A who’s who of Tel Aviv’s Anglo community turned out for Wine Wednesday Global last week. Some of the White City’s best-known faces in theater, tech, activism and more joined the crowd of over 200 guests on the beautiful deck of the Arcadia Tower Hotel for this soiree for social good.
The concept of Wine Wednesday began on a “dark and stormy night,” according to co-founder Caylee Talpert.
She and Emma Datney were sitting on a balcony overlooking Jerusalem, sipping wine, when they thought, “How great would it be to combine good wine, good people and good causes into one event?” Since that fateful night, Guy Seemann and Eli Luzac joined the core team that produces monthly mixersturned- fund-raisers that do just that.
Each month, Wine Wednesday is hosted at a different venue and sponsors a different nonprofit working for social good. Guests bring a NIS 30 donation and a bottle of kosher wine per two guests. All of the wine is shared, and all of the profits go to the featured NGO.
“Our first event was at Moishe House in 2013,” Talpert recalled. “It was in mid-January. We thought no one would come, but 70 people showed up.”
Since then, the events have grown, with a consistent turnout of about 150 guests per event. Talpert thinks much of Wine Wednesday’s popularity stems from the unique need it fills for immigrants to Israel.
“People come from abroad where they were very involved in their communities, they volunteered, they’ve honed many skills,” she said. Wine Wednesday gives olim a chance to engage in that familiar way. “It’s fun: wine, charity and people who care about stuff.”
In the last three-and-a-half years, Wine Wednesday has supported a great variety of causes, including women’s empowerment, micro-finance, at-risk youth, people with disabilities, educational technologies, Big Brother programs, affordable eye care and preventing online bullying. The only rules: all beneficiaries must be grassroots, apolitical, and support socioeconomic causes.
Furthermore, the event is held at a different venue each month, and the mix of locales and missions draws an interestingly diverse crowd.
“We had an event at a venture capital firm, and it drew a lot of the startup crowd. We had one at a community center, and many people came from nonprofits,” Talpert said. “And the different charities attract different types of people as well.”
The changing scene provides ample opportunities to network and make new friends, with new faces every month.
And, of course, there are regulars. The organization is 100% volunteer-run, and many attendees become dedicated promoters and organizers. One such volunteer, Tali Zelik, said she loved the good vibes of the events.
“I went to my first Wine Wednesday shortly after moving to Israel from Holland,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone in Israel, but now I recognize 60% of the people who come.”
Zelik said her favorite event sponsored an NGO for families that couldn’t afford proper eye care. “I have four eyes myself!” she laughed. Guests brought old glasses frames to donate, in addition to the proceeds.
At each event, a representative from the chosen NGO speaks for a few moments about the cause and exactly where the funds to be raised will go.
Another volunteer, Paul Berkowitz, said that he especially likes the very local organizations, and recalled one Wine Wednesday NGO that supported Israelis from complicated backgrounds who were reintegrating into society after serving prison time. Berkowitz recalled how one of their beneficiaries came to the event to speak about his experience of doing jail time and then, with the help of the nonprofit, going on to law school.
Wine Wednesday raises an average of NIS 7,000 per event for the night’s NGO, which Talpert said is “a massive amount for a small social startup.
Some of these small organizations don’t have professional fund-raising teams; they hardly speak English. We can help them make a big difference.”
From the 30-plus events since the very first, Wine Wednesday has raised over NIS 80,000 for charity.
But last week’s Wine Wednesday was different from all others because it was the first Wine Wednesday Global.
“Recognizing that we have developed a model that ‘works,’ we believe it’s time to share our simple but fun formula for others, so that they can raise money for important initiatives in their cities around the world – a type of opensource philanthropy,” said Talpert.
“We’re a bad business,” she added with a laugh. “We’d like to see lots and lots of competition.”
The flagship event was hosted in Tel Aviv, but 15 other mirror events took place around the globe – including in Jerusalem (at Beit Avi Chai), Rio, Nairobi, New York, Boston, El Salvador, Buenos Aires, Amsterdam, Lusaka, Berlin, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Madrid and Warsaw – raising money for charities ranging from children with disabilities in Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum, to educational programs in El Salvador. The Tel Aviv event included live Skype conversations with the concurrent Wine Wednesday in Poland and in Kenya.
This special Wine Wednesday included endless snacks, two live bands – The Quintet and Savannah and the Stringz – and an auction of Golan Heights Winery wines.
“The coolest thing tonight is seeing these Wine Wednesdays around the world, whether they’re 10 people in someone’s home or 50 in a bar or more,” said co-founder Datney.
The cause of the night in Tel Aviv was Microfy, whose mission is to help individuals from disadvantaged communities in economically depressed south Tel Aviv to create sustainable sources of income by opening and developing micro- businesses. It does so through classes, mentoring, small-business loans, and more.
One highlight of the evening was when Shana Krakowski, Microfy’s director, got up on the bar to tell the crowd about the cause they were supporting.
“There is an invisible border in Tel Aviv,” she said. “Along Rothschild Boulevard.” She described the ways in which the communities of south Tel Aviv were neglected, their potential ignored.
“The ‘start-up city’ needs to be a city for its whole population.”
She said that Microfy provides “all the kinds of training you’d get in a hub in north Tel Aviv, except [that it is made] available to the diverse population of south Tel Aviv.” Its clients are largely women, but include asylum seekers as well.
Co-organizer Luzac agreed with the others about the importance of supporting grassroots organizations. “It’s these small charities that actually mean something,” he said.
When asked about his vision for the future of Wine Wednesday, Luzac reiterated the sentiment that the board wants it to grow, to spread.
“Maybe someday they’ll take it up in Arab countries,” he said with a smile.
“Well... maybe not Wine Wednesdays. Non-alcoholic Wednesdays?”
Whether or not you’re into libations, Wine Wednesday returns in November on the rooftop of the Tel Aviv Municipality. Check out www.winewednesday.org and join in!