12/27/08

WSJ: Madoff Robbed the Jewish Fat Cats So Bring Back the Pushke


Lucette Lagnado, a former editor at the Forward and now a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, waxes rhapsodic in the aftermath of the crimes of future-cellmates Madoff and Merkin and their ilk and the resultant decimation of Jewish philanthropy.

Her solution, together with a wonderful WSJ graphic, is to bring back the pushke (charity box) to replace the loss of those big donors.

This echoes for the Jewish community some small sliver of what motivated the larger populist wave that brought us last month the political victory of the democrats and Barak Obama.

We all just want to feel like we are part of the process.

After she reviews the scandal she makes a case. Listen to her conclusions in "OPINION: HOUSES OF WORSHIP - When the Big Spenders Fail, Who Will Save Jewish Charity?"...
...I would like to see the comeback of the pushke -- the little collection box that was once in every Jewish home. To be sure, I don't want Jewish charities to suffer; it is simply that in our post-Madoff universe I find myself longing for the kind of more humble, more individual tzedakah, or personal charity, that took place before the rise of the uber-Jewish foundations and zillionaire philanthropists.

There was a time when every Jewish family was expected to have a pushke. It was part of a simple and deeply felt tradition of individual giving that called for everyone, even little children, to donate some coins as a show of faith and a commitment to charity. My own home had multiple boxes, and every once in a while, typically on a Sunday, a rabbi would appear to collect the contents and we would start again.

I recall how good it felt when, as a child, I dropped a quarter or a dime into the pushke on Friday afternoon before the Sabbath. I loved the feel of the box when it was full. When I walked on the streets of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, then a very Jewish area, I would sometimes see women in the street shaking their boxes for favorite causes.

Back then, instead of relying on a few megadonors, the Jewish community relied on donors like my dad. He favored charities in Jerusalem, and regularly would dispense two-figure checks of $10 or $20 to his pet causes -- orphanages, trade schools, even a bride's fund designed to help orphaned girls obtain wedding dresses and veils for their big day.

It would be lovely to see the return of little checks -- the donations everyone could afford to give and often did. Neither they nor the pushkes require the fund-raising galas and the elaborate administrative structures that have become the norm across the Jewish charitable world.

Some Jewish leaders may blanch at my words. Prof. Wertheimer notes that "Jewish organizational life has become much more expensive -- nickels, dimes and pushkes aren't going to do it." Though Mr. Kane at the UJA and others now hint at new strategies to broaden the donor base, some Jewish leaders are ready to return to business as usual, sending the message that we must get in some big checks to replace the money that was lost. But this scandal makes me wish we could remember the values of our shtetl and think small again.
Lucette doesn't really want the shtetl back. She clearly does want to be a part of the process doing good.

To me that means we need to replace the present republican-thinking mob who have usurped the roles of leadership of Jewish philanthropy and community life with a new democratic-oriented gang. Not an easy road ahead.

1 comment:

arnie draiman said...

bring back the pushkeh or the rambam's second level, which includes: "Of a similar character is one who contributes to a Tzedakah fund. One should not contribute to a Tzedakah fund unless he or she knows that the person in charge of the collections is trustworthy/impeccable and wise/smart and knows how to manage the money properly."

trust me.

arnie draiman
www.draimanconsulting.com