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.
getty images
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.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

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?


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.