Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review Dec. 27, 2001/ 12 Teves 5762

Paying for somebody else's charity; Down(s) and out?

By Wendy Belzberg -- I just received a form letter in which I am being solicited by a long-time acquaintance to help establish a fund in honor of her mother. The money would fund an annual concert of Jewish music that would take place in the nursing home where her mother is in a coma. The letter invites me "To bake, serve or hostess at this concert event," and to make a one-time gift in the amount of $18 to cover the cost of the concert. My question is: How do I gently tell her, when she calls, that she won't be seeing a check from me? Am I wrong to think that if she is doing a mitzvah -- religious precept -- she shouldn't be asking her friends to pay for it?

A: By your logic, no worthy cause would be eligible for a donation of any size. Charities exist-by definition-for others, and the pleasure in performing a mitzvah extends to all who contribute to them. I'd be interested in hearing your definition of tzedekah; mine would definitely include providing music for a group of hospitalized senior citizens, especially a group to which I had a connection.

I will admit that your indignation makes less than perfect sense to me as well. Why so offended to be solicited by a friend instead of a perfect stranger? Our mailbox is stuffed with demands from people we've never met-and never will meet. In any event you have only to say no to your friend, who will probably have the good taste not to follow up, and will certainly understand if you do need to say that you've earmarked your money for other charities. As I hope you indeed have. To the tune of at least $18.

Q: I recently gave birth to our fourth child, a son with Downs Syndrome. My parents are pressuring me to place the baby in a full-care facility for children with special needs. My in-laws agree, and are threatening to withdraw their financial support if I do not give up my son. My husband is so depressed that he has opted out of the discussion. I want to keep my baby and raise him with his siblings and with the love and support only a family setting will provide. But I worry that without the support of my extended family everyone will suffer.

A: I mourn with you the loss of the healthy child you did not have, the son who will not fulfill your dreams or live up to your expectations. That sense of loss will never go away.

The son you gave birth to, however, has much to give and your in-laws and parents have even more to learn. This grandson is indeed different from their other grandchildren, but no one in G-d's world should be shipped off and hidden from view. This is a moment for everyone in your family, including your husband, to realize that even if your other children appear to be in perfect health, there are no guarantees in life. Would your in-laws make a similar recommendation if one of your other children developed MS or was going blind? No one yet knows why some Downs Syndrome is severe and some less so; many affected children learn to read, write and live independently. Like any child, if you don't teach and encourage your son, he will fall short of his potential;

Be your son's most vocal advocate and insure that he receives the very best occupational, speech and physical therapy. Children with Downs Syndrome are giving, loving and affectionate. If I had to, I would choose your son any day--with all the love he has to give-over your parents or in-laws who would seem to choose form over substance. As for you and your husband, join a support group or see a counselor. Just because you know what is in your heart, and what is right, does not make the road any easier.

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© 2001, Wendy Belzberg