Ayelet Meshulam, 42, is a two-time cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer for the first time in 2009 and then again two-and-a-half years ago. As a result, she has not been healthy enough to work. When the money she earned as a makeup artist and painter ran out and her family could no longer support her financially, she approached a number of non-profit aid organizations, but failed to achieve the help she needed. Moreover, one representative even had the gall to say to her, “Did you really think we’d give you money? You’re single and you don’t have any dependents. You have no chance to qualify for assistance.”
“The only option that remained was for me to turn to friends for help,” says Meshulam. But she didn’t only turn to friends. In order to raise enough funds to cover her cancer treatments, she initiated a project called Uniting for Ayelet, which appears on the Mimoona website, through which she sells her artwork.
“When one of my friends suggested I try raising money through crowdfunding, my first reaction was that it would be too shameful. People would think I was a wretched and pathetic person. Then my friend said to me, ‘Well, either you put your story out there or you die. It’s your choice.’”
MESHULAM IS not the only one to turn to crowdfunding platforms to raise money to pay for medical treatments. On the Mimoona site, in addition to fashion, art and music projects, a number of people are requesting help from the public to pay for life-saving initiatives. Another site called Giveback includes categories such as Health, Community, Animals and Do Good. One recent request asked for funds to repay a debt following an illness, another was a call to save a 20-year-old with cancer, and a third featured a couple hoping to have a baby through surrogacy.
One case involves a baby named Alon Weinreb, who was born a year ago to happy parents and a five-year-old sister. Alon underwent two emergency surgeries to save his vision and was subsequently diagnosed with the extremely rare GFER Syndrome, which has been diagnosed in only nine other children.
His parents, Meidan, an algorithm expert, and Chofit, the foreign policy director at the Housing Ministry, both quit their jobs 10 months ago in order to take care of Alon. Every morning, Meidan volunteers at Prof. Miguel Weil’s laboratory and at the Blavatnik Center for Drug Discovery at Tel Aviv University in an effort to find a cure to help his son and other children who suffer from genetic diseases. However, all of this activity costs a lot of money.
“We understood that we’d need extensive funding,” says Chofit, “and that we would need to approach many foundations. Our first step was to get our story out to the public. By nature, I’m a very private person, so this was way out of my comfort zone. We created a non-profit organization that would fund research and treatments. What we discovered is that the public cares greatly. It’s been a very powerful experience. So many people have contributed to our cause and we’ve made innumerable connections with community and business leaders. Every day we are surprised by people’s generosity and compassion.
“The reason we are working so hard,” continues Chofit, “is that there is no other organization that handles such issues. We realized we were on our own, that no public institution was willing to carry out research on these diseases. On the other hand, it’s been quite invigorating to see the outpouring of love and support we receive from private researchers. Every time we have a setback, I roll up my sleeves and figure out how to overcome the obstacles. I’m pretty much willing to do whatever it takes to save my child and give him the opportunity to live like everyone else. I could kick, scream and express my anger at the government for not taking responsibility, wondering why my life is so difficult, but that wouldn’t be very productive.”
AFTER HER father’s seventh stroke, Shir Kitai, 21, decided to take action to help raise funds for her family. Her father, 51, a former bus driver, is confined to a wheelchair and his cognitive abilities are severely impaired. In addition, he has suffered loss of vision and kidney deterioration. Shir and her relatives have acquired huge debt paying for all his hospitalizations and treatments.
Kitai turned to Giveback and started a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for her father’s medications.
“I’ve already used up my post-army grant and every shekel I’ve ever saved since I was a kid,” says Kitai. “I hate having to expose our private lives, but I couldn’t figure out any other way to keep my father alive.”
Another interesting initiative is being carried out by Tzachi Green, 35, a father of four who lives in Modi’in and works as a parenting educator. Green is the driving force behind a crowdfunding campaign to purchase a defibrillator that will be installed outside his home and be available to the public. It’s the fourth crowdfunding campaign he’s launched.
“A friend of mine recently collapsed in the street,” recounts Green. “Thankfully, someone arrived on the scene quickly with a defibrillator and saved his life. After this traumatic event took place, I realized that I have to do something so that the next time this happens, we’ll have access to a defibrillator.
“In my opinion, the focus of crowdfunding campaigns is not the money. The most important aspect is the community building and having people come together around a story. Now people in my neighborhood are getting together to take a first-aid course. The more we raise awareness and train people to use a defibrillator and learn CPR, the more lives we can save. I chose to use the website Giveback because it’s 100% community-oriented.”
THIS GROWING phenomenon has social ramifications that are a product of the modern era in which alongside technological development, people also have a strong desire to feel like they belong to a community, whether it be virtual or real.
“Many studies show that social altruism is natural and deeply rooted in human nature, and that it simply changes form in different eras,” says Dr. Ido Liberman, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Western Galilee College. “It’s basic human nature to want to help others and this can very clearly be seen in cases where the state fails to offer resources. The technological and social changes that have taken place over the last 15 years have led to the creation of two separate phenonomena that together brought about the creation of crowdfunding for help with health and medical bills.
“With the proliferation of social networking, people have become obsessed with sharing their everyday outings – eating at restaurants or lounging on the beach – on Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp. Activities that in the past would have been kept private are now being shared online.”
According to Liberman, the media has taken a new interest in the individual as the focus of events, and therefore is interested in stories about specific people and less about communities as a whole.
“Crowdsourcing for medical issues is the direct result of this development,” he continues. “People are much happier to donate money to a specific person than to a large, faceless organization where you have no idea if your money will ever actually reach someone. It’s much nicer to feel a personal connection with the person you’re helping. It makes you feel more altruistic. Some people might even ask: Do people donate money just in order to achieve their own happiness?”
If we examine this trend on a spiritual/religious level, we can see that this transformation is connected to the Jewish idea of giving tzedaka (charity).
“The world stands upon three things, one of them being acts of kindness,” says Rabbi Shimon Amor, the rabbi at Hemdat Hadarom College near Netivot. “In today’s world, crowdfunding is the highest level of charity, since neither the giver nor the receiver know each other. We must ask the question, why do we need such an apparatus when the state should be taking care of all its citizens? But the reality is that not all the people who are in need of help.”
Despite all their good intentions and the public’s desire to help, some people believe that crowdfunding is not the right alternative. MK Ilan Gilon, chairman of the Meretz faction in the Knesset, and chairman of the Lobby for Equality in Health and the Lobby for People with Disabilities, is not a big fan of crowdfunding.
“These headstart programs might make us feel good for a few moments, and think how wonderful it is that everyone is helping each other,” says Gilon, “but in my opinion this just shows how poorly the state is taking care of its citizens. In the past, the government was responsible for helping people in need, whereas today sick people are left to fend for themselves. This goes against the entire Zionist idea of solidarity and creating an exemplary society.”
Translated by Hannah Hochner.
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