I am nauseated by the way the Jewish community honors rich people. Every corner of my synagogue has some plaque in the name of some major donor. If I'm not mistaken, the hand dryer in the men's room is in honor of the _____ family. And every dinner or event another big shot is honored. Why should these people get so much respect? Shouldn't they do good without seeking recognition?


Did you see this week's Australian Jewish News? The front page story was about the success of Jewish students in the recent high school final exams. As usual, Jewish students achieved inordinately high marks, including several perfect scores, and the Jewish schools ranked right up the top.

What is the secret to this Jewish brilliance? Are we born smarter on average?

I think there are several factors, but a major factor is values. The very fact that our community puts its high-ranking students on the front page and gives them so much credit sends a clear message: we value academic success. This itself ensures that Jewish kids will continue to strive for academic excellence.

We can debate whether that is such a good thing: is it fair to weaker students, and aren't there more important virtues than having a good brain, such as having a good heart and a moral soul? But the fact remains: by rewarding a certain activity the community is stating that this is what we value.

When we put up a plaque to honor a donor, or honor someone at a dinner or public event, we are not only thanking them for the good they did. We are making a statement: Generosity is something we value. Giving is an ideal we hold so highly that we will reward it. We have defined our community's values by rewarding an act that we see as being good.

In an ideal world, those who are blessed with wealth would naturally share it with others in need, without anyone having to know. But we are not in an ideal world, and sometimes we all need encouragement to do good. If that encouragement comes in the form of recognition or prestige, so be it. Better that goodness is done, albeit with a hint of an ulterior motive, than we delay doing good until our motives are purely altruistic.

Of course anonymous generosity is an ideal, but we all gain from publicizing goodness, because not only has good been done, but it has been promoted, which leads to more goodness.

Each one of us is wealthy in some way, because we are each blessed by G‑d with gifts and talents that are unique. We can all become major donors, and our generosity will not go unrecognized, if not in this world, then at least in the next.