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Life Arts    H4'ed 12/21/09

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?

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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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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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