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Directing Philanthropy Where It’s Needed Most: Inspired Tzedakah at Hannah Senesh

Directing Philanthropy Where It’s Needed Most: Inspired Tzedakah at Hannah Senesh

by Judy Schoenberg, Senesh Board member, Senesh parent and Giving Circle Co-Chair

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” -Anne Frank

Hannah Senesh’s Giving Circle experienced a second successful year thanks to the parents who participated in this innovative, educational, and philanthropic program. The Circle’s members had a unique opportunity to learn about the inner workings of the School’s finances and strategic priorities, to create their own mission and values, and to allocate funds through a collaborative process.

Eleven Senesh families participated in the Circle this year. The only requirement to join was a contribution of any amount to the School’s 2017 Annual Fund. Parents used their pooled philanthropic resources to thoughtfully decide how they will direct their giving within the context of the School’s mission and operational budget. Many thanks to the Circle’s Co-Chairs, Judy Schoenberg, Senesh Board member and K and Third grade parent and Nina Rabinovitch Blecker, First and Third grade parent, and to Senesh Development Director, Angie Lieber.

The Circle was organized around the theme “Inspired Tzedakah” and because Judaism privileges questions over answers, the Circle framed its three meetings around the following questions:  “Why Give?”,  “How to Give?”, and “Where to Give?”. At the onset of the Circle, we had conversation about Tzedakah being about justice and righteousness, rather than merely charity and its inherent obligation for all Jewish people to fulfill. This mission-driven initiative embodies the Senesh values and mirrors what we are teaching our children about social action and meaningful Tzedakah.

The Circle engaged in a process of exploring why members are motivated to give through the lens of Jewish values, what Jewish education means to them, and the role of giving in their lives. One of the most compelling conversations of the Circle dealt with the power that giving has to enable people to take action and impact their communities and the world. The following are the goals, mission and values that informed the Circle’s work:

Goals: Investigate Senesh’s financial structure and teacher innovations to collectively direct annual contributions to areas within the 2016-17 operating budget that align with the Circle’s mission.

Mission: We assume the responsibility for each other, both as Jews and global citizens. Invoking the sentiment of Anne Frank – there is no moment like the present to improve the world. We are committed to making a positive impact through giving what we can and practicing kindness in pursuit of justice. Through intentional Tzedakah we can ensure Jewish education thrives for all those who need and want it.

Values: Kindness; Give what you can; Do not stand idly by; Give in pursuit of justice.                     

Participating parents gathered in intimate settings and heard about the School’s budgeting process directly from Nicole Nash, Head of School, and JJ Berney, member of the Board of Trustees and Finance Committee. They also considered four teacher development leadership proposals to enhance Senesh programming.

The transparency and insight into the School’s financial profile, offered Giving Circle parents thoughtful and fiscally responsible discretion in their allocations. They decided that their $12,800 aggregate contributions be allocated to teacher compensation and teacher professional development, areas they agreed were the most in need of growth.

The Senesh Giving Circle is a pioneering philanthropic model among Jewish Day Schools. The Circle’s work was presented at the Prizmah Jewish Day School conference in February 2017 and has also been profiled in case studies through Amplifier, the national network of Jewish giving circles.

The Senesh Giving Circle hopes to continue its initiative in the next school year with broader engagement from the school community and training parents to assume new leadership roles.