Friday, February 27, 2009

Tzedakkah from the Heart: The Anti-Madoff

Did you notice that during his address to Congress this week, President Obama singled out Leonard Abess for special mention? He is the anti-Madoff, a lifelong member of Temple Israel of Greater Miami, a Reform Congregation. A rabbinical colleague down there tells me that the sanctuary is named after his mother, Bertha Abess. Leonard recently sold his bank, City National, for nearly $1 billion. It was privately held, in his name. He then set aside $60 million to reward his employees for service rendered since they had no equity in the institution. It was a free-will offering, with nothing, not even publicity, expected in return. It was not owed, not obligatory, totally from the heart. Read more about it here.

Abess is exactly the person we need to be hearing about right now. And Joseph Telushkin has written precisely the book we should be reading.

Exactly three years ago, we were honored to host Rabbi Joseph Telushkin on the weekend of the publication of the first volume of his unparalleled "A Code of Jewish Ethics." The first volume focused on personal issues, such as how to be more cheerful and less angry and how to avoid gossip. Volume two, with a focus on loving our neighbor, just came out this past week, and I'm already devouring it. Telushkin has set up a Facebook group called "The Jewish Ethics Project," a forum for people to share their stories and ideas for making ethics and Jewish ethical teachings part of their everyday lives.

I'll be introducing the new book to the congregation tomorrow morning at services. Since the portion, Terumah, discusses charity (Terumah literally means "gifts of the heart") in the construction of the tabernacle in the wilderness, we'll see what Telushkin's new Code says about tzedakkah. It's fascinating.

We'll be exploring other sections of the book in weeks to come.

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