Only two types of people call my landline these days – my family and telemarketers/fundraisers for charitable organizations. Since I do want to speak to my family members, I answer and risk speaking to the latter instead of the former.
I start off resentful because of the waste of time, because I stopped what I was doing and ran to pick up the phone. Maybe one of my daughters in Israel needs something. Maybe it’s one of my grandchildren calling from the east coast. Maybe it’s my brother or my mother. Instead I am disappointed by the unfamiliar voice that completely mangles my name.
I calm myself down. It’s not their fault. They didn’t know I was expecting a cute little 3 year-old! They don’t know that I work from home. I could have let it go to voicemail. I could tell my family members to only call my cell. And besides, these callers need to earn a living and I am supportive of the fact that they are trying to do so. I take a deep breath and smile. “How can I help you?” I ask pleasantly. (Who am I kidding? I don’t ask anything; “Yes, it’s Emuna” I say and wait for them to continue.)
They then identify themselves as the representatives of some organization I have never heard of that is based in Israel or Brooklyn and that I apparently made a $100 donation to last year. Given the fact that I don’t recognize the name of the organization I suspect that information is incorrect but I try to maintain my polite demeanor. “I’m afraid I can’t help you this year,” I respond. “Well, how about $72? Or $54? Or $36? Or $18? Or $10?” they offer, much like Abraham arguing to save the city of Sodom.
Feeling proud of myself, I continue to answer calmly and patiently, “I’m really sorry but I can’t help you this year.”
“Well, how about putting it on a credit card?” they offer (like small children who don’t seem to appreciate that you have to pay the credit card bill or think that it’s magic when we put our groceries on our account at the local market – Just tell them “Braverman” they would say to their friends!). I decline. “Well can we just send you an envelope and you will give when you are ready?” Not wanting to raise false hopes, I decline this offer as well. If I am lucky, they then hang up. If I am not, they think of yet another angle and I finally hang up on them in frustration, annoyed with them but mostly with myself for letting it bother me.
It’s a challenge. There are many worthy causes out there and I don’t always say no on the phone. But I want to be able to choose. I want to be able to investigate. I want to understand what the organization does and determine if it’s something I believe in and wish to support (and if we can afford to support it).
I think that tzedaka should be given thoughtfully (hence my opposition to the idea of practicing random acts of kindness). I think it should be given methodically (you would think there are millions of dollars at stake the way I’m talking!). I think it should be given with due diligence, after research and discussion, not in a moment of pressure or to just make the phone caller go away. Does that sound cheap or callous? I hope not.
When our forefather Jacob crossed the river with his family, he went back for the small pots he left behind. He was careful with his money and possessions. He abhorred wasted money and wasn’t cavalier about even small amounts.
I think we should treat our charity in the same way. I think we need to look at the organization and its reputation, its overhead and its expenditures, its goals and its accomplishments. Once I am satisfied then I hope I will give with an open hand and heart. If you call me I will try not to be rude, actually I will try to be nice but I’d rather you sent me an email so I could take my time and respond in a thoughtful manner. Some organizations won’t get that $10 or $18 this way. But others may actually get that $100.