Ari Weisbard & Rebecca Ennen
Rebecca: My earliest memories of giving were participating in the Walk for Hunger and the AIDS Walk in Boston with my mother. The fundraising goals that we set each year felt tangible and real. I’d imagine hungry kids eating meals that I “made” for them. I remember walking mournfully alongside families of AIDS victims. I also remember my mom’s open discomfort with the obvious expense of the walk logistics – snacks, t-shirts, all the trappings of large-scale charity events. She was able to hold together these two truths, that we should work hard to contribute, and that something was wrong that so many resources were going to the event and not the cause.
Today, I try to follow her example of balancing conflicting values when I think about our giving – how effective are our dollars in large vs. small organizations? What is our responsibility to communities near us and far away? Do we give to help with immediate needs, generated by systematic inequities, or to political and community organizing work that can transform those inequities?
Ari: I am strongly influenced by Jewish teachings and philosophy as well as more universalistic philosophers. I was a workers’ rights activist in college and studied many forms of political change, but it was when I met Rebecca, and with some other close friends, that I went from thinking about how much people ought to give to actually giving more myself.
Our community keeps me committed to our values and pushes me to do more. Last Yom Kippur, I gave a dvar torah, a sermon, talking about the traditional Jewish teaching of giving a minimum of 10% of your income. Jewish tradition doesn’t call this 10% “charity,” but instead, tzedakah, which is from the word for justice. We don’t get extra credit for doing it: giving less is actually said to be stealing.
I asked the congregation, how many of us actually donate even this supposedly minimum amount? I often feel guilty for any money I spend on myself beyond the bare necessities, in a world where so many people are suffering. I think about the saying “give until it hurts” and realize I’ve never “hurt” or really sacrificed something in order to give. I still struggle with this. But for us, starting with 10% is a way to know that we are not just doing what “feels good” but that we have set a baseline.
Rebecca: In my early 20s, I got interested in religious Judaism as an expression of my progressive or even radical politics. I wanted to live in a way that centered around utopian values– not money or “getting ahead.” I appreciated the clarity that religious language brought, including the commandment to give at least 10% of our money to the poor, which frames our money not as our own but as resources entrusted to us. Making a lifelong and substantial financial commitment reminds me, every paycheck I earn and every donation I make, that the world now is not the way it could and should be – and that I’m doing something concrete to change that.
When I first learned about these teachings, I was incredibly broke and working as an artist. I lived paycheck to paycheck and scrounged extra shifts at my grocery job to afford treats like occasional restaurant meals. I didn’t see how I could contribute 10% of this meager income. 10% seemed like an ideal to work towards. But then a rabbi and teacher showed me a spreadsheet that his family used to figure out their giving – and I realized that I actually knew many people who were, quietly, living what I had dreamed of. I was motivated to do the same.
Ari: Rebecca and I met shortly after that at a progressive Jewish retreat and fell in love. We’ve been together almost six years. We both work in local Washington-area grassroots politics. The issues that excite us the most include raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for vital social services, increasing the minimum wage, and guaranteeing paid sick leave and family leave for everyone. Our work is another expression of our Jewish and universalist commitments to fight oppression of vulnerable people and bring about a society that honors human dignity.
Rebecca: Our faith gives us a shared language to frame sometimes very heated debates, between the two of us or with friends, about how to live out our values. Having friends who share our ideals and think about money as we do makes it easier to live a rich and full life that isn’t costly. There’s no “keeping up with the Joneses” because the Joneses are making the same kinds of decisions that we are.
This year we are stretching to give at least 20%, in honor of shmita. In ancient times, the Torah teaches, our people had to let all agricultural land lie fallow one out of every seven years. During that shmita year, whatever grew on the uncultivated land was shared communally, and financial debts were released. Today many Jews still live out parts of these ancient practices, including people like us who choose to live on limited resources in gratitude for the abundance we’ve been given and in solidarity with those who have less. We’re still not sure that it’s enough, but it’s one more step that we are pushing ourselves to take.
Ari: We hope all of you reading this will be inspired to join us. We’re not the only folks giving away a big chunk of our earnings, and you don’t have to be wealthy to do it. If lots more middle-class families like ours gave 10% of what we earn, could you imagine the change we could see in the world?
| 18 to 39 Years Old | Under $1M | at least 20% | Business |
| LGBTQ | Peace | Politics | Social Justice | Fairness | Faith | Passion | Simplicity |