Missed Opportunities

Continuing the mitzvah of tzedakah; educating notforprofits to continue relationships with second generation donors
By Debbie Sussman

My mother, Rose Hurwitz (z”l), was born on Valentines Day and died on Christmas day. Of course the irony of that was that my mom was raised in an Orthodox home and lived an observant life. As Jews, she and my dad were very committed to fulfilling the mitzvah of tzedekah. They took their obligation very seriously and it was a natural part of the fabric of their lives. So naturally, they trained their four children to continue this ancient tradition.

Every Sunday as we left for Hebrew school, my parents would remind my siblings and me to take tzedekah for the pushke at the synagogue and my dad would match it coin for coin.

As an older child, I can remember sitting by my father’s side and, under his direction, writing checks to various tzedekah organizations that he and my mother supported. The act of putting the checks into envelopes, stamping them and sending them to a variety of places left a deep impression on me. I would ask questions about each check written to an organization and, during the course of the years, I developed my own favorites and understanding of this aspect of tzedekah.

Skip ahead 50 years. My dad died of Alzheimer’s disease at age 85 leaving my mom to continue the tradition of giving to perhaps 50 charities throughout the year. Some checks were for $36, some for $360 and others for even larger amounts.

Fast forward another nine years and on Dec. 25th, 2018 my mom passed away at the age of 94. During her last years, she had been living alternately with my sister and with me. As she received her mail at my house, I saw the dozens of requests for tzedekah that continued to pour in. Some requests came from Jewish causes and others from secular organizations.

When closing out my mom’s business matters, I wrote to each of her many charities and told them of her death. I had to write to some organizations three or four times before they finally took her name off of their mailing list. Some of these charities I remember from when I was a child, such as the organization CARE, who received multiple donations from my parents over 70 years of their life, totaling thousands of dollars.

I stated to my siblings that in addition to my regular donations, I wanted to take over some of my parents’ donations to their favorite charities, which I felt would be a fitting tribute to their memory. This has given me the opportunity to consider which ones were most meaningful to them and now to me. Their preferred charities included AMIT, Boston Children’s Hospital, the Alzheimer’s Association, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, ADL, Camp Yavneh and far too many others to mention here.

The thing that has really struck me is that only one organization wrote our family an acknowledgement after my mom’s death. Only one out of the multitude of organizations that my parents supported! Plan International sent a special note thanking my parents (and our family) for being devoted supporters all these years and expressed how much their donations have made a difference. It was a very touching letter and influenced me to decide that, although I already support this organization, I would redouble my efforts on their behalf.

Every not-for-profit organization speaks of how important stewardship is of one’s donors. The question of when stewardship should end needs to be deliberated. It may be after a person dies with a final note or it may never end if the organization chooses to continue to cultivate the relationship with the family. This is something important that should be considered in the future for nonprofits, especially Jewish organizations that, as shown in our case, missed the opportunity to send a final note of thanks and to connect to the children of donors.

One never knows what the next generation or the next or the one after that will do to say thank you and to show their gratitude for supporting an organization that is so thoughtful. Shimon [the son of Rabban Gamliel] said: It is not what one says, but rather what one does, that makes all the difference in the world. (Pirkei Avot 1:17)

And just as important to remember: it’s the menschlach thing to do.

Debbie Sussman is the daughter of Rose and Joshua Hurwitz, z”l, and the immediate past Director of Camp Yavneh, Northwood, NH. debbiesus@gmail.com