We are bombarded with requests for Tzedakah (charity) and it is our responsibility to give. Many people keep their ma’aser money – which is 10 percent of their income – readily available for the many collectors who call. We may even offer those collectors that come to our door something to eat or a drink on a hot day. We have always been known as people who are generous and rarely say “no” to requests for charity.
Non-Jewish canvassers for cancer, heart disease and other charities love to collect in Jewish neighborhoods because they are rarely turned down. We, as a Jewish community, make sure that we care for those of our neighbors who are going through hard times. We make sure their physical and psychological needs are met; that they have food, shelter, and this may even mean providing Shabbos robes in some communities.
But sometimes in our desire to collect money for charity, we forget to consider that the persons we are asking to help us, may be in need themselves. Sometimes they cannot give and some empathy and a kind word is what will help them when they can’t help us. And in our desire to collect for our charity, we forget to see the need that is staring us in the face and lose the chance to do a chesed while collecting for our cause.
After years of working, despite the chronic illness, Minnie’s husband Jack finally had to stop working and go on disability. The disease had progressed too far to enable him to work even on a limited basis. Fortunately for the family, Jack had disability insurance. The policy would pay him 60 percent of his former income. Minnie was not exactly sure what that would mean in terms of dollars and cents. She wasn’t sure if their health insurance premiums would be covered or if the 60 percent was taxable. There were still too many unanswered questions about her income as they transitioned from work to disability.
It was during this month of transition that Minnie seemed to be getting a lot of telemarketing calls requesting charity. She and Jack had always given to any request for tzedakah before. Saying no because they didn’t know if they could was terribly painful, but not as painful as the response of the Jewish charity telemarketers.
Minnie told me that each caller asked her to give the same donation as the previous year. When she explained that her husband had just been put on disability and she wasn’t able to make that commitment right now, all the non-Jewish charity telemarketers seemed to say a few kind words, and wished her husband a speedy recovery. In contrast, it seemed to her, that all the Jewish telemarketers pressured her over and over to make a dollar commitment now. “Could you donate half of last year’s donation? A third? How about $18?” – all without a word of support or caring.
After finally hanging up on a few of those calls, Minnie finally confronted one. After explaining why she couldn’t commit and being pressured by the caller, Minnie finally asked, “Didn’t you hear what I just told you? My husband is no longer employed. How do you think your pressuring me to donate is affecting me?” After an “Oh,” as way of explanation, the telemarketer hung up.
Minnie decided at that point that whatever money she would be able to give, once the dust settled; she would give to the charities that had taken the two seconds to give her a kind word and a polite goodbye. Sadly, that left out most of the Jewish causes. And that is what she did until a few months later when she received another call from a telemarketer from a Jewish cause.
This time when she explained that her husband was on disability the telemarketer asked her if she could add Minnie’s husband’s name to her Tehillim list and if it was alright, the telemarketer would like to daven for him. Further, could she call back in a few weeks and see how they were doing? Minnie was taken aback. She had never experienced this caring from a telemarketer before.
Several weeks later, Minnie was further shocked when she got a follow up call from the telemarketer to ask how she was. Assuming the girl was collecting again and grateful for the bit of caring, Minnie offered to make a donation. She was shocked to discover that the girl was not collecting but calling from her wanting to know if she should keep Jack on her Tehillim list. It was because of those few minutes of human caring interaction that Minnie began to give to Jewish causes again.
We should never lose sight of the basics. Everyone is fighting some sort of battle. Sometimes those from whom we are asking help may be in worse shape than those for whom we are asking the help. Listening to the response and responding with kindness may make all the difference to them, to us and to the Tzedakah we are working for.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.