Looking for a Perfect Gift?

Maryann and I have been close friends for almost 30 years – half of my life. Her 70th birthday is coming up. Besides being the big “seven-oh” birthday, this one is particularly poignant. We nearly lost her last summer to complications of what had been expected to be routine surgery.

So this week Linda and I sent a check in honor of her and her wife to the Transgender Law Center. Maryann identifies as genderqueer, and TLC works to protect her rights. It seems appropriate to celebrate her life by supporting a cause near her heart.

Donations like this have become my go-to for birthday presents and celebrations. For many friends, there’s nothing they’d rather get than a boost for their cause. I send a donation, and the non-profit sends them a card acknowledging my gift in their name. It might be their synagogue, or the American Civil Liberties Union, or the New Israel Fund, or the NAACP.

There are some organizations I’d never send a dollar, and the same is true of many of my friends. When I request donations instead of gifts, I usually offer at least two organizations, so people have a choice. When Linda and I were married, we asked for donations in lieu of gifts, and suggested the Alameda County Community Food Bank as well as the National Center for Lesbian Rights.  I’ve suggested the St. Baldrick’s Foundation as the non-political choice in recent years. (So far, everyone has agreed that childhood cancer research is a worthy cause!) Other easy choices are the Discovery Eye Foundation or AdoptAClassroom.org.

Sometimes, of course, the perfect gift appears and it is an article of clothing or a CD. There’s a package on my dining room table at this moment waiting for a dear friend whose name came to mind as soon as I saw it. (I can’t say what, she reads the blog!)

I’m writing this, though, to suggest that in this “season of gift giving” we can choose to delight our friends by giving tzedakah in their names. I know there’s no gift I’d rather receive.

All of the organizations listed above have received a rating of three stars or better from Charity Navigator, assuring that the money is well spent.

Ask the Rabbi: Hostess gifts at Passover?

Ask the RabbiA reader asks: What can I bring as a gift to a Passover seder?

First and foremost, unless you are certain of your hosts’ Passover practices, don’t bring any food that is loose or homemade. While there are basic rules for Passover that apply in most households, no two families are exactly the same. Food marked “Kosher for Passover” in an sealed, unopened package is probably all right but for myself, I tend to avoid all food gifts at this time of year unless I have special knowledge of tastes and Jewish observance in that home.

Some good non-food items to bring:

  1. An interesting Haggadah is a nice gift. Some have beautiful illustrations, some have texts or commentary by famous rabbis, and some are just unusual.
  2. Small housewares are welcome this time of year: dish clothes, napkins, placemats, salt-and-pepper shakers, etc. Many families pack away their “regular” wares in favor of “Passover” things and so something new is particularly welcome at this time.
  3. Flowers are always lovely.
  4. If there are children in the house, bringing a Passover book, puzzle or toy for children is a very nice thing to do.
  5. Books or games are a fine idea.

If nothing on this list appeals to you, perhaps it has given you other ideas. Readers, can you suggest gifts you have given at Passover time that have been particularly welcome?