Cross-posted on the Global Circle blog.
I enjoyed reading Sandy Cardin’s piece in eJewishPhilanthropy about the future of Jewish giving. Cardin notes that, historically, philanthropy has been associated with giving away money. Younger generations, however, want to expand the definition to include the giving of time, energy and passion. Cardin writes: “Jews are among those at the nerve center of this growing movement of young people who do not just want to pay to build the trenches – they actually want to work in them.” He argues that this is a good thing; that Jewish institutions must adapt and respond to this demand; that the future of Jewish philanthropy should include the giving of time and money – “the best of both worlds.”
As part of the next generation of philanthropists, I certainly agree with Cardin’s desire to expand the definition of philanthropy. But for me, it raises a very complex question: If the rules of Jewish philanthropy become more fluid and more flexible, what will act as the core identifier that binds a group of Jewish philanthropists together? How flexible can we be in our definition of Jewish philanthropy before the concept ceases to exist?
I have been on a very complicated journey of exploring my own Jewish identity and what it means for me to be a Jewish philanthropist. I want to be engaged in giving through both time and money. I want to be appreciated for the different talents and ideas I bring to the Jewish community, and I want to be respected for the ways in which I relate to Jewish identity individually. As someone who does not keep kosher and does not go to synagogue, but believes in and lives by the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, I fight for an inclusive community in which Jews can identify as such in a way that makes sense for them individually. But there’s a persistent little voice in the back of my head that always asks: How will Jews survive as a cohesive group if everyone is relating to the identity in his or her own different way? How far can we stretch the idea of Jewish identity before it is no longer a meaningful collective identity?
Melanie Goldberg is an intern at AJWS and is currently working towards a Master of Social Work at Yeshiva University. When she is not learning about social change efforts, she enjoys going to the theater and spending time with the elderly.