Ever since student Daphni Leef pitched her tent on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard last summer to protest social injustice, the young woman has become a household name.

Following her bold step and throughout last summer, Leef’s image was a permanent fixture in our newspapers, on our TV screens and of course on Facebook, as she and her friends utilized the social networking platform to garner vast support.

As the summer ended, she vowed to keep the protest alive and bring the multitude of social problems highlighted by the protests to the forefront of the national agenda.

Keeping good on her promises, less than a year later Leef has established a social justice movement; but the problem now is how to sustain it financially.

Ever creative, the young woman – who drew hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets last year – has turned to another online networking platform in a bid to “crowdfund” her ongoing quest for social justice.

Posting her call for funds on the website “Give2gether,” Leef raised nearly NIS 50,000 in less than three weeks – and most of the 250 donors gave less than NIS 200 each. A fund-raising model perfect for the people’s protest.

While Leef’s fund-raising campaign is focused on Israel, the overall concept of crowdfunding looks set to kick off big time in the near future in the Jewish world too.

Since the onset of the global economic crisis nearly four years ago, Jewish philanthropy has been struggling. Those hit hardest by the economic downturn were the key givers or “sugar daddies” of the Jewish community, and the tightening of their purse strings has meant hard times for almost the entire third sector in Israel and the Jewish world in general.

“The crowdfunding model came about around the same time the global economic crisis hit in 2008,” comments Naomi Leight, co-founder of Jewcer.com, an online platform specifically for Jewish and Israel-focused projects that was launched earlier this year.

She continues: “It was originally seen as a way for artists, musicians and small indie filmmakers to raise money for their projects from their loyal fans and now, in 2012, it is being translating into the Jewish space.”

Leight says this concept places less emphasis on the traditional big Jewish donors and is “more about reaching the young people who want to contribute a little and participate a lot with their time and their ideas.”

“It’s a model that speaks to people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, who want a new space to engage Jewishly,” she says with enthusiasm.

Leight also points out that funding projects like this can be a way to test new ideas that in the past might have been overlooked by bigger organizations or larger donors.

“It can draw a group of people into an idea before it’s off the ground; it can provide feedback about whether they are heading in the right direction and really providing something that the community wants,” she says, adding too that this fund-raising method is useful in providing the seed funding for a project before it seeks out larger financial support.

One project that hopes to raise funds and a buzz using crowdfunding is “Once in a Lifetime HD.” Seeking to raise Israel’s profile on social media, the project hopes to find funding to bring eight major users of photo-sharing app Instagram to snap photos in Israel.

“This is an ambitious project and we needed all the help we could get,” says Uri Vardi, one of 25 Tel Aviv University students behind the project, which is part of another program run by Israel outreach organization StandWithUs.

“We did raise some money the traditional way and then decided to use Jewcer for the final amount that we needed in order to make this project come to life,” he explains, adding that crowdfunding should not only be seen as a way to raise funds but also as a way to reach many people even before a project gets off the ground.

Los Angeles-based filmmaker Jessie Kahnweiler, whose film project Dude, Where’s My Chutzpah? is also featured on Jewcer, agrees.

“It takes out the middleman, allowing fans to directly connect with the artists that inspire them,” observes Kahnweiler, adding, “Crowdfunding inspires people to support each others’ visions virtually with the end goal focusing on production in the tangible world.”

Regarding her project, which is a comedic web series that follows Kahnweiler on a quest to discover what it means to be Jewish, she says: “My project is incredibly personal, so it has been amazing to have direct interaction/support with people. It’s not just about the money, it’s knowing that there are people on the other side of that glowing screen cheering you on.”

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger