By KINZEY POSEN
Every May, Gerald Brounstein leaves his law practice in Israel, gets on a flight to Canada and makes his way to Kamsack, Saskatchewan where he fires up his tractor, to seed the fields.
He’s been doing it for years……..farming the family farm. Meanwhile, his wife Naomi - back home in Ra’anana, runs a successful charitable organization with her co-founding partner Vivi Mann, paving the way for a brand new approach to helping Israelis in need. Welcome to the lives of Gerald and Naomi Brounstein.
In 1993, while living in Toronto, Gerald, who was born in Kamsack and grew up in Regina, and Naomi, who hails from Hamilton, decided to make aliyah with their three young children. It was a natural move for a couple who both grew up in Zionistic and traditional Jewish homes. Upon arriving in Ra’anana, Gerald went through nine months of articling to be able to practice law in Israel while Naomi, who is also a lawyer, took care of the children and explored volunteering. She also found time to take her master’s in social work at Tel Aviv University.
Fast forward to 2017 - the Brounstein family, still living in Ra’anana, now consisting of six members, with the youngest child serving in the IDF, one an ordained rabbi, another a professional musician, and one a specialist in special education. Three years ago, Noami and her longtime friend, Vivi Mann, came up with a new take on charitable giving - a concept that allows the donor to know exactly where their donation goes and the effect it has on the recipient family. The idea is simple and extremely transparent. It all takes place online, where donors donate any amount they want, up to, but not more than $1500. On the site, donors see specific cases of Israelis-in-need and they decide which of the posted cases they would like to help. It could be the purchase of a fridge, a stove, eyeglasses or medical equipment. These are real items for real people in need. It’s a variation of crowd funding - and a very effective means of raising money for specific needs.
The process starts with Israeli social workers identifying cases where their clients could benefit and submitting an application and case history to Ten Gav. From there, a committee evaluates the request. The name Ten Gav, by the way, which is Hebrew for give back, is a play on words, as it can also mean “I’ve got your back” or “You’re protected.”
In a world where many charities are faceless and the donors don’t know exactly where their money goes, Ten Gav ensures that all the money raised goes only to the case the donor identified. There’s also an option to let Ten Gav decide where it would be most needed. The co-founders do not take a salary and administrative costs for two part time employees and rent comes from monies raised from other donors.
To date, Ten Gav has helped 500 families through 900 donors. Over 50% of those who give are Israelis originally from North America. Over time, Ten Gav has developed a caring network of suppliers who are sensitive to the client’s needs and help by waiving shipping costs.
When asked which cases stand out, Naomi recalled the story of an impoverished family whose cupboards and pantry collapsed in their home, almost killing their young son. Ten Gav was able to provide new ones that were well made and safe. Or there was the case of an 84-year-old woman who spent much of her working life as a seamstress, also managing a program to help Ethiopian immigrant women. Her social worker observed that she was suffering from depression and suggested that having a sewing machine might help her. It did indeed.
Naomi says she finds inspiration from being able to assist people who might get lost between the cracks of the Israeli social system and how her efforts bring her in touch with a segment of Israeli society she might not normally interact with. She and Vivi are constantly looking for ways to improve the process and increase donorship. For instance, upcoming Bar and Bat Mitzvahs can work with Ten Gav to find a meaningful tzedakah project that will help them find a connection and a way to support Israel. To learn more about Ten Gav, go to www.tengav.org
Gerald’s career on the other hand, requires him to split his time among three countries. When he’s not practicing corporate and commercial law in Israel and New York City, he’s farming in Saskatchewan. He comes by his love for working the land honestly. Gerald’s great-grandparents farmed in Ukraine in the late 1800s, but were driven off their land by pogroms. His grandparents and their 10 children made their way to Canada, first arriving in Montreal where they made a living by peddling. From there, they moved to Winnipeg and got involved in the livery business.
Gerald’s grandfather eventually bought land in the Kamsack area of Saskatchewan, just northwest of Roblin, Manitoba, where the Brounstein family ran a mixed farm with cattle, horses and grain. They lived in the town of Kamsack. In 1966, when Gerald was six, his family moved to Regina in order to be closer to a larger Jewish community. Gerald’s dad went on to become the agriculture representative in the area - the liason between the government and the farmers in regard to education and benefits.
Gerald went on to study at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, then moved to Toronto, where he studied law at Osgoode Hall. While at school, he met Naomi at the Jewish Student Federation. All this timeGerald’s father continued to run the farm. In fact, his dad ran the farm with local help into his 90s. Gerald found himself being pulled more and more back to the farm and realized he had a deep passion and connection to the land.
What does it take to be a successful farmer these days? Gerald says you need to be a computer geek, a mechanic, an agriculturist and be financially savvy as well. Besides the love of working the earth, it’s a business that requires motivation, thought and commitment. These days, Gerald commutes every two weeks between Israel and Manhattan, practicing law. In May, he packs his overalls and arrives at the farm for seeding and returns again in July, staying until September for the harvest. He breaks for the High Holidays back in Israel and then returns to the farm for fertilization. His law practice doesn’t stop, as he fields calls from clients even while driving the tractor - when possible.
Gerald says his lifestyle is not that unusual for some Israelis. He knows of other people who commute to Europe, Asia and the U.S. for their jobs. It’s just the reality for some to in order make a successful living in Israel. When Gerald recites the Hebrew prayer for rain, he’s not kidding.