Thursday, December 07, 2006

Degrees of Charity

You may recall that last year we inaugurated the new family tradition that on the third night of Chanukah Bambina would receive no gifts. Instead our family will GIVE a gift to someone else. It is so important to me that she learn the lesson of generosity. But more importantly, I want her to learn that she is lucky; that not everyone has all of her opportunities, that life is not fair to everyone, and that no matter how seemingly little we can give, we ought to give it simply because it is the right thing to do. How else to keep her perspective in the wave of presents that arrive at this time of year (for kids of all faiths)?

Anyway, as I was researching potential charities, I just kept coming back to the DC Central Kitchen

Here's why:

According to the sage Maimonides, there are eight degrees in the giving of charity, each one higher than the other:

8. When donations are given grudgingly, reluctantly or with regret.

7. When you give less than you should, but cheerfully or graciously.

6. When you give what you should but only upon being asked.

5. When you give without being asked.

4. When you give without knowing whom you are giving to, but the recipient is aware of your identity.

3. When you give without knowing the recipient's identity, and vice versa.

2. When you give anonymously.

1. When you make someone self-supporting, through a gift, or by extending a suitable interest-free loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to be dependent on others.

I love these degrees because they really help me to focus on the important question of holiday giving, which is: where can my gift do the most good to make someone self-supporting? I also love these degrees because they encourage charity at any level. They don't require you to achieve the highest form in order to give. Instead, they say that all are honorable and worthwhile and therefore should be easy to achieve. In short, Maimonides is saying: Just Give; however you do it, just do it. And even if you start giving reluctantly, you will soon find the joy in giving when asked, then without being asked, etc.

Don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with giving a gift and getting recognition. We do it in memory or honor of people all the time. There's nothing wrong with the two parties knowing each other, in the cases where you might sponsor a child's education in Kenya, for example. But the greatest gift you can give is to make someone self-supporting so that she will never again need charity.

All of which, as I said, keeps bringing me back to the DC Central Kitchen. It's the kind of organization that accomplishes that highest level of charity that allows a person to earn respect and dignity by earning a paycheck. They certainly do give meals to those who are hungry, but they also train men and women for food service jobs, they run a fabulous catering service called Fresh Start which employs graduates of the culinary training program and which makes--I swear to you--absolutely amazing party food for individuals and organizations like the Smithsonian. The Kitchen also has a food recycling program, a Campus Kitchens project, and...what else can I say?...they simply take the notion of ending hunger seriously. The director, Robert Egger, once said at a conference I attended: If all I'm doing in ten years is serving food to the same people every day, then I will have failed. Our goal is to end hunger, and that means getting men and women prepared to have jobs, paychecks, and opportunities to succeed.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your post here makes me think of this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank - what a simple yet revolutionary idea and implementation!