What is Giving Compass?
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This article by Andrés Spokoiny was previously published on Oct. 19, 2023 in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Reprinted with permission.
Nearly two weeks since the Hamas massacre in Israel, we have begun to grasp the scale of the barbarity. The number of people I know — or in some tragic cases, knew — who were murdered or kidnapped has grown longer by the day.
One was an 80-year-old woman who was burned alive in her house. When the terrorists caught her hiding inside her bomb shelter, she was on a video call with her 82-year-old sister, who saw and heard everything. But apparently forcing the sister to watch live wasn’t enough, so the terrorists posted pictures of her dead body on her Facebook page for the world to see.
Three members of the teen philanthropy program at the Jewish Funders Network — the organization I lead — are dead or missing. That program teaches kids to be compassionate, generous, and empathetic. I wonder if their terrorizers showed any such compassion or empathy.
I also know Ron, a 19-year-old boy who volunteered at a summer camp in America and was one of Hamas’s victims. And I know Galit, who was raped and murdered in her home, and whose mutilated body was found by her husband. And I know Mohammad, a Bedouin among the scores of Arab Israelis murdered alongside their Jewish neighbors.
The litany of unfathomable horrors is endless. The shock, trauma, and pain an entire society now feels is hard to comprehend and will reverberate for generations.
Those of us working in philanthropy often confront tragedy, but it is rarely so personal, so raw, or so painful.
My organization connects more than 2,500 members whose Jewish values inform their funding decisions — even when that funding is secular. We have an office in Israel and almost 500 members in the country working on a wide range of issues, including Arab-Israeli co-existence, climate change, education, and democracy. They are left and right wing, religious and secular, Arabs and Jews.
Despite all the tragedy around us, we are trying to stay focused on our work: We’re guiding donors on how to give in the most effective and coordinated way, how to prioritize needs amid catastrophe, how to connect with nonprofits, and how to overcome their shock and shift into action. I write daily updates to our network on the changing philanthropic needs on the ground, and we created a page with vetted agencies and nonprofits for any grant maker to support.
That work takes place against the backdrop of a region going up in flames, as this week’s horrific attack on a hospital in Gaza made clear. While U.S. authorities say the incident resulted from a rocket misfired by a Palestinian terrorist group, it doesn’t diminish the tragedy and pain. Innocent Palestinian civilians are dying as Israel grapples with the worst attack in its history. The dream many of us hold of Arab-Israeli harmony seems more elusive than ever.
Speaking From the Heart
But my intent here is not to write about my organization’s professional response or the war’s ebbs and flows. Instead, I want to talk from the heart about how the Jewish philanthropic community feels almost two weeks after the world changed for us. I want to talk about what we need from our friends and allies as the trauma of generations bubbles up and we live through horrors we thought belonged in the dustbin of history.
Your Jewish colleagues feel alone, scared, and abandoned by a zeitgeist that refuses to see their suffering because it can’t be fit into the narrow and arbitrary confines of familiar categories of oppression. We see those who should be our allies relativizing, both-sidesing, and even making excuses for terror. They are somehow unable to mourn the loss of innocent life just because it happens to be Israeli.
The events of the past few weeks have shattered what I once took for granted — modern liberal society’s unanimity against antisemitism. On college campuses, such sentiments have become mainstream, with even professors at universities such as Cornell and Stanford praising the Hamas attacks and exhibiting hostility toward Jewish students. We see students on university campuses, supposed temples of knowledge, hosting Klan-type rallies glorifying murder. The response too often from university leadership is indecisiveness and equivocation.
Messages of hate inundate our social-media feeds. One person with whom I thought I had a professional and ideological affinity called me a liar because Israeli “babies were found dead but not decapitated.” We’re lectured about “seeing the context” as though there was any context that makes the slaughter of babies acceptable.
Few could bring themselves to say, “Hamas’s mass murder is wrong — full stop.”
I grew up in Argentina, so I’m not alien to revolutions, violence, and antisemitism. Yet last Friday, for the first time in my life, I saw Jewish institutions closing for fear of attacks. Both my synagogue and my children’s school moved their programs online, making clear that it was unsafe for Jews to be identified as such in the streets of New York.
I despise the Israeli government’s populism and extremism, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s anti-democratic policies. The deaths of innocent children and women in Gaza are unacceptable. But make no mistake: The wave of condemnation of Israel we’ve seen since the attacks is not merely about policy. It goes far deeper. Gaza is blockaded by Egypt, too, and we haven’t seen the murder of Egyptian babies in their cribs. This is all part of a centuries-old line of hatred linking Pittsburgh, Warsaw, Buenos Aires, and Kibbutz Be’eri. The context may be different, but the hostility isn’t.
We feel that the modicum of solidarity that was afforded to us immediately after the attacks was conditional on us staying in the role of passive victims. We fear that every attempt by Israelis — and by extension Jews — to fight back and prevent further massacres will be condemned, even before it starts.
We need you to feel our pain and assure us that we aren’t alone. We need you to show moral clarity and work with us.
Grant makers have influence even beyond the money they give. Consider the demonization of Israel by some human-rights organizations. Speak up about the fear and alienation your Jewish neighbors feel. You also hold sway over the university authorities that let their campuses become hotbeds of antisemitism. You can exercise moral leadership and demand that diversity, equity, and inclusion curriculums include antisemitism, which, remarkably, many do not.
I’m not suggesting for a second that you shouldn’t support Palestinian civilians. Many of them are victims, and Jewish donors contribute to their relief too. What I’m asking is for you to be clear-eyed. There are many organizations that assist all victims and don’t fall into moral equivocations or condone terror by action or omission. The trauma in Israel is enormous, so if you want to help groups that are helping Israel heal, consider a grant to the trauma organization NATAL or to IsraAID, which was working with Afghan, Syrian, and Ukrainian refugees and is now assisting the evacuees from southern Israel.
There are many ways to help and to show compassion, solidarity, and empathy. Support those that reject terror and work for peace and coexistence without falling into easy — and false — Manichean dichotomies.
Human connection, caring, compassion, and kindness are apolitical. Ultimately, we must all continue strengthening what’s best in humanity, even in days like these, when our task seems Sisyphean.
Andrés Spokoiny is president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network.