Category Archives: Gifting

Witness

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m of an age when my peers are inheriting money from their dying
relatives. Some of the bequests are modest, enough to pay off a car or
loans. But others are seven digits and I am watching an array of
responses. Some friends who have lived modestly and have good
social and political values have decided to donate much of it, in part to
live consistently and in part so they can honestly respond to requests
from children, friends, relatives, and hangers-on for gifts, loans, and
“emergencies.” I have seen the money become a burden and a
responsibility more than a source of pleasure. One particular friend has
an adopted child who has been in rehab more often than I can count.
She has begun to get her life on track, but everyone is always on pins
and needles about whether it will stick. My friend with newly inherited
wealth wants to but this child a house and a car and “make her life
easier after all she has been through.” The rest of us are horrified and
see the child as a black hole of misery who has ruined our friend’s life.
Should we speak or hold our peace?

Witness

 
Dear Witness:

No one can truly understand the bond between parent and child from
the outside. What you perceive as misery could be interpreted as love
and saving a life by them. But I understand that you think your friend
is somewhat of a soft touch and that some rational guidance now
might forestall more unhappiness later. It would help if you were an
attorney or financial planner who could speak with authority. At a
minimum you should encourage your friend to consult one.

 
A gift of a car is big in most people’s lives, but if your friend wants to
support her child’s recovery and make her daily life easier, that seems
like a whopping nice way to do it. A gift of a house seems like an act of
trust but perhaps an optimistic one. I could imagine your friend buying
the house in her own name and being the landlord, letter her child pay
rent towards eventual ownership in a manner that reinforces a healthy
financial regimen. Recovery is a very hard road. The principles that
support it should guide your friend as much as her love and hope for
her child’s future.

Not Cheap

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I was recently invited to a 70th birthday party with for someone who
I’ve known casually from synagogue, volunteer work, local politics,
and mutual social. The invitation said “No cards, no gifts” so I wrote a
lovely card and was happy to attend a brunch at supper that turned
out to be more like a dinner. There were piles of political bumper
stickers and window signs to support various causes, which I took to
honor our mutual values. I saw many people I knew, and each one
came in bearing a gift. I was somewhat confused because I felt like I
had followed the rules. This is a community of like-minded souls but I
was surprised that I felt as badly as I did. Should I apologize
retroactively or just let it go?

Not Cheap

 
Dear Not Cheap:

When a host tells you what to do about gifts, I take them at their
word. There’s a big range in desires: some people make a list of
charities to contribute to while others request gifts from the registry
where they have identified what they want down to the brand, size,
and color. It’s completely at the discretion of the celebratee/host to
ask guests, and of the guest to do what they want and feel is right. I,
for example, loathe giving gift cards, while others think it is the perfect
solution.

 
In this case you should send an email and basically say, I saw a lot of
folks come in with gifts, which I understood was not what you wanted.
I felt badly, because I value our friendship, which has evolved from so
many different strands in our lives. Please let me know which of the
following places you would love me to make a donation to in your
name. Then include a list of organizations that you feel reflect your
mutual values, focusing on the ones that support the signs she had
provided for guests.

Weighted Down

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

What do you do when you are given not just one but two first, and you like
neither of them? A good friend asked me to read a book with her that I have zero
interest in (it is non-fiction, about topics I don’t care about, and is a small-print
paperback unfit for my aging eyes). She also gave me a piece of pottery heavy
enough to serve as a boat anchor, that I am serious considering using as a
doorstop. She kept asking if I liked them, saying none of her other friends like her
gifts, so what was I to do? I was more honest about the book, and said how
much I liked the art. I’m in divesting mode, not acquiring mode. Now what?

Weighted Down

 
Dear Weighted Down:

It’s awkward to reject a gift outright, especially when the giver is sitting there
asking you directly. Demurring on the book was a wise choice, as time is
especially precious as we age. I would wait a few weeks, but before the next time
you see her, return the book and say you simply don’t have the time to devote to
it. Tell her that you’re willing to co-read a book and talk about it, but you want it to
be a book you both agree on.

 
Re the pottery, keep it displayed for a while when she is around so she sees that
you value it. Then you can “disappear” it quietly. If she notices you can say that a
dear friend was visiting and loved it on sight, and asked if you would give it to her
for her birthday. It is what we used to call a white lie, which is technically a lie, but
will protect your friend’s feelings. Before the next gift-giving occasional talk about
your desire to downsize, and say you’re asking friends to pledge experiences,
not gifts, as time goes on.

