By Gina Ross, Chief Executive, Jewish Legacy
A few weeks ago I received an enquiry. Jewish Legacy is an extremely unique charity campaign in that it is comprised of 50 different charities all working towards a common goal: to emphasise to the Jewish community that legacies have made and will continue to make our community stronger and better.
Since starting working as chief executive, I’ve received numerous enquiries, mainly from people looking for help, advice or further information in respect of writing and updating their wills and leaving money to one of our charity members. In this particular instance, the enquirer was a well-known child Holocaust survivor, Bettine Le Beau.
As a young child, Bettine escaped from a concentration camp in France, after which she had spent the remainder of the war living in hiding. She believed she had survived solely as a result of the kindness of strangers.
Owing to this, she felt an obligation to help others who were suffering and has spent her life giving to charity, both in terms of volunteering her time and through monetary donations
. Bettine had seen our adverts in Jewish News and wanted to donate some money to our charity partners. We arranged to meet and discuss Jewish Legacy in more detail and I visited her in her flat in north London the following week. As soon as we began chatting, I was struck by her happy-go-lucky attitude and positivity. In spite of a lost childhood, she described herself as a lucky person. She has been.
There seems to be little she hasn’t done, from acting to sculpting to modelling. She is also an author of two books, Hide And Seek, detailing her experiences during the Holocaust and Help Yourself To Happiness. She has another book on its way, detailing her experiences as a former Bond girl. Bettine and I discussed Jewish Legacy and our charity partners.
We discussed each of their aims along with the aim of Jewish Legacy – to make legacy-giving the norm. Bettine said that she had always felt very strongly about giving to charity. She wanted to “pass nice things along” and make the world a better place for all those who were in need, those suffering with illnesses, for children and for Israel.
Bettine said that another reason that she gave to charity was to be remembered. She stated: “People often die twice. The first time is when they stop breathing, the second time is when they are forgotten. That won’t happen to me; I want to be remembered.” I asked Bettine why she thought the Jewish community should leave a legacy. Her response was: “That is the wrong question. Why shouldn’t they?”
After leaving Bettine, I thought about her and the other enquirers to whom I had spoken over the past two years. They all had shared one thing in common: the wish to be remembered for charity, for helping others in need. In the Jewish religion, tzedakah, or charity, is one of the most important commandments. As very young children, we are asked to bring in money to put in tzedakah boxes at cheder. At the end of every Jewish service, the Aleinu prayer states a goal of the Jewish people to “perfect the world under the sovereignty of God”.
The term “perfect the world” in Hebrew is tikkun olam, which also means to fix or repair the world. Especially since, the Torah claims, “there will never cease to be needy ones in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).
Eighty percent of the Jewish community adheres to the commandment of tzedakah and gives to charity during their lifetime. Although this is a fantastic number, in today’s economic downturn Jewish charities are very much dependent on funds they receive from legacies. Only one in four leave a charitable legacy. We want to change that statistic.
We want to appeal to the Jewish community’s ingrained tzedakah and implore people to think about leaving money to charity, once they have looked after their family and friends, of course. If we want to be remembered for charity, for helping others in need, we can’t afford to die twice.