Give Us Bread But Give Us Roses or Don’t Tell Me What to Do About Notre Dame

I’ve always wanted to be a philanthropist. When I was ten years old I saved up my money and joined the Bronx Zoo. I was partially motivated by the promise of a garden tea with a platypus. Indeed, the amazing creature swam in a tank as I ate fancy chocolate cookies. Old ladies in big hats smiled at me–I was certainly the youngest person there.
But I had to struggle to hold on to my vision. Before I bought the membership, my grandfather got wind of my stash and tried to get me to donate the money to plant trees in Israel. He yelled and loomed over me until my dad had to pull him off. Since that important experience, I really don’t like being bossed around in terms of my giving.
When Notre Dame burned, social media bombarded me with opinions. A Jewish chat group took the position of not donating, because (breaking news here) medieval Catholicism was anti-Semitic. Other groups suggested I donate to other causes instead, as if charity were an either or situation.
Well, I donate regularly to Catholic charities that support immigrants on the border. I don’t look for perfection in organizations I give to. Rather, my practice is to give as often as possible. A Hassidic teacher once instructed me to “accustom yourself to give.” I count the acts of giving, not the amount. So telling me to give to A instead of to B doesn’t make sense.
In addition, I give from the heart. As a rule, I give locally, and to organizations that fight hunger and homelessness. I give so that my neighborhood will feel liveable. I don’t want someone to freeze to death camped out by the acequia. However, I also realized that one of the main sources of happiness in my life is a small but lively performing arts center five minutes from the house. It brings the world of music and theater to me affordably, with street parking! And so I give there as well.
If I feel moved to give, I do so. I think it is a destructive impulse to tell others not to give to some cause. Yes, philanthropy may reflect class, education, religion, and more, but why shouldn’t it? I love Facebook fund raisers for the opposite reason–they encourage me to give more widely.
The Jewish philosophy is to give with an open happy heart. If that isn’t attainable, to just give. Along with prayer and study, it is the basis of the religion. Therefor I appreciate being encouraged to give. But my grandfather got not one penny from me by attempting to dominate me.

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About Miriam Sagan

I'm blogging about poetry, land art, haiku, women artists, road trips, and Baba Yaga at Miriam's Well ( The well is ALWAYS looking to publish poetry on our themes, sudden fiction, and guest bloggers and musers.

4 thoughts on “Give Us Bread But Give Us Roses or Don’t Tell Me What to Do About Notre Dame

  1. Miriam, much to discuss with you. I cried in my car when I heard the news of the demise of Notre Dame, in part of a personal relationship with the Cathedral and also because its place in history. Not for a moment did I think about the endemic anti-Semitc aspect of the Catholic Church but rather ND’s place in history on so many levels and its symbolism for France and perhaps humanity. I treasure the Alhambra– the gem of Moorish Spain because for its magnificence in a time when ironically coexistence was more easy for Jews. So those who who are dictating how generosity should be dispersed are negating the act of donation. I believe give where the money is needed and where it will give you naches for being generous. By the by, love the Bronx Zoo story!

  2. Giving for love and beauty can’t be wrong. And either OR is never as good as this AND that. Thanks for your words.

  3. Ahhh, and Notre Dame was built on an ancient Pagan power place…Thanks for your excellent perspective! Those “strings-attached” bits of advice never go well. Cheers!

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