Rabbi Scott Meltzer introduces the B’nai Mitzvah to the Joy of Giving


Chapter 25, Exit 16B (6th Avenue): Ohr Shalom Synagogue

From the ramp, turn right onto 6e Avenue at Laurel, bear left, Ohr Shalom Synagogue East 2512 Third Avenue, northwest corner of 3rd and Laurel.

Built in 1926, the synagogue building at 3rd and Laurel was the longtime home of the Reform congregation, Beth Israel, until that congregation, outgrown the facility, moved to a campus just east of La Jolla. Conservators managed to prevent part of the shrine building and social hall from being replaced by a property development. Subsequently, the historic building was occupied by a conservative congregation and renamed the Ohr Shalom Synagogue.

Ohr Shalom Synagogue

As a spiritual leader there since 2003, Rabbi Scott Meltzer and his wife Jennifer have thought long and hard about what kind of gifts to bar mitzvah boys and bat mitzvah girls could be both appropriate and inspiring. At the beginning, the rabbi presented tzedaka boxes b’nai mitzvah in hopes that they would fill them with dollars to contribute to worthy causes. Now the religious school is donating the tzedaka boxes.

Some students go all the way, but for others, tzedaka the boxes become soon forgotten memories of the ceremony in which they led their congregation in prayer and became, from the perspective of Jewish ritual observance, fully functioning adults.

The rabbi was inspired in 2013 when he read a book by Bob Harris called Bob’s International Bank: Connecting Our Worlds, One Kiva Loan at a Time. “Kiva” is a Swahili word meaning “unity”. The Kiva organization promotes global unity by providing micro-loans to enable people around the world to start a business and improve the lives of their communities.

Rabbi Scott Meltzer

Beginning in 2014, the rabbi and Mrs. Meltzer invested $100 per month in the Kiva organization until they had accumulated credit of around $8,000. They pored over lists of worthy borrowers, which were reviewed by Kiva’s microcredit partners around the world. The Meltzers then decided which borrowers they wanted to give interest-free, repayable loans to.

“At this point, I think we’ve made 1,000 loans,” all of which have been repaid and then recycled, Rabbi Meltzer commented during a November 2021 interview. done with our kids” – who at the time of the interview were 19-year-old Shayna; Nadiv, 17; Matail, 15; and Yael, 13. Growing up, they had a range of interests, including supporting sustainable agriculture and education.

When contributing in his own name, the rabbi gave micro-loans to “women borrowers only – my small personal contribution to support the important work of women. I think they generally get the short end of the stick in most places, and I like to think that “Scott’s International Bank” has affirmed all the principles of affirmative action, including towards women . It’s true in the United States and I’m sure it’s also true in Africa and Asia where women have a harder time qualifying for funding. The relationship between the quality of life in the countries and the ability of women to be financially independent is very strongly correlated in the 195 countries of the world.

I first learned the kiva program when my wife Nancy and I attended the bat mitzvah by Sarah Golembesky on October 16, 2021. After giving a speech on how the Torah part Lech Lecha connects the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, the rabbi conferred congratulations and gifts on him. In one envelope was a certificate, which he had printed from his Kiva account, for $30 that Sarah could use to help underwrite one of the many projects around the world that borrowers needed funding for.

Trying to explain to me over the phone a week later how this process goes, Rabbi Meltzer kindly sent me a similar $30 Kiva Credit so I could loan it out somewhere within Kiva’s global network. I chose to designate it as a loan for an Israeli named Munya, who had been vetted by Kiva’s field partner, Koret Israel Economic Development Funds (KIEDF).

According to Kiva’s website, “KIEDF targets some of Israel’s most marginalized groups with microfinance services, working specifically with Bedouins, Haredi women, and Israeli-Ethiopians.”

“By supporting this loan,” Kiva’s website said, “you are supporting a borrower who would otherwise have very limited access to financial services.”

Munya’s hope was to raise $6,250 to buy facial care equipment, appliances and an air conditioner for her home-based business. It “provides medical cosmetics, beauty treatments and sells creams and lotions. She is a trained cosmetologist with extensive courses. She worked in the field before opening her own salon.

Raising $6,250 will require 250 contributions of $25 each, which will be collected by Kiva and
sent by KIEDF to Munya. A similar process can help borrowers in a total of 80 countries. Eventually, Munya will repay the $6,250 and $25 will be credited back to my new Kiva account, which I can then lend to someone else.

If someone receives certificates like Sarah and I from Rabbi Meltzer, but does not designate a loan beneficiary, after a certain period of time the money will be absorbed into Kiva’s general fund for loans that the organization nonprofit sees fit.

When I interviewed Rabbi Meltzer, he had about $6,000 in work loans and a reserve of another $2,000. Sometimes, he says, he will make larger loans, perhaps in denominations of $100 or more, to various beneficiaries so that his capital is used.

The reason he likes to give Kiva certificates to bar and bat mitzvah students is because it presents the possibility “of instilling in students a real-time commitment to tzedakaa Hebrew word meaning both “charity” and “justice.”

Rabbi Meltzer commented, “I think happy times (like a bar/bat mitzvah celebration) are good times to reflect on how we care for others.

It’s a fun way to practice social responsibility, he added. “Kiva has a 98% loan repayment rate,” so by recycling the same dollars, “it feels like the Monopoly money is still doing good.”


Next Sunday, June 26, 2022: Exit 17A (Hawthorn Street): County Administration Building

This story is copyright (c) 2022 by Donald H. Harrison, Editor Emeritus of San Diego Jewish World. This is an updated serialization of his book Schlepping and Schmoozing along Interstate 5, Volume 1, available on Amazon. Harrison can be contacted via [email protected]


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