In Judaism, we talk a lot about tzedakkah, or charity. It is a good deed to give to charity. Maybe some of us donate a percentage of our bar mitzvah money to charity. Others may find a cause they appreciate, and each year donate a percentage of their income to that cause. Heck, maybe you even get a tax deduction for giving to charity. And today in the age of kick starters and crowd sourcing, giving to charity and getting that residual warm feeling inside is as easy as the click of a button. The question becomes, how do we make tzedakkah meaningful - more than just clicking a button or writing a check. How do we turn giving to charity into philanthropy?
Enter JournI Israel, the philanthropic travel division of Puzzle Israel. Deb Zaluda, one of the wonderful partners of Puzzle Israel (albeit I am biased, but everyone would agree that she’s pretty cool), decided to help others share her passion for Jewish philanthropy by creating Israel experiences that are focused on the travelers' mIssion and vIsion in their charitable giving so the travelers can actually see the programs they wish to benefit and see the benefit to the programs they support.
“I believe that philanthropy must be experiential and transformational. It should be more than writing a check or providing immediate assistance. Through Journi Israel one has a chance to experience and take part in the giving process - and thus be fully engaged, allowing for a more empathic experience. Through direct interaction with the recipient organizations, the donor and the grantee can and should be transformed. By interweaving a positive travel experience into the process, the donor has the ability to put the giving in context and to take the time to truly appreciate the work that is being done.”
Journi Israel’s goal is to develop programs of philanthropic travel to Israel. Philanthropic travel has been defined as being about tourism businesses and travelers ‘giving back’ to tourism destinations by providing financial support, volunteer expertise, and material contributions to local projects and community initiatives. Combining philanthropic travel and Israel travel means visiting projects, meeting the people, rolling up your sleeves, and actually seeing and feeling the difference you helped make by donating to the cause. Every philanthropist who comes to Israel with Journi Israel and Puzzle Israel is given the freedom to find the cause closest to his or her heart. This allows for each and every participant to have a personal and especially meaningful experience. Alternatively, organizations who come through the program can do site visits, to see what a difference they have made in communities throughout Israel.
“The goal here is to ensure that the giving opportunities – whether giving of time or potential giving of money - are aligned with the mission and vision of the donors, and also that the donor will be able to connect with the organization on a meaningful level.”
One group that came to Israel through Journi and Puzzle, members of a giving circle of 35 families, had already visited Israel several times in the past, but was looking for a meaningful and new experience in Israel. Through Journi and Puzzle, the group visited the causes they were donating do. They got their hands dirty, so to speak, and got to truly experience the difference they were making. By taking the time to learn and appreciate the causes and funds, the group left feeling even more fulfilled, and more importantly, they finally saw Israel in a new a special light, which at the end of the day is Puzzle Israel’s main goal.
I, too, have experienced the beauty behind philanthropic travel. Before my bat mitzvah, my family came to Israel on a “mission trip”. During the trip, we volunteered at a children’s home in Kiryat Gat called Neve Hanna, as I had already pledged to donate a portion of my bat mitzvah money to their cause. We got to spend time with the children, at the time many of whom were my age, even share a Passover seder with one of the family units. Five years later, when I made aliyah to Israel, Neve Hanna opened its arms to me once again, providing a home while I got settled.
Philanthropy should be mutual. Both sides should gain from the experience. That is what Journi Israel, in partnership with Puzzle Israel, is trying to create - a mutual and purposeful experience in philanthropic Israel travel.