Pay it Forward COVID-19 Style

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During this economic meltdown, will you join us as we pay it forward, COVID-19 style?

We have been blessed with a whole web of workers, busi-nesses, and organizations that have long been part of our lives. For us, this wonderful web might include:

• House cleaners, gardeners, and pool guys
• Synagogues, churches, mosques, and schools
• Beloved nonprofits and advocacy groups
• Direct service providers
• Favorite local restaurants and businesses

They have taken care of us. Now, realizing that their busi-nesses are or will be down, or that donations are slowing or stopped, or that budgets will be lower, we want to show them that we value their years of service to us and to the community. We want to help them through.

Nighttime is coming
We are in the midst of a long night. The darkness that has de-scended from this virus and the resulting economic devasta-tion are already obscuring and threatening all the beautiful people, organizations, and businesses that have helped us or served us or have extended our reach to deepen our sacred work of tikkun olam (repairing the world). As this occurs, we refuse to sit idly by.

What can we do?
At the center of Torah, in the Holiness Code, we are taught that “the wages of the worker should not remain with you all night until the morning” (Leviticus 19:13). Often, this mitzvah (commandment) is understood to mean that we cannot withhold payment until convenient for us to pay but rather we should recompense workers right away or on the next scheduled payday for their work.

The economic meltdown, however, goads us now to revisit this understanding and to adjust the way we fulfill this mitzvah.

Certain money is on loan to us
Jewish tradition teaches that the tzedakah (charitable giving) we give others technically is not ”our” money; it was placed in our pockets by the Source of All to share with others. By extension, the wages we would pay to those who work for us or the payments we would make to businesses that we usually frequent or the donations that we would normally donate—but might now not be paid because we are all sequestered at home—are monies that we might have budgeted for them and might reasonably be considered theirs.

And so, since at this unique moment, while we still have the capacity to help (and we recognize many may not or will not in the future), my household is setting a goal to accomplish the following:

For the workers who come to our home
Like the housecleaner, the pool guy, the exterminator, and the gardener—we are paying each of them one month ahead. They too ought to stay safe at home, shel-tering in place. They too will need to pay bills, buy food, and find a way through. Over the years, each of them came through for us, helping out in a time of crisis or in a time of need. It’s our turn to do the same for them. Per-haps one day, our extra payment will be matched with an extra month’s work. But not necessarily. For now, we are just trying to help them remain afloat.

For the organizations we regularly support
Like the advocacy groups and the at-risk youth programs to our schools, our religious institutions, and our favorite tzedakah (charitable) organizations and more—we plan to donate to each more now or in the next months. They are still on the front lines, with people to support and serve, and we want them to continue their sacred tasks. The chesed (loving kindness) they distribute and the tzedek (justice) they pursue repair the world in ways we cannot be without.

For the businesses we regularly visit
Like the hairdresser—we will do the same, paying them now for the visit we would have made soon. Perhaps we will get a cut in the future (perhaps not) but at least we will be assisting them as they too walk into the unknown. We are also trying to support minority-owned businesses because many are disproportionately shouldering losses and historically will be much slower to recover.

For the restaurants we regularly frequent
We will be paying it forward. If they offer gift cards, we are purchasing them for a few meals or more so they have the money now, and we can consider whether to spend or donate the cards later. These are the haimishe (homey) establishments that for years have kept us fed and sated; it is our turn now to help sustain them.

In addition, we each are devoting some time to another organization to do extra volunteer work—like checking in on clients or calling members—just to show that the or-ganization still cares.

We recognize that not everyone has the capacity to extend themselves in this way. But many of us can take some of these actions to help others along the way. The Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish law) teaches that even the poorest can share a portion of what they receive to help those who have less (Yoreh De’ah 248:1).

Will we each have done our part?
This long night will sometime be over, and we will be able to leave our homes once again. Let us hope and expect that this sinking economy will turn back around quickly.

But until it does, we all need to pay it forward. When we fi-nally are able to hug our loved ones, gather together with our friends, and do holy justice work in the community, we want to make sure that in addition to having taken care of our own loved ones, we also took care of those who have lovingly served, supported, or did our housework.

It is time (or still time) to pay it forward.

We invite you to stretch yourself (or continue to stretch yourself) in this holy work.

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By Rabbi Paul Kipnes
Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas