Thursday, December 16, 2010

Adopt a Family

Mercy's Endocrine section manager sent me an email that the group was providing Christmas presents for a local family, assigning me a 13 year old boy, who I know nothing about.  This being my first time, I asked the manager what the minghag b-makom, or local custom, happened to be.  I was mostly concerned about amount, eventually learning that my partner sent a check for $50.  While I like to give money as wedding gifts or even Bar Mitzvah presents where the funds can accumulate and the recipient starts out with savings or tuition, for events that will occur again, like birthdays or holidays, I prefer to take the opportunity to think about the recipient and how I might add a some form of more short term pleasure.

I know this fellow's age and that his family is needy.  No other information.  I do not even know if he is Christian and celebrates Christmas, as the West Philly area has a fair number of Muslims, either from an enclave of Bangladesh or African families, or African Americans who discovered Islam in the state or federal correctional facilities and who found the requirement for abstaining from drugs and alcohol useful for their future or maybe who found the doctrine of selective rationalization of violence attractive.  I know nothing about the recipient.

While it was my natural inclination to spend all $50 on a single gift, figuring that he'll never accumulate that sum to spend on himself, my wife, who has done this before, recommended that I divide the total into three gifts.  The office manager concurred with my wife, so I did. 

Several years ago the Jewish Theological Seminary's TOR-CH posting site contained a thread in which two orthodox missionary types electronically heckled the Conservative institutional structure and the mediocrity or less that has accrued from it.  The more capable of the two commented to me privately that he really wanted the Conservative participants to upgrade their Judaism properly which in his mind meant being more like him.  I politely responded that the goal should not be to have them more like him but better reflections of their own aspirations.  Gifts can get into a parallel trap.  I would like this early teen who I know nothing about to be inquisitive, creative, studious, responsible, all the things that I admire and then project upon him, though maybe not what he admires or even fulfills the intent of pleasure.

In the end, I divided the allotment relatively equally, settling for a Phillies sweatshirt where one can never go wrong, a telescope, and a soft-tipped dart board.  It does not fulfill any of the criteria I set ages ago for gifts for my secretary's son, who I do know, which must either make noise, get him suspended from school, or bring him to the ER.  None of these for the anonymous recipient.  Unless maybe if his evolving hormones and id prompt him to use the telescope to forgo looking  at the heavenly bodies in favor of a more earthly body belonging to cute chick in the apartment across the street.

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