Where Do You Give?

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‘Tis the season! (When upper-income people give tzedakah)

‘Tis the season when upper-income people all over the country open their checkbooks and give tzedakah.

For the most part, I don’t work with these people. At Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, in Washington, DC, our constituency is almost entirely young professionals, many of whom don’t make enough money or have enough equity to take tax deductions. They give a little here and there—a happy hour to fight cancer, a person asking on the street. These acts are all admirable, but, I want to push a little further.

It is possible, whether you’re in grad school or making an entry-level salary, to have a thoughtful philanthropic practice. “Even a poor person who receives tzedakah must give tzedakah” (Gittin 7b). Even those without much disposable income should give a little away. If you can’t give the 10% dictated by Jewish law, you can still create a thoughtful giving strategy. 

Perhaps take a percentage of your annual salary and set it aside. If you’re making $30,000, maybe choose 1%, or $300 per year, to give. Or commit to spending one month’s worth of drinks/lattes on tzedakah. If you’re comfortable, ask parents or grandparents to match your donation.

Next determine, percentage wise, how much you want to give locally, nationally, internationally, to Israel; to Jewish vs secular organizations; to direct service vs policy-driven organizations.

And then try to stick to it.

“Lo aleycha HaMelacha Ligmor…” “The work is not for you to finish, but neither are you free to stand idly by.” Just because you’re not Warren Buffet doesn’t mean that you don’t need to give. Try it. Thoughtfully. Take ownership of what you have to give to this world.

Rabbi Shira Stutman

Rabbi Shira Stutman's rabbinate is focused on two goals: making Jewish meaning and building Jewish community. With that in mind, in June, 2010 she took on the role of Director of Community Engagement at Sixth & I Historic synagogue in Washington, DC. As the sole rabbi on staff, Rabbi Shira strives to infuse Sixth & I's amazing program roster with Jewish context and content. Rabbi Shira graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2007, where she was a Wexner Graduate Fellow.

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