Charity Jewish Judaism and Technology

Tzedakah 2.0

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs

My grandmother sometimes complains about charitable organizations. She’s a very generous woman who donates to many charities, but she often gets frustrated by the amount of solicitations she receives. With each complimentary pen, notepad, wall calendar, or other complimentary gift sent in the mail (so she’ll remember to donate again), she remarks that these organizations would be better off saving their money and using it to fulfill their mission. She also expresses angst when a solicitation envelope arrives only days after she already sent in a contribution.

No matter how many times I explain the way the technology works and that the solicitation envelopes and form letter requests come automatically, she still complains about the constant barrage of “asks.”

I’m sure she’s not the only donor who feels overwhelmed by the endless mail (and email) solicitations.

A new product, created by Nadanu Technolgies, takes charitable giving into “Tzedakah 2.0” and just might put an end to the old-school methods employed by non-profits to remind their donor base to send money.

Imagine if you could automatically add eighteen cents each evening to your kitchen charity box without having to think about it on a daily basis? Or, when you’re sitting in a restaurant and overhear the kids at the next table talking excitingly about their Jewish summer camp, you decide to donate $50 toward a child’s dream summer. Or, you hand your cellphone to your child and ask them to drop some change in a virtual piggy bank to benefit the charity of their choice.  This is all possible now.

Nadanu provides services, technology and solutions for integrated desktop, Web and mobile e-Charity donations. Based on the ancient Sumero-Akkadian word for “giving,” Nadanu specifically chose this word to represent its company and philosophy. As Abraham, a common father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam spoke this language, so Nadanu seeks to unite all people regardless of faith, creed and belief into a powerful force for making the world a better place for all.

Nadanu offers three different applications (eCharityBox for Jewish and secular charities, eOfferingPlate for Christian charities, and MyCharityBox) that allow donors to contribute on their own terms in a fully-secure fashion via a range of payment solutions, including and Paypal. When their virtual box is “full”, the credit card on file is charged and an automated tax receipt is sent.

I spoke with Getzy Fellig of Nadanu Technologies on the phone before Passover, at a time when many in the Jewish community were being asked to give to “ma’ot chitin” funds for those less fortunate during the holiday. He explained that Nadanu in general, and eCharityBox in particular, “introduces a method for micro-giving. Today, a lot of younger people are touched by tough economic times and the job market’s not what it used to be and they can’t open their wallets like they did in the past.”

The eCharityBox is user friendly and allows donors to give when the moment arises. This could certainly be a killer app for non-profits in the sense that it allows the people who care about the organization to carry around a virtual pushke (charity box) in their pocket. If they pass by a homeless person on the street, they may choose not to drop a dollar bill in their cup but may pull out their phone and add an $18 gift to their local food bank. There’s something impulsive about that type of charitable giving.

This app, soon available on the iPhone, will be a game changer in the world of Jewish giving. “Organizations can’t afford not to have a presence on people’s cell phones. You never know when the moment will arise,” said Fellig. Now, if only these organizations would stop sending the free pens and calendars.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Charity Ethics Israel Jewish Medicine Tzedakah World Events

Proud of Israel

Israel often gets slammed by the media, so when there is positive coverage of Israel in the news, it is important to showcase it. Several major media outlets have lauded Israel for its quick and efficient aid in Haiti following the devastating earthquake there.

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb of the Orthodox Union writes for the JTA: “The Jewish community, in its entirety, can be proud of its response thus far to the Haitian catastrophe. Rescue teams from the State of Israel and millions of dollars from the Jews of America are but examples of our response. Whatever the motivation for these responses, this has been a religious response, a Jewish response.” He explains earlier in his op-ed that the Jewish way of responding to natural disasters is to: “See. Feel. Act.”

Yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to see how CNN was singing the praises of Israel’s response in Haiti. Even though the Israelis came from the other side of the world, the report notes that the Israeli army was the first to set up a field hospital in Haiti. One woman explains, “I’ve been here since Thursday and no one except the Israeli hospital has taken our patients.” When the reporter walks into the Israeli field hospital she says that it’s like another world because of the imaging technology and the operating rooms the Israelis have set up. Diane Sawyer also featured the quick response by the Israelis in Haiti on ABC News. Sawyer speaks with a correspondent who helped deliver a baby and then watched as another baby was delivered in the Israel Defense Forces field hospital. The baby was named “Israel.”

