I had never heard the name Nipun Mehta before until I read about him on the internet. He left a lucrative position in a high-tech career to found ServiceSpace, a non-profit whose goal is to “practice generosity.” The organization began by building websites for non-profits for free. As their work drew millions of viewers they resisted the insistent advice to place ads to garner revenue from their endeavor, thus maintaining their goal to truly “practice generosity” for its own sake.
That’s great for him and his organization to promote this premise of doing good for its intrinsic value, but Mehta sought to create a movement and, for that, his ideas needed to touch others to do the same. Sure! In this “me, me, me” society, he didn’t have a chance! Yet, he began another project called “Karma Kitchen,” a restaurant staffed by volunteers. Customers are served a meal that has been paid for by a previous diner. Your meal is free. However, after you eat, you are given the opportunity to pay for a future diner’s meal in true “pay it forward” fashion. Can you dine in the restaurant, receive a free meal and then leave? Of course. Does it happen? Hardly ever. Those who choose to dine at Karma Kitchen do so for the sole purpose and privilege of participating in a circle of generosity. Many leave in tears, so touched by the human capacity to do good.
Paying for someone’s meal anonymously without ever getting to see that person’s face or receive a “thank you” seems to strip the deed of its emotional rewards. But Mehta would encourage you to try it one time. As you leave a restaurant, seek out a table of diners (perhaps a family with numerous children or a younger couple just starting out) and inform management that you wish to cover their bill. Don’t leave your name or contact information. Just pay their tab and leave. It is guaranteed to be one of the most fulfilling things you will do all year. There are no extrinsic rewards, but the rush of endorphins proves that we are wired to help each other.
Judaism certainly has its finger on the pulse of this concept. Giving tzedakah (charity) anonymously is considered the highest form of charity. That is not to say that gaining acknowledgement for a gift is not worthy, but giving without the chance of reward packs the biggest punch according to Jewish texts.
The UJC is beginning its annual campaign to raise funds for all we do to help fellow Jews in need overseas and to promote Jewish values through local programming for everyone in our community from infants through seniors. Each of you will be contacted to consider your donation for the year. Some of you may wonder why you are giving when you haven’t used the facility since your children were young or since you attended a program years ago. You may consider that, since the UJC hasn’t played a major role in your everyday life recently, why should you spend your precious charity dollars here?
The UJCVP has been here for nearly 75 years due to the “pay it forward” concept. Those who came before us saw value in what we do and sought to support it for future generations. If you are receiving this newsletter, you have been touched in some way by this organization. Was it Hebrew School? Basketball? A relative attending Grand Club? A general community inquiry? A speaker you wanted to hear? A child or grandchild who attended the preschool? A general desire to support Jewish institutions? Regardless of the reason, it was here for you due to the generosity of previous community members. You didn’t know their names or faces but you know that they were thinking specifically of you when they gave. Pay it forward to support our strong Jewish future. Current beneficiaries and generations to come may not be able to send you a thank-you note, but don’t miss your opportunity to participate in the UJCVP circle of giving.