Giving is a family value—pass it on
By EDEN ROSE BROWN, Special to The Jewish Review
article created on: 2011-11-01T00:00:00
One of my earliest childhood memories is of a small blue metal box that sat in a cupboard in our kitchen. The box was a tzedakah box, but my parents, children of Russian and Polish immigrants, called it by its Yiddish name, the pushka.
Each Shabbat, we would gather together and add some coins to the pushka, thankful for the comforts and health we enjoyed. We added coins to the pushka whenever good things happened in our family, and we added coins on sad occasions as well. Once a box was full, my mother and I would take it to our little synagogue and bring home a new box to fill again. I know my parents gave to other causes in our small Salem community, but the tzedakah boxes always filled quickly and often, because, as my mother often told me, “only Jews give to Jews.”
Another early memory involves my grandfather Manuel Nepom. I recall how proud I was each year when my Zada was the first man in the congregation to raise his hand and make his annual pledge to the shul’s operating fund. Even when times were tough, Zada always found something for the shul, and he and my baba Tillie gave tzedakah often, because, as they also told me, “only Jews give to Jews.”
As I grew older, I learned that giving was not just part of our family tradition; it is woven deep into the fabric of our society. We provide shelter and sustenance to the poor. We build wings on hospitals and equip them. We deliver meals to the elderly. We walk, run and ride for breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, AIDS and other diseases.
But Jews do not give “charity.” It is not in our tradition. In Jewish tradition, we call it “giving tzedakah.” Tzedakah does not mean “charity;” Tzedakah means “doing the right thing.” It means applying what comes through our hands towards where it will reap the most benefit and bring the most good to ourselves, our families, our faith, and—to those who are short on what they need.
The Power of Tzedakah
As an estate planning attorney, I have seen firsthand how the power of tzedakah helps children who inherit money avoid the dreaded “Midas curse.” In my experience, children who are raised with philanthropy as part of the fabric of their family grow up to have a greater sense of purpose, personal satisfaction, and financial fulfillment than children who did not experience the lessons of tzedakah in their youth.
That is why, in my practice, I always encourage parents to pass on two kinds of wealth to their children. The first kind is financial wealth, the wealth that comes in the form of monetary assets. The child inherits these assets in a special stewardship trust that protects the child’s inheritance from predators, creditors, lawsuits and divorce, while allowing her to wisely use the assets for wonderful purposes throughout her lifetime.
The second type of wealth I encourage parents to pass on to their children is philanthropic wealth. To me, this type of wealth is just as important—if not more so—than the financial wealth we leave our descendants. Philanthropic wealth helps balance out the financial wealth a child inherits, and helps keep the child grounded, balanced, and less likely to suffer from “affluenza” than his counterpart who inherited only money.
Encouraging Tzedakah: The Tzedakah Box
I enjoy sharing with my clients numerous ways they can inspire their children to be wise stewards of wealth by encouraging, developing and teaching the children some basic philanthropic principles. One way, of course, is to use a tzedakah box in your home and to contribute to the box often, together with your children. Using the tzedakah box establishes a habit of giving, and while the amount of funds collected might be small, “[h]ow often,” the wise Maimonides said, “is more important than “how much.”
The Family Tzedakah Fund
Another simple strategy is to start a “family tzedakah fund.” This could be a formal Donor Advised Fund through the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation, but it could also be something informal, particularly when you are young and funds are tight. Gather the children together (we have started with children as young as 2) and explain that you have put some money aside on behalf of the family to create a “bank” from which the family can make charitable contributions. The children should help “name” the family fund at this first meeting. Creative naming is OK!
Come Thanksgiving (my favorite time to do this, but your holiday may vary), the family gathers together and discusses where they wish to distribute the money from the Tzedakah Fund, and whether all of the money in the Fund or just some of it should be distributed. Each child and parent takes a turn discussing what cause or need is important to them and why, and at the end of the discussion, the Fund distribution is divided as the family decides and the gifts made to the charitable recipients. If the children wish to donate some of their own money to the Fund during the year, that should be encouraged. As your children get older, these discussions become deeper and more meaningful, and sometimes they spend the year discovering and researching their “cause.”
Remember, these “funds” can start small. I have some young client families who can only afford to put $500 or $1,000 into their Family Fund to give away each year, but it’s not about how much you give. Rather, it’s important your children learn the concept of giving.
Oregon Jewish Community Youth Foundation
As your children reach their teens, invite them to participate in OJCYF—OJCF’s Youth foundation. This amazing program is designed to encourage our children to develop a lifelong passion for philanthropy. Along the way the teens are empowered to be socially active, confident and strong leaders while developing a sense of responsibility in giving back to their community. The power of tzedakah at its best!
Tzedakah does not stop when we die! While giving as a family while you are living teaches your children powerful values, encouraging your children to continue giving after your death can help establish your family’s philanthropic legacy and provide the philanthropic wealth your children need to stay grounded, by reminding them that there are things more important than material goods, and that there are always people less fortunate that need a hand.
Donor Advised Fund: One favorite philanthropic strategy is the Donor Advised Fund. Instead of giving gifts outright to individual charities at your death, consider creating a permanent tax-exempt fund that will help inspire future generations of family philanthropists. Setting up a Donor Advised Fund with the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation allows your descendants to make annual tax-free distributions from the fund to your favorite causes or areas of interest, without having the task of administering the fund themselves. Your children can direct gifts jointly or individually, and the benefits I have seen come from these funds help create an unparalleled legacy for you and your future generations.
Private Family Foundation: If your family wants to manage a charitable fund, a private family foundation, although more costly and complex, is another way to establish a perpetual family legacy and keep tzedakah thriving for many generations. Like the Donor Advised Fund, you can set up a foundation after your death (or while you are living), and use it as a training ground for your beneficiaries. Your children can serve on the foundation’s board of directors, and help make grants and run the day to day operations—or they can hire folks to do that work. In many cases, the joy of giving together brings the family closer together.
We have covered just a few of the strategies you can use to create a powerful, intergenerational philanthropic vision. So, perhaps as you and your loved ones sit around this Thanksgiving being thankful for your blessings, consider how wonderful it would be if you could inspire your descendants to live a legacy of “doing what’s right.” Oh, and while there are numerous wonderful and worthy non-Jewish causes to support (and you are encouraged to do so), let us not forget the words of my parents and grandparents as they remind us that: “only Jews give to Jews.”
Estate Planning Attorney Eden Rose Brown is the co-author of “Giving—Philanthropy for Everyone.” She provides comprehensive, personalized, counsel in wealth preservation strategies, family legacy design and estate, tax and charitable planning. The Law Office of Eden Rose Brown has offices in Salem, Eugene, Portland and Bend. Contact her at 503-581-1800; Office@EdenRoseBrown.com; or www.EdenRoseBrown.com.