Passover’s Lessons of Philanthropy

During Passover, we join with family and friends around Seder tables to create our own unique traditions. Regardless of differences in practice or cuisine, Passover provides a link to our shared history. The famous scholar Rabbi Yitz Greenberg teaches us that Judaism is designed to find humanity in the world as it exists now, while simultaneously working as a guide to transform the world into a future state of paradise. He argues that the story of our exodus from Egypt is the meta narrative for the Jewish people that continues to guide us towards the Promised Land. In this context, he refers to “an earth set free and perfected.” By retelling the story of exodus every year on Passover, Jews across the world not only remember, but reenact the oral history of our people’s journey from slavery to freedom, which is exceptional and powerful.

In addition to keeping the history of our people alive, at Passover we are also encouraged to welcome the stranger into our homes. This is an extension of the responsibility Judaism commands to care for others who may not be able to care for themselves, mainly through tzedakah, or charity. While all tzedakah is done with good intentions, Maimonides’ eight levels of tzedakah remind us that even the way in which we give is important. The highest level of tzedakah is to help others be self-sufficient by providing a loan, gift, or opportunity for partnership. Another important element is anonymity, where the giver does not know the one who receives and the one who receives does not know the one who gives. This anonymous relationship allows us to give purely for good, without seeking recognition or control, while also protecting the dignity of the recipient. Philanthropy literally means for the love of humankind. At its core, philanthropy is about protecting the unprotected and standing up for those who need assistance. I can’t think of anything more Jewish.

Our work in philanthropy, supporting both those who give and those who benefit, ensures that resources are maximized toward change for a better world. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, in 2018 the Federation facilitated 9,329 grants from donor-advised funds and supporting foundations, totaling $142,151,270. These grants supported a wide range of Jewish and secular causes to local, national, and international organizations.

This Passover, let’s challenge ourselves to think about economic, social, religious, and political inequalities, about health and well-being, and about all of the injustices we see in our world. Let us continue to help those who remain chained and help make this world a better place from our position of strength and abundance. As the famous Jewish poet and activist Emma Lazarus said, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

Categories: Philanthropy, Holidays


April 16, 2019


Joy Sisisky