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January 24, 2012

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In addition, Dana, the money that individuals give to their congregations (even for clergy and heating bills) does benefit their communities. It represents just about the only way there is to support non-governmental institutions that build and reinforce communal life in the US -- or anywhere. Social service agencies are great, but they don't build community. Same with schools -- your kids are there for a few years, then they're not. Even disaster relief doesn't build community ong-term. Of course some of these communities are narrow and closed-minded; but most are just trying to help people live by their values instead of their pocketbooks or their instincts. Without congregations, our entire social fabric would be tremendously weakened.

Do these philanthropy stats reflect that fact that much humanitarian aid is funneled to crisis spots through "religious" organizations? For example, after a natural disaster, I often donate through American Jewish World Service, Union for Reform Judaism, or other Jewish organizations that set up specific funds for money collected on behalf of agencies operating in the crisis spot. Another example is the huge "Nothing but Nets" campaign that fights malaria. I donate to this campaign through the URJ. I am certain such donations amount to hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more, each year that may appear to be going to religious causes but is specifically earmarked for humanitarian aid.

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