Reflections on Giving Circle

by Aaron Potek / February 1, 2017

Where and how we give reflects who we are and what we value.

This is true for every individual, but it’s also true for communities.

Just over a month ago, GatherDC finished its first ever “Gather Giving Circle,” which brought together seven Jewish 20s and 30s to discuss Jewish perspectives on giving and to decide where to donate their pooled money.

The motivation for this giving circle came from members of the DC Jewish community expressing the desire to make a difference. Not just as individuals but also as Jews. They wanted their actions to be shaped by and to reflect their Jewish values and their Jewish identity.

Throughout the four meetings, participants from this first Gather Giving Circle explored some of the different tensions that our sages wrote about – local vs. global, Jewish vs. non-Jewish, and immediate need vs. root cause, to name a few. Through a collaborative decision-making process, they ended up contributing $880 to the Free Minds Book Club, a local organization that works with incarcerated youth.

If the idea of a giving circle interests you, here are three different suggestions to amplify your charitable impact:

1) Start your own giving circle! It’s as easy as getting a few friends together and deciding to have a couple of intentional conversations about where you’d like to collectively donate. (We used resources from AJWS and Amplifier, and I’m more than happy to help you prepare some discussion materials.)

2) Join the other Jewish 20s and 30s of DC who have already contributed to HIAS, a Jewish organization that supports refugees from all across the world, through GatherDC’s campaign, ending Friday, February 10 at noon.

3) If you’re not interested in leading a giving circle but would like to join one, email me at, and I’ll connect you to other Jewish 20s and 30s who are similarly interested.

And if you’d like to read more about the first Gather Giving Circle, here are three participants’ reflections on their experiences and on the importance of collective giving.

Yoni BuckmanYoni Buckman:

I joined the Gather Giving Circle because I wanted to learn about intentional giving and to learn from a group of inspired people. Not only would our contribution’s impact be magnified by pooling money together, but I also hoped that the meaning behind the gift would also be amplified as a result of the process of enthusiastically learning together.

The act of giving as part of a group was not always easy. Donating money that we feel is our own can be highly personal, as it was in my experience. Meditating on and sharing my personal values with the group, bringing organizations to the table for our consideration, and ultimately placing a vote strengthened my feelings of personal investment in the process. So finding the balance between feeling personally invested and being part of a larger group was sometimes challenging.

That said, taking the time to ask and discuss fundamental questions about values-based decision making was incredibly rewarding, both as an introspective process as well as an opportunity to learn from others.

I found the giving circle experience to be deeply meaningful and interesting. I learned more about myself, tzedakah in general, and organizations doing great work in the DC area through the conversations we had as a group. Many of my new favorite organizations to support were pitched by other people in our group rather than through my own research. Spending time with such a passionate, insightful, and loving group of people was often the highlight of my week. I would recommend joining a giving circle to others and I would love to do it all over again in the future!

Laura HuronLaura Herron:

In the current political climate, so many of us feel anxious, angry, and worried about what will happen in our country and the world over the next four years.  Such a profound threat to the progressive reforms that help move us toward a more just society has so many asking what we as individuals, and as a collective, can do to support the causes that we care about deeply.  While I was reflecting on this question, Rabbi Aaron sent out a call for participants for a giving circle, asking those interested to each pledge at least 100 dollars for an act of group tzedakah.  

In our first session, we discussed Jewish values around charitable giving, including the Talmudic notion that “tzedakah is equal to all the other commandments combined,” and the Rambam’s assertion that one should give up to 20 percent of her possessions.  Our group grappled with the gravity of these statements, and I left thinking hard about the imperative to give away a substantial amount of my income.  Yet, whenever I actually consider what it would take to create a more just world, I repeatedly come to the conclusion that those with more simply need to distribute some of what they have to others in need.

Certainly, there are other important avenues to social justice; but there is something about tzedakah—giving one’s own, (often) hard earned resources to someone less fortunate—that forces us to keep our egos in check. Tzedakah reminds us of our blessings (i.e. that we actually have something to give) and urges us to remember our own vulnerability to misfortune, our interdependence, and our responsibility to take care of one another. We are living an age in which too many people consider it radical to put the interests of others ahead of, or even in line with, self-interest. In contrast, those of us who have access to wealth and privilege and are committed to Tikkun have an opportunity, and a duty to give. Contributing tzedakah in a thoughtful and collective way through a giving circle was, for me, a meaningful way to take action.

emily dorfmanEmily Dorfman:

I participated in the inaugural Gather Giving Circle in November/December 2016, and it was a phenomenal experience.  It was only a few days after the election when I found the opportunity, and it could not have come at a better time for me.  I was devastated by the election results (and had been actively fundraising for Hillary).  I was seeking a new path for funding my values.

I have never taken the time to deliberately plan what organizations I donate to.  I usually give where I have a personal connection or a friend asks me to, and I don’t give enough because I haven’t included Tzedakah in my budget.  This year will be different.

In my experience, it is very difficult to talk about money and to assign it value over volunteering time or expertise.  I think that’s all the more reason to create a designated space to engage in this topic—money is important.  It was challenging for our group to define Tzedakah and to choose which organization to support.  Even with the framework of our Jewish texts and discussions of our shared values, these decisions are not straightforward.

In our giving circle, the time we spent discussing, debating and learning about Tzedakah was inspiring for me and I will use the experience to inform where and how much I donate in the future.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization Gather the Jews, the Gather the Jews staff, the Gather the Jews board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.