Did you know that there is no word for charity in Hebrew? The word most commonly used is tzedakah, but it doesn’t mean charity, it means justice. Think about it for a moment and it makes sense. So many of the commandments are about doing what is right and just. We have an obligation to make the world a better place.
So, how do you go about deciding how to fulfill the mitzvah of tzedakah? Is it responding to every mail appeal you receive? Is it responding to requests from your friends? Or are you overwhelmed and want to hide under your bed?
I found myself early on wanting to support more causes than I had the means to, so I came up with what I call, “This vs. That.” In my younger years I’d take all of those year-end appeals and stick them in a stack. I’d go through the stack a few times figuring out how much I could afford to give. Then I’d say to myself — “This is more important to me than that.” The exercise evolved over the years into something a bit more sophisticated, but not a whole lot more.
First, I allow myself to care about everything, but caring doesn’t mean I have to support everything. So for example, I definitely care about the environment, but I care more about Jewish continuity.
Now, I approach my philanthropy in two ways, Jewish and general. Few non-Jews or non-Jewish foundations will support Jewish causes, and certainly no one is going to care about Jewish Tucson but Jewish Tucsonans, so that’s where I start. I support many local Jewish agencies and synagogues, and, of course, the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona.
I certainly believe in Federation’s core mission and the assistance it provides to our local community, but I’ll confess that for me, one of the most compelling reasons is that it connects me to the Joint Distribution Committee and Israel. I want to always make sure that I support rescue and relief for Jews around the world and in Israel. I could do that directly, but being part of the Federation system ensures that I’m connected to a worldwide network of support for our sisters and brothers around the world, be it food for Jewish seniors in Cuba or emerging Jewish continuity in the former Soviet Union. My gift makes sure I’m part of that.
For the general community I go through much the same method. I’m passionate about alleviating hunger and protecting battered women and children, so my giving reflects those priorities.
Look back over your last few years of giving and do the “This vs. That” exercise. You’ll find your priorities will start to emerge and you may be in for a few surprises. Coming up with a philanthropic strategy will help you in building both your philanthropic profile for today as well as your enduring legacy for tomorrow.
Tracy Salkowitz is CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona. She blogs at www.tracystreks.com. More JCF information: www.jcftucson.org, Facebook, Twitter and 577-0388.