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Thanksgiving Charity: Passing Down The Philanthropic Hat

Philanthropy has been a way of life for generations in my family. My father grew up in a struggling family in Brooklyn, NY where his father was a member of the Kiblitcher Society, a fraternal benevolent organization of men who came from Kiblitch, Russia. When one family was experiencing hard times, the others would literally pass the hat to help.

My father, a witness to the passing of the hat, became a man of charity. As time passed and he achieved the American dream, my father was able to increase his level of philanthropy. Through his example, my siblings and I learned the joy of giving both time and money to causes we believed in. We wanted to make sure our children shared this passion for giving back to the community. So, one Thanksgiving, we gave them a challenge: Find a Thanksgiving charity to give to.

Passing Down the Tradition of Giving Back

Thanksgiving is the holiday when our family comes together from all over the country. Prior to the holiday, my siblings and I sent an email­ to each of my parent’s seven grandchildren. We told them we had created a $500 fund for them to give away. Their job was to research social service agencies or nonprofit projects that were close to their hearts and decide as a group where to donate the money. On Thanksgiving, they would agree on a plan.

After our meal, the children went to the den to talk about their donation. My niece Alex remembers, “Leslie, the oldest, was kind of leading the discussion, and we all went around and came up with ideas of where we should donate the money.”

A lot of the discussion centered on whether to give it all to one place and have a bigger impact, or to help many places in a smaller way. My niece Anna remembers brainstorming about many worthy organizations that meant something to each of them.

In the end, the group agreed that their priorities were to help poor children and to fight cancer.

My mother, known as Nini, was in her second year of chemotherapy at the time. This would be her last Thanksgiving.

The adults sat around the table during this time, trying hard not to eavesdrop. We could tell there were some heated discussions. At one point, the kids all came running in to the dining room saying they needed a computer, quick! They grabbed my father’s laptop. After another short time, we heard cheering and excitement from the other room. They had come to an agreement.

Grandchildren Present their Charity Choice to the Family

As we served dessert, the kids gave their report to the adults. After much discussion, they decided on three places to donate their money. The kids stood and proudly discussed their gifts and why each organization was chosen.

  • The first was a low-income housing project in Ann Arbor where Leslie volunteered during college. She became close with a young girl there and wanted to provide for the children in this shelter.
  • They gave another portion to Bellefaire JCB in Cleveland, which also helps children in need.
  • Last, they selected the Gathering Place, a cancer support agency in Beachwood, Ohio.

Alex remembers, “When we came back to the table with the adults and told Nini and everyone what we were going to do, there were lots of tears. Nini never looked more proud to call us her grandchildren.”

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Our children all felt incredibly proud of working together to come to a decision and being able to participate in our family’s philanthropic activities. “It was such a privilege to be a part of the decision making process,” said Leslie. “Everyone had the opportunity to say where they wanted the money to go; then we discussed the impact of a gift and the value of each organization until we decided on three recipients.”

I truly believe that our children are all growing up with a philanthropic gene just by being part of our larger family. Nevertheless, our Thanksgiving activity let them reenact a figurative passing of the hat and learn the joy of giving back. They experienced first hand the Kiblitcher tradition and learned that they had the power to do some good, too.

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