For years, my wife, Joanne, a Hebrew school teacher, spent time with students as they approached the age of becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Each year, her class would collect Tzedakah money and determine which organizations should receive the funds at the end of the year. Invariably, students chose worthy causes, but none that had anything to do with Judaism or Israel. While it certainly is notable to care for animals, donate to environmental causes or emergency situations, the fact that the students did not think to give to Jewish causes was disheartening. It is clear that Gen Z and younger people in general are not interested in purchasing Israel bonds or planting trees.
That is why I’m so excited about SparkIL. Investing in this peer-to-peer lending platform enables young people and their elders across the Jewish World to support small businesses of their choice in Israel. By choosing to invest in businesses run by Ethiopian-Israelis, Bedouins, Israeli Arabs, Haredim, LGBTQ individuals, at-risk youth, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, the lender can choose not only what Israel based cause they would like to support but can also become personally involved in the project.
That is why we chose to establish a SparkIL fund at our synagogue to give each Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrant a $36 – signifying double chai – SparkIL gift card/certificate to invest in an Israeli company of their choosing. We hope that by introducing them to SparkIL they will become acquainted with the diverse tapestry that is modern Israel and make them more attuned to the power of giving where every dollar really does count. By doing so, they are not only investing in Israel’s economy, but also in its future. It is our hope that the B’Nai Mitzvah will share the SparkIL journey with their families so that they too can reengage with Israel, and perhaps see their investments in person on a future trip. Each loan comes with a vivid story of struggle and hope sent to the investor’s email, with updates, as to how their money is being spent and how the business is flourishing, thanks to their help.
We chose this critical age because we believe this is the time in a child’s life when they become Jewish adults with responsibilities and obligations. It is our view that there is no greater obligation than preserving our heritage and ensuring that the Jewish people remain strong for generations to come.
We hope that the B’nai Mitzvah will see SparkIL as more than an exchange of money. Rather, they will view it as a way to enhance their identity with Israel as well as the start of a partnership which will strengthen the critical bond between Israel and the Diaspora.
Considering the current situation in Israel, supporting the country is more important than ever.
The Israeli economy needs a shot in the arm and SparkIL is the conduit to do it. During the current Iron Swords War, small businesses are being dealt a significant blow as 360,000 reservists have been called up, many of whom own or work for small businesses. Tourism has ground to a halt and Israel’s economy has taken a hit. For as little as $25, individuals can give a loan to keep these threatened small businesses afloat.
Of course, SparkIL is not limited to B’Nai Mitzvah.
The SparkIL opportunity to identify, to connect with Israel and especially to support it in these perilous times is open to investors of every age and economic means.
If October 7 taught us anything, supporting Israel isn’t a charitable gesture, it is an act of defiance demonstrating the solidarity of the Jewish People the world over. Israel’s future should concern all Jews and it is our hope that SparkIL can teach us all how to become a part of the life of Israel and the ongoing history of the Jewish People.
As a longtime community activist in the Washington D.C. area who has been privileged to serve as President and have leadership roles in many local Jewish and non-Jewish organizations and also served as a long term Committee Member of the Jewish Agency for Israel, I have always espoused the importance of community engagement in addition to philanthropic giving. To me, finding ways to involve our younger generation in meaningful participation in the Jewish community and in support of Israel is the best insurance for our collective future. I see SparkIL as a most important vehicle to do this as well as to bring all segments of our community together to support Israel.
With SparkIL, Jews around the world can discover a unique way to engage others in supporting small businesses and partnering with the people of Israel.