Giving and the “It” Factor

As a synagogue community, we have given countless dollars to Haiti. Some of us, like our own Dr. Steven Swirsky have even traveled to Haiti to help. Many of us (myself included!) have signed up for the I CARE I CURE Run/Walk and will do our part to find gentler treatments and cures for childhood cancers. Ramat Shalom’s Relay for Life Team is growing and funds are being raised to support the American Cancer Society. Through all of our efforts just this week alone we clearly understand how precious money can be.

As I have watched our community step up to the plate for such important causes, I noticed that other fundraising campaigns that are going on in our community, campaigns for causes that might not seem as “powerful” as the ones we have been dealing with, are not attracting as much attention. A good friend of mine is putting together a fundraiser for a local food pantry/homeless shelter. The number of hungry and homeless adults and children that they help right here in our own neighborhood is staggering. Yet most of us are unaware or choose not to pay much attention to the suffering of our own neighbors.

What I clearly saw this week is that certain causes have an “it” factor.

  • The scenes that we see coming from Haiti every night, they have “it”. They are so powerful, so compelling – anyone with a heart and soul is drawn to do something.
  • The battle against cancer, especially childhood cancer, has “it”. Who in the world does not want to wage this war!? Who hasn’t been affected in some way or another by this monster of an illness? Who doesn’t want to see it annihilated? Anyone who loves someone who has been affected by cancer feels an obligation to do something and will be there with us on Sunday morning.
  • Who doesn’t want to help the 47 year old veteran, with no teeth and terrible body odor who sleeps under 595 every night, the teenage mom who can’t feed her three kids or the lady who cuts your hair who can’t pay for her medications? Who doesn’t want to help these folks? Very few of us want to. And even fewer of us actually do.

Helping the hungry in our own streets, supporting the needy, or lending a helping hand to someone who has not bathed in days – there is no “it” factor here. And when there is no “it” factor, for most of us, there is sadly no exciting, appealing, or touching reason to give.

Haiti has been struggling for years. It took a natural disaster of biblical proportions to give Haiti an “it” factor. What will it take for us to pay attention to those suffering in our own streets? What will be the “it” factor that gets us to open our pocket books and feed and cloth and shelter our neighbors?

As I pondered the role of the “it” factor when it comes to raising vital funds, I realized that we at Ramat Shalom have been trying for years to discover our own “it” factor. What is “it” that will get people to financially support our synagogue?

  • • Is “it” that we take pride in being one of the smaller, more intimate congregations in Broward County?
  • • Is “it” our informal nature and our closely-knit community that makes people feel safe and comfortable within our walls?
  • • Is “it” that you cannot find a more nurturing environment to send your little ones than our own Early Childhood Center?
  • • Is “it” that our Torah School and youth group programs provide our kids not only with a great Judaic education but also give our kids a deep and lasting connection to the synagogue and their Jewish community?
  • Maybe “it” is the variety of adult education and social programs that give so many of our members the opportunity to discover or reconnect with their Judaism in powerful ways?
  • Or perhaps “it” is our Shabbat, Holiday and B’nai Mitzvah services that blend tradition with creativity to produce (I hope!) unique spiritual experiences?

While all of these things make us special and are greatly appreciated by the vast majority of Ramat Shalomniks, most of us do not feel so inspired by these things, so moved by them that we open up our pocketbooks and support the synagogue. Most of us do pay our dues and feel that this is enough. But the reality is, dues do not cover our expenses. The generosity of a small percentage of members during the year helps us meet many of our other expenses. Prayer, a great bookkeeper and committed board members also help a great deal. With the economic downturn and more and more of our members unable to pay their dues or make additional donations to the synagogue, we, like most synagogues and other non-profit organizations, have had to tighten our belts as we help members who are struggling. Last year many staff member took significant reductions in their salaries. We have cut back the hours of some staff members and eliminated certain positions. All the while our board has worked diligently to monitor our budget and cut our spending without affecting what we offer our members. In the meantime, members continue to lose their jobs, struggle to make ends meet, or go into foreclosure. And I, along with our synagogue leadership, have spent many a late night thinking creatively about finances, studying the budget, and praying extra hard. But, this is not enough.

And so, I am asking you, what is “it” that makes Ramat Shalom so special? What is our “it” factor? And what can you do to support that “it” financially?

Ramat Shalom’s “it” factor in no way compares to the atrocities in Haiti, the dire need to raise funds for cancer research or feeding the hungry children of Broward County. This being said, “it” is our community. “It” is our children’s preschool classroom or upcoming b’nai mitzvah. “It” is Shabbat in our sanctuary. “It” is the comfort of a Ramat Shalom shivah minyan. “It” is the beautiful ark that holds your Torah Scrolls. “It” is knowing that we are here when you need us. “It” is our future. And “it” is beautiful and “it” needs your support.

