Last weekend Benjamin and I went to a dinner at one of the larger temples in town. One of his law partners and his wife were being honored by the congregation, and many of the people from the firm attended to show their support.
About 300 people attended this black-tie event, which involved an extended cocktail reception, then a program and finally a dinner. Two couples were being honored, and the rabbi spoke glowingly about each of the honorees individually, and discussed their contributions to the synagogue and the community.
As I listened to the rabbi introduce Benjamin’s partner and his wife, and then listened to them accepting the honor, it struck me that this was the highest honor for people who give their time and funds to an organization. As they each spoke, the couple looked out among the audience and saw hundreds of people paying tribute to their collective effort over the years. Their friends, family, co-workers and fellow congregants took time out that evening to celebrate them.
You enter an organization, volunteer to serve on a committee, show up to meetings, end up co-chairing the committee and work hard to fulfill the committee’s goals. You see your name in the event program, or the event chair recognizes you, or you are thanked generically for your efforts. You write checks. You write more checks, and then you ask other people to write checks.
For people who are “joiners,” the above probably sounds familiar. For people who aren’t, you probably wonder why those of us who are joiners go through all of this trouble. And I can tell you, as a joiner, that it’s not for the recognition that may or may not come down the road. Most of us join groups or causes that we truly believe in, and want to put our talents to work furthering the mission of those groups. As chair of the traffic committee for my homeowners’ association, I’ll tell you that I became active when I realized that despite the fact that the speed limit on the main street through our community is 30 mph, drivers zip through at sometimes twice that. And it hadn’t occurred to me when I signed up to chair the committee, but on Saturday nights, they do it drunk.
I’ve narrowed down my volunteer efforts over the years, because, well, there’s only so much time in the day, and I give my time and money where I think it will have the deepest impact. I spend most of my volunteer time doing Admissions and alumni-related work for my alma mater, Johns Hopkins University. I am quite confident that I will never find the cure for cancer, but I am happy to find that high school senior who will, and convince her that Hopkins is the right school for her.
We had a big Hopkins shindig a month or so ago – the new President came out and about 300 people attended. During the closing session, two of my fellow uber-volunteers and I were introduced and thanked for the time and effort we put into Hopkins activities. We were honored by our community. Mark and Chris, congratulations, and thanks. We certainly don’t do what we do for the recognition. I’m sure Joel and Debra, Benjamin’s partner and his wife, didn’t decide 25 years ago to give generously of their time and of their money to their temple because one day, they would be handed a lovely lucite figure by the rabbi.
It’s nice to give when you feel like it makes a difference, and it’s nice to be appreciated for what you give.