Showing posts with label ethics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ethics. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Saying "Hineini" on the 6 Train
The Ethics of Street Tzedakah

The young man[i] on the number 6 train to Grand Central looked clean in his olive drab jacket. And he was visibly uncomfortable as he apologized for interrupting our journey under the streets of Manhattan. He told a short story of being an honorably discharged army veteran who was suffering from PTSD and unable to work to feed and shelter himself. He asked for some of whatever food we might have.

As he spoke I asked myself if I thought his story was true. I never answered myself. I reached into my wallet and pulled out a dollar. When he was finished, I gave it to him and I said thank you. So did he.

Before going to into the subway, I had been in a meeting at HUC-JIR. On the way out of the College-Institute, I had picked up free copies of Moment and Lillith Magazines. What follows is a wonderful article by Letty Cottin Pogrebin (I believe most if not all of what she writes is wonderful). B’shert? Kismet? One of Kusher’s Invisible Lines of Connection? Maybe. Maybe not.

In either case, I had said “Hineini” when this young man called – perhaps as the voice of God, perhaps not. Thank you Letty for sharing a story that gives me a sense of context.

And for teachable moments, my colleagues, Arthur Kurzweil’s piece “Brother Can You Spare A Dime: The Treatment of Beggars According to Jewish Tradition” Still stands up. We use it with our tenth grade Confirmation class most years.

As always, if you have comments about Ms. Pogrebin's article in particular, I urge you to make them on the Moment site.


[i] When did someone in his twenties become a “young man” to me? Yikes. But then again, my oldest son is now 21, so I guess I need to face facts, even though I do not feel like or think that I am an “old man.” 


The Politics and Ethics of Street Tzedakah

By Letty Cottin Pogrebin

There are many reasons not to give to the homeless, but we should do it anyway.

When I was young, it was axiomatic among radical leftists that one should resist the humanitarian impulse to give to beggars because handouts “postpone the Revolution.” Only when the poor become utterly hopeless and destitute will they rise up and rebel.

I haven’t encountered that reasoning for a while—nowadays, political arguments against giving to the poor are more likely to come from Paul Ryan and his cheerleaders in the House and Senate. But I’ve heard plenty of excuses for not giving money to homeless people on the streets:

  • “I can’t give to everyone, can I? There are just too many of them.”
  • “How do I know they won’t blow the money on drink and drugs?”
  • “I prefer to give to social change organizations that work on a macro level.”
  • “I don’t believe in tossing someone a fish; they need to learn to fish.”
  • “We pay taxes to maintain city services like shelters and soup kitchens. Why don’t these people use them?”
  • “That young panhandler looks fit and strong. I’m sure he could get work if he tried; maybe he’s just too picky.”
  • “It’s obvious the guy with the crutches is faking his injuries to get sympathy.”
  • “I hear stories from subway beggars that break my heart: he lost his veteran’s benefits; someone set fire to her apartment; their kids are sick. I never know what to believe so I don’t give to any of them. I give to the Red Cross.”
  • “Some chutzpah to ask me for spare change when he’s wearing $200 sneakers I can’t afford myself!”
  • “I get annoyed when I see this woman in front of my office building with a German shepherd lying on a ratty blanket at her feet. If she can’t afford to feed herself, she shouldn’t own a dog.”
A few of these thoughts were familiar. Until three years ago, I used to calibrate which beggars seemed most worthy and genuine and which ones might be exploiting the kindness of strangers. But in 2011 on Rosh Hashanah, with evidence of the economic downturn still visible every day, a congregant at my Manhattan synagogue, B’nai Jeshurun, delivered a short commentary that changed the way I saw things.

Longing to feel God’s presence in his life, the speaker remembered that when God called to Abraham, Abraham answered, “Hineini”—“Here I am”—signaling his willingness to trust and his readiness to act, and thus his entry into the relationship we call “covenantal Judaism.” The congregant, whose name I never knew, told us he had decided that the presence of homeless people on the streets of New York was God’s way of calling out to him and that by changing his response to panhandlers, he, too, could say, “Hineini.”

From then on, in addition to his regular charitable donations to organizations with IRS bona fides and boards of trustees, he resolved to give a dollar to any human being who asked him for a handout. However many beggars might cross his path in a week, that’s how many dollars he would give out that week. He would stop judging, stop trying to distinguish the authentic needy person from the phony, stop worrying about enabling alcoholics and drug addicts or being scammed or hoodwinked. Of everyone with a hard-luck story or an outstretched hand, he would assume the best, not the worst.

