Tag Archives: charity

I miss the Nigerian prince

It’s been years since a Nigerian prince offered me untold riches if I would supply him with my banking information. It’s also been some time since someone was robbed in Europe and couldn’t get back home unless I sent money. Today, cries for help are coming from ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jews by way of Monsey, New York.

The latest is from Reuven Boltin, a resident of Modi’in Ilit, Israel. He says that he is fighting for his life and needs “…NIS 40,000 ($10,500) a month” for medicine.

He makes quite the case. Included in the mailing is a letter from his local Rabbi attesting to his need, and an official-looking clinical summation from the Oncology Institute Clinic. Both documents also appear in their original Hebrew (I assume) to give the appeal the appropriate verisimilitude. The mailing came with an envelope that has a Monsey, NY, address in case you want to send a check.

While I am normally an empathetic person, this missive just made me mad. Why, you ask? I suspect the answer is guilt—with a smattering of fear.

Guilt, because the letter elicits no sympathy from me, and maybe it should. It begins, “My Dear Fellow Jew.” They’ve got that part right: I am, indeed, a Jew. But I am an American Reform Jew, which is a far cry from an Israeli ultra-Orthodox Jew. Modi’in Ilit is a Haredi community, a group “…characterized by a distancing from post-modern secular culture,” according to Wikipedia. I know very little about Israeli Haredim except that they are typically insular groups who practice their religion guided by the ultra-Orthodox equivalent of my way or the highway. I find it antithetical that they would not shake my hand because that is too intimate, but they can ask me for money.

The fear comes from being identified as a Jew by an unknown third party. It’s not that I mind being Jewish, as a matter of fact, I’m quite proud to be a member of the tribe. Look, here I am, outing myself to all you readers as a Jew! But there’s something ominous about getting a letter from someone I don’t know, preying on my Judaism.

I suppose the 64,000-dollar question is, is Reuven Boltin, of Modi’in Ilit, Israel, really ill? The url for donations (www.tovvchesed.org/boltin-fund) makes one think that there must be a www.tovvchesed.org, but one would be wrong. The url takes you directly to a PayPal page and there is no tovvchesed.org. There is, however, a .com by that name, which purports to support needy children. At that site, there is also a link for “special situations” that reads, “At Tov V’Chesed, we stand at the sides of our families through the unexpected financial struggle that results from a medical crisis by ensuring that the daily needs of the suffering family is [sic] provided for until they are zoche to welcome their family member back home in good health.”

So maybe it’s not a scam. Maybe Reuven Boltin, of Modi’in Ilit, Israel by way of Monsey, NY, really needs help. If he does, I hope he gets it. I’m waiting for my prince.

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Relay for life

If you have kids in high school, or a family member with cancer, you may be familiar with the American Cancer Society fund raiser, Relay for Life. I was only vaguely aware of it because my nephew had been hitting me up for a donation for the past few years. Now I’m an expert because this year my daughter participated. I not only donated to the cause, I chaperoned the 6pm to midnight shift.

The event, you see, is an overnight affair. It takes place on the track behind the high school. Teams pay to participate, raise money, and then put up tents and canopies, bring food and sleeping bags, and spend the night circling the track, hanging with their friends and generally entertaining themselves as only teenagers can.

This year, it rained. And it rained, and it rained, and it rained. I was prepared, but miserable.

The first lap around the track was reserved for the cancer survivors who attended the event. Everyone else filled the field of turf in the center, clapping as the survivors passed by. I was surprised to see familiar faces walking the track. For the next lap, the survivors were joined by their caregivers, and again we watched and applauded. Then everyone else flowed onto the track and the laps began in earnest – for a while. The organizers intended to have at least two members of each team walking at all times, but in fact it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t matter; the money’s been raised.

The kids were undeterred by the relentless downpour. They began the evening with their hoods up and their slickers zipped. Before long, however, they shed their outerwear, and many their shoes, deciding that it was easier to be wet than try to stay dry. Out came the soccer balls, the field hockey sticks and the volleyballs. The turf inside the track was full of bodies playing, slipping, sliding and laughing, while around the track, people walked, alone or in pairs or clusters.

For the first hour, I stood dutifully, holding my umbrella. Then I retired to what I hoped was a dry folding chair under our canopy. It was not, but with some creative draping I managed to keep my rear end relatively dry.

After cowering under the canopy for a time, I was coaxed out for the ‘luminaria’ service. Each team member held an inactivated glow stick. The organizer talked about how many people had been lost to cancer and how much we all wanted to cure it, etc., and then instructed the assembled to crack (thereby lighting) their glow sticks. Next, the emcee invited all those who had lost a parent to cancer to walk to a tall, translucent bag hanging on a frame, and drop in their glow stick.

I was shocked at how many kids flowed up to the bag. And how many more walked up for siblings, grandparents, other family members and friends. Teenagers all around were dabbing their eyes, hugging each other, and crying; gone for the moment was the need to act too cool for emotions. It was all laid bare, and it was terribly moving.

I hated being there in the rain. I couldn’t wait for midnight so I could go home. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Teach your children well

I always thought of myself as a generous person. I have a list of charities that I donate to annually, and I respond to all kinds of stray petitions throughout the year. Then I got laid off and discovered that what I really am, is a fair-weather contributor. Last year, I cut several of my annual contributions in half, sponsored only one friend in the Pan-Mass Challenge instead of two, and hardened my heart against the General Israel Orphans Home. Rather than feel good about what I gave, I feel ashamed about what I didn’t give.

While my loss of salary doesn’t create a financial hardship for my family per se, it’s hard to ignore the fact that it does substantially reduce our combined income; hard for me, anyway, not my better half. He continues to donate to his chosen charities generously. He doesn’t think we give enough; cutting back on my giving is not something he encourages.

Some of the wealthiest Americans, like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett, have signed ‘The Giving Pledge.’ They’ve agreed to give away half their wealth. That’s mighty impressive. Of course, most of their wealth is ‘on paper,’ and not the kind you spend at the supermarket. If Andrew and I gave away half of our wealth, it could jeopardize our ability to eat during retirement, or buy the dentures we’ll need to do it. Given that medical expenses are the single biggest cause of personal bankruptcies, how can you even know how much you’ll need to retire? Who’s to say that near the end I won’t be tin-cupping outside the General Israel Orphans Home to pay my medical bills?

I’m not trying to make excuses for my recent charitable parsimony, I’m trying to understand it. Apparently financial well-being is as much a state of mind as a reality. I’m confident that when my mind catches up to my reality, I’ll loosen the purse strings again.

In the meantime, our daughter’s allowance is provided with the following caveats: twenty-five percent has to go into long term savings, and twenty-five percent has to go to charity. She puts the money aside and makes her charitable donation at the end of the year. This past year, she had enough to buy a pig through Heifer International. (Pigs provide, “…a valuable source of protein, income from the sale of offspring and manure to nourish crops and soil and increase crop yields.”) Our hope is that charitable giving becomes a habit for her, even if some years all she can afford is a flock of chicks.