Sunday, February 8, 2009

Super Sunday and Tu B’Shevat (Tu BiShvat) 5769/2009: Celebrating going from $0 to $1

[Haveil Havalim #204 is here!]

Today is Super Sunday here in the Lehigh Valley; today, volunteers gather to call prospective donors for our Federation’s annual Campaign for Jewish Needs. Every year, the feelings I associate with the day are the same: Trepidation, followed by Exhilaration.

Trepidation, because I always call a lot of $0 cases, people who have never given to the campaign. That includes people who actively dislike giving in general, or who actively dislike the Federation, as well as people who just could not be bothered. People who hear, "This is Mordechai Torczyner, and I'm calling as a volunteer for the Jewish Federation of the-" and hang up.

I wish I could say I take these cases for some noble reason, like wanting to inspire tzedakah in the hardest of hearts, but the truth is less dramatic: There’s nowhere to go but Up. In the worst case scenario, it’s still the same level as last year.

But there's Exhilaration, too, because I have an okay success rate, thanks to a Divinely inspired shtick I developed a few years ago:

If I can actually get past the first sentence, I introduce them to the uses of the Federation’s campaign – the 50% or so that goes to Israeli needs, the money for our school, for Jewish Family Services, for our synagogue education programs, for our JCC, for our Hillels, etc.

If they explain that things are rough for them economically, I shift gears and try to connect them with services that might help them. But if they just come back with a No, I ask them if they might agree to give one dollar. Just one dollar. Who can say No to one dollar?

Of course, it will cost the Federation more than a dollar to solicit payment of that pledge, but:
(a) people who agree to $1 on the phone may give more when writing the check, and
(b) it’s much harder to get a $0 to go to $1 than to get a $1 to go to $10. Just look at the difference in percentage-increase! So now, the hard work is done.

This aspect of Super Sunday reminds me of Tu b’Shevat, which is coming up tonight and tomorrow.

Tu b’Shevat celebrates Terumah, Maaser, Maaser Rishon and Maaser Ani, those tithes of Israeli produce we give to support the Beit haMikdash, to beautify Yerushalayim and to help the needy. We pick this day because it’s the day when the tithing cycle begins anew for the year; the previous year’s produce is complete and has its own taxes to separate, and now we start accumulating for the new year and its tithing.

So we celebrate with a quasi-Yom Tov on Tu b’Shevat – but on Tu b’Shevat itself the new fruit is still in its most nascent stage, and no edible fruit has emerged yet. And yet, we celebrate the fact that we have gone from nothing, barren tree branches, to the beginnings of a crop.

Of course, we will also celebrate when the fruit matures – we bring Bikkurim (first fruits) with a big parade, and then at the end of a full three-year tithing cycle we have Viduy Maaser (declaration of proper tithing, in the Beit haMikdash).

But Tu b’Shevat is the day when we go from $0 to $1, and, apparently, that’s reason to celebrate as well.


  1. We do something similar when soliciting funds for community organizations, but we ask for $1.80 or $1.99. Some people respond to the 10 times chai number and others consider that 1.99 is bargain priced--less than two dollars. At least it still gets us a donation and also covers our postage for sending out an envelope and getting back the donation. Other solicitors here have used the gambit "Would you send us the cost of a cup of Starbucks coffee today?" or the cost of some other taken for granted small indulgence that people have. Hatzlacha in your fund raising. Not an easy job today.

  2. Thanks, ProfK. It went all right, thank Gd - including some success with the $1 plan.
    Then there was the guy who heard the entire spiel, then hung up. Go figure.

  3. Rabbi,
    Not sure this is the place for it, but I don't see an email address anywhere. I continue to read this blog because I enjoy your take on things. But I originally came because of the mention of Allentown. I have a particular warm spot for Allentown. Many years ago a day camp bus from Camp HILI was going on a trip to Hershey Park and had a horrific accident. Seven children were killed and seven seriously injured. My sister was one of those injured. The people of Allentown were incredible in their hospitality and caring to the parents who were rushed down there. My parents spent a tension filled Shabbos in Allentown, but when they came home with my sister, days later, they had nothing but praise for the wonderful people of Allentown.

  4. We planted two blueberry bushes yesterday, which are very much going to be "nascent" fruit-givers for a while. Apparently, even with 3-year-old canes, you have to pinch off the buds the first year to encourage root growth. Ugh.

    I hate cold-calling. Hate it.

    I do it, occasionally, for some good causes, but I still hate it. Good for you, for taking that on.

  5. ProfK-
    Thanks for your praise for Allentown. I am familiar with the story - there is a plaque in the shul from the Hili families - and while I'm sad that we get experiences like those, I have to say that our community, thank Gd, does respond well to those crises. Every year we have a couple of them, on a smaller level thank Gd, because we have major trauma centers in town and we are near the mountains. (BTW: I think my Profile lists my email address.)

    I just remind myself that I am asking on behalf of someone else, and that makes it do-able for me.