The plus side of life

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By Ilan Preskovsky

In these financially difficult times, charitable institutions have their work cut out for them – not just in the sheer volume of what they’re dealing with, but in trying to figure out the best way to help their communities. Be it conventional charity donations, interest-free loans, or sending out food or clothing parcels, there are many ways to help the less fortunate, but, as the Rambam (Maimonides) put it, the highest level of charity is building up a person so he can make a living on his own.

Such self-sufficiency is at the heart of the Chaim BePlus organisation in Ra’anana, Israel. Established in 2006 by ex-Torontonian Mindy (Wenner) Ajzner, Chaim BePlus takes the idea of “teaching a man to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime” and applies it to our contemporary reality by offering courses to young people (17 to 21) in personal financial management with the end goal of “leading the young generation of the State of Israel towards a future of financial stability and independence.”

The name literally means “Living in Plus”, as opposed to living in “Minus”, financially. So why did Mindy start the organisation? Living in Israel since 1982, she saw that, for such an advanced country, there was and is a surprising level of poverty and people unable to make ends meet. Rather than simply blaming the government or big businesses, she decided to take a long, hard look at the problem and she came to the conclusion that a major part of it is that Israelis simply don’t, as a rule, know how to manage their personal finances – vital knowledge that is taught neither in the home nor at school. So, with this in mind, she went about creating an organisation to tackle the problem head on.

Good education is often focused on increasing one’s knowledge and ability to think critically, but it can fail sometimes to provide the basic, day-to-day training of how to cope with the practical realities of life. In this sense, people who learn a trade can be at a distinct advantage over those of us more interested in, say, the liberal arts and sciences, but most young people could probably do with a crash course in personal financial management all the same. This is surely true in South Africa, but it’s perhaps even more true in a place like Israel where, with its often heavily science-oriented education, the more mundane and practical often takes second place to the lofty and ambitious. This, needless to say, has led to one of the most advanced societies on Earth, but it has also led to a society of overspending and high levels of debt – something that is actually pretty true of most developed Western countries. It is here that Chaim BePlus comes in.

Through a selection of programmes and an extensive mentorship system, Chaim BePlus trains young people in the basics of balancing their finances and takes them through the practical steps needed to do everything from opening a bank account to dealing with credit cards to reading a bank statement. It also teaches them how to save for the future and expenses, as well as general ways to save money through, for example, comparison shopping. It even offers courses to help guide students in picking a career.

Since its establishment in 2006, Chaim BePlus has provided training to some 10 000 students through a number of different educational institutions, with courses adapted to the different backgrounds and requirements of Israel’s diverse society. It caters to Jews of all stripes, to be sure, but it works just as much with the Christian, Muslim, Bedouin, and other minorities in the country as well. As one of Israel’s Ministry of Education programmes, it also caters to schools, universities, and even centres for some of Israel’s at-risk youth. With this kind of reach and being a non-profit organisation, it naturally relies almost entirely on donations for the implementation and running of its courses.

To find out more, visit http://www.chaimbeplus.org/ (which is available in both English and Hebrew).

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