My daughter Sasha Irene became a bat mitzvah (obligated to perform the commandments) two Shabbat mornings ago at Congregation Shearith Israel, and just as everyone warned me, it was a day of indescribable pride. Sasha’s Torah portion, Vayetzei, is epic— the story of Jacob’s dream, and a ladder that stretches up from earth to heaven, and of Rachel’s desperate wish to bear children. In her d’var torah (bat mitzvah speech) Sasha talked about the values of righteousness, integrity, and being good to others. Before a congregation filled with friends and family, including many from my hometown of Pittsburgh who are still reeling from the October synagogue shooting, Sasha wrestled with an ancient text, teaching us the difference between what we want and what we need.
The congregation’s songs and prayers helped Sasha ascend her holy ladder as a young woman who is now old enough to be responsible for the mitzvot and old enough to follow dreams of her own. I cannot predict where those dreams will take my daughter, but I am confident that they will include great acts of generosity and philanthropy.
Sasha has volunteered and given back for most of her life in ways that are meaningful to her. She knows this is not just what the Robbins family does, it’s what Jews do, and that righteousness is what drives me every day in my work at Federation. I see myself as a relationship builder. In that role I love to sense and discover where there are opportunities to match a person’s energy with a philanthropic opportunity. We talk a lot about being a Philanthropic Champion here at Federation. It means listening closely in conversations for clues about someone’s true passion, and then asking.
Conversations like these can result in acts of philanthropy big and small.
I know a couple who is passionate about Israel and who wants everyone to experience the Jewish homeland. I asked them to help us bring 70 Jewish leaders from Atlanta to Israel last winter and they did. The experience this group had traveling, learning and struggling together with the complexities of modern Israel has literally changed the way we interact now that we are all back home.
I know a woman in Atlanta who lost her girlhood friend several years ago and was inspired to steward a Jewish foundation in memory of all that her friend cherished. In the name of her friend, she has done untold good in our community.
I know a successful man who worries about people who are too poor to afford air conditioning during hot Atlanta summers. Every year he distributes free electric box fans to cool them off.
And I know a couple who are ardent about the way social justice work creates new pathways to Jewish engagement for young people. They brought Repair the World to Atlanta, to bring meaningful service opportunities to young Jews in our city.
Where will you give your time and your resources? Today is Giving Tuesday, a day when everyone has an opportunity to be a philanthropic champion. It’s not just about monetary donations. Pick a cause you care about and learn their mission. Volunteer, or serve on a board. Like Sasha, you are old enough to do mitzvot, and more than ready to discover the deep satisfaction of righteous giving.