Tzedakah That Grows With Time

By Hannah Lee

What could you give to someone who has everything essential? When my friend, Mary Jo, finally married her long-time sweetheart and they combined two households, she didn’t need another set of wine goblets or china. I was thrilled when she said that a donation to Heifer International would warm her heart. I knew of their humanitarian work in foreign countries, but I’d yet to learn of their myriad educational projects, including ones here in the United States. So, I purchased a flock of chicks in her honor. These chicks were given to an eligible family overseas and when they grow up and become productive, the family donates the new chicks to another family in a Passing on the Gift ceremony. This is tzedakah that grows exponentially from your initial investment.Heifer International‘s mission is to work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the Earth.

It all started with a cow.

Its origin lore states:

Moved by the plight of orphans and refugees of the Spanish Civil War as he ladled out meager rations of powdered milk, Dan West, an Indiana farmer, volunteer relief worker and Church of the Brethren member, grasped that the people needed “a cow, not a cup”– cows that could produce milk so families would not have to depend on temporary aid. From that simple idea, Heifer International was born.

In 1944, the first cows sent abroad were donated by West’s neighbors and distributed throughout Europe following World War II. More than 67 years later, Heifer has expanded its mission, just as it expanded to 30 types of animals it now provides– from goats, geese and guinea pigs to bees, silkworms and water buffalo.

This Hanukkah, Heifer International is providing a variety of gift options that fulfill the Jewish mitzvot of tzedakah and tikkun olam. They’ve launched the “Heifer at Hanukkah” website, where shoppers can honor a loved one — from Abba to Zaide, in their words — with a cow, goat, or chicks to help an impoverished family move from dependence to independence. Heifer provides livestock, trees, seeds, and training in environmentally-sound agriculture to families in more than 42 countries, including the United States, Nepal, China, Brazil, Rwanda, and Armenia.

Mark Feuerstein (of USA Network’s Royal Pains) and Ed Asner (known to the younger generation by his voice in the Pixar film Up) are featured in a family-friendly video. Mark dresses up as a Heifer, the gift that Ed plans to give his granddaughter, which will provide an impoverished family with four gallons of milk a day. “My granddaughter will receive the gift of giving tzedakah,” Ed says. “Kids play with a good toy for a few months or a year, but this gift ends poverty here at home and abroad.”

With Heifer at Hanukkah, Jewish shoppers can select socially-conscious and eco-friendly gifts to dedicate to their loved ones. These gifts include:

  • A Flock of Chicks ($20): A flock of chicks can help families add nourishing, life-sustaining eggs to their inadequate diets. The protein in just one egg is a nutritious gift for a hungry child. Protein-packed eggs from even a single chicken can make a life-saving difference.
  • A Boost of Nutrition ($36):  This gift has everything a malnourished child needs to become healthy and happy: fruit and vegetable seeds to provide vitamins and minerals, chickens to provide daily protein from eggs, training in sustainable farming, and nutrition for parents.
  • Women’s Self-Help Group ($72): Help start a group to empower women to learn to read, teach them valuable skills, and decrease their vulnerability to domestic violence, trafficking and health-related issues.
  • A Goat ($120): A dairy goat can supply a family with up to several quarts of nutritious milk a day– that’s a ton of milk in a year. Extra milk can be sold or used to make cheese, butter or yogurt. Families also learn to use goat manure to fertilize gardens.
  • An Ark ($5,000): The Heifer Gift Ark is one of the most comprehensive gifts you can make to hungry families worldwide– 15 pairs of animals to change their lives.

I’ve long wanted to keep chickens and I have been collecting books on their care.  I’ve even checked with our zoning codes —  two chickens, no roosters, and 15-feet from our neighbors.  Finally, this fall, my husband gave me his approval, with the stipulation that I research the methods to protect chickens from predators.  I’ve learned that they’re fine from cats, but they’re vulnerable to dogs, foxes, and hawks.  For me, it’d be an indulgence, a hobby. In the meantime, I can indulge my fancy by sponsoring chickens that could sustain a family overseas.

Rabbi Goldie Milgram, Philadelphia Jewish Voice Living Judaism Editor, says,

Consider reading this article with your children or grandchildren and visiting the “Heifer at Hanukkah” website when they come for Hanukkah. This is a cause where giving gelt together can inspire a new generation of caring Jewish donors.

The Happiness Mystique, Redux

My mother has a simple recipe that works for her (and me): stop eating before you feel full. When I share this philosophy with Americans, I’m often rewarded with a puzzled look: how do you know you feel full before your tummy aches? In today’s New York Times, an article by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton coins the term, “underindulgence,” a concept that’s also novel for its abstemious approach to life. In their forthcoming book, “Happy Money: The Science of Spending,” they describe research into the relationship between personal revenue and happiness. In sum, their conclusion is that beyond a basic minimum— scientists set this amount to be $75,000 in the United States– one does not benefit from greater happiness proportional to the increments in wealth. This was not news to me.

A more interesting point made by the authors was that spending money on others does accrue greater happiness. For instance, if three people were to be given $1 million as from a lottery win, the person who chooses to spend it all on satisfying his or her every whim fares worse on the scientists’ happiness scale than do the remaining two participants, one of whom puts it all in savings and uses it sparingly or the other who gives it all to charity. This reminds me of the rabbinical teaching that giving tzedakah (righteousness, a Jewish concept more encompassing than charity) is a powerful reward in of itself, because you are choosing to do what is right by God.

Dunn and Norton further state that a decade of research has shown that spending on material possessions– stuff– is less rewarding than spending on experiences. Finally, they offered a crucial point about underindulgence— indulging less than one’s resources allow— “holds the key to getting more happiness for your money.” In a study by their student Jordi Quoidbach, a group of chocolate lovers were given one piece of the sweet treat and then pledged to abstain from chocolate for one week. Another group pledged to eat as much chocolate as desired and they were given a two-pound bag to help them towards this goal. When all the participants returned a week later, only those chocolate lovers who’d refrained from indulging during the week enjoyed the chocolate as much as during the initial session. Everyone who’s fasted for Yom Kippur (or starved for real) could understand the exquisite appreciation for our food afterwards.

So, the new word for us is “underindulgence. ” This means different things to different people— whether choosing against a second helping of a favorite food, staying up all night, or more stuff when our closets are full. Underindulgence– one day my spellchecker may stop highlighting this word!