Seeing the Best of a Community

Written by Karen and Jeff Wasserstein on . Posted in Op-Ed

“Speak little. Do much.” (Pirkei Avot 1:15) — these words aptly describe many of the people we have met and interacted with during our years chairing the Kemp Mill Synogogue (KMS) Tzedakah Committee in Silver Spring, Maryland. We have had the honor of serving on the KMS Tzedakah Fund for the past 12 years, and as we step down, we wanted to give the community a picture of how much care and love we got to see behind the scenes.

The KMS Tzedakah Fund comprises one to two lay people who work closely with the rabbi. The account is funded through several sources, including the charity boxes in the shul (synagogue) lobby and daily minyanim (prayer services), and checks and online donations earmarked for the Tzedakah Fund. We are always amazed at how many people contact us with some version of, “I have more tzedakah to give this year. Can I contribute it to the fund so that you can help someone out from the community?” It is still awe-inspiring, even after 12 years. Those financial contributions have done untold good for many in the community.

We are also grateful to all of those who have let us know, confidentially, when a friend or neighbor hit a rough financial situation such as a job loss or physical or mental health issues. When we were apprised of a situation, we were often able to reach out to see if there was some way the Fund could help.

We have worked with amazing people and organizations that serve our local community, including the tzedakah funds of Young Israel Shomrai Emunah (YISE), Chabad of Silver Spring, Bikur Cholim of Greater Washington, the Hebrew Free Loan Association of Greater Washington, the Franco Foundation, and Yad Yehudah of Greater Washington. Every one of these organizations does such important work.

We live in a time where many in America feel isolated or separate, but we continue to see a community within our own shul walls and in the greater Kemp Mill neighborhood that looks out for and supports each other. It exemplifies the saying “kol Yisrael areivim zeh ba’zeh,” “all of Israel is responsible one for another.”

As we leave the Tzedakah Fund, we know that the role we have played has colored our perceptions of community in a positive way. The dignity we have seen on all ends of the process will inspire us for many years to come. Those who have come to us to contribute, those we have engaged with as recipients, those who have helped identify people who might otherwise fall through the cracks — all are vital to the caring and supportive community that we have been blessed to see through this unique lens. We have been lucky to have been given the view of the best of what community has to offer.

By Karen and Jeff Wasserstein

 Karen and Jeff Wasserstein have lived in Kemp Mill, Maryland, for 19 years, serving as the lay members of the Tzedakah Committee since the fall of 2005. Karen has now joined the board of the Hebrew Free Loan Association of Greater Washington, hoping that her experiences on the KMS Tzedakah Fund will serve her and that organization well.