White Coat Underground

DonorsChoose—what is “charity”?

Today begins the Jewish festival of Sukkoth, originally a harvest festival. Like many religious holidays, it carries a mandate for charity. During this time, it is traditional to build a temporary structure called a sukkoh and to do as much living as possible there. It is also traditional to invite guests. In the ancient mythology, some of those guests are the ancestors of the Jewish people such as Abraham, Sarah, Issac, Leah, Rebbekah, Jacob, Rachael, and others. European Jewish mythology is filled with folktales of the Ancestors coming to the sukkoh in disguise to sample the hospitality.

Jewish traditions hold many levels of charity, traditionally described by Moses Maimonides. Especially valued are anonymous contributions that help people help themselves, although any gift is a mitzvah.

All this is by way of asking you to either give to DonorsChoose or help spread the word. The projects I’m trying to help are needy classrooms in Michigan, and every little bit helps.


  1. #1 Art
    October 3, 2009

    The up side of charity is that it fosters a sense of generosity and thankfulness, and can give people a leg up in hard times.

    The down side is that it can salve a guilty conscience and/or provide an excuse to avoid or safety valve for creative pressure that would force beneficial changes toward a society with greater economic or social justice.

    Two cases I’m familiar with: An employer who takes advantage of economic hardship to keep employees over worked and underpaid used the handout of a Christmas turkey to bolster his reputation and sidestep having to raise wages.

    Pharmaceutical companies set up a give away program for people who cannot afford their drugs. This provides free advertising that helps their image and sidesteps news stories about poor people dying that can’t afford drugs to keep them alive. Stories that might make them look greedy. Giving a small amount of drugs away avoids having to discuss lowering prices in light of huge profits. It helps short circuit real discussion and change.

  2. #2 Donna B.
    October 4, 2009

    Art, what a downer comment.

    While I can see your point somewhat about the drug companies, I’ve never seen these programs heavily promoted (such as TV ads) but I could have missed that.

    What I have noticed is that almost every doctor knows about the plans.

    If the drug companies lowered the price of all their drugs to a minimal amount, the price of their stock would plummet, they’d lay off employees, research would come to a halt, and then they’d go out of business.

    There are no doubt evil greedy humans in some of the drug companies out to screw everybody, but the corporation and its profits are not in themselves evil.

    As an antidote to your greedy employer, what about the one who gives each employee a $100 cash at Christmas? By taking it out of his own pocket and NOT claiming it as a business deduction, he’s actually breaking the law. His reasoning, when informed of this, was “If I add it to their paycheck, it’s a bonus, not a gift. I want to give them a gift.”

    Frankly, it’s rather cold-hearted or small-minded to criticize the giving of others, IMHO.

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