Not Moneybags

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

‘Tis the season of invitations and gift trolling. Many are for B’nai
Mitzvahs, which I recognize as an important rite of passage, though
some of these children turned 13 back in autumn, but apparently
needed the extra six months to learn the prayers and Hebrew. Some
are from colleagues for their children and others from seemingly
random synagogue members. The other half are about weddings,
which is a huge commitment and I honor (having failed myself). But
when I get an invite from second cousins in states across the country,
I feel more like I’ve been asked to contribute to the newlyweds’
coffers, and less like a valued relative. I‘m just your average middle-
aged, middle-class guy. I have family of my own that I support and
gift. What are the limits, beyond a polite No thank you?

Not Moneybags

 
Dear Not Moneybags:

Any invitation can be responded to with a polite note of No, thanks. I
wish you all the best, though it tends to be less blunt if accompanied
with some personal thoughts and good wishes enough to fill up a note
card. Only you can decide which of these to accept, but here’s some
baselines to consider, which can be augmented as much as you like for
people whom you genuinely love.

 
For B’nai Mitzvahs for children you do not personally know well, decide
on a book or two and give it with good wishes. I’d vote for something
about Jewish heritage, perhaps even a Holocaust memoir, and/or
something about Jewish values aimed at teens. You might even enjoy
sorting through the options. Then give exactly the same gift to each of
these young people, so there is no interpretive comparison.

 

 

For newlyweds, I give the same thing to each married couple, and you
are welcome to appropriate the ritual: a wooden soup ladle,
accompanied by a note about the importance of good nourishment and
nourishing communication as the key to a long-lasting relationship.
Again, for those you genuinely know and like, you can decide what
more is appropriate, even a cookbook or a stockpot.

Trimming

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m in the process of cleaning out my house. I try to do an annual purge during
the holiday buying season, in part to spread the wealth around to women’s
shelters, homeless shelters, non-profits that do all manner of good, schools and
gift-giving community events. I feel that I have so much that it is more than just a
mitzvah. It’s necessary to remind myself how easy I have it in a world where so
many have so little and make do without on a daily basis. I’m living on a fixed
income now, so donating money is harder. I am trying not to buy what I don’t
need, and to trim what I have to what feels appropriate. Many of my friends are
into shopping and gifting. And even though each year we say to one another “NO
gifts, please!” when the moment comes to show up at their door it feels churlish
to come empty handed. Do you have a simple solution, especially one that does
not involve my checkbook?

Trimming

 
Dear Trimming:

I suggest a very simple solution that you apply uniformly to all your
friends. Identify the array or organizations that you plan to donate do,
whether it is in cash or in kind. The write an email to all your friends
and send it to them individually, not as a mass mailing. Personalize it
for each of them, with some acknowledgement of their individual
achievements for the year, such a promotions, weight loss, children’s
accomplishments, etc. Summarize your own gratitude for the plenty
you enjoy, and say that you are choosing not to participate in the
commercialism and consumerism of the season, instead opting to
donate to [insert your list here]. Say that you are going to show up
empty handed, and that you do not want your lack of gifting to be
perceived as anything other than what it is, an appreciation of your
happy sheltered life, and a wish that everyone can have at least as
much as they need.
Encourage your friends to do the same.

Living the Good Life

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

How can I pull the plug on a gift exchange that I did not initiate, but have
participated in for the past two years? I met a friend on a bridge cruise after my
divorce. Many of the single women were hunting for a man. I wasn’t, and ended
up in a random pairing with a smart Jewish woman from Tennessee. We have
partnered together online in the interim, but no more travel, for various reasons
on both sides. She has significantly more money than I do, but when she sent me
the original Hanukah gift I felt I had no choice but to reciprocate. Gifting has
continued for Hanukah and birthdays. Is there a polite way to end this without
hurting her feelings? I think she likes shopping and gifting people as a hobby.
Honestly, I don’t need anything except better knees and a few extra hours in
each day.

Living the Good Life

 
Dear Living the Good Life:

Send her an email that goes roughly: Dear Partner – I so enjoy our friendship. I
hope we can connect again in person sometime. This year for the holidays I have
decided to forgo gift giving and gift receiving. My life is so full and there are so
many in the world in such need. Below I have listed a set of organizations that
I’ve selected for their good works to make a hard world a better place for people
whose lives are much more difficult than ours. Please tell me which you would
like me to gift in your name, and please do the same rather than sending me
anything for Hanukah or in the future. We are so lucky. Let’s share.

