Radi­ance: Cre­ative Mitz­vah Living

Dan­ny Siegel, Rab­bi Neal Gold (ed.)

  • Review
By – November 16, 2020

The title of this vol­ume, which con­tains prose and poet­ry writ­ten by tzedakah activist Dan­ny Siegel over the course of the past half cen­tu­ry, is a trans­la­tion of the Hebrew word ziv. This is fit­ting: Siegel found­ed the Ziv Tzedakah Fund, which was in oper­a­tion between 1981 and 2008, and raised and dis­trib­uted more than thir­teen and a half mil­lion dollars.

Part I of the book con­sists of prose and Part II of poet­ry; each part is fur­ther divid­ed by top­ic into var­i­ous sec­tions. The first sec­tion address­es mitz­vahs that per­tain to tzedakah and relat­ed projects. The sec­ond focus­es on Torah texts about tikkun olam (repair­ing the world), which Siegel feels should be reg­u­lar­ly stud­ied and reflect­ed upon by Jew­ish lead­ers, those engaged in social action, and day school stu­dents. Siegel then turns to Mitz­vah heroes”— indi­vid­u­als whose per­son­al exam­ples of involve­ment in tzedakah have deeply impressed and con­tin­ue to inspire him. Next, the author explores writ­ings that describe liv­ing with men­schlichkeit (“sen­si­tiv­i­ty, kind­ness, love, and gen­eros­i­ty”). Part II of Radi­ance com­pris­es some of the many poems that Dan­ny Siegel has com­posed over his long career. The prac­ti­cal nature of the book is reflect­ed in an intro­duc­to­ry out­line enti­tled Using This Book in Your Per­son­al and Orga­ni­za­tion­al Life,” which guides the read­er as to how the con­tents could be employed in var­i­ous con­texts, as well as in the book’s fifth sec­tion, How and Why to Give Tzedakah Mon­ey Away.”

The author refers a num­ber of times to his own learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties; these have served to define not only his learn­ing style and con­sid­er­able lyri­cism, but also his deter­mi­na­tion to pur­sue and edu­cate oth­ers about tzedakah. While he acknowl­edges that some indi­vid­u­als allow them­selves to be dis­cour­aged by learn­ing lim­i­ta­tions, oth­ers — some of them described among his mitz­vah heroes — make the most of their abilities.

One of the Jerusalem insti­tu­tions that Dan­ny Siegel feels con­sti­tutes an out­stand­ing exam­ple of rad­i­cal, inno­v­a­tive approach­es for help­ing peo­ple in need is Yad LeKashish, or Life Line for the Old, estab­lished by the late Myr­i­am Mende­low. Rather than ware­hous­ing” elder­ly indi­vid­u­als as typ­i­cal­ly is done, Mende­low cre­at­ed work­shops that would pro­vide these peo­ple with cre­ative, arti­sanal jobs, where­by they could live in their own homes and also con­tin­ue to feel pro­duc­tive by mak­ing table­cloths, wall-hang­ings, toys, sweaters, and oth­er objects, the pro­ceeds of which are devot­ed to tzedakah causes.

Implic­it in the essays in Radi­ance is an evo­lu­tion in Dan­ny Siegel’s think­ing. This is par­tic­u­lar­ly reflect­ed in the 1975 The First Tzedakah Report” when com­pared to the 2008 From the Ziv Tzedakah Fund Final Report.” Siegel has not­ed the year in which each of his essays was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished, allow­ing the read­er to con­sid­er not only the tech­no­log­i­cal changes that have tran­spired over the course of time, but also how the author’s atti­tude toward Tzedakah became increas­ing­ly nuanced, sophis­ti­cat­ed, and wider in scope.

Yaakov (Jack) Biel­er was the found­ing Rab­bi of the Kemp Mill Syn­a­gogue in Sil­ver Spring, MD until his retire­ment in 2015. He has been asso­ci­at­ed with Jew­ish day school edu­ca­tion for over thir­ty years. R. Biel­er served as a men­tor for the Bar Ilan Uni­ver­si­ty Look­stein Cen­ter Prin­ci­pals’ Sem­i­nar and he has pub­lished and lec­tured exten­sive­ly on the phi­los­o­phy of Mod­ern Ortho­dox education.

Discussion Questions