The importance of honoring generosity

This week, the Jewish Community Federation threw a festive banquet to honor donors who have sent in checks year after year — for at least a quarter century.

As Rabbi Alan Lew, president of the Northern California Board of Rabbis, said in his invocation, those gathered at the event were "machers and shleppers" alike; people who have given tens of thousands annually sat next to people who have donated in the double digits.

But how much donors have given was clearly not the point. The federation was honoring the spirit of generosity.

The fact that so many people donate time and money to improve the lives of their fellow Jews — through the federation or other causes — is truly cause for celebration. And it is heartening that so many honor the commandment to give what they can — with commitment and consistency.

Few, certainly, expect recognition for their generosity; to give quietly and with no strings attached is the definition of true tzedakah. Still, the acknowledgment donors got this week was well-deserved.

Particularly moving was a tribute to those who have given to the federation for 60 years or more.

Among that dwindling group was the inspirational Al Spencer, a spry 97-year-old who volunteers regularly at the Jewish Home for the Aged in San Francisco. Relatives from New Zealand and Israel flew in to see him and other 60-year donors proudly stand before an audience of more than 1,600 to receive flowers and a standing ovation.

Those longtime donors have much to take pride in. Many helped build the federation and the larger Jewish community. They have lived to see the fruits of their labor.

While there is much talk about assimilation and declining Jewish involvement, this week's dinner was a sign of hope, a rare chance to stop and recognize those who are helping ensure the Jewish community's future — and to set an example for generations to come.

During this season of self-examination, let us also take time to reassess our own commitment to the community and remember the mitzvah of generosity.