Outgrown this Gift

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Every year my aunt sends Hanukkah presents for my three children. It
started when they were children, and she was pretty good about not
sending cheap plastic toys. Now they are 11, 8, and 5. Each year she
buys T-shirts made by a local to her artist. She lives a very hippie
community across the country so this is generally counter-cultural,
political humor, or just odd. We live in an upper middle-class
somewhat red district. The first couple years I like seeing my kids in
tie-dye and thought it was cute. But now she’s latched on to somebody
whose art is, not to put too fine a point on it, just plain weird. Even I
barely get the humor and the kids certainly don’t. We had made an
annual photo practice to dress the kids and send her a pic. But I want
to stop her from she spending money she doesn’t have a lot of on
something we don’t need or appreciate. Should I say something or just
let her keep sending them. I love her and appreciate the sentiment,
but….

Outgrown this Gift

 
Dear Outgrown:

However you do what you do, you should do it kindly. The fact that
your aunt thinks of your children each year is a lovely thing. I don’t
know how often she visits or you see her, but a conversation like this
in a vacuum may sound harsher than it might said casually over tea.
To imply reject a gift out of hand is churlish and cruel. Your family is
something to be honored so handle this gently.

 
You might tell her the children are growing so fast that the T-shirts
that fit now will be out of size or fashion by summer. Tell her that
perhaps switching to books or apps or something that doesn’t require
shipping is better. Tell her what each of them is particularly interested
at the moment, from dinosaurs to chess to a favorite movie or show.
Then hope for the best and say thank you very sincerely. Who knows,
she may have them in her will too; so at the risk of sounding venal,
think long run love and family, not just a gift you could easily donate
or regift.

On the Spot

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Help me please with a reciprocal gift-giving question. In high school
our son was a shy nerd. He did not date at all, even though his best
friend/almost brother tried to fix him up on numerous occasions. He
went off to college and after a while got a girlfriend, and now, three
years in, they are both graduating with engineering degrees. She’s a
nice enough girl but she is his first, and I think he could do better with
more experience. Needless to say he is reluctant to risk having no one.
Her parents, who exploit him mercilessly with chores for their home
and business whenever he visits there on holidays and vacations, gave
David $200 as a gift. Our family tends to not give gifts at all, and
never gifts of cash or gift cards. We give flowers and food from our
garden, and personal notes. I feel like they owe him much more in
back wages and do not want to be shamed into giving her a gift just to
show we can keep up. She, btw, will make $30K more in her first job
out of school than I will after five teaching English as a second
language. It’s more than the money but it matters too. What should I
do?

On the Spot

 
Dear On the Spot:

I know people who only give cash or gift cards and others who never
do. It’s a matter of convenience, but there’s also the nasty issue of
dollars as some measure of affection. I come from the give-
something-meaningful school. In this case, I think money would not be
the right message, but I think zero gift given is almost an insult, so
unless you actively want to help end this relationship, you need to gift
something more than a polite card. Next time she visits you, have a
bouquet for her, and a swag bag of homemade items. You could
include a lovely wooden spoon/ladle/spatula set, something she can
use in her own kitchen. You can send her a note saying that her gifts
await upon her next visit, but that you are very proud of her
accomplishments.

 

Sit down with your son and talk to him about your dilemma and
decision. Explain you don’t want to be part of a battle of keep-up- with
the-not- yet-in- laws, and use the talk as a chance to probe what his
intentions are. The next big step for both of them will be job hunting.
Living in different cities may solve the problem. If they do move in
together things will escalate to better or worse. You’ll need to make
your peace with his choice, even if it isn’t yours.

Penny Pinching

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I was very good friends with a couple who moved to Hawaii twenty
years ago. We kept up a long-distance friendship for a long time, and I
even went there to visit back in the 90s. But for years it has waned to
the point of non-existence. If you’d asked me, I’d still say I liked them,
but I don’t think I’ve had two phone calls in the last five years.

 

Yesterday I heard from the wife, saying the husband had died of
cancer, after a year-long battle. It was a warm email, though in
retrospect it feels like she may have sent it as personal email to a
great many people, just changing the salutation. When I went to the
memory site (with photos and stories and places to post the same,
each page had a very large “Contribute” button at the bottom, to help
defray medical expenses. I’m sure the medical bills were large, but I’m
on a tight budget too. Am I obligated to contribute?

