These columns are news stories, in theory. So I should put the most incredible part first, where you can notice it before you shrug and move on to the rest of the paper.
But deciding what is the most incredible part can be a challenge.
Would it be that The Ark, the 50-year-old Jewish social service organization, exists? That it provides food and counseling, medical aid and employment guidance to needy Jews?
Or is the incredible part that the needy Jews themselves exist? Don’t Jews run the world? Are there really Jewish people right here in Chicago who would fill out paperwork and be assigned a case manager in order to get a cardboard box of tomato sauce and pasta and peanut butter?
Or is the incredible part that The Ark runs a food pantry in upscale Northbrook, 10 minutes from my house?
Jews are an odd kind of minority group — both successful and oppressed, envied and hated. People believe the slurs. If the college Hillel club shows up at the big campus Oppressed Minority Jubilee, they get hard looks because, being Jews, they’re personally responsible for the wrongs of Israel. Aren’t they?
I still haven’t gotten to the incredible part that prompted today’s effort: The Ark’s “Dinner-Less Dinner” fundraiser. At least incredible to me, because I once was the charities, foundations and private social services reporter. Wandering around the vast Hilton ballroom, eyeballing the big baskets of swag at the silent auction, entertaining the eternal puzzle: Why throw a big party? Why drain away desperately needed money to pay for indifferent chicken almondine, huge floral displays and a 35-minute set by Chaka Khan? Why not put all the money into good works, and as an added bonus, we get to stay home?
That’s what The Ark does. It sends out invitations to a non-event, collects money, but:
“No big gala, no big party,” said Cheryl Wittenstein, director of marketing at The Ark. “Instead, let’s directly affect the clients.”
The Dinner-Less Dinner is an echo of a dramatic moment in the history of Chicago charity. In 1921, Jewish benefactors gathered at the new Drake Hotel for what became known as “The Food-less Banquet” to relieve Jews suffering in post-World War I Europe. Guests actually arrived at a ballroom containing long, empty tables. Serving food would be an “unwarranted extravagance, and in the face of starving Europe, a wasteful crime,” Jacob K. Loeb announced. “For you, the disappointment is temporary and passing. For them it is permanent and lasting.”
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