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Slum-touring millionaires put off the Ritz in Israel

By MATTHEW KALMAN 12/26/2010

'Hands On Tzedakah' takes would-be donors off the beaten track to see the underbelly of society.

Ronald L. Gallatin is a retired attorney, a CPA and a former managing director at Lehman Brothers credited with creating some of Wall Street’s most ingenious investment instruments. His wife, Meryl, is a prominent philanthropist in Florida charity circles. But when they visit Israel, they prefer hanging around soup kitchens and drug addict drop-in centers rather than fancy restaurants.

Over the past seven years, the Gallatins have given more than $2 million of their own money and raised more than $4m. from friends for a charity they set up “to fill in the cracks” left by social services in the US, Israel and Latin America.

They promise donors that 100 percent of funds will go to the causes listed on their website for Hands On Tzedakah, so the Gallatins also absorb all the administrative costs of their charity, including one or more trips each year to Israel.

They use their own money to seed all the projects and then encourage their donors to identify one where their donation should be applied.

The Gallatins are just two clients of Arnie Draiman, a travel guide with a difference.

Draiman takes tourists off the beaten track to show millionaires and other would-be donors the underbelly of Israeli society, helping them target their charity where it will have the most effect.

“I want to teach them how to give their money away efficiently and effectively,” Draiman said.

He said there was an increasing interest among tourists to Israel in welfare and assistance projects – the flip-side of the sun-drenched beaches, nonstop nightlife and centuries-old religious culture projected by official government advertising.

“Our trips aren’t about museum hopping,” Meryl Gallatin told AOL News during a recent visit to Crossroads, a cash-strapped dropin center for at-risk youth in downtown Jerusalem. “We’re here to do due diligence on behalf of our donors. This is a different kind of tourism.”

Not all of Draiman’s tourists are millionaire philanthropists.

Parents bring their bar mitzva boys and bat mitzva girls to tour projects as a lesson in social responsibility.

Newly married couples, flush with their own happiness want to engage with people less fortunate than themselves. American religious and community leaders also come to Draiman to see the reality of Israeli society so they can better understand the country.

At first, some projects didn’t understand why they should host visitors who weren’t about to make a donation. Over time, they have adopted Draiman’s long-term view.

“I have countless examples of people who have visited a place and later gone back and included it in their wedding registry or a bar mitzva boy has included it in his bar mitzva project,” Draiman said.

He said the key to the attraction of his tours is the term “tzedaka” – which combines “righteousness,” “charity” and “justice.”

“I use the word in the broadest terms possible to include not only money but your time and your effort and anything that goes into making the world a better place to be,” Draiman said.

For more details, please be in touch: Arnie Draiman -- -- +972--50--515--6776.