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You can’t wipe your hands clean: Finding your philanthropic obligation

In her article in the Jewish Daily Forward, Linda K. Wertheimer challenges readers to reevaluate the value of a “Mitzvah Day.”  She asserts that this annual day of volunteering negates the idea that doing mitzvot should be a way of life.  People volunteer once and believe they have satisfied the Jewish obligation to do good deeds.

How does this concept translate to the world of philanthropy?  If once a year I pay $125 for a ticket to an organization’s gala, am I fulfilling my obligation to give tzedakah?  How often and how much do I have to give in order to fulfill the obligation? 

I have just begun to contemplate these questions.  Last summer I was stopped on the street by a young guy with a clipboard and ended up agreeing to give $5 a month to the Human Rights Campaign.  Though I can’t afford to give much more, I don’t think I’m fulfilling my obligation.  I have no relationship to the organization and no knowledge of the work they do or how my money is being spent.  I don’t judge obligation by how much or how often I give, but rather by my emotional investment in the cause.  For me, my philanthropic obligation is not complete when I write a check or pay my credit card bill; I must be educated about the issues, passionate about their solutions, and connected in money, time, and energy, to the pursuit of social justice.

Melanie Goldberg

Melanie Goldberg is a social work intern at AJWS. She is currently in her second year at Wurzweiler School of Social Work where she is pursuing an MSW degree focused on community organization and macro-level change.

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