By Larry Gordon
My mailman has walked up and down the block where I live in the 5 Towns for as many years as I’ve lived here and more. The person who delivers the mail was always viewed with some importance and some esteem as they were one of the finest vestiges of communication we once had with the distant and not so distant outside world.
But those days are now over and I don’t know about you, but all my mail deliverer brings me is what can only mostly be categorized as “junk” mail. I mean 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 near the garbage in my kitchen so I can quickly file all the appropriate communications where they belong in actuality.
I know that the post office is running at a considerable multibillion dollar deficit over these last many years. With the advent of e-mail and 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 an monthly LIPA bill and a few other bill oriented things here and there, 90% of the mail is solicitations for charitable donations. That is par for the course but I don’t know what it is or wat exactly is going on out there, 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 95% of the people that receive these mail pieces never have to respond and it can still be wildly successful. So in other words 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 grips that do exceptional work. But how can we be expected to respond to all of these? At the rate that these solicitations are arriving one would have to set aside everything else they have to do in order to prepare for the yom tovim 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’m going to 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 bright colored envelopes in one stack and then the plaine white or more mundane looking ones in another pile.
The first piece is from the fairly well known Brooklyn based Mesamche Lev organization. What they do is assist thousands of families in Israel with coupons paid for by donors here and I suppose in other countries as well so that poor families in Israel, mostly with many children, can afford to buy groceries and meat for yom tov. I hear from people in the know that this is one outstanding organization, efficient and 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 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 mekubel, Rav Chaim Palagi (1788-1869) who said, “when a person is ill, he or she should donate meat to the poor.” The card goes onto say that, “The meat will redeem the sick person’s body and that 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 with, “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 kids—young children—who reside with their families in the Shomron region. The letter says in large block letters 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% response can manage to raise a fairly significant amount of money which is precisely what is needed in order for these groups to do what they do best..
Not that there is a contest or anything, but I would say that as far a grabbing attention in the sea of mail solicitations, the piece from Hatzoloh of the 5 Towns and Far Rockaway has to be one of the winners. The Hatzoloh appeal is always a difficult one to set aside or neglect 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 life saving medical equipment. They request that you donate one dollar 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 they run and manage 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 when they know they have a good chance of finding a suitable bone marrow donor somewhere out there in the world through the Ezer Mizion registry. The enclosed brochure reminds us that, “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 of course heart wrenching and difficult to set aside 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 that arrive unexpectedly for $5,000 and even $10,000. 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. There’s Cahal, Masbia and The Mir in Jerusalem. There is a mailing from the important local Leon Mayer Fund that 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 Tzedaka has increased greatly. Just this past month we have been called upon to assist some very needy families in our community.”
You know with each one of these envelopes that I flip through a few organizations that do similar type work comes to mind. So I have to say that if you were 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 Tzedaka as “the Mitzvah” because it is so 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’s not even aware of the important role he plays in all this.