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Monday, October 10, 2011

My Partner in Good - 10.10.11

The High Holidays in Judaism are in full swing. First was Rosh Hashanah, then Yom Kippur, and Sukkot begins this week. Rosh Hashanah – the start of the New Year – began just a couple days before what we otherwise know as October 1st. I took the opportunity (a new year and a time for reflection) to start a little project I’ve been thinking about.

This idea all starts with my family. Even though I tend to think of myself as very “different” from my extended family, each day I seem to learn I am more similar to them than I thought. Apparently my grandmother also rode a camel (in Israel) years ago! But the connections are, obviously, deeper than that. One of the most resonating similarities I continue to see is the desire to give. My parents should receive some sort of award for good-doers. Growing up we were always putting some kind of positive energy into the world – volunteering at the homeless shelter on Thanksgiving, choosing where to donate the family tithe, buying goats or bees for families through Heifer international (it took a long time to explain to me as a child that buying bees for someone was a NICE thing), the list goes on. Even today, my mother spends her days working with special needs high school students and her nights working at a group home for adults, and my father runs a charter school system for troubled youth living in residential facilities. I am so grateful to learn from their positive examples.

I am also fortunate enough to have gotten even a small dose of the giving gene. I, too, have spent endless hours making sandwiches at Glide Memorial shelter, sorting food at the SF Food Bank, making safe sex kits for the SF AIDS Foundation, painting murals for the Salvation Army (see photo above!), pulling weeds at the SF Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park…my list goes on and on, too.

I also think it’s important to donate monetarily. Even a few dollars can go a long way at a well-run non-profit. I have my “standard” organizations I donate to – my synagogue, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the library, and so on. But I’ve decided that on the first day of each month for the next year I will donate a minimum of a dollar a day to a different organization each month.

But who likes to give alone? I sent a quick message to one of my very good friends and asked a simple question: “Will you be my partner in good?”

I feel like in this life I’ve got partners in fun and in “crime,” but the older I get I am realizing just how important it is for me to have friends who support my deep lineage of giving - friends who might spend a Sunday afternoon reading to kids, participate in a protest against inadequate pay for Mercado workers, or give a small amount each month to support a non-profit organization.

This month, I chose an organization one of my former students was raising money for. I was so touched by this student’s efforts to save an institution (on the brink of closure), and I’m sure they appreciated the two anonymous donations that went towards their personal fundraising goal.

I know that I have appreciated those who have taken the time to give to my own fundraising appeals, and have seen firsthand the positive ripples those acts of kindness have had in my life. This new year, I am going to try to keep giving at the forefront of my intentions and actions. And I’m glad I have my partner in good along for the journey.


  1. I just had a conversation with my wife about what it means to be Japanese. Although we often treat it as a simple question, 'Are you (insert race, religion, nationaliry or creed here)' is often complicated. So many people think that we are born one way, and that we will always be that way. To say you are Jewish or Japanese to most people means that you were born ethnically Japanese or Jewish. But you can be culturaly Japanese, or religiously Jewish, or legally American.

    There is so much more to identity than ethnicity or race. Being raised in America, this concept seemed so obvious because there is no such thing as being Ethinically American. We all tend to give both our ethnicity and cultural identities when asked. I'm Italian-American, African-American, Native American, Muslim-American, Asian-American.

    But after living in a VERY homogenous society like Japan, I've realized that there are a great many societies in the world that feel your racial identity, your cultural identity, and your legal identity are the same. There is no reason for most people to say "I'm Japanese-Japanese" (meaning they're both ethnically and cluturaly Japanese) So to them there is only the question of are you Japanese or are you not. Being African-Japanese or Korean-Japanese is not a concept that makes sense to many people.

    Anyway, I've rambled on and written half of a blog entry that I'm sure I'll post on my own site sometime so I'll just end with: Good luck with aliyah, Liz!!

  2. Lovely post, Jeff! Thanks for sharing :) I often think about this too, and have for many years. I first got in trouble in undergrad when I told my professor I identified as ethnically Latina because that is how I identified growing up in San Antonio, Texas - a city where nearly 65% of the population identifies as being Latino or Hispanic.

    Today, we both continue to grapple with our identities (as we should!) I know an important part of you is Japanese - but how do you express that to people?? I, of course, continue to learn more about my Jewish identity each day and how exactly I fit into Israeli society. I'm glad our lives seem to be running parallel right now - it's nice to think about these questions together.

    All the best to you as well!!!