By Alan Goldman
One of my favorite philanthropy stories is about Oseola McCarty, a woman from southern Mississippi. She had been born to a single mother during the Jim Crow era, and spent her working years as a washerwoman, doing laundry by hand. When she finally retired at the age of eighty-six, she had a six-figure sum in her savings account—and she decided to give most of it away. It went to a local university to provide scholarships for needy students.
The story made national news because Ms. McCarty was far from the typical donor to charity. She had not made large gifts during her lifetime, and on paper she didn’t seem to be someone who could do so. Today, more than twenty years after she made her gift, the college is still giving scholarships in her name.
Closer to home, the Orthodox Union received word recently that it had been named in the will of a woman from Queens, Mrs. Strauss,* who had passed away in her nineties. Mrs. Strauss and her late husband, a long-serving pulpit rabbi, had no descendants and were eager to use their modest funds to continue serving the Orthodox community.
The funds received were used toward several programs, including NCSY, Yachad, OU Israel and a multi-year dedication for one of the OU’s online learning initiatives. Through these channels, the Strauss family’s commitment to Torah and mitzvah observance is being continued past their lifetimes.
The OU is currently broadening its outreach efforts to inform people about leaving a legacy gift to our organization. Such a gift is easy to create, offers flexibility as to how it will be used, and can benefit thousands of Jews in one’s community, in Israel, or elsewhere. The simplest way to make this happen is through a gift specified in a will or a trust document.
Donors approach such gifts from a variety of perspectives. Some are eager to perpetuate their giving to causes that were dear to them; others are seeking to honor or memorialize someone; and some seek to make a lasting statement about their family’s values. Our staff can answer questions you might have about leaving a legacy gift, confidentially and at no charge. We can also speak to your advisors (attorneys, accountants or others) to ensure that your wishes can be achieved.
Leaving money to charity upon one’s passing is, in fact, a longstanding Jewish practice. It is referenced in the Talmud and the halachic codes, and there is documentary evidence for such gifts in medieval Jewish communities, both Ashkenazic and Sephardic. Such gifts have made possible the growth and development of kehillot throughout history. The OU has served American Jewry for nearly 120 years. With the assistance of legacy gifts secured through our new initiative, we are looking forward to strengthening the community well into the future.
*The family name has been changed for purposes of this article.
Alan Goldman, MSW, JD is Director of Development for the OU-JLIC program and also manages the organization’s Planned Giving activities. He can be reached at 646. 459. 5144 or at email@example.com.