As a convert to Orthodox Judaism from WASPism, I’ve noticed that Jews tend to feel pretty good about themselves. While the Protestants I grew up with were often uncomfortable with compliments, most Jews I know love compliments. They love being honored for their good deeds.
In this respect, Donald Sterling was the quintessential Jew. He kept taking out ads boasting about his good deeds.
In the early 20th century, Jewish daily and weekly publications were preoccupied with violence against blacks, and often compared the anti-black violence in the South to pogroms—this preoccupation was motivated by principles of justice, and by a desire to change racist policies in United States. During the first few decades of the 20th century, the leaders of American Jewry expended time, influence and their economic resources for black endeavors—civil rights, philanthropy, social service, organizing—and historian Hasia Diner notes that “they made sure that their actions were well publicized” as part of an effort to demonstrate increasing Jewish political clout.
Who does that sound like? Wanting to publicize his good deeds to increase his clout?
Sometimes Jewish boasting is empty. In 1996, Jewish journalist Yosef Abramowitz did an expose on the Jewish National Fund, showing that they spent less than 10c on the dollar actually doing anything and all the rest of the money was ploughed back into fundraising. The Southern Poverty Law Center is the same way.
In my 20 years in shul, I’ve noticed it is not unknown for a Jew to make a public and showy donation of dramatic sums of money only to never come through with the gift.
Growing up a WASP, I saw no public fundraising. People weren’t shamed much if they didn’t give enough and they weren’t honored much if they gave a ton. WASPs are not nearly as comfortable as Jews with the natural passions for money, sex, honor and power and they don’t talk about them as easily and they don’t incorporate them as easily into their lives and they don’t channel them as effectively to strengthening their group.
Donald Sterling’s behavior in publicizing his charitable donations would have been inconceivable for all the WASPs I knew but common among Jews I know. It’s even considered a good deed in Judaism to make your donations public if they will encourage other people to donate and thus raise more money than if everything was done quietly.
Plenty of Jews give charity quietly and there is much in the Torah tradition extolling the doing of good deeds, such as charity, without seeking public attention for them, but in my experience, a far higher percentage of Jews than WASPs will admit, “I want the honor!”
Charity watchdogs say Sterling’s penchant for advertising his philanthropic efforts is unusual.
“He is somewhat unique in how much he’s bragging about his philanthropy,” said Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator, an online evaluator of nonprofit groups. “He’s shouting from the rooftops, ‘Look how generous I am!'”