Giving to others — giving to yourself

On Purim, I watched as my toddler son bounded across the courtyard clutching a few coins in his hands, a big grin spread across his face. Usually shy of strangers, he showed no apprehension in placing these coins in the man’s hands that had been outstretched asking for tzedakah (charity). As a mother, I felt such pride at seeing how happy my son was to partake in this mitzvah (good deed), even though I knew that perhaps he was still too young to really grasp the concept. But I started ruminating about how giving to others really elicits feelings of satisfaction and happiness and where that comes from.

I wrote in a previous article (“Why Employers Should have a Yom Chesed (Day of Kindness)”) that one of the best ways an employer can improve workers’ performance is to make them happy. And volunteering and giving has been shown to increase happiness levels. In one study, participants were given money; half were told to spend it on themselves, and the other half to spend it on someone else. Guess which group reported higher levels of happiness and satisfaction? Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada, reports that people who give money to charity tend to be happier and also healthier than others. “Money doesn’t seem to buy quite as much happiness as many people assume.” Unless you are giving it away, it would seem.

It’s not a coincidence that most religions have some form of charity as part of their belief system. In Judiasm, we have the Maimonides 8 Levels of Tzedakah (Charity) that range from highest to lowest, or most honorable to least honorable. The very highest level of tzedakah is to provide someone the means to be self-sufficient. Such as giving them a gift, loan, or employment opportunity that leads to stable income and empowerment. “Strengthen [the poor person] so that he does not fall and become dependent on others” (Leviticus 25:35).

This is what Tenufa Bakehila: Building Hope does, an Israeli non-profit organization that makes urgent home repairs for families-in-need living in dilapidated, unsanitary, or unsafe conditions.. At first glance, one might think they just enter someone’s home and fix it up to make it livable. But the organization is truly amazingly unique and leaves families forever changed long after the paint dries. Each family they assist meets with a private social worker, who learns of the family’s struggles, and finds resources to best address these problems.


For example, recently the social worker helped a single mother work with a utility company to relieve much of her debt, and she is now attending a job training program. She no longer feels like she is immobilized and drowning in debt with no way out. Our social worker reports that this single mother is now amazingly motivated and feeling hopeful about her brighter future for herself and her children.

I was blessed with a tremendous miracle in my life the day that Tenufa Bakehila arrived at my door step. They made great changes to our home and our lives. They brought light at a time just before the start of a new school year. I have no doubt that their work was a huge revolution in our lives, and opened a window of hope that showed us that there can be a light at the end of this long tunnel. ”

It’s also pretty amazing what changing someone’s home can do. Just a fresh coat of paint can make a home seem so much brighter, and has effects on a family’s attitude and motivation. When you live in a home that is falling apart, walls crumbing down, freezing cold in the winter, it can be difficult to find the will to climb out of your desperate situation. A few changes can be extremely uplifting to a family’s emotional well-being and give them inspiration. Some clients have noted that just feeling like someone cares was enough to lift their downtrodden spirits.

In Israel, we also say, “kol yisrael araivim”– that each Jew is responsible for each other. If one person is suffering, then we all suffer. The only way to truly be happy and prosperous is if we are all happy and prosperous.

So far, close to 4,000 families have been assisted this way. Each year Tenufa Bakehila helps between 250-300 families. The organization operates from money raised in Israel and abroad. If you have a donation (501-C-3 status tax-deductible) to make, please visit their page. And may we all have the same happy grins on our face while helping others as my toddler son did.

Visit their Facebook to see real-time updates and stories of families that these donations help!

About the Author
Sarah Heiman made aliyah from Buffalo, NY in 2011 and works at Tenufa Bakehila, an Israeli non-profit organization that helps needy families with urgent home repairs. She is a single mom to a toddler boy and lives in Jerusalem. Sarah has a BA and MA (Rutgers-NJ) in Social Policy and Sociology and has spent years in non-profit management and content writing. She enjoys running, yoga, hiking, nature, travel, and spending time with her family and friends.