I find it difficult to ask people for money, but when it is for the sake of a mitzvah, then Hahem gives me the inner resources (no pun intended) to approach people and request tzedakah.
For example, I was on a committee to organize an annual Chinese auction, whose proceeds go for the mitzvah of helping out indigent brides. I volunteered to be in charge of the prize committee. I asked just about everyone I knew, or didn’t know, about offering a free service or prize. I even called up my babysitters and asked them if they would donate some free babysitting hours. My husband would joke that if anyone I knew would see me, he/she would cross the street (to the far side)!
One day, at the supermarket I ran into someone with whom I had volunteered when we were both single. (We had been counselors on Shabbat programs for not-yet-religious Jewish youth.) I asked him what he was up to, and he told me that he is in the food importing business. Losing no time, I made my pitch about the Chinese Auction, and immediately he offered prizes running into hundreds of dollars. For years he continued to donate cases of American-made kosher food to the Chinese auction.
Another time, over a decade ago, a neighbor named Malka, who runs an organization which helps single and divorced mothers and their children, asked me if I have any rich relatives or friends from whom I could ask for funds. I told Malka that I would think about who I know and see if I could come up with something. After mulling it over for a while I thought of a wealthy great-aunt who lived in New York. I proceeded to write her a letter (remember those?), in which I described how this very worthwhile tzedakah helps the lives of widows, divorced women and their children. Malka was attempting to raise $11,000 for a four-day summer vacation for these families.
One erev Shabbat, my husband Abe came upstairs to our apartment with the mail. He showed me a letter and a check from my great-aunt. I told him that the check was not for us, but for Malka’s group. I glanced quickly at the check and I read $1,100. Not bad. I read the letter which my aunt had written and it went something like this: “We have our usual charities that we give to, including the school for fashion and design that we founded in Israel, so the only reason I’m sending a check is because you asked me, Adina.” I looked at the check again and I saw $11,000!
Several years ago I had an experience that was a humbling one. A friend’s mother was sitting shiva for a sister. Even though the parents don’t really know me well I decided to pay a shiva visit. I went to their apartment with our youngest child at the time. Usually at the home of a mourner, the front door is open and one comes in without expecting someone to “let” him in. Since my friend’s parents are “yekkies” and since the door had no sign on it, nor was the door ajar, I decided to knock. My friend’s father opened the door and handed me a few coins. Since he didn’t remember me he assumed that I was collecting tzedakah for myself. It was such a degrading feeling. This experience gave me a window into the feelings of those who collect tzedakah for themselves.
I once read an article about people who fundraise full time. I would not want to be in their shoes. I can think of much easier professions. Many of them are on the road for months at a time. The separation from their families is very difficult. Not everyone gives, and there are givers who do not do it with a smile. On the other hand, there are people who donate money generously and with a smile.
Years ago, I heard a taped Torah lecture by Rabbi Mordechai Perlman, and there was an important idea which should help all of those involved in fundraising for a Torah cause. In 1953, Rabbi Perlman’s grandfather went to see the Brisker Rav in order to get a letter from him that would help Rabbi Perlman’s grandfather in his fundraising efforts. His grandfather wanted to collect funds in the U.S. to be used in the fight against missionary activity in Israel. The Brisker Rav asked him, “Why in the Torah portion of Terumah, when Hashem tells Moshe to ask B’nai Yisrael for donations to build the Mishkan, does Hashem say, ‘…that they take for Me an offering?’ Should Hashem not have said, ‘…that they give Me an offering?’ The commentator Sforno comments that G-d is telling Moshe to appoint gabbaim (collectors) to take the donations. Jews are generous. They need someone willing to collect. If there will be people collecting, there will be people willing to give.”
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