I was there in Color – guide

Some group studying before the screening.

As well as enabling us to see astonishing archival footage, and to follow the life of a Zionist and the creation of the State of Israel, this film is also about generosity and philanthropy. Our tradition is very well-versed in the ethics of giving, and the way in which the giver relates to the dignity of the receiver. The so-called “Rambam’s Ladder” is an excellent text for us to explore together before watching the film.

Sit in groups, and read the text together.

  • What do you feel about Rambam’s ladder?
  • Does the ladder challenge your actions or those of people you know?
  • Would Rambam be a good fundraiser for your community?

Rambam, Laws of Giving to the Poor, 10:7

There are eight degrees of tzedakah, each higher than the next. The highest degree, exceeded by none, is that of the person who assists a poor person by providing him with a gift or a loan or by accepting him into a business partnership or by helping him find employment – in a word, by putting him where he can dispense with other people’s aid. With reference to such aid, it is said, “You shall strengthen him, be he a stranger or a settler, he shall live with you” (Vayikra [Leviticus] 25:35), which means strengthen him in such a manner that his falling into want is prevented. 

Below this is that of the person who gives tzedakah to poor people, but the giver doesn’t know to whom he is giving nor does the recipient know from whom he is receiving. This constitutes giving for its own sake. This is similar to the Secret Office that was in the Temple. There the righteous ones gave secretly and the poor people would be sustained from it anonymously. This is similar to giving to a tzedakah collection. But one should only give to a tzedakah collection if he knows that the overseer is trustworthy and wise and conducts himself fairly, like Rabbi Channaniah ben Tradyon.

Below this is a situation in which the giver knows to whom he is giving but the poor person does not know from whom he is receiving. This is like the great sages who used to walk in secret and put coins into the doors of poor people. It is worthy and truly good to do this if those who are responsible for collecting tzedakah are not trustworthy.

Below this is a situation in which the poor person knows from whom he is receiving, but the giver does not know the recipient. This is like the great sages who used to bundle coins in their scarves and roll them up over their backs and poor people would come and collect without being embarrassed.

Below this is one who gives before being asked.

Below this is one who gives after being asked.

Below this is one who gives less than what is appropriate but gives it happily.

Below this is one who gives unhappily.

[AJWS translation]

[ז] שמונה מעלות יש בצדקה, זו למעלה מזו:  מעלה גדולה שאין למעלה ממנה–זה המחזיק בידי ישראל שמך, ונותן לו מתנה או הלוואה, או עושה עימו שותפות, או ממציא לו מלאכה, כדי לחזק את ידו עד שלא יצטרך לברייות ולא ישאל; ועל זה נאמר “והחזקת בו, גר ותושב וחי עימך” (ויקרא כה,לה), כלומר החזק בו שלא ייפול ויצטרך.

 

 

 

 

 

יא [ח] פחות מזה–הנותן צדקה לעניים, ולא ידע למי נתן, ולא ידע העני ממי לקח, שהרי זו מצוה לשמה:  כגון לשכת חשיים שהייתה במקדש, שהיו הצדיקים נותנין בה בחשאי והעניים בני טובים מתפרנסין ממנה בחשאי.  וקרוב לזה–הנותן לתוך קופה של צדקה; ולא ייתן אדם לתוך קופה של צדקה, אלא אם כן יודע שהממונה נאמן וחכם ויודע לנהוג בה כשורה כחנניה בן תרדיון.

 

 

 

 

 

יב [ט] פחות מזה–שידע הנותן למי ייתן, ולא ידע העני ממי לקח:  כגון גדולי החכמים שהיו הולכין בסתר, ומשליכין המעות בפתחי העניים.  וכזה ראוי לעשות, ומעלה טובה היא, אם אין הממונין בצדקה נוהגין כשורה.

 

 

יג [י] פחות מזה–שידע העני ממי נטל, ולא ידע הנותן:  כגון גדולי החכמים שהיו צוררים המעות בסדיניהן ומפשילין לאחוריהן, ובאין העניים ונוטלין, כדי שלא יהיה להן בושה.

 

 

 

יד [יא] פחות מזה–שייתן לעני בידו, קודם שישאל.

[יב] פחות מזה–שייתן לו כראוי ליתן לו, אחר שישאל.

[יג] פחות מזה–שייתן לו פחות מן הראוי, בסבר פנים יפות.

[יד] פחות מזה–שייתן לו, בעצב.

AFTER THE FILM

Fred Monason was clearly a great Zionist. He visited many times, supported the fledgling state financially and even militarily, and eventually bought a property there.

  • Do you think his expression of Zionism is still the ideal?
  • Are there other ways to be a Zionist today?

Seen through the eyes of Monason and the film-maker, one might get the impression that the relationship between Israelis and Diaspora Jews was primarily financial. Israelis had to jump through various hoops in order to receive money for their State-building projects.

  • Do you think that this is a correct impression of the relationship between Israelis and Diaspora Jews in the mid-20th century?
  • Is this still the nature of the Israel-Diaspora relationship, do you think?
  • What should the Israel-Diaspora relationship look and feel like?

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