Taxman’s grandmother, age 98, has a generous spirit.
There were times in her life when money was tight, and even after that she lived relatively frugally, but she was happy to give to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Over the years, she funded plane tickets and furniture for us, in addition to gifts for birthdays and holidays.
But she would also just randomly slip us money, especially for the kids; a $5 or $10 bill. “For something fun, not for college,” she would remark sternly as she dug into her purse. Over our protests, she would always say, “It’s better to give with warm hands.” Meaning that she wants to see her loved ones enjoying the fruits of her hard work and scrimping, rather than have it sit in the bank until she died.
She also gave away thousands of dollars every year to charities. Tzedakah is a core component of religious Jewish life. You give what you can. Rather than giving a large donation to one or two organizations, she preferred to write small checks, for $10 or for $18, to the dozens and dozens of charities that had her mailing address.
When Taxman and I married, I took the opposite approach. I preferred to donate larger amounts to causes that I found especially compelling (although in retrospect, we had a personal connection to most of them for one reason or another). We thought, we discussed, we budgeted. We kept all the receipts, tallying them come tax time.
This was, a little bit, giving with cold hands. Not in the sense that we were dead, of course, but it was so calculated. Round numbers, lacking any spontaniety…wondering how much they were going to hit us up for next time, wondering how much was being used for overhead.
But urge to give freely, with “warm hands” and without a second thought or thinking of the bottom line, is still within us.
I’ve recently discovered that it helps to remove the middle man–the dinnertime phone calls and the pre-addressed, no-stamp-necessary envelopes.*
Last Tuesday, word came through our synagogue email list that a local family was in trouble. They were refusing monetary donations but needed food for yom tov, which was starting less than 24 hours later. Not 30 seconds after we read this message, Taxman was on his feet, poking through the pantry shelves for closed packages, taking down a box of cereal, bags of rice and pasta, crackers, cookies, sugar & flour, pickles, chick peas, canned tomatoes and jam . Because we were going away for the first three days of Sukkot, we didn’t have a full complement of refrigerator staples, but we managed to cobble together yogurt and cottage cheese and some vegetables. We rescued chicken, via Facebook, from local friends whose butcher had delivered too much. Within the space of 30 minutes it was all at a collection point–someone’s house–and hopefully at its final destination a couple of hours after that.
We did not stop to total the amount; we did not think of tax receipts. It was so simple. People, a family with young kids, needed food. Here, in our upwardly mobile young city, where you don’t see “poor” neighborhoods or old rattle-trap cars, people were about to go without basic necessities of life.
(On the holiday of Purim, where Jewish law mandates giving gifts to the poor, we also chose this year to shop for and deliver a food package to a family in need, rather than donating money as we have done in the past. Food is love to me.)
I hope that others gave generously. I hope this family, parents and children, had a beautiful yom tov. I hope they will call on our community again if they need it.
* This is not to imply that the organizations that make these phone calls and send those mailings are not worth the attention and monetary donations. I just find myself moved in other directions at this particular moment.