Penny Pinching

 
Dear Pinching:

If you are truly down to counting pennies you are 100% off the hook,
assuming the idea that you have not sent even $25 doesn’t keep you
up at night. If you do make charitable contributions to non-profits, you
could divert a little to send your former friends. But if you are truly so
bust that you cannot afford to contribute, then send a nice personal
note, and an apology for being unable to help out at this time.
Friendships ebb and grow over time. It’s not uncommon for people
who have seemed incredibly important to one’s heart to fade with time
and distance. There’s no shame in having drifted apart. Do what feels
right, and send a heartfelt note. If you have memories or pics to post,
do it. And say kaddish for your friend.

Family Values

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My son is graduating in three weeks. We’re a middle class family that
lives sustainably and frugally. He is graduating with only $10,000 in
debt, has a choice of job offers, a girlfriend, and has generally been a
dream kid (teen-aged years notwithstanding). He lacks for nothing.
We would like to have a graduation party and invite family, friends of
family, and friends of his. Our relatives are poor but very proud. We
want to invite them but don’t want them to feel obligated to give gifts
even though we gifted their three kids handsomely when they
graduated. Is there a way to invite them without shaming? We don’t
mind, btw, accepting gifts from richer friends, but no one should feel
obligated.

Family Values

 
Dear Family Values:

It’s hard to have a party where some people give gifts and others do
not without the non-givers feeling guilty or shamed in some way. You
could include in the invite a note that says No gifts please, or Cards of
good-will only. At a minimum that will deter boxes and overt or
ostentatious displays of congratulations. Most millenials prefer cash
anyway, so those that wish to include gift cards of cash or credit with
their cards can do so, and the relatives will be none the wiser. If they
choose to do that also, have your son use some of the money to buy
them gifts in the future.

 
Be proud of your son and his accomplishments. Toast him lavishly and
underscore the importance of the values with which you raised him.
Lucky him. Lucky you.

Second Life

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a relationship question that is long-run not short. I’ve been with
my new girlfriend and (I hope) eventual wife for two years. She
started dating me even though I wasn’t fully divorced. And slowly but
surely it has become a strong loving relationship. The problem is that
her 14-year old daughter still refuses to accept me. The ex is a pot-
smoking, guitar-playing, rock-star wanna be who doesn’t get that at
age 45 his chance for fame and glory is long past. But his daughter
adores him. I’m older than any of them and within three years of
retirement from a very high stress job I can’t wait to leave. The
daughter is smart but not get a scholarship brilliant. There has been
no discussion of adoption given her age. And I am happy to help out
with college costs in addition to my usual monthly household
contribution. But I am not eager to prolong my work life misery for a
young woman who treats me with scorn. I know it sounds early but
how can I explain my needs without further alienating her?

Second Life

 
Dear Second Life:

Relationships grow and change over time. It’s the rare parent, even a
bio parent, who has a great relationship with a teenager. And with my
advice I’m am in no way advocating that ant offer of support you make
be seen as a bribe to get her to appreciate you more or treat you
better. That said, be as honest and transparent as you can with both
mother and daughter.

 
Explain that your current level of financial support for the household
will go on even after you retire in three years. Say that you are willing
to contribute towards college costs in addition, but not to work longer
to contribute more. Say that when the daughter does apply to schools
she can count on a firm commitment from you of $x thousand per year
for a specified number of years. Explain that the only criteria are on
going civility and maintaining a specified grade level. Be clear that the
support will end if she drops out, does poorly, or treats her mother or
you with disrespect. Nothing may change or time and familiarity may
improve things. But you can proceed with a clear conscience.

Frustrated

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I know you get these sorts of questions annually, but every year I am
irritated, offended, and frustrated when I shop at the local markets
and malls. Right after Thanksgiving there appear like magic flocks of
bell-ringers who sit outside store entrances like guard dogs. They’re
the ones who collect for various charities– almost always Christian
charities—from morning till night. Often they are disabled, or mange to
look very uncomfortable sitting in the cold 24/7 (I would be). They act
shaming and smugly superior when they wish you “Merry Christmas!!”
every time you pass by them without giving a donation. One woman
seems determined to get my goat. Every time I go in she says Merry
Christmas and every time I go in I say “Happy Holidays,” “Happy
Hanukah,” “Holy Kwanzaa,” and so on to let her know that not
everyone in the world is Christian. Is there something that I else I can
do to make the point that the whole world does not revolve around
December 25, and that America is a diverse cultural landscape?

