I recently had the immense pleasure to attend the Hebrew Academy for Special Children (HASC) benefit, “A Time for Music,” which took place in downtown Newark at the Robert Treat Hotel and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
Since 1962, HASC has offered programs that “provide educational and clinical services to individuals who, from infancy through adulthood, exhibit developmental delays.” A highly effective non-sectarian agency, HASC makes sure that “families are an integral component of its education process” and is “guided by creativity, compassion and motivation.”
The “A Time for Music” dinner and concert were phenomenally successful charity events, with over 3,000 people in attendance. I was fortunate enough to be the guest of Dr. Nathan Zemel, who was responsible for ensuring the safety for all attendees by overseeing Hatzalah’s core of emergency medical technicians and paramedics (incidentally, another amazing Jewish volunteer and charitable organization).
What was on display all during “A Time for Music” was something that goes unnoticed by too many non-Jews, including many who harbor prejudices against the Jewish community. Namely, that the Jewish community is one of the most caring and generous, especially when it comes to charity work. Indeed, Jews in the United States, individually and as a community, make donations at very high levels, including support for many non-Jewish causes.
Unfortunately, many people are ignorant to the “the Jewish obligation” or tzedaka. The fact is, no matter what their economic status, a majority of Jews make every attempt to observe their religious and cultural obligation to give. Interestingly, a 2012 study by Connected to Give found that when compared to other religious groups, Jews gave relatively less to congregations and more to other charitable causes! And so, the tzedaka drive to donate, as a goal, 10% of one’s income, is more than just being charitable. It’s also fulfillment of an obligation to take care of each other and improve our community.
I learned, by the way, that the word “tzedaka” does not actually mean “charity.” It comes from the root word “tzedek,” which translates to “righteousness, fairness and justice.” In practicing tzedaka, the Jewish community not only makes the world better for the next generation, it also sets a powerful example for the next generations to do the same. Jewish giving, therefore, isn’t strictly faith-based. It’s also about “repairing the world.”
The world needs repair, as it is a dangerous place right now. Human history teaches us it is not the first time, nor, sadly, will it be the last. Human history also teaches us, however, that light has always conquered the darkness, as it recently did at “A Time for Music.” This, in my mind, is the conversations we need to be having in light of the recent Anti-Defamation League survey on antisemitism.
Of great concern, the survey found that the number of Americans with antisemitic prejudices has doubled since 2019. Other startling findings included:
21% of American believe that Jews “don’t care about anyone other than themselves”
36% said that Jews “do not share my values”
39% said that Jews “are more loyal to Israel than the United States”
53% believe that Jews “will go out of their way to hire other Jews”
How does one explain that, as a country, we’ve never been more educated, and yet never more ignorant and hateful? All sense of commonality and commitment to virtues like enlightenment, tolerance, mutual respect and decency has seemingly been lost by far too many, which begs certain questions. As individuals, what example are we setting? What are we teaching our children? As citizens, do we no longer bear any responsibility for improving our community, state and country and leaving the world a better place for future generations?
It is more important than ever that events like HASC’s “A Time for Music” are highlighted and celebrated, not just in the Jewish community, but all around New Jersey, the country and the world. Non-Jews need to see the tremendous amount of kindness and charity emanating from the Jewish community and learn from their tzedaka example. Only then can we make progress in combating antisemitism.
By Jack Ciatarelli