Robin Hood got it half right

by Steve Rosenberg

Maimonides was way ahead of his time; he knew the power of tzedakah and the importance of Jews caring for each other.

(JNS) As we approach the Jewish festival of Passover, we will also recognize the 50th anniversary of Disney’s animated film, “Robin Hood.”

Why link these two together? Because at Passover, we begin our seder with the words: “Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are needy come and celebrate Passover.” This powerful call to reach out and help those less fortunate than us comes just as we begin to recall the foundational story of our people, as we highlight the integral part that Jewish charity or tzedakah holds in Jewish beliefs and practice.

The legendary Robin Hood of English folklore, in a slightly different manner, also believed in helping the poor. However, his method involved stealing from the wealthy. Generations have grown up with a heroic ideal of robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. Robin Hood’s superhero-like skills in both archery and swordsmanship seemingly made him popular with young people, while his social ideals typically endeared him to their guardians.

These days, Robin Hood might be called a woke progressive Socialist for his methods and theories as a hero to the working class and an oppressor to the rich. But his intentions always seemed innocent, and his movies certainly sold a lot of tickets.

Regardless of how one feels about Robin Hood or Little John, at this time of year, we must really consider tzedakah and taking care of Jews in need. Maimonides famously outlines eight levels of giving with the most important level identified as helping sustain a person before they become impoverished and dependent on others.

Competition for the Jewish dollar is immense in today’s world. There are many good organizations seeking our philanthropy, and while it might seem like some are using arrows or swords, the reality is that all of them have good in mind. Some are set up to help Jews in need in North America, Israel and worldwide. Others fight Jew-hatred and intolerance; and some work tirelessly on Jewish life and learning, as well as building a brighter Jewish future.

Regardless of what motivates you, it is incumbent upon all of us to give. Giving can both feel great and be great. But great giving is much more difficult than it has been in the past. We are deluged with infographics, Hollywood-caliber videos from recipients and data to analyze impact. While NGOs are becoming more sophisticated, so are donors. Even with available data, donors are often driven by emotion and passion. Gifts are often reactive and not proactive. People become involved in organizations for three reasons as I often write about:

  • Meaning
  • Significance
  • Lifestyle

When you factor in Jewish organizations, a fourth quadrant can be added: guilt. I give because my grandparents gave, therefore I must carry on the tradition.

Passover is upon us. As we clean out our chametz and prepare our kitchens for this important holiday, let us not forget our duties to take care of those less fortunate. Philanthropy is easy; you don’t have to be a millionaire to give. Philanthropy is the power of ordinary, everyday people coming together both to both and extend the impacts of other everyday people.

Robin Hood could have had a much more significant impact had he understood that the real power in philanthropy is about inspiring others to realize their potential to become leaders, and to get up off the bench and make a difference—either with the checkbook or their time. One person getting involved can inspire others to do the same. Gen Z is leading the way in its involvement with nonprofits. They don’t wish to give and sit back. They want to know what impact their investment has, and they want to roll up their sleeves and volunteer and be involved. That is where Robin Hood swung and missed.

Anyone can stand up and ask others for money—“Give because I’m giving and I will give because you give.” But show people the passion of your involvement and why you care, and perhaps they become involved in a more meaningful and deeper way.

I don’t have the answers, and I know that 50 years after the fact, Robin Hood didn’t either. Maimonides, though, was way ahead of his time; he knew the power of tzedakah and the importance of Jews taking care of each other. This won’t end Jew-hatred, and it won’t stop antizionism, but it will make us stronger as a people.

Remember, we are only 16 million individuals worldwide. Despite what you read, we don’t control the media, the banks, Hollywood or anything else. We can, however, take control of our own destiny and how we care for those less fortunate than ourselves.

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