Frustrated

 
Dear Frustrated:

This is a great chance to combine cultural education with creative
messaging. Also to enhance your computer skills. Go into your favorite
word processing, spreadsheet, or make-a- drawing program. Print up
pages of colorful and creative holiday messages. Avoid red and green,
angels and holly boughs, or other traditional Christmas imagery. Print
up messages like Thank you for respecting cultural diversity., Happy
Hanukkah, Season’s Greetings, Celebrate Solstice, etc. etc. Make the
messages things that when opened will educate the person who sees
them. Yes the message will probably annoy and irritate them, but
that’s partially our goal, correct? Put each in a gift little gift envelope,
the kind that you might use to tip the newspaper delivery person, and
hand write Happy Holidays on the outside. Keep them in your purse
and when you see the bell-ringer and she says Merry Christmas give
her your biggest brought-you- a-gift smile and stuff one of the
envelopes in her donation can. She will soon get the message, though
I doubt she will also come to some unflattering conclusions about you.
We live in an increasingly polarized world. Unless we can find a way to
remember how to be kind to one another, and to honor the message
that every one of the great religions brings to us– Love your neighbor
as yourself. Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. etc-
-we are headed down the wrong track with great velocity. I don’t have
answers, and I share your frustration. But only kindness can defeat
hatred.

Generous, But Running Out of Cash

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

For the last six weeks I’ve been laid up after surgery. I had a variety
of helpers early in the process, whom I paid $10-20/hr until I figured
out whose style worked with my cleaning standards and healthcare
needs. I eventually settled on a woman who rents a room from one of
my friends down the block. She’s intelligent, helpful, and very useful.
I’ve paid her $5-10 more per hour than anyone else for the last
month. While it’s cost a lot of money, it’s really felt worth it, though
thankfully I am using her less each week. Now that the holidays are
coming, I’m trying to figure out how I can say a special “Thank you” in
ways that are not monetary. Do you have any good ideas?

Generous, But Running Out of Cash

 
Dear Generous:

I’m among the people in life that doesn’t like gift cards. While
recipients may like the discretion of choosing their own gift, I think
just giving a coupon is not nearly as personal as a gift that feels
chosen. So I’d make up a gift box for your help that covers the gamut
of a day. Perhaps a special soap, something attractive to wear, a pair
of earrings, and something wonderful to eat, whether that’s fancy
chocolate or baked goods. Most importantly, I would include a very
personal handwritten card that says, I appreciate everything you have
done in ways beyond what money can express. My healing would not
have been as strong or fast if you were not in my life. Thank you,
thank you, thank you. Best wishes for the new year.

Not Rich Either

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

A friend helped me out when my car broke down. She ran me to a
doctor’s appointment I could not miss, on her way to her job. In her
rush to help unload me and my gear, she locked her keys in her car.
Fortunately AAA came within a half hour, but she got docked pay. I
said thanks for the help and gave her $10 to cover gas and her time
before we said goodbye. Should I compensate her for lost work?

Not Rich Either

 
Dear Not Rich:

Anyone who is working an hourly job for which they can be docked pay
deserves your generosity, even if you feel tight. A missed doctor’s
appointment would inevitably have cost you far more than an hour’s
pay for her. I’d offer her cash, and of she refuses, send her a gift card
to the local market. She was kind. You should be too.

Sort of Like an Aunt

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My best friend’s son is graduating from college this year. He’s going on
to a professional program in a year, but first taking time to travel and
detox from 21 years of school. He and his girlfriend are going to travel
in South and Central America, taking not much more than backpacks
and smart phones. It reminds me of my youth. I like this kid and wish
him well. I’ve also helped him a lot in the past five years, primarily
with editing his college essays and scholarship applications. As a result
he’s been able to accrue almost no school debt. I expect to help him
again this summer, to get his apps ready for the next set of
submissions. The question: What should I give him as a graduation
gift? I generally hate giving money, but he really lacks for nothing. If I
give cash, how much?

Sort of Like an Aunt

 
Dear Sort of Like an Aunt:

If this kid is like family, you should give him something you won’t be
embarrassed about. Even though you say you’re used to helping him,
you’d never have said No if he had come asking. So while your time
and effort are certainly worth something, they are also a gift you have
already given. It would be slightly churlish to keep rubbing his face in
your help, and to use your editing as some kind of quid pro quo for a
gift.

 
That said, you don’t have to give more than you are comfortable. My
guess is that he and his girl will be staying in hostels and eating on the
cheap. Think about a card, accompanied by a check of say $25-50,
that says: Have a wonderful time on your great adventure. The
attached is to be used exclusively for a lovely meal and a place with
your own bath and copious hot water. I expect to hear great stories
when you return!