A nugget of Big Medicine for your consideration. #89 Tzedakah
I wrote this piece a number of Christmakahs ago. I thought about it yesterday when I heard about the heartwarming story of Larry DePrimo, the NYPD cop who bought a homeless man a pair of shoes. We like to hear stories about the good people do – those little acts of kindness that can change someone’s world. This is one such story.
“Last year I made my gift bags for the homeless too late in the season. We drove around downtown in the freezing cold and found only one person who lived on the streets. I put the bag down next to him and he said, “Thanks.” I watched from our car as he reached in and pulled out the gloves and put them on. It was so sad. I cried and cried. We go through our lives saying, ‘I wish I had, I wish I had,’ and these people have nothing at all. An experience like this changes your perspective forever.” She’s a very spiritual person who shares and openly celebrates her Jewish faith with her family and friends. She speaks with an empassioned wisdom that belies the fact she is only twenty-seven years of age. Choosing to remain anonymous because she doesn’t want her act of kindness to be obscured by a distracted glance at the giver. So focused is her view that what she is doing is an essential act of human kindness that transcends race, religion, language, or any other artificial boundaries.
“I don’t believe in not giving money to someone who asks me directly for it. And so, every year during the holidays I’d be downtown and I’d find myself giving a loony here and a twoony there. I wanted to do something more and so last year I started making Christmas gift bags for homeless people. I made ten bags last year—matched them up with ten polar fleece blankets a friend of mine gave to the cause. I ended up leaving nine of them with Sid Stevens at Sun Youth who promised to give them to people in need.”
They’re not wealthy people but, she reminds me more than once in the course of the interview, they’ve been blessed with a good life. The gift bags are funded by the “Swear To Help” Fund. Her husband is an incorrigible curser although it must be said he has been trying to clean up his verbal act since the birth of their daughter nearly two years ago. Every time he swears or uses inappropriate language in their home, he donates $5 to the Fund. This year must have been a bit more stressful than last; there was enough in the Fund to create an extra gift bag.
And so, tonight they’ll leave their home in the ‘burbs and drive into the center of the city looking to spread some intensely personal holiday cheer of their own. The contents of the gift bags have been carefully planned to be useful to people with little or nothing to call their own. A hat, socks, and gloves; a bottle of orange juice; a can of soup with a pull-tab top, a cup of noodles; a box of rice krispie squares; and a zip lock bag filled with disposable spoons and napkins. It’s the attention to detail that makes me smile as she tells me why she makes sure the soup has a pull-tab top for ease of opening.
“I gave our daughter a Tzedakah bank so she can save money to help others. We give her our loose change. She probably doesn’t know what it means yet but one day she will. I’ve always believed the best form of charity is blind—giving to people you don’t know who don’t know you. And Christmas, well, at Christmas there are people without others who are the most lonely.”
Tzedakah is the Hebrew word for the acts that we call “charity” in English: giving aid, assistance and money to the poor and needy or to other worthy causes. The word “tzedakah” is derived from the Hebrew root Tzade-Dalet-Qof, meaning righteousness, justice or fairness.
Her husband reflects on last year’s scene in the street: “It was heartwarming and, at the same time, heartbreaking. The guy reached right into the giftwrapped bag and pulled out the gloves. He looked so content just to have a pair of gloves sitting there on the street.”
Be well. Practice big medicine.