The Power of the Global Pushke

by Juan Mejia

Rabbi Yehuda Hannasi said in Pirke Avot: “Be careful in performing a light mitzvah as a weighty one, for you know not the reward of each mitzvah.” In the area of philanthropy we could render his thought thusly: “Be mindful of small gifts as well as of big gifts, for you know not the impact of each gift.” Small gifts, which have the potential of being overlooked, end up silently building the lion´s share of American philanthropy, not only in the Jewish world but in the non-Jewish world. The collection platter or, in our own Jewish context, the Pushke (with its new virtual incarnations) is the mighty yet unsung hero in the world of philanthropy. Yet, in a world, in which givers are ever more increasingly controlling on where their giving goes, how can the Pushke (anonymous, small, hard to direct) continue to appeal to a new generation of donors?

One possible answer is the establishment of virtually directed Global Pushke in which small donors can help Jewish communities around the globe with concrete small gifts that address important needs in these communities. Your ten dollars can print five siddurim for an emerging Jewish community in Latin America, your five dollars can contribute to buy a mosquito net for an Abayudaya family in Uganda, your two dollars can purchase school supplies and chalk for inner city children in Israel. Such small, directed giving fulfills many of the philanthropic trends. From the side of the giver, there is the feeling of gratification in giving something that she knows is needed and whose impact she can concretely evaluate, which differs from her small gift getting lost in a cumulative pile of small gifts as happened with the traditional Pushke or the method of handling small gifts until now. From the side of the receiving communities, the impact of such small gifts will make concrete differences and will help them meet their needs. Most importantly, the fact that through this small gift we have been able to connect Jewish individuals and communities across the world in a very personal, intimate and concrete way, is an incredible catalyst for Jewish peoplehood. Gifts that have names and faces, both at the giving and the receiving end, create a strong emotional bond that might not be equaled by more impressive but less personal gifts. This might challenge the traditional anonymity desired in Jewish giving (at least according to the Rambam) but it does create a desirable side effect of closeness and strengthening of communal bonds.

Certainly, the Global Pushke will not replace or compete with the big gifts and the large scale plans of the givers or their recipients. However, I think that in this ever expanding global shtetl, this idea has the elements to appeal to a brand new breed of philanthropists. These are the people who want to give but though they could not make an impact because of their ability only to give modest gifts. These are the people who care about building Jewish community and Jewish peoplehood, but may not be inspired by traditional fundraising concerns. For these people, giving a small yet concrete, extremely personal gift to another Jew somewhere in the world may be the spark that motivates greater future involvement. Small global gifts have the power to create personal connections that do not only satisfy the needs of the one who receives, but also connects and involves the giver in the great fabric of Jewish living.

Rabbi Juan Mejía was born in Bogotá, Colombia. After discovering the Jewish roots of his family, he embarked on a spiritual journey that lead him back to the religion and the people of his ancestors. He holds an undergraduate degree in Philosophy from the National University of Colombia and a summa cum laude Master´s Degree in Jewish Civilization from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He received rabbinic ordination from the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in NY. He plans to devote his life to the Torah education of both Jews and descendants of anusim wherever they may be. He lives with his wife and daughter in Oklahoma City, OK. He was recently appointed as the coordinator for the Southwest for the Jewish non-profit organization Bechol Lashon.

Reprinted with permission from the October 2011 issue of the journal Sh’ma, as part of a larger conversation about philanthropy and tzedakah.