By Sherri W. Morr
How much would you donate if you thought it would change your own life? How much would you donate if you thought it would change someone else’s life?
How much would you donate if you thought it would improve an institution? Or an organization. How much would you donate if the money would enable a new building?
How much would you donate if you visited the asking institution three times a year? How much would you donate if you were a regular or frequent user of the institutions services?
Does it matter who asks you? Do you prefer to be asked in public? In private? On line? On the phone? In the mail?
Does it matter at all? Does it not matter because you know that you are giving already? That you are not giving, no matter what the circumstances of the ask?
My sense is these questions and others like it have been talked about most recently in the last months ( perhaps even part of Elul prep) as the high holidays approached, took place, and now are gone until next year when most likely the same discussion will take place. On the other hand perhaps these conversations should take place; perhaps it’s an area the Jewish world could learn from in that they spoke to each other (i.e. collaborate) about what works or not.
It’s hard in the Jewish world to go through this annual High Holiday appeal. To every year try to decide how to ask, who to ask, when to ask, and most importantly who should be the asker. In the middle part of the 20th century who did the asking was by far the most important. This because we mostly believed ‘people gave to people’. That meant the most intelligent, the most knowledgeable, and the most emotional and yes even the most rabbinic/scholarly person should be the asker because they stand tall as perhaps the most respected in their community. They can honestly claim, “Hey listen, I am giving and so should you.” Another popular phrase made by a major donor, is the phrase… “No matter what you are giving, it is not enough. We are grateful, but it is just not enough to educate the children in the day school and the religious school, and their parents in adult education.”
During the largest three day attendance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, using shame, guilt, promises and threats all combined, are designed to produce you the participant turning down the tab with the most zeros.
In the 1970’s after the Six Day War, every solicitation of any merit had to do with building the Jewish State. Israel was the highest priority of the day. One orthodox synagogue would not begin its Kol Nidre until everyone had turned in an envelope.
Many high holiday solicitors fend off boredom by making jokes about the no cost Shabbat lunch, or the support they received when their beloved parents succumbed at 97. Simchas and tragedies galore. The participants laugh at the humor and are happy to listen but rarely does it result in more zeroes.
Because many Jewish institutions are closed for the high holidays they must rely on the mail and the phone. Emails on social media scream at you…“don’t let this holiday go by without providing care of elderly Holocaust survivors.” Those in the US mail have so many pages of why give, how to give, and by the way don’t forget to sign up for the Chanukah Israel Tour; these requests invariably hit the round file before or immediately after opening.
We try to be more inventive … In the Jewish press in LA interviews are conducted with persons of note … who would you invite to your break the fast, or to your Succah? So we may have possible invitees from Anne Frank to Mel Brooks. It will not raise money unfortunately.
There are numerous gimmicks, cool ideas, and suggestions for how to donate and see your dollars at work by being involved. Giving money makes you feel good; it validates your accomplishment and success; it actually can make you like yourself a lot.
As one who believes in giving as an investment, who actualizes giving and involvement along with feelings and transfer of strength and empowerment, the way to give that insures Jewish longevity, dedication, and commitment is…
This institution has changed my life, and how our family lives. We connect. We participate. We observe. We study. We learn and we socialize. We are better people for it.
At Ikar in Los Angeles my husband and I recently donated to ‘Laundry of Love,’ a program to enable people who are homeless to have money to go to the laundromat and wash their clothes. Pretty simple premise. Easy to imagine how much better one would feel wearing clean clothes. Clean clothing is something most of us take for granted, probably do not even think about. It’s an easy give, especially for young people who are not homeless, have jobs and are just beginning to feel and experience what it means to be part of a community. At Ikar if nothing else one feels part of a community, a major reason for their success in bringing young people back to Jewish life.
My belief is that if every Jewish institution who asks on the high holy days would connect giving to connecting, many more would enjoy giving. Being able to give makes one proud and happy. Teaching how to give should be a priority of every Jewish institution. My parents’ synagogue (and maybe your parents also) did not consider that. My parents were the generation of immigrant children. Most started off poor and striving, working hard to supersede poverty and illiteracy. Most succeeded just by virtue of their daily life styles.
My suggestion (again not rocket science) is to create an ongoing culture of giving. Not just money you understand but giving of your time and resources. Take an elderly person to a medical appointment; help out at the early childhood center, make calls to encourage attendance at an event (I am going, come with me), deliver meals to the sick and homebound. The causes are endless, the good feelings equally so. Then next year during Elul prep and the high holidays giving becomes just as easy and pleasurable as enjoying the sweet apples and honey.
Sherri has spent the last several decades working and consulting in and out of the Jewish community. Most Recently she was the Director for the West Coast for the American Society of University of Haifa. Prior to this she was director for the Western States for 12 years at Jewish National Fund.