April 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

What Color is Your Licorice?

Jerry Garcia, music icon of Grateful Dead fame, once famously said, ‘We’re like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice.”

No I’m not a dead-head, but when I used to eat pints of ice cream, Cherry Garcia was my favorite flavor—but I digress.

A question: if I gave you $100 million dollars, and tasked you with forming a charitable foundation, would you: A. invest the funds and distribute 5% of the money annually as mandated by law, so as to perpetually sustain the causes in which you believe, or B. would you spend down the entire $100 million as fast and responsibly as you could, say within 10 years, so that you can more quickly and effectively address the issue with which you are concerned?

I ask because while I don’t have $100 million, and besides serving as Chief Development Officer for OHEL Children’s Home, I also sit on the board of a foundation with a significant sum of money. Our mandate is to support vocational training in Israel for the underprivileged and unemployed.

While we subscribe to theory “A” mentioned above, mega-foundations such as Avi Chai and Russell Berrie subscribe to the latter theory, which makes for interesting Shabbat or Seder table conversation with the family. I am a voracious reader of most Jewish newspapers, but (to the best of my recollection) I have yet to come across any kind of point-counterpoint discussion about the pros and cons of each perspective. To each his own.

Which finally brings me to licorice.

Let’s say I were throwing a party, and you RSVP’d, and said you would like to attend and bring a gift, and you asked me what should you bring. Let’s say I answer “red licorice.”

Now, when I say we’d love to have licorice, I meant what I said—red licorice. That’s because most people who really love licorice want red licorice. You respond by saying that you will indeed show up, but you’re bringing green licorice. Now, it’s really nice of you to have offered to bring a gift, and I asked for licorice, but you’re offering me green licorice. I have no clue what I am going to do with green licorice. I want you at my party, I want your licorice, but I need red licorice. If I accept your green licorice I set a precedent by letting you decide what I need, even though my guests have no real need for the green and were looking forward to the red. If I respectfully pass on your offer for the green licorice, and I offend you, then you may never attend another one of my parties—not to mention my never getting any kind of licorice from you at all. And I really like—and need—licorice.

It’s a donor’s licorice, er…. money, to distribute as he or she pleases. Increasingly, donors and especially foundations, including the one on whose board I sit, are creating parameters for the acceptance of large gifts which simply do not meet the needs of the charity. If I need money for housing for those with mental illness, but you’re offering to assist me with something else you have in mind, is that considered true tzedaka?

All the charitable organizations to which you donate need money. Assuming you have done your due diligence, and the organization is completely transparent financially, why wouldn’t you let the organization decide how to use it? Then again, if I’m bringing green licorice to your party as a thoughtful gift, who are you to tell me you only wanted red licorice? More table-conversation fodder…

In God We Trust. Great saying, right? Ever notice how those four words almost exclusively appear on items associated with financial institutions? Do those four words appear on a sign hanging in your child’s bedroom? How about your office? In a hospital room? Nope…

Now… how about on your coins? On the wall of your bank? On dollar bills? Yup.

A great dear friend of mine, my “Gelter Rebbe” whom I’ll affectionately call Yitzie, just brought this to my attention during a phone conversation. Our American forefathers were sagely and uber-rabbinic in their understanding of the human condition. “Spend this wisely,” they were telling us. They probably were hinting, “Know that all your wealth comes from above.”

They may even have been saying, “Remember to treat those less fortunate with loving kindness by giving this currency to them.”

In God we trust. He provides us with the money. An old Native American saying teaches:

Only after the last tree has been cut down,

only after the last river has been poisoned,

only after the last fish has been caught,

only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.

Unlike licorice.

Robert  Katz’s column will appear the first issue of each month beginning with the May 2 issue. Robert has lived in Bergen County for 26 years and has served as a Jewish communal professional for nearly 30 years. When he grows up, Robert wants to be a baseball player. He can be reached at [email protected].

By Robert Katz

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