Why I Give by Steven Shaffer
As a young boy growing up in Miami, the ubiquitous pushke, or charity box, was a staple in my grandparent’s home. I learned at an early age to drop a few coins in the tall, tin can whenever I could. By the time of my Bar Mitzvah, it had become a habit through which I was fulfilling my obligation as a Jew. Then in college, and as I started my working life, I began receiving requests in the mail from Jewish organizations. I was happy to give a little here and a little there, and it felt a lot like dropping coins in the pushke when I was a kid. It mattered little where the funds went and the contributions weren’t particularly taxing on me financially. I wasn’t really connected to the money I was giving, but it felt good to me to give it.
It wasn’t until I moved to Peoria that I began to understand the importance of my giving. We are a very small Jewish community here in downstate Illinois, and it’s not so easy to practice Judaism, as I quickly discovered during my first Passover, when I was shocked by how little kosher for Passover food was available in my local grocery store. It was while my wife, Tamara, and I were looking for Chanukah candles that we were introduced to Sue Katz of the Jewish Federation (which I had never heard of), who not only ensured we got candles, but invited us to participate, as we were parents of an 18 month old, in a program called “bagels and blocks,” where we met other young, Jewish parents and enjoyed an afternoon of play and song.
We began regularly attending Federation events and developing a circle of Jewish friends whom we enjoyed seeing both inside and outside of these events. We were happy to contribute a bit to the annual fund, and even started to get involved in planning and hosting events. I was happy to volunteer my professional expertise as a member of the marketing committee, and it was in this role that I first joined the board of directors. As a member of the board, I had the opportunity to attend the General Assembly, or GA, taking place that year in Washington, D.C. I enjoyed following national politics, and the opportunity to see the process up close was too much for me to resist.
It was at the GA that I truly began to connect the dots between my donations and the good work that it was funding. Up to that point I had been developing an appreciation for the work the Federation was doing locally and enjoying the connections I was making inside and outside the Peoria Jewish community. But being surrounded by over 3000 Jews from across the country, from Israel, and from around the world gave me a sense of the immense scale of what I was part of. Whether it was lobbying members of Congress, or sharing ideas for education and programming, or listening to an unbelievable lineup of speakers, I was constantly reminded of the vast reach of the work we do and the tremendous number of lives we touch.
I returned from my first GA, and 4 years later my second, this time in Jerusalem, my first ever trip to Israel, charged up and emboldened to live a life greater than the one I had been living, filled with purpose, knowing I am part of a warm, loving, global, Jewish community. Fast forward to today. I have become a major donor. I have served our Federation as President. I have committed to supporting our community through a Life and Legacy gift. I have shared highs and lows with lifelong friends and a loving community that has embraced and supported me. I have become more diligent at observing Jewish rituals through my affiliation with one of our amazing local congregations. I have seen Tamara expand her Federation journey and begin her first year as a newly elected board member. I have set an example for my children, who I hope will go on to lead thoughtful, rewarding, Jewish lives as well. I am an example of the return on investment in Federation, and I am grateful for the opportunities that being part of this wonderful organization have afforded me.
So when I give, I think about how so many have touched my life and made it so much better, and I pay it forward, knowing that I am touching lives in every corner of this world, across 80 countries, in Israel, across the United States, and in our small, but mighty Peoria community. I especially think about those, including my children, who will follow me on their own journeys, and I realize that it is my duty – my obligation – to ensure they, like me, are empowered to express their Jewish values and continue these traditions that keep us alive and vibrant and thriving as a people. And when you give, please consider the lives you will touch, and give generously. I assure you that it truly does do a world of good.