‘Heifer at Hanukkah’ empowers families

Frony Chaima from Malawi, with a heifer her family received from a Heifer International supporter

Heifer International is known for practical, philanthropic gift-giving. Since 1944, Heifer’s mission has been to end hunger and poverty through gifts that provide self-reliance. The organization currently offers 30 kinds of livestock, trees, seeds and agricultural training to needy families in 42 countries, including the United States. Donations may support the gift of a dairy cow to a family in Albania, honeybees to a young man starting his own business in Honduras, a flock of chicks to a boy in the Philippines, or the opportunity for a woman to start her own farm in India.

This year, the friendship between Jonathan Blank, a New York investment manager, and Heifer International CEO Pierre Ferrari, extended the operation to Jewish gift-giving. Blank created “Heifer at Hanukkah” when Ferrari asked him how to offer “better outreach to the Jewish community.”

Ferrari, the Heifer CEO since 2010, was born in Africa in 1950 in what was then the Belgian Congo, which later became Zaire and is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He has more than 40 years of business experience with companies ranging from Coca-Cola USA to socially oriented organizations such as CARE.

Blank, now national chairperson of “Heifer at Hanukkah,” told the AJP, “It’s a way to give a more meaningful gift on the sixth night or whatever night of Chanukah” after children have received toys or candy.

In Tucson, Charlie Goode, 16, donated to Heifer International two years ago as a member of the B’nai Tzedek Jewish teen philanthropy program of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona. “The reason why I chose Heifer International is because world poverty is a major issue we have in today’s society,” Goode explains. “By giving an animal, a family can benefit more than by giving money. It meant a lot to me because I knew I was helping families that need it. It made me feel really good about myself.”

Reaching out to Jewish donors of all ages was important in the planning of “Heifer at Hanukkah,” says Blank. “We wanted to respect Jewish donors. We removed pigs and rabbits from the “Heifer at Hanukkah” catalogue. We got Jewish celebrities to talk about tzedakah (philanthropy) and tikkun olam (repairing the world),” speaking directly to Jewish families on two short online videos (

Ed Asner, the Jewish actor best known for his roles in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and the Pixar film “Up,” and Mark Feuerstein, the star of USA Network’s “Royal Pains,” both donated their time, making one video for parents and a humorous one for children.

Appealing to other grandparents, Asner says in the video, “This year, I’m giving a cow from Heifer International in my granddaughter’s honor. She will receive the gift of giving tzedakah. Kids play with a good toy for a few minutes or a year, but this gift ends poverty here at home and abroad.”

Feuerstein says the idea of “giving people something that can help repair their economic well-being and the future of generations of their family with livestock is so beautiful. Heifer International is working to repair the world — one family at a time and one animal at a time.”