[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.