A slice of Shalheaven: When it comes to charity, it’s complicated

Emilie Benyowitz BP Staff

By Rachel Lesel, Staff Columnist

Living in Los Angeles, Christmas entangles us in its green and red blanket. Most of the attention is on gifts, flashy lights, and coffee shop specials that we all enjoy. From Toys for Tots to a man dressed up as Santa Claus asking for donations of street corners, Christmas does try and promote generosity to those in need as an underlying theme.

Judaism always encourages volunteering to those less fortunate than we are, and if you’re not the kind of person to sign up for every charity event, maybe now is the time to do it.

But there are so many failed volunteer committees in Shalhevet, such as ORCA and Save Darfur. I tried to get a committee formed that would raise $25 a month to donate to Kiva, which helps dying businesses in Middle Eastern countries get a second chance.  It was over before it began since, as Mr. Tranchi pointed out when I asked to announce it, any money donated by students would actually be from parents, and their donations should be directed towards the school. I learned from this holiday season that charity is complicated. The school does need money, and most likely parents are going to be the ones who donate. It isn’t fair to take away Shalhevet’s money.

So how do we as Jewish teenagers mingle with the Christmas scene swirling around us? Maybe all of this stimulation of money being spent for gifts and cookies will help us ponder the question of giving: just where do we give our spare change? Who do we pour our energy into helping? Do we try to raise money for our school, donate our time to homeless shelters here in Los Angeles, or do we try to improve the lives of those in distant countries? We may not know the answers, but we can still ask the questions — how, when, where, why do we give?

In any case, we can join in the season by adding our own hint of Jewish holly, known as tzedakah.  We are all people on this Earth; our religions should never separate us from working together to improve our home.

And we don’t need to wish for a Christmas miracle, since a dash of good deeds always spreads the fuzzy feelings no amount of gingerbread lattes in your stomach can bring.