If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably well aware that I’m running an Indiegogo campaign to try to fund a translation of Joseph Opatoshu’s classic Yiddish novel, In Poylishe Velder. Crowdfunding of this sort can generate a peculiar relationship between the person seeking money and the people asked to give it; while I’ve received a great deal of heartening and supportive e-mail, the online nature of the enterprise lets people whose telephone habits have been curtailed by the spread of caller-i.d. send insulting e-mails from addresses I haven’t written to. I’ve been called an asshole and even a fraud, all by people who don’t seem to have surnames and whose e-mail addresses can’t be found on any of the lists compiled for this project.
But the biggest disappointment I’ve run into so far was a personal encounter with an ex-student of mine, a man about my own age who still sends me e-mails with questions about Yiddish. He came up to me in shul on Shavuos and, in a still halting Yiddish (for which I guess I deserve at least some of the blame), said, “You want me to give you money so you can translate this book? Ikh ken shtarbn on leynen dos bukh, I can die without reading the book.”
The Yiddish isn’t idiomatic, but I had to work with what I’d been given. “Nu, So,” I said to him, “shtarb-zhe shoyn avek un leyn, drop dead already and read.” You don’t want to contribute, don’t contribute; I’d like it if you did, but I don’t take it personally if you don’t–until you decide to turn it into an insult. All I can do now is wait for my former student e-mail me again for help.
This is the response of someone who is trying to avoid giving money to something they know they should give money to. I had a similar experience collecting donations from acquaintances for a bas mitsve girl. She had a small family and wasn’t going to get much from relatives, so I wanted a wider circle of friends to club together a few hundred dollars for her–I was asking each person for five dollars. Some people said no–but only one said it was because the bas mitsve girl’s project wasn’t sufficiently extensive or on a topic she liked. When you’re on the defensive, try to make it the other guy’s fault!
Absolutely. I thought the guy’s response was a little more aggressive than it needed to be.