Sky-High Charity
Tue, 11/13/2012
Staff Writer
El Al’s on-board fundraising initiative has raised vital dollars and shekels, for two Israeli institutions. getty images
El Al’s on-board fundraising initiative has raised vital dollars and shekels, for two Israeli institutions. getty images

About 45 minutes before a recent El Al flight from Israel landed at JFK Airport, the pilot made a non-flight-related announcement on the public address system. Pointing passengers’ attention to a small envelope stowed in every seat pocket, he said, “Any small change you may have can make an enormous difference in children’s lives.”

The pilot was making a pitch for “Small Change, Big Difference,” a fundraising campaign the Israeli airline conducts on behalf of two Israeli charities – Alut –The Israeli Society for Autistic Children; and the Aleh Foundation, which cares for disabled Israeli adults and children.

The envelope, Hebrew on one side, English on the other, urges passengers to “Make a wish. Fulfill one, too.”

Near the end of every El Al flight, flight attendants walk through the plane, carrying a large envelope — bearing the same design as the smaller passenger envelopes — into which men and women deposit their envelopes and loose change.

El Al started the campaign seven years ago as a one-time fundraiser with the help of Bank Hapoalim, which does not charge for converting the contributed bills and coins into shekels. Since then, the dollars and Euros and shekels and various other currencies of the lands where the airline flies have raised a total of about $2 million, evenly split between Alut and Aleh.

The “Small Change, Big Difference” campaign puts El Al in the ranks of several other international and domestic airlines that conduct similar on-board collections. Some of them collect every year for recipients like UNICEF, some of them collect on a limited basis for the victims of diseases or national disasters. Aleh and Alut proposed that El Al initiate the on-board campaign on their behalf; the airline readily agreed, and has maintained its relationship with the two organizations since then.

“The funds raised from the campaign are crucial,” says Elie Klein, an Aleh spokesman. “The spare change collected defrays the costs of everything from basic operating expenses to paramedical enrichment programs to extra curricular programming.

“At El Al’s request,” Klein says, “there is no recognition of the program at the Aleh facilities.”

The campaign’s funds most recently helped Alut establish a new rehabilitation day care center in Modi’in for children with autism. “This year, thanks to the project, Alut expanded its number of after-school social clubs for autistic children throughout the country,” Rachel Rosenman, a spokeswoman for Alut (alut.org), tells The Jewish Week in an email interview. “These clubs provide special activities suited for the autistic children, such as music therapy, animal therapy, yoga, storytelling, etc.”

Alut operates 10 centers around the country for adults with autism; at one, the adults sort and count the funds collected in the campaign and prepare them for deposit in the bank. Aleh cares for more than 650 severely disabled children and young adults at four residential facilities.

Another humanitarian program under El Al’s auspices, GlobaLY (LY is the airline’s international code), which was launched last year, donates points from its Matmid frequent flyer program to three organizations that have “strong ties to Israel”: Birthright Israel, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Israel, and The Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers. 

On the recent JFK-bound flight, Dafna, a young flight attendant a few years out of army service, handled the “Small Change, Big Difference” collection duties. While her colleagues prepared the cabin for landing, she walked the length of the plane down one aisle, then up the other, a large envelope in hand.

At one point, a middle-aged man several seats away from Dafna, anxious to make his contribution, called to her, waving his own envelope. She told him, in Hebrew, that she would take his envelope when she reached his side of the plane.

Dafna kept walking. Passengers, young and old, secular and religious, dropped their envelopes and loose coins in Dafna’s envelope.

Finally, crossing over to the other aisle, Dafna reached the balding, blue-jeaned man who had called to her. He put his envelope in Dafna’s, then took the spare change from his pocket and deposited that too.

steve@jewishweek.org