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Does Charity Begin at Home?

October 3, 2011 – 9:46 pm10 Comments

A volunteer from Jewish Aid Australia with Indigenous youth. Image source: JAA

By Keren Tuch

Does charity begin at home? It’s an issue many of us have grappled with, and a significant consideration for the Jewish community.

Recently, I attended a panel at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival exploring this very issue. The panel comprised: an academic and ex-politician, a human rights journalist, and an activist currently working in Fiji. To my surprise, there was an overwhelming consensus that charity should begin at home.

The discussion began with an assessment of the Queensland Flood appeal, moving to a consideration of how much foreign aid Australia should be giving. Gareth Evans, the academic on the panel, argued that Australia is wealthy enough to provide for people in need both locally and abroad.

Evans referred to a study asking Australians how much they think the Australian government is spending in foreign aid. The average response was 10% of GDP, when actually it’s 0.35%. Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has committed to raising that figure to 0.5% of GDP by 2015, which is $8 billion.  The UN would like to see all wealthy countries giving 0.7%, of GDP, which Sweden, Luxembourg, Norway, Netherlands and Denmark have already surpassed.

Of course, helping those in need is not just about throwing billions of dollars at the issue. In considering where to give money, it is imperative to consider the difference between long-term sustainable aid and short-term emergency aid, which is delivered immediately after a disaster strikes.

Additionally, the public needs to be better informed about issues. Currently East Africa is suffering the worst famine in 60 years. A projected 12 million people across Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti are affected. Images of skeletal infants have been proliferated in the media. Jo Chandler, the writer on the Melbourne Writers’ Festival panel, suggested there needs to be better, and more, reporting that goes beyond the horror story.

It was also suggested it may help to highlight the individuals in need, rather than the overwhelming mass of starving people – this issue is explored by New York Times writer Nick Kristof, in Save The Darfur Puppy. Kristof sugges the evidence is overwhelming that people are more inclined to give money to an individual than to 12.4 million malnourished Africans.

This panel discussion made me think about charity and the Jewish Community.  As a whole, we are a wealthy community. And while I would agree charity at home is important, it should by no means end there.

Perhaps Rabbi Hillel put it best in Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers, when he said:

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Keren Tuch is Education Director at Jewish Aid Australia

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