An old and venerable Jewish joke: Rabbi Cohen answers his phone.
“Hello?” “Hello, is this Rabbi Cohen?” “Yes, it is. “This is the Internal Revenue Service. Do you have a congregant named Samuel P. Schwartz?” “Yes I do.” “Did he in fact donate $25,000 to the synagogue building fund?”
Raising money is an emotionally charged issue. Generosity does not follow a balance sheet; some people with little give a lot, and some with a lot give a lot. Others, no matter their capacity, cannot be persuaded to give. But Jewish life costs far beyond the measure of tuition or dues. From the building of the tabernacle in biblical times until today, philanthropy is the foundation of schools, synagogues and institutions.
One of my proudest moments as a child was when my father, a rabbi, was audited because the IRS didn’t believe he had given that much to charity. He taught me that no one goes broke from giving, but Jewish life is bankrupted when Jews don’t give. Support the needy, the homeless, the medical drives; help the city, the symphony and the museum. Strengthen Israel. But create future donors too: Jewish giving is built on generations of Torah teaching about tzedakah. Don’t forget your local synagogue and school. We need you.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book, “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press), is just out.