Somehow his remarks struck a deep personal chord, and right then I made the same Jewish New Year’s resolution.My motives, I’ll admit, were not entirely selfless. Deciding to give in this across-the-board, quotidian, non-judgmental manner liberated me from an image of myself that I deplored. I’d always felt guilty about sizing up beggars before giving them money. I loathed the cynicism that fueled my suspiciousness. Who was I to second-guess the truth of another human being’s circumstances? What if I were wrong in my assessment and the person really was hungry, the shelter was a scary place, the dog was the person’s only source of love, the apartment had really been torched? Could I even imagine what I would do in the face of similar desperation, fear and loss?

Since making that resolution, I can’t count the dollars I have deposited in upturned caps and open palms. Because I live in New York City, where nearly 65,000 people are homeless, 22,000 of them children, and one child in six suffers from hunger or “food insecurity,” it’s a rare day when I don’t tap into my supply of singles. On an average stroll through my neighborhood, I’m likely to be asked only three or four times. But when I walk around other parts of town, I may have to cash a $20 bill to make good on my promise. A buck, obviously, isn’t even a drop in the bucket for most of these needy people, and I wish I had the means to make each dollar a five or ten. But for me, giving each dollar is an act of consciousness and an affirmation of human dignity. The point is to never pass a beggar without stopping, to look the person in the eye, to make conversation if possible and to give without judgment, resentment or disdain.

Practicing this minimal but unwavering street tzedakah has had a relatively small impact on my cash outflow, but it has returned to me a thousand blessings—literally. When I give, I almost always get three words back. Not “Here I am,” but “God bless you.” 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Marjorie Ingall: Ethical Parenting is Essential

So another reprint. A vital reprint. From Tablet Magazine - one of the best Jewish places on the web. Get their regular e-mail updates. Now. -- Ira

Ethical Parenting Is More Than Possible. It’s Essential, for Parents and Children Alike.

Don’t break the rules just to help your kids get ahead. Teach them to be mensches by setting an example with your own behavior.

By Marjorie Ingall

New York magazine ran an article by Lisa Miller last week called “Ethical Parenting.” At first I thought it was going to be a serious piece about the tough choices we parents have to make to raise mensches. Instead, it was a self-justifying piece of entitled crap wrapped up in fake hand-wringing. The central question: Can you be a decent human being and a parent at the same time? Miller’s answer—spoiler alert—is no. Let me quote some of Miller’s assertions so you can see why I’m drooling in fury on my keyboard right now.

“Parenthood, like war, is a state in which it’s impossible to be moral.”

“Always be kind and considerate of others, except in those cases where consideration impedes your own self-interest or convenience. Then, take care of yourself.”

“Parenthood means you cannot possibly behave as though society’s rules and norms apply equally to all.”

Shut up.

Now, New York magazine frequently makes me want to move into a Unabomber cabin in the woods. (Ditto the New York Times’s T Magazine, which I’m pretty sure did a feature on artisanal bespoke Unabomber cabins made by Bushwickians with luxuriant civet-conditioned beards.) But there’s always been just enough of a nudge-nudge, wink-wink element to the publication’s portrayals of wilding teens, entitled hedge-funders, and the next hot neighborhood you already couldn’t afford. We were supposed to be horrified by these caricatures of human beings; we normal people were actually all in it together, gaping at those who were destroying society. This piece seems to start in a homologous us-vs.-them vein, pretending to offer up “the corrupt child-rearing customs … of the aggressively rising class: the mother who, according to Urban Baby legend, slept with the admissions officer (with her husband’s consent!) to get her child into the Ivy League, or the one who sued an Upper East Side preschool for insufficiently preparing her 4-year-old for a private-school test,” but then it goes on to argue that the rest of us are pretty similar. “Schadenfreude elides a more difficult existential truth, which is that ever since Noah installed his own three sons upon the ark and left the rest of the world to drown, protecting and privileging one’s own kids at the expense of other people has been the name of the game. It’s what parents do.”

No, it’s not. And you did not just compare giving a fake address to get into a better public school district, or sending a kid to school with lice so that she won’t miss a state standardized test, to the Noah story. Let’s review: God ordered Noah to build an ark because the earth was full of wicked people. The people who deliberately lie and cheat so their kids can get ahead are the wicked people. Noah’s ark-building impulse did not come from a realization that there’d be less competition for Harvard if all the other teenagers drowned.

Please go to the original article on Tablet to read the rest of the article! It is worth it. 
(Fair usage issues prevent me from reproducing the entire article!)

Marjorie Ingall, a Life & Religion columnist for Tablet Magazine, is the author of The Field Guide to North American Males and the co-author of Hungry.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

An Open Special Education Contract

I have recently been invited to join a committee that is exploring how to make access to Jewish education a priority in congregational schools for learners with the whole array of disabilities. While I have always cared about the full spectrum of special needs in Jewish Education, I have to tip my kipah to my friend and teacher Rabbi Fred Greene of Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell Georgia.Fred came to my congregation in CT straight out of rabbinic school and he really held my toes to the fire on this issue. It is so easy to concentrate on the needs of the many, but we are only as good as how we treat the few. And the lesson is not lost on anyone. I came across the blog Special Education {Tech} courtesy of someone I follow on twitter (I apologize for not giving credit).

