Los Angeles Jewish Home's Blog

A Giving Time of Life

The horrific earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and the suffering they inflicted have led to a remarkable outpouring of assistance from around the world. The scale of this humanitarian response has led many of us to reflect on the nature of giving.

Material help, like money or food for disaster victims or for the homeless in our own community, is just one of the ways we can, and do, give of ourselves. Some — in war and peace — give their life for others, for their country, or for an ideal.

But giving can also become a way of life. Each of us can choose to share our love or energy, time or advice at every opportunity. We can take a moment to listen or share a thought or a smile that makes someone feel understood, recognized, not alone.

A Culture of Giving

Jewish tradition has quite a lot to say about our personal responsibility to give. The Torah teaches us to protect the "widow and the orphan," which extends to all of the vulnerable in our society. And Judaism puts great emphasis on the concept of "tzedakah." This is a complicated word that draws much of its beauty and authority from its dual focus on doing what is right here and now, and acting in the pursuit of justice.

Thus, by acknowledging his or her cultural identity, a Jew is required to give, especially to relieve poverty and suffering. Tzedakah is not 'merely' an ideal. It is not something we choose to do when we happen to be feeling generous, but an obligation of our tradition and culture.

Giving of this type was exemplified by those many American Jews who worked and risked their lives in support of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. One woman involved in that struggle recalled that her actions were motivated by the principle from the Torah not to stand idly by when others are facing a difficult plight.

Giving as the Basis of the Community

In order to create a true community, must we each contribute in some way? Almost everyone I ask responds 'yes' to this question. But more than just enjoying the benefits of belonging to a community, people seem naturally motivated and energized to contribute, and are often creative about finding opportunities to do so.

For seniors who no are no longer independent, these opportunities are not as obvious as they once were. But by contributing our love and energy, time or advice, we can create the sense of community almost anywhere. A simple gesture of warmth, friendship, or conversation with others at a nursing station or attending an activity or a class — and actively participating at those events — is an act of giving that helps bring the community alive.

Meaning from Each and Every Day

I hear from many seniors who are experiencing a lack of meaning in their lives. Some feel that their time of giving in life — whether this was discovered through raising their family or having a successful career — is over, and with it went much of the meaning of their lives.

To those who wish to find meaning by giving to others, I suggest that the simple acts of kindness and generosity, or participation in community wherever and whenever the opportunity arises, are real and valuable moments of giving.

Indeed, every opportunity we take to contribute to the life and well-being of the community is a win-win. Others gain from what we give, and we ourselves gain immeasurably from the act of giving.

Rabbi Anthony Elman Rabbi Anthony Elman serves as Rabbi of the Jewish Home's Grancell Village Campus. His professional background is multifaceted, encompassing the fields of law, social work, and psychotherapy. Rabbi Elman has been with the Home since his ordination and graduation from the Academy for Jewish Religion-California in May 2007

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