It was a beautiful moment of community unity: The Eternal spoke to Moses, saying: “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts (terumah); you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him. And these are the gifts that you should accept from them … ” (Exodus 25:1-3).
An improbable result: The Israelites brought so many offerings, each person’s heart moved him/her so much, that Moses had to shut down the fundraising campaign because they gave too much. It should only be that way in our day for our worthy organizations!
When reading this text, the medieval Italian Rabbi Obadiah ben Jacob Sforno commented: “The leaders who were to carry out this taking (accepting) of the gifts were the Sanhedrin, the High Court. The Israelites were so anxious to contribute that they did not wait until the High Court organized all this, but they approached Moses personally bringing with them so many contributions that Moses was forced to call a halt to this” (Exodus 36:5).
They were so eager to contribute that they didn’t wait for the knock on door, the email in their box, the tap on the shoulder, the text message on their phone, the in-person solicitation at a local coffee shop to give. They just gave.
The United States has a “Terumah moment” coming up.
Every 10 years, the U.S. conducts a census of the entire population. Census Day is April 1, 2020, and our community is currently organizing resources to ensure a complete and accurate count — because an incomplete count in Allegheny County can have a devastating impact in Pennsylvania.
The census is used to determine Congressional representation and allocate billions of dollars in federal funding that supports schools, hospitals, infrastructure developments and other community-based services.
Local government, foundations, businesses, educators and others rely on census information to make important decisions about local policies, funding distribution, where to start businesses and more. The participation of every resident in the census will help make sure that our region receives the federal funds that it needs to serve everyone equitably. It’s why our goal is to make sure 100% of our residents are counted.
Here is how it is going to work:
• In March, every household will receive a snail mail card with your computer code that will gain you access to fill out the census online. Once you get it, you should use the code and fill out the census online. That would be a great Terumah moment: Everyone’s heart will move him/her so much, that they will need no knock on the door to fill it out.
• If you need help filling it out, you can come to the JCC, or another Census Hub, for help with the technology.
• But, we know that not everyone will be so quick in filling it out. That’s why you might get a knock on your door (from April through July) from a neighbor working for the Census Department in order to fill out the form with you.
Let’s face it, who wants a knock on their door? Who wants to have to be reminded to take their responsibility seriously? Rather, wouldn’t you like to be like an Israelite in this week’s Torah portion? Wouldn’t you like to have “Terumah Eagerness”?
Your active participation in the census will be the greatest gift you can give to our community. Our community funding is on the line and each and every one us needs to eagerly fill out our census. If you would like to learn more about the census including how to get a part-time job paying $23/hour helping your neighbors complete the census, please visit becounted2020.org. pjc
Rabbi Ron Symons is the founding director of the JCC’s Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement.