By now, I hope you’ve seen the TCEE teachers’ video in support of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. These remarkable women, led by our own Shari Churwin, Education Director, allowed the toddlers to douse them with ice water on the playground. Why? They did it in the service of raising both funds and awareness to support research and treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often called Lou Gehrig’s Disease. A debilitating disease, ALS progressively compromises motor function, eventually robbing its victims of the ability to initiate and control muscle movement.
The Ice Bucket Challenge is an extravagantly successful fundraiser for a cause that is more than worthy. People who take up the challenge get a bucket of ice water dumped over their heads and share a video of “the big splash.” Although originally the choice was between getting doused or making a $100 donation to ALS-related causes, many participants have chosen to do both. To date, more than $31.5 million has been generated through videos both funny and poignant, and in the process personal connections to this ravaging disease have been uncovered and deepened – including some within our own congregation.
Our tradition is unambiguous about the value of giving tzedakah, and what makes the TCEE faculty’s efforts all the more remarkable is the seamless way they’ve woven that core Jewish value into the children’s curriculum. This is common at the TCEE, where students and staff alike live Jewish values on a daily basis.
I wonder what Maimonides, who wrote about the hierarchy of tzedakah, and placed anonymous giving near the top of the ladder, would make of the Ice Bucket Challenge. As a physician himself, he no doubt would see enormous value in raising funds to help the sick. At the same time, the public nature of this fundraiser might make him uncomfortable. His hierarchy of charitable giving aims to protect the dignity of both giver and receiver – avoiding both the awkward dynamic of one person being beholden to another and the danger of self-aggrandizement.
The glory of being in a Reform community is that we can evaluate these two important viewpoints – both of them correct and valid – and decide for ourselves how to proceed. The glory of the Ice Bucket Challenge is that you don’t have to get drenched in order to make a contribution to the fight against ALS – or to make a contribution to any worthy cause.