Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dignity -- on both sides of the equation

Yom revi'i, 12 Adar aleph 5771.
Let me share an adventure in volunteerism with you, just because I suspect I'm not the only person who drags her feet about it due to embarrassment.

Just before we made aliyah, I bought a wonderful cookbook, purely as a result of a well-written review.  The Holocaust Survivor Cookbook has become a favorite -- but not just because of the delightful recipes.  It is a book filled with stories and photographs that take the empty place in my heart where bubbies and zaydies ought to be.

The book grew from the desire of two idealistic young olim, Sarah and Jonathan Caras, to "give something back to the people of their new homeland."  They volunteered  at the Carmei Ha'ir Soup Kitchen in Jerusalem in 2005.  Later, they brought their mothers to visit Carmei Ha'ir; and out of that experience, the seed for the cookbook project began its germination.

There was an article in the cookbook about the soup kitchen that impressed me a great deal.  Instead of the rows and rows of narrow tables and benches that one imagines (or has even seen in televised reports about such worthy charitable institutions), with the downcast and life-tossed homeless huddled over bowls of soup, Carmei Ha'ir has a special approach.  There goal is that each human being that is served at their facility have an experience of dining out at a "real" restaurant, with full dignity, elegance, and cuisine comparable to other dining establishments in the area.

The idea of participating in such a project intrigued me.  What Jew doesn't want to help someone, in some way?  It's coded into our spiritual DNA.  But here's the rub, and here's where the embarrassment starts.

Too much money is not something that the Borei Olam has plagued this family with.  So donating large sums is not something that we are very often able to do.  And I am shy about just walking into an establishment and saying "Point me to the kitchen!" as I roll up my sleeves.  Dining at the soup kitchen (which anyone is allowed to do, perhaps leaving the price the meal would cost in a regular restaurant) seemed like a fine beginning.  But again, I was embarrassed.

You know the feeling of using a service that some people really, truly need, when you don't?  What if I went in, and my clothes looked a little too nice?  Is it only me that thinks: "What right do I have to be here?  What does that poor fellow over there think of me?  'Oh, she must be slumming...  Taking a gander at the poor folk.'"  Well -- perhaps I do over-think a thing.  But the point is, I want to know "the rules," before I just pop by.

So I started to look over the Carmei Ha'ir website for clues.
 First of all, it is a beautiful website, user-friendly and informative.  I could have found out everything I needed to know by perusing its pages.  But that little button -- "Questions?  Chat with us now" -- is always an irresistible lure to me.  Why?  Because I have found, time and time again, that people who man live chat desks  are very often "my kind of people," who really want to help the "caller" to get clear answers.  And I write better than I talk over the phone, which reduces my embarrassment.  So I clicked on the little chat icon...  and what followed was more gratifying than I could have hoped for.

The gentleman on the other end of the chat was named Moshe.  He very pleasantly listened to me unburden myself of my concerns (thankfully a shorter version of what I just told you).

Then he asked me what skills I had to offer.  I was a bit surprised.  What skills does it take to peel potatoes?  And impressive skills such as counseling or cooking gourmet meals for fifty are not in my repertoire.  But after a bit of back and forth, it seems that writing and proof-reading are perfectly acceptable donations to an organization such as this -- as are other skills most of us take for granted.

The point of this blog post is this:  CALL.  Not just this organization (though I am sure they would be happy if you did), but any organization in your area that just might need your help.  Look for someone in the organization who can answer your honest questions about how you can help.  You may surprise yourself.

When you want to help someone, when you want to give of yourself, never be embarrassed by a lack of money.  Tzedaka b'guf -- the giving of charity by doing -- may be much less daunting than you think.

Glossary:
Aliyah: Jewish immigration to Israel
Bubbies and zaidies: grandmothers and grandfathers
Olim: Jewish immigrants to Israel
Borei Olam: Creator of the Universe
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