Tzedakah Ain't Just for Jewish Millionaires

Regular Folks Can Do Serious Good Deeds on Modest Budget

Big-Hearted Macher: Steven Spielberg, shown with his wife Kate Capshaw in Cannes, France, is one of many philanthropically minded Jews. Their generosity doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t chip in.
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Big-Hearted Macher: Steven Spielberg, shown with his wife Kate Capshaw in Cannes, France, is one of many philanthropically minded Jews. Their generosity doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t chip in.

By Jordana Horn

Published May 19, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.

Whether it was implicitly or explicitly taught to me, I don’t remember, but somehow, I always knew: The people who hold the Torahs during the reading of the Kol Nidre prayer are the congregation’s big machers.

A few years ago, as I stood at Kol Nidre, my eyes swept over the bimah. Even I, a comparative naif in such things, recognized a few faces as belonging to multimillionaires, if not billionaires. Obviously we were supposed to be looking at the Torah scrolls, and inward at our own souls. But there they were, on a stage before me, literally lifted above the rest of us.

Gross, I know. But even more so was my reaction when, within a half-hour, the rabbi began his Kol Nidre appeal speech, detailing the congregation’s financial needs. Any one of the people who had been on the bimah shortly before, I thought in silent response, could easily write a check that would resolve those needs — a check whose size I guarantee that I will never able to write in this lifetime.

We are fortunate, as a Jewish community, to have the Spielbergs, Bronfmans, Steinhardts, Perelmans, Lauders, etc., all of whom are paragons of both success and philanthropy. The underbelly of prominent philanthropy, however, not often discussed, is that those with $36 rather than $36 million to give may feel there is “no point” to their contribution. After all, their comparatively small drop in the bucket is not necessary when there are those who can and do fill buckets to overflowing.

Prominent wallets and donors within the Jewish community can sometimes have the unfortunate byproduct of absolving the “schlubs,” — the proletariat, us — from a financial obligation to tikkun olam and tzedakah. And this goes against everything we should stand for.

There is much to be said, then, for the good work done by ”micro-tzedakah” outlets like the Good People Fund, a Jewish micro-charity fund that looks to extend hands of financial support to smaller organizations that would otherwise be overlooked by big funders.

The Good People Fund’s executive director, Naomi Eisenberger, said that her organization’s very focus is the ability to allow people with all ranges of means to make a difference.” Why can’t the era of Kickstarter and Indiegogo — ways in which individuals can finance individuals and their projects — be applied to our modern tzedakah mentality, as well?



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