Machon-Ramah Philanthropy Initiative

Another disptach from Maiya about the meeting in New York for the Ramah Philanthropy Initiative. 

Today was a full and eventful day for the Ramah Philanthropy Initiative program. We started our day with shacharit at JTS, in the Women’s League Seminary Synagogue. From there, the group got straight to work, gearing up to best prepare itself to allocate $2,000 by the end of the day. After a breakfast of fresh New York bagels, CRNE’s own Emma Wolper began the formal program with a beautiful d’var Torah, drawing upon the example of Moses’ reaction to the Egyptian taskmaster striking a Hebrew slave in the Torah as a charge to act when we see injustice in front of us. Additionally, we were joined by Stefanie Zelkind, director of the Jewish Teen Funders Network, who helped the campers understand the greater context of this program, and assisted the staff in facilitating discussions throughout the morning.

After some time for final preparations in our camp groups, the larger group opened up discussion on our core values, causes we find to be important, and presentations of charitable organizations that they had researched. Through this discussion, several "tensions", or key questions for the group (as a group of young philanthropists), arose. Did we want to fund organizations acting towards short or long term change? Did we want to support direct or indirect service to those in need? Do we have a greater imperative to give to the Jewish world? To Israel? Or is it just as important to give as Jews to other peoples in the world? What role do education and advocacy play in helping to alleviate the causes we care about? What are the pros and cons to giving to large versus small organizations?

After a lunch break (which entailed experiencing "Meat Day" in the JTS cafeteria!), and some time relaxing in the courtyard, the group trekked downtown to visit two Jewish organizations: American Jewish World Service and Hazon. At each organization’s office, we met with senior-level professionals, learning more about the organizations’ work and getting the opportunity to ask questions- who does the organization’s work reach? How does the organization distribute funds it raises? How does the organization prioritize its projects? These and other thoughtful questions from the campers, largely stemming from the "tensions" raised in our morning discussion, led to fruitful and informative discussions at both AJWS and Hazon.

Returning uptown to Morningside Heights, we reconvened to brief on the site visits, and finally got down to allocating our funds! Campers weighed in on the five organizations that had been nominated as funding candidates, fiercely yet respectfully debating the positives and negatives of each. As they learned more about the "next steps" for the program (which includes the chance to do more research and allocate another sum of money at a later date), the group was able to determine specific causes or organizations that they wanted to know more about before allocating money in their direction. After over an hour of questions, intense conversation, and camper-generated ad hoc proposals and votes, the group finally decided on a final allocation plan:

American Jewish World Service ( $1,100

An international development organization committed to alleviating poverty, hunger, and disease in the developing world, largely through grants to grassroots organizations "on the ground" across the globe in places of need. AJWS also commits itself to disaster relief, as well as providing service learning and travel opportunities for the Jewish community.

Table to Table ( $700

Table to Table works to combat hunger in Israel by collecting food (from catering halls, hotels, restaurants, army bases), that would otherwise be thrown away and redistributing it to direct-service organizations (shelters, soup kitchens, etc). They also work with farmers to collect produce that otherwise would be unharvested or left to rot, and redistribute that food. T2T has an initiative called "Sandwiches for Schoolkids", where volunteers make healthy lunches for school children who would not have wholesome food to eat during the day otherwise.

Kol Isha Domestic Violence Initiative (at the Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Boston) $200

This initiative of the JF&CS in Boston provides free and confidential services to victims of domestic abuse, serving the greater community but with specific programs for the Jewish and for the Russian-speaking communities. Some of these services include counseling, safety planning, legal, financial and medical assistance, court accompaniment, and sexual assault support services. Kol Isha also works in outreach and advocacy, including an awareness program for teenagers focusing on healthy relationships.

After the day of hard work, we unwound with a night at the movies (Wall-E), only to end our night briefly caught in a fierce thunderstorm while heading back "home" to the building we were staying in. Despite the drenched clothes, I think the group can agree that the day was both meaningful and productive, and that they can be proud of the work they did here and will continue to do when they return to camp.

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