My mailman has walked up and down the block where I live in the Five Towns for as many years as I’ve lived here, and more. The person who delivers the mail has always been viewed with some esteem, as one of the finest vestiges of communication with the distant and not-so-distant outside world.
But it seems that those days are now over. I don’t know about you, but most of what my mail deliverer brings me can be categorized as “junk” mail. Whereas I used to open or at least look at the daily mail at my desk, I have of late taken to opening the mail while I am near the garbage in my kitchen so I can quickly file all the appropriate communications where they belong.
I know that the post office is running at a multibillion-dollar deficit over these last many years. With the advent of e‑mail and other Internet communication, snail mail, as it is referred to, has become, if not obsolete, then certainly at times little more than a nuisance.
At this time of year, however, that changes ever so slightly. My guess is that except for a monthly LIPA bill and a few other bills here and there, 90 percent of the mail is solicitations for charitable donations. That is par for the course, but this year there seems to be more mail of this type than ever before. I would estimate that there are between 10 to 15 mail pieces of this nature arriving daily.
In the interest of full disclosure, I used to work in an industry where putting together these mail solicitations was one of the projects that I had to oversee. I understand something about the dynamics and psychology of these solicitations and why there are so many of them particularly at this time of year. The first important thing to know is that even if 95 percent of the mailing recipients never respond, a campaign can still be wildly successful. So don’t feel so bad, because you are in good company with many others that just flip these things into the wastepaper basket.
Just about all of these letters are from reputable and upstanding groups that do exceptional work. But how can we be expected to respond to all of them? At the rate that these solicitations are arriving, one would have to set aside all other yom tov preparations just to read the letters and peruse all the enclosures.
While I usually do not open these, because of time constraints, I decided that in order to write a proper essay on the subject and to also help you—the reader—out, I would open and carefully examine the most interesting of these letters. Quite naturally I am at first drawn to the most colorful and graphically appealing mail pieces. I place the brightly colored envelopes in one stack and the plain white or more mundane-looking ones in another pile.
The first piece is from the fairly well-known Brooklyn-based Mesamche Lev organization. They provide coupons paid for by donors here (and I suppose other countries as well) to thousands of poor families in Israel, mostly with many children, to help them afford groceries and meat for yom tov. I hear from people in the know that this is one outstanding organization—efficient, well run, and reaching people with the most profound needs for yom tov. There are, no doubt, other groups that perform a similar service, just as efficient and just as valuable, but so far this year I have not received any mail from them.
In the Mesamche Lev envelope, I receive an actual replica of a food coupon that is distributed to families for the chagim. There are coupons for $360, $180, and $120. There is even a card inside that says you can sponsor the purchase of meat at the price of $7.70 per pound. On the same colorful card is a picture of a famed mekubal, Rav Chaim Palagi (1788–1869) who said, “When a person is ill, he or she should donate meat to the poor.” The card goes on to say, “The meat will redeem the sick person’s body and in the merit of charity the person will recover.”
The next envelope I pulled out of my little stack here is an “Urgent Action Alert” from my friends at the One Israel Fund. It’s a nice blue envelope with bright yellow lettering. The well-designed letter begins, “The news coming out of Israel these days is very troublesome. Once again, the Israeli government is chasing a paper-thin treaty with its anything-but-peaceful Arab neighbors. Towns in Israel’s heartland face existential danger, both from the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks and now from an international community determined to serve up these towns to our avowed enemies.”
There is a great picture enclosed of a bunch of young children who reside with their families in the Shomron region. The letter says, in large block lettering highlighted in a yellow marker, “You have the ability to make a difference.” And then further down in the same letter, “Changing the facts on the ground will change the facts at the negotiating table.” You certainly cannot argue with any of this. The enclosed card asks that you check off the level of donation you would like to make. It starts at $1,000 and goes down to $18.
You have to figure that each one of these organizations has sent out these letters to tens of thousands of homes. Some, like the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Magen David Adom, probably sent these solicitations to hundreds of thousands of people. So as you can see, even a 5 percent response can manage to raise a fairly significant amount of money, which is precisely what is needed for these groups to do what they do best.
Not that there is a contest or anything, but I would say that as far as grabbing attention in the sea of mail solicitations, the piece from Hatzalah of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway has to be one of the winners. The Hatzalah appeal is always a difficult one to set aside, as it is part of the fabric of everyday life both here and in Jewish communities around the country.
The piece in the mail is first-rate in terms of design and presentation. It is a self-mailer, which means that it is not a big envelope with all kinds of difficult pieces to figure out falling out all over the place. And it is bright red as well as oversized, which makes it impossible not to notice. The campaign they are running is for lifesaving medical equipment. They request that you donate $1 for each day of the Jewish year, which this year features 385 days. The campaign is appropriately named “The Year of Life Campaign.”
And on the subject of saving lives, there was an interesting and attractive piece in the mail from Ezer Mizion with a note on the outside envelope that reminds potential donors that the organization runs and manages the world’s largest Jewish bone-marrow donor registry. The package includes a brief letter that alludes to the relief a family with a child that is ill with leukemia feels knowing they have a good chance of finding a suitable bone-marrow donor. The enclosed brochure reminds us, “Hundreds of children are diagnosed with cancer, and each one is somebody’s child. For many of them a bone-marrow transplant is their only chance to live.” It is heartrending to set aside such an appeal without making some kind of donation.
And there are indeed many people who send something—maybe only a few dollars—in each one of these envelopes. And that’s important. I’ve seen and heard about checks for $5,000 and even $10,000 that arrive unexpectedly. The most I ever heard of a person sending in an envelope for an organization without any fanfare or expectations was $100,000. You can rest assured that a $25 or $36 donation from these mailings is above average and contributes substantially to the success of these campaigns.
There are many more interesting mail pieces here on my desk, but I’m running out of space. There is a thick envelope from the Terror Victims Support Center. A colorful and interesting mailing from Acheinu about the great and vital kiruv work they do. Cahal, Masbia, and the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem. There is a mailing from the important local Leon Mayer Fund, which includes a letter from Rabbi Simcha Lefkowitz. He writes, “Unfortunately the present economic situation has left many families in a terrible bind, and the need for an effective and discreet source of tzedakah has increased greatly. Just this past month we have been called upon to assist some very needy families in our community.”
With each one of these envelopes that I flip through, a few organizations that do similar work come to mind. So I have to say that if your organization has been left out of this brief dissertation, it does not mean that your involvement is not vital to the community you serve, whether here or in Israel. Our sages refer to tzedakah as “the mitzvah” because it is all-encompassing. And that is because the money that you earn is generated by the use of your full intellectual and often physical capacities. That means that the money you give to support others is genuinely a product of the very essence and definition of who you are in totality.
My mailman will probably continue to deliver these letters over the next few weeks and beyond. And he might not even be aware of the important role he plays in supporting all of this vital good work. v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.