Where Do You Give?

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On the 4th Night of Chanukah: The Vanishing Ghosts of Giving Past

I heard once that ghosts are what you see out of the corner of your eye, what creeps into your peripheral vision when you aren’t expecting it or when your guard is down. If this is true, then i spent the ages of 7 to 11 being haunted by a Tzedekah box.

Before I quit Hebrew school, the blue and white Jewish National Fund box was something I associated with my seemingly wealthy classmates, who regularly deposited money in them . Giving, in spite of what was drilled into our heads by Hebrew school teachers, had nothing to do with me, or my family’s life as Jews. While my mother organized her life as a single parent around cultivating the appearance of having money,  which had mainly to do with wanting to give off the impression that she was not only surviving, but being well appointed.

Years later, as someone whose identity has been informed by the issues of class, I approach giving with some skepticism and discomfort. My inclination is to regard giving as a dismissive act, literally throwing money at a problem and then believing that you’ve done enough, of never having to actually interact with the folks to whom we give money, not having to process the power and privilege that comes with being able to give and then, to walk away.

These days, though, I’m trying to reconsider. The organizations I love, who are doing the truly radical, ruckus starting work, need money to continue. If my goal is actually to reevaluate and redistribute power, then my money needs to support that work. Giving is also a feminist act, in which women exercise power and autonomy over money, pushing past conceptions and tightly held notions about who controls money and therefore the health, welfare and interests of women. Becoming economically and financially literate and ethical allows and empowers women to reorder our lives.

Ultimately, of course (and this is where the challenge to Jewish communities comes in),  we cannot allow financial giving to replace other modes of change making. Giving should be literal in more than one sense-in addition to what we give financially, there should be a sense of challenging ourselves as to how we think about money, privilege, and who gets to have access to a life that is meaningful to them.  As someone who invests in Jewish communities every day of my life, I have to believe that we want to go beyond writing a check, that we are also reaching deeply to make radical change by committing intellectual and emotional energy to the process of deciding where we give and what will come after.

Photo courtesy of Cayusa.

Chanel Dubofsky

Chanel Dubofsky is the Program Associate at Pursue-Action for a Just World. She blogs at Diverge (www.idiverge.wordpress.com) and lives in Brooklyn.

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