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JCF Blog

Building the Future

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 9/8/2017

“A society grows great when old men (and women) plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”    Unknown

The Torah portion T’rumah (Exodus 25:1 – 27:19) is sometimes humorously referred to as the “fundraisers Torah portion.” Because it says “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts… from every person whose heart is so moved.” The gifts were intended as the components that would make up the Mishkan – the portable sanctuary within which G-d would reside while the Israelites wandered through the desert. Apparently, it was the first Jewish fundraising campaign! 

Importantly, the gifts are not obligatory. Instead, the call is for giving by those whose heart is so moved. We often think of giving as something we are commanded to do, but the voluntary nature of giving is part of what makes philanthropy so powerful - something to be recognized and celebrated. 

It’s all the more important to remember a donor’s freedom to be generous when we talk about giving for which we personally may never see the benefit. As the quote above suggests, it is inherently harder to give when you won’t see who will benefit from the cooling shade you’ve created. Yet that is the very idea of endowment and is an essential part of the mission of the Jewish Community Foundation.

There is another interpretation of T’rumah that I find even more powerful. Most translations talk of building the tabernacle so that G-d may “dwell among them”. An alternative translation, however, suggests that the phrase should actually be read as meaning that the Divine will “dwell within them”. This alternate translation suggests that the intent was actually to build a symbolic Mishkan within each of us - a personal sanctuary where all of the values and beliefs of our faith (including tzedakah and tikkun olam – charity and repair of the world) could reside and be a permanent part of us.

This “sanctuary of the heart” suggests a gift that is not physical, but spiritual - one that represents the eternal embodiment of a people. Perhaps this sanctuary created by our ancestors was meant to be portable not just through space, but through time.  By teaching us to give joyously and with our hearts we were building values to be passed from generation to generation throughout all time. 

As with individuals, so with a community. There are philanthropists (large and small)who create endowments to ensure the future of the Jewish community and the causes that matter deeply to them. Perhaps this giving represents a core part of the values we hold as a community. By creating endowment, these values can be passed from generation to generation - a message of hope and purpose carried across time.    

This is what we mean when we talk about personal legacy. Each of us can contribute to the building of this symbolic structure, this sanctuary of the heart. Sending a message of hope and purpose to future generations so that they may know of the values we hold dear. It’s important because no community will long prosper without a rootedness in its values.

Whether you believe in endowment or not, consider how you can help build this symbolic tabernacle for the things that matter most to you and those who will follow you.   

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