My parents’ golden retriever Sophie was snoring by my feet in my parents’ living room in Miami Beach last month, when suddenly she sprang from her slumber at the sound of the doorbell.
The man outside was part of a growing cottage industry of Orthodox Jewish fund raisers whose job it is to travel door-to-door collecting money to benefit Jewish schools, seminaries, and families in the United States and in Israel. As my father opened the door, Sophie rushed to greet this “meshulach” (as they are known in Yiddish). My father would not have been displeased if she had scared him away.
My parents are generous people, especially to Orthodox Jewish causes. But they have philosophical differences with the tactics of the “meshulach” industry. Yet my father walked outside to speak with him and several minutes later made a donation.
What compels my father–and others like him from all religions – to give? That question is what this new blog is all about.
Why do the religiously motivated still give to the man at the door? Why do the parishioners say yes to their bishop or priest, why does the churchgoer put money in the collection plate, and why does the average Muslim give to the local mosque?
In recent decades, religious giving has taken a backseat in the public eye. Still, Americans gave just over $100-billion to religious nonprofits in 2010–or a touch more than one-third of the $300-billion that Giving USA estimates Americans gave in total. And religious giving remains the largest philanthropic line item for American households.
That leads to another question that this blog will explore: What happens once my father’s check, and all others like his, are cashed?
And when we don’t give–as has become more common in our more secular philanthropic society–how will religious groups react? How have the religious causes that rely on that money started to cope with competition in the secular world?
Piece by piece, the Rising Tithe will map the landscape of religious philanthropy, ask some big questions, and tell the story of faith-based giving in little slices of life and conversations with those who give and those who ask.
It will track the organizations that have their roots in religion but their missions in the secular world–the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, World Vision, the Jewish federations, and the like. And it will keep a running tab on the news of religious and religiously inspired giving by aggregating from other sources.
For the past decade, I have been studying the world of Jewish philanthropy from the inside out as a reporter for several prominent Jewish publications. Most recently, I wrote The Fundermentalist, a blog for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a century-old news service for which I covered the titans of philanthropy, the fallout from Bernard Madoff, and even the small charitable response of local synagogues when they were faced with hardships.
As the Rising Tithe develops, I will draw on my Jewish experience, but people of different faiths have much to learn from one another, as our experiences are not all that different and our challenges pretty much the same.
Though I will mostly be writing from New York where I live, as often as possible I’d like to get away to see the broader world firsthand. But wherever I am, I hope you will reach out to me to share your stories and your ideas. I hope you’ll help guide this journey so that we can learn together and turn this space into a forum for conversation across denominational lines.