Love your neighbor as yourself

OLAM represents taking care of the global good as a basic Jewish value.

MEXICO-BASED CADENA is one of OLAM’s international partners. (photo credit: Courtesy)
MEXICO-BASED CADENA is one of OLAM’s international partners.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Sometimes it’s hard to get people to think about helping those on the global periphery when there are still problems at home, says Dyonna Ginsburg, executive director of OLAM – a coalition of 42 international service programs emanating out of Israeli society and Jewish communities around the world.
“We – as Jews – can and should be caring for our own, but our responsibility doesn’t just stop there,” she says.
“We have a responsibility to the wider humanity and we have knowledge, wisdom, expertise and resources that we can be bringing to others and working in partnership with others. That’s a different message that existed before and that’s exciting.”
“OLAM was born to raise awareness,” she says. To make the case for “why Jews should be doing this work full stop, and why Jews can and should be doing this work Jewishly.”
It provides information about a full diversity of opportunities from agricultural work in Ethiopia to educational outreach with kids in Mumbai.
A NEW initiative of the Alliance for Global Good, OLAM makes the participation in global outreach programs easier, in the hopes of encouraging more international volunteer work.
With its interactive website and streamline search tools, one can search for programs based on specified interests, duration of program, location and age group.
OLAM is radiating waves of change in and outside the Jewish community by reaching, enabling and connecting those who want to make a difference, Ginsburg explains.
Founded last March by three leading foundations: the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Pears Foundation and the Alliance for Global Good, OLAM serves as an umbrella organization to connect and the greater community of global Jewish people in service work.
Coalition partners include Hillel, the Israel Trauma Coalition, Jewish World Relief, and MASHAV – through the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
“For parts of the Jewish community, engagement in this type of work is not intuitive. They question why, with all the challenges that the internal Jewish community has, should it be involved in spending time, money and energy helping non-Jewish communities, particularly those far away,” Ginsburg says.
However, on the other hand, “there are [also many] people who feel that work is very intuitive. That this is what we should be doing as human beings, Jews and Israeli citizens. But it is not necessarily intuitive why there’s an added value to do so within a framework that enables them to be their fully expressed Jewish selves, and also involved in humanitarian and global causes,” she says.
OLAM has networked coalitions worldwide, further enabling the various outreach programs to feel more connected to the Jewish community.
Ginsburg believes that people “are really excited about the broad umbrella.”
Prior to OLAM’s launch, she says, “there were organizations that were doing amazing work on the ground and we’re now proud that they’re a part of our coalition.”
The bringing together of many individuals and organizations in niches where the Jewish community can embrace their work has added to the momentum of desire to do more.
A NATIVE New Yorker, Ginsburg made aliya in 2002 right after graduating from Columbia University. She went on to get a master’s in Jewish education at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and worked with outreach programs including Siach, Bema’aglei Tzedek and the Jewish Agency.
Standing at the intersection between Israel, Jewish values and social change, she lets us in on the origins of these passions.
“I grew up in a family that was passionate about Israel, the Jewish community and the pursuit of justice. That was something that was inculcated in me by my parents, grandparents, and part of my education both in school and out of school. I think a big part of that was the importance to just roll up your sleeves and do something to try and make your own community better.”
And that is just what Ginsburg is doing through her work at OLAM. The focus on volunteer work abroad further serves the Jewish community with long term impacts. Hoping to call more attention to global service work through a Jewish lens, OLAM makes the wide array of opportunities more available and known.
People who have volunteered abroad “come back to Israel or their own Jewish communities and they are fired up to give back. They’re more sensitive to what it’s like to work with people who are on the periphery of a community and they’re more culturally in-tuned and have learned concrete skills,” she says.
For Ginsburg, it’s not a question of local-versus-global work. “They’re so intertwined,” she says.
“Global outreach work meshes with upholding Jewish values. Jewish customs and volunteer work can be part of the same narrative and continue the chain of the Jewish values we’ve had since the very beginning of helping your neighbor.”
The Focal Point, the first large scale gathering of international Jewish and Israeli Organizations involved in global aid took place this week in Washington DC, under the auspices of OLAM. It brought together 40 organizations and global leaders including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Adam Russel Taylor from the World Bank Group, and Matt Nosanchuk, associate director of Public Engagement at the White House. Contact OLAM at