Giving Tzedekah is Entwined In The Essence of My Soul

22 Dec

For the past week I have been writing checks. It is the time of year when every charity I have ever donated to sends me reminders. Many of them I give to throughout the year. But at the end of the year, as much as my husband and I are able, I give more: to Harvesters, the food bank; to domestic violence shelter, to organizations that help children; to Jewish charities, to schools. The list goes on and on.

I was taught that you have to give to others. Not just money but time. Volunteering is an important part of my life. In the years when I was not working, I volunteered so much that it seemed I had several jobs. Yes I do have favorite organizations I for which I do most of my volunteering. But there are many that I do one-time events when asked by friends.

My favorite volunteer job is chairing a scholarship committee for the Greater Kansas City Section of National Council of Jewish Women. I became a member of NCJW because of scholarship, and I recently realized that I have been on this committee for almost 30 years. WOW.

As chair, I keep my committee going. Our numbers had fallen. But over the past three years, I have been able to have six or seven new members join. And this past year, I have gone after even younger women. We need continuity. Keeping the scholarship committee alive and well is important to me.

Each year we provide college scholarships for almost 30 students. They come to us first as high school seniors. And if they get our scholarship, they can continue it for all four years of college as long as their grades are relatively good and they still have financial need.

Over the years we have provided many scholarships for students who are the first in their family to go to college. And many have had hardships that make the committee members want to cry. As chair I am fortunate to read all the thank you notes that they send. And see the difference we have made in the lives of these students.

I often wondered when did the importance of volunteering and helping others first become so important to me? I honestly cannot remember a time when I was not involved in something. In high school I was a Candy Striper, a hospital volunteer. In college, I chaired and served on many committees to help others, including the first ever Orientation Committee.

Even my jobs have focused on not for profit work. It is in the essence of my soul.

My father was the president of his synagogue for 11 years. I think this has to be a record! My parents helped people and taught us to care for others. It was important to them that we had a ‘gutah neshama,” a good soul. It was important to be a mensch.

A favorite saying of my Dad’s was “You have to be able to get up in the morning at look at yourself in the mirror, and like what you see.”

Giving to others; understanding Tzedakah, righteousness, was important.

My Grandparents in the Catskills in July  around 1954. It was my Grandma's birthday.

My Grandparents in the Catskills in July around 1954. It was my Grandma’s birthday.

Today I received an email that shook me up in a way and made me realize that the need to do tzedakah came not just from my parents, but also my grandparents.

Through this blog I am in contact with several people who I knew as a child in the Catskills. Several have reached out to me over the year and asked if I remember certain people or places. One reached out to me in the past week. It is someone we knew not only in the Catskills, but in New Jersey as well. His mother is still alive. And he sent me this message:

“…she (his mother) was always grateful to your grandfather for helping my parents out when my brother and I were babies:  Even though the rent on the bungalow was ridiculously cheap, my parents were broke and Mr. Amsterdam (as she still calls him) let my parents pay out the summer rent through the entire winter a little bit at  a time. Otherwise we would have been stuck in steamy Hudson County.“

I have to be honest, I cried.   My grandparents were very quiet people. But I already knew that during the Great Depression, they allowed many people to buy groceries and bread from their bakery on credit, even though they knew they would not be paid. My Mom told us the story of people coming back years later to pay their debts.

But I never knew that they had allowed people to pay off the summer rent during the year. This was a major mitzvah. The cities in the early 1950s were not safe for children in the summer time; it was the season of polio.

I always knew my grandparents were righteous people.   And I know now that giving tzedekah is entwined in the essence my soul from my parents and my grandparents.

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