This is from a blog entry by Chris Vacek, an educator whose bio follows the article. I think he presents an interesting and important challenge to us as educators. I am not yet certain his list is comprehensive or completely applicable in our settings, but I think it is the beginning point for an important conversation.

An Open Special Education Contract

Recently, I came across a classroom blog that struck a profound chord in me. It contained a teacher’s “manifesto”, with the promises the teacher made to his students. I love this idea, and thought about special education. I have never seen a Special Education Contract of that sort, and immediately started jotting down ideas. Then it occurred to me that this really needed to be an “open” project, and that I should seek the input of the special education world at large. If you are a special education professional, service provider, teacher or administrator, or a parent or advocate or a person with special needs, please contribute to this project. The items below are a beginning, and presented in no particular order, and I welcome your feedback and additions. I would love to see this grow and saturate the online special education community – so please share this with your friends, colleagues and contacts. Thanks!

  1. I promise to do no harm.

  2. I promise to individualize your education to the best of my abilities and resources.

  3. I promise to focus on your outcomes, and to be able to explain what difference the current education program makes to your functional independence later in life.

  4. I promise to listen to your parents, and work towards their goals, and yours.

  5. I promise to champion your success, and value your failures.

  6. I promise to promote your opportunity, and to seek opportunities for you to succeed.

  7. I promise to educate myself, to help educate you.

  8. I promise to use technology, and to help you use technology, so we can both succeed.

  9. I promise to strengthen your skills, and use your strengths to further strengthen your weaknesses.

  10. I promise to put your outcomes and needs first, and keep them close and centered, in your heart and mine.

  11. I promise to gather data on all your outcomes, and to only use data-informed, peer-reviewed, scientifically established interventions that document measurable progress.

  12. I promise to respect you and your wishes, always.

  13. I promise to involve you in decisions about your future, as best I can and as you are able.

  14. I promise to center your education around your needs today and your needs in the future.

  15. I promise to help generalize your skills in the classroom, and the home, and the community.

  16. I promise to use the most appropriate tools available for us to learn.

  17. I promise to remember daily that you are a wonderful human being, and that data and statistics rarely tell the whole story of YOU.

  18. I promise to help you fill your life with rich experiences in art, music, science, social studies, physical activity, etc… because reading and math are not more important than everything else. Everyone deserves to find his/her own passion.

  19. I promise to introduce you to, and teach you how to interact with, your peers. You will need both friends like you and friends that are different from you, and you’ll need to know how to interact with them.

  20. I promise not to think of you as data or outcomes, but to think of you as feelings and desires and wants and needs.

  21. I promise to advocate for you, always, everywhere, even when my boss disagrees, or the community disagrees, or the world disagrees. I will advocate for you.

  22. I promise to teach you how to help yourself, how to advocate for yourself, and how to become the most independent person you can be.

  23. I promise to love you as my student and as a person, even when my life is tough, your life is tough, and our work together is tough.

  24. I promise to value function over form.

  25. I promise to continually work towards your independence.

  26. I promise to educate others about how extraordinary you are.

  27. I promise to say something nice or positive to you daily.

  28. I promise to never try to make you fit into the world’s view of “perfect.” I will value you as “perfect” just the way you are.

  29. I promise to help you speak for yourself.

  30. I promise to help you stand tall.

  31. I promise to remember that you are whole, just the way you are.|

  32. I promise to do my best not to say or do anything unkind.

  33. I promise to listen to your eyes.

  34. I promise to laugh with you.

  35. I promise to ensure that you get to take your rightful place in the world.

  36. I promise to experience and celebrate you and your joy.

  37. I promise to do more than see. I promise to be a keen observer.

  38. I promise to not just say ” I hear you,” but to mean it with all my heart.

  39. I promise to learn from you and use what I’ve learned to help you grow.

  40. I promise that as hard as it may be to watch you fail, I know that “there is dignity in risk” and realize that sometimes you will fail before you succeed.

  41. I promise to facilitate your independence needs, and seek transparency and clarity for all in this process.
What promises would you make to your particular, and every other, special education student?

The original posting may be found at which is part of a very interesting blog called Special Education {Tech}.

About the author

Chris Vacek is the Chief Innovation Officer for Heartspring and the parent of a child with both Williams Syndrome and Autism. Heartspring, located in Wichita, Kansas, is a world wide center for children with disabilities, and a leader in technology based functional independence outcomes.