Recently, Brian Prousky, the new executive director of Toronto’s Jewish Family & Child, and I met to talk shop. I walked away from our meeting thinking how lucky our community is to have such a soulful and capable person as Brian at the helm of such a highly significant Jewish organization.
One issue that came up in our conversation is a recent report reflecting the painful reality that 13 per cent of Toronto’s Jewish community, or 24,000 of its members, live below the poverty line (with an income of $20,386 a year or less). That number includes 3,500 children under 15 and 5,000 seniors.
Some 32 per cent of individuals in the study miss a meal daily, and 54 per cent borrow money to get by. As well, 74 per cent of kids go without new clothes and 58 per cent don’t have new shoes or boots that fit them.
How could this be? How is it possible, with the level of affluence in our community, that 13 out of 100 people are poor? How is it, a Jewish philanthropist recently asked me, in a place like ours, where the wealthy could underwrite programs to correct the ills of the entire Jewish world, there are so many impoverished people?
Perhaps the following is a solution.
Over the last few years, some of the richest people in the world have pledged the majority of their wealth to charity. Warren Buffet, the greatest investor of all time, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates have done exactly that. Within the framework of what is called the Giving Pledge – an oath to bequeath most of one’s wealth to charity – Buffet has committed $66.7 billion (US) and the Gates family has promised $77.3 billion.
So far, 142 individuals and couples are listed on the Giving Pledge website, representing a total of $365 billion. The list includes David Rockefeller, Tim Cook and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. Canadian Jews on the list include the Bronfmans (Edgar and Charles), for a total of $6.5 billion. Jeff Skoll, a dot-com billionaire, is also on the list. When asked why he’s giving away 95 per cent of his wealth, he replied, “There’s really only so much that you need, or your family needs,” he said. “All else is to be turned, hopefully smartly, into a benefit for the world.”
The Giving Pledge is an extraordinary program. The idea that a person has spent years gathering his or her wealth and then recognizes that it’s only fair for it be used by others truly speaks to the Jewish concept of tzedakah and an even distribution of wealth.
I call upon the Canadian Jewish community to implement our own form of the Giving Pledge.
I encourage our leadership to replicate this process and ask those who are blessed with a lot to give up most of their treasures, so that not one Jewish child has to shiver in the winter because of a lack of warm clothing and not one elderly person has to miss a meal.
Let us approach the very wealthy and ask them to step up in the biggest way possible to support our community, but this time, let’s go for the gusto. Let’s ask them to do what Buffet and Gates are doing – go all in!
On Shavuot, we read in the Book of Ruth that Elimelech, a prominent Jewish leader, was punished by God for leaving Israel during a famine, as he didn’t want the poor to be knocking at his door for money. I call upon those fortunate enough to have vast amounts of money to give it away to tzedakah and not “leave Israel,” because not a nickel will benefit you in heaven. But your good deeds will.
Even one per cent is too much. Thirteen per cent is a shame!