The Matanel Convention brings together the members of the Board, the advisors of the Foundation and its main partners in Israel and all over the world. The participants have the opportunity to learn to know each other and to discuss the main issues faced by philanthropy and specially by the Matanel Foundation.
The Matanel Foundation
Rabbi AdinSteinsaltz’s speech at the Matanel Foundation Convention
Jerusalem, June 2013
Attended by the Foundation’s leaders and partners in Israel and abroad
Quantitatively speaking, Matanel Foundation is not a large one, especially in comparison to such major funds as the Rockefeller or Ford Foundations. It is a small foundation with a limited budget, and can therefore not take upon itself tremendous projects. Jerusalem is filled with buildings whose value is estimated in the millions of dollars, and that no one really knows what are they being used for, and there are many others under construction; such things are not within the Foundation’s reach. But the history and technology of small states, such as Israel and Japan, teaches us that a small size bears several advantages: it is precisely their small dimensions that enable them to carry through greater improvements. The lack of resources requires the Foundation to be more compact, more intensive, and more creative.
And indeed, the Matanel Foundation serves essentially as a catalyst, and, as such, is involved in speeding up processes. It does not possess the capacity and power to get into the thick of things, but it can incite activity. A catalytic substance is present in small quantities, and, at the critical moment, it facilitates a process much greater than itself. The catalyst is expected to stay in place and continue its catalytic activity – that is its main concern. One could also say that the Matanel Foundation acts like a capital venture fund — that is, a fund that gets involved with ideas and projects and supports them until they start to grow. The seed of a large technological project develops in a technological incubator, progressing from being one person’s idea or dream to something greater, more substantial. It is then sold to a large entity such as a university, a government, a television network – an entity with sufficient funds that it is also willing to expend. The Foundation will be content to be remembered and mentioned later.
In any event, Matanel Foundation helps projects grow up to the point at which they can prove their worth, and someone else is ready to take them from there. The Foundation therefore seeks good ideas and good people. What does the term ‘good people’, refer to? ‘Normal’ people look for a place where they can do some work and earn a good salary and respect. People who do not take this path are a bit crazy, and these are exactly the people the Matanel Foundation seeks and chooses: people with a passion for something and the ability to carry it through.
There are those who ask: why do such foundations help only those places from where smiling children will emergein two years’ time? Why not support the poor and the down trodden, the truly unfortunate ones? The answer lies in the difference between tzedaka and g’milut chasadim. Tzedakah is a great and important enterprise, and of the giver, it is written that “his righteousness endureth for ever”(Psalms 112:9); but basically, a person gives charity to the poor in order to assuage his own pain: it pains me to know that someone is ill, it pains me to see that someone is in a tough spot, and so I give something to that person in order to feel calmer and better. According to the Halakha, there is something far nobler. The highest degree of tzedaka is loaning money to a person to rehabilitate himself. Why a loan? To spare the recipient of feeling shamed in receiving a gift: rather, it is a loan, which he will return when he is be able to.
Tzedaka and g’milut chasadim can be compared, in a way, to Magen David Adom (Red Star of David) and ZAKA (Disaster Victim Identification volunteer unit). What Magen David Adom can no longer take care of is passed on to ZAKA. In any medical organization, the main principle is to conduct an initial diagnosis before all else, to determine who should be taken care of first. First to receive care will be the difficult cases, but not the hopeless ones. In a very different context, safety instructions on airplanes direct that in case of an emergency, those who sit next to infants or older people must first adjust their own oxygen masks, before turning to help the child or older person; and why? Because the child or olderperson cannot help you, while you do have a chance of assisting another – or, at least, that way, only one person will die, instead of two.
All this is true also for tzedaka. Indeed there are cases in which tzedaka can be given, and I know that the people behind Matanel Foundation give to charity, and they do well in doing so. Their hearts go out to the widow who will receive a few hundred Shekels for Pesach, and that will warm her heart – but won’t really solve her problems. And indeed, Matanel is not a tzedaka fund, but rather a g’milut chasadim one – it takes upon itself to assist projects that have a chance. Is there confidence that this chance will be realized? Certainly not, it may be realized but similarly, a project may also fail.
Moreover, Matanel is a general foundation; it does not deal with or nurture projects in a specific field. It can be called ‘color-blind’, as it does not make a distinction between Sepharadis and Ashkenazis, or between Ethiopians and Russians.This seems the right thing to me. All these color differences, with their related insults, discrimination, and distress that are sometimes associated with them, belong mostly to the past. If we wish to build something for the future, it is true that we must not forget the past, but we should also not act like a child who, once suffering a kick, continues to live this kick for the rest of his life. The universality of the Matanel Foundation is reflected, among other things, in the list of projects it is connected with. This list includes some projects that are distinctly Jewish-religious, some that are not religious, and some that deal with countries like Panama or the Central African community – not because the Foundation can solve all the problems there, but simply because a helping hand can be extended there, too.
In addition to this, the Foundation’s work involves a diverse set of people – academics, professional activists, and others – whose range of opinions is a wide one. If we were to hold a political discussion here, we would discover little agreement between the participants, but this is not what counts; of course there are very important issues, but the main thing is that we need to be little angels ourselves, without any connection to the question whether Angel Gabriel will actually come to one specific place and not another.
And as for what the future holds for the Matanel Foundation in a year, or two, or three – it depends on what will happen. The Matanel Foundation is not the JNF or Keren Hayesod (the Foundation Fund): It is a living foundation, and this is one if its most appealing characteristics. Can you ask a person who or what he will love next year? You can tell a child, no matter how old: love someone who is worth loving, this is guidance that will be as true in 50 years as it is today. But in anything related to the specific object of love, parents have nothing to counsel their children – even if just because children will not hear, or will hear – and do the opposite.
In summary, I hope there will be constant surprises in everything that concerns the Matanel Foundation. The people behind it live in Luxemburg, one of the world’s least poetic places, and in spite of this, they come up with fascinating ideas every year. This year, for example, there are two people who are involved in Kabbalah. How will this aid autistic children? I do not know, maybe it will help and maybe it won’t – one must try. But this is all a part of an overall existenceUnlike other entities, the Matanel Foundation has the liberty to be free to undertake a wide range of things and build a future of some kind.