Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Children Doing the Time

Not a week ever, ever goes by without at least one solicitation for a donation arriving for me and/or my wife.  This in and of itself is not a bad thing.  We do divert 10% of our income into a special checking account from which we draw checks towards charitable causes, and we do wish to help those less fortunate than ourselves.  The practice of what in Hebrew is known as "tzedaka," a term which really has no exact English equivalent but which is commonly translated as "charity," was a core value of ours even before we met one another.  As mentioned in an earlier post, my own great-grandmother was once the beneficiary of tzedaka, which, a century later, has been and continues to be given back to the community many times over by her descendants.

Of course, some weeks bring more envelopes and phone calls than others.  And this time of year, what with the Chanukah holiday which is now upon us, is one of those periods.

We got one in the mail which somehow bothers me, but until now I have not been able to figure out just why.  The card bears the legend "This Chanukah, don't let innocent children suffer because of their parents' mistake!"  It purports to aid the families, within the insular religious Jewish community, whose parent (implicitly the male one) is incarcerated.

And I do agree that such is a valid and worthy application of a tzedaka dollar.  Yes, there is the concept to which I subscribe of "If you can't do the time, then don't do the crime."  And doing the time includes having your uneducated and unskilled wife, along with those kids of yours she cranked out for you, suffer from your inability to go out and support them.  But the children ARE (usually) innocent, and when they grow up either (A) they will have it out with you on the matter; (B) they will clam up about it but resent you and possibly become estranged from you to one extent or another; or (C) if you man up in time, you will preempt them by acknowledging to them what a sleazeball you were by getting involved in whatever illegal activity it was that led to your incarceration.  I know people on either side of each of the three aforementioned options, and would strongly suggest that option "C" should be the first choice.  But not everyone has what it takes to travel the high road.

Yet, there was something about this particular solicitation which bothers me which I couldn't quite place my finger on.  Of course I researched this particular organization, and verified that it is approved as tax-exempt by the IRS, and is registered with the New York State Charities Bureau.  The fact that there is no available Form 990 posted on the Guidestar website (Guidestar, itself a tax-exempt organization, has a deal with the IRS to publicly post the Form 990s submitted to the IRS -- some of those 990s can give you lots of interesting information), while not particularly encouraging, is not in and of itself necessarily an indicium of illegitimacy, inasmuch as the organization may be new and/or small.  Indeed, my wife and I regularly contribute to such an organization, run out of a home located in the same Brooklyn neighborhood as this questionable one, the principal personnel of which we personally know and trust.

I wouldn't want to see Charityland consist solely of the big organizations; the little ones often hit the needs which the big players miss.  Besides, as alluded to in a prior posting, if the charitable sector were overly dominated by the mega-charities, then it would be all the more susceptible to a governmental takeover which would make the degree of regulation now exercised by the IRS and the state attorneys general seem benign in comparison.

After waking up from what little sleep I managed to get last night (other matters, including a complaining gastrointestinal tract, were the primary cause of my insomnia), I now realize what bothers me about this particular solicitation.  Amongst the social group targeted by this particular organization, few leaders even attempt to drive home the fact that the illegal activities for which most of the incarceratees are incarcerated -- the so-called "white collar" crimes, insurance fraud, et cetera -- are WRONG!  Without going into details, it is perfectly acceptable to amongst those social circles to cheat the government and the insurance companies (and put firefighters at risk in the process).  And these children I purportedly would be helping are being indoctrinated accordingly!  If indeed such is the case, then my tzedaka dollars would be wasted.

Hard-hearted and cold-blooded?  Perhaps!  But if the community keeps on rewarding the behavior, then the behavior will continue.  Using the resources to teach the children to respect the law would go further than buying them a bag of those foil-covered chocolate coins for Chanukah.

So now, I am damned if I do and damned if I don't.  If I don't send them a check, then there will be less available to help the innocent wives and children of the criminals now serving time in prison (assuming that a reasonable percentage of the donation actually reaches the targets).  And if I do send them a check, I will feel violated.

And so, during this festival of Chanukah, while I cannot yet bring myself to donate to this particular organization, neither can I toss the solicitation into the paper recycle box just yet.  There are a few more inquiries I can make, and just maybe, some bit of intelligence will emerge within the next few days which will enable me to make a definitive decision one way or another.

Wishing all a Happy Chanukah!


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