Surviving Auschwitz Death Camp and Dachau Concentration Camp is not something most people can say is part of their family history.
This is what this year’s SLCC Tanner Forum on Social Ethics speaker, Julie Salamon’s parents overcame. Salamon attributed her introduction and interest in giving partially to her family’s history, along with how she was raised.
Salamon grew up in a very small town with a population of 800 called Seamen located in Ohio, where her father was a doctor. Salamon said her father would never turn a patient away because they were short on funds, “[He] had a whole long list of people he would not charge.” She described her father as an altruistic giver, and her mother as more of a “practical” giver. Her mother is a generous person, “…but likes her generosity to be attached to a tax deduction.” “This was my early training, and [giving] is just what you did.”
Salamon came to SLCC Nov. 9 to discuss The Art of Giving, and her book, Rambam’s Ladder: A Meditation on Generosity and Why it is Necessary to Give.
Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon is also known as Maimonides, and Rambam, an acronym of his name, lived in Spain in the 12th Century during the Golden Age. ” [This] was a time where there was peaceful coexistence between Christians, Jews and Muslims,” is how Salamon described the Golden Age.
Rambam’s ladder has eight levels of giving; the first level is the lowest level of giving, and the last level is the highest or best kind of giving. Salamon started her research at the bottom of the ladder; the reluctant giver.
“I think that in the beginning we are all reluctant givers…and anyone who thinks this isn’t true doesn’t remember being a baby,” she said, then went on to explain how young children do not want to share their toys before they learn the benefits of sharing, such as gaining new friends and being able to use their new friend’s toys along with their own.
The second step of Rambam’s ladder is to give less to the poor than is proper, but to do so cheerfully. “Every charitable act has an equation depending on your own life,” Salamon said. “What is the order of responsibility after you take care of your family…try and figure out what is important to you…you can’t give to everybody, and you can’t give to everything.”
The third step of the ladder is to hand money to the poor after being asked. In the middle levels of Rambam’s ladder, “He is very concerned with questions of shame,” Salamon continued, “The middle three levels are about; to hand money to the poor before being asked and risk them feeling shame, to give money to somebody you don’t know but you allow your name to be known, and then the highest level to give to somebody you don’t know and to do so anonymously.”
There is also a level between those three that is giving to someone you do know, but who does not know from whom he is receiving help from.
“What all these middle levels of this ladder are dealing with is the relationship between those who have and those who don’t have,” Salamon explained. “What really mattered to Rambam was that the people who had didn’t feel superior to those who didn’t have and those who didn’t have did not feel inferior.”
“The highest level was to make someone self efficient so they don’t need to receive anymore.” Salamon said.
She explained that she volunteers at a homeless shelter, and at that shelter they try to provide everyone with counseling and whatever it is they may need to become self reliable. Salamon said it becomes a community, and they form groups for the homeless, or former homeless to help them with their success and keep them from ending up back on the street.
When she was asked about what happens to the giver, Salamon responded that giving gives people a feeling of empowerment.
“In some cultures giving is the biggest form of power,” She added. “The ability to give means that you have something, a teacher has the ability to impart knowledge, and somebody who has extra cash can give that.”
She explained that, “Giving is action,” and you can be the one drop in the ocean that causes the ripple effect.