Now that we have celebrated Purim with its chagigos, Purim shpiels, and all the hooplahs, it’s time for a reality check and thinking about Pesach. Each year, the celebration of the holiday gets more and more expensive. Our Rabbis state that our celebration for Pesach is incomplete if we fail to provide for those in need in our community. They further teach us that we are truly G-dly in our behavior when we actively respond to the poor and vulnerable. Caring for and giving to those less fortunate is our righteous obligation, responsibility, and duty. The chiyuv (obligation) to combat poverty is meant to be an expression of our achdus (unity) as a people. The giving of charity is a fundamental part of Jewish life.
Unfortunately, so many people believe the canard that all Jews are rich. But we should know better and not fall into that trap. Despite the elaborate advertisements for celebrating Passover in exotic places all over the world with every amenity conceived by man, not all Jews are wealthy – most aren’t. There are many in our community who haven’t enough to eat each and every day. They are living at or below the poverty level. They are faced with the daunting task of how they are going to eke by on any given day, let alone how they will get the extra funds necessary to pay for Pesach.
The recent UJA-Federation Poverty Study indicated that 45 percent of all Jewish children in New York City live in poverty. Central Queens has the largest number of the near-poor Jewish households of the five boroughs, and 14 percent of all those in the study that are categorized as poor. That translates into thousands of people in our community.
Last week, on Purim, I was astounded to hear from a resident of the neighborhood that his tradition is to give rather skimpy mishloach manos – his rationale being that it is more important to go to a hotel and have a good time on Passover then to extend himself for one’s neighbors on Purim. That troubled me. We, as a people, are endowed with the ethic to put another’s needs before our own. We are not supposed to think only about “What’s in it for me? Let me have it all and I’ll throw you a few crumbs along the way because I want the world to know that I’m a good Jew.” There is something very selfish and wrong with that attitude. None of us deny any fortunate individual the right to enjoy one’s affluence as one sees fit. But each and every one of us must remember and be cognizant of the fact that everything that we earn is a direct blessing from G-d. Those who have been “blessed” with the means and wherewithal to give were endowed by Hashem to be the givers, as opposed to those who, for no fault of their own, have been allotted to be the recipients of the tz’dakah. With this in mind, it is incumbent on all of us, and Judaism requires us, to give whenever we see someone in need. One should give with an open heart and with sincerity. It is unconscionable, in my eyes, to denigrate those requiring our help by rubbing their plight in their faces, while we flaunt our riches for the world to admire.
The Haggadah instructs us, at the outset of the Seder, to remember those who are hungry and invite them to eat with us. How many of us remember that our grandmothers, in the very lean years when poverty was rampant, always had a coin to give to those less fortunate, even when they couldn’t afford it themselves or who always shared food with someone even when they barely had enough for themselves and their families? Those are the Jews who are worthy of praise. Those are the ones whom we should emulate and should be the role models as we instruct our children on how to conduct themselves, and not those who begrudgingly contribute way less than they can afford to but want the kavod nonetheless.
I worry about my own grandchildren, who are products of this generation, who have, baruch Hashem, everything they need and much more. I am concerned about their value system. I mentioned to my son, the other day, on the topic of the monies that they received from delivering mishloach manos that it is an ideal opportunity to instill in them a lesson in giving a portion of their earnings to tz’dakah. They have to understand that they don’t keep it all. They must share with those less fortunate. “What is in it for me?” is not a Jewish concept. This hedonistic approach to life is alien to our mesorah (heritage). We cannot let our brethren down, especially during this critical time of the year.
It is uncanny that individuals would rather donate to tz’dakos in Eretz Yisrael rather than to local organizations that directly serve the needs of our community. But that is unfair. Taking care of our needy must be the priority.
Last year, QJCC distributed more than 3,000 packages to the needy for Pesach. This year, we anticipate more of a demand, as the economic downturn continues to affect many of us tremendously.
QJCC cannot do this alone. We need the community’s support. Please respond to our outreach and contribute to QJCC’s Emergency Passover Appeal. Please send your donations to the Queens Jewish Community Council, 119-45 Union Turnpike, Forest Hills, NY 11375, or by Internet at www.qjcc.org.
Thanks to your generosity, we will be able to sit at our Seder this year with the confidence that we understand the true meaning of the holiday, of being free to serve Hashem and ensure that everyone can enjoy the chag to the fullest extent possible.
Cynthia Zalisky is a community activist who resides in Kew Gardens Hills.