Guest column / A rabbi's message about giving touches all faiths
Published 7:10 am, Tuesday, December 20, 2011
`Tis the season once again not only to make the retailers happy but to reflect on the spirit of giving. Sharing joy is the core of all faith traditions. At happy times, it's especially good to share with individuals in need and organizations that do good.
In addition, the end-of-the-year tax incentive creates a timetable to consider how generous we have been during the past year and how much more we can do. Being charitable at any time is important and appropriate, but there are some practical implications around Dec. 31 that do factor into the choices we make.
I've had a couple of interesting conversations recently with folks who prefer to give anonymously -- individuals and couples who have been very generous but wish to keep their gifts private. Noble for certain! In fact, anonymous giving is the second highest rung of ladder of sacred giving outlined by the 12th-century Jewish sage Maimonides. (Helping someone find a job or providing self sustaining means is the highest).
The flip side of being anonymous is that it deprives others of knowing of a giver's commitment and leadership to a particular cause. Sometimes when we look at the list benefactors' names, we say, "If that person is so generous, maybe I should be as well." Putting a public face or name on one's philanthropy inspires others to do good. I'm not suggesting that the anonymous giver is doing something inappropriate (quite the contrary), I'm just suggesting there is also virtue in letting others know how generous you are.
In this season of giving, there is also something important that parents can do. I'm a big believer in teaching our children -- the next generation of givers -- that making donations is part of what we do. We tend to write checks or make contributions online when the kids aren't around. I think we should celebrate our generosity and be certain that our children know what we're doing.
Rather than giving gifts during one night of Hanukkah -- or in the days just before or after Christmas -- why not take all the solicitation letters we receive at this time of year and have a family meeting to discuss and teach about the organizations we choose to support. That way our generosity can shine brightly at all times of year and we can share a powerful lesson about the importance of charitable giving.
Rabbi James Prosnit lives in Fairfield and is the spiritual leader of Congregation B'nai Israel, a Reform temple in Bridgeport where more than 300 Fairfield families worship.