Let’s Make a Deal, Shari

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There are no plain old regular days anymore. Practically every day of the year has been given a special label. And just this week we also had two major exhibitions – of elite fashion and elite (seized) weaponry – featuring top female and male models, some of them soldiers.

Here is just a partial list of the special days that break up the mundane routine: International Women’s Day, Family Day, Valentine’s Day, Gay Pride Day, Earth Day, Vegetarian Day, Labor Day, No-Smoking Day, No-Shopping Day, AIDS Awareness Day, Human Rights Day … the list goes on and on. Every downtrodden or marginalized group gets its own day. And that’s not even counting the religious holidays, the days of mourning, fast days, memorial days, Holocaust Remembrance Day, days commemorating Jerusalem’s destruction and rebuilding …

So everybody can pick and choose his favorite day and which days he wants to add to his collection. And why not make every day Purim?

Readers of this column and of Yedioth Ahronoth will easily guess my choice: I choose Good Deeds Day, which makes me feel good. This day has been around for eight years now, at the initiative of “businesswoman and philanthropist” Shari Arison, and “marks a new all-time high in doing good for others.” There’s always some good deed we haven’t gotten around to doing – this is the day to just go out and do it. Perhaps Ms. Arison might consider shifting Good Deeds Day from winter to summer so we’d get another whole hour of daylight to do good, like during that one hour a year when we turn off all the lights and save the world.

“Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are taking part” in Shari’s celebration, says her foundation. “Israelis are volunteering in droves. No, the spirit of volunteering and giving has not disappeared. There is a tremendous spirit out there that is greater than the apathy. Even the president of the country came out to help paint a fence.”

But, darn it, those pesky facts keep getting in the way again, poking holes in the wonderful self-image we’ve constructed. An international Gallup Poll found that out of 153 countries, Australia and New Zealand are the most generous and most imbued with the spirit of volunteerism. Citizens of these two countries give more of their money and time than anywhere else. Next come Canada, Ireland, Switzerland, Holland, Britain and Austria. Israel ranks 36th, at the tail-end of the developed world. Other surveys have also found a declining rate of Israeli volunteerism.

The rate of charitable contributions in Israel is just 0.6 percent of the GDP, compared to 1.7 percent in the United States and Europe (as per OECD statistics). And who are the biggest pigs? Shari’s friends. A recent survey by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics found that local corporations hardly make any charitable donations, and that most donations for social causes come either from Diaspora Jewry or Israeli households.

But this week we witnessed a sudden outpouring of giving, with members of Arison Group’s Ruach Tova foundation – sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren – descending on Wall Street to ring the closing bell for NASDAQ trading and bringing along all sorts of good things: stands offering free haircuts and all-natural makeup, mobile units for conducting blood drives, and a festive concert by the police band.

In light of its success, I have a few suggestions in the spirit of Ruach Tova: The lady in charge could make an appearance at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, bang the gavel and announce: “The salaries for directors of my bank – about NIS 10 million a year – are a bit inflated, so I’ve decided to cut them. And let me also take this opportunity to say that for the next Good Deeds Day, I’ve decided that instead of reading stories to kindergartners, I will do something about our exorbitant bank fees and interest rates.”

My dear businesswoman and philanthropist, let’s make a deal: You cut down on the take, and we’ll make do without the give. Even the old ladies will do their part: They’ll pledge to cross the street all by themselves.

And then we will really laugh all the way to the bank, and captive customers like me will genuinely be captivated by you.

Bank Hapoalim controlling shareholder Shari Arison. Credit: Reuters

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