Monday, June 23, 2008

The Condescending Tzedakah Collector

[Haveil Havalim is here!]

[Warning: Rant ahead]

I think it’s safe to say that most people are sensitive to, and do not appreciate, condescension. Our antennae are calibrated when we are children, beginning the first time a patronizing relative, teacher or other adult praises some work of art or scholastic effort with out-of-line rhetoric and soaring accolades which in no way match reality.

We understand that this is an insult to our intelligence, and it is all the more offensive for its attempt at deception.

A great example: A woman once told me how her daughter, as a five or six year old, came to over a period of days with increasingly primitive works of art, until the mother finally gave a less-than-enthusiastic response. The girl told her she had just wanted to see what it would take to get her mother to drop her over-the-top praise.

Personally, I have very little tolerance for patronizing treatment. I’d rather hear an overly harsh critique than receive a let’s-make-him-happy, smile-and-nod response to a class or speech. Aside from its basic insulting character, condescension plays on my insecurities; it makes me wonder what people are really thinking, and just how many of them are thinking it.

Unfortunately, in my line of work I get exactly that treatment, and not infrequently. It comes with being in a position of some authority – people who want something from me may think that flattery is the best way to get it.

So I’ll have someone tell me how wonderful a speech was, as an introduction to asking me to bring in a relative or friend as a speaker.

Or someone will talk about how great things are in the community, as a preface to selling a new initiative.

And the worst are the fundraisers.

A fundraiser was the spur for this post: I recently had a collector from a major yeshiva come through town and spend a few days here. After maariv he came to me and said, "Rabbi, that was just such a beautiful shiur you gave! It was g'shmak-"

I don’t know what else he was going to say, because I cut him off, saying I had to run. I couldn’t stomach it; he was talking about a 3-minute, between-minchah-and-maariv dvar torah, not a class or lecture. What kind of naïve idiot does he think I am?

The same fundraiser wasted a gift of a speaking opportunity by using almost all of his time to tell the community that we always, surprisingly, attract a good class of congregants despite the challenges of our area, we have a nice seudah shlishis in shul, we have children in shul, that we somehow manage to give our children some Judaism, and that we maintain a minyan morning and night... And all of that, here in Allentown, who would have thought?

All of those things are true, frankly, but it was just the way he said it – and no, I don’t think I am being hyper-sensitive, others pointed it out as well – that conveyed to me and to others who were present, “I’m trying to find something good to say before I hit you up for a donation.”

Tell it to me straight. Even better, skip the telling and just make your pitch for what you want. I’ll respond a lot better for it.

[End of rant]


  1. Fantastic. It's all sales, and you both know it.

    What's interesting here is that the people who should soften it don't, and the people shouldn't, do.

    People are so interesting, no? I like to think it's all because if our parents didn't pass this stuff on, our rabbi should.

  2. Ugh. Rabbi, that was a terrible blog post.

    Where it should have had a summary, it had detail. Where you might have gone into more depth and evoked emotion, you just glossed right over and went into the next point.

    I propose that you give me $20,000 for a new yeshiva, so that I can train up rabbis to do your blogging for you, so we don't have to listen to any more of this drivel. Shall I come by tomorrow to pick up the check?


  3. Therapydoc-
    If I thought he knew I knew, I wouldn't mind it as much. I can't stand thinking he believes I'm eating this stuff up.

    NOW we're talking; let me pull out my checkbook!

  4. A strange comment on Jewish life that the only men who are hitting on frum women, and in their own homes yet, are the meshulachim who really ought to know better. Almost comforting to know that they spin their inane patter for the men as well. When they start out "A baalas chesed like yourself..." or "Frima women with their generous hearts like yourself, like it states in the Torah..." I want to throw something. I so don't need the buttering up.

  5. Hitting on...? I hope he wasn't hitting on me. No, I think it was really just the [inane] sales pitch.