All the Money I Don’t Have

A friend of the family was going through a rough spot. He put up a page asking for donations on the Internet platform GoFundMe. This is a guy I’ve known for 25 years — I haven’t seen him in about 20 of those years, but he was my camp counselor when I was a kid, introduced me to a lot of books and bands and ideological notions that have treated me well. I feel pretty indebted to him.

I went on the page and gave some money. I did it anonymously — I always feel weird* attaching my name to these things, like I’m asking for public recognition for something as trivial as buying a friend a hot dog. Also, in Maimonides’ ladder of tzedakah (which is kind of an incredible idea, and here’s a good read about it), giving anonymously is a better way to give than when you know the person.

He’s a really good person, and a great father to his kids, and I still hadn’t given my tzedakah for the month — there’s a commandment to give 10% of our earnings to charity. So I gave it to him.

A week later, he’s talking to my parents. They say they want to send him a check, because they are old fashioned and don’t trust the Internet. He tells them not to worry. I gave enough to cover them too.

(And I probably shouldn’t be saying this story, but the point I want to make is a good one, and worth making, I think. So apologies to my parents, and to that person, but dammit, I’m trying to make our society a little less close-fisted.)

I was a little taken aback. What’s enough? Did I really give that much? And, dammit, why doesn’t GoFundMe have a button that you can give really anonymously, that even the person you’re giving to can’t see it?

But maybe it’s not that bad. Because all those months I’ve been saying That’s not the right charity, or Are they REALLY that bad off? or  I’d rather give to someone who needs it more, now I’m not letting myself use that excuse. Now I’m forcing myself into responsibility.


I have not always been good about giving tzedakah. I’m not stingy — well, I try not to be stingy — and I’m sometimes totally suspicious of those people on the subway who walk around with their claims of utter inability to earn money, but I try to tell myself what Judaism tells me: It’s not my job to question whether or not they deserve it. If they don’t really have terminally sick kids at home, then maybe they have a just-as-good reason that they need to lie about. Or maybe they don’t, and, to paraphrase the words of the sages (by which I mean, Metallica), I should just let G-d sort them out.


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I didn’t give that much money. I really didn’t — not when you take into account the fact that every person in frum Jewish culture is giving 10% of their own paychecks to someone else. I’m definitely not rich, but if I can give all my tzedakah to someone who really needs it, then man, let me do that.

And it’s good. And it’s a real change of pace from giving to some huge organization where you know they’re doing good, but you don’t actually witness the positive change happening — all of a sudden, the $50 or whatever amazing amount of money you’d never spend on stuff for yourself (maybe on a week’s groceries?) makes a significant dent in somebody’s wallet.

And that amount of money they have is your fault. I’m not going to buy a first-class plane ticket or orchestra seats for a concert, or buy that $100 Lego set that I really really want (I do), but the 10% rule is sort of carte blanche, a free ride for you to make someone else’s life better. This is actually the second time in a row I did that. Unfortunately. Fortunately. Both. My wonderful friend Anya put out a call for help last month when she became in danger of becoming homeless. Ironically, a bunch of years ago Anya herself let me move in with her family when I tried to move to L.A. but couldn’t really afford to. She gave me my own room and cooked for me incessantly. And now she could use some of that help herself.

And it is a scary world where someone can bounce from having enough space to host people into not having enough money to have a space for herself. But it is an amazing world where we can help people, both our friends and people we’ve only heard a good word or two about, just by typing a few numbers into a computer.


Let me tell you something almost totally unrelated: I was having a lot of trouble writing a post. I really didn’t want to write this one — you know, a post where I publicly brag about giving tzedakah — and wrote about 5 others. I went on Facebook to post, “Do 10 Hevria first-paragraphs count as one full essay?” and instead read about another old friend who’d just taken a stray bullet in the gut while walking down the street. My G-d. No matter how much we try to repair the world, there’ll always be more holes.


I’m not telling you this because I want you to give money to my friends. I’m saying this because I am, in general, still very bad at giving money to people, even though there are people who need it more than I do. If you guys know anyplace or anyone that’s worthy of our tzedakah, please throw it up in the comments. And if you haven’t given tzedakah in a while, or if you’ve got any to give, click on a link and share it.

I should also shout out the new website, one of Elad’s new projects, which is a pretty simple model to do exactly this. If you need money, put up a page. If you have money to give, look through the tzedakah cases and find someone. You might not be a benefactor at the opera, but there’ll probably be one or two people who will think the world of you — whether or not they end up knowing who you are.

* — and yes, it’s even weirder that I’m writing about it now.