A meshulach (Jewish charity collector) visited our home late one summer night. A window was open so he knocked at the screen. Heschel, our dog, sprang to his feet, jumped through the screen and chased the visitor all the way down the block. We reveled in this victory, and Heschel earned himself extra treats that night. I often tell this story around the Shabbat table, and it is a crowd-pleaser. My children are well aware of how proud I was of Heschel that day.
Despite our attitudes toward that meshulach, my wife and I have tried to raise our children to be community-minded with open, giving hearts.
Last year, our 11-year-old son, Matan, and his friend, Ethan, gathered their band of friends and sold snowballs hoping to pad their wallets to buy football cards and Super Soakers [water guns]. To make this project more meaningful, the parents of this group suggested that they give a portion of their proceeds to a charity. I anticipated some pushback and prepared myself with mottos such as “It’s better to give than receive” and “Be thankful for what you have.” But to our surprise, the kids responded by showing true compassion. They worked hard and raised $500 for the Jewish Caring Network. They beamed with genuine pride.
The following year, to prove that they were not just worked over by fast-talking adults, they stepped up their operation and pulled in $1,000. Remarkably, they did not keep any of the money for themselves. The satisfaction of giving back to the community was not lost on these youngsters.
Now dubbed “The Snowball Gang,” the children were truly an inspiration. But they did need a bit of guidance to put them on that righteous path. Left to their own devices, they might not have made the same choices. For example, recently the same Matan, who I thought had understood my “be thankful for what you have” speech, paid $15 of his birthday money to watch a classmate drink a whole cup of ketchup. He thought it was money well spent, and the two of them were giddy with excitement as they told me about the episode.
Just as kids don’t always make the right judgment calls, it occurred to me that perhaps I celebrated a bit too much about that poor meshulach who was chased down the block by Herschel. I don’t know that I can stop telling the story around the Shabbat table. It’s an essential piece of comedic material. But I did do something else. Whenever a meshulach comes to the door, I fight my visceral desire to shoo him away. Instead, I invite him in and let him sit down. I ask a few questions and offer a drink. The last time a meshulach came around I introduced him to my children. (Yes, they thought it was strange.) I only had a few dollars to give him, and I apologized for that. The meshulach told me not to apologize. He said it was the best stop of his day.