Excuse me. Hello! Excuse me!” I was walking with friends on a New Haven street. We turned to see a man and a woman striding toward us. Both were tall and bone-thin. When they reached us, the woman took a deep breath. They were homeless, she said; they needed money to buy food and pay for their beds at the New Haven homeless shelter, which charged three dollars a night. They didn’t want to beg, so they had bought a roll of paper towels and a bottle of glass cleaner. They would wash our windshield for money, or the windows of our house, or even our glasses.
My friend Curtis gave them five dollars. I had five one-dollar bills in my wallet and one twenty. I also gave them five dollars.
They thanked us profusely; this would be enough money for the entire day, the woman said. They wouldn’t have to approach anyone else. We were on foot some distance from our car and had no windshield handy. “Please let us do something for you,” the woman said. So, since it seemed to matter so much, I handed her my glasses. The man sprayed them with glass cleaner and the woman polished them meticulously.
As we walked away, I overheard the woman saying to the man, “Let’s go get something to eat.” I wished I’d given them everything in my wallet.
I grew up Jewish, and learned about charitable giving in the context of Jewish traditions and...