For some, the idea of giving money to Ramat Shalom during a time when things are so tight, Haiti lies in ruins, and other important charities are asking for your support seems silly. But, the reality is that your spiritual home and all the “it” factors that make her up – incredible programs, services, classes and people – need your attention, commitment, and generosity right now.

So, as we begin Shabbat and prepare for another meaningful Friday night service, I am asking that you allow yourself to be moved by whatever “it” is that makes Ramat Shalom so special to you. I am asking that you help us preserve “it” and make “it” stronger” and give us the resources to carry “it” into the future and share “it” with others who need “it”.

As many of you know, I am running for “it” – doing what I can to raise the funds needed to insure that this incredible little synagogue we call home has the strength and fortitude to run strongly into the future. To support me and what you see as our “it factor” as I run the A1A Half-Marathon in honor of Ramat Shalom, please visit my fundraising page and make a donation (all funds go directly to Ramat Shalom): http://www.active.com/donate/irunwalk4ramatshalom/rabbiandrew

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for standing with me and supporting our synagogue.

2 thoughts on “Giving and the “It” Factor

  1. After reading this weeks message from Ramat Shalom I had to read it a second time. You took all my thoughts and put them into “perfect” words on paper. I made a donation to help Haiti in it’s recovery. I also make donations to help recovery locally. I agree that people have to step up to the plate and help our synagogue grow both in membership and financially. I attended a very large luncheon this week. The least expensive ticket was $150. There were over 1,000 people at that lucheon. At Ramat Shalom we agonize when we have to charge $100 per person for a function. When we decide how much we’ll give to charity in any given year, Ramat Shalom has to be figured into the pie. We have to take care of our “it” because charity should always begin at home. Thank Rabbi for being as vocal as your beliefs.

  2. Donna, we must thank you for being a true leader in our community – not only giving of your time and energy for many years – but for also never wavering in your incredibly generous financial support of our little synagogue.

    You are right – we need to take care of “it”. First, however, we need to appreciate the fact that “it” needs precious financial resource to survive.

    None of us want to think of our synagogue as a “business”. We like being a spiritual, holy, sacred place filled with tradition, teaching, Torah, and prayer. For many years, I myself, as the Rabbi, shied away from the role of fundraiser. It seemed so “profane”, so secular, so non-spiritual for a Rabbi to be dealing with the monetary aspects of the synagogue. But, the fact is, our incredible spiritual home has an incredible amount of expenses from very secular places like Wachovia Mortgage, FPL, AT&T, Costco, the gardener, the bug guy, the a/c guy, our electrician, the City of Plantation (our water bill), our Property and Liability Insurance Companies, Humana, the Federal Government (payroll taxes), etc, etc…..And these places have no problem talking money with us – especially if the bills are not paid. Add to all of this, the fact that we need to buy very un-holy things like cleaning supplies, office supplies, kitchen supplies….and, of course, we have to pay our preschool teachers, our Torah school teachers, our office staff, our maintenance staff, and the rest of us who call the synagogue our “office”. As much as Ramat Shalom is a spiritual, sacred, holy place – it is a functioning “business” with many expenses that allow it to be the spiritual, sacred, holy place it is.

    Many know that Disney World has an underground city that visitors to the park never see. It is where the “non-magical” elements of Disney take place: the costume changes, the garbage collection, the repair of broken floats and props. If it were not for this underground city, the magic of Disney would be lost. No one wants to see Mickey Mouse pop off his head!

    Sometimes it feels that the business side of the synagogue is the” underground city” of Ramat Shalom. And many of us try very hard to keep this “city” hidden – to protect the congregants from the “magical” elements of our spiritual home. In doing so, however, we mislead people into thinking that the grass gets magically cut, the a/c never breaks, and we never worry about how we are going to pay our preschool teachers.

    Disney can get away with having a secret underground city – because they easily charge a lot of money for admission into the park – money that pays for everything that goes on underground. In our world, while dues seem like a lot, they don’t cover the business expenses that are required to operate a synagogue. This is why we should fundraise. But, we at Ramat Shalom have never liked to do so – because it requires talking about what goes in the “underground city” and this means talking about the stuff that seems not so spiritual. Mind you, in our “underground city” there is nothing as exciting as Mickey Mouse popping of his head. But, there are lots of expenses that need to be taken care of.

    What I have come to understand is that while making certain that we have the necessary funds to operate our facility, pay our bills, and compensate our staff might seem very “business-like” and, thus, “non-spiritual” – it is actually what a truly “sacred” community should and must do. We are not Disney. We are not about “magic”. We are a group of people who have come together to build a special congregation – a spiritual home. And this requires resources. By talking with our members about what we need financially, we have the ability to strengthen people’s connection to the synagogue and, as a result, strengthen and build truly sacred community.

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