A leading Jewish female philanthropist

We should also take this opportunity to look to philanthropic role models whom we can all emulate.

Joelle Aflalo Mamane speaking with Pope Francis at the Vatican (photo credit: Courtesy)
Joelle Aflalo Mamane speaking with Pope Francis at the Vatican
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As the year 5780 dawns and we approach Yom Kippur, it is natural to reflect on past mistakes and troubles. But the Days of Awe should not only be a time to reflect backward, but to reflect forward. If you find that you were not kind enough in the past year, reflect on ways you can be kinder in the year to come. And if you were not charitable enough in the past year, begin to formulate plans on how you can give this coming year.
We should also take this opportunity to look to philanthropic role models whom we can all emulate – philanthropists in the Jewish community who are making a dramatic difference due to the innovation and cutting-edge approach they bring to their philanthropy. I, for instance, look to Joëlle Aflalo who is leading a deliberation among the key-players in Israeli philanthropy which will soon be published.
In Luxembourg, where Aflalo lives, she is well-known for her business acumen. She is a founding member and general manager of Gestman SA and a founding member of Cofidom-Gestman Sarl, Luxembourgian businesses that specialize in corporate structuring and investment engineering. In the European business world, Aflalo is known for her dedication, drive and intelligence. But the European business world is not the sphere in which Aflalo travels. Her business success was a stepping stone to her true life’s work: philanthropy.
Aflalo is a co-founder of the Matanel Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports dozens of initiatives in Israel, Europe and Africa. The Matanel Foundation carefully selects initiatives to support, looking to enhance communities socially, educationally, culturally, environmentally, scientifically and economically. Matanel Foundation then works with the creators of these initiatives to ensure they are feasible – both financially and structurally. As a mentor as well as an incubator, the organization works with these “dreamers,” most young and idealist social activists, to help them make their dreams come true. The Matanel Foundation is not just a philanthropic organization – it inspires philanthropic volunteers.
Born in Fez, Morroco, Aflalo has long felt a call to help others. Along with co-founder Gad Boukobza, Aflalo felt a calling to assist those in need. She turned her values to action after meeting with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who explained to her the realities and difficulties facing some of Israel’s neediest populations. He described poverty, intolerance and social stagnation – none of which was being properly addressed by the government. Along with Steinsaltz, Aflalo and Boukobza created the Matanel Foundation, which means “gift from God” in Hebrew. Aflalo is quick to point out that the organization is so named because all of the gifts provided through the nonprofit truly come from God - she is merely an intermediary.
For instance, the foundation supports an initiative called Tenufa Bakehila, which helps low-income families renovate their residences. And through The University for All, the foundation helps low-income people access higher education. The program, which began at just one Israeli university, has now expanded to several and has helped thousands of individuals. Through Cracking the Glass Ceiling, the Matanel Foundation helps underprivileged women and girls study STEM, breaking down the barriers that keep women from fulfilling their true potential.
And Aflalo certainly knows about breaking down barriers. Often, women are pushed to the sidelines when it comes to business and philanthropy. But not Aflalo. She is front and center. She is making a difference and changing lives.
For instance, Aflalo is very active with other organizations such as Tel Aviv University’s Boris Mints Institute, which works to find solutions to global problems, and the Conference of European Rabbis, a union of more than 700 Jewish religious leaders.
Just as women are often relegated to the back room in business and philanthropy, so too are they often overlooked in religion. But Aflalo refuses to be overlooked. She has worked ardently for many years to gain the respect of rabbis across Europe, and through the Matanel Foundation works to support Jewish communities and keep Jewish traditions from dying out. The foundation’s Mikveh Project works to build the Jewish ritual baths in European cities that no longer have them, and the Bassad Project distributes ritual Judaica items and kosher food throughout Europe. Aflalo’s dream is that Jewish adherence and tradition will be more available to Jews worldwide, regardless of their race, income, gender, and religious background.
And Aflalo does not want to be a woman alone in this venture. As mentioned above with Cracking the Glass Ceiling, Aflalo is working to raise women up to be equal partners with men. Through the Haznek L’Atid program, Aflalo helps young women from Israel’s geographic and social periphery build their own business and find their way to the world of work; this ultimately nourishes their spirit, their sense of self-worth, and their families. And through Dror High School in Jerusalem, to which many students are given scholarships, boys and girls are taught social justice, gender equality and the importance of their Jewish identity.
Aflalo is changing the world, both through her philanthropic work she does and by being a role model to young women in the Jewish community worldwide. This past June, she was named an Honory Fellow by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for her amazing contributions to the worlds of finance and philanthropy. For each student at Hebrew University and schools around the world, Aflalo should stand as a beacon of hope for the future and an example of true generosity. With her continued accomplishments in making the world a better place, Aflalo is living proof that creating radical change is possible – if one uses their resources expeditiously.
Jeremy Frankel is a pro-Israel advocate interested in Jewish life and culture.