Sometimes we can make a local impact without even knowing it. A couple months ago, Miriam and I finally decided it was time to take the plunge and get a minivan. I would give up my old car and inherit my wife’s Subaru. We contacted an organization called Vehicles for Change which accepts donated cars, repairs them when possible and distributes them across three states. Two weeks later, a flatbed truck met me on Eutaw Place, across from the shul, and drove my car toward the highway.
A couple weeks later, I got an email from our emeritus rabbi who lives across the alley from us. “I think I saw your car in the neighborhood today,” he said. “No, you must be mistaken,” I replied, “I donated my car.” But sure enough, parked around the corner from my house is my old car with the same familiar stickers on the dash and the tell-tale portion of the key I once broke off in trunk.
Rambam tells us that it is a higher level of tzedakah to give anonymously – and I certainly tried. But the story reminds me how powerful it can be to support one’s own neighborhood, one’s own community. The Talmud says: Ani’ei ircha kodmim, the poor of your own city (or community) come first, and we are reminded that we should construct our dwelling places so as to provide access for the poor. Rashi adds that a gatehouse must be situated in a way that ensures the owner of the home will hear the tza’akah of the ani, the cry of the beggar looking for food (Bava Kamma 7b).* This is how we harness the Jewish values of tzedakah and gemilut hesed.
The word “locovore” was Oxford’s word-of-the-year in 2007. Eating locally is great, but perhaps we also need a word to express the value of volunteering and giving locally, something like “locanthroprist.”
Definition: One who excels at locanthropy, of course.
*Thanks for Dr. Aryeh Cohen for introducing me to this beautiful text.