Revolution in the Air
Not that there is any problem with gentile charity. Quite the contrary: as I have written in several earlier columns, the charitable initiatives of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are simply breathtaking and astonishing. For the first time in history the richest people on the planet are not using their wealth to accumulate more power and to celebrate and immortalize themselves, but they are sharing their blessings with others.
First, four years ago, when Mr. Buffett announced his unparalleled $30 billion plus gift to charity, and then again five months ago, when Mr. Buffett and Mr. Gates challenged the richest people in America with the givingpledge.org, which states its objective: “an effort to invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.”
They are fulfilling – on a scale never before seen – the purpose of existence: Bucking the formidable drive of self-interest, and instead of being takers they have become givers – and challenging the billionaires of the world to do the same!
Simply unprecedented. And nothing less than a true paradigm shift of human consciousness, which promises to change the course of history
What was troubling is that the founder of charity and social justice was Abraham – “father of all nations.” As a true visionary Abraham pioneered the path of kindness that would change the entire world. This gave birth to Judaism, the Ten Commandments, the Torah – and in turn to all the world’s major religions. Our modern democratic world became possible only due to the teachings of Abraham and his descendants.
So where are the Jewish visionary philanthropists?
This does not, in any way, diminish the enormous amounts of charity given by Jewish (and for that matter, non-Jewish) philanthropists – money that has built impressive institutions, hospitals, universities, humanitarian efforts, and many other vital entities that have and are improving our world. Yet, despite all the vast charities distributed, no one before Misters Buffett and Gates, has launched a visionary philanthropic drive that virtually has the power to change the entire way we will forever look at wealth: not as a measure of self-worth, or as a personal reward, or as an expression of ego and power, but as a gift from above meant to be returned to the public interest.
Why is it that only Mr. Buffett and Mr. Gates – very likely also grandchildren of Abraham – are leading the Abrahamic charge? Why are their Jewish compatriots not following suit?
In truth, I should correct that statement. Since Buffett and Gates challenged, in June of this year, the wealthy to pledge giving away the majority of their riches to charity, their website, givingpledge.org, sports 40 people who have risen to the call – I count at least 12 Jews among them.
Yet, this visionary drive remains the initiative and the primary effort of Misters Buffet and Gates.
Perhaps, at first, one can justify the lack of Jewish visionary giving as a sad byproduct of a mentality that has been shaped by centuries of Jewish suffering. For close to two millennia Jews have become accustomed to protecting themselves from all forms of grotesque oppression, expending all their resources – and then some – fighting for their basic survival – with no energy left to think about anything more than survival. Where was there time to be visionary – to think about the big picture? Where was there wealth to change the world, when the world was trying to annihilate the Jews?
This protective defensive “golus” attitude has remained part of the Jewish psyche, spilling over even into our free world. And has been the defining force of most Jewish charity: To address a crisis (the pogroms in Russia, the Holocaust and its survivors, protecting Israel, fighting anti-Semitism).
[As some cynics like to point out, that much of Jewish giving is driven by guilt and is defined not by a vision, but by being anti-anti something or other. What would we do if we had no enemies? What would drive us? Where would we direct our passions?]
But today we are a free people. And as such, time has come, high time that we return to our roots – to reclaim our place in history, as children of Abraham who set in motion the path of global change and perfecting the universe, the path of justice and charity.
Given, there are still forces to battle (and perhaps raising money to fight a crisis is easier and tugs more at the heart strings than a cause of building) – nevertheless, today, in a free world, we no longer have to define ourselves and our giving by what we stand against. We now have a new opportunity – that compels us to rise to the occasion and demonstrate what we stand for.
That does not mean we forget our history of suffering; we remember but we do not allow it to define our identities. We have suffered, but we are not sufferers. It is not our state of being: we are not a suffering people. Indeed, Jewish suffering can serve as a powerful lesson in this message. That despite the fires we have endured – we have come through it all unscathed, and stronger than ever. And now – after all the ordeals and tragedies – we are wiser and more mature. We no longer need to use our money and resources merely for survival; we can now use it to change the world.
And yet, it is Monsieur’s Buffett and Gates that are leading the way. Without any Jews in sight, or at best, following along.
This is what has been troubling me for the past few years. Until this week.
This week I heard a talk delivered by a Jewish billionaire from Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, which gives us a glimmer of a new trend – making Abraham and the world proud.
Mr. Buffet: Please Meet Mr. Bogolubov
Mr. Buffet I would like to introduce you to Mr. Bogolubov. Gennady – Tzvi Hirsh – Bogolubov.
In his own words the 49-year old Mr. Bogolubov described his life as one of transition – from being a “big atheist” and a “very material” man, to a man of faith and tradition.
From being an utterly ignorant and indifferent Jew, “25 years of my life there was nothing with Judaism,” feeling ashamed of walking out of Synagogue with a kippah (skullcap) on his head, to someone who now wears tztizit (fringes) – Mr. Bogolubov raised his tzitzit to the amazement of the large crowd – keeps Shabbat, dons Tefillin, says Shema Yisroel. And it is all, as the Ukrainian billionaire put it, “unexplainable.” “I have a synagogue in my house in London. I have a Sunday Jewish school for kids. I’m ready to do much more, and if you ask me why, I cannot answer… It was a nes. It was a miracle, because” – and here the billionaire leaned over, stabbed the air with his determined finger and empathically declared – “I can’t find any reason in this world to explain why I started to keep Shabbos…”
From being a cold businessman whose life was entirely consumed “to go and take and put into our pocket” and giving “was against the nature,” to someone who suddenly did the “reverse, backward” and has to date given away tens of millions of dollars, to fulfill “man’s purpose in life, as taught by the Torah, to partner with G-d in bringing the world to a state of perfection” – and clearly these millions are only the beginning.
