By Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Rabbi Peter Rubinstein, Reverend James A. Kowalski, and Imam Shamsi Ali
As we approach the holiday season, the excitement builds — this time of year gives us breaks from school and vacations from work. Time to gather with those we love, to watch a parade or a football game, and to share festive meals. These are occasions to express gratitude to God and people we cherish — and to reflect, as families and communities, on the gifts we have and too often take for granted.
This time of year often affords us opportunities to share a table with people of different views and opinions and backgrounds. We are not always good at doing that right now. Powerful forces are deliberately and insidiously working to divide us, at home and around the world. More than ever we need to commit ourselves to what unites us across cultures, geographies and faiths. Among the most meaningful and enduring of those unifying forces is the power of giving.
Giving — the act of taking care of one another — is fundamental to faith traditions because it is the embodiment of our shared humanity. Our traditions of giving endure because they require us, in a very tangible way, to look beyond ourselves — at least for that moment — as we recognize a need in another person. When we see “the other” as human we are emboldened to act to alleviate that need.
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Giving elevates us out of our own wants and needs, out of our busy-ness, out of our preconceived judgments. It compels us to recognize the power in each of us to make the world better and more hospitable for all humanity — the best legacy we can leave to our children. And when we reach across that divide, when the person in need becomes a fellow human, humanity is elevated.
Religious traditions use various words for giving: “Philanthropy,” from the Greek words “love” and “man” (or “human”); “Charity” from “caritas,” something of value that is dear. The Hebrew, “Tzedakah,” derives from the word for justice, or righteousness. In Islam, one of the five pillars of the faith is “Zakat,” giving to the needy, from the words for purification and growth. Some faith traditions see giving as an expression of love, while others view it as a mandate — a requirement of living a just life.
The beauty of coming together is that it doesn’t have to be one way or the other. Together, we believe that each of us needs to find our way, to embrace the wisdom of our own traditions — but never at the cost of mandating that another person relinquishes theirs. Together, these faith traditions communicate to us that the foundation for a just and loving society is giving, which ultimately brings people together.
America’s long tradition of giving and philanthropy, from the volunteer fire companies begun by Benjamin Franklin to the tradition of welcoming new neighbors with a home-baked pie, is renewed whenever the next generation joins in the practice of giving as a regular part of their lives. #GivingTuesday was launched by the Jewish community and cultural center 92nd Street Y in 2012 as a way to make giving relevant and accessible to a new generation. Given that #GivingTuesday will have upwards of 30,000 partners this year around the globe, we believe there is reason to be optimistic.
This season of gratitude makes it incumbent upon all of us to embrace a practice of giving. Be inspired to action by your own faith tradition, or by your neighbor down the street who has been having a rough time, or by #GivingTuesday. We grow stronger as individuals and as a society when we embrace such giving — of our resources, our time, our energy, our commitment. There is no one or right way to give, and no right or wrong reason to give. Not giving is our only failure.
- Imam Shamsi Ali is a spiritual leader at the Jamaica Muslim Center and president of Nusantara Foundation.
- His Eminence Cardinal Timothy Dolan is the archbishop of New York.
- The Very Reverend James A. Kowalski is dean of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.
- Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein is the director of Jewish Community and the Bronfman Center at 92nd Street Y.
Learn more about #GivingTuesday at www.givingtuesday.org.