Arrivals: Innovative thinker

Danni Franks always wanted to come back to Israel, and when she did she decided to do her part for ‘tikkun olam.’

Danni Franks (photo credit: Courtesy)
Danni Franks
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘My life hasn’t gone the way I dreamed it would when I was young,” says Danni Franks, 40, founder of MyIsrael, who made aliya in 2004.
But it is said without a twinge of regret. After all, why should someone who created and built a vibrant charity which helps Israel have any regrets? MyIsrael was founded five years ago, several years after Franks made aliya. Like all brilliant and innovative ideas, it is basically simple. Its aim is to bridge the gap between donors in the UK who want to give to Israel and the small Israeli charities they may never have heard of. Through MyIsrael they can direct their contribution to a charity which is close to their heart instead of sending it to a large, faceless organization which collects money for Israel.
Franks arrived here in December 2004, going straight to Tel Aviv and enrolling in an ulpan. Ever since she was a schoolgirl participating in a five-month program at Givat Washington, through her London school, JFS, she wanted to come back.
She had studied psychology at Bristol University and after graduating went straight into media marketing, working for Disney in the UK, Sky TV and other companies.
Once here she found work in several non-profit organizations, but the idea for MyIsrael was forming in her mind.
“I knew I wanted to stay in the non-profit field and make a contribution to society,” she says. The idea for MyIsrael came to her through a serendipitous meeting at the Jacob’s Ladder folk-music festival in May 2005.
“I met a girl called Caryn Green who ran a center for English-speaking youth at risk in Jerusalem called ‘Crossroads,’” she recounts. The life-saving work helped up to a thousand youths a year and Franks was upset when she heard how difficult it was to raise money for such a worthy cause.
“When she told me no money was contributed from England I was totally shocked,” she said. “I told her that one day I was going to help her – I didn’t know how as I had no money – but I would think of something.”
Three years later, MyIsrael allowed her to keep that promise. Through MyIsrael UK donors could give to small charities in Israel that had previously fallen under the radar.
“I wanted to create something without bureaucracy, something easy and direct, which would be meaningful to potential donors,” she says.
To illustrate how it works, Franks tells the story of a woman who came to her saying that as her son had been greatly helped with his communication problems by a UK organization, she wanted to make her donation to something similar in Israel. MyIsrael was able to direct her donation to the right charity.
In the course of her work she comes across many well-meaning causes run by idealistic people trying to help but who have difficulty dealing with the bureaucratic and business side of things. One such is Re- Specs, started by an Australian immigrant to recycle spectacles no longer in use to give to people in need.
“She set up the whole operation on her own but didn’t know how to present a budget,” explains Danni.
“We explained how to work with Excel and helped with the organization as well as donating money.”
Three years ago Franks gave birth to her son, Yoni, and they now live in a rented apartment in the heart of Tel Aviv.
“There’s a real community of English-speaking single mothers here,” she says. “Many of us are without family here and we help each other out.”
While raising a child alone is hard, she feels very blessed to have Yoni and has a philosophical attitude to being alone.
“All mothers are single moms during the day anyway,” she says cheerfully. “Sometimes it’s difficult not getting emotional support from a partner, but this is how it worked out and I do the best I can.”
One of the things that bothers her about living here is the huge gap between the religious and the secular.
“I don’t fit into either camp,” she says. Soon she will have to choose and decide whether to send her son to a religious or secular school since in Tel Aviv there is no school offering a middle way.
“Most traditional people like me choose the secular option,” she says. “So it’s really sad because being in Israel actually makes them less religious.”
For Franks this is a serious problem.
“I truly believe that one of the reasons Israeli society malfunctions is as a result of the huge gap between the religious and the secular,” she says. “If only there were something in the middle that was not abhorrent to the other side, I believe it would make a difference.”
For the moment she has to be satisfied with her own contribution to tikkun olam (mending the world) with the creation of MyIsrael, which does so much good in our world.
“I can’t quite believe I did it,” she says.