Father Constantine Lazarakis of the Greek Orthodox Congregation, and Jewish Center of the Hamptons Rabbi Josh Franklin speak on the spiritual value of giving this holiday season and all year round.
Rabbi Josh Franklin
Sir Moses Montefiore, a 19th century Jewish international diplomat and philanthropist, was once asked how much he was worth. The wealthy man thought for a while and named a figure. The other replied, “That can’t be right. By my calculation you must be worth many times that amount.” Moses Montefiore’s reply was this: “You didn’t ask me how much I own. You asked me how much I’m worth. So I calculated the amount I have given to charity this year and that is the figure I gave you. You see,” he said, “we are worth what we are willing to share with others.”
Here’s a helpful thought experiment outlining the difference between wealth and worth. Imagine you have $1,000 and you decide to share it with nine others; you are left with a tenth of what you had at the beginning. Wealth operates by subtraction. To this end, the more you give, the less you have. Our spiritual worth, on the other hand, operates conversely upon the principle that when we give virtuously, we increase our worth.
Perhaps, though, a more pressing reason to practice charitable giving this holiday season is simply the immense need within the Hamptons. The East End isn’t immune from poverty and food insecurity in the way that many people expect because of the glitz and glamour of the Hamptons. Poverty rates exceed the state average, hovering around 11 percent of households in East Hampton, and are magnified by the high cost of living and lack of affordable housing.
If the idea of a family of four living in East Hampton at the poverty line of $26,500 annually troubles you, then I implore you to dig into your pocket and support the local food pantries, and organizations like Maureen’s Haven (housing the homeless on the East End) and The Retreat (providing housing and social services to families who endured abuse). I hope that you’ll join me this season in making a donation to the local charities that uplift the needy within our Hamptons community.
Father Constantine Lazarakis
Today, Churches are preparing for solemn commemoration of the birth of Christ, while little ones wait anxiously for the arrival of Santa Claus. Christmas tables are all but prepared as we gather our loved ones. And while Christmas is a time to feast sumptuously it is also, and more importantly a time to reflect on the circumstances of Christ’s birth, circumstances that are reflected more in soup kitchens and homeless shelters than at Christmas parties and tree lightings.
You see, Jesus’ birth was not the ideal, chiaroscuro event we often call to mind. Jesus was born in profound poverty. His birth in a stable was unsanitary and the conditions unfit. At the time of his birth, Jesus and his family were transient. It is no mistake that Christ identified with the poor. In fact, Isaiah, the same prophet who promised that “A virgin will conceive and bear a son…” (Isaiah 7:14) also instructed, “Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear…” (Isaiah 58:7)
At Christmas, we are reminded of God’s sacrificial and redeeming love. We are also called to be agents of his love. At this time of year, many of us participate in food drives, visit shelters, and make donations. But sadly, once we have exchanged our gifts and the coldest part of the winter sets in, we forget about our bothers and sisters who have no homes and/or are food insecure. The magic of the season is God’s profound love… a love that sustains us every day of our lives. As we honor His birth, we ought to put in our minds that homelessness, food insecurity, and the conditions that create them are 365 day-a-year realities, and so our obligation to share God’s love is too, a year-round responsibility.