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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Get into the spirit of giving

Dec 08, 2018 01:21AM ● By Guest

Sweet Adelines Grand Mesa A Cappella Chorus hosted their holiday show with special musical guests. Top: Colette Mayers and Susanna Sorensen. Bottom: Diane Herbst, Palisade High School student Shiloh Trowbridge and Wendy Elliott.

Something nice starts to happen this time of year. Happy feelings escalate as vacant lots start displaying Christmas trees and Santa’s knee becomes every youngster’s desired destination. Trips to the mall are frequent, hearts beat faster than usual, and our love for mankind intensifies.

Somewhere in the midst of these joyful feelings and fun activities are disquieting facts and disturbing images that cast dark shadows over our hearts. They appear as stories in front pages of newspapers—stories that describe the plight of the homeless and include appeals for charitable holiday donations. They surface in photographs portraying despair in the eyes of children who look older than their years, with vacant expressions in their eyes and no hope in their hearts; children who know better than to dream of American Girl Dolls and electronic video games, and pray only for warm coats and shoes with soles.

We read these stories and are deeply moved, so we write checks and pull children’s name tags from huge mall Christmas trees and buy them gifts. Doing these charitable deeds during the holiday season mollifies our desire to bring a degree of happiness into the lives of those less blessed than we are. We walk away feeling righteous, believing that we have fulfilled our duty as spiritual, religious, caring human beings.

There is a tradition in Judaism called tzedakah, a Hebrew word that very loosely translated means charity. But, while charity involves decision, tzedakah does not—it is an obligation to do what is right and just.

Charity is something we decide to give to the unfortunate to offset their adversities. Tzedakah goes beyond giving something to tide people over; it attempts to get people to once again stand with dignity.

Even the indigent, who are sustained by charity, are compelled to give tzedakah, so that the act of receiving does not leave them without dignity.

Delta Area Chamber of Commerce staff and friends hosted Santa before the Parade of Lights. Pictured from top: Mary Jo St. Jean, Debbie Anderson, Amy Crick and Jolee Arensdorf, and Kevin Arensdorf as Santa.

Do for others

I grew up in a spiritual Jewish family where doing for others was not simply a once-a-year holiday occurrence. There wasn’t a day when my father didn’t remind us to share our good fortune with others. He made it clear that doing for others was not a choice we were free to contemplate. It was something we were required to do as naturally as we were expected to draw our next breath.

I smile today because I now recognize that we were not even remotely wealthy. My father was a farmer—a “gentleman farmer” as he humbly referred to himself—who worked hard and died at the age of 46, never to see the fruits of his labor. There were many weeks when we went without meat, fish or chicken because we couldn’t afford it.

Instead, we lived on whatever the land produced, Kraft macaroni and cheese, and Campbell’s vegetarian and vegetable soup. But my father said we were fortunate, and that’s what my brother and I believed.

Growing up, it was not unusual to find a tattered vagrant sitting at our breakfast table. My father, who regularly preached to us about the dangers of hitchhiking, would pick up strangers on the road—people who looked down and out—bring them home, and give them a cot to sleep on in our basement. In the morning, mother would prepare them a large, hot breakfast and a bagged lunch. Then my father would slip a $5 bill into their hand, which was a great deal of money for us back in the early ’50s, and drive them to some reasonable destination.

When my brother grew up and moved to Manhattan, he regularly filled large shopping bags with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, apples, oranges and bananas, and walked the streets handing out food to the homeless.

As a teenager, I traveled by bus to a neighboring town where I worked summers in an orphanage without pay.

Giving in practice

In our family, doing for others was not viewed as something special; it was a part of everyday living. In today’s complex, dot com world of two-paycheck families, high-interest credit card payments, endless car-pooling, interminable supermarket lines, and time-consuming, high-tech communication devices, we barely have time to do for ourselves, much less think about doing for others.

But there is a simple way to teach our children that we are not solely self-involved. In many Jewish homes, you will find a tzedakah box, which is a kind of piggy bank. Although decorative tzedakah boxes are popular, any container can be designated to collect tzedakah. I know someone whose grandmother’s tzedakah box was actually a teapot.

All end-of-the-day loose change from family members’ purses and pockets is placed in this bank. When the bank is full, the contents are donated to a synagogue, a church, or a trusted charity for families or individuals in need of assistance. It’s so easy to do, and an invaluable example to set for our children.

Maintaining this spirit of giving throughout the entire year not only has the power to enrich the lives of impoverished recipients, it enhances and intensifies the quality of each contributor’s life as well.