Slum-touring millionaires put off the Ritz in Israel
'Hands On Tzedakah' takes would-be donors off the beaten track to see the underbelly of society.
By MATTHEW KALMAN • Jerusalem Post
Ronald L. Gallatin is a retired attorney, a CPA and a former managing director at Lehman Brothers credited with creating some of Wall Street’s most ingenious investment instruments. His wife, Meryl, is a prominent philanthropist in Florida charity circles. But when they visit Israel, they prefer hanging around soup kitchens and drug addict drop-in centers rather than fancy restaurants.
Over the past seven years, the Gallatins have given more than $2 million of their own money and raised more than $4m. from friends for a charity they set up “to fill in the cracks” left by social services in the US, Israel and Latin America.
They promise donors that 100 percent of funds will go to the causes listed on their www.handsontzedakah.org website for Hands On Tzedakah, so the Gallatins also absorb all the administrative costs of their charity, including one or more trips each year to Israel.
They use their own money to seed all the projects and then encourage their donors to identify one where their donation should be applied.
The Gallatins are just two clients of Arnie Draiman, a travel guide with a difference.
Draiman takes tourists off the beaten track to show millionaires and other would-be donors the underbelly of Israeli society, helping them target their charity where it will have the most effect.
“I want to teach them how to give their money away efficiently and effectively,” Draiman said.
He said there was an increasing interest among tourists to Israel in welfare and assistance projects – the flip-side of the sun-drenched beaches, nonstop nightlife and centuries-old religious culture projected by official government advertising.
“Our trips aren’t about museum hopping,” Meryl Gallatin told AOL News during a recent visit to Crossroads, a cash-strapped dropin center for at-risk youth in downtown Jerusalem. “We’re here to do due diligence on behalf of our donors. This is a different kind of tourism.”
Not all of Draiman’s tourists are millionaire philanthropists.
Parents bring their bar mitzva boys and bat mitzva girls to tour projects as a lesson in social responsibility.
Newly married couples, flush with their own happiness want to engage with people less fortunate than themselves. American religious and community leaders also come to Draiman to see the reality of Israeli society so they can better understand the country.
At first, some projects didn’t understand why they should host visitors who weren’t about to make a donation. Over time, they have adopted Draiman’s long-term view.
“I have countless examples of people who have visited a place and later gone back and included it in their wedding registry or a bar mitzva boy has included it in his bar mitzva project,” Draiman said.
He said the key to the attraction of his tours is the term “tzedaka” – which combines “righteousness,” “charity” and “justice.”
“I use the word in the broadest terms possible to include not only money but your time and your effort and anything that goes into making the world a better place to be,” Draiman said.
“A lot of it revolves around the money, the financial end, but it’s more than that.
Tzedaka is translated best as ‘righteous giving’ or ‘giving rightly.’” Draiman’s work has brought him into contact with people he labels “heroes” – ordinary individuals who help the people around them in an extraordinary way.
“If someone calls me up on the phone and says, ‘I’ve got this really great place I want you to hear about,’ I’ll listen.
But if you call me up and say, ’I want you to meet this incredible person,’ my ears really prick up,” he said.
Some of Draiman’s favorite heroes include Bracha Kapach, the wife of a Jerusalem rabbi who feeds more than 1,100 poor people every week and more than 20,000 at Pessah; the “chicken lady,” who provided a fresh chicken every week for several hundred poor families even when she was well into her 90s; and Avshalom Beni, who uses dogs and cats to provide therapy for Holocaust survivors and children with behavioral problems.
When Draiman introduces philanthropists like the Gallatins to these unsung heroes, lives can be changed on all sides.
One recent afternoon, the Gallatins arrived at Crossroads, a cause they have supported for several years, for their first meeting with its new director, Robbie Sassoon.
A skeptical Ron Gallatin grilled Sassoon about the center’s projects and finances with a ferocity that would not have been out of place in a Manhattan boardroom.
“We treat making the decision of how our donors’ money is spent as the highest level of fiduciary responsibility,” Ron Gallatin said. “Our donors give to HOT [Hands On Tzedakah] because they trust us to have meetings like this one and know that we are making sure that every one of their dollars goes directly to help someone in profound need. Our donors know that HOT has no expenses and that we do not permit our partners to charge any administrative charges on any project we support.
The donor is truly seeing his whole dollar helping the people he wants helped.”
After a half hour, the former Wall Street guru sat back, pronounced himself satisfied and proceeded to write out a check that was much larger than the one he had planned. Then they were off to their fourth meeting of the day, in a five-day trip that contained no tourist visits at all.
“This is not depressing,” Meryl Gallatin said. “It’s the feelgood of making a difference.
It’s being able to go back after seeing a success story.”
None of it, the Gallatins said, could be achieved with confidence without having someone like Draiman to advise them.
“Arnie comes with us on many of our site visits and interprets far more than the language. He helps us understand cultural nuances that can only be understood by someone living in Israel,” Meryl Gallatin said. “You cannot have absentee management.
We hold all of our Israeli partners to a very high standard of accountability and use Arnie to monitor them when we aren’t here.
What we are trying to do doesn’t work without someone like him on the ground.”
“I’m in their face, much more than if they filled out a form once a year,” Draiman agreed.
I'll say three things:
1. These tours should be run for rich and middle class Israelis, so they can see how shamefully their government treats the poor, and so they can donate to help alleviate the pain and suffering this neglect causes.
2. American Jews should take the same tour – but in America. See how the poor and sick suffer, and see what Federations do – and do not do – to aid them. And then they can donate to organizations that actually do good. The poor of our own communities, towns and cities comes first. That's the halakha. And Israel has more than enough money to help its own.
3. That said, what the Gallitains and others are doing is far better than what the Federations are doing, and the Federations could learn much from from them.