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Pay It Forward, Covid-19-style

During this economic meltdown, will you join us as we Pay it Forward?

We have been blessed with a whole web of workers, businesses, and organizations that have long been part of our lives. For us, this wonderful web includes:

  • House cleaners, gardeners, and pool guys
  • Synagogues, Jewish day schools, and advocacy groups
  • Beloved Israeli and local non-profits
  • Direct service providers
  • Favorite local restaurants and businesses

They have taken care of us. Now, realizing that their businesses is or will be down, or that donations are slowing or stopped, we want to show them that we value their years of service to us and to the community. We want to help them through.

Nighttime is Coming

We are in the midst of a long night. The darkness that has descended from this virus and the resulting economic devastation is already obscuring and threatening all the beautiful people, organizations, and businesses that have helped us or served us or have extended our reach to deepen our sacred work of tikkun olam (repairing the world). As this occurs, we refuse to sit idly by.

What can we do?

At the center of Torah, in the Holiness Code, we are taught that “the wages of the worker should not remain with you all night until the morning” (Leviticus 19:13). Often this mitzvah (commandment) is understood to mean that we cannot withhold payment until convenient for us to pay but rather we should recompense workers right away or on the next scheduled payday for their work.

The economic meltdown, however, goads us now to revisit this understanding and to adjust the way we fulfill this mitzvah.

Certain money is on loan to us

Jewish tradition teaches that the tzedakah we give others technically is not ”our” money; it was placed in our pockets by the Source of All to share with others. By extension, the wages we would pay to those who work for us or the payments we would make for to businesses that we usually frequent or the donations that we would normally donate – but might now not be paid because we are all sequestered at home – are monies that were budgeted for them and might reasonably be considered theirs.

And so, since at the unique moment, while we still have the capacity to help (and we recognize many may not or will not in the future), my household is setting a goal to accomplish the following:

For the workers who come to our homes

Like the housecleaner, the pool guy, the exterminator, and the gardener – we are paying each of them one month ahead. They too ought to stay safe at home, sheltering in place. They too will need to pay bills, buy food, and find a way through. Over the years each of them came through for us, helping out in a time of crisis or in a time of need. It’s our turn to do the same for them. Perhaps one day our extra payment will be matched with an extra month’s work. But not necessarily. For now, we are just trying to help them remain afloat.

For the organizations we regularly support

Like the advocacy groups and the at-risk youth programs to the synagogue and the Jewish schools, the tzedakah (charitable) organizations, the Israeli organizations and more – we plan to donate to each a bit more now or in the next months. They are still on the front lines, with people to support and serve, and we want them to continue their sacred tasks. The chesed (lovingkindness) they distribute and the tzedek (justice) they pursue repair the world in ways we cannot be without.

For the businesses we regularly visit

Like the hairdresser – we will do the same, paying them now for the visit we would have made soon. Perhaps we will get a cut in the future (perhaps not) but at least we will be assisting them as they too walk into the unknown.

For the restaurants we regularly frequent

We will be paying it forward. If they offer gift cards, we are purchasing them for a few meals or more, so they have the money now and we can consider whether to spend or donate the cards later. These are the haimishe (homey) establishments that for years have kept us fed and sated; it is our turn now to help sustain them.

In addition, we each are devoting some time to another organization to do extra volunteer work – like checking in on clients or calling members – just to show that the organization still cares.

N95 Face Masks

We just discovered a box of N95 masks left over from last year’s fires. We are delivering them today to a doctor at our local hospital. Yes, one day we might need them. But these frontline healthcare providers need them now. And they need them more. Each day they are running into virus-infested medical rooms to help those in need. By giving them our masks, we are joining them in the fight.

We recognize that not everyone has the capacity to extend themselves in this way. But many of us can take some of these actions to help others along the way. The Shulchan Aruch teaches that even the poorest can share a portion of what they receive to help those who have less (Yoreh De’ah 248:1).

Will We Each Have Done our Part?

This long night will sometime be over and we will be able to leave our homes once again. Let us hope and expect that this sinking economy will turn back around quickly.

But until it does, we all need to pay it forward. When we finally are able to hug our loved ones, gather together with our friends, and do holy justice work in the community, we want to make sure that in addition to taking caring of  our own loved ones, we also took care of those who have lovingly served, supported, or did our housework.

It is time to pay it forward.

Will you stretch yourself and consider doing the same?


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