Last Tuesday was a dreary day in New York City, the sky was a dark shade of gray and drizzling rain was intermittent. If one wasn’t any wiser, downtown Manhattan could have been mistaken for London’s financial district.
Across the table from me, in a deserted office with dimmed lights, overlooking the Wall Street bustle, puffing on a Dominican cigar was one of the finest men I have yet to meet; he is a philanthropist of note who prefers not to be noted and a supporter of our activities.
I came to report on our most recent initiatives, pay respects and convey deepest thanks for his ongoing support. But he quickly turned the tables, commending our activities, thanking us for our dedication, and reaffirming his strong support and appreciation of our work.
As our conversation progressed into its second hour, it became clear to me that I was in the company of one of life’s rare commodities; a true altruist. I left empowered, invigorated and enthused.
Here is a man with no airs and no ulterior motives, with just the genuine desire to help, to give and to humbly participate in a venture that may in some small way contribute to the betterment of humanity and the brightening of the world as we know it.
In today’s world of the “I” generation even the once sacred act of giving is heavily under assault, how oxymoronic that charity itself has become self serving and indulgent.
It seems that the world of Jewish philanthropy has become riddled with ulterior motives, with many organizations aiming to appeal more to a perspective donor’s ego and vanity, rather than to their sense of benevolence and justice. Space is bought on synagogue walls by the “column inch” as if there is something to be advertised, and bidding for recognition and honors at extravagant dinners has become the norm. Large gifts are endowed under the strict supervision of PR firms who expertly craft strings of press releases ensuring that the appropriate recognition is rendered.
But it is at the highest levels of Jewish giving that recognition ceases to be the prime offering with organization leaders trading another highly sought after commodity, namely, exclusive access.
Sometimes the access is political as in the case of AIPAC, that makes this offer to its biggest donors, the “Minyan” members, on its website:
“Members have mingled with President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, and many others. Minyan Members enjoy all of the opportunities of the Chairman’s Council, with even more exclusive access.”
Or the access is business related; there is no better strategic placing for a successful budding entrepreneur than to be on the board of a top Jewish organization.
Famed philanthropist Charles Bronfman who hands out an annual $100,000 humanitarian award, with the stated noble goal of “bringing public recognition to young, dynamic individuals whose Jewish values infuse their humanitarian accomplishments, and provide inspiration to the next generations” has named the award after himself.
Shouldn’t the giving itself be the greatest reward, so why are we so often looking to take something back? Whatever happened to giving for the cause, giving for the sake of giving, where the act of virtue in and of itself provided the sense of fulfillment and satisfaction?
In the words of Erich Fromm and expressed by many masters of Jewish thought before him:
“Giving is the highest expression of potency. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness. “
We shouldn’t need our generosity to be affirmed by others or to sully our virtuous acts with cheap kickbacks. In a world where everyone has a platform to be heard, and many follow the dictum “I shout therefore I am”, it is the silent unsung angels that should serve as our inspiration.
The Author is the director of the Algemeiner and the GJCF and can be e-mailed at email@example.com