The write stuff

The write stuff

In an editorial last week, we made a case for end-of-year donations going specifically to Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson and Jewish Family Service of North Jersey.

We have other end-of-year giving suggestions as well.

Why are we making any suggestions at all?

The answer, of course, is that there are just 24 days left to make the kinds of donations that will lower our income tax bills for the year.

That is why there are so many pulls on our discretionary pursestrings these days. We all are being inundated with scores of causes, many quite worthy, looking for a share of our tax-saving largesse.

Yet how do we decide to whom to give? Do we send money to a hospital, or an educational institution, or a public broadcasting entity, or an animal welfare society? Should we send small checks to all, or one or two large checks to the most worthy? Which is the most worthy?

The answer, this year perhaps more than most years, is to follow the dictates of Jewish law. To quote from the Book of Deuteronomy, “open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land.” The operative phrase here is “in your land.” We give to our own before we give to others; we give to the near before we give to the far away; we give to the need that is most urgent, rather than the most attractive or politically correct.

In addition to the two JFS agencies, then, let us prioritize our giving so that our local synagogue, the rabbi’s discretionary fund, the local volunteer emergency responders organization, and our favorite area day school or special needs program all benefit.

Above all, there is the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. Like the two JFS agencies, it was out there doing what was needed to be done to help us get through the crisis of Hurricane Sandy, and it did so while also dealing with its everyday slate of good works.

By all means, send money to worthy causes in Israel and elsewhere, but remember that we first must take care of our own close to home, and only then begin to move out to help meet the needs of others. Remember, too, that part of a donation to JFNNJ will probably wind up going to many of the very places overseas that we would have chosen on our own.

Last year at this time, there were many people in our area who would have laughed at the notion that they would need to turn to the community for assistance. Many wrote their checks accordingly. Now we all know better. We all know that we can never know when we will be the ones who need the help.

As Maimonides put it, “A relative in need takes precedence to all others, a member in need of one’s household takes precedence over those in need in one’s city, the needy of one’s city take precedence over those in need in another city…”

What a pity it would be if, when the next disaster strikes, the help we need was not available because we again chose the far away over the near and dear.