stated mission and how much goes toward executive salaries, fundraising and administrative costs.

Or, if an appeal for funds from an unfamiliar charity makes its way into your mailbox, you can also contact the government office responsible for registering charities in your state. Most State Attorney General's Offices have a local charity registration division. "Beware of appeals that bring tears to your eyes, but tell you nothing of the charity or what it is doing about the problem it describes so well," offers the Better Business Bureau in its tip sheet for avoiding charity scams.

Who says there is no business like the fundraising business?

Did you know that Presidents and Executive Vice Presidents of Local Jewish Federations earn, on average, $300,000 a year, not including benefits or bonuses. According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, dubbed The Newspaper of the Nonprofit World, this is public information. It's not just the executives at the Jewish Federations that are cashing in on the big bucks donated to their respective charity.

According to The Chronicle, the Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in California reportedly earns over $400,000 a year, an unusually high ratio of salary to income. And, the Simon Wiesenthal Center pays the Associate Dean another $312,000 a year. Hadassah, by contrast, pays their Executive Director just over $150,000, which is a low ratio to the organization's overall budget. Hadassah also boasts a very low percentage of funds going toward administrative costs.

Giving Tzedaka

According to Maimonides' treatise on tzedaka, translated not as "charity" but rather, "doing justice," the highest level of charity is to help prevent a person from becoming poor. For example, finding someone a job or teaching a person a trade. The next highest level occurs when a person contributes anonymously to a tzedaka fund which is then distributed to the poor. Jewish law commands that a person contribute between 10 and 20 percent of their net income to tzedaka.

It is wonderful to encourage and facilitate charitable giving on the part of our children. The B'nai Mitzvah is an important spiritual passage that is often reduced in our culture to an elaborate party and gift-giving bonanza. As parents, we can imbue spiritual and profound meaning to these celebrations by designating a portion of these gifts to go toward a tzedaka of the child's choosing.

Statistically speaking, most Americans contribute to their synagogue or the well-known United Jewish Appeals-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies or the United Jewish Communities. This is certainly commendable, but there are many smaller, specific organizations that also need our help. A look at a few…

First, we searched Guide Star to evaluate several randomly-selected well-known Jewish charities, all of which proved legitimate and contributions are tax deductible (to extent allowed by law.) This, of course, could be the reason that they are all well known. We then researched their missions and programs to educate the Jewish public on their important work.

Committee for the Rescue of Israel's Babies- - C.R.I.B- EFRAT

Most people are unaware that each year in Israel, tens of thousands of babies are not born as a result of their mother's decision to end their lives because of financial distress. C.R.I.B.-EFRAT, based in Israel with an affiliate office in Brooklyn, New York, has developed a unique approach to saving those babies' lives. They provide informational videos showing that development of the fetus to discourage abortion, and they also commit to providing monthly financial assistance.

In addition, C.R.I.B.-EFRAT gives the new mother a bassinet, crib, stroller and baby bath. The organization, endorsed by rabbinical leaders such as both Chief Rabbis of Israel, relies on private donations since it does not receive government funding. Their future goals include expanding medical and emotional advice to pregnant women, raising more money for financial assistance for unmarried pregnant women, and expanding outreach programs.

Chabad's Children of Chernobyl

Operating under the auspices of The Lubavich Youth Organization, the goal here is to raise money for the rescue and treatment of children affected by radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. As a result of the radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear explosion, tens of thousands of children are now being born with thyroid cancer, bone cancer and leukemia. This organization's stated mission is to rescue 3000 Jewish children from this dangerous environment in the Ukraine and Belarus. Nearly 2300 children have already been rescued and relocated to a Chabad village in Israel.

Chai Lifeline/Camp Simcha

Under the aegis of Chai Lifeline, which offers broader support services to the entire family, Camp Simcha is a free kosher sleep-away camp for cancer-stricken children, or children with a life-threatening disease. Beyond the mental and physical respite it offers exhausted parents, the camp aims to give seriously ill youngsters a few weeks "off" from the relentless round of doctor visits and hospital stays. Chai Lifeline's founders believed that in a traditional camp setting, sick children would garner the resolve to fight their illness. Today, Camp Simcha, a world-renowned "cancer camp" serves children throughout North America, Europe, and Israel in two 3-week sessions. While it remains Chai Lifeline's premier project, Camp Simcha is only a single facet of a network of support services. In Israel, the organization is called Kav L'Chaim.

Friends of Israel Defense Forces

This organization helps support social, educational and recreational programs and facilities for the young men and women soldiers of Israel who defend the Jewish homeland. They also provide services to the widows and children of soldiers who have fallen in defense of Israel. Contributions could be earmarked to the Widows and Orphans Fund if you do not wish to contribute to recreational facilities.

One Family-The Israel Emergency Solidarity Fund

When a terrorist attack occurs, amid the carnage and confusion, One Family springs into action. Through its relationships with all of Israel's emergency rooms and trauma centers, they launch an ongoing support system to help survivors. The organization provides transportation, food, grants and checks to cover bills, rent, food and tuition costs, and offers grief counseling and other support, such as vocational training to foster financial independence.

American Red Magen David for Israel

Buys ambulances and supplies and sends it to Israel to help the Magen David Adom.

Yad Eliezer

This organization was founded in 1978 to provide food and financial assistance to over 50,000 people in 17 cities across Israel. They prepare monthly food baskets for delivery to over 6000 families who could not feed their children. The cost of providing food to an individual family, bought in bulk, is approximately $100 a month, according to their website. They also offer programs whereby you can sponsor a wedding for a poor bride, purchase baby formula for mothers who would otherwise dilute formula to dangerous proportions or support a meals-on-wheels program for the elderly and disabled. Donations may be earmarked for particular projects of this charity.

Hebrew Free Burial Association

The HFBA still has the sad duty of burying 400-500 poor Jews a year, 50 percent of whom are immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Other burials are of the elderly who have outlived family and friends, the homeless, AIDS victims and suicides. Families that can't afford private funerals - which average over $4,000 in the New York area - turn to the HFBA so that their loved ones won't be cremated or buried in a potter's field. Rabbi Shmuel Plafker is the full-time rabbi of the HFBA. He officiates at funerals and counsels families. An Orthodox rabbi, Plafker says that the saddest burials are those where there are "unaccompanied burials". These account for 40 percent of the HFBA's work. "That's the most terrible thing to me," says the rabbi. "Imagine people without anyone to mourn for them. Terrible."

....and don't forget the Jewish Magazine!


from the August 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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