The Jewish Effective Giving Blog

Photo courtesy of Malaria Consortium

Saving Lives in This Difficult Moment

I’d like to start with a personal admission: for quite a while after the gruesome events of October 7, I was quite hesitant about writing to congregations. We were all—and perhaps still are—deeply distracted, and I assumed that no one has any attention left for anything besides what’s going on in Israel and in Gaza (and its impact on the broader Jewish community). We are all bombarded with news, noise, opinions, pleas, and a constant flow of real, genuine tragedy. As someone who has always tried to be very respectful of other people’s time and attention, I didn’t want to burden rabbis and their congregations at such a sensitive moment.

A couple of weeks ago, though, I slowly started talking to new congregations again.

I was quite nervous at first, but the very warm responses I received reminded me of something that should be said clearly: our initiative is important.

In fact, it is still the simplest direct way in which synagogues can actually prevent a serious amount of human suffering and the unnecessary deaths of children. In the past year, our effort has raised enough funds to prevent several thousands of people from falling ill, and to save over 25 lives. That’s already direct impact roughly equivalent to about a third of the 75,000 nets provided throughout the URJ's entire (successful) Nothing But Nets campaign*, and this is just the very beginning.

Our initiative already saves lives and helps a lot of people, and it can do far, far more of both in the coming years. This work and this momentum simply must continue.

But besides its inherent value, I think a case can and should be made for why supporting life-saving work is especially healthy for our communities and for our movement at a moment like this. Here are a few ideas to consider:

It Can Bring Us Together Around Something Meaningful (And Unrelated to the War)

This war has been tough for all of us. Caring about Israel these days entails a great deal of angst and frustration, as well as a sense of hopelessness amidst all the immense human tragedy we see and read about.

I am sure that in many congregations there are also tension and debates on how to address the tragedy of the civilians of Gaza, whose suffering cannot and should not be ignored. As an Israeli who is still devastated about October 7 but whose personal values are very far (to put it very mildly) from those of the country’s current leadership and its wartime decision making, I absolutely understand the frustration, the emotional confusion, and the different difficulties people, clergy, and communities might be facing around this painful issue. Finding our moral paths in this messy reality is hard work that it is our responsibility to engage in.

But as we do so, I think it’s valuable to remind ourselves that there are very meaningful ways of doing good and helping others that we can all agree on, both related and unrelated to the war.

The past two months have exposed us all to very raw images of tragedy and suffering from every direction. While wanting to do something to help the particular populations affected is a very natural response, so is the need to do something to simply prevent more human loss, pain, and despair as such. 

Going beyond the tumultuous reality around us to save the life of a child from malaria or vitamin A deficiency is an example of a beautiful, meaningful, and uncontroversial act of grace and generosity that all members of a congregation can come together around. 

It Can Remind Us Just How Much We Can Do to Help Others

Closely following a war held in another part of the world can make us all feel quite powerless. It forces us to face the fact that, even if we have great intentions, we have very limited ability to prevent the kind of misery we see on our screens and read about every day.

Just to be clear, there are obviously important and valuable ways in which we can support victims and people affected, show solidarity, and make our voices and beliefs heard; but the actual loss of life and intense suffering are extremely difficult to prevent, unless we happen to be in positions of power.

An important message that our initiative tries to convey is that there are places in the world in which the average Jewish person can very directly prevent a great deal of death, tragedy, fear, and suffering. Knowing that we’ve done so can, alongside other forms of taking action, help us cope with our feeling of powerlessness and reclaim our sense of agency.   

It’s a Way of Showing That Our Moral Concern Extends to All Human Beings

For many of us, the heightened tension around this war is inescapable. The experience of following the war and the discussions around it can be so incredibly engrossing that it can feel as if the raw emotions surrounding the conflict are what defines us, our communities, and our people.

This can very easily become reductive. Our communities are filled with human beings who live their lives on the familial, communal, national, spiritual, and global level, and our tradition inspires us to think—and to strive to be better—on all those levels. They all matter.    

Continuing our effort to saves lives can be a reminder that there is a broader world out there and that there are many ways in which we can (and do) contribute. This, to me, can be a step in the direction of sanity, hope, and healing.


* The Nothing But Nets campaign reportedly raised enough, over several years, to distribute 75,000 bed nets; had our initiative solely focused on malaria nets (and not on four similarly effective interventions), we would have raised enough to distribute around 27,000 nets. It's worth noting that these are rough estimates, but they give a good idea of the scale of our collective impact in the past year.

Adam Azari is the head of the Jewish Effective Giving Initiative.