In my role as rabbi, I get to wear many hats (or kippot, if you will!) I am, among other things, a teacher, counselor, worship leader, adviser, and representative to the larger community. But did you know that I am also a plumbing fixture?!
One of my most cherished roles is that of “spigot”. It falls to me to exercise the sacred privilege of allowing funds to flow through the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund to meet a variety of needs. Since it has been a while since I shared with the congregation the nature of that fund and how it is used, allow me to offer this overview.
• What is the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund?
The Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund (RDF) is a fund of the congregation that is administered by the rabbi of the congregation for purposes approved by the congregation’s Board of Directors. A policy outlining the functioning of the RDF is part of our congregation’s policy manual. The rabbi of the congregation is entrusted to use the fund to meet needs of individuals within and without the community and to support 501c3 organizations (including the synagogue.) Decisions about how to disburse the funds are made solely by the rabbi who maintains the checkbook and records of the fund. The fund is audited on an annual basis by the congregation’s accountant. Like any fund of the congregation, donations to the RDF are tax-deductible.
• How do I use the RDF?
Not infrequently I become aware of members of our congregation, or our lager community, who have a pressing financial need: an unexpected car repair, rent/mortgage assistance, emergency travel expenses, funerals, medical bills not covered by insurance, tuition assistance for summer camps or child-care programs and needs occasioned by tragedies such as house fires or floods. To the extent that the fund allows, I respond to these requests on behalf of our congregation. These are grants, not loans; there is no expectation of repayment although, on occasion, that does happen.
I often become aware of non-profit (501c3) organizations that deserve support and, in the name of our congregation, I donate to such organizations. Examples in recent years have included American Jewish World Service, MAZON, the Jewish Federation of Cape Cod, the Falmouth Service Center, the Anti-Defamation League, Playing For Change, the Union for Reform Judaism, Cape Cares, PFLAG of Cape Cod, Compassionate Care ALS, No Place For Hate (Falmouth) and many others.
Sometimes I turn to the RDF to help our congregation meet unbudgeted expenses such as honoraria for guest speakers, Passover seder subsidies and payments for the use of the mikveh when a Jew By Choice completes his/her studies with me.
• Who funds the RDF?
The RDF is funded completely through donations from people who look to the rabbi to disburse their tzedakah contribution in a manner endorsed by our tradition deemed to be one of the highest: when the donor does not know the recipient nor the recipient the donor, thus preserving anonymity and dignity.
Any and all life-cycle functions that I perform for members of the congregation are benefits of membership. There are no fees for my services. Nonetheless, grateful members will sometimes express appreciation with a donation to the RDF.
To return to that plumbing metaphor, I am the “spigot” on the “pipe” that channels the generosity of donors into the hands of those in need. I have the sacred responsibility and privilege of using my head and my heart to determine how best to distribute the funds that flow into, and out of, the RDF. I will always be grateful to those who make this work possible through their generous impulses!