Faith and Fiscal Responsibility

When working in the non-profit world, one must balance financial considerations with an idealistic passion for the meaning behind one’s work.

About 15 years ago, I chose to transition from senior management in the for profit world to running non-profits in Israel. My guiding principle throughout this journey has been that the fundamentals that make a business successful are transferable.

One needs to honestly assess the strengths and weaknesses of an organization, marshal the resources available toward defined goals, communicate the mission, map out a time sequenced plan of action and methodically carry it out, pausing to evaluate and adjust course as new information becomes available.

Haredi women working at a call center.

It’s not just about making the right decision, it’s about making the decision right. Part and parcel of this approach is that endeavors need to prove themselves in the marketplace on their own merits and be allowed to succeed and fail. Our hishtadlut, our efforts, are critical in this process.

In the non-profit world, balanced with this mindset is an idealistic passion for the meaning behind our work. In the programs for which I am fiscally responsible, we are in the business of helping people make vital life choices, allowing them to grow through exploring their relationship with their Creator to find meaning.

There is an implicit faith that we are in a partnership with G-d, tending His garden, ministering to His flock. Hashgacha Pratit, Divine Providence, is that powerful extra boost guiding our actions and the results. How can we fail?

Recently, our women’s program, Shirat Devorah, had the same three students enrolled for the coming school year that we had had since spring. No matter how many times as I crunched the numbers, I kept coming to the same conclusion; without eight women, the program would expose the overall organization to a level of financial risk we couldn’t afford.

This predicament was especially difficult to face since, after a shaky start, Shirat Devorah had established itself in its first year as a quality program and a seminary for women who think outside the box. These students were not likely to find what they needed elsewhere.

Was this really the right decision? I spoke to the Rebbetzin, and although we were both sad for the loss, we understood that we had to face the financial reality. With a heavy heart, I set out on a business trip to South Africa.

Toward the end of my trip, I received a phone call saying that instead of closing, the Rebbetzin now had six women signed up for the program. Upon arriving back in Israel, we found an apartment that would serve as dorm and school. I was negotiating the lease when, overnight, we had nine women.

My wife asked me how much space we had and when I told her that we had one bathroom, she looked at me saying, “Do the math, nine women, minimum five minutes each in the morning…” As always, she had a point.

The next day, a beautiful villa in the heart of Nachlaot fell into our lap with enough space for fourteen women and three bathrooms! We signed, and opened last week with an amazing group of women, all eager to learn and grow.

As I reflected upon the trials of opening Shirat Devorah, I was reminded of the story of Sam, who wanted more than anything to win the lottery. Every day, he would pray fervently with increasing devotion until one day, exasperated, he cried out to the Almighty.

“Would it be so terrible if I could just win the lottery?” he exclaimed. The answer from above was immediate: “Would it be so terrible if you bought a ticket?”


Rabbi Yehoshua Looks is Managing Director of HaOhel Institutions in Jerusalem. Shirat Devorah is its women’s program.