Tuesday, July 14, 2020 -
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A small donation, a large meditation

Browsing Facebook this week I came across a gofundme fundraiser, posted by someone I know, an observant Jewish man. It was for someone he personally knows, a single mother of six children. She is struggling and lives in a two bedroom apartment. Her refrigerator is broken. She has no oven. She has no money for food. She has no money to purchase medication for her sick son. She has electrical problems in the apartment that poses safety issues. She needs to buy two bunk beds for her kids to have a place to sleep at night.

It sounds like just another one of those difficult but ubiquitous gofundme campaigns you come across. You feel bad and you want to do your little part. It pulls on the heartstrings to see someone at the point where they are beseeching the public for help. There are so many of these, it’s hard to give to every single one. Plus, you can’t always discern which ones are authentic.

In this case, I know the person who posted, so it moved me to want to donate.

There is a twist here. The woman is a religious Arab woman, and the fundraiser was posted by her Jewish friend.

I donated my small part.

Apparently it’s public for others to see Facebook activity and someone noticed I donated money to help an Arab woman. They contacted me, questioning me about it, even reprimanding me. More than anything, they were surprised.

We all peg people and squish them into definitions that distill the complexity of being a human into clean, tight, closed lines and definitions. She’s right-wing. He’s left-wing. They are Republicans. He’s a Democrat.

So me donating money to help an Arab woman in need didn’t fit with this person’s perceived image of me, as someone who leans conservative.

When terrorism is rampant and you live in a place of conflict and violence, the mistrust is, on some level, to protect yourself. Caution is the key. It must be part of the fabric of society and interpersonal relationships.

This, sadly, is probably one of the greatest casualties of terrorism.

The loss of humanity, simple humanity between human beings, that can’t be taken for granted, and instead must be questioned and verified.

Of course, so many Arabs are innocent. They are looking to lead a normal life. But the threat of terrorism throws a monkey wrench into various situations that otherwise would elicit natural responses of human compassion.

In this case, it was on Facebook. There’s no risk of danger to my life. The family I gave to is not terrorist because, as I said, I knew it was legitimate due to reliable person who posted it.

Nonetheless, the response to helping someone perceived to be from an enemy community was complex.

Some people commented that they vehemently disagree with the Jewish person for trying to help this woman. They said: Resources are scarce. Jewish law prescribes in the ever widening concentric circles of charitable priorities that the people in need closest to you (family, community) ought to be on the receiving end prior to those outside the community.

More seriously, someone asked, what if you are helping future terrorists?

I recall once discussing the difficulty in the Torah text of the Rebellious Son, the ben sorer u-moreh. The Torah instructs that he is to be killed at a young age because of a future act of violence he will commit. Although rabbinic Judaism emphasizes that this discussion is strictly theoretical one — in reality there never was a rebellious son, nor an execution — still, on a philosophical level, the teaching is difficult. The person I was talking with posed the following question to me: What if you saw this adorable baby, wearing a knit blue outfit with cute little pom poms, smiling and giggling away. You would never think of harming this sweet innocent creature.

But what if someone then said to you: This baby you are holding? It’s Hitler.

In other words, the Rebellious Son is a kind of science fiction, a time machine of sorts, judged on its future evil choices that will wreak havoc and cause profound harm.

I thought back to this discussion when I donated the money.

What if one of the children of this mother, G-d forbid, grows up to be a suicide bomber?

How can you know whom you are aiding?

According to Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, charitable instruction is very compassionate. He writes: “You provide for the poor, gentile and Jew alike, for the sake of darchei shalom, harmonious relationships. And if someone appears on your door’s threshold, while you are not obligated necessarily to give generously, he cannot be turned away empty-handed. You give a small something.”

I wonder: In today’s Facebook culture, do these gofundme videos that appear across your page qualify as a poor person standing open-handed upon your threshold?

Either way, I hope my little donation will only serve to foster, as Maimonides writes, darchei shalom.

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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