As the words flowed out from this Ukrainian Jew with a thick Russian accent — infiused with disarming wit and street smart intelligence — you could feel the tension of two worlds at war (in this week’s Torah portion): the devious business world of the corrupt and manuevering Laban, and the pure world of the inncocent scholar Jacob, with the latter prevailing in Mr. Bogolubov’s unfolding life.
I could not control my tears when I heard this self-proclaimed materialist declare the moment his life shifted, forever – the moment he decided to give his first $10,000 donation: “After that I gave out [charity in] the millions. Everything [all the millions] I can explain, besides the [first] $10,000… it was unexplainable. Because at that time our business means that we have to go and take and put into our pocket. But do to the reverse, backward, was against the nature. I did it and it changed my life.”
He did it – he reversed the natural selfish inclination of materialism – and it changed his life…
And equally impressive is that he remembered and appreciated the moment everything changed.
If he can do it, is there anyone on Earth that cannot? I do not know if Mr. Bogolubov himself understood the gravity of his statement. Had it come from a self-declared man of faith, it would have been not much of a declaration. But it came from a self-acknowledged “very material” man, a “big atheist,” a person who grew up with no other option. For most of us living in the free world – including Misters Buffet and Gates – it is impossible to imagine the depths of secularization imposed by the Communists. The extent of how they amputated any semblance of validity to religion and faith. For over 70 years (!) they orchestrated a deliberate effort to cut out and destroy – even from common language – what they considered to be the “opiate of the masses,” seen as a threat to the authority of the State.
And now on this memorable evening, Mr. Bogolubov stood and announced in public, his transformation from a taker to a giver. “It changed my life,” he repeated many times in his talk.
In one fell swoop, in a remarkable talk, Mr. Bogolubov ripped away the excuse of all materialistic human beings, of all atheists, of all secularists – not just in our times, but in all of history. And not with logic and reasoning, but – as the man said – it is a miracle!
With his heavy Russian accent, but an uncanny mastery of English, infused with humor, wisdom – and humility – the Ukrainian businessman dramatically mesmerized close to 5000 people (and thousands more online) with his metamorphosis. Here is the video of his fascinating talk.
No doubt, Mr. Bogolubov is not alone. Indeed, he credited Mr. Lev Leviev — who has himself contributed tens of millions — for teaching him by an example “how to give.” Other rich Ukrainians and Russians are beginning to give away millions. A trend is well under way. Mr. Bogolubov can perhaps be credited for helping us all appreciate it and in such a pronounced and blunt fashion, contrasting tzedakah with the coarse forces of greed so inherent to materialism.
Yes indeed, the time has come for Mr. Buffet and Mr. Gates to meet Mr. Bogolubov.
20 years have passed since the fall of Communism. Now with Capitalism disappointing us, time has come for (failed) Capitalism to meet (failed) Communism.
Now with the failings of Capitalism in full glare, with the desperate need of a new economy – that will provide us with true security and certainty, instead of the current anxiety-ridden markets, accelerating at a frightening and dizzying pace – here is a bit of good news, a breath of fresh air:
Some of the richest and the mightiest are leading the way to something which is nothing less than a revolution: Giving is greater than taking. At the outset – giving the first $10,000 – seems impossible to do. As Mr. Bogolubov so aptly stated: Everything I can explain, besides the [first] $10,000… it was unexplainable. Because at that time our business means that we have to go and take and put into our pocket. But do to the reverse, backward, was against the nature.” Materialism, after all, is all about taking, hoarding, accumulating, building your self and your own equity. But then, after the initial shock and jolt to your materialistic systems, you realize the power of giving, the blessing of being blessed to be able to help others – the reason you were entrusted with your wealth in the first place. As Mr. Bogolubov dramatically concluded: “I did it and it changed my life.”
You realize that giving vs. taking is the core essence of our purpose – the battle – of life: Who will prevail – self-interest or serving others? Laban or Jacob?
Another fascinating element in this new economic revolution is the fact that, in contrast to the Communist revolution – the specter haunting the world in the 19th Century – which was driven by a frustrated and oppressed populace, a proletariat rebelling against the bourgeois establishment, the common folk rising up against an arrogant leadership – this current revolution is being driven by the wealthy in power!
Throughout history the revolutionaries were the poor and downtrodden (as mentioned above), or the spiritual visionaries, the prophets, the counter-establishment – the Abrahams of history. Now the pioneers are hard-core, tough-minded business people.
The Talmud says that it takes the wood of a tree to craft the axe that can cut down that very same tree.
So good morning world. Welcome to a new era. Let us usher in the economy of the future, one infused with heart and soul – a paradigm unlike anything we have ever seen.
May the material men of the world lead the way. May the atheists show us the path. May the miracle of faith manifest in our highly scientific world – teaching us that the most logical thing of all is the illogical (or supra logical) act of helping another, of perfecting the world, of taking the inward arrow of self-absorption, turning it around in the other direction – outward.
Instead of being a mirror – a pane of glass smeared with silver – seeing only our own reflection, we become a window, seeing everything around us. Seeing and feeling the needs of others and our connection to them.
Yes indeed, I would like to arrange a meeting between Mr. Buffet, Mr. Gates and Mr. Bogolubov. And then the real miracles will begin…