Abigail Klein Leichman
March 19, 2018

 Did you ever wish you could thank the nameless Israeli volunteers who fly across the globe on a moment’s notice offering assistance in response to hurricanes, forest fires, earthquakes and other mass disasters?

Now you can, and it’s as easy as clicking here.

Gratitude4Aid was conceptualized and actualized by a team of ISRAEL21c Digital Ambassadors who took part in “Telling Israel’s Story,” a two-day training and hackathon in Chicago last January attended by 25 of our student ambassadors from across America.

“We wanted to do some sort of letter-writing campaign to show that Israel doesn’t just take money but contributes to the world in an impactful way,” explains team leader Sarah Winkelman, 20, an Arizona State University political science and global studies sophomore from Chicago.

“So we decided to make a website to help people understand that. It has links to ISRAEL21c articles about all the places Israeli aid went, such as Haiti, Nepal, Japan and Mexico. People can read about the organizations and write an electronic thank-you letter to the organizations and volunteers who helped out.”

Social Action Team members Sophia Davidson, Sarah Winkelman, David Steele and Romualdo Baldonado. Photo by Nicky Blackburn

Winkelman’s Social Action Team won first prize in the 12-hour hackathon and worked hard to launch the site in time for global Good Deeds Day on April 15. (Good Deeds Day, celebrated in more than 50 countries, is itself an Israeli innovation, started in 2007 by Israeli businesswoman and philanthropist Shari Arison.)

Winkelman says she has always been passionate about Judaism and Israel. When her grandfather forwarded her an email about the ISRAEL21c Digital Ambassadors program, she felt this would be the perfect vehicle to enable her to spread that positivity. She chose to focus on social-action stories and couldn’t help but notice how often ISRAEL21c writes about Israeli NGOs and governmental agencies sending equipment and experts to communities affected by natural or manmade disasters.

Sarah Winkelman in Jerusalem. Photo: courtesy

“These stories come up every few months due to many unfortunate situations around the world. Last summer I was in Israel during the time when hurricane after hurricane was hitting [the Atlantic region]. I loved being in a country that was helping,” says Winkelman.

She’d never heard of hackathons before the Chicago retreat and doesn’t consider herself tech-savvy. “I never would have thought I could make website, let alone in 12 hours. The hackathon helped me accomplish a goal with people I never met before,” says Winkelman.

The other ambassadors helping with the project are David Steele from American University in Washington, DC, and Sophia Davidson and Romualdo Baldonado from San José State University.

They and the other 30 or so Digital Ambassadors are spreading the word about Gratitude4Aid through Jewish campus organizations worldwide.

Ari Feinstein, Outreach and Engagement Coordinator for the ISRAEL21c Digital Ambassador Program, has helped Winkelman’s team stay on task as they built the website and kept the other ambassadors in the loop.

“In January at our first-ever Digital Ambassadors Hackathon in Chicago, the Social Action Team was inspired by all the stories about how Israeli volunteers were helping those in need across the globe,” says Feinstein.

“They came up with the idea of a letter-writing campaign to thank the countless number of Israeli volunteers who travel the world saving lives. To accomplish this, they created a website that highlights ISRAEL21c’s coverage of these brave volunteers and allows everyone inspired by these stories to send a message of thanks to the volunteers for their help in times of crisis.”

This year’s Digital Ambassadors are at the following campuses: American University, Arizona State University, Binghamton University, Chapman University, California State University, Drexel University, Indiana University, Marquette University, Moorpark College, Richard Stockton University, San Jose State, Towson University, Tulane/Abroad to Israel, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA, University of Arizona, University of Florida, University of Oregon, University of Pittsburgh, University of Wisconsin, University of Southern California, Wayne State University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

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Fighting for Israel's truth

We cover what makes life in Israel so special — it's people. A non-profit organization, ISRAEL21c's team of journalists are committed to telling stories that humanize Israelis and show their positive impact on our world. You can bring these stories to life by making a donation of $6/month. 

Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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