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Making a Difference: Talking with Naomi Eisenberger of the Good People Fund

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Welcome to OpEdNews, Naomi. Can you please tell our readers a little about the Good People Fund that you administer?

Naomi at work

The Good People Fund was incorporated in January 2008 and began operating officially in April of that year. Prior to this, I had been very involved in Danny Siegel's Ziv Tzedakah Fund for more than 16 years, serving the organization as Managing Director for more than ten of those years. When Danny decided to retire and opted to close the Fund I, and several Ziv supporters, felt that there was still a critical need for the type of giving opportunities and philosophy that that organization represented. Much like Ziv, the Good People Fund supports either individuals or very small organizations (many volunteer-run) that are engaged in Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) in Israel and the United States. Although the primary focus is on directly relieving hunger, poverty and suffering, some of these small organizations also have creative ideas for systemic change but they are just getting off the ground and need seed funding. Because these small organizations have very low overhead, the dollars donated stretch very far and have maximum impact. I am the Fund's only employee and my salary is paid by designated gifts, thus allowing donations to us to flow through to the people who need the help with very little diverted for administrative overhead.)

I think that before we can talk more about the Good People Fund, we need some background on Danny and how the Ziv Tzedakah Fund got started.

Ziv Tzedakah Fund began more than 35 years ago when Danny Siegel, a writer and poet, traveled to Israel. As is the custom, friends and family gave him tzedakah money to give away when he arrived in the Holy Land. When he arrived, he began to look for the "good people" who were working quietly on behalf of others. He met individuals like Myriam Mendilow, who took in many poor elderly immigrants and gave them a warm meal and a place to use their talents to produce crafts reflecting their backgrounds. Myriam's work was called Lifeline for the Old or Yad L'Kashish. It can still be found in downtown Jerusalem today. He also met others like Hadassah Levi, who had rescued 40 Down Syndrome babies from local hospitals and was raising them in Maon LaTinok.

The tzedakah money he brought with him was distributed to people like Myriam and Hadassah and upon returning home to the States Danny wrote a short report to those who had given him money, explaining where he had donated it. That was Ziv's beginning and eventually Danny incorporated and Ziv Tzedakah Fund became a legal entity that collected and distributed funds to small, grass-roots programs in both Israel and the United States. Common to all of them was the individual or small group, Danny referred to them as Mitzvah Heroes, who devoted themselves to Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) in very quiet and simple ways. For many years, Danny worked on his own with no staff nor overhead.

Where and when did you come in?

I met Danny in 1991, when I was about to be installed as president of my synagogue here in NJ. My rabbi had offered me a few of Danny's early books to read and I was captured by his philosophy and teachings about how we can all use our talents to make a difference. The rabbi and I decided to invite Danny to be our scholar-in-residence and after the weekend he spent with us, we formed our own social action committee within the synagogue and began to do our own good work. One of the things Danny did when he was with us was to challenge us to sell one of the many sifrei Torahs [Torah scrolls] we had and to use the proceeds for tzedakah work. Danny had offered that challenge to many congregations where he spoke but no one actually came through. Our board voted to sell not one, but two (we had an abundance) and, with that money, began an endowment which today still provides funds which are donated each year to several projects.

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I guess that when Danny saw that I could convince a board to do this, he thought I might be interested in working for Ziv as a volunteer and asked me if I had a "few hours" a week I could devote to the organization. I was thrilled and from those "few hours," I eventually became the organization's volunteer administrator. The organization began to grow and, with a change in my circumstances, I eventually became Ziv's part-time and then full-time Managing Director, with funds for my salary being donated by individuals specifically for that purpose.

I don't think the readers have any idea of the scope of Ziv by the time Danny retired recently. In the early days,he collected random, small donations from friends and neighbors that he funneled to small, grassroots efforts, essentially run on a shoestring, by people finding ways to "do good." Giving to Danny and Ziv was an alternative for those who disliked donating to big organizations with big overhead. By the time Ziv folded last year, the fund had become a major funder for many grass roots organizations, both in Israel and here in America. Ziv disbursed how much over the last 35 years?


Yikes. That's a goodly sum! And a hard act to follow. Let's talk about the Good People Fund. Can you tell us about some of your more local efforts? Give our readers a sense of these little projects and what support from GPF can do.

When we began the Good People Fund, we wanted to continue to work with many of the same programs that Ziv was involved with but we also wanted to expand our scope and search for other new "good people" who were working quietly and effectively on behalf of others.

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Some of the new programs we have started working with...

About 6 months ago, a friend told me about a woman named Randi Cairns who was the wife of a National Guardsman who had returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan as well as another part of the world. Guardsmen and their families have unique problems...they do not live on military bases and therefore do not have the support system regular army families have. While her husband was deployed, Randi raised their four children on her own and had to deal with many, many difficult situations. She once shared the story of how she was 8 months pregnant, had a broken leg and had to take her three other children with her while she shopped at the supermarket...that was one of her "lighter moments." There were many other situations that were challenging and extraordinarily difficult to deal with.

Though her husband has returned, he can still be called to active duty and Randi, recalling her own difficulties, decided to begin Homefront Hearts, a non-profit that provides advocacy and resources to families of soldiers serving their country. When I first spoke to her, I asked her how we could help. She jokingly referred to her desk chair, which was being held together with one screw, and her printer, which only worked when she hit it in a certain way. Before she knew it, we had her at Staples buying a new chair and printer so she could do her good work with a little more comfort and less stress. Since that time, Randi has directed us to some very sad situations involving wounded soldiers and their families whose needs are not being met by other entities. No matter what one feels about the ongoing war in Iraq or the deployment of soldiers to Afghanistan, many have families with needs that are not being cared for.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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