My editorial space is smaller than usual in this issue because of the remarkable number of tax deductible contributions LILITH received this season. Many were from new donors, and every subscriber contributing over $50 could designate a person in whose honor the gift was being given. (We sent cards to each honoree.)
About honoring, when I interviewed women for the article on Jewish women’s philanthropy in this issue, many told me that they don’t want to be honored themselves— for any cause — but they enjoy making contributions to honor a friend.
I remember the first time this happened to me. On my tenth birthday I had my formal introduction to philanthropy (aside from the ubiquitous blue box from the Jewish National Fund), from the mother of my buddy Myra.
I’d invited the usual bevy of friends to my birthday party. Lunch around the dining room table, with little fluted cups of nuts and candies at each place —very traditional stuff And very traditional gifts. But the one gift I remember to this day came from a friend whose mother was a no-nonsense, non-fluted-cup type of woman. (Since women and girls learn from one another all the time, you never know when you’re in danger of being a role model.) Myra brought me a square white envelope.
Her mother, a friend of my mom’s, was unusual even among the extraordinary women of her circle. These women, who had known each other since childhood, were smart, well-read, and cared about (and knew about) books, music, theater, art. For thirty five years they met each Monday afternoon to study together—Bible, then Shakespeare, all of James Joyce; later, Virginia Woolf and Anais Nin.
Myra’s mother was the group’s leader. She was unconventional in many ways, said her friends. Scholarly, she was writing a PhD. thesis when I was growing up. She must have been very busy— studying, teaching, raising three daughters, wife of a hard working local doc-so it would have been incongruous imagining her going into a record store or a toy store to pick out an ordinary birthday gift for her daughter to bring me.
Myra handed me the envelope rather sheepishly. I opened my presents at the table, after lunch and before the movie. 1 forget which Cherry Ames books I was given that year (I admired the spunkiness and didn’t notice the sexism until later), but I have never forgotten that inside the envelope was a blue-and- white card announcing that a contribution had been made in my honor to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The date was March 1954, and I still remember exactly what the card looked like, and how mysteriously connected I felt to the institution it came from.
She may have been motivated by mere expediency, but my friend’s mom’s message was clear and powerful: I was a person worthy of being honored, and philanthropy was something very special.