The [Continuing] Need for Greasing the Money Wheel

[eJP note: The following blog post was shared earlier this week by Rabbi Rudolph with his congregation. We feel it is worthy of reflection.]

by Rabbi William D. Rudolph

Boker Tov.

Passover is in the rear view mirror, not soon enough for those who find the eating regimen not to their liking. Worship services were very nice and, not being a fan of bread or pasta, I loved the Chag. Now it’s on to the next observance…

It was/is the Holocaust that partly lurks behind this column, along with my new pet peeve about Jewish organizational life. Here is what arrived from the Jewish National Fund just before Shabbat, subject line “Never Again.”

Stand up and be strong in the face of anti-Semitism.

Late on Tuesday, in front of the local synagogue in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, notices were handed out by three men in camouflage uniforms and ski masks ordering Jewish residents to register with the pro-Russians or be deported to pay a registration fee of $50 before May 3 and list all real estate and vehicles owned.

The notice, which was condemned by the world as “intolerable, grotesque and beyond unacceptable,” ordered all Jews over 16 years of age to pay a registration fee of $50 before May 3 and list all real estate and vehicles owned.

“In case of failure to register, the perpetrators will be stripped of their citizenship and deported forcibly outside the country with confiscation of property,” read the notice.

The last time such notices were distributed to Jews in Eastern Europe, 6 million of our people were sent to their deaths.

This time we have the land of Israel to protect us.

Help strengthen the land of Israel. Make your voice heard.

Donate now [with their URL]

Throughout history the Jewish People have fought for the freedom to go home – home to the land of Israel. Today, thanks in large part to you and Jewish National Fund, the homeland is thriving and freedom is secure.

Anti-Semitism exists. It is our job to counter-act it, to take action, to stand up and to be strong in the face of adversity.

Be proud of our land. Be proud of the success of such a young nation. Recommit to the vitality and continued success of the land and people of Israel. Thank you for all you do for Jewish National Fund and the people of the land of Israel.

Help build the land of Israel. Make your voice heard today.

Donate now [with their URL]

There was more to the email, but it got my attention at the first “Donate Now.” I really appreciate the work JNF is doing in Israel – planting trees, doing reforestation, helping with water issues – but how does that mission flow to or from possible anti-Semitism in the Ukraine? Only if JNF thinks living in Israel is the only good response to anti-Semitism, in which case I want to see their leadership all making aliyah. No, from where I sit, the fringe activity in the Ukraine seems to have been an excuse to try to raise money for JNF from anxious Jews.

JNF is not alone in this. Between the unfortunate shooting in Kansas City and the Ukraine and Pesach, I got dozens and dozens of emails from Jewish organizations that expressed concern about one or both events or offered greetings for the Chag and ended by asking for money. Occasionally, the message fit the mission.

Young people attribute their growing disinterest in organized religion to disgust with the politics and constant requests for money that they see coming from the institutions of their faith communities. I used to chalk that up to rationalizing their disinterest but I am beginning to commiserate with them at least on the money thing. I think the culprit is not just the need for donations but the need for staff hired to do marketing and social media to justify their existence. So, any and every excuse to “get the word out” is latched onto. I worry about the consequences. A better path would be to think twice before filling our In-boxes and then stick to the mission, and let that be so compelling that it sells itself.

Rabbi William D. Rudolph is rabbi at Congregation Beth El, Bethesda, Md.