By Harriet P. Gross
I’m in Israel while you’re reading this!
No, I haven’t written a column here and sent it by e-mail for virtually instantaneous inclusion in today’s paper. I’m not really a fan of such things at a time like this. Here with my husband for a playing-tourist holiday, I’m enjoying the homeland we haven’t visited for far too long, and ignoring anything that smacks of deadlines (except, of course, for connecting with friends and family members here).
I’m sure I’ll have lots to tell you when I get back. But this was written before I left, so I could tell you this in advance.
In my wallet, I have two neatly folded dollar bills. The first was given to me by a local rabbi when I told him about our forthcoming Israel trip. “Let me give you some tzedakah,” he said, opening up his own wallet and taking out a George Washington. No destination specified, and no promise that a single dollar would do much good anywhere, all by itself. But the idea was, of course, that it wouldn’t be all by itself.
I was immediately reminded of Danny Siegel and his Ziv Tzedakah Fund, which started almost 30 years ago in just this same simple way: He was going to Israel, and friends gave him small amounts of money to take and do some good with. A movement came out of that. Today, Danny is a recognized expert on, a spokesman for, an author about, microphilanthropy. A dollar here, a dollar here, can “change the world to a more menschlich place” — a quote that www.dannysiegel.com attributes to Mort Meyerson, who also believes that such personalized tzedakah is a tikkun olam force to be reckoned with.
A bit before leaving on this trip, I spent several days with delegates to the Intracontinental Region Conference of the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, meeting in Dallas. When I mentioned how soon I’d be in Israel, one of them opened up her purse and her wallet, pulled out a dollar bill and handed it to me. But first, she crumpled it up into a wadded ball.
“Do you know why you should do this when you give money to someone going to Israel?” she asked. I had to admit I was mystified. “That’s to remind you that this bill is for tzedakah, so you won’t spend it on anything else.” I’d never heard that before, but it makes sense. I refolded it as neatly as I could and tucked it into my own wallet with the rabbi’s dollar; it still showed the rumples to remind me that it, and its companion, were destined for a pushke, not some stall in the shuk.
Women’s League has a great project called Mitzvah Yomit — “A Mitzvah a Day” — with many good suggestions for simple ways to live more Jewishly. Under tzedakah, it notes that there are worthy destinations for gently worn clothing and old eyeglasses and cellphones, that schools in low-income neighborhoods will benefit from book donations, that everyone participating gets a healthy personal payoff from walking or running in a charity race. How about parting with your “souvenir” prom dresses, maybe even that carefully preserved wedding gown, giving them new life while bringing joy to indigent schoolgirls and an impoverished bride?
Or maybe you can donate some air miles to bring an inspiring speaker to your club or community — maybe someone like Danny Siegel, to talk about what he’s learned in three decades of small-scale tzedakah that adds up big-time.
As I write this, those two dollars are still waiting, folded in a corner of my wallet where they won’t get mixed up with anything else. And as you read this, I haven’t taken them out yet. There are plenty of places to give here, lots of good causes, many people in need. I’ve been dropping my own dollars into assorted pushkes for a week; we’ll be here a while longer, and I’m saving these for last.
Once, in the Auckland, New Zealand, airport, I dropped all my remaining Australian change into a bin labeled “The Phobic Trust”; I laughed at how peculiar the name sounded in American English, but appreciated the fact that coins collected in that public place go to help some of the mentally ill escape their private hell.
Before we board at Ben-Gurion, I’ll find a worthy collection point for all my remaining shekels. And when I get back, I’ll let you know where those two dollar bills found their happy home.