The Long White Beard, the Long Black Coat – and You,
Once upon a time, early in the history of The Shalom Center , an extraordinary philanthropist and foundation exec, Sidney Shapiro, told me a story. So first here's his story, and then some photos to enrich it:
Many years ago, I was the Executive Director of the Hartford Connecticut Jewish Federation. One day my secretary came to my door and said, “Mr. Shapiro, there's a gentleman here with a long white beard and a long black coat who says he needs to talk with you.”
I said, "Show him in."
The gentleman said to me, “Mr. Shapiro, I need to thank you for saving me from doing such a terrible aveirah– – a sin!"
"What do you mean?"
"I was walking on the street and saw the sign that said 'Hartford Jewish Federation' and I almost walked right past."
"And then I realized -- Such a sin it would be for me not to give you the opportunity for you to fulfill the sacred command to give tzedakah – – charity."
Said Shapiro to me, "All I could say was, 'How much?!' “
So here I am, giving you the opportunity to give tzedakah –-- not just charity, but the sacred gift that moves the world toward justice.
It’s still Hanukkah and it’s still 2016, for just two more days. Two days, two traditions:
- The tradition of “Hanukkah gelt” – real gelt (gold), not milky chocolate, for real tzedakah –- real healing of the world toward justice – is still on time.
- The tradition is still on time of figuring out tax-deductible donations -- gifts to heal the world that the government thinks are so worthwhile they should reduce your taxes -- -- by the end of the Western calendar year.
Two days more. If your practice on Shabbat is not to deal with money, even for tzedakah, then just one day.
God forbid I should let these days go by without giving you the opportunity to fulfill these sacred commands.
Let me liven up the story with some photographs of what we do:
Trying to do civil disobedience to challenge the fracking industry that is poisoning both regional air and water and the climate of all Mother Earth, I couldn’t climb over the police barricades. So –
I rolled under.
The Shalom Center initiated an action by Interfaith Moral Action on Climate to challenge the Koch Brothers. The Kochs cheerfully commit arson on Mother Earth, our common home, in order to boost their gigantic wealth.
So first we blew the shofar of “Awaken!” and then we had Carbon Pharaoh remind us of how the ancient Pharaoh brought Plagues upon the Earth:
We decided to honor Gloria Steinem as she turned 80, and she honored us by telling the story of how we first met almost 50 years ago. When she was ready to give up on healing the world, I encouraged her to keep on going. You never know the ripples that one loving word can toss into the Great Pond!
Now we are at work to turn the year from April 2017 to April 2018 into MLK + 50 — A Jubilee Year of Truth and Transformation. Honoring Dr. King during the 50th anniversary of his last year on earth, by renewing our commitment to act on his vision.
The years ahead, under a profoundly anti-democracy, anti-Earth Presidency, will bring deep trouble. To face that trouble we need treasures of wisdom. Dr. King is one such a treasure, just as Torah is. Never waste a treasure when you face a trouble.
All these moments and hundreds more add up to Sidney Shapiro’s lesson: Always give people the opportunity to do the sacred act of sharing their money to bring a just world closer.
Happy New Year!
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Thanks! -- and blessings of shalom, salaam, peace, and a fruitful, healthy Earth -- Arthur