October 22, 2019

The Great Gift of Giving

Heidi Haddad was deeply moved by the graduation ofeight young men and women at Vista del Mar, the child-care agency.Shirley Turteltaub expressed enormous satisfaction in assisting anelderly Fairfax resident who receives ongoing help from the JewishFamily Service. And while addressing a meeting of the Bureau ofJewish Education, Jerry and Judy Tamkin explained why it is soimportant for them to assist local youth.

As I have traveled the communal philanthropic”circuit” this year, I have been moved to ponder who gets the mostout of our enterprise: those who are receiving communal service orthose who are volunteering their time and other resources to assurethat those in need will benefit?

I recently attended the annual recognition eventof the Jewish Federation’s Women’s Conference, the umbrella underwhich all types of Jewish women’s groups convene to learn, to sharebest practices and to do for our community. The more than 300 inattendance represented a vast cross section of Jewish womenthroughout our city, reflecting the range of affiliation andgeographic scope of this vast city. But they all had one thing incommon: a commitment to make the community and the world a betterplace.

It was while sitting and listening to the outgoingWomen’s Conference president, Roz Goldstine — who personifies thebalance required of a wife, mother and leader — that I startedthinking about how voluntarism provides something an economist mightdefine as “value added” to our community.

It doesn’t matter whether acts of loving kindnessare directed to disadvantaged youths at Vista del Mar, to newimmigrants through Jewish Vocational Service, or to senior adults whoare reaching out to Jewish Family Service; the volunteers supplementthe limited communal resources and allow the Federation to leverageits broad range of service programs to provide help. At the sametime, these good deeds give the volunteers “value added” to theirdaily lives.

We live in a fast-paced world. Because we areconstantly barraged by demands on our financial means and our time,it is easy to withdraw and become selfish about what we share or dofor others. Perhaps that is the beauty of our Jewish obsession withthe quality and dignity of communal life. By doing for others, wegive ourselves a tremendous sense of self-satisfaction andaccomplishment.

This is why the Jewish Federation places such ahigh premium on voluntarism. This is why it is absolutely criticalthat we find volunteer opportunities for the men and wo-men active inthe range of young-adult programs throughout the community. This iswhy Elisa Wayne, the incoming president of the Women’s Conference,Cheri Morgan, the incoming Women’s Campaign Chair of the UnitedJewish Fund, and Elisa Price Rubin, the recipient of this year’sMildred Allenberg/Ruth Handler Award for outstanding young womenvolunteers, are so important. They act not only as examples for youngwomen around the city, but they act as catalysts for all of us to getinvolved.

Perhaps the most moving example of a life trulyfilled with purpose is Dorothy Gould, the recipient of the Women’sAnnual Lifetime Achievement Award at the recent Women’s Conferencegathering. Slowly making her way to the microphone and visibly movedby being acknowledged for what she obviously believes was herobligation and the privilege of being an active volunteer fordecades, Gould accepted her honor and told those in attendance: “Idid it because it’s our world to improve.”

Tikkun olam is anage-old concept upon which our Jewish community and our Federationare founded. It is a concept on which we will build in the years tocome. It is a concept that will fill lots of lives with lots ofpurpose.

John Fishel is the executive vice president ofthe Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.