Here is the video clip from the CNN report:

In addition to the response by the Israelis on the ground in Haiti, other articles have praised the American Jewish community for the outpouring of aid through charitable gifts and medical supplies. The JTA reports: “By Tuesday, AJWS raised $1.8 million from more than 16,000 people via its Web site. The JUF-Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago raised $283,000 in five days from 2,200 donors. Almost all of it — nearly $260,000 – came in online, from 2,058 individuals. UJA-Federation of Greater Toronto raised $173,240 so far, much of it online. Those involved in the fund-raising effort say the Jewish community’s gifts to the people of Haiti stem from Jewish values.”

The New York Times today also featured an article praising Israel, but this time it had to do with the Winter Olympics. The article explained that Israel is hardly a winter sports powerhouse (no surprise!), but this year may prove differently for Israel in the Winter Olympics in downhill skiing and ice-skating.

I can only hope that this positive coverage of Israel by the media continues. At least the world is taking notice of Israel’s rapid response to the need for humanitarian aid in Haiti.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Charity Detroit Jewish Tzedakah


I’m sure that it is not uncommon for children to find themselves involved with many of the same charitable organizations in which their parents were involved. In that vein, I have followed my mother’s lead by making JARC one of my favorite local causes.

JARC enables people with developmental disabilities to live rich, meaningful lives as respected members of the community in settings of their choice; to access a Jewish way of life; to provide support to families; and to educate and sensitize the public about people with disabilities and their value to society. For the past forty years, JARC has been successful in fulfilling this mission.

As a toddler, I grew up in a home that was walking distance from the grocery store. I have fond memories of walking to the Farmer Jack supermarket where the kind gentleman who bagged our groceries was likely the first person with developmental disabilities that I encountered. I recall being curious about him and inquiring to my mother about his condition. Returning to that same grocery store as a teenager and watching him collect the stray carts from the parking lot, I recognized what a hard worker he was. I recall thinking how wonderful it was that he was so dedicated to his job. Everyone knew him. He was a valued member of the community.

It is certainly natural when seeing a person with developmental disabilities to whisper to oneself “There but for the grace of God go I.” One thinks, It could just as easily be my child with that condition. Yet that is not the reason I have become involved with JARC. Rather, I believe we owe it to these men and women, as well as to their families. They deserve to live in a nice home, to have jobs, to be creative, to be involved in the community. JARC makes that a reality for them.

JARC began forty years ago by a group of Jewish parents concerned about the future of their children with developmental disabilities. Today, JARC is one of the nation’s largest providers of community-based Jewish residential services, serving nearly 150 adults in its group homes and various supported living arrangements.

Tonight, hundreds of JARC supporters will come together for the annual fundraiser at the Fisher Theater in Detroit. It’s become a yearly routine. The young adults will gather for dinner at a pre-glow event that demonstrates that the future of JARC’s communal support is secure. We’ll then take our seats for a moving, tear-jerking video about the important work that JARC does. We’ll then enjoy the Broadway musical “Legally Blonde.”

JARC is a “feel good” organization. It makes people feel good to know that JARC helps the men and women it serves live better lives. I have seen this first-hand. A few weeks ago on the Sukkot holiday, several dozen people served by JARC came to our home for a sukkah party. It was a wonderful experience and very important for my children to be exposed to people with developmental disabilities. It is my hope that my own children will eventually follow in my footsteps and support JARC as an active volunteer.

Last week, JARC dedicated another home in the community. But this home is different. It is the first energy-efficient, barrier-free group home in the United States. As I stood at the dedication ceremony, all I could think was “Wow!”

The article in the Detroit Free Press explained the uniqueness of this home:

The 3,200-square-foot ranch is being used as a group home by JARC, a Farmington Hills-based nonprofit that helps adults with developmental disabilities. Six women, ages 30 to 70, moved into the home on Minglewood last month, said Richard Loewenstein, chief executive officer of JARC.

The home has geothermal heat and bamboo flooring and uses recycled building materials and native plants for landscaping.

As two of the home’s residents are disabled, the home has features like wide doors and low sinks to accommodate wheelchairs. It has four bedrooms and 3 1/2 baths.

It is great to see how this important organization has grown over its first forty years. But it is even better to see how it continues to push forward for the sake of the wonderful community of men and women that it serves.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Celebrities Charity Health

Pancreatic Cancer

I haven’t written anything on this blog since the end of last year. There have been several topics I planned to cover, but just never got around to the actual writing part of it. I have also been preoccupied recently with my uncle’s condition. My Uncle Jerry, with whom I was extremely close throughout my life, lost his battle to pancreatic cancer on February 21, 2009. He was diagnosed, at 54-years-old, a little more than three months prior.

Pancreatic cancer gets much less attention than other cancers and the research for pancreatic cancer is funded at far lower levels than other forms of cancer even though nearly as many people die of pancreatic cancer as breast cancer. As a result of my uncle’s death, our family has discovered an amazing organization called The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network or Pancan, where we have set up a fund in his memory.

Pancreatic cancer is so deadly because it is difficult to detect, early to metastasize, and resistant to most treatments. Perhaps with several celebrities currently battling Pancreatic Cancer, the disease will attract more attention and funding. Actor Patrick Swayze, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg are all battling the disease. Opera great Luciano Pavarotti and actor Michael Landon both died of pancreatic cancer, as did Prof. Randy Pausch, co-author of The Last Lecture.

Just yesterday, it was reported that former Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly (left), a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The 78-year-old is beloved here in Detroit for leading the Pistons to two NBA championships (1989 and 1990) and a U.S. gold medal in basketball (1992). In addition to being one of the greatest coaches in the history of professional basketball, Daly has always been known as a true gentleman.

I wish Coach Daly the best in his fight against this deadly disease. All I can do is hope that more people, especially our elected officials, open their eyes to this horrific killer and give it more attention and more funding for research. In the meantime, my heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones to Pancreatic Cancer. I can now, unfortunately, speak from experience and say how devastating the feeling is.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Charity Holidays Jewish Purim

New Purim Tradition

Tomorrow night begins Purim, a holiday on which the Jewish people celebrate our survival and rejoice that our ancestors were redeemed from the evil tyrant Haman. It is also a holiday on which we are commanded to share our good fortune with those in need. The mitzvah of sending gifts to the poor is based on Megillat Esther 9:22.

As Lois Goldrich explains the importance of matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor) on the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism website:

Gifts can be given directly, e.g., bringing food and clothing to a homeless shelter, or indirectly, through an organized charity. It is important to keep in mind that whatever additional tzedakah we give throughout the year, donations must still be given on Purim itself. How important is this mitzvah? As Maimonides writes in his Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Megillah 2:17): “It is better for a person to increase gifts to the poor than to increase his feast or the mishloah manot to his neighbors. There is no joy greater or more rewarding than to gladden the heart of the poor, orphans, widows, and strangers. For by gladdening the hearts of the downtrodden, we are following the example of the Divine.”

Rabbi Menachem Creditor has shared a new Purim tradition that he learned from his teacher Marcia Brooks. She encourages people to bring boxes of Kosher pasta to synagogue to use as graggers (noise makers); shaking them for noise and then donating them to a food pantry once the Megillah is completed. With this new tradition, one fulfills the custom of drowning out the name of “Haman” from the Megillah reading while also performing the mitzvah of matanot l’evyonim.

And in my opinion, shaking a box of pasta is much safer than using those dangerous metal graggers that get rusty and sharp and can cut your finger!
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Charity Israel Jewish

Trees in Israel and the Playboy Mansion… An Odd Mix

Yaacov Agam and Rabbi Jason MillerTwo weeks ago I attended the Jewish National Fund Michigan Region’s annual event at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Michigan. To raise money for the JNF and its programs in Israel, works of art by world renowned artist Yaacov Agam (pictured with me at right) were auctioned off. In fact, Agam was a guest at the event and I was thrilled to have the chance to meet him. No one would dispute that it is appropriate for an organization such as the JNF to auction artwork by such a revered Jewish artist as a fundraising mechanism.

However, auctioning off a subscription to Playboy magazine and an all-expenses-paid trip to a VIP party at the legendary Playboy Mansion in California might not be the best idea for a Jewish organization. That is what the Greater New York branch of the JNF planned to do for its “JNF Sports Bonanza,” but in the end they created the “Playboy Scandal” for an institution committed to planting trees in Israel and improving Israel’s water sources.

Of course, Jewish feminist groups and some Israeli officials were none too pleased with this fundraising idea. And so this week the Jewish National Fund decided that it would no longer auction the Playboy package for charity.

The JNF released the following statement:

Thank you for your concern regarding the auction of more than 100 items including the Playboy Mansion golf tournament item at a local New York JNF event. JNF more often than not gets things right, but of course sometimes we don’t. Clearly this is a case of poor judgment. The item in question was donated by local New York lay leaders who were only trying to help raise money. If JNF could reverse its course we would, but since we can’t, we apologize for accepting the donation and have removed the item from the list.

I’m sure in the future JNF will vet its donated auction items a little closer.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |