Charity begins at home. Which is why, when Hanna, Shipi and I returned to England, we came back to a mountain of forms, applications, invitations and pleas. Running a charity is a full-time job — and I feel like we’ve already got about six of those!
We set up the Uri Geller Charitable Foundation a couple of years ago, to give us the power to give help where we saw it was most needed. I’ve been helping charities throughout my career, and it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of showbusiness — but it’s also one of the most frustrating. I can drum up donations, I can give my earnings to worthy causes — but I can’t always direct how it is spent.
In plenty of cases, I’m happy to leave the business side to the experts. When I raise funds for the Isle of Wight zoo, for instance, I know that the animals are getting the best care imaginable… and I’m not volunteering to feed the tigers myself. As a vegetarian, I’d be happiest if all the animals were free, in their natural habitat — but as a realist I provide the best help I can.
Another example: my friends at the RSPCA know far more about the complexities of legal issues surrounding neglect and cruelty cases than my brain could ever absorb or ever want to. I leave that to them.
There are many moments, though, when my heart longs to be able to help directly. Yes, it’s mentally satisfying to have powerful contacts, to be able to open doors and influence decisions… but there’s a world of difference between knowing I’ve helped and feeling I’ve done all I could. Knowing and feeling — it’s like the difference between recognising an acquaintance is a good guy, and truly loving him as a friend.
When I visited the Schneider hospital in Israel and met dozens of youngsters who were fighting disease or recovering from bomb wounds, my heart ached. The hospital is expertly run, and the generous people of Israel give it all the support they can, but it wasn’t enough to know I was ‘doing my bit’ by entertaining the children. I had to feel I’d done everything I possibly could.
One of the girls, Inbal, who was six, told me about her cancer treatment. She was so matter-of-fact about the pain and sickness she had suffered, and so utterly confident that the doctors would make her better — it was desperately unfair that she should have to go through such an ordeal. The huge leaps in cancer care during recent years mean her chances are excellent, and she is surrounded by the love of her family. But resources at the Schnider are under intense strain, and there’s one sure way to improve the prospects for children like Inbal: more funding.
Another patient, Amnon, had been injured by a terrorist Kassam missile which fell on his hometown, Sderot. Amnon knows he will be scarred for life, but he’s brave about it: “I’m glad I have these wounds, because my dad says it’s a miracle there was anything left of me at all.”
The cowardice and stupidity of terrorists sickens me, wherever they strike in the world. One sure way to fight back is by making certain that children like Amnon get the best treatment possible.
As well as supporting the Schneider, I’ve recently been able to give funds to families of autistic children in Israel and help out with cash for individuals who need a boost. And of course that doesn’t only mean Jewish families — I am passionate about breaking down the barriers and making sure that I help as many innocent people as possible on all sides. When a party of sick children visited my home from Israel recently, I was delighted to see many Arab faces among my guests. The charity’s Hebrew name, roughly translated, means ‘Aiding Angels’ — and all those kids are angels.
One of the innovations that I managed to help put in place with the Magen David Adom, or Red Cross in Israel, means that sick and injured children and pregnant women are not subject to checkpoint delays. When a youngster needs urgent medical treatment, it’s insane to impose hold-ups and process paperwork because the child happens to be a Muslim. Of course I don’t earn a cent for my Red Cross work, but I was so worked up about that issue that I shelved a lot of my day-to-day engagements to see it through.
Back in England, one of the letters on my mat was from a single mum who had contacted me in despair a few months earlier — she couldn’t afford to buy her son’s school uniform. The boy had suffered a succession of troubles, packing more bad luck into a year than most people deserve in a lifetime. Now he was wearing schoolclothes that would make a rag-and-bone man turn up his nose.
That’s where my foundation gives me freedom. I was able to help out with a small donation, and I didn’t have to make long-winded explanations to a bank manager or the taxman. A boy needed a hand, and I was lucky enough to be able to offer it. And believe me, I’m the winner in that deal — his mum sent me a photo of her son, beaming with happiness, and there’s no greater feeling than to know you’ve put a smile on a child’s face.
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